Wednesday, December 23, 2015

WWOOF #2 I won't be going baaaaack

I'm not sure how to write this one. It started out fine, but at the end I was terribly unhappy. It wasn't a terrible situation really, it just got in my head and took over. I had started writing about what I was doing the first day or two and it was all happy and optimistic, but that's not what you're getting now.

So it was really a mix of good and bad. A lot of decent things happened this last week. A couple really great things happened. It seems a bit overshadowed by darkness at the moment. I would just like it noted that there was a lot of shadow ignoring and I still think I got a lot of good out of the experience. So here it goes.

I went to a 'farmlet' (read: hobby farm) just south of Tongariro National Park. The main reason I went was because they (a couple probably in their 60s who I will rename Jane and Jeff) had 40 sheep that they were going to sheer that week. They said they could use the help and that's an experience I would really like. So the plan was that I would be there for about a week, leaving before Christmas, helping with sheering and gardening. Sounds nice.

I planned some things I wanted to do in the area. Jane said it would be fine, better even, for me to do a full of work then full day off pattern instead of just half days. Still nice.

So I arrived in the early afternoon and Jane needed to help her daughter move, so I helped with that, which was fine. There was a moment where I found myself on the side of the road next to this large van with a flat tire(tyre?), stranded with someone who was basically a perfect stranger. I again wondered how my life is becoming all these strange moments. We solved the problem and all was well. Still good.

The next day I just did a half day because that was how it turned out. I enjoyed what I was doing. I trimmed hedges and weeded. It turns out that I really like trimming things. It's kind of artistic, like sculpting nature. Lovely.

I started to notice that Jane and my personalities did not go together well (read: I hated hers). She was good at making me feel stupid when I wasn't. Obviously I didn't know exactly the way she gardens and I'm not familiar with all plants ever. If I didn't know what to do next, I'd feel like I should have. But if I guessed and wasn't quite right, I'd feel dumb too. But working with people different from you is part of life, an important part, so I wasn't super worried.

The next day, Friday, I did a full day. In the morning I did some pool cleaning, which wasn't really what I came to learn, but was fine. Then I did more trimming and weeding, so I was happy enough. I was free all Saturday and then we'd sheer sheep on Sunday. Great.

I had a great Saturday. I went to the Army Museum, which actually had a lot of rugby in it and was very interactive.

I smelt it. I don't know why.

Then I did some hikes in Tongariro and enjoyed the day.

I need to touch that water!

I got back around 7:00 to find that they has sheered the sheep without me, the whole reason I was even there. Jane pretended that she had been distressed that I wasn't there and that she thought I'd be back earlier. But she hadn't bothered to text me, and she's not a great actor. I started to figure out what I didn't like about her personality. She was controlling in kind of a passive aggressive way. She'd ask how you'd like to do something or when. But then tell you how. But almost sneaky; yet not at all. Just in a difficult way to counteract.

I was going to do the Tongariro Crossing (a very popular full day hike) on Monday. But since we wouldn't be sheering on Sunday she decided it was best for her if I did it then, but tried to make it sound like it was best for me. I was going to take a shuttle where you park at the end and they take you to the beginning. But Jane insisted that was dumb and there was a shuttle that would pick me up. So I did that and ended up hiking at my speed and enjoying myself and walking the Tongariro summit and missed the shuttle back by 15 minutes. Even though I really rushed myself at the end. So I was stranded about an hour from their place, but was able to get myself back. I was mad I'd let myself be bullied into things that were wrong for me.

But the hike itself was super great and beautiful and wonderful and I loved it. Here are some pictures.
Gary climbing Mt. Doom

So at this time I just start to fester in my own anger. I'm living with them, so I have to be nice and...I don't know. It's just a weird situation.

On Monday I worked a full day since I'd taken Sunday off. But what I was doing seemed to be devolving into cleaning and chores and things that I did not come to New Zealand to do. I knew that I was being take advantage of and was not happy. So I made up an excuse (read: I lied) and said I needed to change plans and leave the next day. Which I did and was great and I'm happy again.

I am a little upset that I never confronted Jane and she doesn't know how much I disliked her. Or that I was aware that she was taking advantage of me. Oh well. I'm getting over it. Thanks for the therapy session.

I'm now back to camping and hiking and doing whatever I want. Hurray!

