Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Days #40 & 41. Sydney.

Turns out there was more than one Irish boy in the house that night.  There were two.  And thanks to their little snoring duet, I slept fitfully all through the night.  If that wasn't enough, the one below me was having a ibt of a flatulence issue.  The sounds I heard in the wee hours of the morning… not to mention the smells… well, that was just too much even for me.

Does it surprise you that I didn't sleep in that morning???  I got on that bus to Bondi as soon as I possibly could.  Met Sarah at the bus stop and headed to the beach.  What a gorgeous sunny morning!  We laid out for about an hour, talking about our favorite Tennessee hang-out spots and laughing over ridiculous stories from back home.  Watched people surfing on the beach break.  They were a'ight.  But those Aussies got nothin' on my West Coast boys!!! ;)  OB REPRESENT!  I didn't have a wetsuit or a board… of course if I did I would have gone out and shredded it up. J/K.  Well, the beautiful weather suddenly turned into overcast nasty cold weather.  Sarah and I decided to check out the shopping.  Found this killer 2nd-hand store and ended up buying two fantastic tops for $20.  Everything in the store was 50% off.  Almost bought a pair of black peep-toe stilettos, but I figured I already had way too many shoes at home as it was.  Got some souvenirs, you know, like those cutesy shirts that say "Bondi 1967" or whatever.  And a purple hoody.  Checked out Sarah's apartment which was killer.  Right in the heart of town.  Then we got hungry so what else were we gonna eat but wedges?!?!  Brown bagged some cider and had a picnic at the park.  Us, wedges, and seagulls.  Freaking annoying birds.  The weather that day was nuts.  As we were scraping the last smear of sweet chili sauce with the last wedge, the sun came back out again!  We headed back down to the beach to continue our sunning and hopefully catch a glimpse of "Bondi Rescue".  

I had always heard people talking about that show, usually followed by snickers and comments like, "Yea, it's soooo lame."  Lame or not, I had my heart set on seeing them.  As our afternoon came to a close and we were getting up to leave, Bondi Rescue appeared out of nowhere in their little doon-buggy cars and starting filming their heroic rescue of a stranded seal!  OMG!!  I had to run over there with my camera as fast as my legs would take me and start snapping pics!  They were absolutely hilarious to watch.  I was laughing so hard I could barely hold the camera steady.  After the seal was happily rescued, the Bondi Rescue crew hopped back into their ridiculous looking buggies and started driving back toward the lifeguard tower.  I was still standing there laughing and shaking my head like, "Are these guys for real???  This is actually a show that people… ummm… watch?"  Then one of the buggies whipped around in a 360 and came driving back toward me.  Two very (spray)tanned, (bleach)white toothed guards hung their heads out and grinned.  "Wanna get a picture with us?" they asked.  Hecks YEA!!!  Then I could show off to my friends my pic with Aussie celebs :)  I got my photo, then a flock of Asian woman landed on them and I took ones for all the ladies.  Then the guards invited me to come up and get a tour of the lifeguard tower.  Long story short, I ended up chilling in the tower with the Bondi Rescue staff, talking, beach-watching, and drinking grape power-ade.  These guys were freaking hilarious.  I really don't know how anyone ever gets rescued around there, they absolutely do NOT pay attention.  One was on Facebook, another was scarfing food down, and yet another was checking out his reflection and making sure his spray tan looked good.  The only time binoculars were used was for important moments like this one: "Brazilians on the beach unrobing! Brazilians on the beach unrobing!"  Then four pairs of binoculars would instantly appear and start scanning like mad for the damsels in distress.  One guy insisted that he saw Shaun White out surfing.  So a crew of guards charged down to the beach to get his autograph.  It wasn't Shaun White.  Just someone unfortunate enough to look like him.  After a while, I said goodbye to the boys, thanked them for the tour, and headed back to the Blue Parrot.

I was actually kind of exhausted believe it or not, so I climbed up into my bunk bed and started surfing the web.  It was peaceful and quiet for once... for about 15 minutes.  My blissful solitude was broken by those two Irish boys bursting through the door.  "You wanna go out and play drinking games with us?!" they asked excitedly.  "Ohhh, ummmm….. you know, I think I'm good. But thanks." I replied.  The next thing I knew I was practically being fumigated out of my own freaking room!  They were standing there spraying deodorant all over themselves!!!  In between coughing fits, I managed to sputter "Why are you spraying that on your entire body???"  They looked up with these dumb looks on their faces.  "Where is it supposed to go?"  "On your pitts!" I exclaimed.  "Oh, but we sweat everywhere" they said.  DEEEE-SGUSTING!!!  Unfortunately, their drinking games commenced on the patio right below the dorm room window which we all shared.  So then I had to listen to those shenanigans.

Woke up at 5 am and could't go back to sleep.  Decided to get an early start on my 2nd tour of Sydney harbor.  Stopped by a bakery and bought a fresh spinach, feta, and tomato quiche that was to die for.  Walked the 45 minutes to the Opera House and thoroughly enjoyed seeing other parts of the city.  When I got to the Opera House, there was barely anyone there.  I had the entire place to myself.  Great photo opp :)  Took way too many pictures as usual.  Just in time too!  A bus load of tourists came charging toward me as I made my final descent down those snow white stairs.

Then I went and sat out in front of the Museum of Modern Art waiting for it to open.  I had my heart set on seeing the Annie Lebovitz exhibit.  While waiting I met a sweet old lady who was meeting up with her "walking group."  Every week they congregate with their New Balance laced up and fanny packs (yes, I said fanny packs) in tow, and they walk around the city together.  So adorable!  I love it!  Anyways, the exhibit finally opened and I was definitely not disappointed.  Annie is famous for her portraits of famous people.  There are the well known ones.  Like Brad Pitt wearing leopard skin pants in Vegas.  Demi Moore, naked, pregnant.  Nicole Kidman in a sweeping white dress.  There are the not so well known ones.  Bon Jovi in a tanning bed - pretty funny.  Jack Nicholson donning a pink bathrobe hitting golfballs.  And then there are the personal portraits.  Ones of her mother and father who were so in love their entire marriage, and it really showed in the photos.  Tons of pictures of Annie's mother, dancing or singing in her swimsuit.  She seemed to love running around half naked!  And she was flexible too.  There are the pictures of Annie's three children.  Her friend (partner) Susan.  There were even some really sad ones.  Susan dying of cancer.  The portrait of Susan sitting in a bathtub with her half mastectomy painfully visible.  Her father dying, crumpled on the couch, oxygen tubing coiled around him and his wife lying next to him with her feet propped up on his lap.  Bloody footprints of murdered Tootsie children on a Rwanda schoolroom wall.  The saddest one of them all… a boy was riding his bike in front of Annie's car in Sarajevo where she was doing a photo documentary on the war there.  A mortar hit the boy and killed him instantly.  Annie's photo shows his bike, lying on it's side next to smears of blood on the pavement.  That one did it for me.  I couldn't help but cry a little.

Annie portrayed what she liked to call "Life Through a Lens."  In all it's craziness, sadness, elations, extreme pain, triumphs, simple joys.  Ultimately, just life.  I walked away from that exhibit inspired.  Then I realized I was gonna be late catching my shuttle to the Sydney Airport, so I really got inspired and hustled back to the Blue Parrot.

What an amazing trip.  'Nuff said. :)


Sydney #2 - $38 room, $4 metro ticket, $4 bus ticket, $8 fruit and yogurt, $100 Bondi Beach souvenirs (one is for YOU Melly! :), $15 cider & wedges, $10 Greek salad & garlic naan dinner
Sydney #3 - $10 late check-out fee, $4 quiche, $2.50 metro, $15 Annie Libovitz ticket, $2 water, $6 fruit salad & muesli, $14 shuttle to AP, $12 Greek food

Monday, March 14, 2011

Days #37, 38, & 39. Fiji/Sydney.

