Dinner is always one of those funny things around here. Most backpackers buy food at the supermarket and make use of the hostel's kitchen to cook their own food and save some money. I've been carrying around breakfast and lunch and snack food, so I allowed myself to go out to dinner each night. Each night has brought really interesting people and situations. My first dinner was in Franz Josef on Monday night. I checked out the handful of restaurants on the main road and picked one that looked like it'd be a good option. Eating dinner alone at a table for two tends to be relatively depressing, and I was trying to enjoy sitting on the deck outdoors in the nice weather to make it feel less lonely. Right as I was getting ready to leave, the couple at the table next to me looked over and asked where I was from. They'd noticed my Akiba t-shirt and figured the three of us may well be the only Jews in the town. So I went over and chatted with them for a little while. They were quite friendly and were telling me about where they'd been so far and where they were heading next. Towards the end of our conversation I asked their names, in case we were going to run into each other when we'll be in Christchurch this coming weekend. The woman said her name was Valerie. Before I got a chance to get out "Oh wow. My mom's name is Valerie" the man told me his name. What was it? Michael. How weird is that?
Them last night I was sitting by myself in the upstairs bar area of another establishment, after ordering pizza for dinner. I was back and forth between checking out the incredible view of the glacier out the window and watching some guys play pool on the other side of the room, when two girls walked in and sat down nearby. They turned to me and asked if I was alone, and then asked if I wanted to come sit with them for dinner. I was so grateful to have people to sit with, and we had a really enjoyable time talking - turns out the two had also just met on their way over so we'd all wanted some company instead of being alone. What could have been a simple lonely pizza dinner at a mostly-empty bar turned into a really fun night playing pool and meeting a bunch of other travelers from Israel, Whales, Ireland, Canada, Scotland, and England who had all come through town during their travels to hike the glacier.
Tonight, I was exhausted from a lot of walking and sore from the glaciers, but I walked up the road back to the hostel before going to dinner in the hopes of finding someone who'd want to go to dinner with me. Since everyone was cooking their own food, I eventually relented and walked back into town to have dinner at a pizza/pasta place I'd spotted earlier. I got a menu and sat down at a fairly large outdoor table all by myself, content to make the best of it. After I'd ordered a group of four backpacker-looking people came down the side street the restaurant was on, looking for a place to eat. Since my table was right at the door, I offered that they were welcome to come join me, if they decided to stay. They took me up on it, and we had a really fun time. The four of them had just met ten days ago and did a hard-core mountaineering course on the glacier. Today was their first day back in civilization since, and they were excited about real food instead of the dehydrated meals they'd been eating. They were a really funky neat group of people, and we were soon joined by some of the Melbourne exchange students that I keep running into in each town I stop in. They'd just been walking around the area and recognized me so they pulled up chairs and stayed with us for a while.
I'm amazed at how fun dinners have ended up, despite lonely starts. It seems like everyone here is just looking to meet some new people and have a good time wherever they find themselves. Backpacker culture in general is really open and friendly, where general conversation starts with where you're from and what you're doing and how you ended up in wherever you are. I'm also really proud of how well things have been going. You never know what to expect when you plan an international backpacking trip for yourself entirely by yourself, and so far it's been all smiles. I can't wait to show you the pictures and tell you about the incredible things I've been seeing!
PS. The sheep all say hi. There are LOTS of them here!