So we had our little practice run at Lake Tutira and still hadn’t caught any fish. Our next stop was promising though :a campsite in the absolute middle of nowhere, on the banks of the Mohaka River. If you haven’t heard of the Mohaka River, it’s because you aren’t a hardcore trout fisherman: it’s one of the troutiest, most pristine rivers in New Zealand, which I suppose means it ranks pretty highly on a global scale. Shit’s about to get real.
Driving there was something of an adventure. The Department of Conservation brochure explicitly states that campervans cannot access the campsite, which is a euphemism for ‘it’s not our fault if you die’. This is as close to a liability clause as one gets in New Zealand. Anyway, the road was windy and narrow and populated largely by large cows that would go running along in front of the car, never actually getting out of the way because they aren’t very smart, and featured a number of blind corners that would send you careening off a cliff never to be seen or heard from again if another car happened to be passing at that moment.
I actually think a lot of New Zealand roads were build using statistical probability models indicating that two cars will never ever be driving on the same road at the same time. Not that I condone this as far as road-building goes, but it was pretty accurate for this trip. Jake and I had a very in-depth conversation about whether or not this was the most isolated place we had ever been to. The verdict was probably.
There were two three other people at the campsite: a couple from Wyoming, about our age, and an 80 year old, fly-fishing Japanese man who had been coming to this specific campsite every year for the past forty years and who said awesome things like “The first time, I thought I caught a fish. Really, the fish caught me.”
We all go to know each other from hanging out at the number 1, A+, best feature of the campsite: free hot pools. The spot was geothermically active and so the Department of Conservation saw fit to stick some PVC pipes in the ground and divert some of the water into little pools. Insta-bath.
So am I saying that we spent our days fishing, hiking and reading in the sun, grabbed a few beers when it started to get chilly and then sat in a hot tub watching the sun set every day? Yes, that’s exactly what it was like. We only left because we ran out of both water and fuel to boil more water. It would not have been hard to spend a week.
And the fishing! Oh man, was the fishing ever tops. The Mohaka River is so clear and pristine that you can actually see all the trout that you’re not catching. But it is really encouraging. I mean, at least you know they’re there.
I developed a patented fishing method, which did not exactly yield any fish, but did make me feel that I was making progress. Basically, I walk up and down the banks of the river, looking for fish. When I saw one, I cast at it hoping that, at the very least, I would spear it and drag it to shore. Fish are very quick though, and, as it turns out, rather skittish. So I had to do a lot of moving around to find new ones every time the old ones disappeared into shadows. It’s probably the most exercise anyone’s ever gotten from fishing.
So I was doing this, stalking my prey, while Jake stayed in one spot all patient-like. If you’re thinking this sounds like an Aesopian fable, you’re right. It played out like one. But with no moral lesson at the end, which is good because I’m sure I’d be on the losing end of it.
I was very busy not catching fish when I heard Jake yell for me from upriver. Assuming that it was time to go, I sort of meandered back slowly, looking for new fish I could scare along the way. Then Jake yelled for me to hurry. And I thought that perhaps he had something. This was exciting!
Remember when we were at Lake Hawea and I caught a fish and it got away because we didn’t have a net? Yeah, we never got a net. But we did have pliers! Which is like a net, but way less useful. Still, better than bare hands. While I was en route to Jake, he yelled very calmly that I might want to grab the pliers, which were in the tackle box that had been abandonned somewhere between us on the river bank. So he did have a fish!
I got really excited and went stomping around through the grass, trying to find the tackle box. Maybe next time we’ll leave it somewhere logical. I found it eventually, grabbed the handle and went running for Jake. Naturally, the tackle box wasn’t closed and everything went flying out of it. Another lesson for next time. So then I had to pick up all these hooks and lures and tangles of fishing line from the banks of the most pristine river in New Zealand lest I be that person that ruined the river by accidentally leaving a ball bearing in the gravel. It took awhile. Jake was maybe not impressed by this, since he had been trying to hold onto a live fish for all that time. Live fish being notoriously wriggly.
Also, and I’m glad I didn’t realize this at the time, it was the biggest fish in the river. I showed up eventually, all sweaty and flustered, carrying all sorts of fishing accoutrements and found Jake standing on the shore with this enormous fish wedged between his boot and the ground. I then got really excitable and useless while Jake tried to use the pliers to grab the fish by its mouth. It looked like we were going to get it–we were so close!–when the fish made one last adrenalin-fueled squirm for freedom and flopped back into the river. Shit.
