Monday, February 28, 2011

The Road Trip

After far too many days the road trip began. Unfortunately it wasn't that simple getting to that point. Sarah was to move out of her house in three days and those closest to her (I guess me?) were sucked in to help. Three crappy years of acquiring junk between her boyfriend (ex) and herself was not that easy to eliminate. If it were me, as I repeated (naturally), I would've just thrown all of the shit away and pack up a suitcase. Why bask in the miserable past? Either way, her gorgeous friendsand I cleaned it to perfection (meanwhile Sarah is on her phone...surprise, surprise). The previous two weeks I was accompanied in the house by a lovely South African girl named Andrea who was really a godsend in helping out and keeping some of Sarah's rants at bay. When we (Andrea, Marika, and Traci) finished the house, we were finally on the road to Whangarei (pronounced fang-array).

This road trip consisted of four women: Sarah, Marika, Jillian, and myself. We all get along well so I knew it'd be a great time with everyone. I haven't said much about Marika, but let me tell you about her. She's a hilarious chick from Yorkshire, England. Funny enough she has never made Yorkshire pudding, however she does have the recipe (and will be making it for me on command). She really is an exceptional person. Loads of laughs and much younger than her age. She's a psychiatric nurse, which is how Sarah knows her (Sarah is an occupational therapist at the hospital), and has been living in NZ for a year. Back to the road trip...we packed in the car and drove north to Whangarei where we'd be staying with Sarah's mum. What was supposed to be a lovely holiday turned into an interesting series of events.

We arrived at the house. Lush and set back in the bush. Beautifully constructed and decorated. Filipa (her mum) was nice at first. The only warning we had was her inability to stop talking. I figured between four women that would be no problem. We could take shifts talking and listening. That was the least of our worries. This woman spent the majority of our stay there hounding us about the amount of water and electricity we were using. It wasn't long before we chose to move houses and ended up in a far more comfortable environment near Mt. Manganui. This house was pretty quiet with the only tenant being Shane, a childhood friend who has Asperger's...but was a bit more social than expected. We had a hell of a few days there. Touring around the North Island with a local would've been great, had this local actually known the spots where she were taking us. A lot of the spots were beautiful, don't get me wrong, but she hadn't been there in 10 years. Some of the tramps we went on were blocked, and it was strange to see her reactions (Sarah's) when she realized they weren't as concrete as her childhood memories.

The most wonderful thing about the Northern North Island were the secluded, perfect beaches around every cove. it was funny that the only problem we had with these beaches was which to choose from. You're walking down a tree-covered path, come around a switchback and then see this breathtaking beach like something out of a movie. One of the beaches we went to, Ocean Beach, had a lot of surfers (and hardly surf) and a steep hike to a cove. If you hiked past the cove you could get into the lush of the forest and get amazing views. It was a challenging, beautiful, and endless hike that the girls weren't too fond of after the first two hours. Jillian and I, of course, tramped ahead and stumbled upon an epic lookout. The other girls were so fixated on getting out of there they missed it. And so it goes that one person's ideal holiday is completely different than the next.

After much beaching and topless sunbathing we made our way down to Wellington. Now, I had practiced driving previously just for the trip, but I hadn't really expected to drive over 10 hours on windy roads in shitty weather. I'm not sure if it was my pride or being in control that kept me in the driver's seat, but I drove the entire way there. When we finally got into Wellington we crashed with a friend named Mithun (mih-toon).

The next day we wandered around the city and into various shops, playing tourist. That night we went out on the town to drink and dance. At first Jillian and I went to this Irish pub to get a $9 Guiness (dear GOD!) and crash a hen party (bachelorette party). From there we met up with the rest of the gang and went to Boogie Wonderland, probably the most fabulous disco pop club EVER! It was a blast from the past and I'm not even sure how long we were there, it was like eating magic mushrooms...time just elapsed! When we finally left we went to another club where I received oodles of free Patron shots and danced the night way. Or at least into oblivion, which is where I was at when we finally left there. If I had any money I'm sure I would've bought some Subway, but I was so damn stubborn that I stumbled back to the apartment, shit-faced. No worries, I slept like a baby ;)

The next day we find out we are being ditched by Sarah. She's had a breakdown, can't be around us, and we are left to sort out ourselves. This is going off of the fact that we ALL were supposed to go to the South Island together. We all make our decisions and mine is to continue onto the South Island with Jillian. I'd be an idiot to come this far and not go there. It's only three hours by ferry. And that's how my decision making has come to be...effortless and on the whim.

Final take on Wellington: completely walkable, likeable, edible, and friendly. Probably my most favorite city. It has something for everyone.

