Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I lived with them on Montague street in a basement down the stairs, there was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air

Ugh. I've been writing this lengthy wordy descriptive blog post in my head now for three weeks and and I just can't seem to find the time to get it out onto the damn screen. So instead of doing what I do best, procrastinating, I'm going to give a very quick update, with an IOU for a better writing.

I've made it Queenstown and have been sharing a room with Morgan for about three weeks. He has plucked me into the social pipeline here and I have made several new friends and found a job. I am pizza chef at Winnie's. http://www.winnies.co.nz/ and I love my job. I work with awesome people between the ages of 18 and 35 from about a dozen nationalities. I enjoy going to work just to learn more about my co-workers. I have found the German kids to be the most interesting.

As I mentioned before I could fill volumes about Queenstown but here are the essential facts: 1. It's the most beautiful place on the planet. 2. The sun never sets 3. The bars never close 4. You can walk everywhere you need to go 5. There are no children or elderly here, just teenagers to 30 somethings 6. The beer flows like wine 7. It's the most beautiful place on the planet.

I've stated this before and I'll say it again. I have severely misjudged the weather in New Zealand. This is a cold country. This may be the only thing that stops me from staying here forever.

That's all I have time for now kids. Those pizzas aren't gonna make themselves. I promise to write more soon.

Short Circuits:

  • I love music. I hate Christmas music.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One, two, three, four, five against one

Christchurch (11/28-11/29)

Top 5 people that I’m told I look like:

5. Jeremiah Johnson

4. The dude

3. Eddie Vedder

2. The Geico Cave Men

1. Jesus (fully grown Jesus, not sweet baby Jesus)

I have also heard Grizzly Adams, Kris Kristofferson, Sebastian Chebal and most recently Charles Manson.

After eating a second Thanksgiving meal for breakfast on Saturday morning, I split with Team Lacy and set a course for Christchurch, New Zealand. It was there that I met my long lost friend Morgan Tucker. Morgan and I were classmates together at Chapel Trafton Academy (which is currently referred to in the common tongue as Dunham) from grades 1 through 4. I learned through mutual friends that he has been a kiwi for about 8 months now. I contacted Morgan before leaving the United States and he has been my personal New Zealand advisor ever since. He lives in Queenstown and is hosting me until we find a new place. In a similar fashion to Harry Bowers, I hold Morgan in the highest regard for everything he has done in helping me transition into New Zealand.

Morgan and two of his buddies, Craig and Ed, had driven to Christchurch from Queenstown that afternoon and I met them at their hotel. Craig and Ed are both from England and at the end of the weekend it still was a struggle for me to understand them. It was also quite frustrating to realize that Craig could imitate our southern Louisiana accents perfectly, while our impressions of their British accents were pretty much god awful. I was impressed that both of the Englishmen were big fans of Team America. They would randomly yell out “America” in the fashion of the movie, and I would whole heartedly finish the line for them in call and answer fashion. We gorged on some Chinese food and then hit a mildly cheesy bar called Sullivan’s where what I thought was a Kings of Leon cover band was playing as that was all I heard for the first 20 minutes we were there. The band turned out to decent, covering a wide range of material, and about halfway through the night the lead singer announced to the crowd “hey, Eddie Vedder is here tonight” and then pointed at me. We all got a kick out of that.

Of course Eddie Vedder was not in fact at Sullivan’s, the Irish pub, but he was in Christchurch gearing up for the Sunday night gig we were anticipating.

An American Sunday

On Sunday morning, Morgan and I checked into the Base Hostel in downtown Christchurch. Base is a chain of hostels in New Zealand and I believe Australia and from what I can tell are the most popular hostels to stay at in the country. Each Base hostel is flanked by a bar that never seems to close, with edgy original names like Basement, Sinners & Saints, and Altitude. The hostels themselves vary in quality, but Christchurch seemed to have a decent facility. The weather in the city was pretty dismal: cold, rainy and overcast. This was discouraging to me as the concert we were there for was to be outdoors at the AMI rugby stadium and I was starting to develop a throat cold.

We threw our backpacks on our bunks and walked a few blocks to a giant sports bar called The Holy Grail (a name that I actually do think is kind of original). We ordered French fries, pizza (my first pie since leaving the states) and beers and sat down in front of the only TV that had an American football game on, which was Stanford vs. Notre Dame. After weeks of not seeing any football, I FINALLY reach a destination where I can see a football game and the ONE game they are showing is Notre Dame vs. Stanford?! We watched this game with no sound as the Grail’s speaker system was broadcasting a cricket match. On that note, if I ever meet a professional cricket player, I’m going to immediately punch him in the face for participating in the promotion of the most boring sport on the planet. I’d seriously rather watch my fingernails grow and have plenty of opportunities to do just that, as cricket is broadcasted on TV’s everywhere in New Zealand. But I digress and I exaggerate as we were actually quite content to watch any kind of football that involved pigskin. I caught a few clips from the LSU game and found myself more distracted by horrendous uniforms the Tigers were wearing than the score of the game. Happy to leave Charlie Weiss on the screen in the bar, we bolted for AMI Stadium around 4:30 with our British cohorts.
If my memory serves me correctly the first live rock show I ever attended was a Becky Sharp concert at the Varsity in Baton Rouge and I was probably 12 or 13 years old. Or maybe it was Better than Ezra? Either way, since then I have spent countless hours in various bars, venues, arenas, stadiums and grassy fields listening to live music. As a live music fan I’ve endured the sweet with the sour. Some concerts are spectacular and others are more forgettable, but once in a blue moon you catch a show that can only be described as special. I wasn’t expecting a special show when I bought the Pearl Jam ticket and the weather was all the time lowering my expectations, but I was in for a nice surprise.

