Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in Napier

It’s Sunday, two days after Christmas. I haven’t updated in a little while, and am currently procrastinating—I’m writing an essay for a travel writing competition, so I thought I’d blog. I will go chronologically, even though I’m tempted to start with the exciting parts.

I got kidnapped by a couple of Swedish anarchists. Kidnapped is a strong word. I was pulled into their room and handed a beer. Several hours later we were out on the town with a few other victims, one of whom is Toels, a Danish chainsaw sculptor to whom I’ve since become quite close.
Apricots didn’t work out. (Things are never very certain here in terms of jobs, but they always seem to work out). By the time my car was back (150 dollars, but it seems to be fixed. Fingers crossed) they didn’t need any more workers. But I found a job that started the next day at a cherry orchard. Several people at my backpacker’s called the boss and in total, 8 of us started working there.

Cherry picking is the most delicious job I’ve ever had. At some point I realized I was picking over $1,000 of cherries a day, and earning about 10% of that. But I must eat at least another 10% of that. Even after my stomach ached and I was full, I couldn’t help but eat a perfect plump cherry. Several times a day, I’d think this is the best looking cherry I’ve ever seen, and I just couldn’t resist eating it. I knew I’d regret not eating it for the rest of my life. This is a problem for everyone.

I like this job better than apple thinning. Physically, it’s a lot easier, and because it’s hourly not contracted, there’s not this crazy urgency and people actually take breaks as opposed to scarfing down sandwiches periodically and running back up the ladder. But mostly, I feel somehow connected to individuals this way. I’m actually picking something that someone is going to eat. Directly from my hands to their mouths. Even though apple thinning is just as important as apple picking, it’s not as satisfying to get rid of the smaller fruit that will just sit on the ground and rot and feed insects. My work here is a lot more tangible.

Now onto Christmas. When I imagined being in a country alone on Christmas, before I came, I imagined crying in a bed, alone in a dingy room in a vacant hostel, getting up only once to walk around the town, emptied of all souls because everyone would be off celebrating and laughing with families. I’d tear up, and if I listened closely I’d be able to hear children playing in the distance with cousins and new toys before dinner was ready (which I would also be able to smell faintly). I’d think of all the Christmases I’d ever had. How I hadn’t appreciated them enough. How nothing is beautiful until it’s gone. There might be a homeless man in the town. It would just be the two of us in the whole town, but we wouldn’t make eye contact because neither of us could bear it. And then I’d go back into my bed and cry because I shouldn’t have come in the first place, and this might be what life feels like every day for the homeless man I pretended not to see.

It was nothing like this.

I worked until about noon on Christmas Eve Day. It was just the group of us from Toad Hall on the orchard, so it was nice. We all talked as we worked about our family Christmas traditions. When I got home people were already starting to plan for the evening. Most of the people here are South American, and Christmas is a very big party (I get the impression that there are a lot of parties in South America). I made some jam from all the leftover cherries I took from work, which was quite a mess. Nothing stains like cherry juice. I’d never made jam before. I didn’t actually know how to make jam, just knew that sugar was involved. Toels came by later and we went to the grocery store to get meat and wine for the barbecue. (We only grilled the meat). Then it was Christmas. We were all going to have pizza and champagne, but nobody really felt like organizing the whole thing. We all ate meat and drank wine on the rooftop and danced to reggae and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was very summery. Which I guess, is very typical here. Somehow, I think that made it a little bit easier to be away from home—it never felt like Christmas. At midnight, we all drunkenly kissed and hugged and sang “Feliz Navidad.”
In the morning, Toels and I tested the jam and then I headed over to the Bogen’s for Christmas Day.

Janet was really sweet and invited me to spend the day with all of them. It was nice to be around a family. I realized, watching Clare and Alice interact with one another and their cousins, and Janet with her siblings and mother how every family is exactly the same, each in its own unique way. After coffee, the kids headed off to the beach. Actually, I really like spending time with them, because in a lot of ways their family is very similar. Rachel, Claire and Alice are about a year older than me, Clare and Elly, respectively. And their dynamics are very similar to the three of us. Actually, the three of them remind me of the three of us. We each have a lot in common with our counterpart. Rachel wasn’t there this year because she’s traveling in Brazil. Clare flew in from London where she’s in school studying literature and film. She is clearly very smart. And a vegan. I get the impression that Alice is really wise. Understands the big picture, in a way. Empathetic. And Janet and Dan split up about a year before my parents split up, so we all went through a divorce at the same exact stages.
Perfect example of similarity: Alice rode in the car with me because she doesn’t like Claire’s driving and wanted to avoid a Christmas fight. It was like reliving holiday experiences with my own sisters.

I like the tradition of spending Christmas on the beach. The waves were giant and perfect for playing in. The water was warm, the sky was blue, the sun was hot. Perfect beach day. We got back to the Bogen’s and killed some time before dinner, which Janet’s sister had spent the day making. Roast lamb, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin. It was all delicious. And for dessert, vanilla ice cream with boysenberries, blueberries and strawberries. Most of the fruit and vegetables came from Janet’s garden.

Then there was the present-opening. Janet had made a stocking for me as well, filled with lots of New Zealand goodies (most of which I’ve already consumed. I’m not good at saving candy…). Then Janet’s brother played some old home movies on his computer of all the kids when they were little. I was extremely touched at being so included in such intimate family moments throughout the day.

