the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats. adjusting to life aboard, running ultramarathons, figuring out how to cook and bake in an itsy bitsy galley...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

sleep away camp

The past few weeks have been hectic. I was gifted a pass one day for the boat show, so I headed to the show to renew my unlimited towing policy with TowBoatUS. Renewing at the show got me a 10% discount, not much perhaps, but every little bit helps these days. I didn't look at boats at the show, and rarely do. Just doesn't interest me. I'm really only there to see the vendor tents. One interesting product I saw was SoftSand, rubber particles for mixing with paint for non-skid decks. The pup doesn't like walking on the decks so I've condsidered doing non-skid paint, but it is often done with sand, which holds heat and can make decks uncomfortably hot if you like to go barefoot. The rubber particles won't have that same effect, so I think they will be a great option. Other than that, the boat show was the same old thing and once you've seen one, you've sort of seen them all. I did buy a whopping two $2 sail ties to add to my small collection.

The following weekend the pup dog went to "sleep away camp," or really, went camping with a friend and his daughter, who had been missing the pup dog after having puppy-sat during my trip. I wasn't able to get away to go camping with them, but I packed Buttercup an overnight bag with bowls, toys, food, treats, leashes, a towel, and a snuggle blanket. Yep, I'm a smother-mother. I've been battling a sinus infection or cold off and on since that weekend, so I'm glad pup got to go have fun rather than just hang around with me sick in bed that whole weekend.

My professional face paint for my halloween makeup arrived. I ordered it from Mehron, which appears to be cruelty free. I'm running short of time to practice, so need to do another practice run tonight, but my first practice run with the face paint went well. I picked up a smaller brush to make the lines across my face for teeth finer, and it should also work well for small dots and other little details. I also have glitter and glue-on rhinestones, which I haven't experimented with yet. I had really hoped to go out in costume tonight to see John Brown's body, one of my fav bands, up in Baltimore. But with no car and little cash, it looks like that isn't happening.

When I did the practice run it was a Friday night and the face paint had arrived that afternoon. I decided to just stay in for the night with a bottle of wine and practice the make-up. I had finished it and was just hanging out on the boat when Max came zooming in and out. He was acting oddly and when I got a closer look I saw he had a mouse in his mouth. While he was on the deck with it I scurried out and closed the hatch so he couldn't take it back inside. While Hunter is a hella mouser, this was Max's first. My baby cat is all grown up!

While I was out on deck with a glass of wine and my face all painted some folks visiting town for the boat show walked by. We started chatting and they asked if I'd be willing to take them out for a day sail that Sunday or knew anyone who would. Apparently all the charters around town were already booked; there are surprisingly few out there, too. I explained that I really couldn't do it (my boat's too much of a wreck right now and I don't have a captain's license to be able to do it legally). But I suggested they wander down to Davis' and ask around. They convinced me to head there with them for a drink; thanks and cheers Mark and Kim! I guess they'll have a good boat show story about some goofy girl in her Halloween make-up, or maybe everyone will just think they had too many Painkillers!

So I rolled on over to the pub in my wild sugar skull make-up. People didn't even recognize me until they saw my insanely long hair. I tried to round up someone to take Mark and Kim sailing, but no luck. After they headed out I chatted for a long time with a guy with the most adorable dimples you've ever seen. No floppy hair and a good 10-15 years older than my usual, but he was fun to talk with and wasn't fazed by my ghoulish appearance. But one minute he was showing me photos of his daughters and the next he just disappeared.  

That left me sitting at the bar next to a creepy guy trying to pick me up. He asked me what I was doing later. I looked at the clock: 1:30AM; it is later I explained, and I would be heading home to get a good night's sleep. Then he just straight out propositioned me and said he'd "make love to my dead face." Eeeks. Check please! Drunk as he was I guess he felt that might have been awkward (ya think?) but I politely thanked him for the offer, and said no thanks, I'd pass. Everyone wants to be wanted. It's flattering. But there comes a point when it is pretty tiring to feel like all anyone, everyone, wants is to get in your pants. But I have to admit, that make-up is pretty sexy, right? Sigh.

It had been a year since I had had a haircut and I needed to find a new stylist since my beloved one recently passed away. I did lots of research about DevaCurl and found a stylist for a special curl-friendly DevaCut. Dawn at Morgan Gerard Salon in Annapolis was great. Before and after photos below. My hair feels so much healthier with all that old growth gone. I love the DevaCurl products, but will have to wait until next month for the cash to buy them. So, making due for now, and very happy with the cut.


Although I loved having really long hair it was too much. The ends were dry and frazzled from having been colored (currently it is totally natural), blown dry, and flat-ironed for years. It would get caught on the Velcro on my foulies (probably still will, but not quite as much). My arms would get tired doing my beautiful french braids. It was time to let go. I liked the long mermaid hair, but the length and weight were weighing the curls down and I was finally ready to embrace them!

Out being silly. Raawwrr!
I was out with a friend Saturday night, after having gotten up early to tend bar at an event all day. I was exhausted and figured it'd be an early night so I could get up in the morning and knock out a needed long run. But just when my friend was heading out, I ended up running into the guy with the cute dimples. Let's just remember that my life has been a series of tragically bad decisions, generally about men and career. Thus, I have no guy and no career. (But more importantly, I have me, my pack, and my freedom.) 

Not that this was a bad decision on that level. But I really have to remember that no guy, absolutely no guy, is worth missing a long run for or being a bad mom to my furry kids over. But I left the hatch open and the cats running loose for around 11 hours because I didn't get back to my boat until almost 5:00AM. Which is when I needed to be waking up to knock out a 14 mile run that has been pushed back and pushed back on my schedule to the point of being seriously behind on my training for a 50K that is just over 7 weeks away.  I really consider my body a VIP room and not just everyone gets in, but every once in a while curiosity gets the better of me and I can't help myself. I knew at the time that I should have headed home, but we all have moments of weakness and it was nice to hang out with a smart guy for a change. (The boy toy who fell overboard was painfully dumb.) But if it's going to be meaningless, then I'd rather they were young and dumb. Maybe it won't end up having been totally meaningless, I enjoyed his smile and his company, but I'm not holding my breath.