Liam Finn was on stage when we arrived. I wasn’t familiar with his music, but immediately suspected that he must be some descendant of the Crowded House Finns. His music was experimental and noisy, but not awful. He proved to be a decent drummer on a few of his tunes, but I wasn’t rushing out to buy his album after his set. The first highlight of the night came when Eddie Vedder joined Liam on stage to do Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”. Eddie’s voice is so distinctive that anytime he covers a tune it takes on an entirely different dynamic. He seems to have a real knack for singing Neil Young songs.

Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 took the stage after Finn. The Relentless 7 is Harper’s latest backing band and is in fact comprised of only 3 guys. Critics and fans alike trashed the album he recorded with them and I was longing for his original band, the Innocent Criminals, for most of their show. The music wasn’t bad; it just didn’t keep my attention for very long. Eddie provided a spark in their mellow set and stole the show when he jumped on stage for “Under Pressure”.

The general admission area in front of the stage was tightly packed by the time Pearl Jam took the stage. The first hour of music was solid and included fan favorites like Once, Animal, and Elderly Women behind the counter in a Small Town. The show really kicked up a notch with Even Flow. Pearl Jam normally plays their songs tight and fast, with little improvisation or variation. This night proved to be different as Mike Mccready wrecked havoc on lead guitar for about five minutes at the end of Even Flow. He was on fire and really got the crowd energized despite the light cold rain that started to fall. I was pleasantly surprised to hear one of my personal favorites, “Garden”, played a few songs later as it rarely makes it onto the set list. This was followed by two rockers, “Do the Evolution” and “Go” and then PJ took their first exit. As it turns out, this was the last show of Pearl Jam’s international tour and also the first time they had included New Zealand as a stop in over 12 years. They wanted to go out with a bang and they certainly would.

The first encore opened with Eddie singing an acoustic song I didn’t recognize. Then the crowd got to participate in singing Happy Birthday to drummer Matt Cameron. Ben Harper came out to play slide guitar on “Red Mosquito” and sing on “Indifference”. They closed with “The Fixer”, a very radio friendly song from their latest album. I could have left more than satisfied with what I had seen and heard after this. But it was not to be.

The second encore opened with the 1-2 punch of “Jeremy” and “Betterman”, which was followed by another great cover in “The Real Me”, by The Who. I thought for sure that would be the end of the show, when I was stunned to hear Eddie welcome Liam Finn and his father Neil Finn to the stage. I was enthralled. I knew that the Crowded House front man was extremely popular in New Zealand and also a huge PJ influence, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see him perform that night. 35,000 people screamed along to the Crowded House classic “You’d Better be Home Soon”. Neil and Liam stayed on for one more number and then the band launched into “Alive” as the rain picked up, heightening the dark song. Every musician who had played that night returned to the stage for a roaring rendition of “Keep on Rocking in the Free World”. PJ members loaned instruments to Relentless 7 players and Eddie threw tambourines to anyone who didn’t have something to play. Harper got the crowd clapping and stomping while Mccready and Stone Gossard burned through face-melting guitar solos. Everyone took a bow to a well deserved ovation and THEN I REALLY THOUGHT THE FREAKING CONCERT WAS OVER when Eddie ran back on stage grinning and said “How bought one more?” as the familiar chords of “Yellow Ledbetter” came on.

Remaining consistent with all things I have experienced in New Zealand, the entire evening was truly amazing. Back at the hostel guy who looked nice and buzzed threw his arm around me and told me how awesome it was that I looked like Eddie Vedder. One final incident really made the day truly American, at least for me. Morgan and I were standing outside the hostel when a barefoot kid who could not have been over 20 years of age or over 110 lbs. in weight came shooting out of the entrance. He lunged for the handrails and immediately started projectile vomiting. He then looked up at us grinning and attempted to stand, but ended up stumbling about 10 feet in the other direction before falling over onto a drain grate where he lost the rest of the bourbon and cokes he had been consuming all night. We found this incredibly funny and reminiscent of something you might see in Tigerland or East 6th street on a Saturday night. It was a good note to end the evening, and the Christchurch trip on. I would not find the Japanese kid who decided to blow dry and straighten his hair in our dorm room at 7 am the next morning nearly as amusing……

