Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NZ's Top 10

In a tribute to my last post about New Zealand...I have decided to blog about 10 things that I think are corky, weird, interesting, or badass about the country. It is kind of like David Letterman's top 10 list, but it is Andrea Galant's list of random things about NZ in no particular order. I hope you enjoy. (Since I started writing this blog, I am now in Australia....some of the things below also pertain to Australia, but since I was introduced to them in NZ....that is where I will give credit. Sorry Aussies...I visited the Kiwi's first!)

Where else can you hitch safely in the world....ummmm NO WHERE ELSE!
The crime rate is so low here it is kind of scary. Don't people ever trip out and go 'postal"...well, with only 4 million people living here, gorgeous scenery, and a laid back begin to understand that they have something figured out that most of the world is missing.
The other day (after an unsuccessful attempt at seeing whales in Kaikoura bc the weather was too bad) I ended up getting side tracked and missed my bus to Christchurch. Normally this would not have been a problem, because I would have just gotten the next bus out, but it was my first time in NZ that I had someone picking me up from the station. Of course, the first time I have some sort of accountability and I miss my dang bus. No worries though, I called the girl that was picking me up and sorted it out. Then realized there were no buses out the rest of that day. it ultimate hitchhiking trip looking me in the face. I was alone and I had to get to Christchurch, which was 2 hours away...hitching was my only option. It took about 30 seconds for Niel from the UK to pull over and give me a ride. We had a great chat and I made it to my destination safely. I hope that hitching remains a safe form of transport for many years to come in NZ.

My friend Alan is kind of a linguist...he has studied several languages. He always thinks it is interesting to hear the different words that are used around the world. Below is a list of words that we came up with that are different then what we say in the states.

American-New Zealand
bell pepper-capsicum
thanks - cheers
friend - mate
that's cool - "good on ya"
How are you doing? - How ya going?
"for here or to go" - "dine in or take-away"
sweet potato - kumara
ketchup-tomato sauce
yellow light-amber light (in reference to stop lights)
to have dinner - to have tea
a lot - heaps
intense - full on
calm down - easy on
convenient store - dairy
real - proper
trash - rubbish
salty - savory
granola - muesli
thrift store - opportunity store
awesome - "sweet as..bro!"

The currency is similar to the states except that they do not have pennies. Their smallest currency is a 10 cent coin. Which I think it really awesome because pennies are just a hassle anyways. The only thing that does not make sense is that they still price goods in something may cost $3.99 or you may get some tomatoes for $ then you wonder, how can I pay you 2.32 when I don't have any pennies. Well it's easy, you just round to the nearest 10th. So that would be 2.30 cents. Now, why the hell don't they just price it to $2.30 cents to begin with?

4. Adding an "R" to words that end in "A" ex: Australia=Australi'r or India=Indi'r or Olivia Newton John= Olivi'r Newton John
I think that this takes place in both New Zealand and Australia.....people say these words with such confidence that I haven't got the heart to ask them why??? WHY PUT AN "R" AT THE END OF THE WORD??? Finally, I asked my Aussie friend, Kirsty about the weird phenomenon and she didn't even know what I was talking about. So I started to point it out when she would put the "r" on the end of words. Once she realized the odd pronunciation, she explained that if a word ends in "a", then they will put an "r" at the end of the word only if it is followed by another word because they are lazy and it is easier for them to pronounce it that way with their accent. So, there you go....the official answer by a true Australian!

Among many things, they have gotten the health care figured out pretty good. It is all socialized and from talking to the locals, they think positively about the system. Even if they have to ride in an ambulance, the government asks for a donation instead of demanding payment. When a woman has a baby, they have a program in which they send someone over to help get the new mother started in caring for the child....for a few weeks she has help getting acquainted with her new life. All of this is part of the health care program. Keep in mind, though, the country is small with only 4 million people. On top of that, they don't have a huge military cost. So, with those factors makes it easy to manage social health care without having ridiculous tax costs. Even the Kiwi's agreed that it would probably not be as successful in a larger country such as the States. But still, I am a bit jealous....

