Well, whadya expect?

Archive for November, 2007

Time to Pull on Those Boots

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand


Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand

November 30, 2007

lookin out from the Lake Tekapo YHA

So after my time in Christchurch i packed up from nicole’s house and walked the couple of miles to catch my bus all along the way realizing i have way too much stuff. sweating and exhausted at 8am i boarded the bus and battled every urge to fall into sleep for fear i might miss some fantastic view. and let me say that i would have. i may have snuck in 20 minutes of head-bobbing through some farmland and missed out on the thousands of stupidly grinning sheep, but i woke up in time to catch the views heading into Lake Tekapo, my next stop. A small little town (i must get used to the fact that every town in new zealand is a bit smaller than one might expect…you may read Tekapo has a population of 315 but it doesn’t strike you until you arrive and see the “town” is actually one street about 50 yards long). But this never matters because what you come for in New Zealand is the natural environment…the clear, still, blue-green lake calmly leading up and preparing your eyes for the distant massive rows of mountains, some still dipped in snow at the peaks.

As multiple buses stopped to dump tourists i hopped out of the town and over to my hostel which sits perfectly on the edge of the lake with a view that both entices you to come explore and at the same time sit in one of their comfy couch chairs to look out and do absolutely nothing except calmly admire the wondrous view. which really is quite a bit to do because you keep thinking “wooow…is it real?” and you want to make sure you don’t take it for granted and remind yourself…”you don’t see that every day! appreciate, appreciate!” Because the days here are so long, i was able to settle in, eat lunch, appreciate views and finally decide i’d like to head out on a hike up the nearest mountain called Mt. John. Sun was still shining brightly as i headed out…and soon on i found a hiking partner, another woman from san francisco who had decided with her husband to both quit their jobs and travel for the next 6 months. we talked all about the unfortunate result of our pressured american lifestyle that often denies youngsters the push to go and travel…to take time off and not feel guilty or wasting precious time when jobs could be at hand…i need to start climbing to the top as soon as i can!

i felt spoiled but the land surely was anything but

Was nice to chat with her and reaffirmed my passionate belief in travel to educate in a way that a college degree just can’t provide. ah…but the hike was again incredible…short but with a good steep push to the top and all along the way rewarded with views down into the lake and 3 sides of us framed by snow-capped mountain ranges, and sparkling waters below. no wonder people rave about this country! it seems that no matter where i go i get views only seen in photographic magazines! The next day i went out on another little excursion and saw new views in the other direction opposite the lake…again…impressive. the sun was scorching down, but at dark (about 11pm) the stars shone so brightly in the night sky. what a place. Time to hop on the bus again! And no naps allowed this time. We drove away from Lake Tekapo and curved around another perhaps even more specularly blue: lake pukaiki. and in the distance behind was Mt Cook/Mt Aoraki (it’s mauri name) in all it’s glory. what a view! and the day was just perfect…so clear…this is when you wish you had a car (or bicycle!) to stop and take as many photos as possible.

can look at that allll day long

But as we swerved around i realized i had luckily chosen the right side of the bus as others were clambering over each other to try and snap one to send home. i assisted a few people, sparing them the gymnastics, and they happily accepted a stranger using such a tourist-treasured appliance. and because this was our destination (mt. cook village) we swerved right along the lake following it through to the mountain valley and closer to the craggy peaks…it was a game of…how many photos can i take before i start to look crazy (hmmm…with this group? thousands). but there were some people snoozing away! i was actually tempted to wake them up and say “umm…excuse me. incredible, to-die-for, picture-perfect, kodak-moment views right out your window! this isn’t a slide show…waaaaaaaaaaake up!” maybe they wanted to be surprised. But anyway i refrained…their loss. and i did want to stay on the bus…would be a long walk yet. but you do often see people biking along the roads…like hardcore this is their only mode of transport, biking. they have packs slung over the back and front and pedalling harder than i can imagine….so hard core. but that seems like an incredible way to see the country. maybe next time? any takers? So…mt cook village is hardly even that. it should just be called mt. cook and a couple of places to stay. there used to only be one sole swanky 5-star accommodation but the monopoly has sort of been eliminated by a few others…yay for a hostel!

