Gettin’ er Done

Well holy friggin’ crap. I have 12 days left in the land of the long white cloud.

I arrived back in Raglan on New Year’s Eve and was immediately greeted by familiar faces and friends from my last time here and acquainted myself with all the new faces as well at the Raglan backpacker. Raglan is one of the hotspots for music, art, and entertainment in NZ so I bought a ticket to the NYE concert on Volcom Lane. I honestly couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the whole day. I had slightly forgetten what great energy exists here and there was definitely a skip in my step as I walked around the streets. The concert was rocking and the weather was warm as the fireworks display went on over the river at midnight. We all danced the night away. What I really love about Raglan is just how peaceful and patient people are here. Even in a small venue, packed with 400 people drinking and smoking, there was no pushing or roughness, just people smiling and dancing to the reggae beats. Not an bitter soul around.

Being back here, naturally, I am back surfing almost every day. I think I’ve only missed 3 days out of 2 weeks. Not too shabby I reckon. But the real kicker is that the water is so bloody warm I don’t have to wear a wetsuit. The surf started picking up a few days after after my arrival so I thought it be good time to start playing on a smaller board. So as of lately I’ve been out surfing on a 6’8” board and really enjoying the feel of it. It’s been much easier to turn but I’m still working on that bit. But holy frig I caught an AMAZING wave the other day. Like it couldn’t have been more perfect. The water was glassy as, and the waves, perfectly clean. Then it came, I reckon about 4 feet it was, and I caught it at perfect timing. I just glided down like it was nothing. When I actually surfed down to the bottom of the wave I was so bloody excited that I fell off the board. I didn’t care though. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

So my confidence is definitely improving in the bigger waves, thus my surfing is improving. And getting out everyday is just such a great way to spend the day. Not to mention great exercise. But man, when it’s that fun and rewarding, I tell ya, it doesn’t feel like exercise at all.

I’m so glad though I decided to stay here for a couple of weeks during my last month in NZ. I helped out a few days here and there with the cleaning to cover my surf board rental but otherwise I’ve been just soaking it all in, going to work in my office every day for a few hours. In a wee ploy to make myself feel somewhat productive, I’ve claimed one of the hammocks that overlooks the courtyard as my office. Quite a bit of work goes on here too. I get a lot of reading done, napping, watching the planes and gliders fly overhead. Not to mention the social aspect of it all. You can lay there, swaying in the wind, and drink beer, eat and have people sit near you and you barely have to move. It’s quite luxurious. I love the hammock.

As for other random events taking place in Raglan town, the other night we had a girl’s evening at Suz’s house. Her and her partner Tim own the backpacker and she invited all the girls who work here out to their place. They have a cozy house that overlooks Whale Bay and we had a lovely meal and watched the surfers go nuts at the Indicators point break. We picked fresh strawberries from her garden for dessert and ate a lovely meal and drank ginger wine. Twas lovely, tell yer mother. And just the other night and yesterday I surfed Ruapuke beach for the first time. A friend from Fox came down for a surf for a few days so we drove out for an evening surf at Ruapuke. My word, the swell was quite huge for me but I attempted. Attempted I did, succeeded to catch a wave- no. I got a good washing about, but it’s still worth paddling out at dusk with the sun setting right in front of you. Then yesterday we woke up for an early morning departure back out to Ruapuke and we in the water by 8am. Again, the swell was pretty big for me and I had a hard time getting out, but man did I ever improve my duck diving. Haha, frig there was lots of duck diving done and the waves I caught were near nil. But it was all good, and spent a good day’s work at the beach and in the water. So tomorrow, if conditions allow, I’m surfing Manu Bay on my last day in Raglan. Wish me luck.

Ok, so hopefully I didn’t bore you too much with all the surfing jibber-jabber but it’s definitely something I want to keep doing for ever and ever and ever. And seeing that I am going to back on PEI soon, I have a mission. It’s an island, there HAS to be some surf somewhere. HAS to be. Eastern point I reckon. So come spring the search for the surf begins.

Anywho, 12 days to go in NZ…One week in B.C…One week in Toronto/Kingston…5:30pm February 14th I step on snow covered red soil again. See you then…

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Homeless, Carless, and Guitarless

It’s my last night in Fox. My car and guitar have been sold I spent the day packing the past 11 months of my life back into 2 bags. One really does collect a lot of things when you have a car. It’s like your hermit shell. Your traveling house. You pick up things along the way and just keep them in the boot of your car until you need them. So needless to say, I gave away a lot of stuff. The rest of the day was spent saying goodbyes to all the wonderful people who made me a part of their family while here in Fox. A lot of hugs were given and almost everyone said to me as I left them in my dust, “You’ll be back!” I have a pretty good feeling I will be in Fox Glacier again. Whether to live, work, or just visit, I know I will be back there again.

