I’m living in Auckland, New Zealand… in a van! I came here with my boyfriend, Mono, to experience new situations that are completely distinct from the commercial lifestyle of my home in Santiago de Chile. Here are some fragments from our life on four wheels…
Our house is a Nissan Serena adapted for travel: it has a bed and a lot of space underneath to fill with our belongings. The kitchen is essentially a box full of kitchen utensils in the back of the car, and we have two stoves for cooking. Our closet is the space beneath the seats, where all our shoes and cloths are placed; our Scottish style curtains give the van a homey atmosphere, and we have organized everything to sleep and be comfortable in our reduced space. The only slight problem with our living situation is that Mono is 1.82 meters tall, and the bed doesn’t completely fit him. At least he doesn’t complain in the morning. By now I think he’s used to sleeping with his feet on the back windshield.
We don’t have a bathroom, but one great thing about New Zealand is its vast availability of comfortable, modern, and very clean public restrooms. There are some public bathrooms near the parking place where we live, and already we are familiar with the cleaning schedules, so we know the best time in the day to go. Showers? We arrange to take showers in the public swimming pool.
Originally, I thought we would only be living in the van for a couple weeks while we traveled around the South Island. However, since we were not working or earning any money once we were back from our travels, and since paying for an apartment or hostel costs at least $130 NZ Dollars per week, living in the van seemed to be the most practical way to save money and also have an adventure — my ‘flower power’ dream come true!
In Auckland’s downtown, there are not many free parking places. During the day the traffic is busy, as in any Metropolitan city, but we simply look for a parking place that doesn’t have any time or payment restrictions. We’ve met many other people who park overnight, some who live in good campervan conditions, others who just park their cars as we do. So we tried out this lifestyle, we liked it, and we decided to keep it up. It is quite agreeable, in fact; we live very close to one of the most luxury neighborhoods in downtown Auckland, without paying a dime in rent money!
Our house, our street, our neighborhood… I just love them! We have met a lot of interesting people. Cliff, one of our neighbors, came to New Zealand from Tahiti with his parents when he was only five years old. Now he’s 60, and while his permanent home is now in Australia, he has been living in Auckland in recent months. We are like a family; Cliff is always looking after us and is concerned with whether we are okay. I love the way he celebrates our small victories, like the day Mono got the working holiday visa, or when I came back after a big day of cleaning jobs. On such occasions, we are greeted by a funny jump and a “yoohoo!” and sometimes a gift of a bottle of red wine (his favorite) to celebrate!
Cliff is a designer, but he only works part-time. When we leave the car, it’s nice to know that he’ll be around to keep an eye on things, it makes us feel much more secure. However, one day Cliff didn’t come home, and we waited for him day after wondering where he might be. Despite our calling and texting, we didn’t get any response back. We thought maybe he had gone to his daughter’s place, but we asked everyone in the neighborhood and nobody had any news from Cliff. After a week, we became really worried about him and began imagining the most terrible things! However, later that night as I was returning home from work on my bike, I saw something that looked like Cliff’s car, and I just sped up to get there as fast as possible… and just like that, there he was! He was just smiling, listening to his sixties music, and drinking wine as if nothing had ever happened. You can imagine the relief I felt when I saw him! Fortunately he had been away working for several days, and as it turns out, it was better for him to park overnight nearer to the house he designed, and he simply wasn’t able to tell us before leaving.
Jack Russell, or “California” as we used to call him, was another neighbor of ours. He is an old nostalgic sailor man who left the US in a small boat back in the seventies. He got to Hawaii, and he realized the world is too small to live in one place your whole life, so he decided to see more of the world. When he arrived in the Polynesian Islands, he fell in love with it – the people, the dances, the food, the sea, the very blue sea. He continued sailing from place to place and ended up in New Zealand where he got his citizenship by very suspicious ways (but we don’t need that information anyway!). And now he has left again, this time for Australia. One day he simply woke up, sold his Campervan, and just left – just as he left the US so many years ago. We keep in touch with him, and not surprisingly, his life still seems to be an adventure. Thanks to Jack, we now have his bike for common-use in the neighborhood (it’s great for going to the toilet in the mornings!).
A great memory is the day that Cliff invited us to dinner after discovering that Mono hadn’t had any meat in weeks. (Due to my vegetarian habits and our freezer storage problem, we don’t often buy meat.) Cliff roasted a big ham, California brought the peanuts, we brought the drinks, and we shared in wonderful company on this lovely, friendly night beneath the full moon, with the best view of the city in this very special place, our home.
All of these people are having an adventure here in Auckland. We all share parking spaces, but we are sharing our lives as well. There is a free-feeling spirit flying around our street. But there is also nostalgia and a loneliness that can be felt when you look into Cliff’s eyes as he tells stories about his three girls, or when you hear California’s extremely sailing stories. We joke around, calling ourselves the “homeless people”, but actually we are really lucky to be living in this very exclusive place, sharing our lives with these special people and having this amazing experience.
Our experience is not that extreme at all, it’s just an experience that everyone likes to dream about, or maybe even take it on as a way of life. I’ve exceeded my own limits; in my home country I never would have thought I could have a life experience like this, I could not have imagined myself living in a car, and I never thought I would meet people who really do this as a way of life. It’s hard to believe that it was been nearly five months now since we adopted the Serena as our home here in New Zealand.
Each morning I wake up, I kiss Mono, and I think that every day we are more in love with each other and more in love with our lifestyle. We have built this world together – our life in New Zealand, in our Serena, and it has been incredible. If I could do it all again, I would do it exactly the same way. We are lucky to have the ocean just outside our front door. The feeling of waking each day to the sight, the sound, and the smell of the sea is priceless.