Tuesday, March 31, 2009

West Coast Adventures

Our day excursion to Abel Tasman Park was amazing. The weather was perfect....not a cloud in the sky. The first half of the day we kayaked through the bays and ocean inlets...exploring caves and learning about the history of the area. I had never Kayaked before. My German friend, Annette, had never kayaked either so we decided to be a pair. It was so much fun! The water was calm and we glided over the top effortlessly. After lunch, we set off on a hike through the park. The terrain was so interesting because it was a sub-tropic forest right from the beaches edge. There were spruce trees mixed with ferns and palm trees judding out from the cliff edges. Through all of the branches and leaves you could view the sandy white beaches and aqua blue ocean. The vegetation and land formations almost don't make sense in New Zealand....I guess that is why it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We spent a few more days in the quaint town of Nelson and then headed down the West Coast to a small town called Punakaiki. Punakaiki....aka "Pancake Rocks" is named for these unique rock formations created by a layering weather process called Stylobedding. Basically, this limestone rock forms into these thick layers that look like pancakes stacked on each other. It is one of those scientific mysteries as to why the rocks make this formation. During high tide, the sea surges into caverns and thunders against the rocks....and flies up through blowholes. I did not grow up near the ocean and have only seen the Caribbean or calmer seas. This was one of the first times I witnessed the pure strength and force of the monstrous waves. It was humbling....If I were to have fallen into the water I would have died instantly. I could have stood there for hours in awe of mother nature. I took pics and video, but it doesn't give it any justice.

After the pancake rocks, we grabbed our head lamps and headed into a cave. It was open to the public and not that big, but it was fun to go exploring about on our own. If we were on a cave expedition, I would have been fired immediately. I hit the roof of the cave with my backpack, nailed my head against the rocks, and skidded the sides of my body in tight spots. I was covered in mud and clay by the end of it. There weren't too many major cave formations, so I didn't do that much damage thanks goodness! But I don't think I should look for a career in caving anytime soon. From the caves we went on a hike through this lush forest. It went right along this gorgeous, crystal clear river. (Most rivers in NZ you can drink out of). It was an enchanting hike- all the different trees were shades of green and browns. It was so dense and natural aromas filled the air. The temperature was crisp and fresh...I hardly broke a sweat. I was just waiting for a fairy to whiz by my head or a hobbit to pop out of one of the tree holes - It felt magical! By the end of the day we were exhausted. We stayed in a cute forest bungalow which was basically this shelter with 7 beds...it was very outdoorsy and rustic.

The next day we headed down the coast to Fox Glacier. New Zealand is unique in that is has glaciers only feet from sub-tropic & tropical rain forests....and only a few miles from the beach. The only other place in the world where it has similar terrain is Patagonia in South America. I had never been up close and personal to a glacier before. I decided, being a Texas girl and all, that not only was I going to tour the glacier, but I was going to sign up for ice-climbing class. I am not sure the next time I will see a glacier so I was going to live up the moment. This was another one of my grand ideas that sounded super fun and exciting, but I didn't really think everything through...like the whole part where you "ice-climb" a freaking glacier!!!! It ended up being one of the most challenging days of my trip so far.

