Dunedin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more days in Queenstown

27/2/10 - 2/3/10

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

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

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

ZleepFishes


- a poeme fur yew

zleep tight tonite
da ztarz, dey dwinkle zo brite
da mune
eet zmilez fur yew

flootie dreamz
lik fluffie wipt kreme
happie leetle noze
keep ett warm, like yer toez!

da zun in da morn
a new dey ez born
da birdz dey will zing
yew know? eetz jist aboot zpring!

Author's note: This blog post has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of this blog except for the fact that fish live in water.
© 2010 Lisa Ann Edwards

Spark

“There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.”
- Norman Vincent Peale

One of the things that I really miss about the Midwest is the enthusiastic way it rains. It doesn’t just sprinkle or shower. Instead, the rain comes down in bucketfuls, quickly filling up streets and creeks, not to mention shoes.

But the best part about the Midwest rain is the thunder and lightening. It lights up the sky like the Fourth of July. Everyone runs, bristling with excitement, for candles and battery-powered radios, just in case the electricity goes out.

Ka-boom!

My friend Larry reminds me of this electric excitement. I met him through swing dancing, where this 6’2” basketball-player-turned-swing-dancer performs in a way that lives up to his last name: Peacock.

Yes, Larry certainly brings his own style to swing dance. When you dance with Larry, instead of a dip at the end of the song, you get a “high-five!” And, when Larry’s not on the dance floor, he can be heard from the sidelines yelling, “Swing ‘er OwwwwUT! YAAAAAH!” as if he were at a baseball game.

But no one seems to mind. Everyone seems to enjoy Larry’s enthusiasm, and he definitely has added a new level of excitement to our small dance community. So when Larry organized a dance last Friday, I was more than happy to say that I’d be there.

When Friday night came, my friend and I hopped in the car, anticipating a night full of fun and dancing. We were not prepared for what happened instead.

As we pulled into the darkly lit parking lot, we were sure we were at the wrong place; there were only six cars. Our hearts sank as we looked inside, where we could see two - just two - couples dancing in the brightly lit room. We were indeed at the right location.

“Oh no” I said. “I don’t want to go in.”

After a few minutes of discussion, we decided to go in, but only to demonstrate our support of Larry. Clearly, we were not going to have the night full of fun and dancing that we had hoped.

As we walked in, it looked as if someone had let the air out of Larry. He shuffled his way to the front door, shrugged, looked at the ballroom and then back at us. “Everyone’s at the Swing Session's concert,” he said, in what could be the saddest voice I’ve ever heard.

We kept smiles on our faces as we handed Larry our money, walked in and sat down on the bench, where we’d likely spend the rest of the night. If we could make it that long.

A few more people trickled in and soon we had a dozen. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s better than a half-dozen. We were doing our best to look at the bright side of things.

About 10 o’clock, I was looking around, trying to figure out how we could escape without being noticed, when I noticed someone walking in the front door: an old, white-haired man, who looked no younger than 80, dressed in a suit and tie. I figured he was lost and had stopped inside for directions. Larry thought so too, running up to the guy to help him find his way.

But instead of asking for directions, the old guy handed Larry money to come in to the dance.

“What’s he doing here?!” I thought to myself. Everyone else must have thought so too because we all looked at each other, then back at the old man.

Oblivious to our stares, the old guy took off his suit jacket, neatly placed it on the bench and sat down to watch the only couple on the dance floor. As soon as that song finished and a new one began, the old guy stood up, straightened himself out, turned to the young woman who was seated near him, extended his hand and asked, “Would you like to dance?”

Seconds later on the dance floor, the old guy morphed into a young Lindy Hop dancer. He was hitting the breaks with flare, adding his own jazz styling and even singing… yes, SINGING with the music! While he was dancing!

Our jaws fell open and electricity filled the air.

Larry started yelling. “Swing ‘er OwwwwUT! YAAAAAH!” Everyone got up from the bench, headed out to the dance floor and started dancing. Extra women danced with other extra women. One woman even danced by herself. And Larry couldn’t stop yelling.

We danced the rest of the night that way. The old guy, who we later learned was named Arnold, had lit up our evening with his own unique style and special enthusiastic spark. And we saw how one person, no matter what age or background, has the ability to ignite a roomful of people when they tap into their own unique talents and gifts that they bring to the world.

© 2004-2010 Lisa Ann Edwards

The Phuket Heroines Festival

I have seen mention of this festival for several years on various Phuket news websites, but never really thought about checking it out.. I figured it would be just another local fair, maybe not worth the 30 minute drive to Thalang. Wrong. The Heroines Festival is something much more than just a bunch of food and handicraft stalls, very much worth going (even if it was hard to find!) and the whole family enjoyed it. The festival was on from 5th - 20th March, with the big performance featuring hundreds of performers on the 13th, 14th and 15th. I think the dates are the same every year because March 13th marks an important date in the history of Phuket... In 1786, the Burmese invaded, but were beaten in the battle of Thalang. The Phuket defenders were led by 2 sisters called Chan and Mook, the former being the widow of the governor who had died not long before. At that time, Thalang, the town in the middle of Phuket island, was the main town, and here the battle was fought, ending with the Burmese retreating on March 13th 1786. The 2 sisters were later honored by King Rama I, being given the names Thao Thep Krasatri and Thao Sri Sunthorn.

