Ralph Waldo Emerson

The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kiwi Christmas.

Ever more pics at http://www.flickr.com/photos/8151765@N03/?saved=1

Well there’s that then, my first Christmas away from home’s over and done with. And you know what? I had a blast. I’m currently wading into the job hunt to fund my next adventures as well as rooting around for auditions and free lance film jobs, so I’ll let you know what comes of that.

That being said, here’s a rough outline of how the Kiwi Christmas went down:

1. Carly Ann and I woke up early (of course, it was Christmas after all) and laid on our blow up mattress talking about what we’d be doing if we were celebrating at home.
2. I made some kick ass blueberry muffins while Carly Ann started working her magic on her traditional Puerto Rican food.
3. There are these popper things that everyone gets here that make a loud, well, pop, when you pull them open and inside there’s a really bad joke and a paper crown. You see people all over the city wandering around in these silly hats the whole week leading up to Christmas. An example of said bad joke: “What do you get when you cross a fish and two elephants? Swimming Trunks”. Yup, I told ya. Bad.
4. In an apparent move to embrace our changing interests, Santa put Mac’s Gold Malt Lager in each of our stockings. I admire his ability to adapt.
5. My amazing family sent along a box with all sorts of happy things to open on Christmas morning. Thanks guys!!!!
6. Then there was lots of movie watching, cooking, sitting around, greeting our French buddy Edward, going out to peek in on other people’s Christmases. The Kiwis were a bit down because they usually have sunny Christmas BBQs on the beach, but unfortunately it was dumping rain so instead we saw them carting tin foil covered plates between houses.
7. After our early dinner the weather decided to clear a bit so we went to walk around the bay and up onto the lookout point above the city. Along the way we came upon an epic rope swing, and I do mean epic. I’ve seen many a rope swing in my day, but I think this may be the best one I’ve ever been on. Anything that mixes a great ride with a very real fear for your life is definitely a good time…well that is until Carly Ann gave it a go and ended up doing a butt slide down the steep, rocky embankment. We’re worried she may be taken to a women’s clinic with all of her deep purple bruises.
8. As we carted Carly Ann back home to survey the damage, we came across a slightly scruffy looking 20-something-guy eating a sandwich in the park. If that doesn’t scream lonely backpacker I don’t know what does. Within a couple minutes he had joined the crew and was heading back with us for more card games and movie watching. It was straight up Dickens.

So that’s the short and long of it. I hope all your holidays are merry and good and that your New Year is as thrilling as an epic rope swing…unless of course your name is Carly Ann.

PS If you are female, see Enchanted. I saw it with the girls last night and totally loved it. If you’re male, I hope whatever woman you’re with has enough sense to leave you at home while she goes to see it. For both your sakes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wellington/FK Promo Video

So I took the ferry from the Picton to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. I have to admit, the minute I landed I was about ready to turn around and head back to the South Island. To suddenly go from a place inhabited by more sheep than people to a huge city complete with sky scrapers and taxi drivers was a bit of a shock. Add to the fact that I was driving for the first time on the wrong side of the road in my boss' very nice SUV and I was a bit on sensory overload. Luckily I'm settling in and starting to really dig the busy, artsy scene here. Plus, random acquaintances I've met throughout my travels keep popping up, so that's good fun. I'm sure that soon I'll be sipping soy cappuccinos in my Ray Bans and skinny jeans with the best of them. While I work out being a Wellingtonian hipster, here's a link to a promo video I made for Flying Kiwi for ya--it's not the best quality since it's on the web, but it'll give you a good idea of what I've gotten to be a part of. Good times. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8679505182594571089

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Possum Aplenty

Alright, they're all bass ackwards, but I added some new pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8151765@N03/sets/72157603278592741/

Okay, made it to Sunny Nelson! Where, ironically enough, it’s currently rainy and drizzly. Ah, well, it gives me reason to sit down and update y’all with my current week’s adventures.

Flying Kiwi proved to be even more awesome the second time round. The group that I hopped on with was a whole mix of nationalities—we had representatives from Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and even another American. The crew had already been traveling around together for a few weeks and so were an unstoppable force of good times and happy carousing. From watching shooting stars in our camp on the northern part of Lake Wanaka to cycle rides, rain drenched glacier walks and rugby lessons, I had an awesome week. Oh and I went skydiving. That was good fun too.

