Up and down New Zealand

I am on day one of a trip undetermined. It has been a really long time since I have written. Infact, I think I last posted in New Zealand. Well, here is the Coles notes version of what I have been up to.

I spent six weeks in New Zealand which was up until recently my favorite place in the world. It is now tied but more on that later. I wandered around the North and South Island, made some friends and learned that not all Kiwis are created equal. After a bit of a run in with an unsavory character, I managed to glide through the rest of my time unscathed.

After Nelson I revisited Golden Bay where I attempted to work at Shambhala, a paradise eco-backpackers that I had discovered years ago. I ended up going  to Golden Bay and woofing (Working On Organic Farms) at Shambhala for a few days. It was surreal to go back to this place after so many years and find that it still felt the same to me. A few things were new and improved but my favorrite by far was the meditation center. It was a lovely space on the top o the hill that provided me with endless hours of serene meditation and yoga practice.

After a few days of working, I realized that I would be better off paying the 25 dollars and enjoying my time as a guest rather than  stressing about a work schedule. Once I made that transition, everything started to fall nicely into place. Not only did I begin making some deep connections with the other guests, but I was able to listen to my body rather than a clock. I am finding this of growing importance in maintaining my well being.I ended up celebrating my birthday by indulging on the freshest salmon sashimi that has ever passed my lips (I caught it) then watching the full moon rise over the ocean.

The small group of friends that I gathered were sweet enough to sing enthusiastically to me and envelop me in a group hug when the clock struck midnight. I had  a bit of a freak out the next day when I realized that for the  first time, I felt older. Luckily one of my newfound friends and fellow Goddess quelled my nerves by talking me through it gently. By the end of the crying fit, the motivation for the tears went from fear to relief to gratitude and laughter. I came to terms with my aging and it really only took an hour. I ended up leaving Golden Bay and flying up to Auckland just in time to catch something of a hurricane. At the same time a bunch of whales were beaching themselves down in Golden Bay where I had just left. Strange environmental phenomena.

I got to reunite with Bevan and do some serious hanging out before he delivered me to the Vipassana meditation center where I would spend the next 10 days in silence. It was a lot harder (and  easier) than I thought. Its really hard to explain what happened to me in there. Lets just say that I most definitely learned a few things about myself and laid some serious groundwork for future restructuring of my brain. I admit that by day I had a breakdown but I didn’t leave. I am grateful I stuck it out on day 6 when I thought I’d break because by day 9, I was beginning to grasp what it was I am here to be.

I was able to spend more time with Bevan and his family after I returned from the retreat as well as catch up with some of my new meditation friends. We went to waterfalls, shopping, fishing trips, on ferries to islands, and to a few movies. I left New Zealand with a warm feeling in my heart so glad that I had deepened some bonds I had and forged some new.

Grateful for following through.

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Nelson Saturday Market

This morning I made my way to the Nelson Saturday Market which is apparently one of the best in New Zealand. After making a few short detours through a few stores, I found myself in the middle of hundreds of market goers and oodles of stalls. There were all kinds of foods like fresh organic fruits (strawberries, apricots, and of course kiwis) and vegetables, nut butters, cakes and cookies and every kind of sauce and spread under the sun. The crafts were unique and expensive as well were the clothes though I think they were all of high quality. I had quite a time fawning over the whimsical jewelry and was tempted on more than one occasion to buy a delicate souvenir. Luckily my will power won out and I walked away relatively unscathed with only a pint of blueberries, some veggies and a packet of smoked fish. All things I needed…or so I told myself.

After exploring each and every stall, some of them twice, I made my way into a temporary store that was selling climbing and hiking clothes at a steep discount. I was interested because I am currently in the market for some well made sports clothes which tend to hold up well when backpacking. I ended up with a few shirts and some shorts which I reasoned also, that I needed. The t-shirts were made out of some crazy material which made them feel like a really thin layer of the softest velvet caressing your skin. I bought two.

I went back to the hostel and decided to plant myself down until I figured out my Europe trip. I was on the fence about several choices and was really having trouble making decisions. Finally a solution presented itself in my mind that seemed to fit perfectly! I would book my flight to London then decide the rest when I got there. Ofcourse! That was the answer and I knew it because it felt so right. There are a billion flights from London with cheap airlines and I will see how I feel mid-March when I return from Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Croatia. I am leaning towards Turkey but am not sure it will be warm enough for me. In any case, it was a huge relief to be able to have filled in that missing link. Now I can stop thinking about the future and be fully present.