I make a point of not getting involved with anyone I meet at my local pub because it's my place that I just want to feel at ease. I did meet the floppy-haired sailor there two years ago, but he was the only one, and I knew from the outset that he was just passing through and wouldn't be a fixture there. I should have followed my own advice because running into the guy with the dimples at the pub was exactly that uncomfortable situation I wanted to avoid in my local watering hole. Instead of picking up where we left off after a long night and a beautiful dinghy ride under the stars at 4:30AM, there was that awkward distance that seems to nullify and debase the intimacy and closeness I felt, reveals that they were just an illusion in a passing moment of passion. That feeling is also so sad, knowing that I sell myself short. Any Homeland fans out there? Saul has a great line telling Carrie "You're the smartest and the dumbest person I know." Yep, that's me. 

I deserve someone who is crazy about me. I definitely don't want a guy whose world revolves around me; I've been there, done that, and can't handle the pressure to be responsible for someone else's happiness. But I do deserve someone whose eyes light up when he sees me. Someone who appreciates that I am bat-shit crazy, because it may be a wild ride, but it will never be dull. Someone who doesn't need me to lift him up, and who doesn't pull me down. Two whole, independent people who are just better together. Someday I will find that. 

A special shout out to fellow mermaid, Julia. Thanks for reading and thanks for your kind words. Don't let them get you down!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

winter is coming

Yes, I'm missing Game of Thrones. When I grow up I want to be Khalesi. Fierce, fearless, and all about freedom. But even if you're not a Game of Thrones fan and the reference is meaningless to you, winter really is coming here in Annapolis.

This will be my third winter aboard, so I've figured out tricks for getting through it and know to brace myself for low tides and slippery docks. One of the suckiest things is the water from the tap being so cold your fingers hurt to the bone when doing dishes. This winter I may try putting dirty dishes in a bucket and taking them daily to the bathhouse to wash with the piping hot water there, like several other folks in the marina do. The past couple of days have been lovely and kissing the 70s again, but a couple of nights before required sleeping in flannel pajamas. I officially declared it "winter aboard" when it was only 55 degrees inside when I got up and cold enough out that I walked the dog wearing my flannels. The other sure sign it's winter aboard: the cats are all about snuggling up with me on the bed. Yep, they think of me as their space heater just like I joke that they are mine. 

All of a sudden I'm having to think about when dock water will be turned off. I'll need to link hoses to reach the winter water line that is sunk in the mud so it doesn't freeze. The day before yesterday I had a massive laundry day, and when I was making the bed I realized it was probably time to put the heated mattress pad back on the v-berth mattress. Yesterday I went to my storage unit and got my oil-filled radiator just to be ready, as well as a down puffer coat. I can't find my three pairs of winter boots, so that has me a little freaked out. I'll end up finding them shoved far behind and under something and coated in mold, no doubt.

The other thing I haven't been able to find since my return from New Zealand: my fav purple Prada sunglasses I wore throughout the trip. I didn't have room for them in my carry-on so I popped them in the middle of my checked bag. Someone seems to have stolen them from the duffel somewhere between Auckland International and Baltimore-Washington International. Rats. I keep hoping to find them among the craziness aboard, but I think they really were swiped. [Update: I was putting away my favorite lavender Keens and there was something stuck in one. Huh? Oh, joy! Oh, lucky day! Yes, I stuffed my beautiful sunglasses inside one of the Keens for protection! No thieves, after all. Faith in humanity not as diminished as had been thought. Yay!]

Boat show starts tomorrow (OK, today now that it's past midnight) but I'm too broke to go. Just the admission cost would be half the cash I have left and I won't be able to even buy a sail tie at the show (I only bought some sail ties at the show last year and at the Spring show I didn't buy a thing). I couldn't care less about looking at boats there, honestly, it makes no sense to me other than to make fun of how ridiculous and un-boatlike the interiors usually are. I only go to the show to walk the tents and see all the gadgets, ask vendors questions. But the reality is the "boat show deals" are rarely much of a deal and for most gear you are better off just buying from Defender. I guess the boat show made sense before the Internet, but now, it's really just spending $20 to walk around and buy $12 Painkillers. I have orange juice, cream of coconut, and rum aboard, so perhaps I'll just make my own painkillers and watch the show from the cockpit...I'm right across the creek from the insanity of it all. (A really strong Painkiller #4 is 4 oz rum, 4 oz pineapple juice, 1 oz OJ, and 1 oz cream of coconut. Oh, and a whopping 487 calories, which won't hurt quite as bad as the hangover all that sweet stuff will give you.)

I'm really stressing about having fallen behind on my running. I had kept it up very well until my last hectic week in New Zealand and since I got back it has been hard getting back in the groove, especially the two weeks that I schlepped into DC. Now I'm under the gun to get my mileage up in time for the 50K in December. Gratefully, I had an awesome base before I left on my trip, but I didn't want to have to claw my way back to it or be trying to lose weight while actually training for the race, but I need to get down at least 10 pounds to really run it well. So, we'll see. I just have to get back to my mental state where I knew down to my core that getting in my run was the single most important thing I do any day and it can't be set aside. That can be hard, even for someone like me who can really put her head down and tough it out. Sometimes, lately too often, I give in to the temptation to sleep in, have an extra beer or glass of wine, and let myself eat too much junk. So I have to buckle down and get back in my groove before I lose any more ground. I knocked out 5 miles today, but I wish I'd have gotten up at dawn and run 10. But the 5 matters, and I do feel better having gone out for a good run.

I'm often thinking I'm going very slow, worried about the pace, but look at my watch and see I'm running a minute per mile faster than I thought. So my body has adjusted to a quicker pace. (Still not fast for most runners, but I'm usually running about a 10:15 average, i.e., 10 minutes and 15 seconds per mile. But in New Zealand I was running around a 9:30 consistently, so something about the air or whatever there really gave me an amazing boost.) Most of my runs in the past few months are somewhere between a 9:45 and 10:30 average per mile, (usually closer to 10:00), which is just fine for me. My personal record for a marathon is an average pace of 10:17 per mile. I'd love to run one at a 10 minute mile, but we'll see. Right now I'm focused on my 50K, which at just five more miles is a different animal. It's always good at any race to have three finish times to target: something you can live with, something you will be happy with, and the out-of-the-ballpark time. I definitely want to beat my last time of 6:40 (6 hours and 40 minutes) overall, so I can live with anything at or under that time. I'd be really happy with anything between 6 and 6.5 hours. And the out-of-the-ballpark would be a 5:30 finish, but I think that's a stretch. But stretching, pushing your limits, that's what it's all about, right? Always looking for that place, that line in the sand, "oh, this is my limit." But if you're one to just "embrace the suck" and find the adventure in every challenge, it's hard to find that thing that breaks you, that line you can't make it across. I guess that's why I keep looking for it, and I only hope I never, ever find it.