I experienced my first summertime Christmas as well. It was strange that’s for sure. Christmas is a lot less commercial here, and even more so in the small towns so I didn’t get in the regular Christmas mood at all. We arranged a secret santa amongst everyone at work and our bosses Lynn and Janelle, organized a party at their house for all the orphans. We had yummy finger foods through out the day and whiskey and wine and for the big meal we had a hangi. A hangi is the traditional cooking method of Maori culture. So our food was wrapped in weaving, buried in the ground on top of smoking rocks, covered with a sheet then covered with earth again and left to cook for 5 hours. There was chicken, lamb, kumara, potatoes, veggies oh my! It was glorious and the taste is like no other because it smoked in the ground! Smokey and earthy. Yum. As for presents, I got four!! I was so surprised to get more than one, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I got a box of chocolates from Milena, a nice piece of greenstone from Petey and his parents, Lynn and Janelle gave all the staff these really cool hoodies that say café neve, fox glacier and a wee little NZ silhouette on the back. Very very cool. As for my secret santa present, I was given a pair of fishnet stockings and matching fingerless gloves and a red g string. Oh and a pair of tongs. Interesting. I doled out handknit Canadian toques and silly homemade cards to as many as I could. The rest of Christmas day was spent around a huge bonfire, dancing in the pouring rain, flying remote control helicopters, mastering the fire pois (which I am bringing a pair home so y’all can try!), and attempting to float down the creek in an inflatable dinghy. Twas a merry ol’ NZ Christmas.

Now I’m Wellington. Twelve hours of my yesterday was spent on a shuttle driving from Fox to Picton. I have friends in Picton, conveniently, and I stayed with them last night and had a good catch up before heading off for the early morning ferry to Wellington this morning. I was starving, as I also had to leave behind my box of food that I’ve been toting around with me for at least 9 months now. The exact same box. The food came and gone, but that box, labeled ASH with a Sharpie marker remained the same. It ripped and got wet, but it was nothing a little duct tape couldn’t fix. So with only a little bag of fruit, prunes, and pasta I was aching for a good breakfast. The breakfast panini sounded interesting enough from the menu on the ferry’s café, but my god the Kiwi folk can make some strange concoctions. A panini with egg, bacon, and hashbrown all mushed together and then covered in BBQ sauce. Question marks were the only thing running through my mind, but I ate it out of hunger, and guiltily enjoyed it.

My body and mind both know it’s my last month in New Zealand. I know I am going to be home so soon that this last month is being spent re-visiting my favorite places and winding down. I slept for the remaining 2 hours on the ferry, reasoning that I’ve already been on it and seen the landscape so I wouldn’t be missing anything. So I arrive in Wellington, and immediately take a taxi to my friend Pam’s house. We worked in Raglan together and became great friends and now she lives in Wellington so we are meeting up for a couple days. She is away until tomorrow, but offered her house for me to have for myself until she gets back. Ultimately a friend was supposed to drop off the keys for me, but was unable. It was sunny out today though, so I hid my bags in the trees in the back yard and walked around the city hoping her friend would show up with the keys by the time I got back. Three hours later, still no keys. So I wait. I sat on the front step reading. Played some hackey sack. Read some more. Played hackey sack some more. I’ve mastered the hackey sack foot stall. I’m quite proud of myself. But two hours still no keys. I had decided to give it another hour before packing up and going to a backpacker for the night, but then an kind old man wanders out from the trees and asks if I am the Canadian girl who lives here. I explain to him my story, and he tells me he’s the landlord and that he thinks he should let me in. I promise to him that I am not a crook and he laughs and kindly opens the door for me. Luck be a landlord.
So in a few days time I’ll be back in Raglan, surfing in nothing but a bikini and a rash guard. No wet suit or booties!! Woo!! Soaking up the sun and attempting to get a tan so I can look sunkissed next to all of your pasty winter skins…teehee! 6 weeks to go till I’m back on my wee Island…

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Random Acts of Extremism

I woke up this morning and I knew the sun was shining before I even drew my curtains. It was one of my days off from work and since it rains in Fox A LOT, I deemed myself more than lucky. I don’t know why the thought came over me but I thought to myself while laying in bed and the sun shining through the windows, “Today is a great day for a skydive.” Do I know what skydiving is like? No. But one would assume that a day like today would be great for such an activity. Up I got at the wee hour of 8am and marched up the street to where my skydiving friends work. They were almost as excited as I was for me to go skydiving when I showed up to book myself in. They drink my coffee everyday and the least they could do they said was give me the ride of my life and with a generous local discount.

I was to fly at 2:30pm so I still had the whole morning to kill. I treated myself to eggs benedict and smoked salmon for breakfast while basking in the sun and reading the Greymouth Star. My excitement was building up and I had to do something to vent it. So I drove down to Gillespie’s Beach to view the surf and play in the sand, cursing the tourists that drove in front of me going 25 the whole time. I then realized I was damning the tourist drivers just as much as the Kiwis do. Besides this realization, I have noticed other little things that show that I have assimilated nicely into the Kiwi way of life. For example the phrases and words I use. I can’t even recall if I’ve said them before being in NZ. Hell, even before being in Fox. I know now why I’ve been enjoying this small town so much, is because it’s the first place I’ve got a real dose of Kiwi. The first 8 months of my travels have been great and educational no doubt, but when I think about it, most of the people I met were from other countries. The actual Kiwi friends I had made before Fox were countable on 2 hands. Here in Fox, the traveler is definitely the minority and it’s been a blast living amongst some true Kiwi culture.