Personally, I see no resemblance what so ever

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Living on the road my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean

Wellington (Tues. Wed. 11/24-11/25)

After three nights of camping near Mount Taranaki, it was time to start thinking about crossing over to the south island. Hopping islands is achieved by boarding a ferry in Wellington that carries you down to Picton, or vice versa. Living on campgrounds and sleeping in Voodoo is wonderful, but I was definitely longing for some amenities of a larger city. On Tuesday morning, Snow thawed out some White Bait fish. I’m not familiar with it, but according to him it is a rarity and quite expensive. It looked and tasted like long pieces of lump crabmeat to me. We saw an advertisement a few days later in another city for $69 per kilogram, so I guess Snow was right. After the white bait tasting we rocked out for Wellington.

Wellington is a big city and has a big city feel to it. It has been dubbed “Windy Welly” due to the constant flow of gusting winds that, like most other New Zealand weather, attacks when you least expect it. Wellington also serves as New Zealand’s capital with a city population of 164,000. Team Lacy has been utilizing information centers, called i-sites and marked by easy to spot blue signs, in each town/city that they have traveled to. I hit my first I-site in downtown Wellington. This hub puts the “Welcome to Louisiana” center right off Interstate 10 past the Sabine River to shame. Brochures for accommodation and activities lined the walls, organized by price range and location. The center is also staffed with 3-4 capable employees that can do everything from suggest a mid price range Thai joint to booking your first jet boating trip. I inquired about a cheap room close to downtown where I could park Voodoo safely and at the suggestion of the i-site clerk, found myself at Rowena’s lodge. Rowena’s is a cozy little run down hostel tucked right outside the central business district (CBD). I dumped my backpack on my hostel bed and headed out into the city to meet Georgia Cottrell, Mark and Elizabeth’s daughter at St. John’s Bar on the waterfront. The walk through downtown highlighted the well known trendy-hip side of Wellington. I walked past heaps of coffee houses and clubs decked out with modern furniture with well-dressed 20 somethings packed inside sipping 9 dollar lattes. The water front area was quite stunning and I took an extra long stroll along the harbor admiring the mountains and ultra blue water. I was surprised to see teenagers jumping from the harbor into the water as it must have been extremely cold and about a 30 ft. leap.

I met Georgia and two of her roommates, or flatmates as she referred to them at St. John’s bar, which appeared to be at max capacity with people drinking pints of beer and soaking up the afternoon sun. They corrected my misconception that I would have to give up live music in New Zealand, informing me of several festivals and events which I scribbled down furiously to google later on. We also discussed the subtle but intriquing differences between American and Kiwi education systems. When the sun started to set it became quite cold and it was time for me to meet Team Lacy at the Flying Burrito Brothers Mexican restaurant for dinner. We polished off two pitchers of margaritas and heaping plates of fajitas like the seasoned Tex-Mex patrons we are. The food was tasty, a welcome change from all the fish we had been eating, and the only difference we noticed between New Zealand Mexican and American Mexican was that their fajita tortillas were burrito sized and each order included only two. And of course the margaritas were watered down compared to Texas margs. We sat at the table waiting to pay for about 10 minutes before realizing that in New Zealand, once you have been given your check, you take it to the counter yourself and pay for it. We left the restaurant stuffed and satisfied and hit the Wellington streets looking for a little bit of night life.

This led us to a hostel bar called Basement which is as cheesy as it sounds. As it turns out, I would find myself in several cheesy bars over the next few days. I am clearly too old to be frequenting these establishments, but not quite old enough to stand out yet. At least I think so. Basement is your typical stomping ground for 19 to 23 year-olds traveling the country and looking to get closer in proximity to the opposite sex. I found it quite enjoyable to watch the hair-gelled guy with his popped collar polo two sizes too small try to yell over the Black Eyed Peas being blasted at arena volume levels at the drunk girl with a full glass of wine in each hand throwing her neck back in near convulsions of screaming laughter. I am all too familiar with this scene, but it still never fails to amaze me, especially when I realized that it is the same all over the world. But in the end, we didn’t stay amused long and our hearing started to suffer so we made our way out of there. I expected the evening to end after this, but in a strange twist of events it was only getting started. Someone suggested karaoke and someone else seconded that notion and before I knew it I found myself barking out the lyrics to Gloria in a completely empty karaoke bar. Nate did a stunning rendition of Cracklin Rosie in which he rarely had to check the monitor for lyrics. We all sang, we all danced and we all had a brilliant time. Upon returning to the hostel we talked to some interesting young German travelers before retiring to our 6 bedroom dorm where a young man from Chile (or maybe Brazil or Belize) tried to go to sleep as we giggled uncontrollably at the evenings’ events.

The next day was essentially all business for me. I did laundry, booked my ferry crossing and had the cables on my bike installed. I was ready for the south island.