We decided to have a look at the festival on March 13th. I had seen in the Phuket Gazette that the festival takes place "near the Heroines Monument" - this monument is in the center of a traffic circle, showing the 2 sisters with swords drawn - pretty much every tourist visiting Phuket will pass this monument on the way from the airport to the south of Phuket. So, we drove to the monument. No sign of a festival. We asked a policeman. "Ah, no.. you have to drive up to Thalang Town", he said (another 6km north). At the traffic lights in Thalang we turned left. Again, no signs or directions to the festival. Little surprise that we saw just a few foreign faces that night! These local festivals are often hard to find - I went to one last year in my local village and didn't see any other non-Thai people! It was only at the entrance to the park where the Heroines Festival was taking place that it was obvious where to go - we entered, parked and headed towards the lights and crowds.

At the entrance to the fields where the festival was taking place, my son stopped to play drums. The road was lined with food and drink stalls of all kinds - we didn't stop, as we were a little late and I could hear that the main performance had started.

Our boy stops for a quick drum at the entrance

Drinks vendor at the Heroines festival

The main performance was just getting going with the characters being introduced, so we took a detour first around the many food stalls and craft stalls. There was also a smaller stage with performances going on - a musical / dancing group from Pattani (one of Thailand's southern provinces), and some mock Muay Thai fights and a fire breather...

Song and Dance from Pattani

Firebreather at the Heroines Festival

The performance which was based on the story of the Heroines of Phuket (aka Heroines of Thalang) was getting going - the whole show was supposed to be about 1 ½ hours long which we figured might be too long for our kids so we wandered around some more of the stalls and found shadow puppets to play with, drums to bang and chicken with sticky rice to eat! A family was posing all dressed up in (mostly) old style costume accentuated by a sepia filter...

Family at the Heroines Festival, Thalang, Phuket

We then found a place to sit and watch the performance - there were seats set up, but all were taken already so we were kind of on the edge and the stage was a large area - parts of the show were just 10 meters from us, other parts out of sight! As the story was told by a narrator (in Thai.. no subtitles), actors played the roles of the locals and the Burmese. Dramatic music accompanied the performance. The music was familiar. Think Darth Vader. Think Superman. Yes, seems John Williams had written the score.. wonder if he knows about it?

The 2 photos below represent part of the heroine's history before the battle. I am not sure of their whole life stories, I have read that Chan was jailed at one point because her husband had been in debt. Any local historians reading this? Please do correct me! She then escaped and headed back to Thalang just as the Burmese were starting their invasion plans.

Heroines in action

Part of the heroines story

As the story continued and Darth Vader the Burmese approached. History says that the people of Phuket were warned of the approaching Burmese by a captain of the British East India company. Phuket had no large army but the sisters rallied the people and dressed women as men, made swords from wood and using all kinds of trickery fooled the Burmese into believing they faced a much larger force. The photos below show the "battle" taking place. We couldn't see everything from our position - next year we'll go early and put towels on seats to bag a good view :)

Phuket gets ready for battle

The heroic defenders of Phuket

Chaaaaarge!

And the battle was won.. March 13th 1786... roll forward 225 years. Did someone say "Phuket is just bars and tourists"? There is a rich history here which is well worth celebrating. This festival, as I say, is largely unknown to tourists. I mean, even we had trouble finding it! I won't even mention the wrong turn we took after the festival.. we ended up driving off through the rubber plantations of Thalang rather than finding the main road again - it's quite rural in this part of Phuket..this is the real Phuket, the old Phuket.

Fireworks at the Phuket Heroines Festival

Fireworks marked the end of the show, with the heroines being honored by the King and Phuket safe from harm. The huge set for the show included a mock-up of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The performance over, we had the chance to mingle with the stars of the show and take some photos. I caught sight of the Governor of Phuket, Mr Wichai Phraisa-ngop and his wife - ah yes, this festival is a big one. We shook hands and said "Pleased to meet you".. I should have slipped him a business card. He seems a good guy. Our governator is not afraid to take on the hard issues like jet ski rip offs and now he's having a go at sorting out the issue of public transport in Phuket. Well done, sir!

Phuket governor, Wichai Phraisa-ngop and his wife after the show

The stars of the show, Chan and Mook were happy to pose for photos. Our daughter has already learned something of their history at school. I think our son just thought their swords were cool.

The Heroines of Phuket and friends

Our kids meet the Heroines

Wow. I was very happy that we had made the effort. Kids enjoyed seeing something different - it did go on quite late, kids were sleeping in the car by the time we got home. For the purposes of this blog, a festival like this is gold! I started the blog in 2006, trying to show the "other" Phuket, off the beach, away from the tourist crowds. March is a great month to be in Phuket - weather is hot and sunny, it's out of peak season - and now, if planning for next year, remember the dates 13th to 15th March - the Phuket Heroines Festival.