Our group consisted of 4 guys and another German girl named Franci (tons and tons of Germans backpack through NZ!) Everyone had either ice-climbed or rock-climbed previously....and then there was little ol' me. Besides not ever being on a glacier before, I had never done any sport climbing. In fact, I totally sucked at the action of climbing itself. When we were teenagers, I was always the last one to climb over the fence when running from the Williamson County cops at high school parties. It was just a skill I never fully developed. We packed up our ice-climbing gear, which consisted of ice boots, crampons (the spiky things for your shoes), harness, axes, anchors, ropes, gloves, and helmet. We hiked over an hour up the glacier which was exhausting in itself. The glacier was intimidating and beautiful all at the same time. Another humbling moment where you realize how awesome mother nature really is. Our guides, Chris & Malcolm, taught us the basics of climbing on very small ice walls and we all seemed to get the general hang of things. They set us up for a first climb on a high wall, but it wasn't very steep. I followed the guides instructions...tap one ax in....tap the other ax in...then place each foot into the wall and move up and repeat. I made it all the way to the top and it was awesome! However, my guide warned me that I was using my arms too much and needed to put more weight into my legs. But I felt like I was going to fall if I did that. Even though we were connected to a harness, it was a weird feeling to trust your body while climbing....this is a very common reaction to new climbers. After lunch, they set us up on a much higher and steeper wall. Certain parts of the wall had an overhang that you needed to climb up, which meant climbing past a 90 degree angle. By this time most everyone seemed to have the hang of things, but I was still nervous and knew that I was the weakest link. When I saw the new wall I was like..."what the F....I thought this was a "beginners" course PEOPLE!!!!" I think my partner was a bit nervous too because he told me that I was climbing first. I got all set up and tied into the harness and was like "oh well....all I can do is try my best." It took a lot longer to get my positioning and start up the climb. I could feel my body starting to get a little weak. Sometimes my leg would or ax would slip out, but as long as I had at least 3 points in the ice I could catch myself. Then I got to the overhang. I was already tired and was trying to use all my strength to put the ax in over the hang so that I could climb over the hard part....once again, however, I was not putting the weight into my legs. I got into this horribly awkward position where I couldn't see a good option for me to move upward and I was about 30 ft. off the ground and in between a big crevasse. My arm muscles began to burn and shake and they were not going to last much longer. WHY COULD I NOT PUT THE WEIGHT INTO MY LEGS!!!!!!!!! I didn't think I had good foot placement and my hands were freezing...the frustration overwhelmed me. Malcolm was yelling at me where I needed to go and trying to get me placed better to where I could save energy. I tried one more time to change positions, but I felt my body give out and there was nothing I could do....my feet slipped and I just let go of the axes. Before I knew it, I crashed into the wall behind me, dropped about 5 ft and then was hanging in the middle of this crevasse with everyone staring at me. "See, I told you that you would not fall," exclaimed Malcolm. ( I was beginning to not like Malcolm at this particular moment in time) "Technicality beats out muscle in climbing and your muscles are shredded. You need to trust your legs more." I was both physically & mentally exhausted. What the hell was I thinking doing ice-climbing on a glacier??? The part that sucked the most was that my right ax was stuck in the snow 5 ft. up. Malcolm told me that I needed to get it and that he wasn't letting me down until I climbed to the top. I gave him a look that must have frightened him because he then said he would pull my rope tight to help me above the tough area, but after that I was on my own. He was one of those tough love, no compassion type of people....but otherwise really nice. After he helped me above the lip, I grabbed my ax and got into placement. I caught my breath and sorted out my thoughts...little by little I made it to the top. Even though I had a little bit of help, I was proud of myself. My body was exhausted though...it was a long 9 hour day! After it was all said and done and I was lying in my bed re-thinking the day, I was able to put together all the technicalities he was trying to explain to me. Once you trust your body and footing, ice climbing can be a very exhilarating sport. I would like to try it again someday ad climb to the top with no help at all!

The next day I just wanted to relax. My entire body was sore and I couldn't imagine doing anything strenuous. Alan, Franci, and this other dude Kevin, and I went out to the beach to watch the sunset. We walked on the beach where the Tasman ocean was on one side and the mountains and glaciers were on the other side. Where else in the world could you have this view, I wondered??? I sat on a washed up log with my feet in the sand and watched the sun sizzle into the ocean. The adventures and experiences of the past week were running through my mind....I wondered, as the sun was swallowed up by the ocean - who on earth was seeing the first glimpses of sunrise? Was someone sitting on a beach on the other side of the world wondering the same thing as me?