Thus far, the West Coast and Abel Tasman region are my favorite places in New Zealand. They’re everything you’ve dreamed NZ to be: rugged, full of crazy people and completely gorgeous. One of my favorite stops was the Bush Man Experience. A white bearded man, who in any other part of the world would be institutionalized, runs a cafe/museum whose decor is a lesson in the many uses of possum skin. Let’s just say the seat covers gave me the heebie jeebies. The specialty of the cafÈ is possum pies and the museum is chock full of hunting pictures and equipment. Yes, this man is the essential tourism entrepreneur, charging suckers like myself $5 so that we can observe his shotgun collection, feed his wild boar and then watch his special documentary on the Kiwi tradition of capturing live game. Any film that begins with "Danger Zone" throbbing beneath video of a shotgun-armed man in a helicopter taking aim at various wild game is automatically high on my must-see list, I tell you what.

I have to say, though, it is well worth your ticket to New Zealand to experience that movie. Apparently the NZ government paid hunters to "control" the deer population back in the 70s, up until one forward thinking hunter realized that there was a market for red deer meat in Germany. So the hunters became trappers, capturing live animals to bring back to a deer farm. Easy, right? Wrong. These trappers decided the best way to get live game was to jump from a helicopter onto the fleeing animal’s back, wrestle them to the ground and then hog tie them so that they can be carted away, ankle up, beneath the helicopter. I’m not kidding. Needless to say, the end of the film gives tribute to all the good men who gave their lives to the cause.

Anyhow, I put the link for more pictures up at the beginning of the post. There’s not too many, but that’ll give you an idea of some of the gorgeous places I’ve gotten to go through. I hope all your Xmas and Chanukah and New Years’ preparations are going well—and don’t you worry, I’ll have a permanent address soon so you can send me all the holiday gifts you want. Bank transfers are also appreciated. Seriously. Just pop in a few thousand, I won’t mind. Love and miss you guys!!!

Friday, December 7, 2007

All's well that ends well.

I don’t know about you, but the last post left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Things were crappy, loose ends left untied…and so this post comes to bring a nice happy ending to the story of Wanaka. (I know this one is anything but brief, but I had fun writing it. Also, I’m in the midst of reading Tolstoy, so you may find that my writing here edges on being annoyingly romanticized. Hence, if after reading a bit you feel you can’t get through it without a good chug of vodka, I leave you to find said drink and leave off reading until I’m back in a more satirical and brief mood)

After the little incident with the Germans there was a subtle yet unmistakable dampening to the morale of the American crew. No longer an unstoppable force of confident unity (not to mention endless boxes of wine), I found myself feeling somewhat agitated and unsettled among the crew I was running with. Even so, a trip out into the woods sounded real good and I was willing to look past some shortcomings in order to tramp around outside for a few days. So Tuesday we set out with bags full of trail mix and non-cotton clothing.

Yet backpacking is a funny thing, it has a tendency to bring out the strongest characteristics in people for better or for worse. As with my dad in Turkey, it was for the better. We saw each other, warts and all, and even in spite of some spats found even greater respect for one another in those hours of constant togetherness. As with the American crew, the experience just made me that much more certain that our tenure together was over. Not that they were bad people or any different than they had been, but I was different, and I knew that whatever bond had held us together was crumbling by the hour. By the third morning I grabbed my belongings and said farewell to that portion of my NZ travels.

There are times in life when you can’t help but feel like a badass. This was one of them. I left them all my food, took a carrot from the food sac and without a backward glance trudged thigh deep through glacial fed streams and out to start my next adventure. In a few hours I was back out on the dirt road hitching a ride with some rock climbers back into town and by 3pm had myself checked in to a cool hostel just outside of town. They could say whatever they liked about me, and perhaps they did, but the moment I felt those icy waters seeping into my Soloman shoes, I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be.

And so free now to enjoy Wanaka on my own terms, I went out last night to catch a French flick called Le Vie en Rose at this really cool little movie theater called "Paradiso" in town. It’s one of those places you can’t help but love. You walk in to a wall of fabulous scents as organic pizzas, wraps, soups and salads are being prepared for people to take in with them to the movie. The seats are a medley of couches, complete with crocheted cozies, and even an old yellow Beetle convertible set up to one side. At intermission (yes, there’s an intermission) you are met with the smells of freshly baked cookies, still warm from the oven and well worth the $3 charge. Mom: look into white chocolate ginger cookie recipes. I think I’m in love. Before the movie began I found myself a date. Mark’s a 70-something Englishman who comes to NZ each year to volunteer at various national parks, and he and I had a fabulous time discussing the film and reminiscing about the wonders of Le Bons Bay. Turns out he was the very Englishman that I had overheard my hosts saying would be arriving a few days after I was to leave the backpacker. Small world.