Supper is called tea. The trunk of the car is the boot. The parking lot is the carpark. To chug a drink is to skull it. To makeout with someone is to snog or pash. Getting drunk is getting on the piss. Making fun of someone is taking the piss out of. Pouring rain is pissing down. They love the word piss here. When something is awesome it’s “sweet as bro” or “good as.” Enter any adjective here followed by “as” and you have a Kiwi response. “How was work today?”
“Busy as.”

Another thing these oh so lovely Kiwi’s say is something us Canadians are familiar with. Eh. They even say it more than we do and use it in different contexts. They spell their eh, like “ay.” And then there is also “Oy!” This is my favorite of the Kiwi expressions. This one single sound, often shouted, “OY!” can be used when referring to a person you are trying to get the attention of, or simply enough as asking someone to repeat what they just said: “Oy?” It covers all grounds. What I mean to say in all of this Kiwi lingo, is that I feel that I have been here long enough that I don’t know what is Kiwi and what is Canadian. All these once-were-oddities now just feel normal for me to say and do and I can’t recall if I knew these things before I got here or if it was something I’ve just become accustomed to. It’s been embedded in my brain and it’s a pretty cool feeling.

As I’m walking back towards the skydive center to suit up for my jump, I notice a tourist taking a picture of a random SUV parked in the hotel carpark. “Friggin’ Asians” I instantly think in my head, “taking god damn pictures of everything.” But walking past it I notice two freshly hunted deer tied to front of the vehicle. Fair enough Asian, you have good reason to take a picture. Hunting is big here in this part of the world. Granted they don’t have much diversity in things to hunt but there is enough wild deer around to keep them all entertained. But it’s not just about entertainment. Killing a deer, or a chamios, or a tahr is a great achievement and often is what feeds the family, especially here on the West coast of the South Island. It wasn’t until the other night when I realized the importance and privilege of it all. A friend had recently shot a deer about a week ago and I got the opportunity to taste my first wild deer steak. Adam, his wife Julie and their cute little baby Niaomi brought over fresh venison steaks for BBQ purposes only. I have never ever ever tasted meat this good. As Julie stated, there is no fear in this meat. The hormones are completely different in a wild animal as they are in a farmed animal, and by jeeze can you taste it. The flavor and the texture was to die for and I can now understand why hunting these animals is such a way of life.

At this point it still hadn’t sunk in that I was to be jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet. I decided to let that nervousness come as I sat in the plane. I suited up in my orange and black jumpsuit and was strapped in by my tandem instructor to my proper harnesses. It was a 45second freefall and we went over the procedure from the plane door being opened to the landing. Easy as. It wasn’t till I sat in the tiny little plane, ready for take off that the butterflies appeared in my stomach. Anyone who skydives for the first time must go through this same feeling of, “Why the fuck am I about to throw myself from a moving airplane 12,000 feet above the ground?” The feeling is just so unnatural that it makes no sense until you are actually ejected from the plane. I got the seat next to the pilot right next to the glass door and we spent the first 15 minutes doing a scenic flight over through the mountains, viewing the Fox Glacier and Mt.Cook up close and personal. Then I was told to put my goggles and hat on and that we would be jumping in 5 minutes. It’s like a panic, but a good panic knowing you are in good, professional hands.

SWOOSH! The door beside me opens and I am one-on-one with ice cold mountain air. My legs swing outside of the plane and we hold to take a few pictures then we jump out doing a front flip. The feeling is quite incredible as you are flying, well falling, but you are moving in three dimensions and it is such an uncommon feeling for your body to experience for such a length of time. I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing the whole time that my mouth kept filling up with cold air and my god was it frigid. But those 45 seconds seemed to last for minutes as we spun around looking at the horizon at all 360 degrees. Amazing. Then out went the parachute and we floated. After such a an adrenaline rush, the float to the ground is quite therapeutic. My head was buzzing and we cruised above the sheep paddocks which looked like one big green quilt with white speckles. The landing was smoother than I was expecting and I stood up feeling stoned. And I continued to feel stoned for the next few hours. Just awesome.

My time here in Fox is almost up before I finish up my South Island travels. I will be taking a few weeks to travel the Milford Sounds, Stewart Island and the Catlins and anywhere else I end up and think I will return for a week back to Fox Glacier for Christmas, where I have friends to spend it with. Still I can’t believe it that once Christmas is over I have one month left this country. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I have been gone as long as I have. This voyage is feeling like the first of many to come.

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Gone Fishin’

Well, I’ve been out fishing today. I am getting a real taste of Kiwi lifestyle here in Fox Glacier. When the closest bigger town is 2 and half hours away, you live much differently. The barter system is still a form of payment here in a lot of cases. The trade off of goods and skills. Today I experienced it first hand. Shaun was our fishing captain. Fisherman his whole life and by jeeze he couldn’t look more like the classic fisherman. A tiny black beanie just barely covers his ears to expose his salt-blown curly hair and a body full of tattoos shows dragons, anchors, and naked ladies. He knows all the secrets of the ocean and knows where all the hotspots are. A missing tooth, curses like a sailor, and has an accent so thick you aren’t quite sure if he’s speaking English. Paint a perfect for ya?