Now, I have never seen these in the States before, but they may be in existence. Sorry if this is not unique to this part of the world, but it is where I was introduced to this glorious product.
They have cans of tuna here that are already flavored. For instance, you can get tomato & basil tuna, savory onion tuna, Mexican tuna salad, sweet Thai chili tuna, lemon/pepper tuna, sun dried tomato & olive tuna.....etc. I have been living off of this stuff since I got here. You just buy some crackers and a can and you don't even need any utensils to eat a nice meal. I know that the states have flavored tuna in those pouches, but I have never seen them in the can...AND with this many options. Come on States....get with the program.....flavor the tuna in the cans! If you don't think there is a market for it, then you are wrong. Andrea Galant will keep you in business.

Marmite is a spread made from yeast extracts, a by-product of beer brewing. In researching this product, I now realize that it originated in the UK. However, New Zealand developed a different version of marmite in 1919 so that is the one that I am referring to :)
Nikal, this girl I stayed with in Christchurch, gave me my first taste of this "savory" spread. Remember the word section...savory means salty! Really really SALTY!!!!! You toast some bread, spread some butter on it, and then spread a thin layer of marmite over that. Honestly, I didn't mind it too much. I like salty food so I wasn't repulsed by the taste. I imagine it to be like is an acquired taste. I am sure if I lived in New Zealand long enough I would have began eating it on a regular basis.
Oh who am I kidding....the spread was weird!! I would prefer butter and jam over marmite any day!

8. TRAMPING (hiking)
New Zealand has gotten the tramping thing figured out. They have 100s of trails throughout the country. They spend a lot of money on national park preservation and trail maintenance. If you are a beginner (such as myself), they have plenty of trails that are well marked and easy to get to. If you are an experienced tramper - they have trails for you too. You can do your own navigation and use survival techniques to get through the tramp. Since the country is not densely populated, you can walk days without ever seeing any sign of civilization. I think that New Zealand has some of the best hiking in the world!

This is one of the more "brilliant" ideas I have discovered in New Zealand. One night after a few beers, Alan and I attended a professional rugby match. We waited in line to get some chicken n' chips. The lady handed me the basket of food with these unique looking sauce packets. I stared at the packets inquisitively for a few moments. Then realized that all I had to do was squeeze the packet with one-hand, over my food and out came the sauce. You don't have to tear the packet open or anything. At the exact same time I was pondering this, I heard Alan behind me ask the same questions out loud that went through my head. "These are weird packets...I wonder how you WOOOOOOWWWWW Shit!" I looked back to see that Alan had figured out how they worked as he squirted himself in the face with the sauce. They work really good if you have them aimed towards the food.
I am actually really surprised that the Americans didn't come up with this invention first. It is a way to get the food into your mouth sooner...with less effort. How much lazier can we get! Such a fantastic idea.

So this one I have as number 10 and it is actually the final and the best thing that I have discovered in New Zealand. Yes, I realize that we have sweet Thai chili sauce in can pick it up at any Asian market or the ethnic food isle in the grocery store. But I don't think Americans have realized how amazing this sauce is. Since New Zealand is so close to South East Asia, they have a lot of Asian restaurants and street vendors. They have incorporated some of the Asian foods into every day life, such as Sweet Thai Chili Sauce. I first discovered this sauce when I ordered some "kumara" wedges. I asked for tomato sauce since that is clearly the best thing that goes on wedges. The lady told me that each packet of tomato sauce was .40 cents each, but that the wedges came with sour cream and sweet Thai chili sauce. I thought this was the strangest combination of foods ever, but I decided to try it out. OH MY GOODNESS! The fusion of flavors in my mouth exploded. Salty, sweet, with cold sour cream to combine the amazing! It was much better then boring old ketchup. Since that experience, I started noticing Sweet Thai Chili Sauce everywhere. People put it on everything. I bought a bottle and started spicing up my meals at the hostels....its great on steamed veggies, in soup, on chicken or fish, on can put it on almost anything! The sauce is even an option at Subway...mayo, mustard, or sweet Thai chili? Let me just say...during this cultural journey that I am on right now I am bound to take a few things back home with me. New thoughts, perceptions, ideas, and philosophies......and sweet Thai chili sauce!