Just keep running (sailing) (cruising) (living) (smiling) (singing) (laughing) (living). and leave the naysayers in your dust (wake).

Saturday, October 4, 2014

two year liveaboardaversary (and postscript on sleazy captains)

Thursday marked two years since the pets and I moved aboard. I've heard most liveaboards only last a year and a half before they give up, frustrated, and move back ashore. I feel like I should be so much farther along on all the projects, but nonetheless it doesn't occur to me at all to move ashore. Ambrosia is the only home I've ever owned, the only place that has been truly mine.


practicing my sugar skull makeup for halloween
So, what next? I am somewhat loathe to state any plans because people relish pointing out when one doesn't achieve the deadline or follow the stated plan. But I'm just drawing really broad brush strokes right now and I don't owe anyone apologies or explanations if they change. In the most general sense my plan is that of most every liveaboard I've met: to sail off to that mythical destination called South. For some that's the Carolinas. Or St. Augustine. Perhaps it means Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, or the Keys. For many it also means the Bahamas and the Caribbean. In my case I can see myself heading home to Miami for a bit, on to Key West to look for work fishing or slinging drinks. Ideally, taking a few months to hop around the Bahamas; if I find remote work, perhaps the island-hopping is indefinite.

While I have a few close friends in Annapolis there is nothing to hold me here. I don't know that the prospects for work are any better anywhere else, but they are very meager here, so "career," whatever that is supposed to be, certainly doesn't tie me down. In the end, I'd like to leave the US entirely and for good. I think it will take some time to find a job overseas and secure a visa that lets me emigrate, but this is no longer a land of opportunity and I need to find someplace else to get a chance to start over and build a life. In the meantime, I may as well take advantage of having a slip that includes electricity until Spring. I have work to do on the hard, but don't expect to have the funds to get hauled before winter sets in here. Thus, my thinking is that I'll leave Annapolis and initially head for an area where yard rates are more reasonable and spend a bit of time on the hard making repairs and upgrades before continuing down the ditch, heading South, wherever that is. 

I had thought I'd have contract work in DC for the next few months and while it's a terrible grind commuting four hours round-trip, I would just try to keep my head down and save money. I need to save up a lot for the repairs and upgrades I need aboard, and more urgently the pup dog needs an $800 surgery to remove a rotten tooth. But of course the project I was working on that was slated to last two to four months instead lasted just seven working days. It gets tiring being down to the last penny all the time, but at least I'm not trapped in a horrible marriage or slaving away in an evil law firm. Though I'm poor and have little hope of that ever changing, I'll take the strain of poverty any day over the life I was trapped in before.

As the situation quickly deteriorated on my trip to the Cooks, I didn't dish all the details in real time. So, here's the postscript on sleazy captains and the sordid tale of my brief visit to beautiful Aitutaki.

Regrettably, I doubt I will be willing to crew for any single guys for quite a while. I have been too trusting and too generous in thinking guys who are wildly outside of my age-range and/or seriously not my type understand that and won't be sleazy. And even if a guy is of an age I might consider, that doesn't mean I'd have any interest in sleeping with him. What part of the 30-second rule is so hard to understand? I guess I just have to be rude and tell guys bluntly as soon as I meet them, "Dude, I am never going to sleep with you. If you still want to have a drink, hang out, sail, fine, but you have been friend-zoned, period." Perhaps I'd be willing to crew with a couple making a passage, but I've even had bad experiences (though not yet when sailing) with what appear to be swinger couples with an agenda just like the creepy solo guys. Maybe I have to find a nice gay couple to crew with so I know the guys really don't have any agenda with me. I still want to be able to work on a fishing charter, but after the last charter gig I will definitely have to bluntly tell the captain that he'll lose a hand if he lays a finger on me. I know there are decent guys out there, but the sleazebags sure do give all guys a bad rap.

As for the recent trip, I absolutely never thought the captain had any expectations since he's plainly too old for me, so incredibly not my type (which I also explicitly told our mutual friend), and he knew I quit the fishing boat because of the handsy old captain. I wasn't sure if he was either trying to or did hook up with our mutual friend, but he referred to her as an "ex" to someone in conversation, which surprised me. In the Cooks he was constantly trashing her and her boyfriend, saying how jealous the guy was that he was there, and how it was a nightmare staying with her, what a disaster it was staying on her boat. This from a guy with zero personal hygiene and no working head on his boat; ugh. But he'd definitely like to get his hands on some of her boyfriend's money since the captain is broke, in debt, and living off credit cards. He was scheming how to get the boyfriend to invest in his daysail / fishing charter in the Cooks; hopefully the guy will steer well clear of the captain and not get scammed. 

So, how did the trip unfold?

When I arrived in Aitutaki on Monday and we got to the house, the captain showed me a little twin bed, which he said I could use, then showed me the big bed where he sleeps, and said I'm also welcome to sleep there. I actually laughed out loud at that suggestion and made it clear I'd be on the twin alone. That was such a ridiculous proposition that I mostly took it as a joke but that was the first indication that he might have expectations beyond the crew and cook role I had signed on for. It was cool at night in Aitutaki and I asked about a blanket. The captain said there was only one blanket so if I wanted to use it I had to sleep in the bed with him. I said that's nonsense and took the blanket. He bitched and moaned the next evening about how cold he was and wanted the blanket back. I argued that there couldn't seriously be only one blanket in the whole house and to find something. He took the good blanket and gave me a light bedspread he found in another room. Fine. Being old and highly unattractive is unfortunate, but not a character flaw. Being a manipulative sleazebag is a serious character flaw and pretty much sums that captain up.

