Of all the places I went to and people I met in New Zealand, nothing stands out as much as a man named Mike. My first memory of Mike was when my two-week field school experience was just getting started.
I was lounging around the Whitianga marina with roughly 20 other students waiting for our ferry to Great Mercury Island to arrive. It was a beautiful day–the sun was shining, there was a nice breeze, and a group of students were kicking a soccer ball around. After 15 minutes of kicking the ball around, I saw the ball go careening into the bay. Everyone was silent for a moment before I heard the man-named-Mike sigh and say, “I’ll go get it then, yeah?”. He then ran onto the docks, peeling off his shirt as he went, and dove into the water to grab the ball (before chucking it at another student).
I didn’t actually talk to Mike for the first time until several days later, when the two of us were in the same group working on the excavation of a kumara pit. He was such a boisterous and laid-back dude that anyone could talk to him and feel at ease. Which for me, a socially anxious study abroad student who had only been in the country for a week at that point, was just what I needed. We talked about differences between America and New Zealand, aspects of Maori culture, and he regaled me with stories of his adventurous life.
Some facts I learned about Mike during this time:
– He worked as a radiologist for over a decade before realizing that archaeology was his true passion and enrolling as a mature student at the University of Auckland.
– He was dating an internationally renowned fashion model.
– He used to be covered in tattoos and had them removed.
– He was big into motorcycles.
Each of these things had countless stories attached to them, many of which were hilarious, crude, or just plain weird. But he was a master story teller, and he made my time on the archaeological dig that much more interesting. I told him he should write a memoir, to which he replied: “No way, I hate writing. You could write it though!” And so we made an informal pact that I would ghost-write his memoir. (I still maintain that it would be a bestseller!).
On the way back from fieldschool, I carpooled with him, another close friend I had made during field school and her partner. We drove down the Coromandel peninsula and stopped to take pictures of a scenic ocean overview. While we were at the pull off spot on the highway, we ran into some German tourists. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it until all of a sudden, Mike started speaking in fluent German to the tourists! The three of us were bewildered and when we get back to the car (after a lengthy conversation that culminated in the German’s taking a video of him talking), I say to him: “You speak German?”
To which he grinned and replied: “I dated a German girl for three years, but only learned German when I was drunk!”
Throughout the semester, Mike proved to be a constant source of good-humor and excellent stories. He was compassionate, hilarious, and full of good advice. I’m glad to have met him as he made my trip to New Zealand infinitely more memorable. Sadly, we haven’t kept in touch since then, but when I inevitably go back to New Zealand (hopefully sooner rather than later!), I plan to get back in touch and hear even more of his wild stories.