Sunday, November 29, 2009

No hard work in Double Cove!

Hello hello. Well, we just spent three idyllic days at Double Cove in the Marlborough Queen Charlotte sounds.. (mainland Marlborough is where all the great NZ Sauvignon Blanc comes from) Robin and I have had nothing but good luck in New Zealand. Everything turns out right for us. After our day off in Picton, we headed off to work with some WWOOF hosts, Trevor and Lyn, in Double Cove. The weather was a bit scungy, but lightened up for our boat trip. Trevor picked us up in his orange boat. Earlier in the day, I had talked to my family on Skype, and they asked, "How big is the boat you're getting picked up in?" I answered, "orange," which I knew wasn't a size, but was all I knew about the boat. Well, hindsight is 20/20. Now that I know the size of the boat, I wonder why I didn't realize that large, or even medium, boats are rarely orange.

A map to illustrate our route from Picton to Double Cove.

Trevor driving his little orange boat

Robin and I squeezed into the back with our packs

The little orange boat is called a Naiad, and is made in Picton. They use it as their main form of transportation. The white boat is an old, wooden boat named Rebecca.

Our first night, we were shown around our bach (beach house). We had our own house! We had dinner with our hosts in their home, and then knitted and read in our bach while the rain fell. We were told that penguins, yes penguins, live under the shed next to the house. So I got up to look out the window every five minutes, waiting for the penguins to march up the hill and go to bed. We never saw the penguins... We're starting to think that they're like little elves, living under the house, heard but not seen...

We did see the Weka, and fed it crackers! Wekas look like a cross between a duck and a chicken with intimidating legs and claws. They came down to our door in the morning for breakfast.

On our second day, we were meant to be painting the exterior of the bach to earn our keep. But it rained! And as soon as the weather cleared up, Trevor took us out on the Naiad to feed the blue cod, collect mussels and peer down at sting rays in the crystal blue waters..

Cod like white bread

We did a bit of work, dusting around the bach, but we had so many breaks for morning tea and lunch and such, that it really didn't amount to much. Oh well, our hosts were just happy to have us there. It was kinda like a trip to grandma and grandpa's! It was fun poking around the bach, oh so 70's in it's decor. We made an origami mobile (fish!) for the bathroom.

Our third day was beautiful! There was a rugby game on in the morning, so we didn't get around to painting. We went over to the neighbor's house and swept. Then Trevor showed us the jellyfish, and after lunch we went for a swim and laid out in the sun. Swimming with jellyfish was like swimming in a sea of bouncy balls. They were Common Jellyfish, so they didn't sting us. Just bounced off our arms and legs as we swam.

We went for a walk after our swim, and listened to the enchanting Tui birds. At dinner we watched the horse races with our hosts. Their son-in-law's horse won! Then we went back to our bach and played a board game, the New Zealand Four Square Checkout Game where the board is a Four Square shop, and we had to pick up all the items on our list: Marmite, Edmond's custard powder, sponge pudding mix, and other Kiwi favorites.

It was sad to say goodbye to our bach and all our friends: the blue cod, the Weka, swimming jellyfish, and singing Tui birds...) but today we are off to a new host in Nelson, 2 hours away. On our boat journey back to Picton, we saw dolphins jumping in the bay.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving in Picton

Robin and I "celebrated" Thanksgiving with a day off in Picton. Picton is on the South island. It's considered the portal to the South Island, because of the ferry between Picton and Wellington (on the North island). I met Robin here to go WWOOFing, but our hosts delayed by a day so we got to chill in town. This was not a problem. The hostel we stayed at is laid-back, with lots of couches and sunny nooks. The weather is beautiful. And hey, it really was a holiday.. kinda. Since they don't celebrate Thanksgiving here, and we're one day ahead, it was hard to decide which day was "thanksgiving." Started our day with a free breakfast at the hostel, which we were very thankful for.

Then we wandered into town, checked out the post office (where I picked up a postcard sent to me from friends!) and wandered into the shops. At the secondhand store, I bought myself a tea spoon and Robin got a shell. Having not "shopped" for a loooong time, it definitely felt like Christmas! X-mas music played in the shops. As the decorations go up, the sun shines warmly, and next to the Santas, the shops display their summer wares: jandals (flip flops) and togs (swimsuits)..'

We had a picnic on the marina and laid out in the sun. Hummus, crackers, and yummy treats from the bakery including a ginger crunch slice, my new favorite Kiwi treat!