Nelson (Thurs. Fri. 11/26-11/27)

On Thursday I rose early, drove Voodoo down to the docks and loaded her onto a large ferry and got settled on the passenger deck. The ferry crossing across Cook Strait is very scenic and I was lucky enough to have beautiful weather on this three hour tour. I arrived in Picton on the South Island, rendezvoused with Team Lacy (who had crossed over the evening before) and we all set out for Nelson with one thing on our minds: Thanksgiving Dinner. The drive from Picton to Nelson afforded me my first views of the south island. The south island is consistently billed as one of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet and it lived up to this reputation. I was told by someone a few days earlier that it is similar to the scenes in Jurassic Park where the helicopters are flying to the island and this is an effective way to try to visualize it. Nate accompanied me for the snaking drive through the mountains and our jaws were pretty much glued to our chins for most of the ride.
We checked into another 6 bedroom dorm at the largest holiday park in the southern hemisphere, according to the desk clerk. We searched high and low for a turkey that we could cook for Thanksgiving dinner, but were unsuccessful and in the end settled on rustling up four drunk chickens instead. We also made broccoli and rice casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, cream corn and the best imitation queso we could muster up with the limited ingredients we could find. All in all, it was a huge success and we ate like kings as usual. I had a wonderful Skype video conversation with most of my immediate family and also several members from Mom’s side. One new born baby plus aunts, uncles, cousins and even my 95 year-old grandfather squeezed in front of a webcam and wished us all a happy thanksgiving. One of my younger cousins asked if Nate’s mustache was real and I felt like I should go ahead and publicly clarify that it is. Even though the video cam picture was blurry I cannot exaggerate enough how much of a blessing modern technology is. Seeing my family really made my day. I have not experienced homesickness yet. I think it has been replaced by a longing desire for my family and friends to be here with me. The video conversation kind of allowed that to happen for a little while.

After cleaning up the kitchen we headed out to the beach to toss the Frisbees around. I tried to teach Team Lacy how to play Quashambo, a game that I helped create with some good friends at a campsite in Texas around this time last year, but it was entirely too windy to play properly and we soon made our way back to the dorm. We agreed to lay down for about 20 minutes before getting up to head out to a bar. That notion drifted away as quickly as it had been drawn up as we were all in deep slumber by about 8:30 pm, and would not stir again until nine o’clock the next morning. Needless to say, my first New Zealand thanksgiving was a roaring success.

Short Circuits:

  • I want to thank everyone who has posted comments on the blog, emailed and facebooked me. It may be hard to believe, but hearing from y'all is just as exciting to me as all the adventures I write about. I love to read about what is going on in the states in your lives, so please keep the communications coming. I may not always be able to send an adequate response, but you can rest assured that I read every single transmission and I am always thinking of you.
  • I have been posting interchangeable words on the blog pretty regularly now. I have even started to mix a few of them into my own speech. However, I have encountered one that really aggaravates the day lights out of me. That word is queue. When people want to reference a group of people standing one behind the other, they use the word queue. We use the word line as in "Dammit the portapotty lines at ACL are long". Where as they might say something like "Bugger, the bloody toilet queues are full at ACL." And for some reason, this really grinds my gears.......
  • I've added a few little gadgets to the side of the blog, I hope you enjoy them. I have also updated the photos BUT they go further ahead in time than I have written about, so you may want to wait to look at them if you care about spoilers at all.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I've been looking so long at these pictures of you

I've tried to include as many pictures as possible in each blog posting, but it does not do justice to what I've seen and photographed. With that in mind, I've created a web album and link full of pictures for your enjoyment. I will continue to post pictures to this album. I have added this link http://picasaweb.google.com/robert.romero3/NewZealandWebAlbum?feat=directlink

to the websites found under the click on this section to the right of the blog. Enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving! Geaux Tigers!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I set out running but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine

I had every intention of leaving Auckland and driving to Raglan last Wednesday. When I woke up that morning, it was cold and rainy and Harry told me I could expect that sort of weather all along the west coast of the north island. I sent an inquiring text message and when I received the response I was quite happy to scrap Raglan for a new destination.
I made a final trip to the Warehouse, New Zealand's version of Wal-Mart, loaded up the van with gear and snacks and hit the road. I stopped by Harry's shop on the way out to thank him profusely for everything he had done for me. I tried to explain to him how much he had aided in getting me started on this trip. He responded with a very simple but powerful remark "That's what you do for your friends."
As it turns out I would find many friends, both old and new in the days that followed. I did a city search on the GPS for Taupo and started following the illustrated directions leading me out of Auckland. I have thought about it for days now and I still do not feel that I can effectively describe the experience of driving from Auckland to Taupo. I could have had Robert Frost riding shotgun with me, spitting out descriptive poetry and it still would not do justice to the emotional high I made that drive on. The night before I left, I made a massive playlist full of driving songs. I shuffled the playlist and burned its contents to 6 CD's, unaware of the track selection of each disc. One of them came out absolutely perfect, and I will share it with you now.