Although I wasn’t really into it, I decided to accompany the girls from the hostel who were going to a latin dancing club. I reasoned that it would be good for the walk and I could use the exercise after all that chocolate pudding and ice cream the other night. It did turn out to be not my style so I stayed for a few minutes then took my leave. I strolled back home the long way stopping now and then to glance in the dark store windows. That night as I lay my head down to sleep, I was able to watch the stars from the window just above my head. I sighed deeply and sent a silent thank you to the universe for building such a gaze worthy night sky.

Grateful for resolution.

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Laid Back Nelson

Today I changed hostels and then made my way into town to explore. Although I have been here before, I don’t remember. I think we ended up somewhere near the outskirts and really didn’t spend much time in the center. What I had missed! This is an adorable little town with a multitude of hippy shops, clothing stores, book stores and travel agents. I loved the sidewalk fruit vendors selling sweet juicy cherries the size of walnuts. I bought a brown paper bag full for 5 dollars and finished them in two days.

There are a bunch of free festival events going on at the moment including a film festival as well as jazz concerts. I went to listen to some music but none of it really grabbed me. I wandered up and down the sunny streets lined with pots of bright blossoms hanging from the stores awnings. There were lots of tourists but it didn’t really feel too overrun.

When I got back, the English blokes were waiting for me to go to the beach. We had a bit snack then off we went. The tide was out but that didn’t deter us. We plopped ourselves down on the packed wet sand and basked in the sun. We talked about their girl problems and I tried to lend them any insight that I could. I was distracted when a juggling dude on a unicycle sped past us. It was so random and absolutely made my day. Then the wind began to pick up and we decided to leave before we got sandblasted any further.

I had a nice quiet night then climbed up to the top bunk where I was to be sleeping that night. I was pretty much exhausted and don’t really even remember sticking in my ear plugs. My dreams were visable for the first time in a long time and that made me feel happy and settled. Finally things are back on track.

Grateful for brightness.

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Escaping the Bully

I guess I spent most of my time in Mount Cook alone as Billy had more or less said he wanted to spend time alone with Stacy. I guess that was fine with me but I began realizing that I was craving interaction. It would be good to get back into a more friendly social environment.

We left  Mt Cook and drove back to Christchurch where we stayed with Billys family again. I wasn’t feeling well and pretty much went to bed as soon as we got there. The next day I spent some quality time with the kids before Billy woke up. Then it was hurry up and go. I was feeling quite sore from the hike the other day so I hobbled along like an old person vowing that I would give myself a good stretch as soon as possible.

Well, from here, things went from bad to worse. The tension that had been building over the last few days finally reached its pinnacle. I guess things were not working out with Billy and Stacy so he was in a really foul mood. It dawned on me that the grumpiness and attitude I had been absorbing was completely uncalled for. At this point, I stood up for myself and let him know assertively that he couldn’t keep taking things out on me. I thought as long as I was clear, honest and gentle, it would turn out ok. But I was oh so very wrong.

The guy went ballistic and started making up all sorts of crazy stuff and acting all nuts. I was a little worried to say the least. I thought seriously about what he was saying trying to look at things rationally and objectively. When I tallied his accusations, insults and complaints I realized something really wasn’t adding up. His account of reality was not consistent with what I experienced at all. And he seemed to think I (and it seemed all women for that matter) was the devil. He had a hate on for my gender and I was taking the brunt of the thrashing.

That’s when the light finally went on in my head. This guy was not someone I should be in a car alone with in the middle of nowhere. After shedding a few silent tears of terror, I composed myself and made a plan. He was obviously raging as he drove like a maniac almost taking us off the road on several turns. My knuckles were white as I clutched the door handle and I stayed as still as possible so as not to aggravate him any further. After 90 minutes of icy brutal silence as he weaved dangerously fast through the windy mountain roads of Lewis Pass, I saw a small town. I made up an excuse that I had to use the toilet so he would have to stop. I assessed the other cars that were at the service station as covertly as possible. I asked one couple as I passed them if they were going north or south. To my disappointment, they said south. I went in and paid for the gas then headed back out to the car, feeling quite desperate at this point. I  knew I only had seconds to make a move.

The car behind us had a couple surf boards tied to the roof and it only took a fraction of a second to realize that these two blokes would be safe. Surfers are almost always good peaceful kindly types so the chances were high that they would take me. I only had one chance and I had to work fast. I knew the moment that Billy realized what I was doing, he may become volatile. I wasn’t wrong.