Anyhow, it was on the happy walk home that the bookend came to my Wanaka experience. Blinded by streetlights I could see the forms of people moving in my direction, but couldn’t make out who they were until I was suddenly in the midst of them and being clapped on the back. The Germans! Here they were! Two of them (including Chris, the one that had so verbally pummeled me) had walked past in an attempt to avoid me, but the third, Julia, was quite happy to see me. She and I had developed a common bond in spite of the past few days. The other guy in the party, Kerry, was completely ignorant of what had passed and was just as enthralled as ever by the fact that we have the same name. God bless him. And so the two of them looped their arms into mine and took me off with them to grab a beer. I’m sure the first two Germans were quite thrilled.

At first it was somewhat awkward. I chatted with Julia and Kerry as the two others cast me grumpy sideways glances. We talked a bit about everything, touching on the fact that I was now on my own, and after a bit my beer glass was empty and I started to say my good byes. "Wait", said Chris, grasping my arm, "I have something to say". Seeing as this was exactly how he had started our previous conversation, I was less than thrilled to hear what would follow.
But this time the conversation was quite different. By the end of it, he’d apologized for his assumptions and we’d even had an awkward hug. Hurrah for reconciliation. It’s nice to be able to take the Germans off the People Who Hate Me List.

So that’s the story of Wanaka. And now at 4 my bus will come and take me up the West Coast to hike a glacier, hunt for Kiwi birds and clamber about on pancake rocks. By next Saturday I’ll be in Nelson and by Christmas in Wellington to celebrate with Carly Ann at her flat. So if you’ve read this far into the post, I commend you. Now go bake yourself to a white chocolate chip ginger cookie and maybe some good strong Egg Nog.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mauling the Messenger

I suppose in travel writing it's important to balance the good with the bad, so as to avoid portraying my life on the road as some idyllic jaunt from one grand adventure to the next. So, yeah, I went through a bit of a rough patch in the last few days. It's a long, complicated and confusing story so I'll spare you the gritty details; suffice it to say the happy hippie commune became a zone of cultural warfare. It was straight up WWII style, with the German Axis against the American Allies. For each of our own individual reasons, we found ourselves gravitating to one side or the other. It was getting utterly ridiculous, people making snide comments and avoiding eachother. I mostly just ignored the problem and tried to stay friends with everyone, but of course things never quite turn out the way you plan. The juant to Queenstown was supposed to be a fun escape, but while we were out having a blast, things in Wanaka were crumbling into a terrible mess.

I had begun receiving desperate texts from the young Kiwi girl in the house that the Germans were telling her we owed $120 to them and that she was going to have to pay it since we weren't around. I opted that we go back to Wanaka and clear up the mess, thinking Team America was all aboard. Plus, I considered myself a good diplomat between the two parties and envisioned myself confidently striding into the fray and sorting everything out no problem. Yup. I'm a moron.

So the minute we got into town the crew charged into the house to find Matt, the leader of the Axis team. Unfortunately the minute he and I began our little peace talks, the Allies un-allied themselves and disappeared. Long story short, I saw his side of things and paid him my $40 portion of the debt, but then had to sit through one of those "killing the messenger" routines where another very angry German threw some very creative broken-English insults at me while I made feeble attempts at defending myself. Unfortunately my guilt-switch operates at extraordinarily high levels, so when being accused of doing wrong I am prone to feel like a piece of crap no matter how valid the accusations really are. Add on top of that some translation issues as well as the complete disappearance of my US backup, my backbone went from granite to formica and I ended up shuffling out of the house feeling very confused and small. And for the first time in my 3 months here I started to think that home sounded really really good. But after leaving and having a good long sit in a nearby park, I collected myself and decided my role in the conflict was definitely over. Sure, there's now a couple Germans joining the Argentinian and Mag Pie on the life list of Those That Would Rather I Hadn't Been Born, but so it is.

I guess the good that came of a rather crappy experience was that it made me reflect and take ownership of my actions. So, yeah, all a part of the journey. And now I'm heading up to Mt. Aspiring National Park for a few days of tramping and camping and hopefully appreciating the good with the bad.