I hope you enjoyed my top 10 list of random things from New Zealand. This country was amazing and there are 1000s of wonderful reasons to go and visit the place. The things that I listed above were just a few that I experienced and thought that I should share. Most guide books or professional travelers would tell you about the highest peaks, deepest lakes, or strongest waterfalls, but me, Andrea Galant (amateur travel writer and spiritual learner) wants to take you off the beaten path and give you some real insight into the places that I visit.

On to Australia......
After immigrations during the Swine Flu fiasco (actually it was one of the easiest immigrations ever. I just had to walk through a thermal chamber and they tested to see my body temperature.) I am now in Sydney, Australia and staying with my friend Kirsty. Some of you may have met Kirsty when she lived in Austin a few years ago, but she returned home to Australia and is now married and expecting her first child. She has a wonderful condo near Dee Why Beach and her and her husband, Glen, have been fantastic hosts. They drove me around the city and up to the Blue Mountains. For the next few days I am going to travel to the city on my own and see some of the world famous sites, like the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and Aquarium.
You know that image you get in your head when you picture what a place looks like. Well, my image of Sydney is true... Good looking men, surfers, beaches, street cafes, sunny weather, rolling hills, cliffs, harbours, sailboats, did I mention good looking men? is all true! The image that I had is exactly what this place actually looks like.
Cheers mates....GOOD ON YA!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slow my roll.....