I approached the surfer dudes and asked if they were going north…yes. I asked if they would have room for me…of course. I wasn’t sure if they saw the desperation in my eyes or not but I don’t think it would have mattered. They were the helping types. My pulse quickened and I promptly began gathering my stuff out of Billys car. He started yelling at me and to be honest, I don’t even know what he said. I was so focused on just getting the hell out of there.

He got my attention when he began driving away with me half in and half out of the car. The door smacked me and I yelled loud enough that he stopped just long enough for me to grab up my stuff. I was pretty terrified at this point as he was now graduating from mental abuse to physical. It was like something out of a horror movie. The whole thing happened so fast and my adrenaline was racing through my veins. As I clutched my valuables leaving behind whatever I couldn’t carry, I looked him it the eye and muttered loudly “You are just not a nice person at all!” I realized that if that was the worst I could muster, I surely didn’t warrant the caliber of nastiness this guy had bestowed on me.

I scrambled into the other car shaking like a leaf and the two dudes, seemed somewhat concerned. They listened to the quick version as I didn’t want to get into the blood and guts of it all. I was touched that they had began getting out of the car to help me when they saw the car violently lurching away with me half in it. Even complete strangers were willing to step in and protect me. Welcome back to the real world Carmella. These are the type of humans I am used to. I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief and tried as best I could to maintain  some small talk with my new carmates. I think it was probably best as a distraction from the trauma I had just endured. I have to admit, I am somewhat embarrassed about this whole thing and wonder why I allowed this bizarre type of drama into my life. I am a big believer in we create our reality so why I would choose this, perplexes me to no end. But to be perfectly honest, I am just really glad to have it over and behind me.

Now I am safe and sound in Nelson relaxing in a backpacker hostel. I made several friends while I was making tea and they just so happened to be the three blokes who would be my roommates. They were jovial and kind, inviting me out for drinks with them. I had to decline as I feel I have had more than enough excitement for one day.

Though I am trying to avoid sweets, I had to give in when the hostel brought out their nightly offering of chocolate pudding and ice cream. It was freshly made, still hot from the oven. Chocolate oozing out of a moist cake tempered with cold creamy vanilla sweetness. Honestly, all my worries just faded away, spoonful after spoonful.

It was the first real bad experience I have had with traveling that I can remember. A bonafide psycho hell bent on nuttiness. I have to admit, I have been beating myself up over the whole ordeal. Why would I have chosen such an awful travel buddy? Why didn’t I listen to my instincts and split back in Picton? Better yet, why did I even get in the car with the drunk dude in the first place? I must have felt like I needed some chaos or challenge. Oh well. Lesson learned, loud and clear. I will be much more selective with whom I share space with, that is for certain. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous the country is, how wonderful the weather, how exquisite the experience could be; if the company is horrible, then the beauty is wasted.

Grateful for protection.

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Tramping around Mount Cook

When we arrived in the village of Mount Cook, I was pleased that Stacy had arranged for me to stay in a house nearby. I was living with some of her workmates for a couple days which was more or less like living alone as they seemed to work all the time. Two guys though…lets just say I felt a lot of satisfaction from cleaning up their place for them. It was one of those very dramatic before and afters.

Luckily the weather which had been iffy, cleared up quite nicely just in time for a hike. Stacy and I lagged behind all the while Billy was yelling at us to come on. It wasn’t the nicest and I began to get quite agitated. I knew that if I hurried up much more that I would surely hurt myself. I tried to tune out his drill sargent like barking but mostly felt sorry for Stacy, who he was picking on every time she took a few seconds break. I didn’t dare stop as I didn’t want to be a target for his insults.

When we reached Sealy Lakes I decided to let the two go on up to Mueller Hut while I took a break. I soaked up the stunning view and congratulated myself on a job well done. After a while, it started to rain a bit so I began making my way down. At first I was a bit too exuberant hopping from boulder to boulder. I realized after a few minutes that I was tearing up my quadriceps something fierce. At this point, it was too late. I spent the next hour carefully navigating my way down with a pair of trembling legs which were not the least bit stable.

