Monday, 30 August 2010

A nice relaxing massage

After making my way across the island of Java in Indonesia I ended up in Bali for a couple of days of being a normal holiday maker, eating western junk food and recharging the batteries.

I had made up my mind that I would be a big girl and get myself a pampering. I wanted a haircut, shave, back waxing and a massage so I took to the streets to pick a nice looking spa where I could get in touch with my feminine side and be de-trampified. I was stopped on my walk by a ridiculously camp man who asked if I wanted a haircut. Being on autopilot from brushing away the pushy shop owners of Bali I declined and walked on but then I remembered that a haircut was exactly what I was looking for so I turned back and negotiated a price of about ten quid for all four treatments.

The camp man's name was Johann, probably still is. Johann was very friendly to the point of flirting which I quite enjoyed and he had an amusing way of pronouncing my name.
'You very handsome Gleeen'
'Thanks very much Johann, not so bad yourself' I stopped short of the cheeky wink though.

Haircut: Not a disaster, too much off the sideburns if I'm being fussy
Shave: After the haircut Johann ran out of the spa and round the corner returning a couple of minutes later with a disposable bic. I don't think he'd ever shaved a beard off before because he went straight in against the grain making it painful but it was sort of better than doing it myself.
Next up the good bit, a half an hour massage. So which one of the pretty girls in the spa will be taking over for this? I had my fingers crossed for the slightly older woman because I was a little conscious that after being on my own for quite some time a pretty girl's hands on my skin might get me over excited. I went in to the massage room and took off my t-shirt.
'Okay Gleeen can you lie down on the table please'
'Oh so... cos I thought maybe one of the girls might... err no problem yes, yes, so... okay'
I could be comfortable with this, what difference does it make, it's about having the massage not being felt up.
'So Gleeen you want one hour?'
'Half an hour is fine'
'And shall I massage the front as well?'
'Just the back thanks'
'Ooh hoo hoo, why not front? You shy?'
'Jast the back is fine'
As much as I wanted to be all modern and okay with the massage I was not relaxed in the slightest. It wasn't that it was a man doing the massage, it was how much he seemed to be enjoying it. I was regretting the earlier light hearted flirty banter.
Johann asked if I wanted my legs done as well, I decided that yes this would be fine.
'Okay can you take your shorts off?' he said. Please just the shorts, let me leave my pants on, please just the shorts. Thankfully it was just the shorts.

This was only my second ever proper massage so I'm not sure if the massage moves were official or not but I was not comfortable with the bollock contact when he got to the top of my legs. I wondered what level of invasion it would take for me to tell Johann to stop and then it happened: he touched my feet.
I jumped up and rather embarrassingly barked 'Don't touch my feet. Please'.
'Ooh hoo hoo, you ticklish Gleeen?' He playfully tickled my foot again.
What I said next is not something I'm proud of, in fact I was ashamed of myself but I really do have unpleasantly ticklish feet. In a raised voice that most of the spa would have heard I angrily declared 'Do that again and I'll kick you in the face'. Johann didn't seem too offended and gave me a tilted head pursed lips smile. The smile told me that the fucker was planning to tickle me again.

There is a school of thought that suggests the less comfortable you are around gays (and I'd decided Johann was definitely gay, not just camp now) the more likely you are to be a gay. If that is the case then at that moment I was Julian Clary listening to the pet shop boys spooning Dale Winton.

I checked my watch, the half an hour was nearly up, I couldn't wait. Just the right leg to go. All the way up for a little testicle contact then all the way down to...
'I TOLD YOU DON'T TOUCH MY FEET' I'd been playfully tickled again. I made up my own mind that that was the end of the massage and put my shorts back on.

Waxing: Unsurprisingly Johann took the lead again and there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to enjoy ripping the hair off my back. It hurt and to finish off Johann reached around to the front of my shorts and asked if I wanted anything else waxed. I laughed off the offer, it was time to get out of there.

I didn't really get the girly pampering I'd hoped for but at least I looked and felt less like a hobo than when I went in. On top of that if I was feeling lonely that night I was fairly sure I had somewhere to go for a bit of bicurious experimentation!

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Real life, is it interesting?

I'm back home now and I doubt anyone is reading this any more but I want to keep writing, only when I have something I want to remember though.

I've taken up two summer jobs to help chip in to the debts travelling left me with, one bingo calling on my old stomping ground, the other doing PR on the streets of Southampton for a club.

The club:
My first night was a busy Tuesday and it was easy enough, paid by the hour and just sticking stickers on people then my next shift was a Saturday.

On Saturdays the PR folk work solely on commission split between the group, last week each of them took home £1.50 as the place was empty. To get commission you walk people to the door and get a tally next to your name, I didn't mind, I'm okay chatting to strangers and it would help pass the time making it a competition. That was until our team briefing explaining their new brand of Saturday nights.

The boss of the club spoke: 'Even though I love dirty house, 700 people in Southampton don't so we're bringing in more commercial house tunes so that we can appeal to more people. We're going more Marbella than Ibiza, actually we're going for more Pacha than Amnesia'. It was just words, I had bugger all idea what that meant and I could feel my face reddening as I over enthusiastically nodded as if I wasn't confused. I looked around in the hope that someone else would be able to share a look of 'Que' with me but they all seemed to let the sentence pass as if people they knew actually spoke like that.

Unperturbed I took to the streets of Southampton with a girl who was a tall, blond and a model, with legs up to her armpits (I figured our team might be a bit one sided for who was going to get most people in the club). Despite looking like the elephant man next to this girl I managed to get the first group of people I spoke to to walk in to the club and have a drink. A great start that did not reflect the rest of the night, at a guess I took a total of 20 people in, although I'm sure hundreds more went in with my flyers.

The worst part of the job was that I was doing good chatting and felt like I was promoting well, wheras the man supervising us was less impressed. In teaching and bingo you get immediate feedback from lots of different sources and I've been lucky enough that most of it has been good. Here the supervisor was the only one to give feedback. At one point he phoned up to ask where we were as he was in my spot and when I told him in a very proud voice we'd taken a group down to the club - our second of the night - he said 'It only takes one of you, you should always have one here' then he watched me chat to a group of people and told me my technique was rubbish. I disagreed, the approach went like this:
'Hi guys coming to [insert club here] tonight?'
Their response: 'No it's shit'
'Fair enough have a good night'

Apparently what I should have said was 'Free entry to [club] you coming down'
I'm guessing they would still have held the opinion that the place was not their cup of tea but I did as I was told and spent the night chatting to strangers, doing my bit to get people in.

Bingo hall:
I like it, although it wasn't very nice starting the job finding out about which customers were still there and who had kicked the bucket but it's inevitable that some would have gone over the 5 years I've been away. Other than that very little has changed and I felt like I was back in the swing of things after my second shift.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Vang Vieng

An unpleasant morning dosing up on Imodium then fingers crossed for a 5 hour bus ride to Vang Vieng. It was a successful journey and I checked in to my own very nice and very cheap room.

Vang Vieng is famous among travellers as the home of tubing - floating down the river on a rubber ring being pulled in to bars by people tossing you a rope. If you like the bar you stay, if you've had enough float down to the next bar. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say this is quite possibly one of the greatest ideas anyone has ever had ever. Most bars also have a USP, some examples are: zip wires into the water, trapezes in to the water, a slide in to the water, mud volleyball, mud pit tug of war and so on. Fairly obviously the combination of alcohol, water and opportunities to fall from height mean that there are deaths every year and the town resembles a doctor's waiting room, few people come out unscathed. Other than that slight downer it is a great place and the atmosphere is fantastic as with most places where there is an excuse to drink in the day time.

I met up with detectives Garlick and Digweed for the third time in my travels and had a great couple of days but I'm glad it was only two days. Many people had got stuck there because they were enjoying themselves so much, some wasting months of their trips... or maybe not wasting but certainly not making the most of them.

I left Vang Vieng with the detectives for the world heritage town of Luang Prabang, all of us having caught conjunctivitis. Through my gunky eyes I noticed just how spectacularly beautiful the terrain of Northern Laos is. Will (Garlick) summed it up rather well by saying:

"It's quite lumpy Laos isn't it".

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Laos - Vientiane

On the flight to Laos I was sat next to a Malay man who asked me where I was going. This seems a strange question to ask when you're sat next to someone on the same plane. I replied 'Laos I hope, why where's the plane going?'. I think it was all a bit that film with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson because he just smiled and nodded, we both tried doing conversation but the smiling and nodding was our only common ground.