Tuesday we had to run all over the island with a borrowed pick-up buying groceries and hauling things to the boat. He was supposed to return the truck the night before and when we ran into the owner of the truck the guy was pretty pissed off and told the captain to move all his stuff out of a house where he was storing things. The captain ended up just bad-mouthing the guy the rest of the day and decided to keep the truck all day and not move out his stuff. How he would have ever fit all the junk he has onto that catamaran anyway is a mystery and he certainly was no where near being ready to sail to Tonga. 

The captain only appeared to have three "friends" on the island after some six months: (1) the American ex-pat guy he borrowed the truck from, who didn't exactly seem to like the captain; (2) a Samoan guy married to a local but who was out of town for an extended trip; and (3) a local auto mechanic who always looked very annoyed by the captain any time we went by there to borrow things or use his shop. The captain would put on a front of being buddies to anyone we came across and as soon as they were gone he'd be bad-mouthing them or gossiping about them. The actual locals never seemed genuinely friendly to him and likely the only people who really tolerated him were outsiders who had happened to marry a local.

It must have been Wednesday morning when the Samoan guy's son told the captain that they had a plan to get the island council to approve him to stay. The plan was for the captain to sign half his boat over to the Samoan and/or the son and be partners in the business so the council would consider the application to be made by a local. Personally, I'd think that was a steep price, giving up half your business and boat to be able to stay. But I guess if it's the place you really love and want to be, it'd be worth it. Ah, but it turns out the captain has a different plan. He said that whatever paperwork they did in the Cooks saying he'd signed anything over would be irrelevant because he wouldn't be changing the ownership documentation with the US Coast Guard, so after a few years he'd just sail away and the locals wouldn't get anything. So, one of the few people he was supposedly friends with and he'd happily screw him over once he got what he wanted. Maybe they were both planning on screwing each other over, but it was pretty clear the captain had no moral compass whatsoever. I feel so sorry for Aitutaki if the island council approved him for a business. He'll just milk the place and the tourists for everything he can and then move on. 

On Wednesday the captain was being pissy and I suspected perhaps he was mad that I wasn't sleeping with him. He would constantly be in my personal space and trying to touch me, which I really hate. When he came back from lunch on Wednesday he left me on the dock when he took the dink to the boat, and that was just the beginning of the snippy, petulant behavior. It was Wednesday or Thursday evening that he cornered me, put his arm around my waist, and said he "wasn't opposed to some female companionship." Eewwww. I pushed him away and told him he was totally in the friend-zone, which definitely pissed him off. Thursday evening I was going to try to watch the traditional dance at the Tamanu resort, but the captain's inability to ever stop talking or invading my personal space was too annoying and I called it a night by 9:00pm. 

It was pretty clear by Friday that the captain planned to stay in Aitutaki so I had been trying to find another boat to join to sail on to Niue and Tonga, or even Auckland if possible. Unfortunately, not having a cell phone and very limited Internet access made it too difficult to connect and coordinate with the few other boats in the harbor. Friday night we went to a local bar, Crushers, with a little dance floor inside and picnic tables in the sand outside. As obnoxious as the captain was, I had just been trying to slide away from him whenever he got in my space and just bit my tongue for the sake of being peaceable. Walking to Crushers, however, I had had it. He kept touching me, goofing off, rambling on, and doing anything he could to get attention. I finally told him that being around him is like babysitting an 8-year-old, to please just shut the fuck up and walk. 

Naturally, he was all piss and vinegar but once we were at Crushers he was acting nice because he wanted people to think we were together. I did whatever I could to not have to sit next to him and was relieved when Mary and Patrick, a couple from another boat in the harbor, arrived and I could chat with them. Mary clearly felt bad for me being stuck with the captain. Mary and I were on the dance floor and a local guy came up and asked if I "was the girl running on the island [that] morning." Yes, indeed, the one and only runner on the island, that was me. When I was dancing the captain came up and was trying to dance with me and I kept evading him and finally had to just yell at him to get the fuck away from me. The owner of the bar invited Mary, Patrick, and I up to a rooftop deck where a few other people joined us and we hung out for hours having an impromptu jam session. Thankfully, the captain didn't know where I was and went home. I ended up crashing at a friend's, a few houses down the road from the captain's rented house. How nice to have indoor facilities and a good night's sleep!

Saturday morning I strolled in and said good morning, but the captain was chilly. He left to work on the boat shortly after I arrived. I took some time to actually enjoy the beach a bit and then investigated the Internet access at the nearby resort, (where I met Carol and Nikki, both of whom ended up generously opening their homes to me in Aitutaki and Papamoa Beach, respectively). I figured it was going to be very difficult logistically to find another boat to join and researched flights to get to Auckland. It's much pricier to get from Aitutaki to Auckland than to get there from Niue or Tonga. Even though the captain was a scumbag, I would most likely have suffered through a passage if it looked like he was actually going to relocate. I wouldn't travel half-way around the world and leave someone hanging. But it was pretty clear at that point he planned to stay in Aitutaki. And while I wouldn't want to leave anyone short-handed, I don't know that I'd have felt safe trapped aboard with him for any length of time. 

When I got back to the house Saturday afternoon the captain had a total hissy fit. He said that it wasn't working out and he didn't think I was ready for 1000 miles of open ocean sailing. Complete bullshit, of course, which I told him. I've got more mental and physical aptitude in my pinkie than he'll ever have. (And it'd be 800 nm consisting of one day sail plus two 36-hour passages, but whatever.) But I agreed that we should definitely part ways as soon as possible. He said he thought I should fly out on Monday. He lied about the cost for a ticket to Auckland and belly-ached about it, trying to push it off on me. He said I should just make something up to qualify for the travel insurance to fly back to the States early. He explicitly told me to commit insurance fraud. Wow. I told him I'm obviously not going to do that.

I headed back to the nearby resort for happy hour and some more Internet access. Nikki asked if I'd found a boat and when I said I hadn't, she generously invited me to stay at their house in the Bay of Plenty when they got back to New Zealand. The locals were insistent that the captain had to pay for my ticket to Auckland and seemed pretty disgusted that he was trying to push it off on me. I asked about a cheap hotel for the following night, but Carol invited me to stay at her home instead. I dreaded going back to that house with the captain, but thankfully it was the last night I had to put up with him.