This music was the perfect complement to the rolling hills, blue skies and picture perfect clouds of the New Zealand countryside. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I am still in awe of everything I have seen since leaving Auckland. It wasn't long before I arrived at the Tongariro National Holiday Park, where I pulled up next to a blue 4 person tent and a 1999 toyota mini van very similar to mine. Hanging around this site were some of my best friends from the Austin days.

Pictured above from left to right are Michael, Nate, Lacy and to my left is Ley.
I met Michael and his girlfriend lacy the summer I moved to Austin and we've been raising hell together ever since. Michael is of the rare breed of guys who I can have an in depth conversation with about the holy trinity: Live Music, SEC Football (Michael and Lacy=Mississippi State), and cycling. Lacy is one of my favorite foodie pals and might be the only person on the planet who is as passionate about chocolate as me. Nate and I lived together for about 6 months in Austin and it wasn't long before he had my stomach hurting from laughing with his vivid story telling. Ley is a friend of Michael and Lacy's and hopped a plane from Maui (where she was living and working) to New Zealand. Life's a bitch.
Although I have seen my pals as recently as September, we talked as if we hadn't seen each other in years. They have been tramping around New Zealand since October 28th and I thouroughly enjoyed hearing about their recent adventures. I was still quietly glowing from the drive down.
From time to time I address Lacy with the nickname "Team Lacy". There's a story that goes with this name and someday I might tell it to you, but for now I will refer the aforementioned group of four as "Team Lacy". As I said before, Team Lacy is traveling in a mini van very similar to mine which they have named Turbo. After a day or two of consideration, I officially named my transport Voodoo. Voodoo the van. I slept in Voodoo for the first time in Tongariro National Holiday Park and was quite pleased with my slumber. The next morning, the five of us embarked on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is regularly listed as New Zealand's top ranked walk.

Tongariro National Park includes three active volcanic mountains (Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu) and appears as pieces of Mordor and Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.
The hike definitely was reminiscent of Frodo and company traveling middle earth. The weather made dramatic temperature swings causing us to sweat on the steep inclines and then within minutes be shivering from the piercing wind. We walked through fog that seemed to materialize from the ground and would then suddenly disappear with a cold gush of wind. The hike included two steep climbs, one known as the Devil's Staircase. As we climbed higher the wind got brutal and we all had to put on every layer of clothing we were carrying. We reached the highest point of the hike and started to descend the other side. This is where we found the crystal clear blue lakes and snow. The vegetation and growth of the mountain changed as frequently as the weather. The final leg of the hike was through a rainforest like atmosphere with full tree coverage and plenty of small streams and waterfalls. We finished the hike in a little under six hours and were groaning and moaning in protest of our aching bodies for the next 24 hours.
Upon returning to the holiday park we cooked a huge pot of chili and potatos and then capped the day off with an hour long soak in the hot tub. Sleep came easy that evening and was more than welcome.


The next morning I split with Team Lacy and headed towards Taihape to meet some new friends. Kacee is another one of my best friends who is lucky enough to reside in Austin. As it turns out she has a cousin who lives in New Zealand and was kind of enough to invite me to her home. Elizabeth Cottrell grew up in Atlanta and met her husband Mark in Colorado on a ski trip. Mark was born and raised in the farming community of Taihape and was visiting the United States on his Overseas Experience (OE). All kiwis travel internationally at some point in their young adult life, usually before or after uni (college). Mark and Elizabeth are sheep and beef farmers and live in a beautiful home outside Taihape. This was my first visit to a farm and Elizabeth and I spent the afternoon walking through the paddocks of their land. Once again, I was astounded by the beauty of the land. The terrain is extremely hilly, but I'm not talking about the Indian mounds on LSU's campus. These are volcanic hills and appear chaotic and out of place. The colors of the grass and trees remind of the first time I saw a Pixar movie. They appear so bright and vibrant that it is almost as if they are enhanced. Elizabeth gave me a crash course in farming terminology and procedures. That night we ate a delicious piece of lamb shoulder accompanied by koura (potatos). I made her show me exactly how she cooked the meat so that I might be able to reproduce the dish someday. I got to sleep in a full sized bed that night with about 7 pillows, an electric blanket and a comforter. Luxuries like that will be few and far between over here and I soaked up the comfort like a spunge. In the same fashion that Harry did, Mark and Elizabeth provided me with extremely valuable information about the kiwi culture and traveling the land. They sent me off fully rested and carrying a bag of fresh walnuts and another bag full of fresh corned beef. I was smitten.