Landing in Vientiane I grouped up with some other Westerners to share a taxi in to town and we all stayed in the same guest house. I was sharing with a friendly but slow English man who has been travelling for 2 years. I later found out that the reason he's slow is because he has taken quite a lot of drugs. Next door were an American girl and an interesting English man called Gavin who had had an impressive life. Gavin left school without qualifications having felt unchallenged. By 18 he was manager of the bakery he worked in having impressed when his boss was off ill and soon after he was head hunted to manage another place. At 20 he realised he was quite good at management and took the audacious step of setting up his own management consultancy firm. His philosophy: Find out what the customer wants you to do then do it. Makes sense to me and though he had some failures I can guess that he has plenty in the bank - because he never mentioned how much he makes. Anyone else I've met who has started businesses or worked with big companies has slipped some big numbers for deals made in to conversations. I took Gavin's details for facebook so that if I decide to start my 'I do like a t-shirt' business I can get some advice, oh and also because I like him.

The four of us took the Lonely Planet's advice and went to the bowling alley. 90p a beer and 90p a game. Good way to spend a night.

Disclaimer: Now that I'm home it has been said that my blog makes me out to be a drunk. I do drink quite a lot but there have also been lots of days whilst travelling when I haven't. Problem is, those days are spent on buses, beaches and in guest houses, reading or watching films. I don't write about that stuff because it's boring. Actually some of the books and films have been good so maybe I should relate the plots to you and pick out their highlights and that way it will dilute the amount of drunken blog content.

To sum up, if this blog makes it sound like I drank 90% of the time I only really drank 60% of the time.

So after the bowling we played some pool and then avoided the 12 o'clock curfew applied to the centre of town by going with a gay local to a club. It was full of gays, cross dressers and prostitutes, or if they weren't prostitutes I was looking seriously hot that night. At around 4am a Nigerian man claiming to be a DJ persuaded us to join him for a party. Had I been on my own my racial stereotyping against the one black in the village would mean there's no way I'd have gone with this man but with 4 of us I figured we'd be okay. When he answered his phone and said there was no party any more I got a bit worried but he dropped us back at our hostel and I felt bad for spending the whole trip on edge. In bed I battled to work out if I was just being rightly cautious or if that was racism. I think it's a question for cleverer people than me.

Full day in Vientiane.
Plan: See the sights, walk to the main temple a couple of hours out of town.
Half an hour in to the day, new plan: Stay within running distance of a toilet.
I managed to visit a couple of centrally located temples one housing over 2000 little buddhas but the day was not much fun. Imodium helped, only having one small beer at these prices proves just how cack I felt.

Next city VangVieng.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

My thoughts while in Kuala Lumpur

After getting my police report I went to Kuala Lumpur to get a new passport. I'd already seen a lot of KL and wasn't looking forward to more days here.

I remember a few weeks previously in Bandung, Indonesia crossing a road, stepping out in to the mad traffic like a local then dismissing several 'hello mister, how are yous' with an easy smile and nod of the head. At that time I thought to myself 'you've got the hang of this travelling lark, you are a good traveller'. On this day in KL, nearly possessionless stuck waiting for a passport, stinking, dripping with sweat, scratching at insect bites I think maybe I was wrong. I am crap at travelling. Good at enjoying it, but crap at doing it.

The passport only took 24 hours to get so I was good to book a flight, 3 days on I would be flying to Laos and I'd be back in business. I celebrated with an unidentified can of drink, it was disgusting - as close as you can come to fizzy cough medicine.

Flight to Laos - At the airport I was in a great mood, excited to get going and then I checked in my bag and then I was in a bad mood. I realised I hadn't gone to the immigration office in KL and got a stamp for my new passport saying I had arrived legally, which isn't my fault because they only told me twice that I needed to do this. I realised this just as my bag disappeared with the police report I'd been told I would need to get said stamp.

My thoughts were now 'my bag is going to be in Laos and I'm going to have to go back to the city to get the stamp and a copy of my police report' I was pleased to notice that my mood was better than a few days ago because I found the thought laughable - a further page in my useless travellers file.

I walked up to passport control biting my nails and rubbing the back of my neck definitely looking shifty also being the only passenger without hand luggage. I told the man straight off that my passport was a replacement and had no entry stamp.
'You didn't go to the immigration department in KL to get a stamp'
'Err...no'
'But you phoned them and told them you lost it?'
'Err...no'
He called over the boss who escorted me to a back office where I was treated well but with a heavy dose of suspicion'
'So you had your passport stolen, can I see the police report?'
'It's in my bag that's checked in'
Luckily this was one of the occasions when I'd arrived early for a flight and so a lady was able to check that my previous passport had arrived in the country on the flight I said it had. On the agreement that I wouldn't come back to Malaysia for a few years I was given a special stamp that specified I must get on my named flight and I wa good to go, hot to trot and on my way. The winds were a changing, I was back in the 'these things just work themselves out' crowd and I could enjoy my last few weeks exploring South East Asia. Touch Wood.

Perhentian Islands

Other than having most of my valuable possession nicked I absolutely loved the Perhentian islands. Quite surprising because I'm rubbish at sunbathing so a little island shouldn't agree with me. The snorkelling around the islands is fantastic, on one day I hired a canoe and paddled from bay to bay adding lots of ticks to my eye-spy fishies book. On another day I went on an organised trip and saw black tip reef sharks, turtles and clown fish.

As with anywhere the people can make or break a place and I was lucky enough to make some new friends and bump in to some old ones - a couple called Adam and Jen who I knew I recognised and they knew they recognised me but we couldn't work out why. After much deliberation Jen worked out that we'd stayed in the same hostel in Queenstown three months earlier and had chatted over dinner one night. There are a lot of these coincidences in travellerville, one of the strangest was two seperate people, both of whom I had met in Indonesia who had met each other in Malaysia and were now together! Another happy and welcome coincidence was seeing two of my favourite people who I had spent a few nights in Borneo with step off a boat. The reason I like them so much is that a) we can talk in Partridge, Peep show and Baseketball quotes and b) they dislike the same people I do for the same reasons. I've come to the conclusion that it is often more important to have dislikes in common than likes. Their names are Will and Carmel but their surnames are better; together they sound like a bad T.V detective series: Garlick and Digweed.

So lots of good nights had, one dressed as a lady, shaving my beard in to a handlebar moustache. And lots of good food, including the best steak I have ever eaten cooked by a chef who has worked in some of the top London restaurants who now travels the world setting up small places for a few months, making them hugely successful then moving on.

I've got a lot of time for the Perhentian islands.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Let's skip to Malaysia and what happens when you take your bag to the pub

Quick update on the last two months: I went to the West coast of Australia for 10 days with Katy, spectacular scenery and thousands of kilometres of quiet highways. After that I spent two weeks running up the East coast partying on Fraser Island and the Whitsundays, all jolly good fun. Then it was 3 nights in Singapore where I booked a flight to Indonesia on a whim.

My two weeks in Indonesia were mental but a great experience, climbing up volcanoes and becoming a celebrity, playing football with some kids in a cliched comic relief styley even pulling my shirt over my head after my hat-trick and high fiving the players from both teams. Surreal.

Then I went to Borneo for a week and saw lots of cool animals including the Orang-utans and via Kuala Lumpur I got to the Perhentian islands where I had my bag nicked. I'll fill in some details of those other places soon but for now we'll fast forward to the Perhentian islands.
Inside my bag were my passport, my camera and worst of all my journals. I had also started writing a play called 'Why can't real life be more like Championship Manager' I suspect the theft was God's way of telling me the play was a terrible idea and he was saving me the hassle of finishing it.

Let's start with the policeman, because he was funny. Painfully frustrating, but funny. I needed a police report so that I could get a new passport and make an insurance claim so I got a water taxi around the island to the Fishing Village where the surprisingly well built police station is.
My water taxi man (Rico) was very helpful and when there was no-one at the station he found the copper for me, sat in a nearby cafe. The policeman wore a dirty brown polo shirt, glasses round a string on his neck and he had teeth that could sell a thousand toothbrushes - by scaring kids. The few teeth still attached to his gums were frightening and one in the middle seemed to be pointing at me wherever I was in the room. Thankfully he was friendly and with his limited English got me to fill in the blanks on the police report. I bottled claiming for a laptop, ipod and money, I think it was the all seeing tooth that made me feel guilty.
The policeman promised he would send my report to be processed on the mainland and bring me a copy the next day.
The next day came and went, then the day after that did the same. On Monday I got another water taxi to the village with Rico and found the police station locked and empty. Rico phoned some of the numbers on the door and told me someone would bring me the report at 1pm.
Back on the island I felt my first twinges of annoyance, I had planned to leave 3 days earlier but hadn't minded being stuck in paradise. Now I was ready to move on and wondered how long a new passport was going to take if a photocopy took 3 days.
At 1pm I was told I would get the report at 2.30 and at 2.30 I was told I had to go back to the station.
I've always believed that the friendlier you are the better the service you'll get but when the station was locked again my smile buggered off and went snorkeling. Luckily we bumped in to the policeman walking past and he showed me in to the station. Inside things went from frustrating to so unbearable my smile came back to have a laugh at my predicament.
Mr Policeman had apparently never seen me before, I suspect he had Alzheimer's because his ability to forget instantly what either of us had said was amazing.
After some awkward conversation I got over that I had made a report and he went to his reports folder to find mine.
'What's your name?' he asked
'Glyn Richards'
Some slow reading through the reports 'Ah here it is'
'No, that's not me that's a Swiss man called Eric'
'And you Swiss'
'No, English, from England, U.K.'
'Ah here it is'
'No this is a girl called Emily'
He pointed at the report 'England'
'Yes I see that but it's not my report, I'm not called Emily'
He read through some of Emily's report then went back to Eric's
'What's your name?'
'Gl-yn Ri-chards'
'Write it down please'
'good idea'
The folder only had 6 reports in it and I'd already seen that mine wasn't one of them. Deputy Dawg checked through the folder again and offered me the Swiss man's again. I wished I was the Swiss man.
'Where you stay?'
'Tropicana, where you said you'd bring the report on Saturday. Tropicana'
His face looked puzzled then lit up
'Oh yes Tropicana' He whacked his forehead with his palm 'Oh no, sorry I forget'
Finally we're getting somewhere
He went back and looked through the same folder
Okay, maybe not
Looking confused again he looked up and said 'And you stay in Bubu?'
I chose to laugh instead of cry 'Oh christ. No Tropicana'
I could go on.