But he didn’t swim away. He was too stunned from all the catching and struggling and I guess needed a moment to catch his breath. He just sat in the shallows for a few seconds, which is when the really awesome part of this story happened and Jake snuck up behind him and scooped him up with his bare hands. No kidding. So we had our fish again, flopping on the shore. I didn’t want it to get away again so I made lots of helpful suggestions like ‘stab it in the face! Stab it in the face!’. My bloodlust surprised us both. Anyway, Jake killed it humanely, strung it up on a rope and carried it back to camp.
Jake fileted it and I cooked it up with some oil salt and lemon. We also had this bottle of wine we had been carrying around for years and saving for our first fresh-caught fish meal. It was prefect. The best camping meal of all time.
I won’t lie–it was a lot of fish and wine for ten in the morning. Not a lot happened after that.
So, New Zealand. There’s some cool stuff in New Zealand. Over the month plus we spent driving around the North Island, I feel like we got to see a lot of cool stuff. Like in Hawkes Bay. Hawkes Bay was cool.
We spent a few nights that this campsite by a lake called Lake Tutira, which was forgettable save it being populated by about a kajillian black swans.
Everywhere swans. If you are at all curious about what it’s like to camp amongst the swans, I’ll be happy to rid you of any romantic notions. First, they don’t smell good. Second, they poop everywhere. Third, their poop is everywhere (this warranted two places on the list). Fourth, when they take off flying, the way they beat their wings against the water sounds like a rifle shot–it’s not exactly relaxing.
But it was a lake, and it was pretty.
This was the first real fishing spot of the trip, which was exciting. My goal for the trip was to catch a fish, and I was ready to get down to business.
Now, as it turned out, Lake Tutira is what we water-faring types call a “recovering lake”. We call it that because that’s what the Department of Conservation signs posted around the perimeter call it. What it means is that it’s pretty gross. Like, if you swim in it you’re liable to contract something called ‘duck itch’. Oh my god. Ew.
Obviously, we didn’t get in. We weren’t about to let this ruin our fishing trip though! The signs said you could still fish–it just wasn’t recommended that you eat the things. Which was sort of a bummer, because that’s the whole point of catching a fish, but also not because, let’s face it, I was never going to catch one anyway.
I won’t put you through a lot of suspense: we did not catch any fish that day. I did catch something though! (HINT: not duck itch) As I was casting and reeling, casting and reeling, I noticed that my line got a little heavy at one point. I thought it was stuck on a weed (the most common occurrence; second most common is it getting stuck in a tree), so I just kind of tugged it in like I always do. But then when it got up close, I saw that I’d legitimately caught something! A clam! It had closed over my hook, so it was a legit catch, not like I’d hooked it through the side. It was pretty amazing. I mean, any idiot with a rod and a lot of time can catch a fish. How many people have ever caught a clam (show of hands–I’m actually curious).
Jake was pretty impressed too, though he did want to know what I was doing dragging my hook along the bottom of the lake. Which is apparently not how you fish. But then again, which one of us caught something at Lake Tutira? I rest my case.
So here I am. In America. I need to update the blog so the banner picture is more appropriate. Maybe less sheep and more, I don’t know, bureaucratic dysfunction. Or maybe a flock of bald eagles fighting terrorism. Keep an eye out.
Now, there’s still this whole road trip for me to write about, which will totally happen at some point. But first, here are some rather disjointed thoughts on the move back to the US.
First of all, it’s really good to be here. I don’t mean for any of the following stories of confusion or vomiting to lead you to believe I’m not glad to be here. I am. There’s just been a lot of confusion. And vomiting.
I was actually just talking to one of my friends on Skype, a friend who I knew from when we both lived in Vietnam, and it made me realize that this move from NZ to the US has kind of reminded me of the move from the US to Vietnam. First of all, everything here is so cheap. I keep buying stuff and my bank account stays full. It’s amazing. And I know that this is just because I’m used to how expensive everything is in New Zealand, and I’m probably still consuming good and services with a thrifty New Zealand mentality, and I know that this will all wear off in another month and I’ll be as broke as everyone else in this country, but for now it’s awesome. FACT: being a rich person is awesome. This is maybe the most honest lesson I learned from living in Vietnam. It’s something no one ever wants to admit, but there it is. And not that I’m a Real Rich Person here, but for the moment I feel like I can buy anything and it’s great.