Katikati and Tauranga

Before the road trip we took a weekend away from Cambridge to visit Sarah's dad in Katikati and then her friend in Tauranga. Katikati is not far and in the heart of the Kiwifruit farms. Her father, Stewart, is a wonderful, charming man. He lives on this beautiful property with avocado and apple orchards, passionfruit, and delicious tomatoes. I must've eaten at least three large tomatoes a day, along with all the salad fixins.

This was the place I was finally able to connect with the internet world, but only through dial-up. It seems everyone has slow internet here. Most are very behind in technology and fashion. It was easy to sleep in the ambience of the lush farmland. That night we also went to visit her Nana, a lovely older world traveler, and the cutest little woman ever (especially because of the Kiwi accent!). She made us a seafood pie, a popular Kiwi dish. She lived in a community that resembled the Golden Girls show and I absolutely loved it.

The following night was far from quiet. We met up with friends in Tauranga to go dancing. After about four hours of everyone getting dolled up, we hit the town. People were lining the streets on this Saturday night. I'm guessing there was nothing else to do, and since the drinking age is 18 you tend to see more youngins out at clubs/bars. The unfortunate thing about going out to clubs is the cost of drinks. Drinks are roughly $10-12 so it's smart to pre-drink before you get there. The problem with that is alcohol is expensive in general. $20 for a 12 pack and $40 for a small bottle of Jose Cuervo. Ridiculous! They also have premixed drinks like Jack n' Coke and Vodka Redbull in cans and bottles. It's a bit weird, but a lot of people are keen on it.

When we finally hopped into a club they were playing techno music. Good thing I was tipsy because that type of music never changed for the hour we danced there. When we got to another club I was stopped by a very intimidating Maori about my tattoo. After I told him it was from Hawai'i he was cool with that and later protected me from an annoying drunk Kiwi. Guess it pays to show it off! Speaking of drunk Kiwi guys...they have no game! They stare at you for ages and never talk to you or dance with you. The only guys I had up on me were Indian, but I wasn't a fan so I made the girls block dance between us. I'm still amazed at how shitty the club music had been, all techno and dance, with no top 10 remixes or booty music.

One redeemable place that Tauranga had was Cornerstone Gastro Bar, which played old 80s/90s music and was full of hot Maori men and women. That night they had a live band playing the best 90s covers for rocking out! It did (kind of) make me feel old to enjoy that place rather than the teenage clubs, but I didn't care. Good music is good music.

My take on Tauranga: I could live without going there again. Mt. Mounganui was nice, but there are nicer mountains to climb on the North Island.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Waikato Whereabouts

Getting to New Zealand consisted of many hours of waiting. My ipod and computer both ran out of their batteries. Again, I was to wait in lines to go through and be processed out of Auckland customs. I had to wait an additional four hours for my bus that only came twice a day to drop off in Cambridge. Waiting on the bus for 2 1/2 hours to arrive in Cambridge. I'm tired of waiting. I want this trip to start!

Sarah is happily waiting for me at the bus drop-off point, which was essentially a grocery parking lot (flashy, eh?) At this point I just need some food and a bed. I’ve hardly slept for three days. We catch up briefly in the car, all chummy chums and then it happens. Pressurized information vomit explodes out of Sarah’s mouth about her break-up and/or everything relating and consisting of it. Being the polite Winlee I am (at first) I listen. And listen and listen. It continues throughout the evening. I wonder what I've just walked myself into while Sarah is praising Christ she has someone to mend her broken heart (or help seal her mouth shut). My ears feel like they are bleeding by this point and my eyes are bloodshot. When I finally excuse my way to bed I can’t even recall laying my head down. Out like a light.

Let me mention Sarah and my very short and sweet past. Sarah, from New Zealand, visited Honolulu in 2008. She had a very bad couchsurfing experience and I saved her from it by letting her sleep at my place and showing her my island. I spent about five days with her in total. She's an awesome chick who was on her around-the-world solo trip. Vibrant, devil-may-care attitude, fun to be around. This was not the same Sarah and I hardly know her enough to deduce the shrapnel that encompassed her.

I wake up and Sarah is gone to work. She works Monday through Friday. Her house is beautiful. Replicated after a Tuscan villa, the red and yellows are accentuated by any amount of light. She has a dog, Moses, who is untrained and a pain in my ass. I'm ecstatic to be in NZ, but It’s rainy outside. This continues for a week straight. Maybe I brought the rain from Portland. I catch up on my sleep the next few days. I’m bombarded by more break-up talk and negativity. She asked me to stay with her for a "while" because she needs the company and is afraid to live alone at the moment. I’m feeling obligated at this point, but I don’t say anything because my plans are up in the air anyhow. She’s supposed to have a job for me at the hospital and I’ve been relying upon that, mostly because I'm not sure where to even start my traveling.