Other things of note:

  • Credit to my dad for the title pun. He's been using it my entire life.
  • I did upload some videos of me being a lunatic. They're more for future me to enjoy than anyone. But if you have too much time and are missing being annoyed by me, here you go. One, Two, Three.
  • It's Christmas Eve for me right now. Merry Christmas!!
  • My hair is growing. The short bangs have descended.
  • In the rare occasion I listen to the radio, it's all Justin Beiber and One Direction. I think it's growing on me. Send help.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Black water rafting, a stalagmighty good time

This week I got around to one of the things many people have told me I need to do here, black water rafting. As it turns out, this is a neat tube ride through caves with glowworms. I looked up my options and chose the tour labeled 'ultimate adventure' and 'the caving tour of choice for natural born adrenaline junkies.' Because as long I'm here, I'm going for it.

I've done this kind of thing before, going on a vacation tour by myself. And for some reason I don't think much about what it will actually be, or read much about it, or anything. I just read a small excerpt of the description and book it. Then I wait for whatever is going to happen to me happen to me. Right as it begins I think, "Wait. What am I about to do? Is this something I'm even capable of?" And at that point, it has to be.

I kind of feel like that is what I did for this trip as a whole. At some point, 'leave your current life, go to New Zealand, figure it out' entered the picture, and I just went with it. There was no real planning or thinking or even deciding really. Then one day, "Wait. What am I doing? Does anyone know why? Can I handle this?" But it seems to be going alright.

Back to cave.

At the tour company, they put us in wetsuits, grippy boots, harnesses, hard hats, and headlamps. There actually is an 'us' in this context. The tour was me and three happy couples. Of course. It was kind of great. I managed not to do the thing where I sink inside myself and try to fit in or not be noticed, but became the lovable (or at least tolerated) weirdo. I was making dad jokes and laughing at people and accepting help and having fun. As demonstrated by this group photo before we went to the caves.

I'm behind the tree on purpose.

And my customary face.

The tour itsef was great and beautiful and a bit unbelievable. We rappelled down into a cave where there were glowworms (which seemed to me like someone just stuck up a bunch of glow in the dark star stickers, but that would be great too). Then there was a short, dark, scary zipline. Then we jumped of a ledge and into the cave water for the rafting part. We floated in tubes through the glowworm illuminated cave. It was beautiful.
Even the last part of the tour was great; getting out of the cave. It was a part swimming, part walking, part crawling, part climbing waterfalls adventure. There were narrow passages and challenges and I actually felt like maybe I was a cave explorer. I loved it.

Afterwards we all had soup and bagels and talked and I kind of felt like I had friends. And maybe, for a moment, I did.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Road trip, a real treet

So I took off and drove north. I didn't have much of a plan. Just to eventually make it all the way north to Cape Reinga and back down, to camp, and to see all the trees and beautiful things.

I had a fantastic time. It took 11 days and I camped every night except one. I went on a lot of really excellent day hikes. I saw so many amazing trees; I'm a bit obsessed with them. I saw a bunch of beautiful beaches. Too much general greatness has happened for me to share it all, but here are some pictures and a few of my best stories.

A really friendly Asian tourist took this picture. He didn't speak much English, but he really liked Gary.

This giant dog barked a lot and I thought it might eat me.
I love these trees!!

I went to a Bird Recovery Center. It didn't seem like a very visited place; there were no other people. When I arrived, the man working there, Robert, came out to greet me. He told me I could walk around the back and look at the birds they had. I was just looking for a few minutes when Robert came out and fed the birds and told me about them. He was really great and friendly and eager to show off all the birds they were helping. He then said I could go into one of the pens and he would show me something special. I, of course, agreed. Although I did realize it was a bit strange that I walked into a dark cage with a strange man and no one else around. But it turned out great. There were two adorable tiny owls. They looked surprised and stared at me, trying to steal my soul.

I didn't realize this was not what Robert wanted to show me. He then turned around holding a baby kiwi! It was 18 days old. It had been found in an unsafe location and was there for a few weeks before it would be set free. I got to pet it. It was great. He rubbed its ears and it closed its eyes; if it had been a kitten it would have been purring. I also pet Sparkey, the 14 year old, one-legged, kiwi who lives there. 

Robert holding the adorable baby kiwi.

I camped two nights on the Karikari Peninsula. One day I was walking along the northern beach. There were a few people on the beach where I started, but after that I saw no one else for the four hours I was walking. It was really pretty, with dunes one side, then beach, then ocean. I took off my shoes, clipped them to the back of my backpack, and walked with my feet in the water.