The next day I went to see Toels. He lives in an Arts Village with other potters, sculptors, painters and carvers who are all given residence. He gave me a tour of the village and I met some of the artists, and then we hiked up a volcano and went swimming in a river. (I’ve decided to stop showering. I’ve just been going in a different body of water every day. I really want to get dreadlocks). Then we went to the grocery store with some of the artists and we all got food for dinner. We all sat outside, cutting vegetables and cheese and making salads and grilling meat. Dinner took several hours and then we sat around a fire with some beer and wine that someone had gotten from the viniculture institute down the street. It was a truly splendid, simple evening.

I got home around 12:30 and then had a beer on the roof with my friends at the backpacker’s, and was persuaded to go out dancing. I’m easily persuaded. The club was pretty empty, which was good—it gave the seven of us lots of space to move. We didn’t get home until almost 4:00, but for some reason, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Plus, Charlene, my roommate(I figured her name out, although everyone just calls her Amalie anyway) left and I wanted to relish a room to myself.

Today I went to Ocean Spa, (a bunch of outdoor pools across the street) with Roy. We swam and soaked and steamed and then I bumped into my old roommate Tony who had apparently had a pretty wild night and was trying to kill his hangover by swimming in the cold water before heading home.

This will sound stupid, because I’m in my twenties, but at the moment, I really feel like I’m in my twenties. I’m meeting all these new people, mingling, dancing, drinking, doing shitty jobs for almost no money, just…moving. I like it this way.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 16 and the past couple weeks...

I don’t feel like I’m on a trip anymore; I live here. I’ve settled in this city, Napier. I’ve spent the last couple weeks working with the original apple gang. Blueberries didn’t pan out, but I eventually caught back up with my ex-roommate, Tony. (Did I mention that Tony has a “Fuck the police” tattoo on his arm. Elly—you’d love him).Unfortunately, today was the last day of apple thinning. Picking season doesn’t start until February. My goal was to only use my kiwi bank account for the rest of the trip, but now I’m not sure that will work. After getting paid last week, it is down to 33 dollars. But this week should be a bigger pay. Some of the guys there make really good money. The work is contracted, not hourly, and they can move fast. I’m by far the slowest one, but am still doing better than minimum wage. The work itself is exhausting. I basically was running up and down a ladder for ten hours a day, standing on the “Danger: Do not sit or stand on this part of the ladder” part of the ladder in the trees I’ve got quite a nice tan at the moment, actually. I’m kind of bummed to be leaving. All the guys I worked with were either Kiwis or Islanders, and I really like them. I think they like me. I’ve kind of befriended one guy, Stu, who’s a kiwi, but just travels the world working and coming back here for the summer to work on orchards. I’ve never met someone quite so intensely mentally energized. The whole time, if he’s near anyone, he just goes. Talking about travels, cooking, movies, politics, literature, anything, and it often merits a one word “ay” from the half-listener, but that doesn’t stop him. I love working near him. He gave me a book of Sam Hunt’s poetry (my impression is that he’s New Zealand’s Kerouac. Drunk and drugged and rambling all over the country in his Cadillac).

We went to the beach last weekend to go camping and surfing with a bunch of germans from another orchard. We just sat outside, talking and drinking and listening to music all night. In the morning, we didn’t end up surfing because there were no waves.

Later I went to these waterfalls and cliffs with my closest friend from the backpacker’s, Roy. (It was pretty fun—you just dive/jump/hurl yourself off of cliffs 30 feet above the water). He’s Israeli, and we’re very similar. We don’t really like large groups, get nervous in them. We’ve been watching movies at night, and taking turns doing dinner. We’ve also started running. I like him because he just intuitively knows things. “When you are at home, you eat at the table with your family and it is set properly. I reckon this about you.” I like this relationship.

I have not been a morning person since high school. Now, I wake up at 6 everyday. I can’t believe it.

Until a few days ago, Tom and I were the only native English speakers in the backpacker’s. Now there are a couple British guys, Dave and Patty (who I am going to start working on an apricot farm with on Saturday). Mostly, the people here are South American, but there are also a few French and a lot of Asians. (Thai and Japanese). My roommate is French, and it’s been over a week so I can’t tell her I don’t remember her name. I need to figure it out. For a little while, it was frustrating not really being able to communicate that well with anyone. Now, I like it. A linguistic buffet. And I just read this line in my book, The Names by Don DeLillo that really hit home:

"What pleasure in the simples greeting. It's as though one friend says to another, "How good it is to say 'How are you' " The other replying, "When I answer 'I am well and how are you,' what I really mean is that I'm delighted to have a chance to say these familiar things--they bridge the lonely distances." "

Right now I really like the comfort in familiarity as opposed to closeness.