Traveller woes: Being a mere “village” in the middle of mountains there is of course no where to really buy food. Some basics sure….but fresh fruit, vegetables? I don’t think so. Which is great if you’re prepared…i wasn’t and so, I rationed my apples like they were the last pieces of fruit I’d ever eat again. and i have never craved something green with so much passion in all my life.  I was thinking about staying longer but I couldn’t fathom another veggieless day. i overheard one woman say to another, “would you like this broccoli? we’re leaving and i don’t want it to go to waste.” even before the other woman could answer i practically leapt over the counter and around the corner to answer “me?? yes!!” luckily…the woman said “no thanks” and then i did actually leap. i htink with a little too much enthusiam for a vegetable because she looked a bit taken aback…and quickly handed it over, ha. i explained my situation…she understaood.

you ready for this?

Now back to more exciting things i continued on my hiking streak and headed out for a little walk after that beautiful drive. i’d seen it from behind the bus window but now i needed to experience it while on my feet and breakin a sweat…definitely the better option of course. and because the days here are so long you have until about 9:30 before it gets to twilight. great for travel as you have a full day to get to your destination and still feel like not a moment could have passed since you rolled out of bed that morning. of course now you are probably more conscious and energized to explore! right. so i went off in search of the glacial lake that comes off of Mt. Cook…and what a sight that mountain was now that i was right beneath it. wow.the next 2 days i also walked, hiked, scrambled and tripped up and over rocks, boulders, roots and steps all around Mt Cook national park. and may i say…it was just stunning. You know it’s a good hike when you must concentrate on every step and try not to get distracted by the view. And that view will stop you in your tracks…and not just because your heart is pounding and legs crying. three perfect days….sun glowing down onto the massive peaks and down into the valley. of course this did make for some harsh, scorching sun rays on your back, but slap on that bush hat and we’re off! (yes…i know i look like i’m on safari…i like it). the day i hiked up the Sealy Tarns track, one of the higher peaks, was incredible. a challenging hike…about 2 hours straight up the mountain…a 500 meter climb…one “stair”after another….thinking…this is gotta be it! up…nope…look…there’s a little tiny speck scrambling up there…i suppose that’s where i’m headed? oy. but wow…what views…all around. and it was a scorcher of a day. making it all the more rewarding when you hit the top (well one of the “tops”…you can actually continue another 500 meters or so to the ridge of the mountain range where a hut accommodates serious pack-treckers for a night or two) and have your little lunch waiting for you.

looking into the valley and Aoraki in the distance

There’s really nothing like eating lunch after a good hike sitting up on a mountain with extraordinary views in all directions (yes…just right past the man with hot-pink shorts and knee high socks: it’s a popular hike so don’t get the wrong idea…there were a few other people sharing the moment). Well…what a great week it had been on my first exploration of NZ. this hiking thing was suiting me just fine…and i looked forward to keep the activity steak going…and as i found…it’s not a hard thing to do in new zealand…wow…i really like this place. the main attraction lies in the outdoors: go for a hike, go for a tramp, sleep out where you can see the stars and really, truly explore the nature (and i’m talking both kinds of nature) of the country.

on my way again...it really seems like everywhere you go a fantastic view awaits


A "New" Kind of Kiwi

Christchurch, New Zealand

November 21, 2007

downtown Christchurch...appropraiate pic

Alright, alright…I’m sorry it’s been so long since new, exiting words have found their way to this page. Of course maybe after that last one you were hoping to find an apology of some sort (it has been edited finally!). Or perhaps you’re thinking…hmmm…has it been a while?…I only come here when extremely bored.