We bailed out in his little silver skiff and flew across the water spotting seals and yes, the big number three, dolphin sighting. My crew mates were Vicky, the town’s sweetest Mom, and Lucy, another honorary local. Shaun was taking us girls out fishing while he went scuba diving for crayfish. He was only down for 15 minutes and he had surfaced with two bags filled with the giant crustaceans. We hadn’t even got a nibble. We were fishing for Blue Cod but all we were getting were these orange bottom feeders. We just threw them back. After Shaun retrieved enough crayfish to supply the town with gifts he motored us over the “hole.” The tide was right for fishing off the boat in this one spot. And it was incredible. Lucy and I dropped our lines and not 10 seconds later we both had bites. Two minutes passed and Lucy and I had already brought up four blue cods. Bam, bam, bam. It was such a great feeling to catch these beautiful fish knowing they were going to make for us a beautiful meal. The tide soon shifted and we had to maneuver to different areas and the biting slowed down. After hours on the water we came home with 14 blue cod and a Takahiri fish. “A beautiful eat,” Shaun said. I ended up fishing 2 sharks as well, but we sent them back to the depths.

The sun stayed out for the perfect amount of time amd it began raining just as we pulled the boat out of the water. We headed back to Shaun’s cottage where we filleted the fish and I had my first try at it. All I can say is it is a lot harder than it looks. I ended up butchering the one I attempted but it was fun to try. The girls and I split up our catches, and picked out two crayfish each before heading back to prepare dinner. We went to Vicky’s house where we baked up the takahiri and cooked the crayfish. We had coleslaw, fresh bread and a whole family to eat dinner with around the table. It felt so great to share all of it together. Something about eating the food you caught with your own hands makes it that much more tasty.

As for home life in Fox Glacier, I live with an obsessive compulsive alpha male named Tim, who is moodier than a woman on the worst day of her menstrual cycle. He has lived here for 8 years and has basically sprayed his piss on every branch, leaf, and tree in this house, so to speak. He discreetly (so he thinks) accuses me of using too much hot water in my showers and using his cooking utensils incorrectly. Certain doors must be locked after certain hours, even though there is only a population of 200 people in this town. His mood swings are outrageously bipolar-esque and one minute he’s offering me fresh venison sausage and vegetables for dinner and the next he is purposely ignoring me when I have a simple question to ask him. He hates everyone in this town, shaves his legs, and uses his towels only once and then throws them in the dirty laundry. I’ve never seen such a high rotation of towels. He is one of those people I have absolutely no interest in getting to know anymore than I have to. But he makes for a character. I have a new, and much more lovely flatmate moving in next week, Mel, and she and I already get along like school girls. Thank goodness.

The work is going swell too. I’ve mastered the art of making great coffee and the I’ve caught on to most of the locals’ regular orders. There ain’t no Timmy Horton’s kind of coffee going on here. It’s freshly grinded as you order it and espressoed on the spot. What’s so great though is that I get to pick the music that gets played while I’m working. So each night before work I load up my mp3 and make a Café Neve playlist. You can’t beat working to your favorite tunes playing on the speakers. Also one of the locals is already named Ashley, and there was a collective agreement made amongst the staff that I would have to be given a nickname. So in Fox Glacier, I respond to Sid. I recalled one night of having numerous dreams about sloths, and one featuring Sid the Sloth from the movie Ice Age and now I am Sid. I am forever surrounded by characters in this place. Our most recently hired employee is a 5”1’ cute little fart named Casper with ADD. The boy cannot stop talking and barely even waits for your response when he asks a question. At least he acknowledges the problem. After giving him, what I thought, to be thorough instructions on how to clean the espresso machine, I assigned him the task of practicing the following day. He responded, “ Well too be honest Ashley, I don’t know how to do it because when you explained it to me yesterday I wasn’t listening at all.” Alright Casper, here we go again. Focus this time. Really though, who names their child Casper. Antz is my favorite. He is the 12 year old brother of Josh (one of the cooks) who comes in to work on Sundays to help in the kitchen and make Café Neve McMuffins for the locals. Half Maori with little brown freckles on his cheeks and a lovely sparkle in his eyes. He sings 80’s pop songs with me while we work and he emits enough pleasant innocence around the town to make up for the potty mouth, dirty minded hicks who make up most of the place.

It’s not a town I could spend a significant amount of time in, but for these couple of months it will be a grand time I think and have already met the kookiest and kindest Kiwis. As some of you may have known, I had broke my camera a few months back in Raglan and had been relying on Alex’s camera for pictures. But I have purchased a new camera last week and have pictures up again on my flickr account. So check out my new pics and take a look at the fish we caught!! Love.

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A Whole Sort of General Mish Mash

Well, here I sit in this small town of Akaroa a little hungry as a neglected to make it to the Four Square grocery market before 6pm. The whole town pretty much closes at 6pm. Most towns in NZ close at 6pm. So what did I eat for dinner you may ponder? Or maybe you don’t, but for your information I ate a pack of Rolo chocolates and a pack of orange TicTacs. For lunch I has fudge. Ok so not the best day in eating history, but I never say no to a meal of sugar. I dropped my travel mate, Alex, off at the airport yesterday morning, which probably explains for the shat-like meals I ate today. His mind was constantly preparing for lunch and supper the second he woke up in the morning, thus I never really went without large prepared meals everyday. No worries though, I’ll do my best to pick up where he left off.