In bad news, my car is in the shop. This concerns me. If it dies, I won’t be able to sell it and use the money for my plane ticket home. I was stupidly counting on that. Also, when I came here I wasn’t factoring in day to day expenses. I have no idea why. Part of the reason I came in the first place was because I was sick of working and not really making any profit because of things like rent and food and Nico’s. I obviously still have all of those things here (Nico’s aside). Anyway, I’m trying not to worry about the car until I hear something, but I’m counting on getting it back for the apricot farm. I was right about not being able to get a job without a car.
Lastly, I joined the library and the video store. Can you get more settled than that?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This week has been the best and the worst since I’ve been here. I hit my breaking point the same day I bought my car. (Yeah, I drive an Audi…from 1989). I decided to spend the night in my car and then in the morning head to Lake Taupo and try to find work there. As I was napping in my car wondering what the hell I was doing in a parking lot on the beach, no blanket, no pillow, just the sound of the waves and teenagers getting drunk in a nearby car, I got a text message from my ex-roommate, Tony. He said he had work for me that was boring, but not too physically demanding. I immediately checked into Tommy’s hostel, which I could book at a weekly rate for 17 a night. (approx. 12.75 US). The next day, bright and early I picked up Tony and we started work on an apple orchard.
It’s amazing how fast things can turn around.(Which is why I’m not worrying too much right now). I was lying on the seat of the car thinking, “Dad says I always land on my feet. I don’t even know if I have feet to land on…” And then boom. Work. Things change. Things happen. When I checked out of a hostel a week or so ago, they gave me twenty dollars for my key deposit. I didn’t remember giving a key deposit. I kept it for about an hour and thought about whether or not to return it. Eventually, I did, because I thought I needed good kharma, and because if I didn’t, for the rest of my life, any time something bad happened, I’d think it could have been avoided if I’d returned it. After I knew I’d be working, I was really glad I returned it.
When we got to the orchard, Tony just picked some rows and we went to work. It seemed like there should be more to it. “Shouldn’t I check in with someone….”
Nah. Tony spent about 1 minute showing me what to do and then was off, because you earn by the tree and he goes really fast. I started, and about twenty minutes later, some guys showed up wanting to know who the hell I was and where I came from. They were not thrilled that Tony had randomly brought someone who didn’t have any experience without telling them. Fair enough. But, they also realized if they told me to leave they’d lose Tony because I’d driven him. (Yeah, Audi). They gave me a bit more of a detailed training and then I was okay.
Some facts about Tony. He is tough. I mean, 250 pounds of muscle, a reformed badass, can drink a case of beer, has a “Fuck the Police” tattoo on his arm, has been working on orchards for years tough. When he said it wasn’t physically demanding, I don’t think he was lying. But he was wrong.
I was slower than everyone there. I was the only woman, I think that had ever worked there. I felt like I had to prove myself—show that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m weak.
I still have cuts and bruises all over my forearms. My wrists weren’t strong enough for this. They became strong. Pruning apple trees. Basically, I spent eight hours a day in the sun weeding trees.

I’ve never been more proud of myself. I’m doing really hard work that I got on my own. I did this all by myself. I was making friends, I got a job, I was networking. I had a place to live. I had a car. I was figuring everything out. I even wrote myself a letter:
“Dear you, I am so proud of you….”
And then.
Easy come easy go, I suppose. At the end of day three, I stabbed myself in the eyeball with a tree branch.
Now I’m back to square one. Don’t have a job, don’t have any leads, have even less money, and at the moment, don’t have much vision in my right eye. I had a great few days here. But this week was too rough. As soon as my sight is back and I can drive I’m moving on to another town. I’m going to head to Wellington, try to find work there.
The worst part was being alone. I haven’t really minded yet. But I had to drive myself to the hospital. When I woke up in the middle of the night and knew something was seriously wrong, and nobody else in the hostel was awake, I had to drive myself there, navigate the health system, the roads, talk to doctors, strangers for directions, chemists, the whole time thinking, “I’m going to lose my sight.” Nobody knew why it wasn’t healing. Different doctors giving me different medications and different suggestions. Try this. No, he shouldn’t have put you on that…” Walking around the streets in an eye patch. Other than that I was just in bed for three days. It hurt so much just to have my good eye open because that meant my bad eyeball was moving around. So I just had to lie here in the dark, eye covered, body burning with fever and infection and fear thinking. Couldn’t read, couldn’t write, just had to think and sleep. I lost track of time, to the point that I only knew whether it was light or dark. Periodically, the pain would become unbearable and I’d go to the hospital.
Today things seem better. They have to, because I’ve been out of bed. They transferred me to a hospital in the next town, to a specialist. This morning, they told me the scratch has mostly healed, so there’s some sort of infection under the surface, that the branch must have actually penetrated. I was so sure I was going to lose my sight. So in a way, today was really wonderful. Because I learned that I probably won’t. I got a girl in my hostel to drive my car to the hospital. It was nice. I felt a little taken care of. But it’s really hard to just ask strangers to take care of you. Even when you simply have to in order to survive. It’s hard to feel that vulnerable. But at the same time, I’ve never felt so self-sufficient in my life.
I’m still mad that this situation didn’t work out. But, I still did all of those thigns. I still found a job, made friends, got a car, found a place to live, I did that. Now, I also figured out healthcare, took myself to the hostpital five times, nursed myself back to health.
Dec. 3
I’m giving Napier another shot. I think I may be able to get work on Monday. It’s really hard to just keep trying, talking to strangers, calling random numbers from kids in my hostel, hoping that something works out, paying for a room in the hopes that I’ll get the money back really soon.
Had dinner with Janet and Alice Bogan the other night. Janet is about fifteen minutes away and Alice just a few streets. Small world. I never really knew them that well in Swarthmore, but having people here from my hometown is certainly enough of a coincidence to merit a relationship. Hope to spend some more time with them while I’m here.
More to come later.

p.s. I think I'm better at everything here. Got a car, bank account, room, all these daily things that were just too hard at home.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 17-NOW