On Sunday morning the captain was under the gun to move out of the little house and onto his boat. I told him that I just needed my plane tickets to Auckland and I had a place to stay that night, so we could just part ways as soon as he handed me the tickets. He was clearly pissed off at me, and then the real reason he wanted me gone came out. He went into a tirade about how it was totally "disrespectful for me to be sleeping with someone else when I was living under his roof." I burst out laughing. How completely ridiculous. We were roommates, period, sharing a little rented shack. I'm an adult American woman, no one makes rules for me and no one owns me. Even a really stupid American guy should know that. He was acting as if we were married and I'd had an affair. This guy is seriously disconnected from reality. There's not a universe in which I would have ever dated him but somehow he created that little fantasy world in his head. He went on about how all the locals are laughing at him and talking behind his back about it, blah, blah, blah. And the really funny thing about it: I didn't actually sleep with anyone there, though I certainly could have. He stormed off on his little scooter to get online and find plane tickets.

I packed all my things up and hid out at the resort. I obviously wanted to minimize the amount of time I had to be around him. I managed to just pop back to the house and get the flight confirmation numbers from him and when I returned later to get my bag he had left. Naturally, he got me the very most inconvenient flights possible just to be a jerk. Oh, well. The girl who arrived to clean the house said that last time he left it was "very messy," but I told her I had cleaned the kitchen and swept the floors, so it shouldn't be too bad. Carol picked me up and her family welcomed and spoiled me and made sure I got to the airport the next morning. 

Hopefully karma will deal the captain the hand he deserves. Although one very ugly American did his best to ruin my trip, I met countless amazing people, saw great sites, and enjoyed the adventure that presented itself, even if it wasn't the one I had planned. And in the end, I still think the world is my oyster. But perhaps it's best if I'm "the captain of my own ship," as my friend Mike likes to say, so I don't have to worry about any more sleazy captains.

Monday, September 29, 2014

milestones

A lot of milestones this time of year. Yesterday marked two years since I closed on Ambrosia, the first and only home I have ever owned. It is bittersweet insofar as I feel I should have made so much more progress on boat repairs, sailing skills, and miles under keel than I have. But I live hand-to-mouth and there is only so much one can do on such a constrained budget. I either have time or money, but never both, and both are necessary in order to afford equipment and make repairs. So I plod along and do the best I can. If that isn't good enough for someone, they can, well, fuck off. Apparently a lot of people relish giving me crap about being in a floating apartment and not sailing my boat enough. But they aren't cracking open their checkbooks to fund the repairs so they can shove it. And to the great disdain of many sailors, the sailing just doesn't really matter to me. I don't live on a boat so I can daysail around the Chesapeake. I live on a boat so I can be rocked to sleep by the sea and so I can experience endless locales. Cruising for me has nothing to do with raising the sails and everything to do with reaching a peaceful anchorange in Paradise and then a bustling port full of a cacophony of sounds, smells, flavors, and new adventures to embrace. It's great that some people love just sailing around even if they never get anywhere in particular. But they aren't better than me and I'm not better than them. There are a myriad of reasons people choose to live aboard and/or cruise and people would be wise to respect that and be more open-minded, but, yeah, people are stupid. I've been connected to the water my entire life and can't imagine being land-locked, but boating for me is similar to loving a roadtrip but disliking driving (which is also very true for me). I love the personal/spiritual journey, but otherwise it's all about the destination and that adventure. The actual transit, whether by boat or car, involves time, stress, and money, I can't relax or have a cocktail, so it's work. That part is something to be endured so that I can get to some interesting new destination. I guess I'm quite the opposite (and thankful for it) than all the folks who enjoy their sail to the Bahamas and then never spend a dime ashore because they are too cheap and would rather eat all their Costco provisions from Florida and/or who are too scared to leave their boat and venture around the islands actually experiencing anything. Okay, I do think I'm better than those people, so sue me.

Last night I had a strange nightmare that most of the lines on the boat snapped and the boat lurched and rolled when only a stern line held it in a storm and I was flung in the air, trying desperately to hold onto the bow railing. I was tossed about but survived and the pets were all okay.

Another big milestone today: Hunter's first swim. After a long day commuting to DC for junk project work, I got home, walked the pup dog, and took a shower. Shortly after I got back from the bathhouse I heard Hunter wailing. He only makes that kind of loud, guttural cry if he's in a fight or hurt, so I popped my head out the hatch and called to him, but I didn't see him. Then I looked down. Halfway between the dock and the water, there was Hunter, soaking wet and bedraggled, clinging to the piling by his claws and wailing. I immediately talked to him so he knew help was there and jumped off the boat. At first I was going to try to get him to grab the mat I had tied off to a line just for this purpose, but figured if he had any more climbing in him he'd have kept climbing up the piling. I had to lay on the dock and hang over the edge to reach him. He was slippery and thin, and I was worried about him sliding out of my grasp. But I got ahold of him and started pulling him up. He leapt to the dock and ran right onto the boat. The cabin sole was soaked and he tucked into the very forepeak, trying to lick himself dry. I kept trying to towel him off, but he resisted. Eventually his brother came in and helped him dry off, likely explaining that he's "been there, done that" twice already and everything would be okay. Just a mintue or two after I pulled Hunter up a dockmate came by asking if I'd gotten him out. He had heard the cat crying all the way at the other pier and come to help. It's a good thing that cat has a set of lungs on him and I'm grateful there was a dockmate alert enough and who would care enough to come help. I feel bad for Hunter, but it's a lesson better learned at the dock in early fall than while under way or in the winter. He's a brave kitty and I'm glad he's got a good survival instinct. 

In just a few days it will be my two-year anniversary of living aboard. I'm grateful to say that I can't imagine living any other way and I don't regret moving aboard at all. Are there things I may have done differently in hindsight, of course, but working within the financial, logistical, and tempero-spatial constaints I have, I think I've done well, adapted well. While living aboard is definitely not for everyone, it suits me. I've also found that I have a lot more inner strength, stick-to-it-iveness, and determination than I or others gave myself credit, and--as when long-distance running--I know I have an amazing reserve of resiliency to draw on to get through just about anything life throws at me. My recent adventure was quite an adventure, though not at all the one I had planned. But I rolled with it, made the most of it, thoroughly enjoyed myself, challenged myself to leave my comfort zone, and found that my "centeredness" really does give me the balance and strength to do and survive anything.

