Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Remember when?

We sat by the harbor on the patio of the open-air restaurant, taking in the warm breeze of the Auckland evening. The sun was taking forever to set, lazily throwing that gold dusk light in every direction. Stephen and I skipped conversation in favor of occasional bites of shrimp cocktail, sips of crisp white wine, and enjoying the live music. The band had a Caribbean flavor to it, kinda jazzy and slow, and they were doing all cover songs. I remember most that they sang U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For..." a soulful yet gentle voice over the steel drums singing, "I believe in kingdom come, then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one..."

This one night in Christchurch we accidentally found our way into an Irish pub while looking for a dance club, and then we met these young Scottish businessmen traveling to promote the whiskey brand they work for... one was around our age with a mischievous sparkle in his eye, and told me more than once how I should stay in town til Saturday for the whiskey festival so we could hang out...the live Irish music played on and on, the musicians were not so much performing for any pub customers as they were having a jolly evening entertaining each other with their strokes of the fiddle...

"Hey, where are you from?" the guy behind me on the bus said in an American accent. It was the first time I'd heard such an accent besides our own in many days, and I think he'd heard mine when I spoke to the bus driver. We started chatting, he introduced his friend just getting onto the bus, and I introduced Stephen, then another young American sitting in front of me turned around to join the conversation. We were from California, Oregon, Texas and Hawaii, and all of us were happy to start the 8 hour journey with some cultural peers to chat with. By lunchtime, after hours of bus conversation we were fast friends. We bought some meat pies and salmon quiche and had a picnic looking out over the electric blue lake, so colored because of the minerals the glacier water picks up as it melts and flows its way this direction. After eating and before we had to get back on the bus, we ran toward the water and skipped some rocks just to see the ripples over the odd shade of blue. Hours and hours later once we'd all settled into our Queenstown hostel and showered off the day's journey we reconvened at a Thai food restaurant and drank a toast to what was to be one of the most memorable nights of travel for each of us.

The shoes had seen quite a bit of terrain by now, and felt quite soggy from walking across the wet grass of the rugby field. I took them off, and continued my short hike from the bus stop to this famed St. Claire's beach that was my morning destination for my full day in Dunedin. A grassy sand bank rose in front of me, and once I reached the top I saw stretched out before me in both directions a serene, almost empty, white sand beach... sand dunes steeply leading down to a flat stretch before meeting the waves. It looked just like the pictures, but better. I sunk my feet into the soft cold grains and then jumped down the dunes to the bottom. I set out my towel, but couldn't sit still. There are few things in nature I love more than a bank or dune of sand, and I wanted to play, jump, climb, and sink into them. I did it a few times... and then I sat down for a minute, overcome by the desire to be sharing the experience. Not with just anyone, but with a close friend or family member. I love to be alone, but I really wanted to have this memory with someone. "Remember when we jumped on and slid down the dunes in Dunedin? Wasn't that an amazing day? And then we climbed those rocks nearby, and then got an iced mocha while we watched the surfers?"

The cicadas could not have been humming more loudly. We tramped on and on along the side of the ravine, and I walked behind, following the two short blonde children leading the way. "See that tree? We cut that back to make the path when we moved here!" the boy called back to me. "That's a little bit of waterfall right there, but not a lot, we are going to the big waterfall. Just follow me, I won't fall on this path like I did when I was little," the tiny four year old girl turned to say to me. Once we reached the big waterfall, the one they'd led me through the forest for almost an hour to reach, we sat down on some logs. I laughed as the spray of the water hit my face and the kids pretended to fish for salmon and fry it and serve it to me. We ate their homemade fruit roll-up, split a banana, shared our water, and soaked up the remoteness and beauty of our location, far far away from the grown-ups.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Blue & Green