You’ll have to excuse the time references, because I’ve actually written this all in the past few days, but the events took place several days ago. I’m just writing as if they’re current. At this point, lots of new things are happening that I won’t get to post until next week.
Chris came with us when we left Rotorua. We drove to Napier, a resort town along the East Coast in the Hawke’s Bay Region of New Zealand. Chris wanted to be around here to find fruit picking work, as did I. But I mostly just wanted to keep traveling with these guys.
Uri, Albert, and I checked into our hostel (the nicest one yet by far), where the guy upgraded us to a 3-person room. It was nice to not have to share with nine other people for once. The three of us went wine tasting in the afternoon.
I must say— I think I was raised pretty well; I can hold my wine better than two thirty-year old Spanish men, and I think my tastes are much more defined. I really liked talking to the guy doing the tasting at one place. He’d lived in Boston for a while, and now just wanders the country depending on the season. But he still managed to look really rustically sophisticated. I talked to him about how he got into wine in the first place, and I think that might be something I’d like to look into. Everything seems possible right now. I like wine. Maybe I’ll pursue a career in viniculture. I like traveling and meeting people from all over the world. Maybe I’ll open a hostel. I like music. Maybe I’ll open a dance club/concert venue.
We went to four places for tasting. We got one nice bottle of wine for dinner that night—(they refunded the tasting fee if you bought something), and I actually bought 2 bottles of wine in other places, too. There was one, it was more than I usually spend on wine, (but I usually don’t spend more than 10 dollars). It still wasn’t even twenty dollars and I knew if I didn’t buy it, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. (Unless, I suppose, I’m somewhere about to die and realize that a twenty would somehow save me). It tasted like raspberries and chocolate. It smelled like jasmine.
I bought another bottle of white because it smelled and tasted like honeysuckle. Everything here smells like this white honeysuckle type plant called Manuka. One sip of this wine ten years from now will hurl me back into this place.
The red was going to be a present for my dad—when I bought it, I imagined drinking it with him. But…I’m probably not going to lug 2 bottles around with me for 6 months. Frankly, I walked a few blocks with all of my stuff a few days ago, and I’m now just waiting for a good occasion to drink them because they do add a lot of weight. So. I’ll just have to order them at some point in my life from home.
Uri and Albert left in the morning, which was really sad. It was hard to say goodbye. I hope I get a chance to go to Barcelona and stay with them. To distract myself from sudden loneliness, I spent the next few days trying to find a job. I called every person I could find contact info for about seasonal work. Nothing. I had an interview at a motel for housekeeping, which went very well, and the woman was prepared to hire me…if I could commit to six months. I need the money, but I don’t want to leave New Zealand without having traveled it, and primarily spent it in a motel in this little town.
I’ve been really lucky in my life, most of the things I’ve done, I’ve kind of just fallen into. I feel like I’ve made very few things happen—they’ve just kind of happened. But maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. Either way, I’ve called every single person I can find on the internet, every person on job boards, everywhere is full. I’m just going to hang out in this town for a few days and hope that someone gets back to me. I actually took a bus to the headquarters of Pick NZ, to register in person, which I think was a good move. The people in Hastings said there should be some fruit picking available next week. I actually will make more money doing this than I was making in Pittsburgh if this comes through, which is pretty disheartening, actually, but will allow me to buy a car. If I run out of money and do have to come home in December or January (I think I’ll find something, but it’s still a possibility), this whole trip will have still totally been worth it.
In other news, my blue pants, the pants I’ve basically worn every day for the past year have begun to disintegrate. It’s really sad. I bought another pair in a thrift store today but have to cut the legs off because otherwise they look silly. They don’t have any of my history.

Nov. 19-23

So, this is how I’ll know who’s actually reading my blog, because this entry may elicit some surprise…

In an interesting turn of events, I’ve kind of started seeing someone. The first day I was in Auckland, one of Amanda and Glen’s friend’s came to dinner. Tommy is from Australia, and he’s been working and traveling here for the past year. Amanda and Glen had reached out to him as well, when he was alone. When I got into Napier, Amanda told me Tommy was here, too, doing fruit picking. She gave me his number and I called to see if he knew how to go about finding work. When I asked if he knew of any vacancies, he thought I meant at his hostel, and thought I wanted to hang out. I’m pretty smooth, so I just went with it. We met up for drinks, and have been hanging out each night since then. The next night we saw a band, and last night we went out to dinner with close friends of his parents who happen to be on a holiday here. It’s really nice to know someone. Even though, really, we don’t know too much about one another. Only that we’re both alone in an unfamiliar place, and unsure of anything in our lives. Which is more than enough. I’ve never casually dated anyone. It’s a weird feeling. But I like it. Right now, it feels right. Maybe we’re not even dating. I don’t know. But, either way, it’s really nice to have someone here.