3 am.  Loud knocking on the door and a woman's urgent voice.  She told us to get up the nearest hill.  A huge earthquake had just rocked Japan's coast and tsunami warnings had been issued.  I went from groggy to wide awake faster than you could blink an eye.  Couldn't believe it.  Did I really just hear that word?  Tsunami???  Since I was a little girl this has been my recurrent nightmare.  I am petrified at the thought of it.  More than any other natural disaster that exists.  And that night, on the little island of Waya, I was terrified.  Despite my fear, I packed my Camelback with the "essentials": laptop, camera, chargers, passport, wallet, and an extra set of warm clothes.  What did I think I would do with a computer if a tsunami hit?  Don't even ask me.  My roomies and I climbed up the dark path to the top of the hill.  Everyone else from the resort was already up there spread out on tarps.  I heard hushed voices whispering that we were surrounded by reef which would break a wave if it tried to cross.  That was a very comforting thought.  However, I looked around for a coconut tree just in case and then tried my luck at catching a little sleep.  That was impossible due to the sleeping, elderly gentlemen next to me who breathed in my face.  Also, one of his eyes was open and that was just creepy.  So I opted to sit by the small campfire and shoot the breeze with Dominique, one of the resort managers.  The other manager, a Scottish guy named Frasier, passed out chocolate bars to all those awake.  We waited on that hilltop for 3 1/2 hours.  The sun was getting ready to rise when we received word that the tsunami warning had been cleared.  With relief I practically ran down the hill and back to bed.

Woke up a few hours later to catch breakfast.  The morning was spotless.  Bright, beautiful sunshine streamed from the sky and bathed Octopus Resort.  A beautiful last day on the Yasawa Islands.  Sadly the adorable Swedish couple and all my new UK friends left that afternoon.  But there were others to replace them.  A group of about 10 Mormon dental students.  They were spending a few days vacationing on the resort before setting up clinics in more remote villages.  DAD you are not going to believe this… one of the guys knew Dr. Ambler!  Unbelievable, huh?!  They were a unique bunch.  Nerdy in the extreme, most under the age of 30, and every single one of them married with at least 1-3 kids.  Or "two and a half" as Doug said.  His wife was due in March.  Yup, they were certainly unique.  But also super cool.  Some of the nicest, most down to earth people I'd run into.  And they played volleyball!  Sort of.  We had many a match over the next 24 hours.  Confusing, hilarious, energetic round after round of my favorite sport in the universe!  Nerds colliding everywhere, spectacles flying, many a selfless sacrifice of the body for a dig in the sand… except most of the time contact wasn't actually made with the ball :)

Dinner that night was a BBQ, and oooOOOhhhHHH was it GLORIOUS!  There were grilled steaks, chicken wings, sausages, fish filets, and veggie kabobs.  To accompany it was a table piled high with bowls of tangy 3-bean salad, fresh pineapple coleslaw, pasta salad, baked potatoes, and garlic bread.  I went back for a second plate.  Following dinner was a beach party complete with a coconut bar, games, and music.  But I was so freaking exhausted (only got about 4 hours of sleep) I went straight to bed and passed out.

The next afternoon I said goodbye to the Mormons and left Octopus Resort for the mainland.  As if to wish me luck, Fiji gave a full rainbow on my way out :)  After a wonderful 10 days of island hopping, I found myself once again at Bamboo Hostel.  It was good to see everyone.  "My friend!" the locals would exclaim while giving a big, sweaty hug.  They offered me more kava but I happily declined.

Woke up way too early in the morning.  It was 5:30 am.  So I went out to pay a few bills online, do some writing, catch up with the gossip on FB, skype with my boy… all that jazz.  Paid my car off finally too!  I ate my free breakfast of passion fruit and toast while having a chat with the hostel owner, Richard.  He brought out a plate of "eggplant jam" which you might think would taste horrible but was actually very delicious.  Like raspberries!  Richard and I were discussing the recent tsunami warnings.  He said before the scare they hadn't had a "tsunami action plan", but now they do.  I asked what the action plan was.  Richard replied, "Get up to the top floor over there and get the party crankin'!"  This was the old Kiwi's "Fiji time" type of outlook.  He is so laid back it's ridiculous :)

When I went up to my room around 9 am to pack my stuff for the AP, I couldn't find my wallet anywhere!  Thank GOD I had my passport in another backpack!  But my cards, $200 Aussie dollars, driver's license, and Peter's e-mail address were all in that wallet.  I emptied everything out, searched under the bed, under the couch pillows, in the closets and drawers.  No wallet.  I was devastated.  In tears, I rushed over to the office, thinking that one of the roomies had stolen it before they left early that morning.  Richard called the police to file a report and I was about to cancel my cards when… I picked up my laptop case to put my computer away and out fell the wallet!  SUCH RELIEF!!!  Do you know how scary it is to face 3 days in 2 different foreign countries with NO MONEY?!!  I thought I was gonna have to sleep the next few nights in airports and ration out the 2 Luna Bars and 2 Raman noodles in my backpack.  I felt really bad for causing such a panic for the staff.  But Richard assured me that this has happened 4 times now, and every time the "stolen" item was found.  Make that 5 times.

Once on the Sydney-bound plane, I finally relaxed.  Amazingly, I had met this girl at the Smuggler's Cove Hostel pool that morning named Sarah.  She was from Chattanooga, TN of all places!!! :D  Small world.  If that wasn't crazy enough, she was on the same flight to Sydney.  I told her about my plans to visit Bondi Beach tomorrow.  "No way!" she laughed, "That's where I live!!"  We decided to definitely meet up tomorrow at the beach around 10 am, get some sun, hopefully catch a scene from Bondi Rescue (should be absolutely retarded, lol), eat some wedges, get a pedicure, and mayyyybe catch a show at the Opera House.  Assuming there is actually a show going on.

Fast forward.  I am once again at the Blue Parrot in Sydney, Australia.  Decided to eat cheap tonight as tomorrow may be a bit expensive.  Spicy lentil dahl soup out of a can.  Oh stop gagging, I warmed it up first.  It was quite tasty.  As I finish this blog I am serenaded by the snores of the Irish boy below me.  Upon entering the room 20 minutes ago, he warned me that he has asthma which has been acting up lately, and he also has a sinus infection.  When I arrived at Blue Parrot earlier, I was told by Chris at the front desk that I had 2 choices of rooms: A. a 6-bed dorm with 4 boys in it (smaller room) or B. a 6-bed dorm with 4 boys in it (larger room).  Wasn't totally stoked on either of them but I picked the lesser of 2 evils and went with the bigger room.  HUGE MISTAKE.  This guy will not stop snoring, slobbering, or coughing.  It's 11 pm.  Is it too late to ring Chris up and tell him I want to switch rooms STAT?!!!!!!

Plan:  Bondi Beach tomorrow


Fiji day #11 (Octopus Resort) - $22 room (moved to a 15-bed dorm), $35 food, $10 other, $5 internet 
Fiji day #12 (Bamboo Hostel) - $65 boat transport to mainland, $10 room, $10 internet, $4 dinner, $2 water
Fiji/Sydney day #13 (Bamboo Hostel/Blue Parrot Hostel) - $4 lunch, $3 taxi, $2 water, $10 taxi, $38 room

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Days #35 & 36. Fiji (Octopus).