The whole farce took about an hour. He eventually phoned the mainland who found their copy and faxed it through in a few minutes.
'See you soon' he said as I left
'I bloody well hope not'

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Things I lost in New Zealand

shaving Foam
jumper
sleeping bag liner
shower gel x 3
towels x 2
socks x 3 pairs (discarded cos they stank)
Herman
caps x 2
torch
one trouser leg
travel pillow
rough guide to New Zealand
hitch hiking virginity
the habit of taking my phone out and checking for texts when I'm sat on the bog
hatred of Americans

Bugger it

I've had my bag nicked with my journals in it. My memory is crap so the last two months of travels will not be blogged in very much detail I fear. I'm devastated, I loved those books. The sun is shining and I'm in paradise currently so things could be worse.

Anyways, I got to Sydney and checked in to a hostel, then ran down to the harbour to take my pictures of the bridge and opera house as I was only staying the one night before flying down to Melbourne. The hostel had organised a trip to a pub with a free beer. I think you can all guess how the rest of the evening pans out, among the people I met was Katy, a lovely girl with a softly spoken Welsh accent that made me weak at the knees. Katy was planning to go to the West coast of Australia for two weeks and from what I'd heard about the place I was half tempted to change my plans and stalk her. Having just forked out for the flights to Sydney and Melbourne however, meant that this was just a nice daydream.

Melbourne. What luck I was there at the time of the comedy festival.
I impressed myself by not missing the plane and went straight from my dorm to watch Tim Vine who, as always, made me piss myself. I love that man and he had yet another new set of one liners and daft songs. I followed that up with Arj Barker, based on an Aussies recommendation. Arj plays Dave the shop owner in Flight of the conchords, unfortunately his stand up was very average. Criminally he had a 2000 seat venue and Tim Vine only entertained 200 lucky punters each night.

Day two. In a couple of hours of walking I passed the MCG (100,000 seater cricket ground), the Rod Laver arena (home of the Australian Open), the Hisense Arena (Netball, yes thay actually get crowds you sexists), the Olympic park, another big stadium for Aussie rules football, a golf course and the F1 track. The people of Melbourne like their sport and for this I like the people of Melbourne.
My comedian o choice for the evening was Tim Key, sort of poetry with a running commentary, sounds shit but it was brilliant, up there with Vine.
Comparing Melbourne to Edinburgh, Edinburgh wins hands down, there are no late shows and the the listings fit on to one whiteboard where Edinburgh has a gert fat book for a programme. The real clincher came when I bought a beer and had to part with $8.50, nearly six quid. Perhaps that's why they all like their sports, you'd need to sell your car to have a night out.
Day three. Walked to St. Kilda, the beach part of Melbourne and coffee shop hang out for all the cool kids. The G-dawg did not fit in, I am rubbish at being cool. Whenever I pick a cafe I look out of place by trying to order at a counter when it's table service, then I fidget, scratch any insect bites and write in my journal*. If it ain't Wetherspoons I don't know how to act, but I do like a people watch.
The evening was the superb Pajama men, a silly double act, voted best of the festival 2009 who I would highly recommend.

*Every time I hear journal it brings a tear to my eye.

Friday, 21 May 2010

To Australia. The expensive way.

Long bus ride to Auckland, arriving at 7pm for a quick tour before my am flight. I found a locker to store my bags in while I went for a few drinks. I met up with Steph, the nice girl who had lent me her sofa in Queenstown and was now in Auckland visiting her friend Leah. I was careful not to have too many drinks knowing that I needed to stay awake or I'd miss my flight. Having spent eleven days sober I was impressed with my discipline, having a soft drink every other round (okay every third round) and stopping drinking at 1am (okay 2am, my discipline wasn't that great). If I was tipsy at this stage I sobered up very quickly when I checked my wallet and found that I had lost the code to get my bags out of the locker.
I said my goodbyes to Steph and Leah and went to find the number to phone to get my luggage. There wasn't one. I was sort of worried now but guessed that it would work itself out and add a bit of extra excitiement to my flight. I found the nearest security guard and asked how I could get at my bags, he didn't have a key and the onlyperson who did would not be in work until 7am. Oh dear. I asked if I could break in and leave some money to fix it, the guard phoned his boss and between them they decided that no that wasn't okay.
'What would happen if I just kicked it in anyway'
'You'd be in trouble'
'Big trouble?'
'With us first the the police'
'Right. Guess I'm fucked then'
'Sounds like it'
And that was that. I was stuck in Auckland. I found myself a comfy bench and had a couple of hours sleep like the tomporary hobo that I was, eventually being reunited with my stuff at 9am. Checked in to a hostel, tired, muttering 'no use crying over spilt milk' through gritted teeth but all things considered I was feeling alright. Once I'd booked myself a new flight for the next day I was really quite happy, I couldn't do anything about it and I was still in New Zealand rather than at work. Who knows, maybe flying to Sydney instead of Melbourne will mean I meet the girl of my dreams, or a millionaire who wants to make me her toyboy, or a chicken with the face of a squirrell.

Lost locker ticket $10. New flight to Sydney $339. Being able to laugh at myself for being a prize pillock: Priceless

That night I watched impossible to follow streaming online of Saints triumphant Paint Pot trophy final, feeling a tinge of annoyance that they decided to go to Wembley without me.
The next day I made it to the airport 4 hours early, first in the queue. I wasn't missing this one. Australia, here comes the G dawg (that's my rap alias, I've heard ozzies are cool so it will help me to fit in).

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Whanganui River

Day 1. I had to go on to the river with a guided group of five people because getting to the river required carting the canoes and the kayak down an unsealed road. They were a family of for from Auckland (German mum, English Dad, 10 year old boy Christophe and 12 year old girl Yasmine) and a middle aged woman called Pip, also from Auckland. Their guide was a Welsh lad called Dave. Once on the water I was free to paddle off and explore the river and some side streams but I had chosen to stay the first night in the same campsite as the rest of the group. On the river the scenery was once again beautiful, steep cliffs on either bank coated in thick vegetation and rainforest, see pics, I won't drivel on, and it was unbroken for the whole of the 5 hours of paddling it took to get me to the first campsite.

Each of the campsites along the river have a small shelter over a picnic bench, rainwater tap and a long drop toilet. I pitched Frank, my tent, whilst the rain just about held off and soon after the rest of the group arrived. We had the campsite to ourselves as most people choose to stay at the DOC huts that are along the river. The others in the group had paid a fair bit more than me to have a guide who cooked their meals and also they were spending one night in the only hotel down the river, giving them a night with a shower and electricity.

The kids built a fire unsupervised (I like this attitude to growing up that is common to all Kiwis - Let them get on with it - if they set fire to themselves, well they'll only do it once), I ate my dinner of crackers and peanut butter then we swapped places and the others ate a proper meal of pasta with chicken and vegetables whilst I tended to the fire, not an easy task in the rain.

After the family, Pip and Dave had had their fill there were leftovers and they insisted on me having some, I felt a bit guilty as they'd paid for it but later on I earnt it by entertaining the kids in good humour. Christophe was a big fan of the 'copying everything Glyn says and does' game as well as the 'how long can you hold on to Glyn's leg' game. Two of my personal favourites, obviously, but they did get slightly annoying. After about 30 seconds. To distract from the fun I produced marshmallows from my bag and we went down to the fire to melt and drop most of them in the fire.


Day 2. Paddled further than the others to Mangaparua campsite and I was the only one there. Because of this it seemed appropriate to get naked and build a fire because it had been raining it took me 2 hours to get a fire burning properly. I was dressed again by this point and started pounding my chest shouting fire like Tom Hanks does in Castaway. I managed to heat soup and a packet of noodles over the fire which was enough to make me feel like Ray Mears. Then it got dark. I saw a rat. I heard strange noises. I was scared, only a bit, but I realised I'd never been alone in the wild before. I got more scared when inside my tent I heard an animal run past, it was definitely bigger than a rat and it took me a few minutes to reason that it was probably a goat as I'd seen a few along the riverbank earlier. I didn't go and check I just put my headphones in and tried to ignore the noises of rats and goats.