My computer is giving me trouble...I hope to have all of these pics posted in the next day or 2.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The South Island

Wellington, the capitol of NZ, was a very lovely town. I think it is similar to Austin in that it is a university town and has a fun young vibe. However, the terrain is much different then back home. I met my friend, Alan (who I previously met in Ecuador). He was couchsurfing and his host invited me to stay at his place as well. Couchsurfing is a world wide program in which people host travelers and show them their city. It is free and you meet a lot of cool people. Our host was Ryan. He was born in Oregon, but has lived in Wellington the past 3 years and was working on his citizenship. He took us to a local movie quiz night at the cinema, happy hours, cafes....we hung out with his friends. It was fun to chill in Wellington with a local. At happy hour one night, I had a chat with these lovely guys and after a little while they gave me these 2 free tickets to a rugby match that night. I had been dying to see a professional sports match (cricket or rugby) so I was super excited. Alan and I went to the game...ate chips (fries) and drank the local beer. It was much like a typical sporting event in the states. Cheerleaders, the crowd going wild and yelling at the refs, obnoxious music. Not to mention, rugby players are CRAZY! A lot of them got hurt and limped off the field....very dangerous, but really exciting to watch.
After a few days in Wellington, we decided to ferry across to the South Island. On the ferry, I met this Kiwi couple who were in their mid-40s. They were born and raised in Auckland and had just sold everything they owned, quit their jobs, and bought a camper van. They decided they needed a change in life and realized that they had never properly traveled through their own country. So, the plan was to camp around the South Island for a year and figure out where they wanted to settle next. I thought it was a brilliant idea! I myself have hardly traveled the USA...how fun would it be to road trip through America for a year??? Hmmm...maybe my next trip :) Anyways, the sparkle of adventure in their eyes was so endearing to see. I meet many people my age who are backpacking and trying to figure out who they are in life and where they want to go. This couple was different then the usual traveler I came across....just because you are married and older and settled...doesn't mean you can't still have a little bit of adventure. They were the first of a few unique travelers that I came across the next few days of my journey.
We arrived to Picton, which is the port town where the ferries come in (population 4000). The town is the gateway to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. We did a day hike through the sounds which was magnificent. While hiking I met this older woman....she appeared to be in her 60s. She was from Australia and owned a goat cheese farm. For her holiday, she came over to NZ for 3 months...living out of her car, bathing in the streams, hiking every chance she could get, and stopping in a pub here and there. Pretty much, she was the coolest woman I have ever met. She was all alone and seemed to be enjoying every minute of it. We had a good chat about travels and she loved to talk about Obama. She said her and Obama spent the evenings together (she read his books before she went to sleep at nigh). She was a character...and once again, I was enjoying listening to her stories about travel and life. She invited us to work on her cheese farm for a bit if I travel through her town in Australia....free room and board...just work a few hours a day making cheese! That actually sounds like fun :)
New Zealand is clearly one of the prettiest countries in the world. It has lush mountains, valleys, ocean, beaches, glaciers, rivers, lakes, and much more. They are very conscious about the environment and put a lot of money into preserving the parks and wildlife. The country is roughly the size of Colorado with a population of about 4 million (which is not a lot!!!). This means that outside of the main city centers there is tons of land with no people. Before Lord of the Rings, it was not that big on the backpackers circuit, but over the past few years it has grown in popularity. If you like adventure and the outdoors....then this is the place for you. Besides its scenic beauty, everyone speaks English, it is very well developed, you can drink the water, transportation is pristine, and the accommodations are well above average. Because of all of this, it isn't the cheapest country to travel through.....much more expensive then South America. Travel is easy...in fact, I think it is almost too easy. There is not the spontaneity or unpredictability that I came across in South America and other under-developed countries. Although it is very nice and my travels are going well....I felt like I was missing something. So, to help spice things up during my travels here in NZ, I have decided to try hitch-hiking as a means of transport. I kept going back and forth about how to get around (rent/buy car, backpacker bus, fly) and I came to the conclusion that hitching was the best option for me. It was cheap, you met cool people, I could still see cool things, and it is one of the safest countries in the world to do it. Plus, it would give me that unpredictability that I have been longing for :) How long will it take for me to get a ride....will I get a ride at all? And if I didn't get a ride, well then....I would just hop on the next bus out of town.
