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When I was little my mom said to me, “you need five hugs a day to survive, eight hugs to feel good, and twelve hugs to soar.”  For my whole life I have lived by this lesson, embracing my family, friends, and even acquaintances I’ve just met.  It would be an understatement to say I love hugs.  Despite this, I have found myself in somewhat of a hug-drought since I began my travels (as I write this Erin is promising to hug me more…even though she has a touch of sass in her voice I chose to believe her).  Why is this?  I meet so many people each day, and yet my arms are aching in unwanted solitude.  My body is responding by shutting down–last week I came down with a terrible head and sinus cold, causing my eyes to ache and my nose to sound like a coughing train every time I try to breathe through it.  Okay, maybe I’m being melodramatic.  The cold I got from Erin, not a lack of hugs.  But still. 

I didn’t notice the lack of hugs until this past Thursday when we arrived in Alexandra where we met Alice Evatt, a good friend of my cousins’.  Though Alice and I had been emailing since I began planning for this trip, we did not meet in person until that afternoon.  As soon as she spotted us sitting at the bus stop amid our stuffed backpacks and canvas bags of food, she walked across the street and wrapped me up in a hug that was so strong and welcoming that it counted as three.  She then scooped up some of our bags, helped us over to her car and drove us to the lookout where we could see the mountains rise up like the sides of a bowl to hold Alex and Clyde, the town over.  Wild thyme spread across the land, growing up around rocks in sandy soil and casting a purple color on the land while snow still streaked the mountaintops on the horizon.  As we stood at the lookout the wind whipped our hair and Alice explained the town’s gold-mining history and fruit-growing present.  Living up to the lesson #2 from the Magic Bus Drivers, Alice then brought us to see Alex’s claim to fame:  the clock on the hill, the largest outdoor clock in the southern hemisphere.  It is quite impressive, though no one in town can ever use the excuse they lost track of time. 

After a brief sightseeing venture through the town, we arrived at Alice’s house.  It was such a relief to relax after our 9-hour bus ride!  My cold had a tight grip on my head by this point and I was grateful for a large supply of toilet-paper tissues and a cold glass of water.  Alice and her boyfriend Anthony made us feel so much at home; Alice cooked a great meal of lamb with Anthony’s family mint sauce and wild thyme, kumara, mashed potatoes, peas, asparagus, and a bottle of local Riesling from Black Ridge Vineyard.  It was the best meal I’ve had since I left Vermont!  For dessert she made pavlova, two meringue type cakes with whipped cream and kiwis, or as Erin calls it, “the dessert of the angels.”  Needless to say, we ate the leftover pavlova for breakfast. 

There are times when I feel I should always be on the go because I’m in New Zealand and have to take it all in.  But being in Alexandra gave me the time to slow down and remember that part of experiencing a place is having a day or two to do nothing but bake bread and lay on the couch.  Our time at Alice’s recharged me; my nose no longer sounds like a train, my sinuses have stopped aching, and I can sleep without worrying about snoring again.  Sleeping in a house instead of a hostel, having a fantastic meal and conversation, and giving myself permission to be lazy all contributed to my cold recovery, but I think the most important thing was the hug.