So this week I was stuck in Invercargill. Depending on your view of the deep south, this could be seen as a bonus or an otherworldly punishment. I just want to put on record that I am totally down with Southland. Even Invercargill.
I was only meant to be away for the weekend. I'd gone to the Catlins for a travel story. However, the Air New Zealand fleet of ATR- 72 planes was grounded and my flight was cancelled, cancelled then cancelled again. I was stranded in Invercargill for three days.
It was most inconvenient. People gave me all sorts of helpful suggestions to get home - hire a car, take a bus, hitch-hike - but I did not have 10 hours to spare.
However, I did have time to reminisce on the one and only time I did hitch-hike.
It was 1998 and I was living in London. My best mate Hayley and I planned to go across France to Spain. We were in one "team" and our English friends "Lisa and Lisa" were in the other.
Remember, these were the days before texting.
We planned to meet in a town called La Jonquera.
Lisa and Lisa were the first to thumb a ride. As competitive little mammals, this annoyed me and Hayley, but soon enough some truck driver gave us a seat.
It was summer and already in the high 30s. We squirmed. Our bums were on fire. Eventually through broken English our hilarious truck driver admitted he'd turned on the underseat heating in the hope we'd strip a few layers of clothing.
Our next ride was with a German truckie called Stefan. His cab was bright orange and decorated with a painting of a part- naked male muscle builder with a tiger's head.
We should have seen the warning signs.
Soon enough Stefan was regaling us with the story of how he was cheating the system because he'd been driving for almost 24 hours straight.
Not long after this revelation, we started to occasionally veer into the gravel shoulder of the highway.
I just casually thought to myself: "Mum is going to be pretty mad when I die in France".
Hayley later confessed she was thinking the same thing.
She looked at me and said: "Beck, aahh, he keeps nodding off."
That confirmed it. Stefan was a highway killer. He was also German and I had never learned the words to hit song 99 Luftballons and instead tried to keep him awake by singing Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles at the top of my tuneless voice.
As soon as he crossed the border to Spain and we were safely in La Jonquera, Hayley and I piled out of his cab. It was pitch black and we felt around for some grass to put our tent on.
We woke a few hours later to the sound of car doors opening and closing. We'd managed to pitch our tent on the only grassy verge of a market car park.
Our good fortune continued. Lisa and Lisa never turned up. They'd ended up with some driver who took them across the border far away from La Jonquera, so decided to head to Barcelona instead.
Hayley and I figured this out after three days. By the time we got to Barcelona, Hayley and I were sisters. And by this I mean we were bickering away happily. At one stage we asked someone to take our photo. I pulled her pony tail, she told me off and we turned to the camera and smiled like nothing had happened. The fight continued until happy hour.
An old French dude who spoke no English picked us up on the way back to London. I spoke enough French to keep us going, but I was buggered so went to sleep in the back thinking what a terrible time Hayley would be having. Her grasp of French extended only to "Je m'appelle Hayley."
We couldn't understand his name so we called him Nest Egg. After an hour or two later, I woke to the sounds of Hayley and Nest Egg in hysterics at some nutbag who was naked except for a hi-vis vest, standing on a barrel at a roundabout.
That kind of thing never happens in Invercargill. Those were sweet times.
- © Fairfax NZ News