Day 3. Crossed the river to the bridge to nowhere walk - the bridge is strong enough for large vehicles and it connects two patches of rainforest that have no roads. It really is a bridge to nowhere. I then paddled to Tieke Kainga, arriving at 1:30.
It was just me and a Maori woman called Leslie with tattoos from her bottom lip down to her chin. Leslie looks after the place which has a beautiful Marae (Maori meeting place) and a large carved totem pole along with a hut for sleeping in and a hut for cooking. Leslie explained that the land had belonged to her family but the Department of Conservation illegally built a hut on the site. The Maori didn't like this much so they threw the hut in the river. This happened three times before the DoC came to an arrangement with the Maori that they would build and maintain huts on the site but they would belong to the Maori people who would welcome visitors. More people arrived, one of whom was a river guide with a passion for the great kiwi sport of possum bashing. I saw two and showed them to the guy but I missed the one that he did get. In hindsight I'm quite glad I didn't see it because although they are a pest they still look deceptively cute.

Day 4. I didn't have far to paddle so I spent the morning waiting for the rain to clear, reading and chatting to Leslie. For all Leslie's pride about her Maori heritage it turns out she used to be a pole dancer with a pet yellow python called Willy.
I cruised down to the next campsite at 2pm and a few hours later was joined by the others that had entered the water with me. Christophe greeted me by shooting me 3 times with a stick then hugging me. We built a campfire and everyone insisted I have a portion of their dinner - beef curry - for happily putting up with Christophe constantly talking and shooting me. The truth is I quite like kids really and I also like curry so it was happy days, especially as I had run out of my own food earlier that afternoon. Marshmallows were toasted for pudding, chatting and drinking in the last night of the trip over-looking the river and so to bed.

Day 5. This was the most fun day of paddling and I did most of it with the group. There were some decent rapids that I went through twice as well as a mud cave that we wallowed in up to our knees follwed by a cave housing a waterfall to clean off the mud.

The whole trip was probably the best thing I have done in New Zealand and thoroughly recommended to anyone that visits. Perfect end to a perfect country. Just on to Auckland for a few hours before my flight to Australia. Too easy.





Friday, 7 May 2010

Northern Circuit

Thursday 18/3/10. Went for a walk around Lake Rotorua, taking in more bubbling mud and sulphurous gases seeping out of the ground. I'm sure I'd been transported to another planet. After that I got on a bus back to Taupo and spent the remainder of that day and Friday 19/3/10 planning my last week in New Zealand. I wanted to do the Northern Circuit great walk and the Whanganui river great walk (not a walk at all, kayaking but it's part of New Zealand's great walks network). The Northern Circuit is a recommended four day walk, I had one and a half days because the only way I could do the kayaking was by starting on the Monday.

The Northern Circuit is a circular walk that includes the Tongariro crossing, regarded as the best one day walk in New Zealand if not the world. According to the leaflet's estimated times from hut to hut for me to complete the route in one and a half days meant I would have to walk for about ten hours on day one and possibly eight hours the next starting at 6am in order to catch my bus to Ohakune for the Whanganui.

Saturday 20/3/10
Up at 6:30 for the bus to Whakapapa (pronounced Fakapapa). Everybody except me got off at the start of the Tongariro crossing, I dropped some bags at Whakapapa and got walking at 9am. I can't put how good the walk was in to words so look at the pictures to get some idea of how incredible the scenery was. Even they don't come close to doing the landscape justice though. In one day I went from bushy scrubland to the top of a red cratered volcano, past turquoise lakes, a blue lake and on to a volcanic rocky desert before entering a forest where the Waihohunu hut I was staying in was sat overlooking a pretty river. I'd covered 30km of tough terrain by the time I got to the hut at 5:30 so when some of the seven people tried talking to me I struggled to give more than monosyllabic answers. The next morning it was an easy four and a half hour walk back to Whakapapa. It had been yet another unbelievable experience. Just another day in New Zealand.

I was left with three hours to kill and in this tiny village there was only one place to kill time. It was pub o'clock. I'd earnt it and a couple at lunch time doesn't count as drinking so I was doing well on sober day 6. The girl putting out tables opened the bar early for me and gave me drinks at local's prices. A lot of tills in NZ have two prices. She also only charged me for two of the three drinks, apparently because she was leaving soon and didn't care any more. I had a good chat with her and her boyfriend before catching the bus to Ohakune. At Ohakune I had a dorm room all to myself, it occurred to me that I hadn't slept alone for nearly two months so I celebrated by getting naked and farting. Adventure complete (the walk not the fart) and tomorrow it would be the start of another great adventure - The Whanganui River.

N.B. I have breasts in the picture of me in front of the old red hut. I don't know where they came from or where they went but I wish I knew they were there so I could have had a go on them.









Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Tormented by my inner drunk in Rotorua

Travelled to Rotorua on my last Kiwi experience journey. Rotorua is situated on a very thin bit of the earth's crust and so has steam coming out of vents, bubbling mud and geysers all around the area. I visited Te Puia to see the biggest of the geysers and also some Maori cultural history then walked back to town for dominos (crap) and a dvd - Iron man, also crap.
I didn't want to go out because whilst away, I hadn't been drinking every day but on my budget I was drinking far too often. I wanted to do a full week sober and this was only day 2. But it was St. Patrick's day so when a slightly punk looking German girl who had just finished work asked me if I fancied a few and offered to buy me a pint of Guiness, I had little choice.
The first of Rotorua's three Irish bars we tried was rammed. I queued up for 20 minutes, 4 rows of people back from the bar, I was surrounded by smashed people and I didn't have a drink in my hand. I had to leave. We walked to the next Irish bar, I half hoped it was rammed so that I could make my excuses and avoid drinking. It wasn't, so I went to the bar and ordered 2 pints of Guiness resigned to the fact that I am a weak willed drunkard.
But wait, it wasn't game over yet, one or two pints of Guiness on St. Paddy's doesn't count as drinking and to my delight the German girl was incredibly dull, there was no way I wanted to spend more time in her company than was necessary so I was in luck.
I had to wait for a second pint because I'd bought the first round and as much as I wasn't fussed about drinking another it went against my principles to turn down a free one. After yet another awkward silence German girl asked 'So what music are you in to?'
'Could you quit the small talk, I've got an empty pint here, it's your round and your bland personality is honestly making me angry' Is what I should have said. Instead I let out an audible sigh and named some bands I hoped she hadn't heard of. Sadly she had heard of Gomez. 'Gomez, I love them' She said without emotion 'What's that song they did?'
I sighed again, where is my pint? 'They've had a few, they've got about 6 albums so you'll have to narrow it down'
'Oh umm, I can't remember how it goes or what it's called, but it's really good'
And my pint? 'They are good.'
'Oh yeah I love Gomez, can't believe you like them too'
Pint? 'yep.'
'Cool'
Silence.
'I need another beer, do you want one?' I said
'Oh no it's my round, I'll go' Thank christ for that!
I drank my Guiness in 4 swigs, apologised that I was tired and left her talking to someone at the bar.
I know it's a poor reflection on myself but I was really proud that I'd gone home after only 2 drinks when there was so much going on in the town. I've certainly never managed it on a Saturday night in Southampton so maybe this was the start of a change for the sober? Well soberer.




Monday, 26 April 2010

Taupo

Beautiful place. I checked in to my hostel and not wanting to break from tradition, went for a walk around the lake. Branching off along a riverside track I saw what looked like a man floating down a river on a ring of inflated bin liners. When I caught up to him it really was a man floating down a river on a ring of inflated bin liners, beer in one hand, fag in the other. Because I was staring at him the man shouted out in a Spanish accent 'how you doing?'
'I'm good thanks. Are they bin liners?'
'Yes, it's cheap'
I'm not sure why but it seemed appropriate to take off my cap, bow down and say 'Sir, you are a genius'.
I passed the man and carried along the path but a few hundred yards later it finished. There was no path on the other side of the river either so how the hell the man was going to get back to his car I don't know. Unless, perhaps, he had concealed within his vessel a paddle made from lolly sticks (and I wouldn't put that past him, it would have taken a fair amount of Blue Peter skills to attach the bin liners leaving room for a person in the middle.
Back at the hostel I played scrabble with 3 English girls and a 17 year old German and had to hold on to some monster scores because I didn't want to look like a dick playing words like ee which I know is a word but justifying it would have meant admitting that I play on-line. That and the fact that one girl got away with words like zam meant that I finished third. I am ashamed to say I didn't like this and was a poor loser.