A postscript/portmortem on the sleazy captain will come shortly. For tonight, I am thankful for my boat; every night I tell her that we love her, that she has saved our lives and we are working to save her, too. I am thankful for my pack, who love me even if they fall overboard, who put up with all the crazy I put them through. And I am thankful for all the amazing people I have met along the way in this cruise through life that has been anything but a "cruise." 

Here are a couple of snaps of the new ink now that it is all healed. I love the piece and hopefully I will make it back to the land of the long white cloud sooner than later and for the long haul.





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

e noho ra aotearoa

Goodbye to the land of the long white cloud, but I do hope it is not too long before I return. New Zealand has such stunning natural beauty and so many wonderful people, I can certainly see myself living there. So, yeah, any hot, single, floppy-haired Kiwis out there?

My last two days in Bay of Plenty were rainy and gray. On Friday I took the city bus from the Rotorua Central Business District to the Whakarewarewa Forest, a/k/a The Redwoods and walked some trails for a couple hours. (I apologize for the delay in getting all the trip photos back online via Flickr; Flickr's interface is very un-user-friendly and uploading so many photos has been challenging between that and the spotty and slow wifi I've been hopping onto here and there). Friday afternoon I took a regional bus back to Tauranga. I had hoped to hit the trails at the Karangahake Gorge on Saturday and stay just late enough to see some glow worms there, but the rain just wouldn't let up. I convinced my hostess Nikki to grab burgers at Astrolabe in Mt. Maunganui for lunch, since the burgers back in the US cannot remotely compare. We decided that after lunch we'd catch a movie someone had recommended, The Dark Horse (see the trailer here: http://youtu.be/X3YopiaQ3k8). We had to drive to the "Kiwifruit capital of the world," Te Puke, to catch a showing. 

The Dark Horse is the true story of a Maori chess champion who suffered with bipolar disorder. It's a moving story about his struggle with mental illness and the social struggles of many Maori. I think it stands on its own as a film worth seeing, but especially recommend it if you are visiting New Zealand. Maori terminology and symbols can be seen everywhere in New Zealand and give the impression that white Kiwis have embraced Maori culture and it's all one big, happy family. The reality is that there is a great deal of underlying racism and resentments running both directions. While I suspect many "white" Kiwis probably have a little Maori in them and take pride in it, there are definitely class distinctions along racial lines. The "chamber of commerce" portrayal of Maori culture will give you pricey hangi buffets and dance shows, but they don't want you to see the poverty or gang problems. I walked around in areas that some white Kiwis would consider unsafe for me, but didn't faze me in the least. Maybe being the palest one on the street made me stand out, but no one made me feel that way. I only wish I had bought a Maori phrasebook at the beginning of the trip so I hadn't been butchering pronunciation and so I could really learn the langauge. I can't imagine living in either the Cooks or New Zealand and not being bilingual. It's like living in Miami and refusing to learn Spanish; you're missing out on a huge part of life there and really only hurting yourself.

Before I had left Rotorua I was back to researching tattoo artists. There are plenty of tattoo shops out there and New Zealand is the tattoo capital of the world from what I was told when I was there. Based on the volume of tats you see when out and about, I tend to think that may be true. I found an artist back in Auckland whose fine line ta moko (traditional Maori tattoo) was right up my alley. I had already bought a bus ticket for Monday to head to Auckland before my flight, but figured I could change plans and head to Auckland a day early if the right tattoo opportunity got sorted. I decided to roll the bones and give a call. The artist, Thomas Clark, was the one to actually answer the phone and I explained I was leaving on an evening flight Monday but wanted to see if there was any way he could see me earlier in the day. He said he had a large piece (8-9 hours) scheduled but he might be able to push it back a couple hours if I could come first thing in the morning. He said it'd be at a studio he's setting up at his house, near the airport. Close to the airport sounded good to me. I had a good feeling about him from speaking on the phone so I sent him a lengthy email about what I was thinking of, where, and why, and we set up an appointment for 9:00am Monday morning. 

Taking the bus back to Auckland, yet again I hadn't figured out where I'd stay. Part of the issue was not being able to walk far with the ridiculous duffel bag full of gear. The bag weighed between 20-23 kilos depending on whether I pulled things out into a gym bag or just had a few items in my small pack. Next time I will have a really good backpack, period. Duffels are bullshit. They are just for people who drive their luggage everywhere or have servants to carry it. If you actually have to carry a bag even a couple blocks a shoulder strap never wants to stay on, you're tipped all sideways from the weight of the bag, and walking down an aisle on a bus or plane means holding it awkwardly in front of you. I couldn't really have packed lighter for the trip I thought I was going on, thus the weight and size of the bag were in large part due to the snokel gear and lifejacket that took up half the space. Oh, and a whole gym bag I had had to take to bring the chartplotter, batteries, flashlights, 5200, et cetera for the scumbag captain. Anyway, next time I will pack lighter and have a serious backpack.


When I got to the city I ended up going with a six-female dorm room at Queen Street Backpackers, just down the block from where I'd been before. People there seemed friendlier and it was cheaper at NZ$27 for the night and free wifi. No lockers in the rooms, a loud, creaky door, and sort of old and dirty, but it was just one night. I chatted with one of my new roommates, from Czech Republic, and convinced her to come out for happy hour. Then we met up with one of my roommates from before, who had also moved to a different hostel. I was tired and had to get up very early, so a few beers and I was done. 

I was up at 6:00am to get to the airport. Although my flight wasn't until 7:15pm, I needed to check my enormous bag and get my boarding pass so I wouldn't have that stress while getting the tattoo. I felt like I was running late and stressing at the airport, but managed to get it all done and catch the local bus to Mangere Bridge. It was less than 10 minutes to walk from the bus stop to the house, so I was relieved to even make it a smidge early (I'm notoriously on "Miami time" and 10 minutes late for everything).

If you've been following along you know I had been planning on getting this Maori mask that's on the ten cent coin as the central feature. It stuck me the first time I saw it in the Cooks because it looks like a cat, then a butterfly, then a warrior. I was thinking of a small piece between my hairline and necklace chain, so the chain wouldn't be breaking across it. Thomas asked me about my family and heritage and how my life was connected to the water. He explained that he felt the mask has a lot of detail and would need to be much bigger than what I was wanting so the lines don't blur together as the tat ages. He also convinced me not to worry about the necklace chain going across it. I just had a good feeling that he understood what I was trying to express, that I needed to trust his ability to capture that, and went for it. I felt he genuinely wanted to understand who I am so the tattoo is meaningful. That willingness and ability to "get" what I was after is what was missing when I spoke with someone earlier in the trip.