I was kind of sad when I woke up this morning. Yesterday was beautiful, but (with the exception of dinner) lonely. I didn’t sleep well. My roommate makes horrible horrible disturbing noises in his sleep. At some point, between grunts and snores that mimic gulps of last breath before death, he started breathing really loudly and rapidly. And then he started chanting in, I’m assuming, Maori. It really scared me.
This morning I forced myself to talk to someone, because I don’t want to spend the next several days alone. I met a German girl named Steffi who’s staying here. I’ve realized that in hostels, where everyone is alone, everyone wants to talk, but everyone’s a little nervous about it, too. What I’ve realized about myself is that I really want to listen. I could probably go forever without talking. But not having people share their secrets with me—that would destroy me. I think I judge my relationships not by how comfortable I feel with people, but by how comfortable they seem talking to me. With a very little prompting, people usually seem to just open themselves to me. I’m really lucky in that way.
A little history on Napier. In 1931, an earthquake destroyed the town. Everything was rebuilt in the 30’s, and everything is Art Deco. It’s actually very strange, because everything also seems new, but meant to look old. I feel like I’m walking around the movie set to Back to the Future. Everything is a caricature of a perfect town, a place New Zealanders escape to because it seems like idyllic version of the past. Which of course means that bad things are probably brimming under the surface of everything—clean stucco walls and in the ink of the perfect block letters, and in the faces of the locals who run baby boutiques and ice cream shoppes.
This morning, Saturday, I came to the busy part of town, where everything was bustling. As soon as I saw crowds of people meandering slowly, dipping in and out of shops, pausing to listen to the street musicians, I felt better. And I had a flashback. I used to do this in Prague. Go to the main square of town and watch people interact with one another and their surroundings. I imagine lives for some of them. What that couple last fought about, if they’re going to split up. What that kid in the stroller may grow up to be. How many people who pass me have experienced true love. How many of them are heartbroken in some secret way. What side of the bed someone sleeps on and why they have that preference. Sometimes, observing is enough. Sometimes, I just need to surround myself with people, strangers, and watch them live their lives.
UPDATE: I’ve befriended my roommate, despite his horrible noises and my inability to sleep through them. He’s a kiwi, working on orchards. He’s going to try and see if there’s work for me. I think I’m buying a car tomorrow. Tommy is going with me to look at it since I know basically nothing about cars. It’s about $750 U.S. dollars, which will be worth it. I really want to travel in the countryside, and see wilderness. And, if math is to be trusted, if I sleep in my car once a week for the length of time I’m here, I’ll save about $550 in hostels. I think it’s a good investment.
I keep thinking I’m broke. I’m not. I just have money set aside for future things. The mindset here is not to save. You spend, you work, you spend, you work.

Nov. 23

I moved back to my old hostel just for a change. I’m really getting sick of hanging around this town. I’ve been here for almost a week, doing basically nothing. I walk around the city (about 4 square blocks). I sit on the pebble beach and read my book. I write messages to the world on leaves and stones and hope that someone will find them and somehow know me. I have the same conversations with different people in my hostels. I eat rice and beans and rice and beans and rice and beans. I go out with Tom; we don’t even really know one another and he feels like my only friend in the world. I sleep. I have nightmares. I’m sick of hearing German. Everyone speaks German, Deutsch. Nobody travels alone. I try to break into groups that don’t understand my words. I worry that they talk about me in their secret code. I write. I walk by stores that I almost go into, and then decide to wait—better give myself something to do tomorrow. I desperately need a change.

P.S. Tom and I drank one of the wines last night. Gamay Noir 2009 from Woodthorpe at Te Mata Estate.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Nov. 14-17