So i’ll get to it. let’s just say New Zealand already wins a secure place in my heart. I had only heard wonderful things about the place and must admit that i waited in giddy anticipation on the plane ride. while in Europe I admit that this part of my journey seemed so far off i had almost forgotten this whole other adventure waiting in the southern hemisphere. Like a little bonus after visiting with my friends in OZ: “surprise! You get new Zealand too!” like a little present at the end of all the rewarding but sometimes tiring travel. like starting all over again…an entirely new kind of place to explore.

looking out of the art gallery

Let’s start out with a few basic facts. New Zealand: population? 4 million people. Amount of sheep? 37 million. And actually, 3 million of these people are on the north island, mainly in the “big city” Auckland. So yes…little fluffy, wobbly creatures dot the mostly wide-open country side. Other interesting fact: No one in new zealand is more than 128 kilometers from the ocean. And it would seem that every person is obliged to be the friendliest you’ve met. New Zealanders (Kiwis!) are also quite an active bunch. One amazing guy spoke of a 12K “fun run” that he wanted to do with his son…who’s 8. This man also feels insufficient in that he has only completed one marathon (in which he unexpectedly took 2nd). They also love their “tramping” as it’s called here…which for those uniformed…is wilderness fun. i.e. trekking, hiking and camping all combined into a nice kiwi-style word. And let’s talk kiwis.  People are kiwis, kiwi birds are very rare and nocturnal, kiwifruits are green and have twice the vitamin c of an orange and 20% more potassium than a banana! Good! You’re all sorted and ready to travel through new zealand! And since the plane flight’s on the expensive side I’ll do my best here for ya….

city on the water

Heaps to talk about so I’ll just try limit myself and write a few entries to contain it all. Christchurch was my first stop, the largest city on the south island, and as you now know…this isn’t really all that big. More like a town than city, it is beautiful, vibrant but also quaint. My hostel turned out to be across the street from a veggie restaurant/organic brewery and the entire arts center, complete with a theatre, independent artist studios and stores that hosts an outdoor crafts fair every weekend. Yes…I think this place will do quite well thanks. Enjoyed being in a new place and of course browsing through the arts center more than once. The botanical gardens were also a beautiful place to hang out and read and run into a german girl I met in the hostel I stayed one night in Melbourne. This whole small world thing is really starting to become apparent. We actually ended up hanging out a few times which was great. Another nice thing was meeting up with an old friend from Hamilton and being able to hang out with she and her boyfriend. She came to new Zealand after graduation to work for a while and has now been in Christchurch for 2 years. We had some fun adventures including mountain biking, plastic men! (heh), and organic food shopping which we’ve both become slightly obsessed with. But seriously…who knew a tube of toothpaste could cost $10? Was once again great to catch up with an old friend and have hilarious times together. Was able to borrow her bike and head on a little trip to the local Sumner Beach, about 10K away which was a nice ride except for the insane gale that practically blew me off this 1-speed mountain bike with a parrot squeaker horn on the handle bar.

the views begin. it's just so crisp and clean everywhere

As I approached the coast highway I saw another guy go by on bike, “wow…that dudes really chuggin along slowly” looked as if he was going up a mountain. And then I turned into the “storm”. Lovely day apart from that damn wind blowing! I hadn’t intended a workout, but at this point it was either pump through the unrelenting wind or start rolling backwards…no really. I arrived panting and slightly shaken to lounging coffee drinkers and ice cream eaters. I immediately ran to change into less wet clothing and I think the woman at the swanky restaurant let me in out of sheer pity…or terror. I stalked in half mad: red face, completely dishevelled muttering “toilet?” I came out a new person ready to hit the sands. The tiny beach town greeted me nicely. And the beach sits uniquely as the shore comes to a point and jets off in two directions along a right angle. I laid in the sand for a bit but of course the wind didn’t stop and I greeted far too many sand grains with my face that I didn’t manage to shield off with my makeshift jacket fort. Oh sand…I think I may still have some granular souvenirs from that trip.

in the city now, but your never far from the beautiful outdoors

In Christchurch i also got a taste for that New Zealand outdoorsy love on a little hike that Nicole recommended. Wonderful views through the hills and mountains of Christchurch and got high enough to look out to the ocean and coast line. Sure is a harsh environment around these parts. The sun is so intense here….6pm feels much like our 2pm and it wasn’t long before I was huffing up a sweat hiking up through the brush. On my way back an older guy was running up this thing. Hardcore kiwis. After a week in Christchurch I was rarin’ to see the rest of this country, hopped a bus and before I knew it spectacular views hit full force…and 2 months later I don’t think the landscape has ceased to impress.