This backpacker I rest in tonight is all to myself. It’s pretty sweet. I get my own bedroom complete with complimentary towel, slippers, and a hot water bottle. The kitchen and lounge I have all to myself which is situated, literally, right next to a running stream. Needless to say, the soothing sound has me running to pee every 15 minutes. I don’t even think there is any water left in my body but the stream says “yes there is. Haha!” Since the darkness had fallen and the town has become ghost-like, I am here trying to re-adjust myself to aloneness, which I really haven’t felt in, well, quite some time. Working in Pauanui left me with a grand circle of friends, which then I moved onto Raglan where I soon acquired another grand circle of friends, then traveling with Alex and always having someone around to gab to. So now with no one here, no one, I find myself looking for something to do in every corner. Since dusk I’ve read a book of Dilbert comics, a few chapters of Douglas Adams’ “Mostly Harmless,” way too many expired trash magazines, completed many Sodokus, knitted, and happily found a Canadian book of crossword puzzles (PS: NZ crossword puzzles suck arse). I’m definitely not bored, just re-adjusting. Again.

Our arrival to the South Island was pleasant and I couldn’t of asked it to be any other way. We took the 3 hour ferry ride to arrive in Picton where we would continue on to Blenheim, NZ’s wine country. The region is overflowing with vineyards, commercial and private. It boasts some of the greatest sauvignon blanc growing conditions in the world. Off an old country road is where Alex and I were to work for our accommodation and food for one week pruning grape vines and olive trees. We begin the long drive down the long driveway, and as you do, expecting the worse. But the worse was far from what laid in front of us. A beautiful two story strawbale house stood there with 24 hectares of olive trees and grapevines and snow capped mountains as a backdrop. We jump out of the car to be greeted by Jeremy who has popped his head out of the skylight to say hello before meeting us downstairs. Jeremy and Rose, a delightful couple who instantly reminded of my grandparents. The kind of grandparents everyone wants. They were active and quick-witted and up to date with the world. They wanted to show us everything and instantly made us feel at home. They gave us a tour of their property which besides olives and grapes, grew peony flowers and a large and artistic veggie garden. It was also home to a large pond with an island in the middle. We couldn’t get over our good fortune as they showed us the room we got to sleep in which was nestled in the corner of their massive farm shed. A heated room with two bright and fluffy beds awaited us with a view of the mountains. And our own bathroom. Luxury, my friends, luxury.

We made ourselves at home and took well-needed showers before heading into the house for dinner. We were welcomed by their two dogs, Jess and Archie, and a glass of local wine. As I had warned Alex, most Wwoof hosts like you to help with dinner and the dishes and whatnot. Jeremy and Rose had none of that. They waited on us hand and foot. We tried to help but were basically forced to sit down and relax. And the food. Oh the food. Every night was a gourmet meal. We worked for four hours every day bottling olive oil on the rainy days and pruning the grape vines when the sun came out. The afternoons we had free to roam around and do what we pleased, but dinner was being served at 7:30 each night so we made sure we returned. Plus this was the time we got the hang out with Jeremy and Rose. We’d usually head to the house around 6 for wine and reading and when dinner came we sat around the table for hours after eating having great conversation and laughs. Truly though I ate the best meal of my life, to date, at this house. One orgasm per bite.

An interesting fact we came to learn about this location is the purpose of the two giant white balls that stood about 500m away from the property. They looked like something from 2001: A Space Odyssey but sadly weren’t. What we learned is there are 5 locations across the world that have these massive white balls (one being Blenheim, NZ). These balls house thousands of computers that scan every email, text message, and any other computer-like communications for terrorist activity. The balls are fenced in and watched over by the army so no tourist traffic was allowed as Alex and I had hoped. We found this a very entertaining fact as we were working so close to these all-mighty balls. While working in the vineyard one shiny day I texted Alex who was rows ahead of me with a message, “Terrorist! Nuclear bombs! Taliban!” We laughed as a helicopter flew over head and we imagined ourselves being arrested. It didn’t happen though. Phewf.

Our time with Jeremy and Rose flew by and we couldn’t have been more grateful for their generosity. They sent us off with each our own bottle of their olive oil and well wishes. The journey next brought us to the Nelson Lakes where we would meet another French friend of ours, Lolo, for some winter camping. We drove the two hours up to the snowy mountains where frost was predicted for the night. Frost is a big deal in this part of NZ and it was bloody cold. However the three of us toughed it out for 4 nights of tent sleeping and walking along the edge of the frigid mountains and we managed to keep warm in the nights with plenty of clothes, a fire, and a bottle of vodka. Good work team. After four days of no shower and smelling like smoke, I was ready to boogie.