Since you are sitting there reading this blog right now, you can safely assume that I survived the Milford hike. It was my first multi-day hike that I did alone...well, sorta. There were about 40 other people hiking the track on the same days as me and we would all meet at the shelter each night to sleep. So, even though I was hiking hours a day alone, there was some accountability for where I was and people were aware of the other hikers on the track.
Still, it was a really unique experience for me. I carried my own pack, cooked my own food, and was the sole person responsible for myself. I was even in charge of talking to myself on the hikes for 6 hours a was beautiful, cold, rainy, sunny, awesome, exuberant, refreshing, and well....just a tad bit lonely, I must admit. One of the things that I have been struggling with on my travels is wishing that I had some family or friends to experience some of the things with me.....if only I could borrow my mother's eyes for a day and have her look at the view I was looking at. Or how fun would it be to have Carly and Robin out with me for a night in Queenstown? I think about this a lot. Even though I meet a lot of people and share many experiences with them, it isn't the same as your close family and friends. A cool thing about this hike though, was that my sister-in-law had completed it a few years ago. So every time I had one of those moments where I wish I could share it with someone close....I would remember that Kelley had been here and done this before. She would understand where I walked and what I had seen.
Of the 4 days that I was hiking....4 of the days it rained. And I am not talking about drizzle....RAIN...raining to the point that everything I owned and was carrying with me was soaked. Even though I had on rainproof gear, I didn't stand a chance. Everything was wet....and at night it would half-ass dry, but it didn't matter because I would walk right back into the rain again for another long day of wetness. It is not that surprising that it rained, though. 200 days of the year it rains in the Milford area. In fact, if you do the hike with no rain at all, then you have actually not hiked the Milford Track (at least that is what the rangers say to cheer you up each night). Rainfall can reach up to 6,800 mm (Approx 270 inches) per year. Austin, TX has an average of 32-48 inches per yeah.. it rains a lot here. The environment is plush and green and wet everywhere...100s maybe 1000s of waterfalls surround you throughout the hike. There were several moments when I would be looking down, watching my steps meticulously (since it was slick) and then I would stop to look up....and see waterfalls pouring down the cliffs all around me. WOW...I would just stand there in the rain amazed at how alive everything was...the water rushing everywhere. I have some pictures of the falls, but they don't give any justice to the depth of what I was looking at. SO MUCH WATER....EVERYWHERE! Gushing so hard that you think it should all stop sometime since there is no way there could really be this much water...when would it run out? But in the 4 days I was there it didn't stop once....there was never even a hesitation of the water stopping. Meanwhile, the birds would still whistle and fly around as if it was a bright sunny day outside...they understood the environment they lived in....truly amazing!
One night, it was raining so hard that the next morning our hut ranger, Ross, told us to wait a few hours before we started hiking. He wanted to see if the rain would calm...because the rivers flooded bad in this section and it could get dangerous. If the rain continued at this level, then we would have to be flown out by helicopters (which I thought would be equally as cool as doing the hike). After a few hours, he said he was going to hike to the rivers to check them out...we were more then welcome to follow along. A couple "go- getters" jumped up and started following him immediately, and since I was alone and only had to take care of myself, I happened to be ready as well. So, there I was...following the ranger and a couple experienced hikers to go "check out" the if I were really qualified for any sort of danger that may be ahead. Fortunately, there wasn't any major danger....a few trees had fallen in the track that we had to move and the flooding wasn't bad enough that they needed to call in the "copters". The water only went up to our THIGHS at the river crossings so apparently that was not helicopter status. Yes folks, I was proud of this moment....I truly feel like I have hiked in New Zealand now. I had to hold my pack up and walk through a flooded river that went up to my thighs. One of the couples with us took off their boots as if they weren't going to get wet with all the rain....I just looked at them like they were idiots and plunged into the river with my shoes and pants and everything on. It was adventurous and crazy and fun!!!! I felt like an avid hiker :)
Overall, the Milford Track was a great experience and I am glad to add it to my list of adventures during my travels. It is rated one of the most famous tracks in the world and with some of the views that I saw....I can understand why.
After the hike, I went back to the small town of Te Anau....bought a bottle of wine and decided to do laundry to wash all my nasty clothes. Now that I was on my own, I really didn't have a plan. I didn't know where I should head the next day or what I should do. I figured that after my laundry, I would go to the internet and book a bus ticket out of town towards Dunedin. I really wanted to hitch a ride, but I wasn't brave enough to hitch alone....I kept going back and forth about it. I met this chick named Laura when doing my laundry. She was a witty girl and I couldn't place her English accent. Turns out, she was born in Germany, spent some time living in USA, then moved to South Africa and now resides in France. Her father works for some big USA corporation and they moved around frequently. Because of this, she knows 3 languages fluently and flips back and forth speaking them all the time. She speaks German with her mother, English with her father, and French with her sister. We hit it off immediately and both had the same sense of humor about things. You could tell she was easy going, laid back and up for whatever....she had traveled a lot and didn't expect much from people and went with the flow. After chit-chatting, she asked if I wanted to go grab a beer with her and some friends. I explained to her my dilemma of leaving the next day and if I were to get the bus, then it left at I probably shouldn't go out..blah blah blah. She said fair enough...they would be at the bar if I was interested. I finished my laundry and headed to the computer to book my ticket....then it hit me. I had been alone for 4 days hiking in solitude...what the hell was I doing passing up an offer to the bar. I really could use a nice stout beer and some good conversation. I'll either hitch out of here tomorrow or book a ticket for the next day...regardless, it would work itself out somehow. I met Laura and her friends at the bar and had a few drinks. The beers were going down smoothly too...I have not been drinking much since I have been in NZ (giving the liver a little break), so after only 2 beers I was feeling pretty nice. There was a guy sitting next to us who seemed to be alone. I invited him over to our conversation. His name was Thomas and he was from Switzerland. After speaking with him for a bit I found out that he had his own car and was heading to Dunedin the next day. I was like...seriously? "I am trying to get to you want some help with petrol (gas)?" And then like that....things worked themselves out. I paid Thomas $10NZ for the 4 hour ride which would have cost me $50NZ by it worked out fine indeed.