Another aspect in which this is like moving to Vietnam is the dramatic change in population density. There are people everywhere. The other day, I was walking around and saw this big mass of people. It was more people than I ever saw in any one place in New Zealand. It was like someone took the South Island and shook all the people off and they landed here. I looked around, trying to figure out what kind of festival or reality show audition was drawing such a crowd when I realized that this was just the line for Ben and Jerry’s. Amazing.
And the third way in which this is like moving to Vietnam is the damage it’s done to my body. We can start with the food poisoning.
I didn’t realize that by spending three years in New Zealand and eating all that locally-produced, organic vegetation and all those fish pulled out of that river over there, I was doing my body a huge disservice. I was negating years and years of whatever tolerance I developed to pink slime and growth hormones and Red Dye #12. It would be a shock to the system, the food here. And maybe eating a hotdog from a truck stop on the Jersey Turnpike was not exactly the best way to ease into the American diet. Anyway, there was a lot of throwing up that night.
And this weekend! I had some kind of awful stomach virus, which I am positive I caught from being crowded onto the metro with a bunch of gross sick people sneezing all over the handrails. Anyway, the virus crept up slowly, starting out on a Thursday afternoon with a little bit of nausea. I chalked it up to spending too much time in an office and prescribed myself an after-work baseball game. Also, and this probably didn’t help anything, I definitely had a hotdog at the baseball game. 24 hours later and I’m back to throwing up.
So I’m hoping that May will be my first sick-free month since arriving. Fingers crossed. Also, I’m off hotdogs for life, which I really think will help. Live and learn.
So on the very same day, New Zealand passed gay marriage and the US Congress managed to not pass even the most moderate of gun control measures. The combination of these things kind of bummed me out. Stupid New Zealand and its functional government. Ruining democracy for the rest of us.
Anyway, rather than get on a plane, because I don’t have that kind of money, I got on YouTube and watched all the parliamentary proceedings around the Marriage Equality Bill. And it just made me even more annoyed. Stupid New Zealand with your hilarious politicians and heart-warming sing-a-longs. Ruining CSPAN for the rest of us.
Here are two videos well worth watching, as long as you’re not feeling overly resentful of your own government. This one is of a funnier-than-avergage MP giving a speech about why he supports the bill:
And, of course, a Maori love song after the announcement:
After a month plus of driving around the country, we made it up to Auckland a whole week before our flight. Since then, we’ve been selling the car (which turned into a whole big thing) and the camping equipment (another whole big thing) and jettisoning the bulk of our stuff (an even bigger whole big thing). See, I gave Air New Zealand a call a few days ago to confirm the baggage allowance and check up on how much it costs to check an extra bag. Turns out you only get the one and anything extra is $200 a bag. Which actually caused me to laugh, out loud, on the phone with the Air New Zealand lady. Honestly. $200 spent at Target will more than replace everything I’m getting rid of, and the Auckland City Mission was more than happy to take it. But I’m still kind of annoyed about the whole thing. It’s also the last time I fly Air New Zealand long haul (HINT: Virgin Australia gives you two checked bags for free). But since I won’t be doing a whole lot of long haul flying out of New Zealand over the next few years, that’s probably a pretty ineffectual form of protest.
But see what I mean about these whole big things? It’s just incessant. But the good news is that it’s almost done–the flight’s tomorrow. Obviously, I’m super excited for this all to be over and to just get there. Does anyone want to take bets as to how long I’ll be in the US before getting yelled at by an airport staffer?
In the meantime, I guess I can make you look at some photos Jake took from the beginning of our road trip. I’m not going to write about that leg of it because, in the manner of all vacations in which nothing goes wrong, it would be extremely boring.
Except that the file uploader isn’t working. OK. So, um, close your eyes and I’ll describe it for you in perfect, detail so you can imagine it perfectly. It’ll be a real test of my writerly abilities. So let’s get started. Just close your eyes nice and tight… Keep them closed… Yep, you’re doing great…
<slowly backs away>
We’re off! We moved out of our flat a week ago and have hit the road. Though we didn’t so much hit it as give the road a gentle nudge. We made it as far as a campsite in Lower Hutt, which is a commuter suburb of Wellington. It’s the kind of journey that did not even warrant returning our library books. But still: camping!
