I jolted awake as the bus slowed to a stop. I looked out, finding a fuzzy outline of what I assumed was the bus stop. The driver announced the stop, and I strained to make out the words with his thick accent. “….pu, anyone else?”
He looked back once more before shutting the doors. “Moving on then”
I stared anxiously at no one in particular as the bus moved out of the now empty bus stop. I was headed for the tiny town of Waipu, a few hours outside of Auckland, and was confident of recognizing the bus stop. After all, I had repeatedly Google Mapped it prior to my trip, committing every detail of the Waipu bus stop to memory. I wasn’t so sure now, as the bus loomed ahead towards what looks like darkness, illuminated momentarily by the oncoming headlights from the opposite lane.
I knew it was winter, but I had grossly underestimated the daylight time, expecting the sun to only start setting at around 5pm. At 5.30pm, it was pitch dark.
I could hear light snores from the couple on the next seat, and a melody from the headphones of an American backpacker (he announced it rather loudly at the start of the trip), a few seats in front of me. They all seemed so at ease, like they knew what they were doing. In contrast, I felt like a drowning sheep. I had no idea where the bus was at, and worst, I feared that I might have missed my stop. The previous stop the driver had announced sounded sickeningly like Waipu.
See, I naively thought that like a tour bus, the bus ticket I bought would have sent me straight to my destination from Auckland. Little did I know, the bus makes multiple stops along the way, picking up and dropping commuters. Unlike Singapore, missing a stop is not as simple as alighting at the next one, going across the street, and taking the same bus back. In a country where there are just 4 million people compared to 60 million sheeps, public transport is limited. Public buses run perhaps once or twice a day (more for the popular routes). Most Kiwis own a car, and have no need for public buses. Each stop is made in a different town, meaning the previous stop could be 30,40,50 miles away. Taxis do not exist outside of the bigger cities. In other words, if I had missed my stop, that was it. There was no way I could possibly get back.
And not being able to see what is around, did not help calm my palpitating heartbeat. I have read enough travel blogs to know that the worst time to travel to a foreign location is during the night, because everything just seems all the more scarier when is foreign and dark. For the umpteenth time since booking the air tickets, I cursed myself for choosing to do this trip the hard way. I could have just went with a tour, and save myself the misery of being on the edge of breaking down enroute to only the first location of many more to come.
I vaguely heard the bus driver announcing the next stop before the bus doors swung open. I rushed down and approached him. “Excuse me. I am sorry, but have you reached Waipu?” Please don’t say I missed my stop.
“….Where is it you are going?” He replied in his none nonsense tone. I must be yet another foolish traveller to him.
“Waipu” I almost shouted. Blame it on the anxiety getting the better of me.
“We passed it.”
What?! I stared at him, fear creeping into every inch of me. I didn’t know how far away I was from Waipu, I didn’t know where is this goddamn place we are at now, and I didn’t know a single person in this faraway land. What am I going to do? My second day in New Zealand, and I have already managed to screw everything up.
He looked back at me, before breaking into what I will remember as the most devilish grin of the century (it was just a normal grin).
“I am joking! Waipu is coming up next!”
Whaaaaattt?!! That was not funny at all. I was practically moments away from a nervous breakdown, and this driver thinks is a joke? I jabbed him in the elbow, half in jest, the other half in anger. “God, you scared me!”
Just to be sure, I asked him again. “So I didn’t miss it. Waipu is the next stop? You sure?”
He nodded, before motioning me to get back on the bus. By this time, I had enough nasty butterflies inside of me to keep me alert of every turn the bus was making. I stared intently at the window, though I couldn’t see a thing, willing the bus to hurry and reach Waipu. Thinking back, my fellow passengers must have thought I was weird, looking at the window and muttering under my breath incessantly. I couldn’t care less about their opinions, having gone through the first major crisis of my solo trip.
I broke into a big smile as the bus drove into Waipu. My head was functioning again, and I recall seeing the tall statue in Streetview.
Though, except for a teenager who had alighted with me, there was no one in sight.
Shit. Wasn’t Claire supposed to pick me up?
I had made prior arrangements with my host, and just before leaving Auckland, she assured me that we will meet at the bus stop. Yet, here I was, and there was nobody.
I fumbled for my phone, and dialed her number twice. It went straight to voice mail.
I zipped up my jacket, having felt a chill from the night wind, and from a sense of dread that I might be stranded. The teenager was still at the bus stop, looking at me curiously. For a moment, I contemplated asking him for directions, but he walked off before I could approach him. The streets were deserted. I was truly alone now.
30mins passed, and it was getting colder. I stuffed my hands into my pockets, hoping desperately that Claire would appear. I had no idea what car she drove, or how she looked like. But I could only trust that she did not forget about me.
I dialed her number once more. On the third ring, she picked up. “Good evening, Clansman Motel….”
- Never travel to somewhere new at night
- Make sure your bus driver is not a jokester
- Bring a tranquilizer in case of panic attacks
Needless to say, I fell asleep really quickly that night. That was enough scares in a day for me.