My first dinner at Octopus was lovely.  I was so happy to see Hilly and Dave, a middle-aged couple from the UK I had met earlier in the week at Blue Lagoon.  It's nice to travel alone because you meet ridiculous amounts of people that you probably wouldn't have even noticed had you been with a companion.  But then again, sometimes it becomes exhausting to go through the motions with new people day after day.  "Where are you from? How long have you been traveling? Where have you been? Where are you going?"  Same 'ole.  You have no idea how nice it is to actually be with the same people for a few days.  Then you can talk about new things!!!  Like good books, sports, family, and my favorite… food :)  Hilly, Dave, and I shared a table and a bottle of Marlborough region (NZ) Sauvignon Blanc.  Two very adorable Welsh girls and a Swiss couple also sat with us.  They ate chicken cordon bleu and I had the most incredible stuffed eggplant.  For dessert we were served a delicate custard with fresh fruits over a rum-infused crust.  Divine.  Following dinner was "Quiz night" where each table had to put their brains together, coming up with answers to the sometimes random questions.  Categories included things like "Fiji Facts" and "Complete the Lyrics".  Then each table had to come up with a "talent act" to perform for everyone else.  Each act would be judged and given scores, and the highest scoring table would win $100 bar tab!  There were some neat acts.  Jonas and Sophie, a young Swedish couple who also happen to be gymnastics coaches, walked across the stage on their hands.  They were the absolute cutest ever, with their matching platinum blond fringe and tanned, toned bodies.  They should be on the cover of a magazine somewhere.  They asked me to come down to the beach and take a picture of them doing handstands.  They said this is tradition everywhere they travel.  I told them to e-mail me when they're 70 and I will fly out to wherever they are to take the handstand picture.  Jonas said "I hope so."  How sweet was that?
Ok, so back to the talent show.  Some people sang, some danced, one guy rapped the entire Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song while his friends beat boxed.  I came up with the idea that we should do a "midgets" show.  To be a midget, I put socks on my arms, sneakers on my hands, then shorts up my arms, and finally Hilly put her arms through the armholes of the oversized T-shirt I was wearing.  Dave and the Swiss guy hung a sheet over Hilly so no one could see her, a table was pulled up to my "feet" so I could stand, and the Welsh girls stood on either side to help out in case I couldn't find something.  After all, my "hands" couldn't exactly see anything (and that is what makes this act so insanely funny).  I told the audience I was getting ready to go on a date.  I did a few jumping jacks and pull-ups.  Put deodorant on, brushed my teeth, and applied a little rouge and lipstick.  Of course, I was super clumsy, looked retarded, squeezed toothpaste all over the place, and applied the lipstick to my chin.  The audience laughed non-stop!  Finally, Hilly's hands crammed potato chips in my mouth, put my shades on backward, and I proceeded to sing a tune.  The Welsh girls danced.  It was HA-larious!!!  Hilly was brilliant.  My face was a complete mess.  We won the $100 :)
Slept beautifully that night.  Breakfast at Octopus is served buffet style.  All you can eat tropical fruits, fresh doughnuts or muffins, pancakes, omelettes, cereals, juices, toast, and muesli.  It's insane!!!  The only problem is I stuff myself to near bursting.  The sky was clear.  Finally, no rain!  I played in the volleyball tourney against the local rugby team that afternoon.  They were, as expected, like Olympians.  Other than that, it was simply a relaxing chill-by-the-pool kind of day.  A new group of tourists arrived and I found myself in the middle of a rather large, boisterous group of kids from UK.  They knew Jonas and Sophie from another island.  They were real clowns, those Brits.  One of the girls got a massage and came back complaining it was the worst ever!  "All she did was rub me" she said.  They were half starved.  During lunch, if anyone had any scraps leftover whatsoever on their plate, Sam, Joe, Johnny, and Totty would all be fighting over it.  "Are you gonna eat that fish?"  Then forks would start jabbing, shards of lettuce flying through the air like shrapnel, french fries disappearing within mili-seconds.  Obviously, they had spent the past few days at the cheap "resorts".
My otherwise perfect day was marred by several things.  First I was bitten by fire ants on my buttocks.  Two bites.  They stung like fire.  I could barely concentrate on volleyball due to the constant urge to submerse my throbbing bum in the pool.  Secondly, my leg was attacked by a walking stick type thingy looking bug.  Thirdly, I had an allergic reaction at dinner.
It was "Fiji Night".  All the guest sat around the pool and watched the staff do their cultural dances and songs.  They put on the best show I'd seen all week.  Then we were served a Fijian-style buffet that had been cooked in the ground (like the Maori's "Hangi").  It was quite the feast.  Each table received a whole chicken, pork, fish curry, eggplant in coconut cream, cassava, a tangy fish ceviche, salad, and what they called "spinach" but looked and tasted more like collard greens.  Halfway through dinner, I felt like a fish bone was jabbing me somewhere in my throat.  So I went to the bathroom and tried to find it, but no fish bone.  Then my throat started to feel like it was swelling shut, and I really started to panic.  I decided that, despite my ill appearance, I should go back out to the dining area cuz it was better to collapse there than in the bathroom.  I asked if anyone at my table had a pen and explained how my throat felt.  "I think there is a fishbone in there but i can't find it!" I told them.  The Swiss guy said he also felt like there was something stuck in his throat.  Then I knew it was most likely an allergic reaction.  After about 15 minutes the tingling, swelling, sharp choking feeling went away.  I felt better, so I helped myself to another serving of the "spinach".  The sensation came back.  Bingo.  No more spinach for me!  Found out later that a few other people had similar reactions to the stuff.  What the heck was it?? I kept asking the locals, "Tell me the real name of that plant you called spinach" and they would look at me like I was an alien and say "Spinach".  I got nowhere with them.
After dinner, one of the UK girls named Emily and I grabbed a glass of Shiraz and sat out on the veranda.  It was a gorgeous night.  The moon was up in a crystal clear sky.  The stars were so bright.  Emily told me about her brother and his upcoming marriage to a Vietnamese girl.  Emily was excited for the 10-course Chinese dinner they were going to have after the ceremony.  She really likes her future sis-in-law.  I started talking about my late grandmother.  As I told Emily stories about my spunky, adorable little Gramma, I could picture her white curly head just barely poking above the front seat of her Oldsmobile.  Was it the wine?  Or the sentimental beautify of the night sky?  I don't know.  But for some reason I started crying and couldn't stop.  I sure do miss my Grandma Nina.  It just isn't the same without her.  I miss our weekly dates.  And helping her get ready for the day… shopping with her… talking to her.  
Budget:  Fiji day #10 (Octopus Resort) - $30 room, $35 food, $10 snacks/pop, $7 vino, $5 internet

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Days #33 & 34. Fiji (Mantaray/Octopus).

It was curry night at Mantaray Resort.  A long table stretched in front of me, heavy with platters of naan, rice, pad thai, salad, yogurt sauce, savory split pea soup, and finally 3 different kinds of curry - fish, veggie, and chicken.  The fish was incredible, bathed in a rich tomato and garlic sauce.  How glorious was that dinner!  Sleeping arrangements were in a 30-bed dorm, every 4 of which were divided into their own cubicle.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I saw fans, mosquito nets, and the cleanest most whitest of sheets.  No bed bugs tonight!  It didn't even phase me that one of the girls I met had a back covered in bites from an unfortunate stay on another island.  

During dinner I was able to meet some of the guys who work at Mantaray.  One was a younger dude from UK who runs the dive shop, think his name was John.  He said he left London to do some traveling, ended up at this resort, and hasn't left in 5 years except to visit home once.  He said it was total culture shock when he went back.  Then there was Justin, a 40 y.o.'ish Aussie handy-man who made sure we had running water and things like that.  I asked him if he had kids and he said "Hundreds. That's why I'm here."  Then there were the locals who do all the rest.  After dinner, everyone emptied into the main lodge for game night.  The lodge was so comfy.  It had huge modern looking couches with bright squishy pillows to lean back against.  We played limbo which I lost to a girl named Heather from Georgia.  Imagine that! :)  Then the games kind of sizzled out.  Everyone was sitting in circles on those big cushions just getting to know each other and taking turns playing DJ with the community iPod.  The funniest thing was when John started having everyone do rum and coke snorkel bongs, lol.  You should have seen the people with those goggles on, mouthpiece flailing and them sputtering as if they'd just swallowed a gallon of ocean water.  Went to bed minus the snorkel bong :)  I fell asleep that night to the sound of soft rain.

Mantaray Resort was a really neat little spot.  I rather liked it.  It was worth the extra $25 bucks.  Breakfast was served buffet style.  I was so stoked that I actually found wifi!  Got to skype my amazing b/f for a bit and also send my dad an "I'm safe, everything's ok, love you" e-mail.  Poor dad, he was concerned because I hadn't posted a blog in a week.  But here on the distant Fijian islands internet is scarce, expensive, and s…l…o…w… 

I had an amazing morning in beautiful weather.  Played a few great games of volleyball, 4 on 4 this time!  That's an improvement over the typical 10 on 10 or whatever the Fijians usually like to do (=MAYHEM).  Right after lunch it just out of the blue started pouring sheets of rain!  It let up a little in time to get on the Yasawa Flyer, but as I got closer to Octopus Resort it started again with a vengeance.  The Flyer couldn't even let us off in front of the resort.  We had to enter from the other side of the island and trek up the slippery muddy side of a hill.  By the time we reached Octopus we, along with all our luggage, were completely soaked.  Any discomfort from this was immediately quelled by..….

The vision that is Octopus Resort.  

WOW.  Phenomenal.  By far my new favorite!  Part of Waya Island, Octopus sits on the longest white sand beach I've seen yet.  Rocky prominences jut out into the ocean.  The resort has a beautiful open-air, wooden dining area and bar.  The middle of it is soft sand with beautiful mission-style tables and chairs all around.  Huge wooden beams are adorned with green leaves woven around like Christmas lights.  In front of the dining area is a covered veranda with comfy chairs and a breathtaking ocean view.  To the side is a swimming pool surrounded by lush plants and flowers.  The staff all match in their blue Hawaian shirts and glistening white smiles.  Breakfast will be buffet style, lunch is a-la-carte and includes fresh unique salads, sandwiches, curries, and other Fijian fair.  Dinner is "family-style" where everyone sits down together.  I can't wait :)

I'm staying in a lovely 4-bed suite with it's own bathroom and warm shower.  At the moment all my clothes are spread over the bed on a beach towel, hopefully drying.  I sit here in the twilight, writing this blog, breathing in that cool, refreshing smell.  You know, the one after a heavy rain.  It is delicious.  Keeping my fingers crossed for brilliant weather tomorrow!