Our next destination was Nelson which was about 120k from Picton. I was determined to hitch the entire way there. The hostel owner showed us a good spot in town to pick up a ride (because it is a very common form of transport here) and we were off. I had no idea what to expect from hitch-hiking so I just did what I saw in the movies....threw my bags on the curb and held out my thumb. I was laughing hysterically to myself because never did I think that I would hitch a ride like this. Alan and I were holding our thumbs and grinning from ear to ear. About 10 minutes went by and no one stopped....another 10 minutes and nothing. Hmmmm maybe we looked too excited about this. Perhaps we needed to look more helpless....and distressed.."please please...pick us up, we have no car.....no home....we are dying of hunger." Alan was getting a little bit antsy because he had a pre-paid bus pass, but I told him that I was hitching to Nelson...no matter how long it took. Once I get something it my head, I am going to do it dammit!!! I was determined. A few minutes later, a van pulled over with an older fella and he said he could take us about 20k to Springcreek. So we grabbed our bags and hopped in. We both looked at each other with the biggest smiles on our face....we had officially picked up a ride and we were true renegades....hitching the South Island. I was so excited the whole time....if only the driver knew it was our first hitch experience. Ray was a nice fella...he had 2 kids that lived in the states so he traveled there quite often. He loved the states and was talking about some of his travels there (it was refreshing to hear someone say some good things about the States for once.) Him and his wife recently moved to the South Island...they bought and ran a local hotel in Springcreek and liked their new life now that the kids had grown up. It was a fantastic first hitch experience- in fact, too bad this is totally dangerous in the States because I think it is a fantastic way to get somewhere while meeting cool people. Plus, the unpredictability of it all was just way too exciting for me. Ray dropped us off at a good spot for getting rides and said we would probably be picked up within the hour. After about 30 minutes though, we didn't have any takers. It was really fun seeing people's expressions though. You had the old women who just shook their heads and mouthed something along the lines of "you crazy kids". Then you had a car full of young guys who smiled and motioned that there was no more room in their car. My favorite though, were the young families with kids in the backseats. The husband would look at you and smile as if he could remember the good old days of hitching. You could tell that he wanted to stop and pick us up. He would give you a head nod...."way to go kid...keep it up....you will find a ride soon." We spent the next hour imagining the conversations that were going through the passing cars. Eventually, Alan walked to Ray's motel and made a sign for us to hold that read "Nelson, please!". I held the sign up and Alan stuck his thumb out.... And then shortly after, a station wagon flying down the road passed us, but then slammed on his breaks and slowed down. It was two Swiss travelers heading to Nelson as well. We piled our stuff in and we were on the road again. We arrived to Nelson that afternoon all by hitching rides. We gave the Swiss guy a couple bucks for gas because he was empty, but otherwise, it was all free!!! IT WAS AWESOME!!!! I will definitely give it another whirl while traveling on the South Island.
Nelson is an awesome town....they love the arts and have beautiful scenic treks and parks throughout the city. I am staying in a nice hostel that only has 10 beds. This married couple (Lyn & Robin) converted their downstairs house into a hostel and they are the nicest people ever. Lyn told me if I had a sweet tooth I could walk upstairs and she would dish me some ice cream after dinner. How cute is that??? They make you feel right at home and it is refreshing to stay at a place like that every now and then. Tomorrow, a few of us are going on a day excursion on the Abel Tasman trek. We are going to see a colony of seals, kayak, and hike....it will be an eventful day. I have about 5 more weeks in NZ....who knows where the wind will take me....or where my next ride will end up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Zealand....via Fiji!

I arrived to Nadi, Fiji at 5:35am. I was excited to start my trip again, to see a new place and a new culture. My taxi driver, Anu, was from Indian decent. I really didn't know what to expect from Fiji, but it is comprised of Fijians and Indians and they speak a mixture of both Fijian and Hindu as well as English. I think the Indians came over to the South Pacific Islands as slaves and now they share the land. Anu was explaining to me the history in his broken English.