Next day I researched some long walks in the area and booked a trip for 5 days kayaking the Whanganui river. This had taken weeks to do as no companies would rent to someone who wanted to do it on their own, they were all guided trips. In the afternoon I walked out of town to a great free attraction, a hot spring fed pool 30 degrees in temperature, then past that to Huka falls and Aratiatia dam (both pictured below)

Day 3 in Taupo. Got drunk with some people who were celebrating finishing work the day before. It was a mexican themed party which consisted of eating some quesadillas and the 4 of us writing sombrero on stickers stuck to our caps. It was good fun but to be somewhere so beautiful and do something I can do at home felt very wasteful.





More Wellington

Decided I would like to see the Weta cave, home of Peter Jackson's studios where they did the CGI and prop making for Lord of the rings. It was a couple of hours walk out of Wellington and on the way I passed a woman taking a bite out of a potato. The Weta cave itself advertised the part open to the public as a mini museum. It was the size of my bedroom but there were just enough props and swords from the films that it made the trip worth while for a geek like me. There was also a film that talked through the work they do at Weta but as Mum has the extended 600 hour special edition box sets of Lord of the Rings it wasn't anything new.

Day 5 in Wellington was the day I'd been waiting for. New Zealand Black caps v Australia in the fifth One Day International. I walked to the Westpac stadium (known as the Cake Tin) via the art gallery and spent a day watching the black caps stuff Australia, the highlight being Ricky Ponting getting out for a golden duck. Even better than that, he was caught off his helmet so shouldn't have been out.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Wellington

Got the ferry from Picton to Wellington heading out through the unsurprisingly beautiful Marlborough sound.
Day 1: Couldn't be arsed to be sociable so went and watched Avatar in 3-D (Terribly brilliant or brilliantly terrible, 4 stars)

Day 2: Visited the excellent national museum where my personal highlight was bizarrely their Anne Frank exhibit. Bought a ticket to the 5th one day match between NZ and Australia and so had to book a further 3 nights in the hostel. In the afternoon I saw a middle aged woman smiling broadly and I was tempted to tell her how good it was to see such an uninhibited smile. I didn't though and I regretted it, everyone likes a compliment and if it's well received it is as much fun to give one as receive one. Mymind then wondered to other compliments for other people and I began to play a compliments game. The rules, I decided, were that every person you pass you have to give a genuine compliment to. Men and women old and young... not kids though, telling an eight year old she has good posture is creepy.
I chickened out of playing the game out loud but played it in my head and had a lot of fun imagining what I would say. The compliments started out quite mundane 'Nice tattoo', 'I like your socks' then after a while I got a bit carried away. 'You conduct yourself with an air of coolness', 'You're amazing I want to be you, then I'd want to be another you so that I could be you, hold you and be held by you'. It was for the best I was only playing the game in my head.

Day 3: Walked around the city and botanic gardens then to the pub for the 4th one dayer, New Zealand lost. I stayed on at the pub for a pub quiz. The couple I joined told me they were waiting on a friend, a serial dater, who had been on a date. I conjured up the image of a desperate girl with a personality disorder who I would endup flirting with anyway. I wasn't far off the mark. She was good fun but I'm glad I didn't know her for any longer. We came 2nd last in the quiz so didn't even win the booby prize of a round of drinks.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Wanaka to Christchurch then Kaikoura

Decided I needed to get up to the North Island with only 3 weeks left in New Zealand, my aim was for Christchurch, 400km away but I would settle for halfway there. I took myself and my backpacks out to the road and before I had even stuck my thumb up I had my first lift out to the next junction. My next lift was with an English man, his well spoken father and his dog Millie. They dropped me near where they were playing golf and then I got a bit stuck for an hour. A French-Canadian girl joined me and her hitching technique was most impressive, arm straight out, thumb proudly aloft and a massive smile plastered across her face.

We were picked up by a kind man called Richard who fortunately for me was going nearly all the way to Christchurch, a 3 hour journey. Richard is a grandfather who is a fan of Lady Gaga, his ipod also played Irish folk music, drum n bass, Celine Dion, Genesis, Techno and a Japanese cover of the song that has the chorus 'this is my united states of whatever'. The cover went 'This is my SU-BA-RU don't touch the leather'. Richard dropped me off near his house at the junction for Chrischurch and it wasn't long before a 19 year old with a ginger mullet picked me up in his pick-up truck. The git only offered because he needed petrol and we negotiated $15 for the 100km to Christchurch. He looked nackered and I found out that was because he'd been out on the piss the night before and then went to his job as a dairy farmer at 4am and had only just finished.

The mullet dropped me off at 8pm by which time all the good hostels were closed meaning I had to check in to a Base hostel which was indeed a proper shit-hole. The bar directly beneath my room played loud music until 1am and so I only got 5 hours sleep.

Next morning on the Kiwi bus to Kaikoura again. Walked around the peninsula and then got a proper night of sleep.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Back to Wanaka and a bit of a naughty story


Wanaka is the one. I'm in love with it. I got very emotional returning here and turned in to a soppy soft shite sitting in the sunshine looking out over the lake. I walked around to the Edgewater resort with the individual hand towels in the toilet and I began to well up with happiness, not at the hand towels, at the whole area. Wanaka is without doubt my favourite town on Earth, maybe they put opium in the water here because everything just seems better. The water bluer, the sun sunnier, and the mountains, err, pointier? Just better.

Took a walk up a hill called Mount Iron and in the early evening saw 'Peed my pants' and the Scot who, coincidentally, had also come from Dunedin that day. I joined them and an Aussie called Clayton for a couple of jars and Clayton offered us all to come back to the house he was staying in and drink the insanely wealthy owner's champagne. I declined because I wanted to go for a dance and annoyingly 'Peed my pants' joined me. I soon pissed off the Yank by dancing with nicer girls and she left in a huff. Yay.

The next day I walked up the mountain that had defeated me on my previous visit to Wanaka - Roy's peak. Then I walked back down. It took 8 hours in total. To celebrate my ascent and to make the most of my last night in my favourite town I went to a bar and had several drinks and then several more.

What happened next I am not proud of. Mum, you should remember that this is an isolated incident and there were lots of mitigating circumstances - my drink was probably spiked or umm... I had heatstroke and was dizzy and not myself.

Well here's what happened anyway, as much as it pains me I think the story is worth telling.

At the end of the night of drinking I got in a taxi with a girl back to her house, twenty minutes outside Wanaka. The next thing I knew I was waking up on a sofa. I was still a bit drunk and the heatstroke was kicking in so I didn't worry myself with questions like where I was, I just walked down the corridor to find a toilet and sat down planning to take a while.

I then heard footsteps outside the toilet and a woman's voice said 'Are you okay?'
'Are you talking to me?' I replied
'Yes'
'Yes I'm fine'.
Who was this woman? I tried to piece together where the hell I was.

Oh shit

Oh big shitty shit shit. No no no no no no no. Shit. No. Shit.

A little bit of the previous night came back to me. I had not gone in to the girls house. I had said goodnight and tried to walk back to my hostel. I walked for hours only wearing shorts and flip flops and it was very cold.

At some point I became completely lost in residential streets that all looked the same in the dark and I had no idea which direction I was heading. Because I was so cold and lost I decided I needed shelter so I went up to a patio door and tried it. It was open and the sofa looked comfortable so I opted to get a couple of hours sleep and leave before the owners got up. Only I hadn't done that. I was now in the house of a stranger, sat on their toilet, having a crap and they were understandably going to be concerned as to who I was.

Shit.

I could now hear a man's voice, I could guess what they were discussing, probably which household object would decapitate the intruder - me - the most efficiently.

How the hell do I explain this? Should I start crying? No. Try honesty. Through the door I said 'I'm so sorry, I got lost walking home last night and I was freezing cold and I needed somewhere to sleep and I'm so sorry but I tried your door and it was open. I'm really sorry'. I flushed the loo and made sure I put both seats down, well I was in enough trouble as it was. The couple whispered to each other, my guess was that it was something like 'You stand on the left with the rolling pin and when he comes out and I've kicked him in the crotch batter him over the head'.

There was nothing for it, the window was too small to climb out of so I would have to face the music. I opened the door and repeated my story. The couple were middle aged and looked shocked but thankfully weren't holding any weapons. 'Oh was the door open, I thought we locked it'
'Yes it was open and like I say I'm so sorry but I felt like I didn't have much choice. I'm sorry to confuse you and be so rude but if you could just point me in the direction of Wanaka I'll get going'
The man responded 'It's alright we've got kids your age, you seem genuine' - I suspect he thought I was 19 because 26 year olds aren't supposed to do things like this. 'Do you want a drink?' he added.
'No, thank you, if you could just point me in the direction of Wanaka I'll be getting back to my hostel'
'Give me a minute to get dressed and I'll drive you back there, which hostel are you at?'
I couldn't believe it. Instead of beating me up for entering his house uninvited this man was going to go out of his way and give me a lift to my hostel door. And he did just that. In nearly any other country in the world I would have come away with at least a black eye and possibly have been arrested but here I was treated like a friend who needed a hand, what astonishingly wonderful people.