I made it down to the bottom then walked the extra hour on mostly flat ground past the Hermitage to the visitor center. I took a eco-break then sat down to watch a 15 minute informational film about Mount Cook, partially for the movie but mostly to try to get my legs to stop shaking. I was a hurtin’ unit! By the time I got to my flat, I was absolutely spent. I laid down for about an hour then Susie came over to ask if I would like to eat with them. I was grateful to enjoy a yummy homemade dinner she had whipped up then went to the nearby YHA to do some internet. Someone had borrowed Lord of the Ring from the front desk and that was playing in the background as I tapped away on my netbook. The hostel was packed with families and I was quite surprised with the general demographic. There were lots of older couples (60-80 year olds!) traveling together. It was actually really cool to see. Overall, the feeling wasn’t very much a social place though and most people really kept to themselves. This was not the type of place you come to meet people or make friends.

Grateful for endurance.

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Strange Seals on the South Island

The next morning, I woke up feeling a whole lot better and ready to conquer the South Island. After a small breakfast provided by the hostel of scones and cereal, we packed up and headed out. I grabbed a coffee at a local shop and checked my emails. I had some business to take care of back home and worked on Skype.

The day was bright and sunny which was perfect for taking to the coastal road. The air was warm and I remembered the tiny seaside town of Picton just as it was the last time I was here. I like the small town energy here but the transient nature of a ferry/port town keeps things always in flux. It is unique. I would have liked to stay a bit longer but as usual, we were in a hurry. There was a moment where I questioned whether I should continue on with Billy because I was getting some really strange vibes. I went against my better judgement and got back into the car. I guess I was putting more weight on finishing what I had started than listening to my instincts. Bad idea.

Passing Blenheim, I noticed heaps of vineyards, wineries and even olive farms. One after another after another, this is quite the wine region. We got to Kaikoura and found a point on the peninsula where a cheeky seal was posing for photos. I was amused when the big brown mass of fur started huffalumping towards the people. There was no fear at all and the cute whiskery face looked as us with nonchalance, as if he owned the place. Indeed, he did. I got close enough for a photo when he stopped to rest on a wooden footbridge but not without a little bit of a warning bark. As comical and adorable as he was, it was a reminder that he is still a wild animal.

We stopped for a moment in Christchurch before continuing on to Billy’s brothers place. They lived just outside of the city in a suburb and have pigs, sheep, cows and chickens. And kids. The have four of those too. They were all very delightful and roped me into jumping on the trampoline, shooting a sticky target gun and playing Go Fish. It was fun to have so much children attention and I was entertained by the questions they had about all things Canadian. My mood got lighter being around those kids and I started feeling a little less down on myself.

After a scrumptious home cooked dinner, I settled into bed FINALLY getting some decent rest. After a leisurely breakfast with the fam, B and his bro went into Christchurch to pay their Grandpa a visit. They dropped me off in the center where I didn’t waste anytime at all. I explored the Arts Center, the Canterbury Musuem, and wandered all around the downtown streets. It was a lovely summer day and even though it was a holiday, most things were open.

We were able to stop by the Cookie Time factory which just so happened to be on the way home. I was thrilled to be able to get a photo with the red furry cookie monster muncher. I was a bit sad to see how touristy and impersonal the whole operation has become since the last time I was here in 2003. I picked up a big bag of broken cookies for the kids but also disappoint to taste that the quality of the cookie had also gone wayward. I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I have been somewhat fascinated with earthquakes lately so coming to this area was quite educational for me. I got all the dirt from Cara who even pulled out a commutative book of the most recent shake up back in Sept 2010. I was in awe as Andy took me on a little tour of some of the more affected areas, still in shambles. Most of all, I was rapt by their first hand experience which they relayed to me as we nibbled cheese and crackers at the kitchen table.

Billy started getting antsy again so I knew I had better get my butt into the car so we could go again. We drove down and over towards Mount Cook, stopping for some fruit and veg at a local farm. I was happy to have had the chance to grab some fresher than fresh produce before heading into the mountains where everything is much more dear.

We got to take a small break around Lake Tekapo where I took some award winning photos. The thick earthy sagey turquiose waters were crashing waves into the rocky shores. In the background I marveled over the snow capped Mount Cook surrounded by feathery long clouds. It was a sight to behold and it made my heart so happy to have such beauty in my midst. This by far one of my favorite views in the world.

Grateful for magnificence.