Back Home Down Under

Melbourne, Australia

November 11, 2007

hey this place looks familiar...

The sun scorches, the flies swarm and Vegemite and Tim-Tams abound…i must be back in oz. was such a trip to leave the European continent and head off across the seas…on the way somehow passing by 2 days. yes…we all know that crazy phenomenon known as the date-line…but it still freaks me out none the less. i had a very interesting experience i must say. my flight left late at night out of Paris (the 3rd)…my flight was delayed (of course) so we started boarding the plane about 12:30am. after thoroughly packing the plane i was nicely nestled in a middle seat in the middle row of this massive jetliner…next to…you guessed it…some horribly sick person. felt bad for her actually…sniffling, sneezing, coughing…looking unwell all around. anyway…around this time they fed us dinner i guess trying to get us onto some other time clock somewhere in the world…who knows. i guess they figure that if we’re full and happy with food and in-flight entertainment, we’ll sedately slip to sleep. i sort of “slept” for the next 4 hours at which point we were greeted with breakfast because landing in Singapore it was about 7am there. after getting on the plane we were now on an Australian airline and of course…in Australia at this time it is evening…so guess what?? you have dinner again!

trams are ingenious. welcome to Melbourne (say it: Melbin!)

big city views

The airline switched me seats and when my veggie meal didn’t come immediately i was a bit nervous…apparently they gave it to some dude sitting in my original seat! who would take a vegan meal??! who knows…but i actually ended up getting an “asian meal” which i was quite wary about just from the name. what exactly might this be…”Asian meal” hmmm…a meal taking on the entire cultral properties of a large geographical area…well…anyway…it was pretty much the best airplane food i’d ever recieved…so remember kids…the asian meal will do you fine! i highly suggest it actually! a nice curry with rice…mmm. but on with the interesting eating schedule about 3 hours later i had breakfast one more time because in Melbourne it was about 6am on the 5th! where does the time go? somewhere into the date-line abyss. all i do know is that 4 meals (none of them being lunch) and 20 hours later i arrived half way around the globe slightly fogged but actually feeling a lot less tired than i should. another fun time was after all the ridiculous amount of eating i did on the way over i managed to stuff all my peanuty/almondy food in my mouth before customs (australia is mighty strict)….i’m literally standing away from the line just shoveling food into my mouth because i refuse to waste ANY of it. i found out later all these things i rapaciously ate are allowed in…ahh well.

And i have never in my life been so happy to see ENGLISH! i literally kept muttering in a happy and pleasantly surprised voice “enlgish…look, english…i love english! ENGLISH!” i felt like someone who had crossed miles of desert and had finally found a water hole. it was nice to not feel like a complete dolt everytime you want to interact with another human being. the pointing, body-twisting sign language that had managed to get me around was getting old. not to mention taking guesses on food labels. i actually noticed that for the first few days when i would pass a sign i would just blatantly ignore it…so conditioned to thinking…well…i can’t read it! only to find…hey! i’m literate again! my brain was feeling functional again and glad to exercise in conversations outside my own head.

visiting with my juggly friends!

yep...they juggle! (way better than i) amazing!