Through my friend Brad, I had a hook-up with a place to stay in Dunedin. The girl had a flat in the city, but was currently doing her residency for med school in another city. So, she was not there at the moment, but she had 5 other flat mates and said just to go to her place and stay in her room. I felt a little strange doing this, as I had never met her and surely didn't know her flatmates either....but I thought it was cool that she offered her room and decided to check it out.
When I arrived to the house, there were trash bags filled with beer cans and wine bottles sprawled out on the front porch. There were about 6 vintage chairs/lazy boys surrounding a make-shift coffee table on the porch as well...all of this was next to the fridge (not one of those small office fridges, but a full-sized kitchen fridge)...all on the front porch! I had to smile to myself...I realized I would fit in just fine with these new random people that I would be staying with. I knocked on the door, but no one came. I knocked and rang the doorbell several other times, but one came to the door. was only 10:30am and from the looks of the front porch, everyone could easily still be sleeping. I peeked my head through the window just as I saw someone coming out of a bedroom and knocked again to get his attention. The guy came to the door with his hair all messed up and sleep still in his eyes. "Hi there, ....I'm friends (I guess) with Amelia and am staying in her room for a few days."...I was all smiley and chipper holding my bags...the guy was probably "who in the hell is this chick!". He mumbled something along the lines of..."cool...yeah..whatev...just.. you can go to her room." And then he left the door open and walked back into his room. So there I was, with my backpack, standing in this house....with not a damn clue which room was Amelia's. I decided to walk upstairs and that is where I ran into JD, the french dude. He was really cool and showed me her room. Then I met Kate, and some other guy who I can't remember his name. Anyways, it's a big house with 6 roommates and craziness all about. There is clutter and everyone's personality written all over it, but somehow the bathroom and kitchen are clean and it just seems like everything works together well....a good atmosphere and vibe. I felt like I was in college again...there was even a jar of condoms in the bathroom with a sign that read "no hubba hubba with out a rubba rubba". This would be my accommodation for the next few days and I thought it was awesome!
Dunedin was a cool city. It is a university town with a mixture of funky art, music, food, and theater. Gorgeous Victorian style homes fill the hilly neighborhoods...some kept up really well and others falling down in shambles. It was a good town to chill-out in for a few days...enough to do, but not too in your face.
One day I went on a tour to the Otago Peninsula about an hour away. Here I was able to see seals, sea lions, and yellow-eyed penguins. I have never been up close to that type of wildlife before and it was really cool. Penguins are soooo stinking cute. The way they wobble from the ocean to the land...trying to sneak by the sea lions and escape another day with out getting eaten. I even witnessed a sea lion take a huge crap on the beach. At first I thought something was wrong with him...then his face got stern and next thing I knew, out came a present. I have pics of the animals on Picasa as well.
After a few site-seeing days in Dunedin it crept up to me again...this weird feeling that I have been getting every so often the past few weeks, but I have pushed it back deep inside my mind....there should be no reason that I am having this feeling and I am not going to face it right here...right now. It doesn't make sense to me.
Basically, everything around me is great...Before I left on my travels everything in my life was great as well. I had a family that loved and supported me, friends that I could count on, a stable job, lived in a fantastic city, rented out a comfortable house, boys to go out with....I mean what the heck else could a girl like me ask for? But even though I had all of this, I was unsatisfied and it lingered in the back of my mind. Why was I not content with my life?
I came to the conclusion that the life I was living couldn't be the final end all....there was more ...WAY MORE out there and I wanted to see it and live it before I got too comfortable where I was at. So I planned this trip that I am on now....when I arrived to South America I was on a high for 4 months experiencing the culture, people, food, was exactly what I needed at that moment in my life. I was getting the satisfaction that I was craving. And now, here I am again...6.5 months later and I sense that feeling coming up in the back of my throat and I don't want to say that it is happening again because it doesn't make any sense to me. How can I not be satisfied with my life right now.....I am on a year holiday!!!! This is EXACTLY what I asked for!!!!
I have been doing a lot of thinking the past few days and trying to figure out the sensations and feelings I am having and getting to the bottom of it...I think what it is, is that I am over the whole "tourist" thing. I walk aimlessly through city streets watching people, drink lattes, read tons of books, visit museums, go on multi day hikes, and venture to the next town to do the same thing over and over and over again. It is wonderful....a fantastic holiday, but can I move like this for the next 10 months? Was the real purpose of my journey to take tourbusses out to the ocean and stare at sea lions for 1 year? I am sick of site-seeing....I am ready to "live" amongst people and "do" something during my travels. Not just stick my nose in guide books and carry a city map in my hand 24/7. I have decided that I need to slow my travels down and get involved with some of the communities that I visit. Perhaps I will volunteer, or take classes, or work....but just do something that I am accountable for. Instead of being a tourist, I will be more like a short-term resident. The world is a big place and I can't see all of it on this trip....I don't even want to try to see half of it. Quality overrides quantity for me right now!
As we all know, I enjoyed my time in Banos, Ecuador. I was taking Spanish classes and getting to know people in the town....I had my favorite places to eat and knew all of the hikes in the area. On the weekends I would travel to nearby towns and visit other places. Banos was my "hub" and my time there was was enough time to figure out the city, but I left before it became monotonous and routine. I think it's time for something like that again....a place to slow my roll....breath...and not worry about what bus to take and what village to breeze through tomorrow. I have a few more days in NZ and then I head to Australia to visit a dear friend in Sydney. My time in Australia will be short as it is fairly expensive to travel there , but once I get to SE Asia I hope to slow it down a notch. I am making some contacts for volunteer opportunities, but since I am not affiliated with a church it may be difficult. I also found some cooking classes in Cambodia & Vietnam...that could be another unique way to get to know a city. Those are my thoughts right now about for listening.
Anyways, in a few days I will be heading to a town called Kaikoura. You can take a boat out in the ocean and there is a 98% you will see killer and blue whales. I know, I know.... I said I was sick of tours and site-seeing....BUT WHALES????Seriously? Besides Sea World, I have never witnessed a whale yes, I am pretty excited about it. I can play "tourist" for a little bit longer I suppose :)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Movies, Hiking & Ziv