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Race to the Inter IS land Ferry

After leaving Taupo, we knew had to motor in order to reach Wellington by the time we should check in for the Interisland ferry. Billy had booked the thing in advance so we could very well miss it or face paying extra fees. There were a few stops that would have been nice to make like roadside fruit (strawberries, blueberries, peaches) vendors but I just stared longingly at them as we sped by. The road was long an windey and there was a point where I must have nodded off, because shortly after I felt the car stop. B said that if his passenger is sleeping, he gets too tired to drive and has to pull over and have a nap too. So after a short rest, I offered to take the wheel once again so we wouldn’t have to speed to much. The weather was starting to get rainy and windy.

I had a feeling that it was a mistake to try and bite off the whole north island the first day but Billy had insisted we hurry as his vacation time was only 10 days. I realized later that he was just very eager to get to Mount Cook where he has a girl waiting for him. Ah the things we do for love! As he didn’t admit this to me straight away, I had no idea what the pressure to hurry hurry hurry was and I was getting rather stressed.

We did get to stop for some Manuka honey which I bought to help my throat which was still quite scratchy. Billy was also sick so I got extra for him hoping we wouldn’t just keep passing the germs around. Apparently this magical honey can heal like no body’s business and it is famous around the world for just that. It even comes in different strengths. It tastes a slight bit more earthy than typical clover honey but I figured I would get used to it for the sake of my health.

We stopped at a supermarket and picked up some foodstuffs to eat on the three hour ferry ride. Considering it would be past 930pm when we arrived in Picton, I figured it would be a better idea to feed enroute. I was happy to find a few salads and some fruits, although they were heavily overpriced and underquality compared to the streetside vendors.

B had just gotten a TomTom which he was trying out for the first time on this trip. The whole day he spent talking back to the lady who we think had an Aussie accent. I don’t know why he didn’t just mute the thing as it was correct only about 70 percent of the time. And it was annoying as heck. More annoying was the fact that he seemed to have entire conversations with the thing fighting with it back and forth. Really? Anyway, when we got to the ferry it announced that we were now entering the Inter-IS-land Ferry terminal. The comic relief almost made up for all the other blunders it jabbered on about. Almost but not quite.

We waited in the long line of hundreds of cars while the family behind us insisted on bouncing a ball around and on top of us repeatedly. They kept saying sorry but never did stop doing it. By the time we were able to board and leave the car, I was on my last legs. We found a bunch of seats near the cinema and some big picture windows then chowed down on some of our grub. I was disappointed to see that there were big metal rings that kept me from laying down over a few seats. B just sprawled out on the ground but I didn’t really want to get that close to the filthy rugs. I couldn’t help but think of all the gross bugs and germs and dirt colonizing inches from my face. No thanks. So I closed my eyes for a couple hours but didn’t get any rest.

Finally we pulled into Picton and promptly checked into a hostel. I mustered up just enough energy gulp down some tea with honey then after a swift shower, I fell into bed. I shoved my ear plugs in and prayed for some good dreams. I realized that I haven’t had a proper sleep in more than 96 hours. And it didn’t come yet. Turns out Billy snores and apparently so did the German lady who was also bunked in the room. :-/ Lucky me.

Grateful for fortitude.

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New Zealand Summary – New Zealand, New Zealand

New Zealand. Three months I spent with you. I remember coming to you in quite a state from Oz but even before we touched down, I had made a new friend. I travelled the Coromandel Peninsula and stayed at cute little Coromandel Town where I hitchhiked for the first time. Kauri groves and basking in the intense sun after getting a shoulder massage from the waterfall on 309. A good intro to NZ gaining plenty of good tips from so many who were just finishing up their stint here.

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Cookie Time and Adventure Pool – Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch was a fun artsy town with lots to do. We went to Science World to play trying out the vertical slide, rock climbing and my favorite, the gyroscope. We picked up our old friend Hiro who is living here and visited the Cookie Time factory. We just had to check out the museum boasting the worlds` largest cookie. You can even buy bags of broken cookies for a discount. I especially liked the Cookie Time mascot who looks like a red cookie monster on drugs. In the Botanical Gardens, there was a whole forest of Camillia trees! K, S and I had fun playing in the autumn leaves. read more

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Home for the Holidays – Akaroa, New Zealand

In Akaroa, the food was gourmet and the owners were almost as sweet as their desserts. Le Bons Bay Backpackers is a small family run hostel in a restored 120 year old homestead. We arrived on a dark and cold windy night. We were a little concerned that we wouldn`t find the place through all these windy roads but we finally made it. Garry kept our food warm for us which we promptly gobbled up before collapsing into bed.

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