Later we went on a long hike to get a view of the harbor and the islands. Today, we are heading off to somewhere out there (in the Marlborough sounds). We're getting picked up by boat, and have no idea where in the sounds we'll be. So it was fun to gaze out into our unknown future home away from home. The water is aqua blue and the islands are green. For variety (so as not to over-do the landscape photos), here's a drawing that Robin did.

One of the shops in town had a little gallery. I love the traditional Maori portraits. Old men and women with tattooed faces and pipes in their mouths.

After our hike, we had a backpackers "thanksgiving" dinner. It wasn't really Thanksgivingy. We're saving ourselves for Christmas. It was backpackers budget and energy. It's hard to cook anything too elaborate in a hostel kitchen with ten other people around and never enough counter or stove space, so we had a nice bean and rice salad.

This was followed by the hostel's special, Hot Chocolate Pudding and ice cream, which they serve every night (for free!) at 8pm. We followed our pudding with a soak in the hostel's spa. Did I mention that it's a really nice hostel? (Sequoia Lodge, if anyone's interested)


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Homes away from home

Here's some of the places I've been sleeping and frequenting over the past week. I'm really using my gear! Like for survival, or at least comfortable survival. By gear, I'm talking about all the stuff that I bought at REI while dreaming of adventure. I didn't really think that I would use this stuff to its full potential. Now, only a third into my trip, I've utilized every zipper and hood and waterproof feature, while silently thanking the geniuses (REI gods?) that designed this stuff!

Dad, thanks for the silk long underwear. And remember that green fleece that I bought right before I left, just because it was on sale at REI? The one that you tried to talk me out of cuz it's so bulky. Well, I've probably worn it EVERY day. It's also been my pillow on more nights than not over the past couple of weeks. It functions as a blanket at times, a cushion to sit on, and more.. Then there's my brown rain jacket. Six months ago I was at REI, trying on the "sky blue" and "eco-green" breathable rain jackets. Wondering if I really needed to spend so much on a rain jacket. The saleslady at REI convinced me that I should, and that if I really was going to be WWOOFing in New Zealand (She had actually heard of WWOOFing and been to New Zealand) that I should get the brown. Well, she was right. It's often covered in mud. And that brown rain jacket, that scrunches up to a tiny ball in my pack, has kept me safe from gusty rain while working, has kept me stylishly weather-proof in Wellington, and now has proven its might in snow. Thank you REI saleslady..

Enough talk about STUFF. You may be wondering, where have I BEEN and what have I been DOING? I'm not sure I can even remember! And it's late. And I'm over-tired... Today, I arrived by ferry to Picton on the South Island. I've crossed from top to bottom of the North Island twice in the last few weeks... And I plan to do it again in a couple weeks, after a quick jaunt in the North of the South Island (sorry, i know this is confusing without maps. I'll work on that another time)

So here's one story. Let's see, the last that I had a chunk of internet time to post a blog was in Wellington, correct? Wellington is at the bottom of the North Island. Well, after that, I went back about halfway up the North island to the National Park where I climbed a volcano and stayed in an alpine climbers hut.

The hut was amazing. But this photo does nothing to illustrate our initial approach. I have no photos of that day.. We carried up all our food and gear, scrambling over rocks in wet, cold clouds. Visibility was at a zero and our packs were covered in ice, frozen cloud vapor. It was a miserable climb, about one hour. But oh the hut, with its heaters that dried our clothes and packs, a hot water pot, and a toaster. It even welcomed me with a flower (ice, of course)...

The climb was worth it. Once in the hut, life was all tea and toast and lots of time to read while we waited for the storm to pass. There was no internet or phone service. Just cribbage, cooking and knitting. It was a lovely way to spend a few days...

We stayed in the hut for three nights, and climbed up to the summit when the weather cleared on the second day. The first thing I saw when the weather cleared, after being surrounded by nothing but solid, gray, was Mount Doom. It's actually called Ngauruhoe, but I know it as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.

We started our ascent, unsure of the outcome. Would the clouds close in again? Would we climb up for over two hours, only to find our view enveloped in the same solid gray that had been outside the hut windows for the whole day?

Well, we were rewarded. At the top, we found ourselves high above the clouds, high above the world, on the top of Ruapehu!

I collapsed and ate Lindt chili chocolate (chili=cayenne).. Never has chocolate tasted soooooo good. We peered at the crater, also covered in snow.