We weren't sure where we were going. Our best lead was the little Maori boy with the mohawk who'd befriended Stephen in the back of the bus... he was directing us... "not this stop... not this stop... here". Outside the main drag of the little town of Raglan we hopped off the bus and quickly pulled our huge packs out from the storage space between the wheels. We were on a hill looking out to the ocean, and unsure which way was what. We hadn't booked our hostel for this part of the journey, and I was madly thumbing through my guidebook trying to figure out where to go. Should we stay in a hostel in the main part of Raglan or go out to this Solscape hostel our new Austrian friend who was along with us for the ride, Stefan, planned to go to? It was closer to the surf spot but far from anything else. And wherever Stefan's hostel was, we were quite a ways from it, I knew that. I had barely opened the book when Stefan instinctively stuck his thumb out, and literally 1.5 seconds later a truck rumbled to an abrupt stop a few yards past us. I laughed in disbelief, threw my book in my pack and hauled it behind me, dashing over to the car along with Stephen and Stefan. I had read that in Raglan it was easy to hitchhike, but hadn't considered it as an option. One of many times you must toss aside the guidebook and go with the flow. We had gotten ourselves into a bit of adventure, heading for who-knew-where but feeling that the outcome was going to be wonderful. How could it not be, with the sea spread out before us and the sky a perfect blue?

Our driver, Franz, had long tangled curls and dreadlocks with blonde streaks from countless days of New Zealand sunbleaching. He was around our age and his car was full of construction equipment. "Yeah mates, I'll take yeh to this spot, we'll have a look at the waves, just gotta grab my dog." We rambled over the roads, pulled quickly in front of his house to get his dog, and continued on. "It's pretty much the same every day, yeh know, get off work, have a surf, later have a beer, and do the same the next day. Pretty relaxed eh? You'll like Raglan." We'd soon find out this was the vibe and daily ritual of most Raglan residents. Laid-back, super friendly, content to keep a small shop or work in construction or something, and worship the waves.

We pulled up to the spot Franz had mentioned. It was breathtaking. The views were endless and the green of the land and turquoise of the water were piercing. The three of us visitors took it all in, smiling broadly and our excitement growing. Franz deemed the surf to be good and got us going so he could catch some early evening waves.

So then he dropped us off at Solscape. As we pulled up I knew we'd done well to follow Stefan... converted train cars and cabooses sat scattered around a green field, sitting high on the hill with a sweet view of Raglan Bay. This hostel blew my mind. I couldn't stop laughing to myself... this place was ridiculous. Little tables and chairs set up in various spots invited you to come have a drink and watch the view until you fell asleep. The train car set-up of the remote hostel felt like you'd stumbled upon a secret spot and were some of a very few who knew about this little slice of paradise.

And that's really what it was... a couple days of paradise, making new friends from around the globe, playing in the surf, watching the sun rise after the rain, grilling dinner while the sun set... Exactly the adventure we were hoping for.

Hold Tight & Set Free

I sat staring out the window as we rode through the countryside, green hill after green rolling hill dotted with sheep and trees that reminded me of the Oregon landscape. The buzzing cicadas and occasional palm tree told me I was far from there, however. The sky went on forever, robust white clouds entangled and stretching across from east to west. We'd found ourselves on a bus to Raglan, home of the best surf spot in New Zealand, along with a couple dozen schoolchildren who were headed to their homes there for the day from classes in the city. A little voice with a charming Kiwi accent broke through the rest of the young chattering, and I listened in to what the boy was telling the girl sitting next to him...

"I see those floaty things everywhere right now!" I knew right away what he was talking about... those singular starry puffs that float around, looking similar to the head of a dandelion, that I'd never seen so many of until I'd gotten to this country.

"My cousin says that if you can catch one, and hold it real tight, and pray to God, then set it free, your wish will come true."
Now of course I've heard similar things before and of course done them, but hearing this little boy saying it as if it was a brand new idea, something to capture the imagination and carry out the very next chance he got... I couldn't wait to capture my first New Zealand "floaty thing" and set free my own wish.

They fly all over the country; the north island, the south, inland in the mountains and out by the beaches... I've caught most every one that's come my way and followed that boy's instructions.