The reason for the slow start is that we both have Things To before we can venture too deeply into the wilderness. Boring, responsible adult things. Also, we need to return those library books. So we’ve still got a few more days before we hit the road for real. We’ve even got our first destination picked out: a site on the southern coast of the North Island, which is a full 2.5 hour drive away. Because that’s about as far as you can go in New Zealand before you drive right off of it. Also, because we have 40 days to get to the airport, which is effectively an 8 hour drive away. So, you know, no rush.
We only made it out of Wellington yesterday. Until then, we had been staying at a hostel downtown, an experience which cured me of any regret I ever had about not living in downtown Wellington, as well as any misguided ambitions I may or may not have had about opening a backpackers hostel in Nicaragua. It also cured me of any encouraging things I may have once had to say about human society.
I do have some nice things to say about the hostel: we weren’t robbed. And we didn’t get salmonella from the kitchen, like I assumed we would. So those are two good things.
But here’s the best thing to come from the hostel was on the first morning, when I woke up to the sound of trucks idling under my window and about a million and one seagulls screaming at each other. I woke up with a headache, probably from not sleeping well from the ACCOMMODATION sign blasting fluorescent light into my brain all night. I have clearly been spoiled by my dark and quiet little neighbourhood. My sleep is like a delicate little flower, wilting in the presence of bright lights and non-bird noises. Anyway, I woke up and I felt awful. Also the room smelled like other people’s feet.
It was all this discomfort that prompted me to make a suggestion that was totally out of character. When Jake woke up, I told him that I wanted to go to McDonald’s for breakfast. It seemed rational, since I already felt kind of ill, I didn’t want to touch anything in that kitchen and it was a good excuse to leave the building immediately. Plus I like their ketchup.
So we went to McDonald’s and got McMuffins and hashbrowns. They were having that Monopoly promotion they always seem to have, that one where you get little peel-off stickers and collect them to win stuff that you’re never actually going to win, since you’ll never be able to collect that one, elusive sticker that you really, really need. But sometimes you instant-win some fries, which makes up for all the agony.
I had none of the agony and all of the winning: free sundae! Can you believe that? 1 out of 5 tickets is an instant winner, according to my hashbrown wrapper, and that 1 was me! That almost made the chain of events–the hostel, the headache, the greasy hashbrown–worthwhile. What really sealed the deal here was Jake’s ticket, which was sort of vague and just said ‘Free Attraction’. We assumed that meant a free movie ticket or something, but when we actually looked it up on the Internet, it turned out to be way sweeter than that–it was a ticket to one of about a thousand tourist attractions around New Zealand. You know what’s a great thing to win when you’re about to go on a road trip around New Zealand? That.
We picked a tour up in Rotorua, where we go kayaking through a glowworm cave and then go to some hot pools. So now we’re going kayaking, which is going to be amazing. So thanks McDonald’s, for giving us a free kayak adventure, instead of diabetes, or whatever it is you give everyone else.
Remember when I used to post more often than bi-annually? No, me neither. Those were the halcyon days before I discovered that sometimes freelancing can take up all of your time all at once (I knew there had to be a downside). Memories of those good old days have faded like an old photograph. Cue nostalgic music.
Actually, the nostalgia is pretty apt. I’m back as far as the Internet is concerned, but on the way out in regards to New Zealand. Tickets booked and I’m ready to go. I’m finally going to quit my soul-crushing freelance job and follow my dreams of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day and owning things I refer to as ‘work shoes’ just so I can have health insurance. Glory be, it’s going to be grand. Because who needs to be able to go to the beach on a Monday afternoon? Not me, that’s who.
We’re flying out of Auckland on March 26 and then landing in Washington, DC on March 26, about four hours after we leave Auckland. Gosh, planes these days are fast. Anyway, the real coup of the trip is that we a) have a long haul flight on Air New Zealand to look forward to, and b) managed to bypass LAX and fly through San Francisco instead. A new and improved border security experience! Hopefully with 100x less yelling! It’s all about the journey, my friends.
