Is it Christmas today?
Today is Christmas, and I am staying in the sleepy town of Oban. This is the only town on Stewart Island. Barely anything is open this weekend. I now understand the concern from the kind man at the boat yard for my lack of planning.
The hostel seems mostly full. In fact there is another hostel and they are both busy. And the hotel I was originally planning for is completely booked out into January. Apparently this is a popular island for the holidays. There are travelers and kiwis alike down here for the holidays.
I stopped by the grocery last night just as the workers were leaving. I wanted to check the hours. They were so jovial. The woman made a joke about me taking pictures of the store and asked if I needed a staff photo. Then a guy suggested maybe I was plotting revenge on the store being closed already. I assured them no revenge, but quipped back that I just wanted some daylight reconnaissance before returning that night. The last guy not-jokingly asked if I was alright and confirmed that I wasn’t going to be without food, and then mused that he would see me the next day at 10AM when they would re-open. I had just ordered a New Zealand Fjordland venison burger from the Kai Kart shack and was merely killing time walking around. But it was nice to feel like people actually cared about my well being. I stopped in at the bar to buy beer-to-go and arrived back at the shack just as they called my number. I spent Christmas Eve in the hostel feasting and drinking on a couch watching movies. It was almost like my family’s tradition to go to the movies on Christmas Eve.
And now it is Christmas Day.
I slept in. No alarm set at all. Early risers in the hostel still woke me their rustling, but I slept pretty late. My body was sore. I went for a walk to stretch my legs and see what was going on in the town. I also had the chance to call my family! How crazy is having wifi that doesn’t require a new passcode every 10 mouse clicks? How I will appreciate US wifi so much more when I return to California. I could see the town come alive at 10AM when I knew the store was opening. I headed to the store too to buy supplies for hiking. I was hungry while shopping, so I bought way too much! Maybe I’ll stay out longer if I find a really beautiful beach cove to stop at.
I then spent the whole morning watching movies on a couch. I have seen some really good New Zealand flicks now. Hunt for the Wildepeople is amazing. Very obvious kiwi humor. I highly recommend! I watched Whale Rider, a very traditional New Zealand storyline. And also Eagle vs. Shark. The main male character is Gemaine, from Flight of the Concords, a favorite TV series of mine. Someone put on the second Lord of the Rings, the third time one of those movies had been played in the last two days, so I gave the kiwi movies a rest after that saga.
When talking with my family I lamented how un-Christmasy today felt. I was in a hostel full of strangers. I am not good at putting in the effort to meet new people, and today especially I just wanted to relax. But it felt sort of lonely. At some point the washing machine finally became available and I put in my cycling clothes and pajamas that I have worn the past week. My only other outfit was my hiking dress, so I showered up and put on my fancy getup. When I walked back into the lounge I could tell there was a change in the mood of the place. It was later afternoon and people were beginning to return from whatever activities they had done today. I sat at a table working on a puzzle and another woman sat by me and started working on a different puzzle. We started chatting, and it felt very friendly. Another holiday tradition in my family is putting together puzzles.
That morning when I payed for another night’s stay, the owner told me his family was putting on a little barbaque and dessert for us later. I thought that was so nice. While my new friend and I puzzled, however, it became obvious that the hostel family were giving us more than a small treat. They brought out crackers, cheese, sliced watermelon, cheeries, pretzels, chocolates, and trailmix. Then they brought out sliced ham, grilled chicken, grilled sausage, potato salad, coleslaw, garden salad, pasta salad, steamed potatoes, grapes, a berry salad, juice, soda, sparkling wine, New Zealand white wine, rum, New Zealand beer, and fruit covered pavlova. Wow! It was incredible! I seriously thought they were going to make a few small things that I would supplement my own food with, but that was a true feast. What unbelievable generosity of this family working through the holidays to host a bunch of strangers. To show our appreciation, we the guests, took all the dishes to wash and cleaned up all the tables afterwards. I still cannot believe how wonderful a surprise that meal was.
And just as the mood had been slowly changing, it had become very festive and welcoming. Strangers were sitting with strangers, chatting about life rather than the hard banter of your life story. The woman I had been puzzling with had met another woman that day and she joined us puzzling. She shared some New Zealand red wine that she had bought. I now feel like I have gotten to sample a representative array of New Zealand’s beer and wine options.
It became late and I retired to a couch to watch another movie before heading to bed. I have my bags packed up and ready to go for tomorrow. I couldn’t have asked for a more cheerful Christmas! And a side bonus was that Carol played Michael Buble Christmas music all day. What could be better?