The top had this view:
Sunday, December 26, 2010
The top had this view:
The YHA hostel was also awesome--hands down the best place I have stayed in so far, with clean rooms, homey lounge, a huge kitchen, and a spectacular view. When I saw Sam and Leanne, my friends from Nelson, I knew it was going to be a good Christmas. And when, an hour after arriving, I found a farmer's market a block away with peonies, new potatoes, and sweettart cherries, I was in heaven.
The first night, I joined Sam and Leanne for a movie--Eat Pray Love (yeah, I know, haha...)--at this kitchy little theater called Cinema Paradiso. You sit on old couches and car seats, have dinner half way through at intermission, and bring wine and homemade ice cream on in with you. The way all movie theaters should be! The next day was Christmas Eve and also Sam's birthday, so we celebrated with cake and champagne first thing in the morning.
I WENT SKYDIVING. My tandem jumper was Adriano from Brazil, and on the way up we chatted and went over instructions. He had a bit of a thick accent, so I was convinced I had misunderstood everything and would jump to my death. I didn't have too much time to get nervous though, because in no time, we were up at the jump site. But as I watched the two people before me nonchalantly topple out of the plane I finally thought...Oh. Shit. Then we were scooching over and I was hyperventilating and my mind went blank and I forgot everything Adriano had told me and I thought he'd count to three or ten or say "Ready" or SOMETHING...but he didn't. He just leaned forward and we fell out of the door of a plane 12,000 feet up and for two whole seconds I thought only:
That's it. I'm going to die now.
And then it didn't even feel like falling. For the rest of the 45 second freefall it just felt like staying in one place with really fast, really cold wind surging up past me. The ground didn't even seem to be getting closer. Then Adriano released the parachute and everything was lovely. Views like I can't describe over Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring and Mount Roy. I felt like I could see the whole world. Incredible. Because I am cheap, I didn't spring for the video or disc of pictures, but I do have this supremely awkward photo of me post-jump to share for your viewing pleasure:
When I got back, I made pie (my hands were still shaking from the adrenaline three hours later, and pitting cherries was a hilarious task), and then we got a big group together to go out for Sam's birthday. Great to meet so many people from so many different places. My friends here are American, British, German, and French. Fast travel also promotes fast friendships. What a great group to spend the holidays with!
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay another day, and I left Greg and Jason to their own adventures, as I was headed to Wanaka for Christmas. I do wish I could've gotten up on the ice and trudged through those mystical blue caverns, but the view from afar had it's own sort of appeal, and was worth it anyway.
***That last image was of the glacier from the bus as I was leaving.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I set out from Nelson for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track on Friday. It's one of the Great Walks, so you have to book the huts ahead of time, and since it's the holidays and the busiest time of year, the two huts that were left were very far apart, and I had to do the track in two and a half days instead of the suggested four. When I heard that it was supposed to rain ALL weekend, I refused to be deterred! After missing the trek in Tongariro, I wasn't going to cave to a bit of drizzle.
The hike began at 9am. The first thing I learned: water resistant is not even close to water proof. I was absolutely drenched within ten minutes. Fortunately, it's summer here, so I was only wet and not cold and wet. And once I was soaked, I didn't mind the rain so much. The whole track was still really beautiful, way up in cliffs and forest along the coast, and because of the rain, I hardly saw anyone else. I've found that I feel a lot less lonely by myself in nature than I do in cities; New York has often felt like the loneliest place in the world, but in the woods I'm fine.
I listened to The Hours and A Single Man soundtracks for part of my seven hour tramp through the downpour, which added a certain drama to the whole endeavor. Phillip Glass can make even squatting to pee feel epic.
Of course, I did finally make it, never learned the source of the dark fluid, and then hiked out in the rain again this morning. I met a nice American from Connecticut on the bus back, and we might travel together for awhile (would be great to have company), and I'm back in Nelson, blessedly dry and squeaky clean at last.
*Note: When left to their lonesome in the wilderness for a relatively long period of time, I'm sure many people spend their time pondering philosophy and the meaning of life. I seem to instead spend my time meditating on pop culture. Hrm.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Since Wednesday was sunny and my bus didn't leave until 1pm, I decided to get up at 6 and get some good hiking in. I just did a few short jaunts on tracks near the lodge, but it was well worth it. In five hours, I managed to take in a couple rivers, several serious waterfalls, and both Mt. Ruapehu (with its snowy peaks--the picture doesn't nearly do it justice) and Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom to Lord of the Rings fans). The Kiwis love to make tourists try to pronounce those mountain names!
