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.