The next day, we said goodbye to our hut. The clouds were gone, so I actually got to see the terrain we were trekking through. We drove up North to Taupo, a touristy city, and had dinner at the Burgerfuel. The shock of being off the mountain was double, as not only were we back in civilization but we were no longer surrounded by snow and clouds... We ate by the lake, watching the sun set over our mountain (To the left of Mount Doom)

...and remembered the previous day's sunset...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kiwi Frisco

Wellington is the third city I've visited in New Zealand, having spent the vast majority of my time in small towns and in the bush. It's nothing like Auckland, and I'm interested to see some of the other cities now. The similarity between SF and Wellington is eerie.. It's surreal for me to walk around a city so like my adopted hometown..

I was given a bed and meals by Robin's boyfriend's family (she met her boyfriend in Alaska when he was an exchange student there..). This first photo is the view from their house.

I don't have any pictures of the house itself, or the inside, but it's basically like every home in San Francisco. Wood floors, long hallways, high ceilings, decorative moulding, etc... The architecture is the same Victorian style, so walking around the streets is like being in a parallel universe. See below.

There's also the same hills, and the wind blows over the bay in exactly the same way. If you click on this photo, you can clearly see the purple house on the right, which is painted like the nicer houses in SF.

Robin showed me her favorite spots in the city. We visited cafes like Fidels on Cuba Street (Cuba Street = Haight street, Valencia Street, and Divisadero all mushed together. Wellington is much smaller than SF afterall) where we had flat whites (one of New Zealand's finest inventions, an espresso drink that is halfway between a latte and a cappuccino) cakes and cookies, such as the vegan chocolate raspberry cupcake below. We avoided the savory baked goods that dominate the countertops, savory pies and muffins. no way!

We went to see a movie (Away We Go) at the little cinema house by her house where they served wine and lattes to enjoy during the film.

We went by a venue called the San Francisco Bath House to check out the gig calendar, but didn't go inside..

And we wandered around the city, hitting up used book shops and checking out all the street art. The style here is so Frisco! There's lots of cute monster themes in the art (there's a shop just like Kid Robot) and overpriced but cute used clothing stores.. Below are some photos of the street art, including my favorite discoveries, something I've read about on the internet (thanks to Gabriella) but never stumbled upon on the street, guerilla knitting!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holes dug, time sat, and the incredible SCENAR!

Ah. The internet. I've been away for awhile, away from cities, internet, phones...And I find my patience for all things city, internet and phone is all but nonexistent. So pardon my lack of e-mails, blog updates, etc...

Now I am in a backpackers outside Wellington, which is the San Francisco of New Zealand. A city on the bay with hills and a cool breeze. Some of the houses copy the San Francisco style, but with more space between them. It's actually a sister city.

I spent the last week at Belmont Regional Park, outside of Wellington. I took the train down. It was 12 hours, but I enjoyed it so much that it only felt like a few hours. I kept a train journal, so I can look back and see how the hours passed by. It was meant to be a blog post, but again, I lack the patience to type it up.

When I arrived in Wellington, it was night and I transferred from the big train to the metro train without leaving the station, then was picked up by my new hosts and whisked off to their home in the park. So, I didn't even glimpse the city at my arrival.

My hosts, Ian and Alicia, live at and operate Belmont Park Retreat center, and were hosting a mediation retreat while I was there. I was the main cook for the retreat. As I arrived a few days earlier, I also got to do a lot of actual WWOOFing. Digging holes, planting trees, mulching, moving dirt, fetching buckets of water from the stream and digging more holes. Again, it was real WWOOFer work. On the first day, I worked 6 hours, which included an extra 2 to "pay" for my stay the night before. It was a windy and drizzly day. I dug holes until my arms were about to fall off and my back was tired but surprisingly not sore! My back had sorta gone out the week before, for absolutely no reason, and I was moving like an old lady for a whole day. But there I was a week later, and putting in a day of ax-swinging, shoveling and scrambling, yet my back felt fine...

Anyways, the end of my first day found me on a steep ridge, in winds so strong that my hat would be whipped off and I couldn't spin around fast enough to glimpse where it flew to.. The spot that I had to plant my last trees that day, mostly Eucalyptus, was in the middle of a patch of gorse, a spiny bush that stabs through most clothing and gloves. As I worked, I continually lost my footing on the two foot wide ridge, and often slipped into the hole I was working on. When I looked back, I realized that there was a drop-off of about 30 feet through gorse into a cold stream. Oh, and I forgot, I was digging through clay and stone-filled soil, hence the ax. Yes, a real WWOOFer job.