We made our way to the small town of Wanaka. It is surrounded by mountains and is right next to Lake Wanaka which is this gorgeous glacier lake. It is a town where a lot of people move to when they want to escape the hustle and bustle of its larger neighbor, Queenstown. I spent my time there hiking and reading and enjoying the lake views. There was this fun place called Puzzling World with a huge maze that takes and hour to get out of and tons of optical illusion type activities. It showed how they made the hobbits look smaller in Lord of the Rings and stuff like that. It was a fun, non-outdoor activity for the day. Another awesome thing about Wanaka is that it is home to the Presidio.....the coolest movie theatre in the world. At least the coolest theatre I have ever been to. It has one screen and shows 3 movies each day. They gutted out the chairs and replaced them with vintage sofas and seats...they are all super worn and comfortable. They sell beer, wine, and homemade ice-cream. During intermission, they have fresh baked cookies that are super huge and to die for. For $3 a cookie, the must make a killing. I think that they have a vent from the oven going directly into the theatre so you can smell them baking while you watch the movie. I thought this theatre was so fantastic that I saw a movie there for 3 of the 4 days I spent in Wanaka. I would hike by day and watch movies by night. I saw Gran Torino, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Changeling. And yes, I got a cookie at every intermission....I thought about those cookies all day long while I was hiking :)