Plan:  3 nights at Octopus, yes! :D


Fiji day #8 (Mantaray Resort) - $25 additional resort charge, $10 internet, $10 Fiji Gold
Fiji day #9 (Octopus Resort) - $30 room, $35 food, $10 snacks, $5 internet

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Days #33 & 34. Fiji (Long Beach/White Sandy Beach).

The caves were fantastic!  Took a motorboat out in a torrential downpour, climbed some rocks and stairs, and jumped into the cold dark water at the entrance.  Then we got to hold our breath and swim underneath some rocks and through a channel for about 12+ feet to the inner chamber.  Some of the resort guests refused to swim through the channel which had no air pockets in it.  It rained the entire morning, so I chilled in one of the bean bags and read my book all morning.  So far it's a really endearing book about a little girl and her foster parents in Nazi Germany.  After a rushed lunch, I boarded the Yasawa Flyer for Long Beach Resort (Matacawalevu Island) which I'd heard from other travelers was a really basic but nice spot.  Also, Long Beach was a place I wouldn't have to pay the additional resort charge.

Now I know why it's better to pay the extra $25 for a "better" resort.  Because the other ones are like 3rd world countries.  My night at Long Beach "Resort" was horrific.  Now mind you, the island that it's on is ridiculously, beyond belief beautiful.  In my opinion, one of the prettiest I've been on so far.  However, the place is very run down.  My dorm room had a bathroom with a beat up sink, toilet, and shower all in one area.  The shower was cold and squirted in all different directions (basically around you but not on you).  The beds consisted of a thin mattress and a top sheet.  NO bottom sheet.  Trust me, I was awake half the night scratching at the bed bugs I just knew were climbing all over me.  Surprisingly there weren't any.  But still, who knows what condition the people were in who rested their (likely filthy) bodies on that same bare surface.  The mosquito net may as well not have been there as it had holes all throughout.  I fell into a fitful sleep with that incorrigible high buzzing sound in my ear.  For dinner I was served rice and a handful of veggies in a sauce that I cannot even guess the ingredients of.  Everyone else had just the rice and a single chicken leg.  This was accompanied by bread and thickened chicken broth.  Breakfast was porridge and a pancake type thing.  Lunch was rice with a few shreds of tuna scattered around and maybe a piece of carrot or pepper if you were lucky.  Next time I come to Fiji I will GLADLY pay the $25 for great food, clean comfortable beds, air conditioning, warm water, and a nice bathroom!!!

Ordinarily I wouldn't complain.  I've stayed in worse hostels in New Zealand (Auckland!).  And I love camping which is certainly not 5-star.  Maybe I should have started out with the cheap "resorts" and finished with the really good ones.    But like I said, the location was amazing.  The people there were so nice and always happy.  We played a game of volleyball - locals against the tourists.  We beat them horribly!  There was this old man named Noah who had a few teeth missing.  He liked to yell orders to everybody while he himself hit the ball in every direction but over the net.  If he managed to set the ball, he'd shout "SMASH IT!!!" at the top of his lungs.  And if the ball rolled out of bounds down toward the water, he'd holler at the local woman to go and fetch it.  "RUN Martha! Run! Teamwork! RUN!!!"  He also liked to say the popular phrase "No worries", but in his own broken English.  "No to the worries" he'd assure us, "No to the worries."  He was a real clown, that Noah!  The next morning a girl named Judith from Denmark and I took a small motorboat out to the actual Blue Lagoon beach where the movie was filmed.  It was amazing!!!  I can see why they did it there.  We basked in the sunshine and tried to snorkel, but there were little jelly fish and I'd already been stung twice by those stupid mitochondria things just by walking through the water.  After spending 2 hours there, we motor boated back to Long Beach.

I boarded the Flyer again after that despicable lunch I mentioned earlier and made my way south to the White Sandy Beach Resort (Naviti Island), also no additional charge.  I heard the food was better there, and that the beds had bottom sheets, although it was suspect as to how often they were actually changed.  Despite the questionable frequency of their linen washing, the resort was charming.  There were some of the friendliest staff yet who made it a point to memorize every guest's name.  The dorm rooms were much nicer than the last place, mosquito nets fairly intact, and a big wooden veranda at the front was quite welcoming.  More volleyball ensued.  This time the locals were much better.  Some guys were playing Rugby on the next field although it looked like a miserable sport to play in this sweltering weather.  Dinner was also quite an improvement from last night.  They served lamb chops and sausages - for me they fried a couple eggs - with soup, cheese bread, boiled potatoes, sweet chili sauce, and still-warm banana cake.  The cake was so fluffy and sweet!  

After dinner everyone sat on some benches and watched while the Fijians danced and sang, their favorite pastime :)  Then it was "International Night" where each nationality had to perform a song or skit, tell a story or joke… anything specifically having to do with their nationality.  This couple from the UK did a dance and sang "For he's a jolly good fellow."  A couple of Swedish kids pretended to dance around a maypole like frogs while singing their song of independence.  I told the story of the midnight rider Paul Revere, demonstrated how his horse sounded as it pounded the dirt roads, and sang "Yankee Doodle."  I was the only American :(  After all the songs, stories, dancing, and games people started migrating down to the beach for a bonfire.  But by this time I was exhausted so I hit the sack, cocooned in my mosquito netting, head nestled into the egg crate that was my pillow.  Once the fire got started, I fell asleep to lovely wafts of smoke coming through my window.  

For breakfast we were served homemade chocolate doughnuts which were glorious!  I walked the whole length of the beach past the other 2 resorts.  Sunned for a bit.  Watched a man climb a coconut tree, cut about 10 off, and come back down head first.  Drank the refreshing juice of the green coconut.  Watched the Swedish kids build what they called the "Pit of Doom."  This was an elaborate creation complete with a big pit, coral "house", bridge, castle, moat, and assorted seaweed garnishes.  Inside the pit were poor confused tiny little crabs, the kind that live inside teeny shells.  I'd say about 40 of them.  They scuttled around, attempting to climb the wall.  Climbing and falling.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  A few extra smart ones made their way to the top of the coral house and across the bridge to…. freedom?!  No.  They still had to get over the seaweed AND the moat.  Poor exhausted creatures.  Very entertaining though, hahaha.  When the Swedish boys ran off to do something else I rescued most of them.  Lunch was fried rice with a little onion, carrot, and very mealy peas.  I can't tell you how relieved I am to be going to a nicer resort with a real chef tonight!!!

Plan:  Stay the night/morning at Mantaray and then go to Octopus Resort in the afternoon


Fiji day #6 (Long Beach Resort) - $10 Blue Lagoon trip, $5 internet, $2.50 water, $5 soft drinks (pineapple Fanta and orange-mango Schweppes… love these tropical flavors!)
Fiji day #7 (White Sandy Beach Resort) - $2.50 water, $2.50 ice cream

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Days #30, 31, & 32. Fiji (Beachcomber/Blue Lagoon).

Where to even begin.  As I write this blog, I sit in a squishy oversized beanbag, looking into the turquoise ocean waters, basking in soft sunshine, enjoying a nice breeze, sipping on a pina colada.  A good one too, with fresh pineapple and coconut cream.  This is the Blue Lagoon Resort, Yasawa Islands, Fiji.  Did I mention I was going to paradise?  Oh, and I'm also listening to the resort's revolving soundtrack which would include Black Eyed Peas "Good Night".  For the 3rd time in a half hour :)

Although it actually has rained every single day since I stepped off the plane in Nandi, at least half of each day has been drop dead gorgeous.