As I've probably mentioned, Maori tattoo is not stenciled. The basic outline is drawn on with a Sharpie, a photo is snapped, and then the piece is done freehand. When he showed me the Sharpie version it was not what I had originally envisioned but was beautiful. I had been concerned that a piece of such a different style from the one on my shoulderblade would look odd if they were close together but I saw that it really worked, fit the shape of my neck and back, and had a symetrical elegance. My only requests were couldn't we have a matau (fish hook) and could we add touches of color here and there. Thomas agreed we could do some color if I wanted, but thought I should see it done first before commiting. When it was finished he said he'd add the blues we discussed but really felt the piece was complete and would be more traditional left without any color. When I saw the finished piece I agreed and left it in black line. 

As for the matau, he said it's very touristy and instead of that he made a hammerhead shark, which is a very strong guardian for me on the water and that the hammerhead represents strength and determination, and thus suits me well. (The hammerhead design is formed by two large koru (spirals) coming from either side of the center line.) Koru are the unfurling fronds of the silver fern and represent rebirth and the eternal nature of the universe. The smaller parallel koru represent me and my father, with whom I was very close. The fine directional lines within the design represent navigational signs so I always find my way on the water and in life. The center line is me, independent and often standing on my own. Ta moko is considered a sacred ritual and the piece is very meaningful for me, so I am glad I went with a traditional style. A lifelong memento of my trip but that captures me on its own, and the bonus...takes up no extra space on the boat.

So, drum roll please, and here it is...


When the real work began he apologized that the first line was a really long one, but that it was going so well he didn't want to stop. Any tat right around the spine is going to hurt, so I just reminded myself how laser removal was far, far more painful and I had made it through eight sessions on a large piece on my arm. We were chatting while he worked and I mentioned that my last couple of days had been terribly rainy and one day I decided to just hide from the rain in a movie. I told him I went to see this great movie, The Dark Horse, it's in theaters now, had he heard of it? He was quiet a little longer than I expected, which made me think maybe he didn't care for the film. Then he told me Genesis, the chess champion protagonist, was his uncle and had taught him chess as a boy. I got to hear cool stories and family history and get more context for the film. He put on a documentary that the feature film is based on so I could watch it while he was working. What an incredibly small world it is that led me to that film and to Thomas within days of each other. The universe just has its ways.

I absolutely love the piece and I'm glad I trusted Thomas' suggestions. He did a wonderful job, moved his schedule around to fit me in, and even got me to the airport. If you're getting a tat in New Zealand, check out his page at https://www.facebook.com/matakioretamoko/photos_stream, and you can also find his contact details there.

In addition to lots of great Kiwis and Pacific Islanders, I met cool backpackers along the way, and may have even left a better impression of Americans than much of the world has. There is definitely a view that Americans are ignorant of the world, and, sadly, many of them are. If you followed the government's directions you'd never learn about another culture or have much fun when traveling. They'd rather you stay blissfully ignorant of the larger world around us and the fact that the US is not the center of it. They tell you not to eat street food or drink the water or have sex or get tattoos (I almost did all those things on this trip, wink-wink). Well, that's a sanitised way of travelling that keeps the sheeple dumb and easy to control. People would say to me that I seem nice, that most Americans they meet seem nice, but that they hate our government and its policies. Well, so do a lot of Americans. Our government gives us all a bad name and makes it more dangerous for us to travel because its terrible policies are attributed to us. I simply cannot comprehend traveling to another country and not learning as much of the language as possible, eating all the local food I can, spending as much time steeped in the local culture as I can. If all you want out of travel is to lay on a pretty beach, speak English, and eat McDonald's, you can do that in most of Florida so please just stay stateside so the rest of the world doesn't think we're all that mindless. OK, rant over.

My flight from Auckland to San Francisco was 11.5 hours; the flight from San Fran to Baltimore is 5+. So, roughly 17 hours flying time, plus 4 hour layover, plus arriving early enough for my flight out of Auckland equals over 24 hours in transit. I think I'm going to sleep in when I finally arrive, except I will want to get up and go fetch my sweet pup dog and give her a huge hug. I'll miss the Cooks and New Zealand, but it will be good to be back with my pack. I am so incredibly grateful to all my friends who made the trip possible, by babysitting my pets and boat, stepping up as emegency back-up pet-sitters, driving me to or from airports and bus stations, and welcoming me into their homes. I'm blessed by great friends and the kindness of strangers, many of whom I am lucky to now call friends.




Thursday, September 11, 2014

spa day

Being on a tight budget, I didn't really have a "spa day" in the girly-girl sense, but I did spend 3 hours and 45 minutes moving between six different geothermally heated hot pools at the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. I had considered going to a less fancy, but actually pricier, spot outside of town that has mud baths, too, but it would have been a chunk of money and a shuttle ride to get there and back. It turned out that Polynesian is just two blocks from my hostel, Crash Palace, so I couldn't pass up the ease of that.

Three of the pools in the Adult Pools and Priest Spa area are alkaline, excellent for the skin, and three are acidic, good for relaxing sore muscles. Temperatures are 39C/102F, 41C/105F, and 42C/107F. I tried to drink plenty of water from the fountains and had to pop in and out to cool off a bit now and then. The view was stunning, looking out at an acidic and very geothermally active section of Lake Rotorua, with steam rising off the water and birds enjoying the refuge, though nothing can live in the highly acidic and oxygen-depleted water, so the birds have to forage elsewhere. A few of the pools have cover if the sun or rain are too much, but when soaking in that super-heated water, the sprinkles and misting that came down now and then were more a relief than an annoyance. I spent my first and last soaks in the large pool right on the lake front. A couple of feet of geothermally active hot rocks are all that separates you from the lake, so you feel very connected to the natural environment. I didn't want to worry about having any valuables with me or paying for a locker so I didn't take a camera, but you can check out the view on the Polynesian Spa website. Access to the Adult Pools and Priest Spa was NZ$27 plus NZ$5 to use a towel. The Deluxe Lake Spa is a little more, but it is only alkaline pools and I definitely wanted to try both. Being the off-season it was uncrowded, with at most four or five of us in a pool at once, and usually I was by myself or with just one or two others. Probably half of the people there were tourists and half were local Rotorua residents, who can purchase a discounted pass. If I lived here I'd surely be in there after every long run! (And, yes, my runner-friends, there is a Rotorua Marathon to come run!)