After Wanaka, we headed to Queenstown, since we were scheduled for a multi-day hike out of that city. Queenstown is the infamous party, adventure city of New Zealand. I have heard that you either love it or hate it. Well....after about 5 minutes in the city I decided that I was in love!!!! It was definitely bigger then Wanaka and a lot more obnoxious. You can bungee jump, sky dive, para glide, repel down canyons, jet boat, and anything else that you can think of. During the summer they hang out in the glacier lake and in the winter they snow ski on the surrounding mountains. There are over 40 bars, tons of restaurants and shopping was a functioning city surrounded by gorgeous New Zealand views. I understood why so many people were drawn to it and why others may be a bit put-off. In our hostel, we made friends with this Israeli guy named Ziv. He happened to be doing the same hike as we were planning on doing so we started hanging out with him. Alan had also made friends with this Swedish girl named Mikeala. She was traveling around NZ doing WWOOFing, which is where you work on organic farms for free while the owners feed you and give you shelter. She signed up for the hike as well so we had a group of 4. The day before we left, we ran around the city getting our hut passes and grocery shopping for the hike. This would be my first multi-day hike in which I had to carry everything and fend for myself....there was no guide or porter service. I had been hiking a lot so I felt that physically I would be able to handle it. To splurge one last time before we left civilization, we went to this famous burger place called Furburgers. We figured it would be a good place to carb load and get some energy for the mountains. There was one burger there called Big Al's. It was the ultimate burger with 2 patties, 2 fried eggs, cheese, bacon, beets, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. It was a heart attack in a bun! Ziv said that he did not half-ass anything when it came to food and that you were either a Big Al or a Big he ordered the ultimate burger. When I saw this thing I thought that there was no way in hell he was going to be able to finish it. Well, he proved me wrong, not only did he finish the whole thing, but he ate it in less then 10 minutes...we had hardly started into our regular burgers. I laughed saying that he would not have to eat for days...and that is when he realized that it was Passover. He was supposed to go have a holiday dinner with some other Jewish people in town....This was one of my first introductions to Ziv, the crazy Israeli guy that I would be traveling with for the next week.