I started my island hopping venture with the "party resort" called Beachcomber (Beachcomber Island).  I heard this island was spectacular, and it was.  It is ridiculously small.  Not even as big as a football field.  When we were approaching Beachcomber I kept looking at it and thinking, "If there is a ripple in the sea this place will be swept away!"  So far, the waters surrounding the islands have been the epitome of calm.  I dodged an earthquake, hope to do the same with any tsunami that may be thinking of crashing the party.  There wasn't a whole lot of action going on when I got there.  Everyone was leaving as I arrived!  Did some snorkeling but had to quit after 15 minutes due to those pesky stinger things that attack me every time!!!  Did see some beautiful fish though, even an albino one.  And some blue starfish.  Played a little volleyball.  I'd say the best thing Beachcomber has going for them is their food.  NOTE: if you are trying to lose weight DO NOT go to Fiji.  They stuff you nearly to death!  Well… I guess I stuffed myself nearly to death as it was a buffet :)  Breakfast, lunch, dinner - heaps and heaps of Fijian delicacies: curries, stir fried veggies, kasava, eggplant chips, salads, rice, pan fried noodles, fish poached in coconut cream, sweet and sour meats, fresh baked breads, and fresh fruits and juices.  For dinner they even served bowls of vanilla ice cream topped with a cinnamon covered fried banana.

Like I said earlier, everyone seemed to vanish from the island once I arrived.  However, after lunch people started coming out of the woodwork.  There were a few middle aged couples, a family with young teenage kids, and then the 20-30 y.o. crowd.  About 40 of us total.  The room had such a good, fun vibe going.  I had met two very beautiful girls from San Francisco earlier that afternoon and we were having fun swapping traveling tales and stories from home.  After dinner Beachcomber put on a cultural show with music and dance.  Then they invited all of us to come up and learn the "Bula Dance".  Practically everyone was up and dancing.  So happy, not a care in the world.  There was a Bula dance off.  Which I won ;)  Fun evening.  Not so fun trying to sleep.  I was in a 30-bed dorm, lights off, a handful of other girls trying to sleep also.  Around 2 am four German girls came in and engaged in conversation as if there was absolutely no one else around.  I couldn't believe it!!!  In my entire 5 weeks of travel, I have never had people be so rude before.  It was obvious girls were asleep, it was really late, and there they were in their beds talking loudly about something very exciting, I'm sure.  So yea, slept like crap that night. 

I've been at Blue Lagoon Resort (Nacula Island) the past 2 days which is so much nicer in terms of facilities.  It's definitely the 5-star resort of the Yasawas.  I'm in a 10-bed dorm with pretty good roomies (except the old man from Holland who snores soooo loud!!!  And coughs, sneezes, and clears his throat intermittently).  There are cute garden villas, hammocks, and a long white sand beach.  Nice showers with warm water.  A-la-carte lunch and amazing dinner prepared by a Fijian chef.  Last night was tapas: gazpacho, grilled eggplant bruschetta, garlic and coconut steamed mussels, beef satay, chicken lettuce wraps, veggie kabobs, savory mini pumpkin pies (delish!), Mediterranean salad, and margarita pizza.  The chef made me a special grilled fish skewer in place of the mussels and meats.  Very accommodating!  Dessert was by far the best thing I've had in ages.  Fresh pineapple slices with chocolate rum balls rolled in coconut and topped with the richest, warmest, most delicious of chocolate sauces.

It was "Metro Night" last night, which consisted of hanging a huge white sheet between 2 coconut trees and playing a reel of the most cheesy music videos from the 80's.  "Can't Touch This".  Classic.  Then the one with the white guy who can't dance crooning something about never gonna give you up never gonna let you down never gonna make you cry… yea that one, and the video where the girls are dressed like prisoners and they're singing, "I'm guilty of love in the 1st degree!"  Really?  How did people get away with that stuff back then?!  The 40+'ers were absolutely loving it!  Singing along and shaking some boot-ay.  They were contagious.  By the end of it everyone, including me, was dancing :)

Today I had a really nice time sunbathing, eating, playing vball, talking to new friends, and reading a new book I bought in Sydney for a small fortune.  Tonight is movie night.  Tomorrow I'm stoked to take a boat ride out to some caves which definitely need to be explored.  Then around noon I depart for the next Yasawa destination which is yet to be determined.

Plan:  continue Yasawa Island hopping

Fiji day #3 (Beachcomber Resort) - $400 island hopping "Bula Pass", $25 additional resort charge, $5 delicious fruity frozen drink, $12 internet ($4/15 min - awful!!), $4 coconut lotion, $15 other
Fiji day #4 (Blue Lagoon Resort) - $25 additional resort charge, $6 internet
Fiji day #5 (Blue Lagoon resort) - $25 additional resort charge, $25 cave trip, $6 fresh pineapple pina colada

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Days #27, 28, & 29. Sydney/Fiji.

Spending the night in the Christchurch AP wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I actually got a couple good solid hours of sleep.  However, I didn't realize all the food places closed pretty early, so I did go to bed a little bit hungry.  Had a bag of chips and some trail mix.  Now this is the part where you will say, "Heather is retarded."  I spend the night in the friggin airport, right?  And somehow I end up making it to the gate with only 30 minutes to spare!  

Arrived Sydney around 10 am and got to my hostel - The Blue Parrot - at 11:30.  I had looked up the hostels in Sydney and Blue Parrot got some good reviews.  After spending some time in this very expensive ($50 American) dorm, I realized that it's not so popular because it is especially nice.  It's because the two Kazakhstani sisters who run it are drop dead gorgeous!!!  Seriously, they are soooo pretty.  They greet you with a smile and a whiff of perfume.  Dressed to the nines in the latest fashions.  Perfect make-up.  Yup, they'll keep the rave reviews coming for the Blue Parrot :)

Took the metro to the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.  Walked around that area for a while.  Worked up an appetite, so I stopped at a pub and ordered the Australian version of the amazing NZ wedges.  NZ's are better :)  Of course I was thirsty too.  An ice cold pear cider did the trick.

Got up at 5 am the next morning to catch my flight out of Sydney to Fiji!  Accidentally left my Nalgene water bottle with the "Welcome to OB: Please do not feed our bums" sticker on it.  Anyways, made it to Fiji in the afternoon and wandered around looking for my driver.  I waited for quite a while.  Finally this slightly feminine Fijian man in a lime green "Hawaiian tourist" type shirt, with sculpted eyebrows and a flower in his hair, came up to me and asked where I was going.  "Bamboo Hostel" I replied.  His eyes got wide and he said OMG I used to work there!  He ushered me outside and called a taxi over, insisting I take it to the hostel and they'd pay the driver.

As soon as Bamboo came into view, I saw that there were tons of people playing volleyball and I immediately fell in love with the place!!!  Got checked in by a guy named Samu who was slow as molasses.  Oh I forgot, I'm on "Fijian time" now :)  A very tall lady showed me to my room and another Fiji boy carried my huge pack up the stairs for me.  Such service!  After paying for my room, I immediately went down to their cafe/kitchen and ordered some fried eggplant slices and a banana pineapple smoothie.  I was STARVING.  The eggplant was amazing.  The cook dipped each slice in a batter and fried it to a golden crisp.  Served with sweet chili sauce, of course.  My smoothie was really frothy, blended with fresh fruit and ice cream.  MMMmmmm.  After that I got in on the volleyball action.  So much fun.  It was more like jungle ball though, as everyone seemed to think it was a one-person team and that one person was THEM.  A lot of confusion on the court, but still such an awesome time.  It started to rain.  I dropped out after that and just watched from the thatch-roofed open air dining area.  One by one the locals started joining in, and eventually they had the entire court to themselves.  Now they were good.

I sat in the stifling evening heat, swatting at mosquitoes and eating a most tasty traditional dinner.  A slice of tuna baked in garlic, fried eggplant, and boiled kava (like a sticky potato) covered in a silky, dreamy coconut sauce.  Hit the spot!  Then I participated in the Kava ceremony.  The locals took a bunch of this ground up root and seeped it in water like a tea.  Then they passed around coconut bowls filled with the brown liquid for you to drink.  It tasted like mud.  And it made my mouth numb.  How the process goes is, when they hand you a bowl, you have to clap and say "Bula!" (means "hello"), drink, and clap 3 more times.  Some people were playing guitars, some were singing - mostly Fijian songs, and the hostel owner, Richard, was playing his clarinet.  After a few rounds, I went to bed and slept the whole night through.  Guess it's like Nyquil too, haha.  (I know I will prolly be getting an e-mail from dad on this one, hi dad!  love you!  :)

The next morning I woke up to beautiful sunshine pouring through my window!  No more rain.  After enjoying Bamboo's "free breakfast" of toast, papaya, and tea, I went over to the main office to try and make some headway with Samu.  We decided the best plan for me would be the 7 day, 6 night Yasawa Island hopper.  This package costs about 400 US dollars and includes transport, boat fair, lodging at the resort/hostel of my choice on the island of my choice, and most meals.  For the 5-star resorts, meals would cost extra.  It took Samu over an hour to call and book me this package, write a receipt for another night at Bamboo, and reserve my last 4 nights at the Octopus Resort on Waya Island.  ONE HOUR.  This Fijian time…. I've never experienced anything like it!  At any rate, I was glad to have it all sorted.  After that, was going to walk the 15 feet over to Smuggler's Cove hostel and bootleg their pool, but one of the locals, "Rico", had a better idea.  Take a taxi out to these secret rocks and jump into the river!  Yea!!!