I’m going to try and write an external blog. This one will be more about the things I’ve actually done and seen, and less about the internal changes and feelings I’m going through and experiencing. They change every 24 hours, so by the time I post this, all of my feelings will be completely different anyway. It will still be partly internal though, because I don’t know how to remove myself and even my secrets from anything I write.
I want to start by saying that despite my ode to transience and the beauty of fleeting relationships, I made friends. Eight days ago, after wandering around Auckland, and eventually going to a movie (pre-couchsurfing drinks), I met Uri and Albert, 2 cousins from Barcelona who are traveling for 2 months on an around-the-world ticket. (Anyone who is thinking of traveling for a decent amount of time should look into this. They paid only a bit more than I’ll end up paying for flights, and they will have 6 countries under their belts when all is said and done). They had just gotten in from the airport and I Iet them use my computer, and gave Albert some food when he said he was hungry. And that was all it took. I guess when everyone is a stranger, little things really go a long way.
I had a feeling something exciting could happen with them, so prolonged my stay in Auckland for a few days. There was an opportunity to clean the owner’s house and get a free night, along with a little cash, so I volunteered for that with Nicholas, a French Canadian boy. Basically, the owners of the hostel are ridiculously wealthy and have 15 houses. We were just helping the son clean this one because he was going to join his parents in Cairo for a while. It was kind of gross, actually. Their dog shed so much it was as if a creature from Where the Wild Things are had been butchered and scattered around the house. They were on top of Mt. Eden (the neighborhood where I was living) and had incredible views of the city from their walls and walls of glass windows. Auckland actually has the second tallest building (Sky Tower) in the southern hemisphere, which is struck by lightning, I believe, more often than any other building in the world.
I had dinner with Albert and Uri each night, and we always shared our wine and dessert. They rented a car a couple days later, and the three of us, along with Paul, a Quebecois 57-year old hippie also staying in our hostel, took to the road. We went tramping (tee-hee) along the West coast of the country in a beautiful National Park. If anyone comes and visits me, we’re going back here. The beaches were unbelievable. Great translucent blue waves crashing on pure white sand. Sheep graze the mountains behind the beach, and rocky cliffs jut out of the water for you to climb. The tide goes from very low to very high, so when it’s low, the cliffs collect sea life and tidal pools to explore. We climbed and waded, finding starfish, sea urchins, giant crabs, turtles…Paul seems to know everything about everything, or at least has interesting things to say on every subject so was a good person to explore with.
Then, when the beach was enough, we’d hike through farms, mingling with cows and sheep (the signs actually say, “feel free to mingle with the animals”), and then stray through the rainforest, where there’s nothing but giant ferns and palms, juxtaposed with forests of American pines, orchids, a million varieties of birds and an occasional Japanese tourist.
We kept driving North after sharing some pizzas in a nearby town (where they actually don’t give you tap water because there are so many minerals in the water that they can’t not sell it), to Goat Island, renowned for its marine life and diving. Uri and Albert had just come from New Caledonia visiting Albert’s sister, and were very much interested in snorkeling. I rented a wet suit, flippers, a snorkel and a face mask at the shore, and we jumped off some rocks into the water. It was cold. Really cold. Albert didn’t last, but Uri and I kept going. The water was probably 20 feet deep or so, and 14 celcius. I’ve seen this many kinds of fish in aquariums, but nowhere else. At some point, I was actually IN a school of fish. Fish half the size of me glided along with me in the water, as if we were dallying home from school. Uri and I would grab each other to point out really cool things underwater, I loved that we would risk losing sight of the creature to come up and try to get the other’s attention. As if this sight had to be shared. A clownfish, electric blue beasts, sea horses, and finally, what we’d been looking for, Uri found a stingray. He came up, splashing and yelling my name. I put my head underwater and swam over to him so he could guide my hand and point out what he wanted me to see. It was so cool. A flat rubbery square, shooting around the water, much bigger than I’d ever imagined. Maybe a foot and a half by a foot and a half.
Afterwards, we drove back to Auckland where we stopped at Devonport (I went here with Amanda and the kids a while ago), to look out over the city. It was my favorite kind of light. Part of the sky was deep bruised purple grey, but part of it was still radiating light. So in the darkness, there was light. Luminescent and ominous all at once. It’s like a realistic version of heaven. Or it represents everything I actually think about life—dark and foreboding with a narrow focus, but if you step back…blinding brightness and hope. I loved seeing this new city in this light, with these strangers, who at some point during our conversations and calm silences along the road, had become my friends.
Uri, Albert and I left Paul and Auckland the next morning. I had already bought a bus ticket to go to Rotorua, but late the night before, the 2 of them decided to cancel their plans for Coromandel and drive to Rotorua. So, I decided to eat the 17 dollars I paid for bus fare, and not wake up at 5 am to trek to the bus stop several miles away. (Actually, I should be able to use my 17 dollars for another bus trip at some point in the future). So. My first real New Zealand road trip. We stopped at Karie Karie, the beach where part of The Piano was filmed. It’s a black beach, the ash from the surrounding dead volcanoes tainting the sand. Lush green rainforest, and then black ash hills just fall into the water. Such a huge beach, empty except for a random surfing school tent where parents and adults seem to teach their babies and toddlers how to surf. Most dangerous currents in New Zealand, apparently. You have to climb the dunes, cross streams and rocky creeks to make your way over to the beach. And then it just goes forever. It was drizzling, so the mountains behind us were being swallowed by clouds. Uri and I sprinted until we couldn’t breathe, we just didn’t know what else to do with such space, or how to express our happiness at such beauty. The beauty of such a sight, of such an experience, of such a moment. Nothing to do but run as fast as you can.
We got into Rotorua around dinner time. Rotorua has the largest Maori population of any city in New Zealand. The city is only 70,000, so the town was pretty small. Our hostel was really cool, very laidback, traditional Maori reggae playing all the time, hippies and stoners who have decided that this place is as good as home lounging all over (who are all really cool until they get stoned and then accidentally drink your beer which is clearly labeled in the fridge). We met a few people who were shooting footage for a documentary. (I should have mentioned, Uri is also in the film business. He’s freelancing as an assistant producer). Uri and Albert’s roommate, Chris, had just gotten into the area and was looking for fruitpicking work, like me. He came with is when we went to explore the surrounding area. (It became clear to me while traveling with the 2 of them, that I’m going to need to get a car while I’m here if I want to see things other than cities. Which I do). Rotorua, also known as “fart-town,” smells horrible. It’s the sulfur. But it heats the streams and lakes . You see steam everywhere in this town. We’d heard of this place, Kerosene Creek, from a girl in our Auckland hostel. This place was amazing. It’s pretty vandalized by the locals, but you go down some paths and suddenly you hear steaming sulfuric waterfalls. Some places, the water pressure is so intense that you just sit against the rock and let it pound on your back and neck, hours worth of massage in one minute. So the four of us swam and waded and bathed in this pool of happiness. Chris’s British sense of propriety slowly melting away. He actually didn’t have a bathing suit and wasn’t going to swim, but then couldn’t resist. He is a semi-professional soccer player, and frankly, could probably be a semi-professional underwear model, too.
We devolved into children, the 4 of us swimming and splashing in the hot waterfalls. I don’t know when I’ve been that happy. It’s a pretty spectacular thing to think to yourself each night as you get into bed, “today was one of the best days of my life.” I owe so much of that to Uri and Albert.
You develop attachments to a place, not because you lived there for x amount of time, but because it is the place where so many things happened to you, shaped you. I love Pittsburgh because it is the place where I met so many people who changed my world. I love New Zealand because right now, I am on the beachfront, drunk after touring wineries with 2 men from Barcelona who, 6 days ago, I didn’t know existed. This is no longer a place, it is an experience.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 11