In the meantime, I’m busily selling all of our things and/or foisting them on anyone who so much as gives a lingering look to our Monopoly set. Because even though our flight’s not until late March, we’re moving out in early February. I felt that leaving 46 days early would probably give us enough time to get to the airport. You have to be early for these international flights. Also, I kind of have to catch a fish en route. It’s my last chance, before the whole enterprise becomes some sad, Charlie-Brown-trying-to-kick-a-football exercise in futility. So we’re hitting the road. More adventures to come–I’m very excited.
In the meantime, New Zealand is experiencing something the newspaper is calling ‘summer’. All I know is that it’s hot and the bugs are extra noisy. I have mixed feelings about it. At first, it was really nice and fun to go to the beach and sit on pub balconies drinking beer. But now it’s been almost three full days without gale force winds and/or rain and I’m getting a little suspicious and uneasy. Like, what is this? Why is it 75 degrees out? Why isn’t my skirt blowing all over the place? It’s weird. I think I’m going to stay inside from now on. I’m not sure if a city’s normal weather patterns can give you Stockholm Syndrome, but I think that might be what’s happening.
But before it started to freak me out, I had a good weekend of enjoying the weather. Like I said, we spent the afternoon at the beach (why is my towel drying so quickly? Why isn’t sand flying around and stinging my face?) and also did some downtowny things. A friend and I went on a photography adventure along the waterfront, taking tiny pictures with a Polaroid camera. It’s sort of a souvenir art project, where I take lots of photos of things I see and then develop them with washed-out, vintage Polaroid colours. The rest of the wifi-ed world calls it Instagram, but I don’t have an iPhone so it gets to be called an art project.
I intend to arrange them very craftily in a frame once I’m in America. But in the meantime, here are some photographs of photographs (meta!):
But maybe my favorite thing we saw were these people jumping into the harbour:
The city actually built this spiraling staircase for the express purpose of giving people something fun to jump off of. Let me repeat: the city not only encourages people to jump into the harbour, but actually built something to allow you to jump from higher. Naturally, there is no lifeguard on duty. Naturally.
I mentioned this to my friend (a New Zealander), that this is the kind of thing that you would never, not in a million years, see in an American city. The safety issues and lawsuit potentials are so rich and varied that I couldn’t even imagine them all. I mean, I used to work at a private pool, where there were three lifeguards on duty at any given time, and we weren’t supposed to let people jump off the diving board with goggles on because it was deemed too hazardous by our managers. Lest there be minor bruising or discomfort. My friend shook her head though. “Honestly? I’m surprised to see it here. It doesn’t look very safe.”
There’s a phase that you go through when you live abroad or travel. It’s that phase where everything you see is anchored in what you’re used to: it’s either ‘the same’ or it’s ‘different’. Naturally, the different things are more interesting and take a lot more time and effort to understand. What comes next, after you’ve categorized everything like this, is the phase where you start to figure out the root causes of the different things (for instance, that there’s no one to sue if you hurt yourself doing something stupid) and incorporating them into your understanding of why things are the way they are. So while things may be different, they they do become logical; almost predictable when you understand the factors involved.
And then, after you’ve lulled yourself into believing you totally get it, that you understand this place better than wherever it is you came from, you find out you’re doing it wrong. Just because there aren’t lawsuits doesn’t mean the city council wants people to plunge to their deaths off the Wellington Waterfront. It would be bad for tourism, for starters. Confounding variables! It turns out the cultural equations you’ve figured out don’t always add up right. And this, the shattering of mathematics, is just the best. That little smack back into reality. There is so much to learn about a place, but nothing to ever really know. Things change, things are unexpected, things are challenging, things are guessed at; things are never understood. It’s important to be open to that, to let the world be malleable and let yourself be open to the unexpected.
I know this story got a moral all out of the blue (you weren’t expecting that when you started, were you? Meta again!), but I think it’s a good habit to be in to look for a moral when you reach the end of a story. And this is an end. A beginning, of course, but also an end. And it’s been a very good experience, so I’m not especially sad about it. I think Wellington is just the coolest little city (see: Community Piano, above), and I’m very glad we had the opportunity to live here. Northward though, time to go.
(Also, I recognize the tone of finality in this post, but I promise that blogging will continue well into the future. I have to catch a fish after all, and what’s the point if there’s no one to tell?)