This sounded way better than sitting around at a boring pool.  A guy from Germany wanted to go too, so we hopped into a taxi with Rico and took off for the rocks.  After a bumpy 45 minute ride during which the driver careened all over the road to avoid "obstacles" (i.e. semi's crossing, horses, muddy sink holes), we made it safely there.  My first jump was off the high rocks, and of course, I hurt my ear.  This always happens when I go deep in any kind of water.  I get an earache :(  This one was really painful too.  We stayed at this beautiful spot for a few hours, basking in the sun and swimming in the cold water.  I ate a can of baked beans for lunch.  I wanted protein, but something healthier… not fried, in other words.  This seemed an easy answer.  However, it didn't taste quite as good as I hoped.  I watched while everyone else kept jumping off the rocks.  But for me, my earache just kept getting worse.  All the way back I had to hold my shirt over my ear trying to keep the wind out (the taxi's windows didn't work, you had to either manually push them up or down).  Then I went to lie down for a while, hoping the water would eventually run out.  No such luck.  So I finally went to the office and they poured peroxide down my canal.  It feels a little better but I'm hopeful it will clear up overnight.

They are serving lamb or chicken tonight, neither of which I particularly like.  Instead I made myself the last of my Easy Mac that I brought all the way from America!  Can you believe I still have some after a month of traveling??  And I also cooked my last package of instant mashed taters.  Rico had never tried mac n cheese before, so I gave him a taste, apologizing that it really wasn't the "real thing" and don't judge it until you've had a big bowl of cheesy, bubbly homemade goodness straight out of the oven.

I can't believe how dirt cheap everything is here.  Seriously.  Can't wait to explore the Yasawa Islands!


Plan:  Yasawa Island hopping - tomorrow should be Beachcomber at Mamanuca Island

Sydney - $37 hostel, $16 shuttle, $4 metro pass, $9 pear cider, $8.50 wedges, $7 Indian food  ***in Ozzy dollars which means everything is way more in US dollars :'(  

Fiji day #1 - $8 hostel, $1 fried eggplant, $2.50 smoothie, $4 dinner, $2.50 drink
Fiji day #2 - $8 hostel, $20 taxi, $3 lunch, $1.50 water

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day #26. Kaikoura/Christchurch.

Whiting fritters.  I waited until the very last minute to try them.  Mostly because they looked so unappealing.  Like a sardine pancake.  It was ok, but the texture was really weird for me.  I was glad I only tasted it instead of ordering a whole one.  Don't understand why, but people in NZ love their whiting fritters!

My bus didn't leave from Kaikoura until 3'ish, so I took a nice, long, lazy walk around the point to where the seals like to lay out and sun.  Along the way I caught up with this guy named Sam.  He's a 22 y.o. primary teacher from UK, taking a whole bunch of time off to travel.  Why isn't extended traveling encouraged in the US???  I've met heaps of people who told me their companies/jobs were totally ok with them taking a few months to a year off.  In America, this would be frowned upon as shirking one's responsibilities.  Education 1st!  Career 1st!  I'm not saying these things aren't important.  But I do think it would be a wonderful thing to encourage a little traveling, especially between high school and college.  We all rush into college, and half the time, we don't even know what the heck we want to do!  And once we begin school and careers, it's nearly impossible to ever take that time off again in our lives.  Exploring the world, seeing new places, meeting unique people… these experiences will only encourage growth and provide clarity to our young minds.  Ok, that's my speech for the week  :)

Back to Sam.  So we started talking about our families, homes, the places we've been.  Turns out he'd just gotten back from Fiji and had stayed at the very same Bamboo Hostel I booked for my 1st night!  He had rave reviews for the place.  Said the owner is a big Kiwi man who always has a smile on his face, and who goes out of his way to make sure you get to do everything you want on the island.  Sam said he'll even arrange for you to stay with family members and friends, plus he's got all the local hook-ups.  WOW.  Random, huh?  I told Sam I was headed to the Christchurch Airport that afternoon, and he was like, me too.  Want a lift?  I couldn't believe it!  Ride in a nice roomy van with music and the windows down vs. a stuffy stinky bus.  Hmmmm…. 

I had a quick lunch at a little seafood stand along the road.  The fresh grilled fish was succulent with lemon and garlic.  Really cheap too - only $8 - with salad and rice.  Tried a bite of the whiting fritter.  You know how that went.  Totally chickened out on trying the crayfish.  Got my things together at the hostel, said goodbye to the awesome owner, Katie, and hopped into Sam's camper van.  He was heading to Christchurch to visit his rich auntie.  Sweet little van.  Paid $2,600 for it.  After he's done traveling NZ he's gonna try and sell it for nearly the same, so he'll basically get all his money back.  This is awesome.  Think about it.  You have a bed and kitchen in the back, so essentially little to no lodging expenses.  He'll get most of his money back when he sells it.  To rent a van for even a month would be about 1,500 anyways.  All he's paying for is Petrol, food, and an occasional holiday park for showers and electricity.  Really killer thing to do.  It's what I would have done if I weren't by myself.  But to do it alone would have been a disaster for me.  I can barely drive as it is, let alone read a map and drive simultaneously ;)  J/k.  I'm an excellent driver!!!

Got to the AP around 4 pm.  Thanked Sam for the ride, handed him the list of things to do in SoCal that I'd written up on the way, and headed into the airport to spend a long 12 hours waiting.

Passing through Christchurch, I caught a brief glimpse of the devastated city.  Buildings were completely destroyed.  It's the closest I've ever been to a disaster-stricken place like that.  It was sickening to look at.  I started talking to a middle-aged mum of 2 on an airport bench.  She told me one of her friends died in the quake.  It's a really sad time for her right now.  Even amidst all that pain and stress, she told me she would have taken me home with her for the night if they didn't live so far away.  Such kindness and generosity.  It's really beautiful to see in people.  I told her I've been thinking about her city this entire week, and wish them the very best as they rebuild.

I am so thankful for the amazing life that I have!

And tonight, I am incredibly grateful to New Zealand for giving me the trip of a lifetime.  

Cheers!!! :)

Plan: catch an early flight to Sydney and spend the night there before heading to Fiji for 12 days!
Budget: $18.60 food/snacks, $14 bus fair that I didn't use, $28 book (The Lovely Bones) so I have something to read in Fiji if it rains… keep your fingers crossed

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day #25. Kaikoura, cont.

My last day in New Zealand.  It's been glorious!!!!!!!!!!  To apologize for the horrid weather the last 5 days, NZ decided to give me one last day of sunshine.  Kaikoura is cute.  Really really cute, actually.  Of all the towns in NZ I've visited, if I could pick anyplace to live for a year, Kaikoura would be it.  And that's tough for me to say cuz I really loved Wellington too.  Kaikoura is so beautiful and hippie.  It's full of music, art, and vibrant culture.  Like OB but minus the bums and definitely a lot cleaner.  The main strip isn't very large.  Heaps of fish n chip places.  There's a little park with a bridge leading to the ocean.  Today in the park, I saw a group of ladies singing gospel songs and serving free sausage sizzles with fried onions.  Do you know what a sausage sizzle is?  It's simply a sausage wrapped in a piece of buttered bread.  Sometimes people put fried onions, tomato sauce, or mustard on it too.  Every BBQ I went to had buttered bread and I had no idea why they did that.  Who butters their bread before they slap a burger on it??  Well that's the answer.  It's for the sausage sizzle.

