Sunday, February 27, 2011

The New Zealand Blog - or the ZLOG

Look around the glacier.

More glacier!

Courtney intros the luge!

*More videos to come ... this uploading in Fiji thing just takes forever!

New Zealand. Is. Awesome. Just in case you didn’t know. I was there for 14 days, 15 nights, with 3 friends, drove 1 car, ate 15 delicious dinners, kayaked in 1 fjord in a 2 person kayak, saw 1 penguin and many sea lions, baa-ed at an undetermined number of sheep, walked 18 km through a national park, saw 0 hobbits, ate sushi 3 times, visited 1 museum, drove around infinite numbers of wiggle and waggles in the road, rode 1 gondola, had 5 rides on a luge, ate at 3 burger joints (veggie options each time), avoided 1 earthquake by 2 days, and had 1 million tons of fun. Ok, that last one was over the line – but the rest was true! Some true highlights from the trip:
1) The Tongariro Alpine Crossing – it was one of those highlights that you also think about with flashbacks of fear. The 17-18km, 7 hour hike started off fine. Mist shrouded the tops of the surrounding mountains and the walk was easy. As we got closer to the (and already passed 2 of the 3 bathroom stops along the way) the terrain got steeper and more precarious. After climbing many many MANY stairs we thought we were at the top – we were, after all, in the clouds and getting very wet – but we were wrong. The climb got steeper and more difficult. The maintained wooden walkway disappeared and became lava SAND at a steep incline. SAND AT AN INCLINE! Oh – and did I mention there were 50 mph gusts of wind literally blowing the plastic raincoats off of people’s bodies? At the other side of this intense summit, the wind died off and the clouds cleared away to beautiful emerald lakes and mountain scenery. We also could see Lake Toupo in the distance. The last 4 hours were beautiful. We had lunch by the shore of an emerald lake and devoured a plate of nachos each when we got back to the hostel.
2) Franz Josef Glacier – we walked on a glacier with spikey shoes! It was so cool! My first time wearing cramp-ons. The ice was blue and muddy but so very cool to be standing on. Our guide (who incidentally knew another Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji – weird!) even let us play with his giant axe for photos when we reached the highest point of our hike. Not as scary or difficult as the Alipine Crossing, but it was certainly one of those “I’ll likely never do this again” kind of moments.
3) Kayaking in Milford Sound – When we pulled through to the other side of the tunnel marking the last 10 minutes of our drive to the sound, we saw fog rolling in through the mountains. Not a bad way to start the morning. We had woken at 4 am to drive 2 hours to kayak for 2 more hours through the sound. We saw a seal and a penguin and paddled right up to the base of Lady Bowen Falls – the waterfall that powers Milford Sound’s town and also provides their freshwater drinking supply. Pretty cool! Made me want to buy a sea kayak, a feeling I have had before and didn’t follow up on. Who knows where I will move after PC but perhaps a sea kayak is on the list of things to buy when I get there.
4) The food! It was so great to eat good food again. Now – don’t get me wrong, I cherish the times I get to eat Fijian food. In a certain way. As in – I don’t eat it regularly so I enjoy it the few times I do eat it. But westernized food – wow. Sushi, pizza (with cream cheese and smoked salmon on it!!! Best pizza ever!), bagels, string cheese, spanakopita, crepes … it all just made me so happy. I was sure to avoid Chinese and Indian foods at all costs.
5) Driving – how fun is driving!? Granted it was on the left side of the road in the right side of the car, but it was power. It was control. It was great! Coming back to Fiji and having to put myself at the mercy of 5 hour bus rides and 1 hour ferry trips was kind of a bummer, but I am still enjoying the lorry truck rides a little bit.
6) The weather! I know that when I am cold I am usually a bit cranky, but this was great! I mean, as I write this blog in my house I am wearing nothing but a scrap of fabric wrapped around me like a towel and I am dripping sweat everywhere. It feels disgusting. But ahhh New Zealand. Cool, crisp New Zealand. Thank you for the reminder that there are places out there that are cooler than 80 degrees at night.

So yeah – New Zealand was pretty great. It was really sad to hear what happened to Christchurch only 2 days after we left. We realize how lucky we are to have left when we did and our thoughts are with those people in Christchurch. I’m glad we got to see it before the Cathedral collapsed. It really is the heard of the city.

Now that I am back in Fiji, though, I have to admit that I was not thrilled to return. But there were a few things that helped jolt me out of the “I don’t want to be back here” state of mind.
1) Several people called me to check on me from my village after the earthquake to make sure I was back in Fiji. My neighbor and my vakatawa (preacher). That they thought of me and wanted to check in just made me smile.
2) My neighbor called to tell me he was cleaning my house for me! And when I returned he really had done a great job. He even pulled things out from under my bed I hadn’t seen in 2 years. And there were flowers by the door and my mosquito net had been washed! Plus he was weeding my back yard when I arrived. Makes such a huge difference to not have to clean house after a day of travelling before you can relax.
3) The kids say I look slimmer!
4) Fiji really is beautiful.As I was riding that lorry into town, looking out the back of it I kept thinking that I will never have such a lush tropical environment as my backyard and I intend to appreciate it now.
5) It’s my home. For now. And after travelling, it always feels good to be home. (a sappy ending - come on, you shed a tear didn't you?)