Dunedin

Most people I'd spoken to about Dunedin said it's a bit rubbish and don't bother going but I was still optimistic that I would have fun wandering around a new city. Got on to the bus sat down and then it hit me. I had done something stupid and unforgivable. Herman. I'd left my stick in the hostel store room. I was distraught and even considered getting off the bus and foregoing the fare and the cost of the hostel I had booked in Dunedin. I didn't, the sane, reasonable side of me took charge and I stayed in my seat thinking up ways of reclaiming Herman on my way back to Wanaka, my onward destination from Dunedin.

In the evening I checked in to the hostel, the cheapest and worst hostel I had been in so far. Crap banana shaped mattress, no locks on doors and one toilet between 5 dorm rooms. I checked out of the hostel the next morning and started walking. I wanted to see some of the Otago peninsula, a place where you can see rare yellow-eyed penguins and a host of other birdlife. It was not walking distance but it's my preferred method of transport so I carried on regardless. The walk was pleasant at first along the water's edge until the path ended and I was left walking along the verge of a busy road looking like a plonker. I felt a bit self conscious and thought I should hitch-hike along the road but as I was already a couple of kilometres along it by then I figured it would be silly. I got used to walking on the road, stepping out of the way of cars every time the road got narrow and I remembered that I wouldn't see anyone I knew anyway so I could happily continue to be a plonker.

After an hour or so a car stopped on the other side of the road and I realised that I had been spotted by someone I knew, Claire who I had met in Queenstown. Bugger. Now I would have to act like I'm enjoying walking along the verge. Couldn't she just have carried on driving.
'Hey, it is you, how come you're walking along the side of the road? You know it's another 15km to the penguin beach? It'll take you all day'
'Oh that's okay I'm just out for a walk, be better if there was a pavement but it's a nice day so I'm happy'. As I spoke I realised that I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, I changed the subject. 'How come you're in Dunedin?'
'Oh just a couple of days break from work, borrowed the bosses car. Seriously where are you going? There's not much on this road until the end'
'Oh I'll work that out as I go and like I say it's a nice day. Anyway, better get going, enjoy your break. Bye'
'Err, okay fair enough. Bye' she said with pity in her eyes.

Five minutes later it turned out it wasn't a nice day and the heavens opened up soaking me through. I arrived at a shop and was delighted to see a sign pointing up a walking track saying 'walking track' - finally somewhere I was supposed to be. It was a nice walk over a hill, the rain stopped then started again eventually settling for stopped. The end of the track left me on another road with no pavement and because I'd been walking for four hours it seemed sensible to head back towards town.

Along the road there was a sign pointed at an empty field saying Site of NZ's first Cheese Factory. I took a photo and wandered what the point of the sign was. A little further along the road there was a sign on a gate saying Bolder Bay closed, on closer inspection this was from November to February for penguin breeding season and as it was now March I jumped over. I followed the track and bushwhacked out to the bay where there were unfortunately no penguins but still got a good view. It was now 5pm and I was an hour from the road let alone Dunedin. At the road I knew I needed to hitch hike and luckily for me the first passing vehicle pulled over on the hill I was walking up.

The driver was a Greek/Swiss man called Alexander
'I'm not very good driver, I have only have this van for 3 days' was the first thing he said to me and then we rolled ten metres back down the hill before he found a gear that went forward. He took me all the way to Dunedin driving slowly and badly all the way almost causing 2 accidents by stopping in the middle of the road giving way to people who didn't have right of way and confusing the hell out of a poor learner driver. I was still very grateful but happy to say my thank you and goodbye. I rewarded myself for the long walk with a tour around the Speights beer factory, a pretty boring tour made worthwhile by help yourself tasting for 20 minutes at the end.

The next day I spent drifting through the city's parks, art galleries, museums and the University followed by a game of Cranium in the hostel with a German guy, a Scot girl and a yank girl. The highlight of the game was when the yank laughed so much she literally peed her pants and had to run off to her room to change. Apparently this is a common occurrence for her.

Dunedin was pretty good all in all. I had fun.

Some more days in Queenstown

27/2/10 - 2/3/10

Planned to cycle the Central Otago Rail trail, bought a tent and a sleeping bag and phoned up some companies to get a bike hired. On my way back from celebrating the Swiss paraglider passing his paraglider test I met some slightly mad but excellent people dressed as Cheetara, the Joker and Robin Hood who invited me to their spare house (!) where they keep alcohol and not much else. Cheetara's real name was Morven (or something similar), the Joker was really Darcy and Robin Hood was a lovely girl called Steph. I ended up sleeping on their sofa the next night which I thanked them for with a tasty curry.

I was due to start the cycling on the 2nd but when I got up it was pissing down and I decided my mac in a pack wouldn't quite cut it if I had 3 days cycling in that weather. Instead I walked to the shop bought a box of beer and let Morven cook breakfast whilst the rest of us hung around looking like shite doing very little all day.

Becauase I delayed there were no bikes available the next day and I had missed my opportunity. With accomodation booked in Dunedin for the 4th I chose to head there a day early and explore a city that no-one had recommended.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Milford Sound

Very little sleep meant I struggled to get up in time to catch the bus, just about made it and then slept solidly for 2 hours to Te Anau. After that I had to stay awake for a drive through mountains that even for New Zealand were spectacularly scenic. The best part of the drive was coming out of a tunnel in to the valley of a thousand waterfalls. There were only two decidedly modest waterfalls because it had not rained for days but the scale of the valley was still impressive.

At Milford sound we took a boat cruise and I generally stood on the top deck with my jaw dropped feeling like I was on another planet.






I stayed the night in Milford sound because it is a 5 hour drive and but it wasn't necessary because there is nothing to do unless you know where the secret paths are (I didn't until the next day when it was time to leave). There were only three of us from the bus who were staying, one of whom was Mike/Will who had irritated me in the past but new tolerant Glyn was nice and made the most of it - mainly by separating from him on a short walk to read a book accompanied by a short fat bird who had forgotten how to fly.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Losing my hitch-hiking virginity

With a spare day when I couldn't get on the bus to Milford sound I took it upon myself to do something I have never done before: Hitch-hiking.

New Zealand has a reputation for being the best country in the world to do it and it felt like an opportunity to meet some 'real' people rather than the English who swarmed around the bars of Queenstown. Arrowtown was my destination, an old gold mining town less than an hour away. The reason I wanted to go there was because I had read about a place called Macetown, a ghost town since the gold had run out, 15km from Arrowtown and only accessible by 4x4, walking or mountain bike.

I was very nervous walking along the road and nearly found several excuses to turn around before I'd even got to the junction to Arrowtown. At the junction I assumed there would be plenty of traffic. There wasn't but to those vehicles that came past I tentatively put up my thumb and did my best to look non-murderer like. It quickly dawned on me that hitch-hiking probably isn't my sport because I am an impatient git and after 15 minutes I was about ready to give up and go to the pub when a man pulled over. I don't know why he pulled over because all he said was that he couldn't give me a lift as he was turning off at the next junction but I suppose it was nice that he offered me an explanation for driving past. Other cars made apologetic gestures about their car being full or perhaps me looking a bit too murderer like. But soon a man did stop and I had my first ever ride.

My lift was a generous local man called Mike who took me all the way to Arrowtown and on the way we discussed Macetown. Mike takes his family up to Macetown a couple of times a year to camp and pan for gold in the river, he suggested it was too late to try walking up and back before dark. The best way, he said, would be to cycle up and to my amazement he said I could borrow his.

I like travelling.

Mike drove me out of his way in to town and showed me where the trail starts, about one and a half hours to Macetown then took me back to his house to get his bike and helmet. I thanked Mike several times still taken aback by his generosity then set off on another adventure.

What Mike neglected to tell me was that the ride was a very steep climb and involved 15 river crossings with water up to my waist. I loved it. Trying to ride a bike under water is not easy and after pedalling full speed in to each crossing I tended to get dismounted by a large rock in the river and then push the bike to the other side.

One and a half hours my arse, it took nearer two and a half and most of that I had to push the bike because of the ridiculously steep slopes. Getting to Macetown was worth it, a great little isolated spot full of families camping, panning for gold and enjoying the great outdoors; there were even kids orienteering! The ruins of the town were fairly ruined but two buildings had been restored to show how they were 100 years ago and I cycled around reading the information boards for half an hour.




The ride back down was much more fun and I nearly came off head first a few times when I got carried away with the speed over the rocky ground. It only took one hour to get back to Arrowtown where I bought Mike some wine and chocolates to say thank you. Shark and chips for dinner then back out to the road with a much more confident thumb in the air. I got part way out of town thanks to a middle aged woman and her daughter, unfortunately there were already 2 girls hitch-hiking in the same spot. I jokingly stood in front of them with my thumb up and then walked along to them. They didn't look amused so I apologised, walked past them and sat down hoping they wouldn't be waiting long.