A little ways down from the main strip is an area that has some nicer restaurants and a pepto bismol pink Cinema.  They're showing Burlesque tonight.  I asked one of the girls at the hostel if she'd ever gone to a movie at that cinema before.  She said no, every time she walked by they had canceled all the showings. Not a very popular form of entertainment in Kaikoura it appears!  Seems like people are more interested in live music.  All the pubs and bars in the area advertise bands for every night of the week.  Tonight my plan is to attend the weekly killer BBQ here at Albatross :)

I decided to go for the wale watching tour this morning.  It was expensive - $130 - but I heard it's pretty good around here.  I rarely get motion sickness, but there was a swell in the ocean today and I was feeling it by the time we got into whale territory.  I saw 3 total today. They were all Sperm Whales.  The narrator said that they feed way below the surface for about 45 minutes, then come up to the top for 5 minutes to get air, then they go back down again.  So when they see a whale in the distance, they really gotta book it over there to catch it before it dives under.  An older man nearby started throwing up in a bag.  It was pretty rocky in the boat.  We passed around a whale's tooth which is bigger than my hand.  I had no idea, but a Blue Whale's heart is the size of a VW Beetle!  And their tongue is even bigger!!!  Anyways, pretty neat to see these critters in the wild.

When I was walking back down the beach after the tour, I saw a big group of people gathered near the water and it looked like something good was going down.  So I ran over just in time to see 2 guys struggling with a shark on the beach.  Couldn't believe it!  Just as I got my camera case unzipped they succeeded in throwing it into the waves.  I was like OMG why did you put it back in the water?!  "Oh him? We've caught 6 of 'em already today" they said very nonchalantly.  Apparently they like catching and releasing sharks just for the heck of it.  A bunch of fishermen had camper style rigs up above the beach and I went over to talk with them.  Russ, a middle aged, rugged looking Kiwi with white, wind tossed hair and tattoos up his arms, said that most of them were re-located from Christchurch.  Turns out he does hair back home, but his salon was ruined.  (Rough looking stylist, if you ask me… maybe he meant to say "barber".)  He spent a great deal of time telling me all the things he's done in his life, and I started getting the picture that Russell was kind of an exaggerator.  Had the cutest albino Beagle doggie named Alvis, and Bonnie the calico cat hanging around his pad.  Parked near Russ was a young couple whose home was damaged, so they're camping down the road.  He's a DJ, didn't catch what she does.  Seeing these essentially homeless people… people like you and I… struggling in the aftermath of the earthquake, made it very real to me.  After a while I started getting super hungry - it was nearly 3 o'clock.  So I made my way back to Albatross and made myself some lunch.

Then I went to the beach and hung out there for a while with the singing German girl who and the guitar-wielding Swiss guy from last night.  The current at the beach is incredibly strong, so no one was swimming.  Water's so cold though, I wouldn't have gotten in even if it was calm as a bathtub.  Thought maybe I would go surf at Maungamanu tomorrow morning but it looks like renting a board and wetsuit would be difficult, so maybe not this trip.  I did check out the used book store, but didn't find anything I wanted to read.  Was specifically looking for travel books on Fiji.

I'm really excited for this BBQ tonight!  I saw the hot-pink haired owner, Katie, and her partner/boyfriend/husband/whoknows, Ben, making potato salad, baking cubes of butternut squash, and boiling quinoa.  If not delicious, at least I know it will be very healthy :)

Plan:  do the 3 hour seal walk tomorrow morning, then get everything packed and take a bus to the Christchurch AP where I will spend the night

Budget:  $28 hostel, $130 whale watching, $5 backpacker BBQ

Day #24. Kaikoura.

$160 to swim with dolphins?!  No thanks, I'll just sneak into sea world which is about 5 miles from my house.  Or get on a sailboat to Catalina Island and watch 20 of them jump around at the bow.  I'm now in Kaikoura, sea life capital of New Zealand.  The area is famous for their whale, seal, and dolphin watching expeditions.  Most people from the bus are doing the swimming with dolphins thing.  As for myself, I think my last 2 days in NZ will be spent riding around on my free bicycle, hanging out at the beach, and exploring the quirky village.  Perhaps I'll throw in a little ocean adventure of some sort tomorrow.

Oh!  So about this free bike.  The couple who runs the hostel I'm staying at - Albatross Backpackers Inn - take old parts from other bikes and fix up the jalopies they already have.  Old bike parts + disintegrated frames = a contraption that is barely ridable.   After I got checked into my new room, I went for a quick ride to the New World Market for some groceries.  The gears and brake levers were screwed on at different angles and the back wheel was a bit wobbly.  As I was coasting down a slight hill, a couple tried to cross in front of me, and I yelled out "Stop!! The brakes on this thing barely work… sorry!"  They quickly jumped back onto the sidewalk.  "No worries", they said.  No one has any worries in NZ.  Ever.  Made it back to my hostel.  Alive.  Almost veered into a telephone pole on the way back cuz it's so hard to steer.  It's like the bike is possessed or something.

Aside from the transportation situation, this hostel is sikkkkkk.  I have never in my life been to one quite so cool.  You walk in, and there's a table in the foyer with "what to do in Kaikoura" books (handmade), a basket with "free clothes" in it, and a chalkboard advertising their weekly Sunday night BBQ for $5.  Must be a good one too cuz there's a couple of kids staying an extra night just to get the BBQ (they've been at this hostel a week now).  Then you come to the black and red themed kitchen.  It's got a huge "free" shelf with tons of baking ingredients, things like salt and oil, seasonings, and other random things.  Lined up in a row on the far-side are about 6 recycling bins, labeled for hard plastic, soft plastic, paper, glass, food, etc.  They are very green at this hostel.  On the counter are a few glass jars filled with Fair Trade tea, coffee, and hot chocolate that are free to everyone.  Then there is the "cozy corner", the place designated as the music and reading corner complete with heaps of pillows, instruments, and a shelf full of used/traded books.  They even have an "art corner" with an easel and an array of art supplies.  The walls are covered in paintings, most by backpackers themselves who have come through and created their unique donation.  To top it all off are the soft, squishy, velvet couches.  This place is INSANE!!!!  Did I mention their herb and tomato garden out front?  Rosemary, thyme, mint, basil, little red tomatoes… well, they weren't actually red but green due to the starving backpackers having already stuffed any ripe ones into their eager mouthes.  I was lucky enough to get a 4-bed dorm which was, as expected, clean and ever so cute.

That evening I picked some mint sprigs from the herb garden, and to that I added cucumber, tomato, red onion, feta, lemon, and olive oil.  A plate loaded with spring greens, topped with my Greek salad, and paired with a glass of cheap NZ Sauvignon Blanc… delicious.  Some girls had done quite a bit of baking earlier to try and raise money for Christchurch, so I put $5 in the jar and helped myself to two warm, gooey chocolate fudge cookies and a vanilla cupcake topped with icing and mini marshmallows.  As I was eating my sweets, I heard music coming through the front door.  Went out to check the situation.  Two Swiss guys were playing guitars and singing "More Than Words".  I joined in, then a German girl started singing too, and a Swiss girl, and a guy from Holland.  Before too long we had a regular choir going.  Someone started banging around on some bongos.  We sang everything from Kings of Leon to Bob Dylan, Metallica to Red Hot Chili Peppers (again, why are they so dang popular around here??)  Everyone was singing at the top of their lungs, attempting harmonies, dancing, and most enchanting of all… laughing.  The 2 universal languages, simultaneously, shared by travelers from all over the world.  I didn't crash that night until past midnight.  And they were still going at it!

Plan:  beach bum around Kaikoura, check out the shops/used book store, whale watch?
Budget: $28 hostel, $3 Willy Wonka sherbet fizzlers and grape twisties, $7 Subway, $35 produce & a bottle of vino

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day #23. Rangitata River/Methven.

Her name was Betsy.  Betsy from Florida.  By her wrinkled skin and long white hair, I'd guess she was around 67 years old or so.  She was the hippie type, wearing Indian moccasins and gold jewelry, hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.  And she was hammered :)  I had seen her in the Lake Front Lodge earlier that evening when I was checking some stuff out online.  I only had so many minutes left on my internet card, and I was trying to hurry.  But Betsy seemed oblivious to the fact that I was super busy.  She sipped her HUGE glass of white wine (the 2nd one I'd seen her pour since I sat down) and babbled on and on, asking me a zillion questions.  I tried to multi-task the best I could, but Betsy wanted my full attention.  Eventually I went back to my room.

Tossed and turned… just couldn't get to sleep last night!  Finally around midnight, I grabbed my book and went out into the lobby.  Betsy was sitting on the couch with another HUGE glass of white wine, giggling over a TV show and making eyes at a boy from Panama sitting on an opposing couch.  I plopped down and started reading, but the TV show caught my ear and before I knew it Betsy and I were laughing together over the outrageous sitcom.  After the show ended, we started talking about our travels.  She went on about how much she loved Cuban men.  And men from Mexico.  "How do you pronounce that city in Mexico?"  She asked, then garbled a string of vowel-sounding words, looking at the boy from Panama and myself for help.  We tried to help her sound it out, multiple times.  "Poo-wer-toe-vee-ay-hoe!"  But bless her heart, I don't know if it's cuz she just can't speak Spanish or because she drank too much wine.  She absolutely could not even come close to saying it right.