Wow…so much to say about Melbourne. This will (too late…) be a long one. As some of you may know, I returned to Australia solely to visit my long-lost Aussie friends i had made while studying abroad right here in Melbourne (unfortunately i was not blogging during that semester and travels around OZ). wish i would have had more time and money to travel around the country again as i loved it before…but it just didn’t happen. anyway…it was lovely to be back in Melbourne, hang out with friends and not be a tourist. ah…it was great to see everyone! footy friends, jugglers and more! gahh…i’ve now made more friends that i will surely miss while way away when i ‘m back in the states. i already know that i have to get back to Australia. cool places and cool people will do that to you. and i love it. i surfed around from bed, to futon, to camper mattress and another bed. it was great and everyone’s hospitality was incredible…as you would expect from Australians. the whole country has this marvelous laid-back atmosphere you only experience in beach towns in california. they are also much further ahead in environmental conservation…man i love it there. and Melbourne itself just has this incredible artsy vibe. so much going on! like i said…i did quite a bit of hanging out. took my first day to visit all the old places i had frequented during my semester bringing back some great and strange memories. (oh unilodge). While staying with footy friend Mary-Anne and her partner Dave we went on a great bike ride down the Yarra, kicked the footy around (yay! i missed it so!), checked out a museum and hung-out in their near-by park relaxin and throwin the frisbee around….all the while in realization that this is the life ! also got to celebrate Mary-Anne’s b-day while i was there…good fun!

out for Mary-Anne's b-day

Other time was spent with jugglers and i stayed at the happy-go-lucky Rob’s place. i absolutely love that kid. what a great guy…he even greeted me with a box of Tim-Tams! his good friend Ben loaned his camper mattress (double bed size!) and i took over there entire apartment living room. haha. hanging out with the jugglers was amazing and i realized how much i missed them all… just so much fun…juggly fun! we had house-warming/cooling parties, cheescake/swim parties…and of course…juggling sessions. love it. And all this while i got to know Ben better and he offered me a spare room in his house to stay! amazing! i happily accepted and it was so great hanging out with this guy…does he know how to cook and therefore ate quite well in my time down under! ! Ben is another one of those awesome dudes…was so happy to meet and get to know him. we often got sucked into his bean bag chairs chatting until much too late in the evening. and he was even kind enough to loan me his bike for the duration of my stay so i could cruise around at my own will: check out the beach…ride around town…these kinds of things. i miss being there already.

nice day for a coastal wander

but apparently all the flies thought so too...look at the all! ehhhhg!

Another day a guy i had met in Czech Republic who lives in Melbouren took me out for a day trip to the coast…was nice to get away from the city (especially because the temperatures were over 100) and cruise the coast. we enjoyed the beach for a bit before being attacked by flies. i’m not joking when i say there were probably about 50 or more flies for each of us…just buzzing around your face….uhhh! wretched! was still a nice day though…haha. oh australia. melbourne really does feel like a home away from home. I also got a personl tour of the biggest footy/cricket stadium in Melbourne where most of the major matches take place, the MCG!! my old Mugars (footy) teammate/coach, Chyloe, now works for the AFL and works in the stadium promoting and creating more opportunities for woman and girls alike in the sport. was great to see her and hard to know that i wouldn’t be able to stay and play for the upcoming season. walking onto those grounds would be enough to spark anyone’s interest.

mate...let me tell ya, there's some beautiful sights downunder

On my last night there, Nyssa, one of the jugglers, was having her house-cooling (too hot to be warming anything!) party and some of the other jugglers i had not seen (one was doing a year-long circus course in New Zealand!) were there…it was so great to catch them before i headed out. we goofed around…ate way too much food and let me tell you…it was so hard to say goodbye all over again and ride that bike off…thinking…when will be the next time i see them?? like i said…i’ll be back. work there or something…just can’t stay away from these kids. it’s funny..and i don’t mean this in any kind of insulting way but when i saw all my friends…one by one i noticed that many of them actually looked older. weird to think about anything changing while you are away. i mean…nobody look old …just older and it was a bit strange. besides my hair going from long and dark to short and blond…i wonder if i looked much different to them. 2 years…doesn’t seem possible. and you know you have good friends when after that long it seems like just yesterday you were hanging out, kickin the footy around…juggling a few clubs…just start right back up. besides the whole 20 minutes of life catch up…it really feels the same. and there is nothing like that. and to be able to pick up with people on all ends of the globe…well…you can’t beat that.

And after a hard decision i booked my ticket off to new zealand and extended my stay there 2 more months. I was off to a new, unseen country and ready to be on the backpacker/adventure-around -the-country route again…it excites any world trekker.