She's introduced me to a lot of her friends because she feels bad that I'm sitting around bored all day. She's also asked them to show me around. All of them are wonderful, kind people.

In one of these instances I’d met a Fijian nurse named Judi whom Sarah worked with at the hospital. She owns and operates a serene property and organic farm with her husband Ian. The first day I set foot on this property I fell in love with it. Fresh hydroponic salad and juicy hothouse tomatoes all surrounded by acres upon acres of wild bush to hike. That first day I also met Jill (whom is now my travel buddy), a WWOOFer (Willing Worker On Organic Farms) from Dallas, who surprisingly has no accent. I was a little apprehensive by her at first, only because she was loud and from Texas, but we eventually connected. Days after we did some hiking and talking,realizing how similar our journeys were wondering if we'd cross paths on the South Island (a place we both planned to end up). We talked a lot about signs and the significance of them in life/travels, which we'd both seen on this particular travel journey. Shortly after we clicked, Sarah asked Jill to join our road trip, a sign in itself.

Getting to New Zealand...eventually.

The journey from Portland to New Zealand was a learning experience. Getting from Los Angeles to Fiji was a fucking nightmare. My flight into LA was delayed, causing me to miss my flight. Normally this wouldn’t pose as an issue, however, there’s a loophole in the airlines’ contract that if there’s a weather delay they don’t have to reimburse you or put you on another flight. I ran across this fucking airport to catch this flight with my heavy backpack. Sweating balls and 5 minutes after check-in closure they still don’t let me in. Looking to book me on the next-day flight, I’m slapped with a $580 fee. Tears are uncontrollably streaming down my cheeks by this point and I’m like someone punched me in the stomach. I work my ass off to save for this trip and because of a stupid airline clause that money is gone is seconds. After begging and pleading to both airlines and speaking to management my ticket status stayed concrete. The only bit of luck I did have was when my friends Jamie and Janice rescued me from the airport that evening. Pay the money or stay in Los Angeles forever. My soul died a little bit with each stroke of the pen signing that hefty receipt the next day.

Eventually the time came to board the plane the next evening. After I take my seat I begin to bawl. I let it out. It just happened and continued for nearly ten minutes. It finally lets up when a stewardess hands me a children's coloring book and smiles. Thinking this was the end of my troubles, I take a deep breath and relax, trying not to concentrate on the amount of money I just flushed down the shitter. Little did I know I was sitting in the middle of this Samoan family whose daughters’ feet smelled like rotting garbage. To top it off they had a crying child and the 400 pound father sat behind me, hindering me from reclining my seat for this eleven hour flight. When we finally landed in Nadi, Fiji where I was connecting to Auckland, I figured I had nothing else to worry about. This wasn't the case and I had to go through yet another baggage check ordeal that took two hours. I’m not exaggerating whatsoever. Boarding the plane to Auckland I was sure something bad was going to happen, but we landed and I survived.

Moral of the story: Get travel insurance when buying cheap flights overseas.

I will never make that mistake again.

Thanks for the memories, Portland.

I’m finally continuing my blog. It’s taken a long time to get the time and energy to update this thing. Portland had been great to me, and although I still haven’t been able to put my finger on this peculiar city, I’ll try to now.

Since moving to Portland I’ve realized how transient of a place it is. Not many people are actually from there, but more of passers-through or those egalitarians from conservative backgrounds. Many who move to or visit this town come upon many others like themselves. Making friends is far too easy and finding your specific genre of friends is more possible than you think. Portland has something for everybody. It prides itself on that notion. The downside of this place? White people everywhere and the inability to be normal. Even if you come to the city normal I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to leave as the same person. It changes you in more ways than you know, that is, until you actually (and finally) leave this place. Looking back in retrospect I’m glad I spent nearly 6 months there, but this unique city may not be my ideal future home. It’s amazing to look back and realize who I was there…wearing my Buzz Lightyear kicks and neon clothing, roaming around vintage shops, being an espresso snob, and hitting up every possible happy hour in Southeast. The food carts are also “the shit” if I do say so myself. Gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, French onion soup, and fresh poutine are just the beginning of the endless food possibilities. It’s impossible to even hit up every cart because the good ones are hard to walk past!.

I also want to shout out to the amazing people I’ve met in Portland. You’ve truly made my experience better. The couchsurfing community has been really great to me, and has also been the tree in which I’d begun my friendships. Don has been nothing short of brotherly. I know him and I will be friends for a long time. Katie has also been such an amazing and surprising friend from the beginning. I’m still in disbelief at how easily we clicked. Coffee and breakfast is still not the same without you. There’s a reason, Portland, why people keep coming back to you. Hopefully you’ll keep creating friendships and bringing in weirdos for years to come. I will definitely pass through this place again to see friends, eat some good food, and drink some great microbrew