So we played music instead :)  Betsy swayed out the lobby door and to her car, returning with a Cuban mix.  Popped the CD in, and we danced.  Betsy danced by herself, I danced by myself, Betsy danced with Panama boy, I danced with Betsy… it was hilarious!  She kept grabbing at the poor boy's bum and every time he would howl and jump away.  She just laughed… eyes closed, swaying around a bit, arms in the air doing a little hula type of thing.  She was a real kick.  I got winded and sat down for a few minutes.  Betsy grabbed my hand and tried to pull me up.  "C'mon! DANCE!" she coaxed.  I refused, so she picked my bare foot up off the ground and tried to bite it!  Allllllll righty then… time to go to bed.

On to today's adventure.  It  definitely goes down in my NZ top 10.  White water rafting on the Rangitata River.  AMAZING!!!  The Magic Bus dropped 4 of us off in Geraldine where a guy named Steve met us and transported us to the river.  He was cool, had an eyebrow stud, beard, and a 1 1/2 y.o. baby.  The baby was at home with mum, of course, but the proud papa told me that his son is already jumping off the couch.  These Kiwi's, I tell ya.  The staff at Rangitata were awesome.  They had all the gear, hot drinks, and sub sandwiches waiting for us.  After a brief introduction - turns out Steve was to be our white water guide - we piled into a van driven by Tussock, the dreadlocked owner, and took off for the river.  It was raining and cold, the kind of weather that made getting into wet gear and frigid water very unappealing.  But the promise of Grade V rapids further on… well, that made it worthwhile.  I asked which seat had the most action.  They pointed to the front.  I sat in front.  "This one's gonna be trouble" Tussock said as he shook his head.

Steve taught us basic instructions, how to paddle as a team, what to do if we fell out, what to do if we capsized, etc.  "Don't panic, get in the missionary position, and keep your feet up."  He said if he threw the rope bag at us and it hit us in the head, that was 10 extra points for him :)  A couple from CO training in rafting and an instructor from TN were in my rig, so I felt pretty good about our team.  The river started out really calm, then gradually got faster with more rapids.  The last 2 rapids were both grade V.  The 1st set was short but steep.  We kept spinning around in circles before we hit the biggest one head on.  We paddled as hard as we could to work up the momentum to shoot past it.  The 2nd was pretty much the same but 3 x longer!  I dug my feet into the rubber sides of the raft, and when I saw a wall of whitewater coming at me, I closed my eyes and paddled for dear life!  The funny thing is, half the time I just paddled air cuz the front of the boat wasn't even in the water.  Our guide thought it would be great fun to "surf" a particular rapid.  It just so happened that a kiwi girl and myself were the ones who got sunk in the water up to our waists.  The boys to our left thought this was amusing and couldn't stop laughing.  Hmmmm, funny how they were the only ones who ended up in the water at the end of the day.  Get 'em Steve!

Hot showers and a fantastic BBQ were the perfect way to end this incredible adventure.  We were all freezing to the bone.  My left pinky toe was completely numb.  Plus they had me squeeze into this way-too-small wetsuit so I felt like a rubber band anytime I moved.  The photographer, Ben, showed us a slideshow of the pics he'd taken from perch on the bank.  Our faces… hahaha… not the most flattering looks on most of them :)  Btw did I mention the crazy hair these people at Rangitata Rafting Co. had??  Of course there was Tussock, the owner who had golden dreads down to his shoulder blades.  Then there was this photographer Ben who rolled in wearing a mullet wig.  And to complete the trio was Dan whose hair resembled Curly from The Three Stooges.  HA-larious.

A shuttle took the 4 of us to Methvin which is a town so small it isn't even mentioned in my travel book.  It's a detour stop right now as Magic won't take anybody into Christchurch for obvious reasons.  Made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and settled on the couch to watch a movie with the girls.  I'm stoked for tomorrow.  Kaikoura's next, famous for their wale watching, dolphin swimming, and penguin observing tours.  Perhaps I will run into Betsy while I'm there.  I could introduce her to Peter :)

Plan:  check out Kaikoura for 2 days
Budget: $200 rafting, $3 black currant drink, $25 hostel, $1 internet

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day #22. Lake Tekapo, cont.

Lake Tekapo.  This has to be one of the most beautiful areas in all of New Zealand.  Today was gorgeous!  Sky clear, no rain, lots of sunshine.  And another great sunburn.  No lie folks, NZ's rays are way more intense than San Diego's!

I am utterly drained, so I will keep this entry short and sweet.  This is what I did today:  I walked parts of Lake Tekapo, explored the village, drank cappuccino, went crazy with my camera, read a book, ate Chinese take-out, fed the obnoxious seagulls cashews out of my take-out cuz I detest cashews, skyped my boo, went through photos, mountain biked for an hour, and relaxed :)

Now my face is burning hot and all I want to do is eat a bowl of Ramen and go to bed.

Plan: white water raft Rangitata River tomorrow, so excited for the grade V rapids!
Budget: $26 hostel, $13 internet, $5 cappuccino, $8.50 Chinese food, $10 mtn. bike rental

Day #21. Aoraki/Mt. Cook.

Today was a thoughtful, meditative, reflective kind of day.  

Woke up with Christchurch on my mind and sadness in my heart.  Took an early shuttle over to the Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village in hopes of a good hike around the mountain area.  The weather was looking pretty sketchy.  Dark clouds threatened rain.  The top half of the mountains weren't even visible.  But I was armed and ready, dressed in Hot Chillies leggings, a dry fit, fleece pullover, and a warm jacket.  It was freezing!  Besides, everybody knows I ain't got no insulation :)  My Camelback was filled with all the essentials including a rain shell and the usual PB&J.

I wanted to hike the 8 hour round-trip Mueller Hut trail which took you up a steep incline to gorgeous mountain views.  Sadly I didn't have enough time as the shuttle left promptly at 4 pm.  So I took the 4 hour Hooker Valley Track instead which was really lovely.  Quite an easy hike, but that gave me more time to make plenty of photo stops!  There were so many wildflowers of every color and description… yellow, purple, white, pink.  I am a flower lover.  The Hooker Valley Track took me through fields of golden grass, over two narrow bridges, between majestic mountains, past two glaciers, and by two lakes.  Finally some of the bleakness surrounding Mt. Cook cleared and for the first time I caught a glimpse of its snow-crested summit.  I sucked my breath in and stopped dead in my tracks.  It was so magnificent.

Took a break on the giant rocks surrounding the last lake.  The water was a murky, pale turquoise color; the surface shivering from the constant shifting and melting of the glaciers.  Stuck my finger in and it was frigid.

I took my time on the trek back.  Spent a great deal of time thinking about my life and what I want to accomplish.  I thought about my childhood… places I've lived, crazy things my sister and I would do, how hard my parents worked to make sure we had everything possible.  My family and friends, they mean so much to me.  Love.  Thought a lot about love.  How blessed I am to be surrounded by such beautiful love.  Spent some time pondering the world, how it came into existence, all its crazy intricacies.  The first man to climb Everest - Sir Edmund Hillary - a native New Zealander and an avid mountaineer, put some thought into the world's creation like many others before and after him.  "I have the vague feeling ... that the world is so complex and so remarkable in many ways that there must be some sort of intelligence behind it all but as to whether that intelligence is the slightest bit interested in a little person away down on earth, I have my considerable doubts."  It's true, we are small, unremarkable people.  But we each have something special to give.

My mother said that her dad always told her, "Leave the world a little better place than when you found it."  That is what I want for my life.  To love with an open heart, listen with an open mind, and give back even a little of what has been given to me.

It seems the best in people comes out in the worst of times.  It is encouraging and inspiring to see the world mobilizing their resources and rushing to help a town in ruins.  Keep Christchurch in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers.  It will be a long, long healing process.  

Here's to recovery, rebuilding, and restoration.

Plan:  spend one last day at the beautiful Lake Tekapo

Budget:  $26 hostel, $60 shuttle to Mt. Cook, $16 3D imax movie of Mt. Cook, $8.50 wedges w/ sweet chili and sour cream YUM