Thrown Away/Given Away/Sent Home:
2 cotton t-shirts (smelly fast, WAY too long to dry)
cotton tank (stretched beyond recognition)
synthetic tank with built-in bra (most uncomfortable item of clothing imaginable)
peppermint bark (ate half, but it made my whole bag smell minty sweet)
dashing red pashmina scarf (left on bus)
two more toenails (down to five now; six weeks later and the marathon is the gift that keeps on giving)
food storage containers
Wish I Had:
actual rain gear instead of a wind shell
waterproof hiking boots
Love More Than Anything:
Zaphod, the Bro Haven (little mouse from Dana)
quick drying, light-weight hiking pants
awesome braided laundry line
It's been amazingly difficult trying to figure out what to do about food while on the road. I want to eat healthy, and I don't want to constantly be eating out (NZ is REALLY expensive), but it's difficult when I'm constantly moving and can't keep leftovers refrigerated. I keep buying one thing at a time and eating it for days; I spent three days only eating boiled eggs, two eating broccoli, and four surviving on mostly bagels. I'm kind of sick of the whole thing and have actually started just replacing meals with protein shakes and trail mix because it's easy. Seriously depressing. Ideas?
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Biggest surprises so far have been how capable and confident I feel (starting off in an English speaking country definitely helps, and with a little patience, most everything feels manageable), and how annoying loading and unloading my backpack has already become. It seems every time I get the thing done up, I need something that's buried right in the middle. I need to come up with a better system, or else ditch half of my stuff.
Yesterday I took a ferry to Waiheke Island ("Wa HEH keh," according to the Kiwi who corrected my "Wehiki"...and then asked me to accompany him home). Waiheke looks like Hawaii (or what I imagine Hawaii looks like, based on 5 seasons of LOST) crossed with Italy: imposing cliffs, rolling, vibrant greenery, tropical plants, turquoise water, and lots of vineyards. I spent the day reading in the sun, reapplying sunscreen religiously to combat the ozone hole (Kiwis have the highest skin cancer rates in the world), and sampling wine at the vineyards. Definitely a nice day to recoup. Also, it's true that New Zealanders are the nicest people on the planet. I asked a girl manning an ice cream booth in the middle of nowhere if I could find internet anywhere nearby, and she offered up her laptop.
I'm reading On The Road, which is both contributing to my excitement and vague homesickness (teared up when I heard that awful Kid Rock song about Northern Michigan--ha!). Kerouac feels very appropriate, regardless. "I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future."
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I am trying to get as much work done as possible before I go, but my head is a-jumble with a screeching that can only be described as a high-alert stress sound reminiscent of a rape whistle (included in my headlamp, BTW), and it is blocking out all other coherent thoughts. Since no one is home, I thought it would help to just scream for a minute to sort of, you know, clear out my system and start fresh. It didn't, but I did succeed in scaring the crap out of the cat. Stella is not amused.
In short, I'm starting to panic a bit.
Tonight will be spent with the sisters, tomorrow morning Ad arrives, the weekend is wedding and friend-tastic, and then I'm back in New York for two days until departure. Which means I have to do last minute errands, complete all necessary work, do laundry and have all of my things of value squirreled away where the sisters won't be able to locate them for eight months...by this afternoon.
I've been going to bed late and getting up at 5:30a for many days to squeeze it all in, which I guess will help me avoid jet lag on Wednesday as I sleep through the whole 5+13 hour flight. (Who am I kidding? I can sleep anywhere, anytime anyway. I am a sleep champ.)
But! I'm already completely packed, and it all fits into a carry-on-sized backpack and a small messenger bag. Behold:
My hiking boots are even in there! So are my jeans! And my lightweight cooking pot! Osprey bags coupled with Eagle Creek stuff sacks are a truly magical combo. It also helped that, due to your suggestions, I cut the number of clothes in half and left out a few other things, like the stove and bug spray (list has been updated, as such). Honestly, I haven't been bitten by a mosquito in YEARS, and I've got $700 worth of anti-malarials stashed, anyway. Shudder.
I've started saying goodbyes, which has been strange because it doesn't feel real at all. How will I not see Gina until her wedding in September? I can't believe when I hug my grandmother and say "See you next August," that that can possibly be the case. Or my parents. I'm already getting weepy. I know... me, weepy? Ha.
I am almost 28-years-old, but my family is super big on traditions, and this is the first time in my life I won't be with them on Christmas. That means no How the Grinch Stole Christmas read-aloud ("Dahoo Doris, fahoo Forest, welcome Christmas, Christmas cheeeer!"); none of Dad's famous hors d'oeuvres, wine, blaring Christmas tunes, and ornament hoarding while we decorate the tree (drunk Santa must be positioned to look as pathetic as possible, while the hanged baby needs a prominent position); and no new shot at finding the hidden pickle. Not to mention Christmas Eve dinner and the elaborate who-can-open-presents-slowest competition. Mom gave me my yearly supply of peppermint bark already since I won't be around. I usually wolf down the entire tin as soon as it's out of my stocking, but I'm trying to ration it out so I can have some Christmas morning and feel a little closer to the fam (even though Santa will come a day ahead of time in New Zealand).
Okay, I guess I can't complain too much, though. I still can't believe it's even possible for me to do something like this--something a lot of people wait their whole lives for. And despite the vague melancholy at leaving everyone I love to go so far and for so long, despite the daunting task of tackling so many new places alone and navigating through cultures in which I don't speak the language, more than anything, really, I'm so freaking pumped! Six days! Ahhhhhhh!
*Note: whenever I use the word "precious"--which is rarely, mind you--I think of Gollum. Every. Single. Time. Damn you, Tolkien.