They were gone after 5 minutes and 15 minutes later I got picked up by a man called Gavin. At first I dismissed Gavin as thick. I may have been right but he was also very generous and took me to his house outside town to wait for his friend to give us both a lift the rest of the way. He gave me two cans of bourbon and coke while I waited and in town I got changed and joined him to try and buy him the beers back. He was having none of it though and so I was forced to stay drinking the evening away.

I can't get over how kind the Kiwi people are, free lifts, borrow a bike and Gavin even said he would take me out sailing if I was around the next weekend. Definitely thumbs up for hitch hiking.

Better buzz than a skydive

24/2/10 - Weather crap so did very little. Bought a book, read some of the book, went on the internet, did my laundry.

I did get a message which made me glad to be a teacher though and left me buzzing for days. I'll just copy and paste the message from a year 11 student who I used to clash with in every lesson when I first taught him.

Hello sir, just to say i hope everything in life goes well for you including your travelling. i just wanted to say that the last few months in school i got to realise how much of a decent teacher you are. It might not mean much coming from a 15 year old but i have so much respect for you and thankyou for helping me through the exams staying back after school with me. You've made me realise life is not just about getting a job, it's about doing something you've always wanted to do. I have such a different take on life now... Thanks Sir! oh and if i do bump in to you, of course you can bum a tenner :)

It took 2 and a half years to get a proper thank you but it sure was worth it.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

3 day hike on the Greenstone and Caples tracks

Spent a day preparing for my hike and deliberating over whether I needed proper walking shoes or a new pair of trousers. At some stage in my travels I have managed to lose one of the legs of my zip off trousers, no idea how but it's definitely gone. I walked out to Frankton to shop in the warehouse discount shop where I bought a head torch and some comfy socks. On the way back a cyclist overtaking me said 'how ya going? Get all the honey?'. I think this was a reference to the fact that I had been picking my nose until I heard the bike coming. In the evening I said goodbye to my best friends from the trip - Pete, Shauna and Tyler, quite possibly forever.

The Greenstone and Caples tracks form a circular walk that is usually done over 4 days and 3 nights. For some reason I decided that I could do it in 2 nights and the only way to do this is to combine the two longest sections of the track which gives an estimated time of between 10 and 14 hours. Considering I have never done any walks over one day this was not a well thought through plan. I only had trainers, my backpack is off the 80s, I had no cooking equipment and I was going alone so if anything went wrong I was up a well known creek. I did have Herman though and his relaxed attitude put me at ease.

On the first day the bus took us out of Queenstown and then 5 minutes later back in to Queenstown because the driver had forgotten to close the luggage door and at some stage a bag had fallen out. It took about 20 minutes to trace the bag to the police station and then we set off again to Glenorchy. From there myself and an American couple got a water taxi out to the start of the track. We were the only 3 starting the track that day which I thought was brilliant, a well known and popular route that once I'd run off and ditched the yanks I would have to myself like the greedy git that I am. I started off walking with the Americans and to my surprise I liked them very much. I was concerned that they had done lots of walking in New Zealand already and were planning to take 4 or 5 nights to do the walk whilst idiot novice boy was trying it in two. I was less concerned after a few minutes when it became clear that they were painfully slow. We got talking about sticks and they said they had lost two good ones when they were kayaking. I told them how sorry I was and how strange it is that I was already quite attached to my stick. The girl agreed and she had even started putting carvings in hers. Herman did not look impressed at this but I liked the idea of giving him a tattoo against his will.

It was time to walk at my own pace so I said farewell to the American couple and wished them well in their upcoming wedding (2 months away, they may not make it if they carried on walking so slowly). The track was easy going and I was blissfully alone in the river valleys and forests miles from civilisation. It took about 4 hours to get to my first nights accomodation a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut with matresses, stream water and a long drop toilet the only facilities. In New Zealand there are over 1000 of these huts on walking tracks in the middle of nowhere just for trampers (walkers) and they're usually cheap on the back country tracks - $15 for this one. There were 6 of us in the hut, 2 Israelis who did not know each other, 1 Aussie, 1 Kiwi and his Malaysian partner. It was nice not having any Brits around but I didn't talk much as I was tired so I foolishly got an hours sleep before dinner of Lembas bread, muesli bars, crisps and jelly babies. Because of the power nap I couldn't sleep come night time and unfortunately I was beneath the young Israeli who decided he needed a Tommy tank. I was tempted to say something but then remembered I was trying to be more tolerant and I was a teenager not too long ago so I put my headphones in and eventually dozed off at 3am.

Knowing my second day would be long I left at 8am, the first part of the walk was hard, all over tree roots and rocks up 1000m hill, fun at first but tiring after 3 hours of the same terrain. Once over the hill it was pretty easy going just a very lanky trek. At 6pm Herman and I made it, sweating, smelly and exhausted, to the Greenstone hut. There were 12 people there who had started half way along my days walk. They looked confused as to where I had come from and thought I was a bit daft going so far in one day especially only in trainers. I had enjoyed myself though and was glad to once again be the only Brit, except for a German called Brit but that doesn't count. I had a good chat with two more Israelis who again did not travel together. Apparently it's because they've all been conscripted in to the army that they walk up lots of hills on their own. I was last to leave the hut the next morning, feeling fresh and smelling anything but. I overtook the other 12 one by one mainly due to me not carrying as much as the others - unimportant stuff like first aid kits, cooking utensils, enough food or warm clothing. Compared to everyone else on the track who had been out for up to 6 nights I had not really been roughing it but I was still excited about hot greasy food and what Ali would call a massive shower.

I do like a hike.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Couple of days in Queenstown

Day 5 Queenstown
Went round the town talking to bar managers blagging some drinks deals then organised an evening of pub golf, 7 people paid me a couple of dollars for the privilege. None of them turned up but me and 5 good friends (Pete, Shauna, Tyler, Roxy and Gemma) who I didn't charge had an awesome night looking like pillocks doing a different drinking style in each bar. E.g. drink from the other side of the glass, get your partner to do the pouring, hands behind your back etc.

Day 6 Queenstown
Took Herman for a walk up Queenstown hill then fell asleep in a secluded grassy patch managing to get part of my eye sunburned so it looked like I had been punched. On the way back down a guy with a rubbish little stick jokingly said 'swap?'. Without thinking I angrily grunted back 'NO' getting a puzzled reaction from the guy and making me embarrassed that I had become so protective over an inanimate object.

Made a proper meal of Thai red curry. Reading the side of the packet on the curry paste it said for a milder flavour use half the packet. I did this and when I first tasted the dish it dawned on me that the packet is for 4 people it was stupidly hot. I spent an hour and a half attempting to eat the curry, sweating and blowing my nose before giving up only half way through the portion.

After dinner I got chatting to a Swiss paraglider, a Scot and a German but we couldn't have a conversation because in the next room was a fat, loud American in a Hawaiian shirt who shouted everything he said and wouldn't let anyone get a word in edge ways. He would say 'Here's the thing, here's the thing, here's the thing' starting at shouthing volume and gradually getting louder so that you had no choice but to listen. After a while I had had enough so I shouted back in an American accent 'Here's the thing, here's the thing, I'm American and I need to be the centre of attention so I shout so loud no-one else can have a conversation'. At this point I realised that I needed to leave before I confronted him, he didn't notice me leave and he had started another story that was bollocks something along the lines of 'If you pee when it's freezing and you don't shake it off the pee freezes all the way back up to your penis'.

It was quite lucky that I did go to bed without confrontation because the next morning I woke up and in the bed next to mine was the fat American and he was oblivious to who I was.

Lesson learned: Stop being an intolerant gobby prick.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

20/2/10 - Best zoo ever


Walked to Frankton, a small town two hours walk from Queenstown. Saw a sign saying Zoological Gardens so I followed it down a path to the gardens and they were brilliant. At first I thought it was a piss take calling it zoological gardens, I have seen more exotic animals in an average pet shop. What made the 'zoo' worth visiting was the owner of the house, a wonderful old man called Ivan.

Ivan obviously didn't get many visitors because when he saw me he assumed I was lost and pointed me back towards the walking track. I told him I'd like to look around the gardens and he said it would cost $15 then started driving away on his mobility scooter. I caught up with him and said that was fine and although he looked at me like I was simple for wanting to look at some pigeons and rabbits for $15 he began to take me on a tour. Ivan had a stroke last year and so was quite unsteady when out of his scooter but he still got in to each cage to show me the baby budgies, pigs and pheasants and told me the story of how he came to have each of them. He had worked for the SPCA and slowly collected animals that were stuck there in small cages or due to be put down. I spent a great hour with a great old man and gave him $20 for the privilege as I could see it all went to the animals.