After I had walked about an hour, I saw dolphin fins just in front of me. Dolphins! (Dolfins!) I actually jumped for joy. Never have I been happier to be a dork, than when I pulled binoculars out of my bag to see them better (these were little binoculars I bought a year ago before seeing The Nutcracker with my mom. Who am I?). I walked and jogged back down the beach to follow my new dolphin friends for awhile. Then I continued on my merry way.

There were 5, but I take terrible photos.
About half an hour later I realized that my favorite shoes were no longer attached to my bag. I figured they must have broken off in my jump for joy. I was very sad and knew I had sacrificed them to the ocean. But I had walked into the dunes a bit and convinced myself to go back and make sure I hadn't lost them there. I had not.

I decided just to continue my sad march back to camp. After walking a bit further, I noticed something black washed up further ahead. There, straps coated in sand, clearly tossed around by some waves, were my shoes! I still can't believe it. The ocean gave me my shoes back. There may have been secret dolphin magic involved.

On my way driving south from Cape Reigna to the campground on Spirits Bay, I passed a man hitchhiking. Then I felt bad and turned around to pick him up. He was a 20-something Australian who was not doing terribly well. It was his first day hitching rides and he'd been a bit too ambitious. He also lost his shoes and did not have a tent (he must not have had dolphin magic). It seemed mostly normal, but thinking about it afterwards I realized I'm a real weirdo. Here are the main highlights.

When he first got in, he asked if I pick up hitchhikers often. I replied that I didn't really but today I was (I had picked up a group of three that morning). Then I said that if I had gotten a weird vibe, I wouldn't have let him in, but he wasn't going to murder me. Right after I said it, I realized that I still didn't really know that. So I wasn't really paying attention when he said that he was the one concerned about his safety and me possibly being the murderer. So my response was merely a shrug, not reassurance that I was not a murderer.

I had told him that I was camping nearby, but could take him to the turn off of the highway. For some reason I could never properly remember the name of Spirits Bay and told him I was camping at The Bay of Lost Souls. That's what I thought it was at the moment. That's probably where I belong. There was a sign to Spirits Bay at the turn, so he knew I lied about that.

We talked about other random things and were passing through great scenery, rolling hills, and sheep and things. Then we were quiet for a bit and my mind wandered again. I was thinking about the sheep and remembered someone telling me about a sheering competition he had attended. Someone had told him that something like 1 in 500 sheep get a major artery cut and bleed to death (I have not verified this statistic). So I, seemingly out of the blue, shared this story with him. He gave me a strange look and said that was awful. For some reason I replied that it wasn't that awful, you kill and eat sheep anyway. He ignored this and asked why I was thinking any of this. So...yea. He was concerned.

Moral of the story: picking up hitchhikers is safe if you're the crazy one.

Other things of note so far:

  • I've decided that pictures cannot convey what I want and have started to take a lot of crazy person video. Which I'm working on compiling, so watch out for that. 
  • I am now comfortable driving here.
  • Not having a definite destination and reading signs instead using gps leads to a lot of me yelling 'No rules driving!' Then doing some kind of drastic turn.
  • Living out of a car makes it difficult to stay or feel clean.
  • After sleeping in a tent and constantly being outside, a cold shower is not usually what I want.
  • Sometimes nature is great and quiet and peaceful. Sometimes birds are very loud. Sometimes I don't think there will ever be a time that I will not hear waves echoing in my head.
  • If I hug a tree and hear a loud noise, I should not assume it's talking to me. I'm probably just squeezing the valve of my camelback. Also, after five times of this happening, I should start remembering it.
  • Gravel roads lead to greatness.
  • Trees

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The In-between

This is the part where I'm stressed and in my head and anxious and need to take a chill pill.

Back in Auckland I realized I didn't want to be there anymore, but I kind of got stuck. I did hike a nearby island/volcano (Rangitoto) and go to some museums and art galleries, so that was ok.

I decided that what I'd really like was to get a car so I could travel at my own rate and camp and wwoof at farms that are not just near bigger cities. Buying a car is the worst. It's terrible even when you're at home and have someone who can drive around to look with you. It's terrible even when your dad is amazing and basically does it for you. So it's really great when you're in a foreign country by yourself.

Banks are also the worst and I don't understand how transferring money is so difficult. I talked to a bunch of different people and they would give me conflicting answers or no answers or wrong answers. For days I had "Bitch better have my money" running through my head.

Lucky for me I've got some really great people that helped me out. I don't know what I would have done without Matt and Mary Jane. I stayed with them for nearly a week, and I'm sure I'll be back. They helped me look for cars and figure out bank things and insurance and fed me and let me use their kayaks and were all around amazing and comforting and helpful. I was both anxious to leave and have adventures and sad to leave their company and hospitality.