A stop in Kaikoura followed the camping excursion before heading off to Christchurch for Alex’s departure. We spent our time relaxing as we were drained from our past month’s adventures and Christchurch wasn’t the most exciting of places to be. We had our last laughs and fools and said goodbye. I’ll miss my friend but it was good timing as I’m sure we would have drove each other crazy if it went on any longer. It was a great experience to travel with someone and I’m glad it happened the way it did. Now it all circles back to me, here, listening to Café del Mar, alone in Akaroa with the calming sound of the stream rushing past. Which reminds me, I have to pee…

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Bunkbeds, Boycotts, and Bok Choy

I woke up early for my last surf in Raglan for a while and caught some great waves. I had some good wipeouts too. The cool thing is, is that you stop being scared of wiping out. It’s just a little bit of healthy salt water up your nose and so what if you can’t breathe for a few seconds, you get back on your board and try again. I paddled out past the sandbar with the veterans and my French friend Guillaume. He gave me some pointers on paddling out and how a few millimeters can make all the difference in the world. The sun was shining and it was a great surf, but I knew I had to get back to the backpackers to pack. Maurice, Alex, and myself were all leaving together and we aimed to leave Raglan for Taupo at one o’clock p.m. By the time we all took our sweet time getting ready we got on the road at four. It was dark upon our arrival to the Rainbow Lodge hostel and we cozied in for a good night of rest. As I was about to turn the light off on my bottom bunkbed of the dorm room, I noticed on the slat above my head read, “I had sex in this bed while everyone was awake.” All I could think was, “good on ya mate,” and silently giggled myself to sleep.

This was my first time traveling with two other people besides myself and came to realize quickly how frustrating it can be. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the guys, but one can get cranky when all you want to do is eat and you have three people trying to make a decision on food. It was only for a few days however, so I didn’t mind the mood swings. Now I travel with just Alex for a few weeks and even still two people can be frustrating. Thankfully though I can tell Alex to piss off for an hour and then it’s refreshed. The pros are beneficial though, as it’s great to have company in the car for the long drives, lots of laughs and great conversations. During our time in Taupo we visited a place called Craters on the Moon where the earth is so hot from geothermal activity that it steams and bubbles up through the craters the heat created. We walked around Lake Taupo at dusk and returned back for homemade pizza. Made by yours truly. I’ve taken to the craft of making pizza dough from scratch and the recipe is embedded in my brain and feeling. How fun is that? The following day the three of us took a lovely walk to New Zealand’s most powerful waterfall. This cascade dumps the amount of water it takes to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools every second. It was as impressive to watch as it was impressive to hear. The further path took us past some nice quiet river bends, Lord of the Ring-esque landscapes, and a natural hot water pool ideal for sitting in at the most perfect bath water temperature. We said our goodbyes to Maurice the next morning as Alex and I were heading off to East Cape. The most eastern point in NZ. The is country folks. Like middle of nowhere, but claims the fame of the first sunrise in the world so we had to go. The rain diminished our plan to drive the 4.5 hours straight through to East Cape and sleep in the car for the night so we were forced to stay at the dingiest holiday park I’ve come across. However this was an incentive for us to achieve an early 5:30am arousal. The rain carried on through the night on to morning so we knew we wouldn’t physically see the sunrise, but we were so close we had to complete the task. The drive out to the East Cape lighthouse is a one lane gravel road edged with the roaring ocean on one side of the road and a crumbling steep cliff on the other. Parts of the road had fallen rocks on them but that didn’t stop my star car from fighting through. I swear this thing is like Hummer disguised as a hatchback. I love it. We got to the point safe and sound and walked the path up the hill to the lighthouse. Small wooden steps have been placed for convenience and we counted 749 up. The view was spectacular and we got a history lesson from signs posted about the past life of the lighthouse. On our way down we took a little detour into the woods for some photos and I spotted a huge bird that I still have no idea what it was. It had a dark greenish hue and a thick body. It flew away before I got a chance to see its face but my gut tells me it was the Morepork owl but I’ll have to do more research. The next portion of the day was spent driving to Gisbourne in the rain. Again. A fairly bland city but I was glad to get a shower and a cozy bed after the previous night’s digs.

This is when my day of torment began. Alex is a master of trickery, torment, and tomfoolery and being his only victim all stunts were directed at me. The worst thing is that the fools that he plays are of the most innocent breed. The kind like when you tell someone they have food on their shirt and in response to their look downwards you flick their nose. On our way to Gisbourne, one of our stops was in the small town of Tologa Bay. Here lies the longest wharf in the Southern Hemisphere and we made the 650 meter walk down the concrete dock. It was cool, sure, but the first, (and most extreme) in the series of events occurred on the walk back when Alex challenged me a race for the last 100 meters of the wharf. Never missing a chance to beat a boy at anything, I eagerly took up the duel and was winning for the first bit. Alex then passed me and began to cut me off when I tried to overlap him and then clash! Bang! I hit his foot and down I went. Sliding, yes sliding, across the concrete with my palms outstretched before me. I scraped my knee. Purely accidental. I instantly time warped back to a era when I was eight years old and tripped over the skipping rope to leave a crusty, bloody scab. In reality, I am 23 and have a bloody scab on my knee, scratched palms and to be honest it was kind of fun to get roughed up like that again for silliness’ sake.