Phuket Heroines Festival - Location Map


View Phuket Heroines Festival Location in a larger map

More Phuket Festivals...

Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Phuket Halal Expo
Loy Krathong
Old Phuket Festival

Milford Sound

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

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






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

Losing my hitch-hiking virginity

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

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

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

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

I like travelling.

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

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

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




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

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

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

Better buzz than a skydive

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

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

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

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

Finding the Real Thailand ...

You will often hear foreigners discussing the ‘Real Thailand’ and how they have somehow discovered something that other foreigners are not privy to.  Kind of a one-upmanship between two or more relative newcomers, usually.  Of course the whole notion of a real Thailand, as opposed to an unreal one, is really quite silly.  The only context in which I would consider the discussion of reality, would be in reference to our funny online names (like Village Farang) and our virtual lives and identities.  Life itself on the other hand, whether good or bad, is very real.

So what is VF on about now, you ask?  As usual, a simple enough question led me to imagine where that question was coming from, in terms of experience and understanding.  One thing led to another, and it got me thinking how foreigners live and interact with Thais and Thailand and where some of the frustrations and more critical judgements might come from.

Please excuse my generalizing, but I can’t fairly list and include every subgroup of foreigner in the space allowed.  So generally, lets say most foreigners begin their Thai experience, dealing with a very small segment of Thai society.  You know, the Thais who make their living by feeding, housing, transporting, entertaining and catering to the various quirks and idiosyncratic needs of visitors to this fair land.  As a side-note, I might mention that despite what some of us might think, we are not the be-all and end-all of the Thai economy.  The vast majority of Thais do business with other Thais and have relatively little interest in our strange goings-on.

So for example, lets say you meet a girl in a bar and go to her village with the idea of meeting ‘real’ Thais.  You are still dealing with people who’s primary interest in foreigners is financial, whether you stay in the family home or a guesthouse.  That is because social mobility is extremely difficult in Thai society and if one is from a particular region, with a particular skin tone and facial structure, and speaks a particular dialect, then there is little chance of marrying into a more affluent Thai family in Bangkok, for example.  A foreigner can, however, provide a shortcut to obtaining the better things in life, for those who Thailand itself would deny.

Not speaking Thai is also an extreme handicap as you are limited in your dealings, to those we have already mentioned, who’s livelihood is derived from us.  Even if you get married your source of knowledge, experience and information is being filtered before you receive it, if you can’t speak Thai.  That often leaves you living and seeking entertainment and services, from those very same entry level Thais.

If working, regardless of your position, you will be surrounded by those who treat you accordingly.  All interactions will be bracketed by your position, relative to others.  If retired, perhaps teaching can start exposure to a different element of Thai society.  Still those who study English, lets say, are usually motivated by a desire to get a higher paying job.  Getting language ‘credentials’ is often the goal, not really learning the language. 

Getting to know Thai teachers, might start you on a path of knowing people with similar interests, as you are both teachers.  Therein lies the key, I think.  If you can join a Thai group, club or organization of people with similar interests, like photography, motorbikes, sports, etc., then you will have stepped away from those who are only being nice to you because it is their job to or in their best interest financially.

Not that one segment of Thai society is anymore real than any other, but getting stuck in that entry level environment has its drawbacks.  I liken it to entering the foyer of a nice house and remaining there indefinitely.  As nice as that room might be, you are missing out on what the rest of the house may have to offer.  Even longtime visitors who have been here many times, or are even married to a Thai but living overseas, are often not as well prepared for their life in Thailand as they may think they are.

I know people who tell me that they are quite happy not speaking Thai and living in touristy areas.  Perhaps it frees them from self analysis and any need to adapt or change.  It does beg the question of how long one can live in an environment that evolved around the needs of short term visitors, however.  When the novelty wears off, where does that leave you?  I don’t know of course and would suspect it varies greatly from individual to individual.  It is a question, which I wonder how many people ask themselves.

On a completely different subject, I was motivated by several individuals who recently went through my entire archives.  Not having done so myself for quite sometime, I started rereading my early work.  Starting with the book form, I have made it through the first 8 or 9 chapters.  I found myself reeling from the vast number of mistakes I uncovered.  I have corrected what I found so far but have yet to move on to the actual blog format where I will have to make the same corrections and no doubt many more.

Other than mistakes, I felt that much of what I had intended to impart to my readers had not made it to the page.  The cerebral nature of writing leaves much of what you intend to say, floating in some lost space between thought and deed.  While I endeavor to do better, I’m sure my shortcomings will continue to surface and I appreciate the fact that so many of you continue to return and so graciously overlook my often clumsy attempts to express what dwells in the deep dark reaches of my mind.

3 day hike on the Greenstone and Caples tracks

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

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

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

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

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

I do like a hike.

Couple of days in Queenstown

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson learned: Stop being an intolerant gobby prick.

passion



inspires--
never prods.

energizes,
renews,
and restores.

feels;
doesn't think.

is real
and illogical
--at first.