We managed to find a car and I bought it with fancy monopoly money.

I drive on the left side of the road now. I also turn on my windshield wipers instead of turn signals. I'm adjusting. I've been on some really cool little adventures in the past week, but I'm saving those for more time and internet. And also I'm not sure how to get pretty pictures from my camera to your faces.

Here is where I live now (I know it needs to be washed, adventures involve a lot of dusty roads).

Sunday, November 15, 2015

WWOOF #1 A Great Place to Bee

 "I'll meet your ferry. I'm wearing a denim jacket and green dress."

And that's a text from a stranger I met on the internet.

Alright, it's not from a complete stranger. This is from my first host from the WWOOF NZ website. WWOOF stands for 'World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms'. It's an organization that connects organic farms with people who'd like to work on and learn about them. Hosts provide a place to stay, meals, knowledge, and experience, in exchange for 4-6 hours of work a day. I went to an island off the coast of Aukland, called Waiheke. I was hosted by a family (mother, father, and two sons ages 8 and 10) who have a honey business with hives all around the island. I stayed in the guest bedroom in their beautiful house that had an amazing view.

It was definitely strange to be all of a sudden living with a family. But they were very welcoming and kind. This was obviously something they were used to. I did my best to adjust and in the end felt pretty comfortable. Sometimes it was pretty cool. I even learned that halfway around the world everyone can play the Heart and Soul duet.

Funny story: One day I was in town with Richard (the beekeeper) and he introduced me to a friend we ran in to. The friend asked how long I was staying. At the same as I answered "two weeks," Richard answered, "When we give her her passport back." Hilarious. Really funny joke. But also, I've known you about two days and all my stuff is at your house. So...nope.

For the first couple days I was mostly packaging honey. Pouring honey into jars, labeling them, and sealing them. Not terribly interesting, but I listened to music and it became soothing. I was no longer stressing about travel, just smelling honey, repeating the same movements, letting my mind do whatever it wanted.

As an unfortunate side note, I've had a cold for ages now. I had quite a sore throat when I arrived on Waiheke; I had a slightly deeper voice. That quickly progressed to my raspy man voice and at times I had no voice at all. I think I am finally getting better and after two weeks I'm down to just a nasal voice. My hosts never heard my real voice. And probably thought I was a much more shy, quiet, and uninquisitive person than I am. It was extremely frustrating to have so much trouble communicating and an extra barrier to expressing myself when I was already feeling a bit insecure. Blargh.

Back to the neat stuff. 

I also helped collect a swarming hive. I helped to clean and bleach old hives. I made a ton of sugar water. I helped to graft some larva to become queen bees. I traveled around the island to check on and move hives. I helped plant wildflowers. I learned a bunch about bees and diseases they get, and about honey, and New Zealand, and a lot of random things.

 And I made candles out of beeswax, which smelled amazing.

After mornings/early afternoons helping out, I would go off and explore. The island has a lot amazing walking paths, beaches, and beautiful views. I really enjoyed it. There was even a beautiful beach a very short walk away, maybe 10 minutes. And as you could not drive to it, many people would swim and lay out naked. I couldn't convince myself initially, but by the end of my stay I joined in; it was great.

I was there over two weekends. I used them to go on longer hikes, to a strange local museum, and to a few of the many vineyards. And of course, on an island of wine, I went to the one brewery.

It was really an incredible place and a great first stop. Hopefully I haven't set the bar too high. For now I'm back to Auckland to figure out where to go next.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nothing is real

It doesn't seem like I'm somewhere else. It didn't take enough effort. A few planes, a few buses and I could be anywhere really. Plus I haven't really thought anything through enough to be expecting anything specific. So here I am. Probably. Just another busy place with a few quirks. Cars on the wrong side, people with accents(but really it's me).

I've not done much these first two days. Sleep. Eat. Walk. I've walked around Aukland quite a bit. Walking is easy. Something I can control. Something safe. I can find trees to calm me down. And I have.

I walked into a small Asian grocery store. I was looking for a kinder surprise; I've been missing Steve. As I was buying it, the grocer asked me who the surprise was for. I told him it was for me, which seemed strange to him. I went on to tell him how I'd just flown in a few hours ago, and we don't have kinder surprises in America, and so on. He was really happy and said I needed a free donut, the best in Aukland. I accepted and was really touched. As I turned to leave, he wished me happy birthday...I think we both missed something.

My birthday donut?
My new friend Gary