Mt. Taranaki

My original plans included me rushing to Queenstown as quickly as possible to find a summer job. However, as many do, I caught the travel bug after getting a little taste of the New Zealand scenery and decided to rendezvous with Team Lacy. I found them at a campsite outside Manaia, which is south of Mt. Taranaki and New Plymouth. I was particularly interested in this region of the country as it is highly likely that I could end up here for a professional job. We camped at the intersection of the black sand beach of the Tasman Sea and small river that dumps into it. Team Lacy had encountered a new friend who called himself Snow and is an accomplished fisherman. Snow had shared many secrets of the area with Nate and Michael and also given them a dozen and half fresh mussels that he picked. We ate those for dinner and hatched a plan to pick our own mussels the next day.
Nate, Michael and I gave mussel picking a try the next morning, but only came back with a handful of small ones. According to snow we needed to be out there when the tide is at its lowest point and he advised us to give it another go around 8 pm. Michael was determined to catch some fish that day so he and Lacy hung back around the campsite while Nate, Ley and myself went to go explore Mt. Taranaki.

We were able to complete the Wilkies Pools Loop which included lots of steps. Mt. Taranaki is unique in that is surrounded by a "cloud of tears" as legend has it. It is usually completely hidden by clouds. However, when it is visible, it is another New Zealand view that looks so picturesque it almost looks fake. You should Wikipedia Taranaki as it has an interesting little love story that goes with it.
That evening we went rooting about the underbellies of the rocks along the beach again. I think picking mussels might be one of the most enjoyable activities I have ever taken part of in my life. The tide was low and the weather was beautiful. Once we got the hang of it, we found more mussels than we could shake a stick at. 127 to be exact.

I had never cooked mussels before but quickly learned that there is nothing to it. We ate every single one of those little buggers on plates of imitation Ramen noodles and fresh broccoli (yes, you read that right). It was delicious and for the umpteenth time as I was totally content. We capped the night off with a bonfire on the beach.
On Monday we returned to Mt. Taranaki with the full crew this time and did a more challenging walk. As was the case the day before there was a lot of stairs involved and in general we found the hike less enjoyable than the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Before we set out for the mountain, Michael and Snow had a set a shark line in the river. I had my doubts about them actually snagging a shark, but sure enough they had one hooked when we returned. I can't recall ever having eaten shark before, but it is a bright white fish meat. Snow instructed us not to botch it up with a bunch of herbs and seasonings as it would take away from the natural taste of the meat. He showed us the best way to batter and pan fry it and we followed his instructions. As it turns out, shark is a very tasty fish. The filets were thick and a really good consistency. Not too chewy and not too flaky. The flavor is simple and not overbearing, but still savory. This meal was accompanied by a fresh green salad and a few people claimed it as their best New Zealand meal to date. For me the fresh caught shark is still in a close footrace with the fresh farm raised lamb.
I'm grinning slyly now. Who would have every thought I'd have to rate shark over lamb in New Zealand. I am totally content.

Short Circuits

  • It has been taking me forever to get these blog posts set up the way I want them. The blogspot editing software is awful and I really hate using it.
  • I went to kindergarten twice because I had a late birthday. In New Zealand, all kiwi children start kindergarten on their 5th birthday, no matter what day of the year that is. So, in my case I would have walked into my kindergarten classroom at Westminister elementary late in October, a solid month and a half after the first students would have started. And yes, to answer your question, if there birthday is on the last day of the school year, they can choose to go to school for this one day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You may find yourself.....

living in a shotgun shack (check) You may find yourself
in another part of the world (check)
You may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile (check)
You may find yourself
in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife (negative ghostrider)
You may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here? (check! check! check!)
I'm not the first person to feel connected to the lyrics of David Byrne and Brian Eno, but as I scurry around trying to get ready to leave Auckland, I can't get this song out of my head. It really fits me at the moment.
Hello fair readers. I apologize for the delay in posts but I do have a lot of material to cover so I'll get right to it. As you can see from the photos I have acquired a home on wheels of sorts, but to understand how I came to be a proud owner of a toyota mini van, you must first understand how I came to know Harry Bowers.
Before leaving the states my uncle phoned my dad and informed him that his neighbor was leaving to travel to New Zealand on business, the day before I was to depart. He provided a phone number and asked that I call this lady, Becky. I had a nice conversation with Becky in which she provided useful information about traveling the country and I shared my plans with her. These plans included buying a used car in Auckland. She mentioned that she had a friend who worked on vehicles and sometimes also bought and sold them and offered to put me in contact with him. Enter Harry. I emailed Harry with a list of questions and he politely replied to give him a call when I got to Auckland and he would help me sort out finding a used car.
Harry thought I was from Tuscon and I thought Harry was a friend of Becky's. Needless to say, we knew very little about each other. Last Tuesday, after one night in the hostel, when I was ready to began my car search, I rang Harry up. I was very surprised when he not only offered to help me find a used vehicle, but also offered to have me as a guest at his house where he lives with his son Jeff. While the 2 irishmen, the long haired french guy and the blond from Sweden made great dormmates at the hostel, I gladly accepted Harry's offer to stay with some real kiwis. It has been the best decision I've made since I got off the plane.
As it turns out, Harry is a "petrol head", and an extremely generous and friendly person. I have lived with him and Jeff for a over a week now and we have carried on like long lost friends. Jeff is also a petrol head and shared a boat load of information with me about the New Zealand car culture. They use an interesting term here called "boy racer" which refers to teens who drive cars that have had distinctive performance modifications made to them. The street racing scene was very prominent here until the law made a concerted effort to end the accidents it was causing. If you get three "boy racing"-type citations (i.e. illegal modifications to your car, being caught at an illegal race), then the government will impound and crush your car. Glad I'm not a petrol head. Over the weekend I had the pleasure of watching Harry and Jeff drive Harry's 1987 Mazeratti Biturbo around a professional raceway. It was my first time to go anywhere near a car racing atmosphere and I thouroughly enjoyed it.