Nov. 11

I loved Prague. I’m thinking about it a lot right now because my neighborhood in Auckland (Mount Eden) is like a Vitorian version of my neighborhood in Prague (Hradcany). I met some wonderful people in Prague. I loved the city, and it is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. But. It was really hard. Partly because I was 19 and it was my first time away, but I think a lot of it was about the place itself. Being here isn’t hard. I am not really a big picture person. I prefer everything on a very individual level. I don’t like large groups because the individuals are blurred. I strongly believe in individual good. I really try to look for the good, the unnecessary kindness in every person I meet. I live for the moments when I witness strangers doing something sweet when they think nobody’s watching. People tended to hide that in Prague, as if goodness within was a character flaw and a source of shame. I don’t think it was less common there, but it was really hard to see. That was hard for me. I don’t even have to look here. It’s everywhere. It’s encouraged, it’s something to be proud of and to share. Everyday I find good in strangers. Everyday, I rely on a stranger for help. And tonight, I was able to help a couple guys who just got here from Barcelona. They needed food, they needed direction, they needed to figure out this place and I was able to help them. It felt great. I owe the world so much kindness. I love the kindness here. Even when I’m having a bit of a tough time, when I’m a little worried about money and finding a job, and missing home –it warms me.
Parts of today were a bit lonely . Overall, it was good. But, I called someone about vineyard work and they’re full. I’m worried about money. I went to a movie, even though it cost money, but I just needed to escape my head for a bit. I was completely alone, not just in my screening, but in the entire theater, in all the screenings. (Really cool, intimate theater—my room was only 16 seats. 4 row of 3 seats, and a row of 4. Really beautiful). So, I needed to get out of my head and it was raining and I was sick of roaming the library like a homeless person, which I kind of feel like I am. I’m also reminding myself that the weather really has an effect on me so the fact that it’s the first grey day and my first grey mood is not coincidental. But I’m always so internally dramatic. I don’t think that’s something you’d guess about me. I think I give off a mellow vibe. But my heart is always ready to burst with something—love, joy, fear, loneliness. It’s just so internal. I’m either feeling ecstatic or completely downtrodden. I can’t seem to find a middle ground. I can’t just feel peacefully content. It has to be extreme. I have to be extreme.
I went to a couchsurfer’s meeting. I met a few really cool people. How fantastic is it that I just glide in and out of these places and leave having met so many people from all over the world? Anyway, it was a a challenge to make myself go. I really don’t like these really big groups and it’s uncomfortable going to a bar on my own. You give me almost any person one on one and I’ll love talking to them for an hour. But small talk, even when everyone is insecure and trying to meet people and in the same situation, it’s just difficult. I can do okay, because otherwise I’m just standing there alone. I met a woman who’s been sailing around the world for the past 2 years with her boyfriend, a girl from Finland who I may go up North with in a couple days. Woman from Indianappolis. Everyone has a different story rooted from the same desire for change and uncertainty. Everyone wants excitement.

Nov. 9

Nov. 9

I never thought I could feel so okay on my own. I don’t feel alone; I’m not alone. Each day, I meet new people. I spent the day trekking through a rainforest with a woman from CA. I just ate dinner with 4 girls, from France, Holland, Germany and Nepal. And maybe, if the circumstances were different, these would be great friends. But it’s not about that; we meet not trying to secure a future in one another’s lives, but to make the present, only the present more enjoyable. We will share a drink, a meal, an adventure. We will be parts of stories, told years later, halfway around the world. But we ourselves, we have nothing but this moment together. We are alone together and enraptured with transience.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nov. 8

On ferry leaving Auckland for Coromandel. Glen dropped me off at the ferry after Amanda made me breakfast and shipped me off with enough snacks to cover my eating for the next few days. The two of them have completely changed my attitude about everything. I feel like everything will just work out. It just does. They both have had periods where they’ve relied on nothing but the kindness of strangers. They are both selfless in their kindness to strangers. Give and you shall receive. I want to live like they do. Glen lived out of a backpack for ten years. He went to England with 100 pounds. Everything is okay. Sitting here, having said goodbye to this situation which I spent so much time anticipating, I realize it’s already becoming something I’ve done. I think that will be mny central idea throughout this journey. Sometimes, I’m sure I’ll repeat that phrase to myself when I’m really sad and lonely, or scared, that this will someday just be something I’ve done, and I’ll find comfort in knowing that it will pass, that everything is temporary. Right now though, it makes me feel like I’m growing up infinitely, somehow. Like in the last episode of Six Feet Under when Clare is saying her goodbyes to the family, and on her way to the car takes one final picture of them all. And Nate leans over her shoulder and whispers “You can’t take a picture of something that’s already gone. I feel like everything is finishing at the same rate it’s happening. I’m looking at the present through this filter of the past. They’re simultaneous, which makes the present feel so significant, so monumental, so fleeting, and so beautifully sad. If I look at life this way forever, I’ll have no choice but to love every moment.
I used to panic because I didn’t know what I’d be doing in six months. Now, I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in six days and for the first time in my entire life, I am completely free of worry. There are no knots in the pit of my stomach, no nagging thoughts threatening to steal my sleep. I am excited for everything; I am not scared of anything.

