We are sitting in a cafe in Papakoura, about a half hour drive outside of Auckland airport, New Zealand. Not a great coffee lover, I am amazed at the silky soft hot drink I’m sipping.This is truly the best Latte I have ever tasted. The company is rather special too. When our flight landed ahead of schedule at 4:am from San Francisco to Auckland we headed out for the train station in Papakoura where we would meet up with The Northern Explorer train to Wellington. “You’re early.” The woman at the ticket counter had a warm smile and a cheerful demeanor. We would soon learn that the warmth and friendliness this woman showed us is common in New Zealand where strangers are welcome. We asked if there was anywhere we could get a coffee and hang out for the next couple of hours while we waited for the train. It was thanks to the blonde curly haired ticket lady that we ended up Chez Trish on the outskirts of this little town.
Having left our suitcases at the station under the watchful eye of our ticketing friend, we stumbled into cafe Mottletop out of the warm drizzle that reminds me so much of Portia’s “gentle rains from Heaven.” If a coffee shop is filled with books I know I have come to the right place. No wonder the coffee tastes so good. What is it that makes a place welcoming? Naturally the scent of freshly baked goods,cheese scones, muffins, brownies and much more is enticing. The long red glass top table with a shelf of magazines beckoning from beneath the glass reminds me of home and I want to pull some of them out and flip through recipes in the Woman magazine, and indulge in the photos and stories from National Geographic. I scan the book shelves to see what’s there. The books we carry tell us so much about each other and Trish, and her assistant, Faith, are as delightful as the tomes in the refectory style cafe. “Are you travelers?” We’ve shared our travel plans with Trish and Faith and Trish, delighted to have a couple from San Francisco stumble into her shop is introducing us to all the locals who roll in for their early morning fix. It took me a few seconds to respond to the question. Where I come from “travelers” is another name for gypsies, or tinkers. i smile at the thought and say yes. Trish jumps in and tells the sandy haired man wearing an open fleece jacket over a polo-neck and shorts;”They’ve come all the way from San Francisco and ended up here in little Papakoura’. I love Trish. She is one of those women who radiates warmth, friendship and sheer joy at being in your company.I discover when leaving that she is huggy like me. Trish’s locals are interesting and as welcoming as she is. it is the first day back at school and we share the anticipation of a new school year with a couple of teachers, one of whom is clinging to the hope that the kids keep their energy in check as she is tired this morning, and the other has “butterflies in my stomach. Much like the little ones, I suppose.” We have moved from the bar stools at the counter and settled at a table. In this position by the door and window I feel as though I am holding court being greeted by all who come and go and share a slice of life with us. “It’s my son’s first day at school.” A man stands with coffee mug and scone in front of us and makes his announcement. “Congratulations” I say and “you must be so proud.” What strikes me is this father’s age.He has the look of a man in his late forties, maybe early fifties. I cannot imagine having a young child of my own about to start school. There is so much time between here, where I am now, and there where my own daughter was twenty-two years ago. “They’re travelers,” our fleecy friend feels the need to point out to our proud father. We repeat our itinerary which at that time saw us leaving New Zealand after a two week visit and heading out to Australia, Singapore, South Africa, and Brazil before returning to San Francisco. Since our coffee chez Trish we have added Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to our list of countries to explore. Trish takes a photo of us for her Face Book page. We exchange hugs and I promise to send postcards. Armed with hot-buttered cheese scones we head back to the station, thankful for my new purple rain jacket bought at REI in a “just in case” moment. The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world.The distance between San Francisco and Aukland is 6,543miles. We have spanned an enormous gap. Yet the gap that we have travelled across is extraordinary in many ways, and I feel sensitive to where we are, what I know, and more importantly don’t know about it. In London, underground commuters are used to the recording of the woman with the BBC English accent calling out “Mind the Gap,” when the train doors open at each station and bustling passengers push and shove to get off and on the train. The newer tubes have been designed to cover the gap. The gap to be minded as I travel in New Zealand and onward is that of culture, history, customs, social norms and expectations,and language. It is all too tempting to fall into the pseudo-comfort zone of believing that the English language is “English” everywhere it is spoken. I know all too well coming from England and living in the USA that this is not so. There are words, and phrases, and idioms that while the words are the same the meaning is not. Each group of English language speakers have their own subsets of communicators who express and understand each other according to many sociolinguistic factors. For now i am delighted that the spelling I use, English English, as opposed to American English is the same as that used in New Zealand. Such a colourful place! (Sorry. I couldn’t resist it.) As a British person traveling in New Zealand, I need to be mindful of the history. I need to be respectful of the past, of the pain and strife inflicted on the native Maori people by the British settlers. There are under-currents still today. There is a gap between us, a gap in understanding and acceptance of the past. I will write more about the history and mythoology of this great land as I move along with my journey. What I can tell you now is that I will certainly take heed and mind the gap.