After cleaning my flesh wound, the driving continued straight through to Gisbourne. It was a long sit in the car and my knees were stiff, I was starving, and I was in desperate want of a shower. Before finding a backpacker to stay for the night we pulled into a Burger King car park for a temporary food fix. I was too hungry to fight over the choice of restaurant so I gave in and purchased a very simple “hamburger with only ketchup please.”
“Only ketchup?” She repeats.
“Only ketchup.”
I unwrap my burger outside as we walk back towards the car and I notice gherkins on my burger. How can someone screw up the most simple order in the world? I was furious and all my memories of why I boycotted Burger King in the first place came rushing back to me. I angrily shook the top half of my burger to discard the gherkin slices, and what do you know, my whole patty lands on the pavement. Now this piece of bad luck, I admit, was clearly from my own stupidy and impatience and I’m pretty sure I scared the shit out of Alex as I proceeded in a rageful rant about my hatred for Burger King and why I will never ever go back to that toxic pit of doom. Chest cleared, hunger remained, but I was over it.

The backpacker we stayed in was a large yellow farmhouse with heaps of rooms, one in which I got a double bed all to myself. You forget the luxury of the double bed when you are forever sleeping in a single mat bunkbed. For the rest of night’s trickery, I was scared out of mind by a creeping Alex emerging from a dark corner like an alien coming to get me. Then I was tricked into believing that I lost Alex’s beloved transformer toys that he obtained from the dreaded Burger King’s kid’s meal. I honestly felt some pain of loss from losing the toys as Alex had been taking pictures of the toys everywhere he went like garden gnomes. In the end though, he had them the whole time and I was left feeling relieved that I hadn’t been the bad babysitter. And that was the end of that day.

Next the travels took us to a place called Napier. The Art Deco city. Most of the buildings and structures in the city are art deco design giving you the feeling like you’re in Gotham City. They have festivals throughout the year celebrating art deco and many people dress up in that old 1920’s type costume and we happened to arrive during a weekend festival. The town was crowded with antique cars and ladies wearing fur coats and small hats and men in their white gloves and top hats. The backpacker is really neat here too and has many Japanese visitors. I learned last night from a girl named Rumi how to make okonamiyaki. I practiced saying this name all last night so that I could remember it and write it down for all you to know. Okonamiyaki is a Japanese pancake made with egg, water, flour and a special salt seasoning that I am assuming is only available in Japan. Thankfully Rumi donated me a packet of the magic salt and mixed in with bok choy, spring onions and ham, I made my first okonamiyaki. It was delicious. Today I made bread with Alex’s help. Homemade bread, hot and fresh. The kitchen still smells like it and it’s glorious. My cooking knowledge is expanding and I’m really learning to appreciate the patience of cooking something good to eat.

In Napier we visited the NZ National Aquarium and got to view cool things like live sharks, seahorses, fish, rays, giant squid corpse, giant tortoise, long necked turtles, crocodile, kiwi birds, and the most common of NZ species: the die hard Lord of the Rings fan. The man who worked the front desk at the aquarium was mid 40’s I’d say and was reading the new Harry Potter upon our arrival to his desk. I got excited by seeing the book laying there and he instantly began into a conversation of the wizard boy which led into a conversation of his LOTR collectibles (in which he has hundreds) which further led into him showing up pictures of him at a LOTR convention and him standing next to the actor who played Gimley. Hard-core. The kiwi birds were the big highlight for me as I would prefer to see my underwater creatures in the wild. The kiwi’s as well I would prefer to see in the wild but until I am walking the forest at night time this was a great chance to see them. They are such funny creatures because they have no wings. They are just a ball of feathers with legs and a beak. They are especially cute when they gallop.
OK, well I’m sure I’ve written far too much for anyone to read in one sitting so if you’re still with me, thanks for reading! I have to get to the internet café before it closes. And for further travel details, I’ll be in the South Island in 5 days wwoofing on an olive and grape farm for a week! Love.

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Don’t worry, but I live in a shed

I hope to describe this as best as I can so I can get a visual in your mind. Some of these occurances are just too splendid to go unshared. All are snippets of writing from two different days so it will be mildly chronologically disordered. As I type now, I lay in my bunk bed at the Raglan Backpackers. I live in, what we call here, The Penthouse. Don’t let the name fool you. Remember I am still a traveler and by no means can afford to rent a penthouse, but by giving it this name it encourages imagination and further draws away from the fact that I live in a shed. But this is no ordinary shed. It is fully furnished with a bunk bed, shelving, a lamp, a mirror, and a heater nestled in amongst the kayaks and the surfboards in the back area of the backpacker. Needless to say, I fell in love with Raglan.

After a week of being a paying customer here and enjoying my time and friends so much, I decided it best to start working here for my room and surfboard rental. Being given employee status, I promoted my way into the Penthouse where I get space to myself and some further advantages to being a staff member. Tim and Suz are the owners of this lovely establishment and we get along like peaches and cream. Maybe more like peaches and ice cream. I much prefer my peaches with ice cream. They are incredibly hospitable and always have the time of day to have a game of bocci ball with you or watch you do crazy acrobatic party tricks in the kitchen. For example: Aart, a Dutch man who is trained in furniture making and an experienced rock climber, once proclaimed to the kitchen audience that he could climb over the kitchen table and then under and back on top without touching the ground. Easy as it sounds, and as easy as he made it look, it is not. We all took our turns trying to swing ourselves from one end to the other but few succeeded. All I succeeded to do was obtain a gigantic dark blue bruise on my inner thigh. No pain no gain right? Or in this case just pain. So Tim watched one sunny afternoon as Aart made his way around the table, applauded astonishingly, and went back, laughing, to his work.