Living in Auckland

Nov. 6

So I’m sitting here with Amanda and Glen. We just finished dinner and are sitting around the TV. There’s a program on one of the three channels about a French couple building a house made of straw. Glen’s reading a Real Estate Guide and Amanda’s working on her computer. It’s incredibly comfortable. I cooked tonight; pizza, of course. It’s the first time we haven’t had meat in a meal. I’m glad I decided to not be a vegetarian. In this situation, having a random family just take me in as one of their own, I’d rather be relatively easy, food wise. I even ate tuna. I’ve never had tuna. And lamb. And chicken. And ham.
I got here. I cried a lot on the plane. Partly because I get nervous and sad whenever anything changes, and partly because I was pretty sure I had stomach cancer. The night before leaving, I had pizza and beer. A fantastic combination, but before taking off and landing several times over 24 hours… disastrous. I was sitting next to a NZ news reporter. We didn’t really talk much until the morning, (our flight was 11:30 at night, and after dinner, everyone more or less tried to go to sleep and/or watch their own tv’s). Some of us just cried and worried about stomach cancer and loneliness.
I was held up in immigration for a little while, which did a number on my stomach cancer. My work visa wasn’t on record and I had to sit to the side for a bit while an official made some calls. Everyone was really nice about it, though. I kept thinking of the tsa freaking out because I didn’t tie a strap in the right place, and I figured in the states, I’d be locked up in some cell at this point. But here I just sat on a bench while they apologized for the delay. The guy next to me apparently was here illegally. “Did you know your visa expired?” “I didn’t know my visa could expire.” “Ok. Just contact this person, fill out these forms sometime in the next month. Have a good day!”
But I got out. I called Amanda, who, sitting here now, I can’t believe I just met a few days ago. She and her two 3-year old twins, Kurtis and Kasey came and got me. Amanda is so much like my boss who introduced me to her. It made me feel so much at home. She pointed out lots of things on the way back from the airport, things I would never remember, but details I felt touched she wanted to tell me. “That’s the road that leads to my friend’s house.” “Over there is where I lived fifteen years ago.”
I had some time with Glen because Amanda was working until 7 tonight. He spent ten years living out of a backpack, crashing on people’s couches. They both traveled a lot, not really knowing what they wanted out of life, not really knowing where they wanted to be, what they wanted to do. They told me that if I ran out of money, I could come back here and they’d hook me up with something. I can come back here whenever I need to regroup, whenever I need to figure things out. I can come here for Christmas. They have just opened up their home to me and let me in. They’ve let me become a part of their family. Their kids think I am all that and a bag of crisps.
Auckland itself is a beautiful city. So much water, volcanoes, sailboats.
I got lost coming back to the house from the train station the other day.After half an hour of aimless walking (my initial thought was, something will start to look familiar. I never learn). Anyway, I stopped in at a little coffee place that was empty and asked at the counter. The guy was intrigued by my accent, and seemed really personally touched that I wanted to come here and not Australia. And when he didn’t know where I was going, he looked it up on a computer, then he went and lugged a printer out of the backroom so I could have my own copy.
Everyone here is sooooo nice.


Nov. 3rd

This is a moment. When I look back I see memories as a montage of instances, but if I try to pause the reel and focus on just one, it becomes blurry. This, right now, is a single moment. This moment, Gin Blossoms on the radio, tomato soup steaming on the formica table at Au Bon Pain in the Philadelphia airport, heart swelling with love for the people who’ve bid me farewell, this moment I will always see clearly. I am so lucky, not because I am about to leave for what could be the adventure of a lifetime (though I am), but because I am leaving behind so many people who really love me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Finally making plans

After several weeks of constantly being on the verge of vomitting...I made plans! I got back from Jacksonville this evening, after a much needed visit with Lindsey, and used her calming effect on me to conjure progress from within. (Did you know gmail has a tasks application?It's very useful).
My fantastic boss in Pittsburgh introduced me to a friend of her's in NZ, who generously offered to not only pick me up from the airport, but also to stay with her for a few days. This feels like a good omen.
After that I'm off to Coromandel (see google image pics), famous for their hot springs from volcanoes? I think that's why they're hot. Then back to Auckland for a few, with the hopes of finding a job or meeting some fellow travellers who want to venture south with me.
But I have the next couple weeks figured out!
Really sad about leaving my cats, but otherwise feeling pretty good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2 Weeks until I Leave

I'm starting a blog now, so that I can record some of my pre-NZ thoughts. My hope is that in a year I'll look at this and laugh at how frightened I was before leaving for what would become the the pinnacle of my youth, the adventure of a lifetime, my story to end all stories.

For the past month and a half, I have been unable to make plans for traveling. I bought my plane ticket at the end of August, and since then, every morning I've woken up and thought "Okay...I really need to set something up..." But I've been paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. I've been too nervous to actually admit to myself that I'm leaving. Part of me has felt like a liar; whenever friends and family have talked about my pending adventure, I've always smiled and said how excited I was. I wasn't really that excited. I was scared. I was pretty sure I was doing this for all of the wrong reasons (namely, and without going into too much detail, to escape reality), and I still couldn't imagine it actually happening.
This morning I said goodbye to my sister in D.C., and she was being kind of emotional. I realized this was going to happen. And so, for the first time in forty-seven days, I started thinking. (It was also the first sunny day after five of rain, and I can't help but think this burst of optimism and ambition was partially due to the weather). I went through my budget, I emailed coordinators in different regions of the country in charge of horticultural work. I secured a place to stay in Aukland. I feel fantastic...Or I did, until I received the following email:

"...The Kiwifruit Harvest has finished and it is difficult to find seasonal work in New Zealand at the moment because there are very many New Zealanders who are out of work and looking for the jobs that holidaymakers normally do..."


New plan. Hope I can find work. If not, make the most of it. Travel around until I've spent all of my very little savings, (because what good is money if you don't spend it), come home, and worry about life then.

I'm excited.