The third week has begun. Life in a campervan is becoming habitual. Getting up, making coffee, converting the bed into a table, heaving the luggage from its night-time place beneath the driver’s cab back into the storage space under the seats. Topping up the water. Emptying and refilling the tank with the liquid that endows us with the title of "self sustaining" and thus the right to park the van in the midst of nature overnight. The toxic-blue substance, a miracle of chemistry, always has the same colour, the same smell.
In Gore, on the insignificant Highway 94, comes a sudden special moment of happiness. We’re driving towards the town. Horses in mud-splashed blue coats lift their heads momentarily. A small industrial estate passes by the windows, silos and warehouses, whitewashed and riddled with rust. Two teenagers are hanging around in the draughty entrance to a vacant building bearing the faded name of "Atomic Café". A nucleus white on a black background, the outlines of a circling electron. An agricultural machine park. A picturesquely abandoned factory building. A row of severely weathered wooden houses with the typical large signs and canopies over the entrances. In the middle: a shop painted baby blue, brightly lit inside, stuffed full of colourful tins and tubes. The man behind the counter, sitting on a stool with his arms folded, looks outside expressionlessly, with a vacant look, his dark face furrowed.
After two days of tourism highlights I suddenly realize how much I’ve missed being in places that aren’t under the surveillance of countless eyes. Places that only mean something to the people who live there, and perhaps not even to them.
I haven’t yet found out why I’ve been making so many comparisons between the worlds in my time here, much more than on any other trip. Is it because I’m writing about it? Or because everything here is different, but then again not? The cool, rainy South with its herds of animals and crooked, romantic wooden fences reminds me of Scotland or the Pyrenees. And when we’re driving through this very land and spot a pile of fodder covered over with a tarpaulin and old tyres, my brain instantly signalizes: Brandenburg.
Even when I relate places strongly frequented by tourists to dull towns that appear unattractive to most visitors but make me happy, it ultimately has something to do with Berlin, with my life in the centre of East Berlin, where the population has been almost entirely replaced over the past twenty years. To do with the stress and the new lack of intimacy that accompanies a constant coming and going of residents and visitors, people who hardly know the history of the area where they live and have hardly any older neighbours who might tell those stories.
Toppled trunks with exposed roots, finely woven gossamer. Trees shooting up and suddenly thickening at the top, as if someone had stretched a picture sideways. Plants in the most various shapes and shades. Leaves reminiscent of hair. Mosses as rough as stone or as soft as peach fuzz, and more artfully intertwined than one might ever see in a European forest. I will most likely always remember the rain forest we see on the Routeburn Track.
The nearby Milford Sound, however, the dramatic, impressive bay at the most south-westerly point, left a sobered feeling in me despite its just as spectacular nature. As beautiful, as unique as the transition between sea and land is here, you have to mingle with tourist groups to explore the area – unless you have the courage to travel by kayak, much more time and money for an individual boat tour in the less frequented neighbouring bays – or the physical stamina for a three-to-four-day walking tour. A little more exercise wouldn’t do any harm, I think to myself, and I surrender myself humbly to the absurd feeling that rises within me as we sail along the fjords on a tourist boat next to a couple from Berlin-Reinickendorf.