When I arrived to the small resort that I had booked, I was greeted by 3 Fijian woman. They had the best smiles on their faces that lit up the entire room. They all said "Bula" (which means hello/welcome) and I immediately responded with "Hola, Como Estan?".....they just stared at me like I was crazy. Dangit!!!! My first hour in a new country and I've already played the dumb American card..."I'm in a foreign country, you are not white, you don't speak English, so...I am going to talk to you in Spanish!" Actually, to my defense, "Bula" sounded a lot like "Hola" and since I had been traveling in South America for 4 months I think it was just an innate response. I apologized and tried to explain myself, but that was not the only time during my 1 day in Fiji where I broke out in Spanish....I felt pretty silly.
My room had a fabulous view of the gardens and volcanic mountains and if I leaned over my balcony far enough I could get a glimpse of the ocean. (We are on a budget people....I couldn't afford the ocean front!). I spent the day relaxing, writing, & reading, while working on my tan. Yes Mom....I put sunscreen on. But I did get the "singles burn". You know, that little part of the back that you can't quite reach on your own - well, that got pretty burnt. It was just another sign to reiterate that I was alone at a honeymooners paradise! I was actually having a really good time regardless.
That night I went down to enjoy a nice dinner. I decided to bring a book to read and try to find a table that had a fabulous view of the bay. I was in luck, there was an open table amongst all the honeymooners and families...perfect! I sat down and ordered a white wine, which is really unusual for me because I normally drink red wine. But I was sweating so bad because the humidity was insane. Like literally, sweat rolling down my back and probably showing through my cotton dress. White wine just seemed refreshing at the time. I opened my book and tried not to make any sudden movements so that my body temperature would not rise anymore. "How ya going?" I heard in a thick Australian accent. I looked up to see a man staring in my direction. "Excuse me?" I replied as I really had no idea what he just said to me. "Are you alone?"....was it that obvious, I wondered? My sweaty ass sitting alone reading and drinking wine....."Uh, Yeah...I'm just passing through" as if I needed an excuse to clarify that I was here for only a layover. "Well would you like to join my wife and me for a drink and dinner?"..."Why yes I would!" And that is how I met Deb and Rob. We chatted for a few hours about life, politics, travel, and everything else in between. It was lovely and I am glad that they invited me over. They live in Newcastle, Australia and opened their home to me if I ever pass through.
Fiji was awesome from what I saw. I hope to make it back there someday for more time then just one night.....maybe for my honeymoon someday. Or a fabulous girls trip :)
Onward to NZ...Australia and NZ have pretty strict immigration rules. You need to have proof of onward travel and provide financial stability, etc. I thought I had everything squared away until I went to the check-in desk in Fiji. Apparently, I did not have a visitors visa to Australia and I needed to have that in order to leave Fiji. I had to run around the airport looking for Internet to try and apply so I could make it on my plane in time. Gotta love international travel! Just when you think you have everything under control, something slips through the cracks. ( Like I really ever have everything under control, let's be honest here!)
Auckland was a pretty sweet city. I stayed in the city center and walked EVERYWHERE! They had so many amazing parks and areas to sit and read and people watch. The university was also nearby so I wandered through there to check out the scene. There were so many different ethnicity's throughout the city.....tons of Asians, Indians, and South Pacific Islanders. A lot of them attend Auckland university. Because of this, there is AMAZING food options. They have these places called "Food Courts" where there are about 30 stands of different types of food and you just eat in a no frills cafeteria. There was one next to my hostel and that was the only place I ate at in Auckland. They had choices between Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Turkish, Malaysian, and the list goes on. All meals were about $5 which meant it was one of the cheapest places to eat in the city.....I tried something new every time I went in. When you order they ask if you want the meal spicy or not. The first few meals I chose spicy and it was the perfect amount of spice. I was beginning to get pretty confident in my eating because I could handle the spicy dishes while everyone else was ordering mild. Well, my last meal was not the case. Once again, I ordered spicy, but this time it was like they took every pepper on earth and put it on this dish. I couldn't even eat hardly any of it. My entire face was broken out into a sweat, but I was trying to act cool because the cook kept looking over at me. I think he was playing a joke on me since I had such confidence in the way I said "spicy". I finally asked for a to-go box and acted like I was really full so as to not let him know the spice got to me. My stomach burned for about 2 days after that.