Up a hill down a beer

Up at 8am and off for a walk around the lake then back to town to walk up the path beneath a gondola. Towards the top of the hill the path split in two so I chose the path that had some long walks and aimed for Ben Lomond (1700m) a three hour round trip. Or so I wrongly assumed, it was three hours to the top then the same path back down. The scenery and views over Lake Wakatipu (pronounced Wackaty-poo) were stunning as is pretty much everywhere in New Zealand so far.

The path was quite steep in places so I looked for a stick and found a suitable looking chap covered in mouldy bark. I peeled off the bark at the end I would be using as a handle and it revealed a lovely piece of sturdy pine. After a couple of hours of walking up hill I realised how good my stick was and I named him Herman, something I realised was probably the first mistake on the way to madness that Tom Hanks had made in Castaway.

I pretended I was Frodo Baggins and when I looked down at my trainers I saw big hairy hobbit feet instead. When there were no other walkers around I twirled Herman around and fought off the fighting Uruk-hai and orcs who were running down the hill to stop me.

There were quite a few moments along the walk that turned my legs to jelly with near vertical drops to the side of a tiny path but I persevered and was rewarded at the top by a cloudless 360 degree view over the lake and town to the west and the southern alps and remarkables mountain ranges to the east. At the top there were 4 people and I chatted to a lovely Australian couple. The woman complemented my stick and I thanked her. Herman looked smug. On the way back down when the path was wide enough I broke in to a run and it took half as long as going up. At the top of the gondola hill I stopped for a drink and was joined again by the Australian couple .
'Are you going to keep your stick?' the woman asked.
'I might do' I lied, I'd already told Herman we'd go on another adventure tomorrow.
'You should it's a good stick, you looked like Frodo baggins running don the hill with your hood up on your jacket'. Both Herman and I looked pleased.

Back in the town and through the hostel lobby I felt a little self conscious carrying a stick but I was high on my days achievement and ready for a celebratory beverage. In my dorm room a well spoken young lad named Will said with a sense of awe 'Did you find that stick?' Before I could answer another lad said 'What the fuck else did he do, grow it?'
'No it's just you can buy sticks like that they cost loads'
If Herman had a head it was getting a bit too big now so I brought him back down to earth 'Yeah I found it, there's hundreds like him lying in the forest quite easy really'. Everyone agreed that Herman was a good stick and I nearly got carried away stopping short of introducing him as Herman.

In the evening I went on a crap pub crawl that I left after a few crap free drinks and went in search of people I recognised and found Shauna, Pete and Tyler in World bar where they serve cocktails in teapots. I also got chatting to the German girl I had been round puzzling world with and ended up sat outside by the lake looking at the stars.
'It's incredible how many stars we can see' I said.
'I want to be up there' she replied
'What do you mean, you want to be an astronaut?'
'I want to be dead'
'Oh thanks, am I that bad company' I blurted out before the magnitude of what she'd just said had hit me. Thankfully she ignored my horrible comment and continued 'It would be so peaceful and perfect'. We chatted for a little longer and she explained that she suffered from depression which I found hard to comprehend especially in a place as beautiful as New Zealand but from the little I do understand it is an illness and it doesn't matter what anyone says or does it is only the sufferer who knows what it feels like. We chatted for a while longer until it got too cold to be outside in shorts and we said our goodnights.

It sounds strange but I was glad to know a bit more about the German girl as opposed to the generic where are you from and how long are you travelling for conversations that have made up the majority of my interactions while travelling. I hope she recovers but I guess I'll never know.

Puzzling World

Leaving Wanaka made me sad because I loved the place but I'd forgotten to change my bus booking so I left and made a promise with myself to go back to Wanaka before leaving the south island. Close by Wanaka the bus stopped at Puzzling World, which was heaven on a stick for geeks like me. The start of the attraction is a maze with 4 corners to find that I went round with a German girl who had studied English and was much better at it than I am. We found all 4 corners of the maze but after 45 minutes had to cheat to get out.

After the maze there are 4 illusion rooms which were so much fun. The first is a collection of 3-D holographic pictures that I kept trying to touch because they looked real. The second room is built on an angle so that the room looks like it is flat and this made everybody giggle and a middle aged woman fall over. Water appeared to flow up hill and pool balls rolled up the table. The third room was an optical illusion making people on one side of the room look tiny and the people on the other side looked like giants. When you exit the room you watch a time delayed video of the room and see yourself being the wrong size which made me and the dutch girl laugh.

It was nice in the evening to see people I recognised and so we had a few games of pool and my first Fergburger. It was a damn good burger.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

'Fishing'

A quiet day enjoying a walk round the lake and not drinking was followed by fishing day. I Bought a box of wine in the morning and sat by Lake Wanaka all day with Pete and Shauna who had arrived the previous day. We failed to even see a fish and I am convinced that the fishing shop is only there as a joke to trick tourists because I'm positive the lake has no fish in it. I managed to lose three lures due to my poor knot tying ability and nearly lost a fourth by casting in to a buoy. I had to swim out to it whilst reeling in the rod which is impossible, it must have looked like I was drowning swimming for a bit then reeling and sinking. Pete managed to snap his rod and Shauna took half an hour of getting the line tangled before she could even make her first cast but we all had a great day and were glad we'd tried some fishing even if we failed miserably.

The evening was a quiet one and Shauna and Pete left after a few. I stayed on and talked to a group of people one of whom was a Dutch guy with a great Dutch accent. He talked about his recent visit to Bangkok and some shows he saw with great enthusiasm saying 'There are three pushies all firing ping pong ballsh and then they get a banana and put it in one pushy and the other girlsh eat it' He spoke with a moronic grin on his face and even though he was a moron he was an entertaining and happy moron so I had a few more beers before I was reminded that I was nackered by falling asleep at the bar.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Time for a walk

Up early and off around Lake Wanaka, I stopped at a beautiful lakeside resort that had a cafe and toilets with individual hand towels for the posh folk who could afford to stay there. I had a coffee then walked up to a track that said Roy's Peak. I hadn't planned to do a big hike but the track kept going so I followed it. The peak is 1600m high and I didn't know what that meant until after an hour of walking up I was told that I was around a third of the way there. I had already used my small bottle of water but luckily the man had spare and refilled my bottle from his bladder (squishy water bag. He didn't wee in my bottle). I walked for another hour in the sweltering heat with a towel wrapped around my head to keep the sun off and once I'd finished my water I decided it was time to admit defeat and turn around. I sat down and took in one hell of a view whilst eating some lembas bread (crackers dipped in peanut butter) then made my way down to the bottom and back round the lake to the cafe to rehydrate and clean myself in the swanky toilets.

Subway for dinner then a relaxing evening pint sat by the lake. I daydreamed that I might find an excuse to talk to the pretty girl sat on her own at another table as I flicked through my photos deleting pictures of views that all looked great but mostly looked like the same picture. Then, because I'm travelling and the sun is shining, the girl sat on her own came over and asked to join me. She was great fun, her name is Kayla and she's from Canada and because we were chatting away I forgot I was planning to do my laundry and we ended up going to 5 different bars, finishing at a Reggae gig being bought drinks by a former drug dealer. This was fine until the scary man pulled out a wad of notes and asked Kayla how much for a night with her! He was harmless and didn't push it so we stayed and danced and had a wicked random night with the entire Dreadlocked population of New Zealand.

Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier then to Wanaka

I didn't enjoy the hike. Seeing the glacier and walking through ice caves and through crevasses was amazing, spending 8 hours with a group of 19 year olds with ADHD was not, I felt like I was at work. Every single second of the hike they were using their ice axes to smash bits of the ice and coat me in icy debris, I told them off a couple of times which made me feel even more irritated and more like I was in teacher mode.

After being irritated I needed a couple of drinks and the only people around that I recognised were a bit boring and one guy called Mike/Will (he answered to both) really got on my nerves by expressing his opinions as facts one of my favourites was 'if you actually want a beer then you ARE an alcoholic'. Tosser. I did want a beer and whether I'm alcoholic or not it wasn't going to be this guy that diagnosed me.

The next morning I was due to leave Franz Josef for Wanaka. I overslept by an hour and so went to reception to enquire about public buses assuming the Kiwi bus had left. Thankfully the driver had also overslept and the bus was sat waiting for me to get on. These happy coincidences seem to happen a lot to travellers.

I fell asleep on the bus and woke up a couple of hours later on an empty bus at a petrol station. The bus was locked and I was briefly concerned until I saw the driver who put two fingers up at me. I think she was telling me she'd be two minutes. Two minutes later she got back on and took us back to where the rest of the bus had been dropped and I had a $12 dollar sandwich that was worth $2.

Arriving in Wanaka I instantly fell in love with the place, it is beautiful and just the right size to have things to do without being crowded. I was booked in for 4 nights and when I went for a short walk around the lake I already wanted to stay longer.

I was surprised and pleased to find that in my dorm room were the three girls I sky dived with and didn't murder in the glow worm forest. I was even more pleased when I joined them at dinner and they offered me their left over vegetables and rice to bolster my dinner of peanut butter on toast with a peanut butter sandwich for pudding. Thank you girls.