On Sunday we attended the Auckland car fair in an attempt to sell a car that Harry had been working on flipping, and also to try to purchase a ride for me. Harry successfully sold his vehicle and I looked at lots of camper vans that tired backpackers were trying to sell before there visas expired and they had to go home. In the end, I bought a 1992 Toyota Estima from a buyer off of tradme.co.nz (New Zealand's ebay), only after receiving Harry's mechanical stamp of approval. I've spent the last few days gutting the van and building a bed and now I'm ready to roll. When I first started driving the van I was reminded of Liz Lemmon's trip to Kenneth's hometown where she painfully asks "Why is everything a little bit different here", while staring at a bottle of Pepty Bismilk. Point being, everything in my van is ass backwards. The steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle and when I try to signal a left turn, I end up with the wind shielf wipers on at full speed. But I am getting used to these nuances and I have managed to navigate the roads safely, so far....(I did purchase insurance and roadside protection just in case)

On Sunday night, I cooked a chicken gumbo for Harry, his girlfriend Brenda, and Jeff. I was lacking several key ingredients, but was impressed with what I was able to pull off. On Monday, we had a farewell dinner at a nice japanese restaraunt. And finally, I am ready to leave Auckland.
Short Circuits is a new feature of the blog I know I will enjoy. Can't really promise too much for you though. This will basically be my version of random thoughts by jack handy. It may include rants, raves, mindless ramblings, useless information and in general things that I feel like writing about that don't fit into the blog narrative, or that I just plain forgot to put in. Here we go:
  • On Kia Ora - you may have noticed that I have signed my first few blog posts with Kia Ora. This is a maori phrase meaning live long and prosper, or something like that. Pretty much every email I received from New Zealand before I left included a Kia Ora salutation. I was very excited about using this phrase, as I thought of it as Italy's version of "Ciao", which I love. It IS NOT Italy's version of Ciao. Not a single person has said Kia Ora to me and it is apparently just a catchy phrase to use in emails, not in conversation. I am not happy about this.
  • Auckland is COLD - I thought I was coming over here at the begining of the summer season. Harry keeps telling me that is spring right now. In Louisiana the definition of spring is hot, but not as hot as summer. Apparently in New Zealand the definition of spring is cold, but not as cold as winter.
  • Mussels are dirt cheap here and I've enjoyed eating about 4-5 per day on average.
  • And last, but certainly not least you know I'm representing Louisiana up in here!!!!
Ciao Bella

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Call me the tumbling dice.....

......after landing in Auckland 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled arrival time, I hustled through customs and retrieved my bike case and back pack. Both were unscathed. It didn't take me long to find "Seal N Secure" baggage services and pay for a few days of storage of my bike and then hop on an air bus that would take me to Auckland Central Backpacker's Hostel. I had some time to kill before my orientation with the International Exchange Program (the organization that provided me with my visa) so I bought some internet time, emailed, dozed in and out on an aging leather couch in the lounge, and watched 20 minutes of Charlie Rose's War in the movie room. I've been watching a lot of movies that I would have otherwise ignored on this trip.

The orientation was less than a block away from the hostel and proved to be extremely beneficial. I met a guy from Seattle who I was happy to tell all about my trip to Washington for the LSU opener earlier this year. The orientation itself consisted of presentations from 3 young women: 2 of them native kiwis and 1 an American kiwi who was actually a participant in the program years ago. They provided all kinds of useful information including where to stay, where to work, how to open a bank account and long list of do's and don'ts. They also provided a list of kiwi slang which I will share with you:

- Chur - in agreeance/Thanks. I haven't heard this one used yet, although I have heard "cheers" consistently used in place of "thanks".

- Mean - it is really good

- choice - not choosing, it is also really good. In a sentence "there's a really choice kebab stand right up the street."

- Heaps - lots of something. In a sentence "you won't make heaps of money, but it's a great experience."

- Mint - is also really good. Haven't heard this one used yet.

- Sweet as bro - Everything is great my friend/mate. This one is my personal favorite.