Suz takes 2 hours out of her work days a few times a week to give free yoga classes in the back house. I join in most days as after 2 hours of stretching your body in smooth motions really feels great come the end of the day. We finish up the session with a cup of local organic tea and a sauna. Yeah, they have a sauna here too which comes in very handy after a cold day of surfing. As for my surfing, it’s coming along. I am definitely getting more confident in the bigger waves, and have graduated to a smaller hard top board which allows you to catch bigger waves and experience a whole other world of surfing. Today however, the waves were very unforgiving. After a great day of surfing yesterday and catching few, but really quality waves, I suppose I was a little cocky getting back in the water today. The waves were much bigger and coming in one right after the other. I break through the white ones and attempt swimming out to the bigger swell. I even attempted duckdiving them. Baby steps Ashley. Baby steps. The wave crashed on my face and board and threw me for a whirl. Board up and out and a tap on my head. Ouch. Not a good start to the surfing day but I trucked on. By now though I was already angry at the waves for being so difficult, I was pretty much a lost cause. They gave me a good turning with the washing machine effect they tend to have when you go underwater. I was dripping salt water from my nose for over an hour after the surf. The air and even the water was cold through my full-bodied wet suit and mixed with the water torment I didn’t stay too long. The waves will be mine, oh yes, they will be mine.

So my job here at the backpackers is evening hostess. I check in weary travelers and show them around this great little community inside the courtyard and I take care of the place come evening. An Irishman named Maurice is the other night host. Between the two we share the shifts throughout the week. Besides checking people in and making them feel welcome, my checklist of chores for the night could include anything from rinsing wetsuits, starting up the fireplace, folding tea towels, making piÒatas. Wait. Making piÒatas? Yes, my job duty one night was to make a piÒata. You can’t beat that for a work task. So I mixed up the paste, blew up the balloon and paper mached away. It sits now by the fire drying, awaiting to be painted into a penguin on a surfboard that will be used for tomorrow night’s Pizza Pinata Party.

For Raglan itself, this town really has energy. It reminds me a lot of Charlottetown, but smaller, as it has enormous creative output and artistry of all natures. The people have a willingness to be friendly to all living things and to share their talents with one another. A further example, I took a pottery class last Saturday put on by a woman who does her pottery as a hobby and wanted to share her knowledge and love to those who were interested. There were 8 of us huddled over our pottery wheels for the whole day, learning, playing, and eventually making great looking dishes and pieces of art. The money we paid for the class went not to the woman who taught it, but to the Raglan Arts Center, which seems to make this place go round. The Arts Center is also home to the farmer’s market that occurs every two weeks and acts as a venue for local famers, cooks, jewelry makers, singers, and the best pesto to ever be concocted. Even on a rainy day the smiles from the faces all around create sunshine. And again, I fell in love with Raglan.

After my pottery class that day, I took the drive to Hamilton to pick up my friend Alex at the bus station. He had a week off from work at Puka Park and wanted to go somewhere fun and decided to join me in Raglan. I was welcomed with a Belgian beer shoved into my hand as we reunited, knowing damn well how sick both of us were of shitty New Zealand beer, and savored the taste. Alex had a great time and we all did lots of surfing, food making, laughing, and meeting new faces, and tomfoolery. Another great person I’ve met is Pam, from Winnepeg. We bonded the moment we spotted each other’s Canadian accent. She’s a temporary resident of Raglan and works at the backpacker as well. We’ve concluded that we both have a less easier time making friends with girls than guys. But we’ve concluded that the girl friends we have are the coolest. And that by far the coolest girls come from Canada. So yeah, we rock ladies! Pam lives with 4 French people and with the addition of Alex and Miaca, a Quebecois, we had a shit load of French in the house. We all partied together one night and most of the conversation was in French. And I understood almost of all it and joined in when I knew the appropriate words. I was really proud of myself and want to speak more and more. I’ve now begun practicing while I take a shower.

Last night I painted my piÒata. It’s a penguin on a surfboard and it’s damn funny. When he dried I took pictures of him having fun at the backpacker by placing him on an actual surfboard, in the hammock, and in the sauna. Tim saw him in the morning and no longer wants to bash the piÒata open for lollies. We will keep him and make him our mascot. Is this not too much fun? Seriously, I think it’s all about having fun. The great people I’ve met and conversed with, we have all had the same thing to say: that why shouldn’t life be this simple? We all realize that yes, at home, where we are from is totally different than this. Often more complicated. But why should it? Life can be so great if you keep things simple and open. When things are simple it allows you to have more time to do those things you loved as a child. And me thinks that is what everyone strives to achieve. Or would like to think. You can paint, play on the swings, make music, write poems, ask “why?” one thousand times. Endless possibilities.

So as I would like to pray what I preach, I will leave at this for now and continue to knit a pair of mittens by the fireplace while sipping a cup o’ tea. Oh who am I kidding, I don’t drink tea.

Love.

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