Puttin' in Work

Prior to arriving in Blenheim, the closest I had ever come to setting foot in a factory was whilst sample hunting on Sundays at my neighborhood Costco. Such is no longer the case. An impeccably timed and (in backpacker terms) unequivocally lucrative opportunity to work in the food processing industry arose for me, and I've been steady logging 50 hour weeks in a mussel/clam factory for the last month.

Back Story: Becca and I were down to the last $18 in our NZ bank account when we happened upon a peculiarity during a sullen trod along the streets of downtown Blenheim in fairly frantic search for gainful employment.
Literally out of the blue on the sidewalk in front of us there lay an open wallet with a fat stack of crispy bills hanging out -- the big ones too, none of them rinky dink 5's and 10's. Our moral compasses and sense of civility prevailed over the devils on our shoulders, and we were able to track down the mother of the owner and return it to her co-worker within an hour -- we later got a phone call from the wallet owners mother asking us where we found it and thanking us, but we weren't given any reward for our effort.

However, our borderline desperate situation turned around unbelievably fast after this trial of humanity/ lesson in humility. Within 24 hours of the wallet incident, we responded to a post on the NZ backpacker board website seeking a couple to act as weekend managers of the Lemon Tree Lodge in exchange for free accommodation in a studio apartment -- we literally power walked from the library where we saw the post straight to the Lemon Tree and assumed the position immediately; we were given the keys to our new pad before the proprietor even knew our names and told we could move in that day. We started the same night and have been holding down the fort weekend in and weekend out since then.

This took care of our housing expenses, indeed a blessing, but we still faced a formidable quandary: we had $18 in the bank. We left on our adventure with a far lesser monetary sum than almost anyone I've ever heard of who was doing a trip like this, and certainly we haven't met a soul here who jump roped on a shoe string as far as we had. We had a combined $2500 U.S. after purchasing plane tickets/ spending a week in Fiji; to illustrate our lack of free wheelin' purchasing power, Becca has some co-workers ( spoiler alert) who have spent ....40,000 POUNDS!!! in their 10 months on the road so far.....that's like $70,000. Gnarly. You might as well be in a Four Seasons every night if you're dishing out that kind of dough, not strapping on steel toe gum boots to process mussels.

Our financial woes were soon put down. Three days after the wallet incident, I was offered a days work at PHR Processing. I had no idea what was in store, but naturally accepted. I spent the day stacking 10 kilogram boxes of mussels into a storage container -- not that fun, but the factory owner (Vinny) really looks out for travelers -- I can't tell you how refreshing that is after the limited experience we've had with various contractors; we've seen / heard about plenty of pathetic attempts on the contractors part to exploit temporary laborers. Although I only worked 8 hours, I was paid for 10. Two days later, I was asked to come back and help out in the packing room again. After I demonstrated some basic math skills while packing and stacking to capitalize on our limited storage space, I was offered a full time job. Two weeks later, Becca was offered a full time position at a different (much larger) mussel processing factory. It might not sound like we're doing anything noteworthy, but consider that we set up camp in a totally foreign / alien country and now save well over $1000 a week having had no connections or short cuts.

We are now putting our heads down and grinding out our time here while making plans for the next few installments of our trip. The following 3 or 4 months after we finish here (starting end of July) will be entirely vacation oriented, and we'll have to budget wisely to afford ourselves all of the adventures we are hoping for. So far, we've booked our bus tickets to Queenstown and Christchurch -- spending only about a week between the two. We also bought our plane tickets to Bali, Indonesia leaving out of Christchurch on July 30th. We'll spend 2 weeks spread among 3 spots in Bali, then will spend about 3 weeks in South East Asia. Several other destinations are in the pipeline, but we can keep you all in suspense until we're posting photos from said locations!

Dennis WalkerComment