Another interesting fact covered in the orientation is that when referencing kiwi fruit, you actually need to say just that, "kiwi fruit", and not simply refer to it as a kiwi as we would in the states. Here, a kiwi is either a person from New Zealand or the flightless bird that resides on the south island.

They also showed a really amazing video of the "Haka". This is a ritual that the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team performs before each match.

Watch the video and then try to imagine Drew Brees and Jeremy Shockey leading the Saints through the same thing on the 50 yard line at the dome before tearing into the Patriots on Monday Night Football.

After the orientation ended I hit the pavement and got started with opening a bank account and applying for an IRD number (equivalent to a social sec number in the states, so that I can be paid my NZ employers and pay taxes here). I opened a bank account at Kiwibank which also doubles as the national post office. So now I can wait in one long ridiculously slow line at one facility instead of two. I enjoyed a mixed kebab (lamb and chicken) for lunch and got a lot done until around six when the jet lag kicked. I stretch out in my bunk with the intention of listening to an audio book for 20 minutes and fell fast asleep. I woke up around midnight when my roommates came in for just long enough to actually get under the sheets and then slept until 7:30 the next morning.

So that brings the blog up to Tuesday morning. I am still in Auckland searching for a car and staying with the friend of a friend of my uncle's. I am about to grab some food, so I have to finish this post, but I'll first share a little bit of my upcoming plans.

Before arriving in New Zealand, I was planning on buying a car in Auckland and then heading straight for Queenstown, with only stops that were absolutely necessary along the way. After attending orientation, I have changed my agenda to include a stopover in Raglan. It is described as a small relaxing surf town that serves as an artist's haven. Although I do not claim to be a hippy, I have found that I generally enjoy places that are labeled as hippy hangouts (Austin and Asheville for example) and Raglan has a well known reputation as a choice hippy hangout....

Kia Ora

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Think you could live off just these contents for a year or two?

Time to start blogging

Greetings from Auckland, New Zealand!

I have arrived safely from the United States. I am now a full 19 hours ahead of Louisiana and Texas. It is Tuesday November 10 at 1:23 where I am. I am hanging out at the International Exchange Program office and had a few extra minutes. I figured it was time to get the blog up and running.

My travels from Baton Rouge, LA to Auckland, NZ went extremely well. What a far cry from my flights from Houston to London in 2005? I awoke on Saturday 11/7 around 6 am and finished packing. I left my house with my mom with a Kelty backpack, packed to its maximum capacity, a Camelbak cycling pack - also 100% stuffed and a huge plastic case on wheels carrying my mountain bike. I was extremely nervous about moving to another country, with three pieces of luggage. The nervousness soon turned to adrenaline and excitement and I would continue this rollercoaster of a cycle for the next 24 hours.

I arrived at the Baton Rouge airport where I was to fly on Continental to LA, with a stopover in Houston. I was offered to upgrade to first class for $99 and immediately declined. I am way over budget for this trip and my first impulse at the opportunity to spend more money was to say NO. Thank goodness for my mother. While I was busy frivolously turning down once in a lifetime deals, she was parking the car. When she arrived she quickly advised me to buy the upgrade and I am extremely glad that I did. I had planned on paying continental $120 in baggage fees to get me to LA in a coach seat. $100 fee for checking the bike case and $20 for checking my backpack. After I purchased the upgrade, I was charged NOTHING in baggage fees. So I ended up paying $100 to get to LA in first class style.

The flights from BR to Houston and Houston to LA went off without a hitch. I watch Julie and Julia on the way to LA, which ironically enough is about a young blogger. I was not impressed with the film, but I was impressed with the hot towel, the shrimp salad and the extra leg room. I didn’t realize they served drinks in real glasses in first class instead of plastic cups. Needless to say, I was impressed.

I got through international security in LA in time to see Julio Jones catch a tipped pass and run it in for a long touchdown to put Alabama up 20-15 against LSU. I watched the end of the fourth quarter as LSU squandered a few opportunities to knock off Bama. I hate to see LSU lose, but I quickly got over it and started focusing on my long flight ahead.

I lucked up again and was granted an exit row seat, which allowed me to fully extend my legs in front of me. The travel gods saw fit to pay me back for years of lost luggage and sitting in front of teething babies and kicking children. The girl sitting next to me was born and raised in Auckland and we swapped interesting travel stories. I watched Twilight on this flight and I still have no idea what all the fuss is about, but I do know that the chick from that movie is unconventionally hot. I felt the same way about her after seeing Adventureland. For my money, she blows Megan Fox out of the water. I had no problems falling asleep on this flight, but I did really struggle to wake up. The two meals we received were decent, but the crew was comprised of mostly New Zealanders and I got my first taste of the kiwi friendliness.

It appears that I have rambled on about the trip over for so long now that I will have to continue at some other point. I guess time management is something I’ll have to improve upon when running this blog. Spelling and sentence structure are on that list as well. Plenty more to come from New Zealand, but for now, you can rest assured that I am safe and content.

Kia Ora