The retreat was a totally different experience. I was supposed to be taking part in as much of the meditation as I could, but I found it extremely difficult! Especially while being the cook, as I tended to think about everything I needed to do. We would sit for about 45-minutes for each meditation session. I did one session on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and three sessions on Saturday. I did NOT succeed in quieting my mind during any of the sits, but I tried, sometimes. Meditation is about training the mind, and I am only a beginner, so I guess my struggle is to be expected. As a cook, I had free reign of the kitchen, and was allowed to skip most of the sits and also allowed to talk. The other retreatants were silent for the whole day on Saturday and most of Sunday. It was hard to know whether they were enjoying my meals! I also cooked special meals for Bhanti G, the Buddhist monk that was leading the meditations. His meals were served on fine dishes and trays. It wasn't too hard to cook for him, as he ate only curry, rice, porridge, yogurt and dhal. After noon, he only had chocolate and cheese cut into cubes with black tea and sugar.

I wasn't alone in the kitchen. I had someone to talk TO. Robin, my new WWOOFer friend, was my co-chef. She's 18, from Alaska, and is pretty much into all the same stuff I'm into. We spent our down time reading, knitting, hiking and finding ways to get our sugar fix! The kitchen was well-stocked with some of my favorite ingredients: tahini, honey, tempeh, nuts, pumpkin, and plenty of organic produce. But there was only Bhanti G's chocolate, offered to us occasionally, for our sweet cravings. So we would mix yogurt and raisins, tea with milk and honey, or whip up a dessert. It turned out that Ian had a secret sweet tooth, so we were able to pull off the desserts. The three of us were sugar co-conspirators! For my last day, Ian served Christmas mince pies with custard.

All in all, this was my best week WWOOFing so far. My hosts were kind, caring and patient. Also, it was my first time WWOOFing with someone else, and it really changed the experience. I am so happy that Robin was there, and we are probably going to WWOOF together again sometime soon!

I cut my finger pretty badly on a tin can on my second day as cook. Alicia, who practices natural medicine, sat down in the middle of the busy retreat and treated my finger with a handheld machine called a Scenar device, which gives out electric pulses. The result, my finger healed so fast, I want a Scenar of my own. I looked it up on the internet today. Here is the description...

"Scenar - Space Age Medical Technology The S.C.E.N.A.R., Self-Controlled Energo Neuro Adaptive Regulation, was developed for the Russian space program to overcome the unique problems of space travel. SCENAR - The scenar uses biofeedback - by stimulating the nervous system, it is able to teach the body to heal itself. Tests conducted in Russia have shown the Scenar proves to be effective in 80% of cases treated."

I know it sounds like a bunch of witch doctor voodoo to some of you... But if only you saw my finger. When I cut it, it sliced deeply into my finger. The skin immediately turned gray. I thought that I'd be at the doctor getting stitches that afternoon. Within three days, I don't even need a band-aid. The cut is still there, but it is barely a bother anymore. I DO have pictures to prove it, but I'll spare you all the gore. Email me if you want to see..

So, a wonderful and healing WWOOFing week behind me, I packed up my bag to move on today. Ian and Alicia drove me to Wellington. Their daughter works as a cook in Parliament, and we visited her at work. We got the VIP backstage tour of the parliament "beehive," a beehive-shaped building with a Harry Potter-esque feel to it. The center is a round room of elevator doors. Remind you of anything? We toured the kitchens with our special badges with "E" for executive on them, all wearing hair nets. Then, we tried to jump on the public tour, but had security called on us because our badges did not have "T" for tour, and we were carrying cameras. I had been taking pictures in the private areas the whole time. On the public tour, we didn't get to see the center of the beehive, but we got a lot more information. At the end of the tour, we had E badges, T badges and hair nets to symbolize all the parts of parliament that we infiltrated..

Tonight I am staying in Plimmerton, a town just North of Wellington on the sea. I watched the sunset tonight, and then returned to my hostel with shoes full of sand and a pocket full of sea glass. Other than the sea, it's a boring suburb, but all the hostels in Wellington were booked for a big soccer match that is on Saturday. I'm going to stay with a family in Wellington for the weekend, where Robin is staying now. Then I'm heading North for a brief stomp around the Tongariro National Park. Then probably ferrying over to the South Island. Nothing is for sure, this road is ever-changing.

p.s. I'm in my dorm room, finishing off this post. It's 11pm and I haven't seen any of my dorm mates yet, so they must be out partying. The hostel is quiet except for the sound of the ocean waves, accompanied by loud snoring from the room next door. oh you backpackers!