During my travels, I have met tons of German, Swiss, & Israeli people. Before New Zealand, I have never really hung out with anyone from Israel and I don't have many Jewish friends back home. I have heard many stereotypes along my way ....that they travel in groups, talk really loud, and negotiate every price...VERY cheap! I am not big into stereotypes, but that is what I had been told by other travelers. I take it all with a grain of salt, because I am American and there are tons of stereotypes about us along the traveling circuit as well. Anyways, in the past month I have met several Israeli travelers and they could not be farther from the stereotypes. In fact, they have been generous with everything and were extremely nice people. I actually realized that maybe we had a common thread since we both came from countries where our governments are extremely involved in world relations and there is a pre-conceived notion about us simply because of where we are from. As an American, I am constantly being asked questions about my government, Obama, the economy...people quizzing me on life back home and why we are ignorant to the world around us. It gets old pretty fast....I've got my answers down pat and rattle them off to the new people that I meet. I hope that by the time I walk away, they have a different view of America and they question the stereotypes that they have been taught. I think that Israeli people go through a similar process in traveling. When you sit down and really talk to someone on a personal level you realize they are just humans...they go through the same emotions and stages of life as everyone else...regardless of where you are from.
Ziv was the first Israeli that I spent a good amount of time with. He was such a unique character. He is extremely goofy and acts aloof most of the time, but is actually very quick and intelligent. English is his second language behind Hebrew. I have never met someone who is so witty with a second language. Most people know English, but can't bring humor into the conversation naturally. For instance, I will never be cleverly funny when I speak Spanish because I am concentrating on speaking will never be innate for me. But Ziv was hilarious! He had just gotten out of the mandated-Israeli military a year most of his sentences or conversations started with " Well, when I was in the military...." Everything we talked about somehow related back to the military, but I suppose that was his life for the past 3 years and is a major part of growing up in Israel since everyone has to do it.
So we had our group of 4 for the Routeburn Track. This would be my first multi-day hike on my porter service...NADA. I had to carry everything on my back to survive for the next 3 days. Thank goodness I had 3 other friends hiking with me...because I learned a few things along the way. First of naive as it sounds, I didn't realize the whole concept of what ever you bring into the nature you need to take out of the nature...such as trash. So whatever I ate or used I had to carry with me for the entire hike. If I peeled an orange or had a can of tuna...I would carry the remnants with me. There were bathrooms at the huts with septic tanks so I did not have to carry the T.P. with me, but otherwise, you couldn't leave anything else behind. Second thing that I didn't take into account while hiking was that you needed to bring your own cooking utensils. I was stocked up on my food, but I didn't have a pot, cup, or utensils to cook and eat with. DUHHHH ANDREA...did I think that all this stuff would magically appear in the forest? I am not sure what I was thinking, but my friends had some things that I could use. I was definitely an amateur at this hiking thing, but I learned a lot and will be more prepared next time around.
Our last night of the hike, there was an Israeli family staying at the hut. They were hanging a plack on the hut wall in memory of their daughter that had died on the hike a year earlier. Apparently, she had hiked the tracked independently and had gotten off course and fell off a cliff. It took them 2 weeks to find the body. It was a heart wrenching story and brought tears to my eyes as I watched the family mourn. They came to walk the Routeburn track, pay respect to the area where she fell off, and finish the part of the track that she didn't get to walk. Since her death, the wildlife department has put up markers to make the track more clear.
The last day of the hike, Alan & Mikaela left in the early morning because they were heading to a different town for the night. Ziv and I were both heading back to the same town so we hiked the last day together. When we woke up it was pouring rain outside. Everyone around me was putting on there waterproof boots & Gor-Tex everything! They all had their ski pole walking sticks and were ready to hike in the freezing rain. I, on the other hand, pulled out my $5 poncho that I bought in Peru and glanced down at my non waterproof shoes and realized it was going to be a long day. I ended up surviving the rain and freezing weather, but at the end of the day - more expensive gear makes for a more pleasurable hiking experience. I think I will purchase some hiking socks and rain pants for the next time around.
Ziv and I arrived to Queenstown. It was Saturday night, the day before Easter and a school holiday. We drove to every hostel in town and they were all booked. There was not a dorm room available in the entire town. Ziv had a car, and normally I wouldn't mind crashing out in a car, but we hadn't showered in days and had been sleeping in sleeping bags....we were ready for a good nights rest. We decided to splurge and split a hotel room for the night. Instead of spending the regular $25 NZ ( $12 us) we spent $80 NZ ($40 us) each for the room. That is a lot of money for my budget right now. I made sure to take all the shampoo and lotion, drink all of the instant coffee packs and steal the toilet paper. There was a queen bed and single bed in the room. Ziv was nice enough to give me the Queen bed. He also mentioned how much cooler this night would be if I was his girlfriend, Karen. I guess he would have loved to have been alone with Karen in a hotel room. Well, sorry Charlie....I'm not Karen :) I was sooo exhausted, but I held my eyelids open to watch hours of TV since we had paid for it. Plus, it had been weeks since I watched TV. It was actually really nice to have a decent place to sleep for the night.
Since Queenstown was booked for the next few days, I decided to ride with Ziv to the small town of Te Anau. I needed to go to this town for the Milford Track that I was going to do in a few days anyways, so it wasn't a big deal to go a few days earlier. We packed up his station wagon and headed out on the road...jamming out to Simon & Garfunkel and various Hebrew music. It was nice to talk to him about his Jewish culture and the type of life he had growing up. Alan and Mikaela were also in the same town so we had a few days together before we all went our different directions.
This morning I said goodbye to Alan, Ziv, & Mikaela. It was fun having Alan and the others as travel companions for awhile, but it is time that I head out on my own again. It is always weird leaving the comforts of a travel companion, but after a few days you are back to yourself again.....there is always another adventure ahead.
I am doing a 4 day hike is the most famous hike in New Zealand, the Milford Track. I am glad for my experience on the Routeburn as I think I will be way more prepared this time around. I'll let you know how it goes. Goodbye for now :)