Auckland is called the "City of Sails" because about every 1 in 3 people owns a boat. The city is located between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean...if you go up high enough you can see both bodies of water. I spent a few mornings walking along the coast lines. They have a great hike and bike trail that goes right along the water and through the beaches. I think one of the best ways to explore a city is to jog/walk through it... In the afternoons I would go to one of the beautiful parks and lay in the grass and read or research my travel books. They have pick-up rugby and cricket games after work so I enjoyed watching those sports and trying to figure out all the rules etc. The rugby guys were nice to look at, and I now have a weird interest in learning how to play cricket. I have decided I will go see some sort of professional sports match before I leave NZ or Australia.
One morning I took a free city bus tour. My guide was a Maori, which are the native people of New Zealand. I actually learned a lot about NZ and the Maori culture on the tour. For instance, the reason why New Zealand is such and adventure sport country is not because everyone here is a crazy bad-ass, but because you cannot sue a company for personal injury in NZ. As long as you sign a waiver and they suited you up correctly....if you get hurt there is nothing you can do about it. It was something the government put into effect to help with the tourism.
When my tour guide introduced himself in the Maori language, he said his name, the mountain he was born on, and the river that ran through it. That is how they introduce themselves because they believe they are one with the land they grew up on. Also, Maoris are known for their intricate tattoos. They used to cover their bodies with tattoos including their faces. Now-a-days they don't put them on their face as much because they cannot get work and there is a bad stigma to it from a gang that broke out in the 80s. However, most of them still get tattoos on their arms and legs. Each line and stroke of the tattoo is significant to their life. Much like the way they introduce themselves, the tattoos usually include the mountain, river, the boat that their ancestors came over on, their tribe name, names of their mother & father, and any special skills they have. We visited several grounds through Auckland that were owned by Maori tribes. At this time the areas are still open to public, which is pretty neat considering the rough history between the settlers and the natives.
During the tour, we also went to the Harbor Bridge where we watched people bungee jump. Everyone was trying to tempt each other to jump....I sure as hell wasn't going to jump though. Now that I knew about the personal injury law, my view of adventure sports in NZ had changed a bit.
We also went to Mt Eden, which is a volcano with a huge crater. In fact, Auckland sits on top of about 50 volcanoes....so basically it is a ticking time bomb! About 60 years ago scientists predicted that there would be a new island to form in the next 100 years. They still believe this, which means that sometime soon there is gonna be one crazy fire in the sky when the island comes up next to NZ.
After Auckland, I headed north to a town called Whangarei. I heard there were these awesome caves you could explore for FREE! When the "F" word is involved....I come a running. When I arrived to the town I soon realized that the caves were a pretty far distance away and you could only get there by car. This was the first kink of my travels. I had heard that renting a car was the way to travel, but I didn't want to rent one alone. There are also these backpacker buses you can ride, but you are still limited to what you can see. I needed to figure something out soon though...there were tons of places to see and I wouldn't be able to get to them all by the city bus.
Instead of the caves, I ended up doing this 10 mile hike to these awesome waterfalls. The scenery was awesome and it was a great workout! I decided that things happen for a reason and it was probably good that I did not go to the caves alone. I probably would have been stabbed in the eye by some stalagmite and lay there for dead until some other idiot backpacker came along.
I met a friend in Ecuador who happens to be in NZ now as well. I decided to go meet up with him and we would look into renting a car. He is Alaskan and LOVES the outdoors so I think we will have fun hiking and camping together. So, I am now heading to South Island. There are a few places I wanted to check out on North Island, but it isn't worth the time and expense of getting there at this point. Plus, there are TONS of amazing things to see on South Island ...including a lot of ski resorts :)

The plan is....there is no plan!

After a hectic day of packing and last minute fiascoes, I found myself sitting in the Austin Bergstrom Airport catching my breath and gathering my thoughts. Here I was, about to start stage 2 of my Round the World trip....a moment that seemed to be in the distant future. Crazy how time passes so quickly.
It was the first time in the past month that I had time to center myself, re-group, and get back into "traveler" mode. After a crazy 4 month roller coaster ride through South America, I came back to the USA to visit with family & friends and chill-out for a bit. Visiting family and friends I did do....the chill-out part...well, not so much.
It was definitely a culture shock coming back to the states. First of all, it was pretty ridiculous to come home to all of this stuff (clothes, hair products, blow dryer, lotions, perfumes, makeup, shoes, etc) that I had packed away before I left. And to think....I lived out of a backpack for 4 months with none of it. It's amazing how little you really need to live.
Besides the over excess of crap that I was now keenly aware of, culture shock numero dos was the constant rat race, planning, scheduling, hustle & bustle world that we call America. America...the world super-power! Capitalism at its best....urrrr...so we think? It turns out that I came home to one of the worst recessions in our country's history. Every news show, magazine cover, radio channel discussed how bad of shape we were in.....and for good reason. Things are not looking good and my country has a rough road ahead of it. It was in every ones face no matter where you turned. In a country where people love their "stuff", it seemed that people just stopped buying things. What will the future hold for our economy??? No one really knows. We have a new President with a lot on his plate....only time will tell.
From a traveler's standpoint, the US dollar is stronger abroad because everyone's economy has collapsed as well. People outside of the States LOVE Obama and have high hopes for him....so that meant a better image for me as an American...an image that has been negative the last few times I have traveled. Those things, combined with lower gas prices, has made this one of the best times to travel in the past 20 years. However, I must say, there is an underlying pain in my gut questioning whether I should have quit a well paying job....and if I will be able to find work when my travels are over. But who wants to be a Debbie Downer? I'm jobless in the worst economical situation....traveling the world. That is just how it is. No regrets....no looking back. I am just going to enjoy this time in my life.
Even with the recession in full swing, it didn't take long for the rat race to surround me again. With all of my family and friends working hard to make a dollar and keeping up with the Jones's, I soon found my schedule filling up with happy hours, lunch dates, dinners, and quality time to be spent with loved ones. I was balancing friends and family and trying to absorb as much as I could before I had to say goodbye again. Also, trying to plan the next stage of my trip on top of that and I soon felt like I had a full time job of....being home??? It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it was a little overwhelming coming from South America where I hardly had any plans and rarely anyone to check in with.
However, despite coming back to the craziness of America and feeling the culture shock, it was wonderful to see my loved ones and be home again. It actually didn't take long for my South American mentalities to fade away and start to embrace the comforts of America again. Laptops, itunes, queen-sized beds, hot showers, CLEAN showers, tex-mex, queso, mexican martinis.....the list goes on.....it was nice to have the unnecessary necessities again (if that makes any sense at all).
In fact, for a lot of the reasons that my country (government) frustrates me, there are double the reasons why I am fortunate to be an American citizen. I am a well educated, respected single female. I have choices and freedoms that many woman (or men for that matter) can't even imagine in other countries.
If it weren't for the hardships of my parents and my parent's parents, and if it weren't for my hard working ethics and determination that I learned from this capitalistic mind set, then I would not be doing the traveling that I am doing today. I have determined that it is a catch-22. Unfortunately, I had to quit my job and take a huge risk to do this trip, since our workforce doesn't cater to long term travel. But at least I have the choice to do so.
The one month that I was back in the states was really good for me. It went by too fast. My friends claim that nothing has changed since I have been gone, but I see many changes. I will miss birthdays, weddings, baptisms, and many more important things that I would love to be a part of. There is a whole world out there to see and I often wonder if I could live abroad the rest of my life. But family is way too important and I can see that I will miss them greatly these next 10 months.
So....here I am ...heading to LAX (my first time in California). I have had so many great experiences in the past 5 months...so many thoughts of the world running through my head. I can't even imagine what the next 10 months have in store for me. What places will I see and what characters will I meet?
I start the next venture heading to New Zealand. I have a layover in Fiji and have decided that I will stay a day there just to check out the island. I will be surrounded by honeymooners and lovers and then there will be little ol' me hanging out on the beach. I figure I will use one day of beach time to relax and get centered before I head in to the wild and crazy world of the "backpacker" lifestyle. Once I get to New Zealand, I am not sure what my itinerary will be....the plan is....there is no plan. Here we go again!