I chatted with several Kiwis and one American couple. It is so wonderful how much the Kiwis love their country and how genuinely interested they seem to be in finding out if you are enjoying your stay and in giving tips on what to see and do. The scenery has been breathtaking both in the Cooks and in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand), but by far the notable discovery and highlight of the trip has been the wonderful, kind, and interesting people I have met. Traveling alone has some (but not many) downsides, but one big upside is being more likely to interact with locals. If you don't eat local food, talk to local people, and learn local langauge, I just don't think you're experiencing another country. 

I was exhausted after all that relaxation, or more likely just famished and dehydrated. I had some chocolate then made brie sandwiches for lunch. I had hoped the electrical outlets might be fixed in my room at the hostel, but no such luck, so not bringing my solar charger on this little side trip was a mistake. My phone ran itself down overnight and the ipad really needs overnight to be fully charged, so I'm limping along on battery warnings todays. The hostel owner charged my phone overnight, but it means I didn't have access to it until morning. The hostel provides some free food to cook, including instant coffee, tea, a full range of spices, pasta, and cereal. The hostel is "dry" so you can't bring in your own alcohol and have to buy it from the hostel to drink there in the common areas, but the prices are a little lower than at bars in town. The atmosphere is a little more friendly and communal than the hostel I stayed at in Auckland. The big downsides for me were not being able to charge my toys in my room and no lockers in the rooms. So if I want to lock up valuables I have to use a locker in the lobby, though at least they are under video surveillance. The rooms also lock with traditional keys, so if I have a roomate who doesn't lock the door when leaving anyone can just walk in the room and take things. The owner acted like the electrical problems were due to recent work by the landlord, but there are reviews online mentioning the same problem so I tend to think it is status quo and the hostel is just bullshit. I was pretty happy to check out and pay NZ$5 to store my bag at the information center for the day.

The only time I've felt at all unsafe on the trip was walking from the hostel at just 7:00pm Wednesday evening to get to Brew Bar where Aussie Shaun Kirk (http://shaunkirk.com/ such a shame he doesn't have the hot blonde dreadlocks anymore... but I digress) was playing a free show to kick off his New Zealand tour. The streets were deserted and a couple of young Maori guys started following me, likely teamed up with two young girls up ahead of me who aggressively said hello, probably just to gauge my accent. These guys were far from being the huge Polynesian guys Americans are familiar with as American football players, so if they really decided to give me trouble this runner could pretty easily leave them in the dust and they'd learn quickly that I'm way meaner and more trouble than they'd be planning on. I met some Kiwis while at Brew Bar so they walked back to the hostel with me for a beer and a couple games of pool before calling it a night. They seemed surprised I'd walked that whole way alone, but it was only 10 blocks at most and couldn't look tamer, especially for someone who walks around Baltimore after midnight alone.

Thursdays from 5:00pm to 8:00pm are Farmers' Market night in Rotorua. It was an excellent way to have dinner without committing to one thing. I started with two large steamed pork buns for NZ$4, walked the length of the market eyeing all the food and cool stuff for sale, and rested over a real pint of cider at an Irish pub. I had some yummy chicken nuggets (NZ$5) from one stall and then a piece of Maori fried bread (NZ$3) with butter from another. Dessert was a lemon and sugar crepe (NZ$5), soooo good. 


I forgot to take pictures of some things, so I went back to the stall with traditional Maori food and asked to take a couple photos for my blog. The sisters who run the stall are very friendly and it occured to me to ask them if the mask on the ten cent coin has any particular meaning. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:New_Zealand_dollar_coins_May_2011.jpg). I really like the design, which looks like a cat, and a butterfly, and a warrior, all at once. And I am all those things, so it suits me well. The design already has koru in it, so I just want to see if an artist would incorporate a fish hook into it, perhaps on the tongue. But as one non-Maori woman mentioned to me, some Maori tattoo artists, particularly very authentic ones, might refuse to give me a traditional tattoo because I'm not Maori. And I do understand that it can be tacky and disrespectful to get a traditional design as a random tourist thing, particularly because ta moko, traditional Maori tattoo art, is considered a sacred ritual. When I was asking the sisters about the design I told them it would be for a tattoo and that although I'm obviously not Maori I am part Cherokee and Sioux from the US. They nodded approvingly and said, "So you're still indigenous!" They also told me to tell the artist about my family history because they incorporate that into the design, it tells a story of your heritage. They didn't know any specific meaning to that design, but suggested asking the artists or other Maori designers if they happen to know. I was thinking I'd go get a tattoo at a shop in Rotorua before the bus back, but the artist I wanted to see was out of town. It's also just very difficult to get in anywhere without a couple days' notice, which is hard to manage when traveling. 

I couldn't pass up two little trinkets I found at the market. A pair of very lightweight purple earrings with a koru pattern for NZ$15 and skull hair barrettes for NZ$5. Both artisans were very friendly and helpful, but I don't think they have online stores going yet, though one does have a Facebook page. 


After the market I walked around looking for live music or a good scene but the streets were pretty quiet again. I popped into a different Irish bar for another cider. The bartendress had recently been in the US for her father's funeral and we chatted a while. She popped out with another cider and said it was on the house since I've had a hard time on the trip. I thanked her and told her she was too sweet! She gave me some tips on getting a work visa for New Zealand, and that the boating industry or ability to cook might be good avenues. The most important thing is to find out what industries they need, find an employer who wants me, and have them file the request. Hmmm... I might need to get Ambrosia ready for some big blue water...

Before taking the bus back to Tauranga I took a city bus to The Redwoods, a free set of trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest. It's a large native forest but was also planted with a variety of exotic trees, most notably towering California Redwoods. It was a gray, rainy day, but the forest was amazingly green and only cost me the NZ$5 round-trip bus fare.


I'm definitely missing my pup and cats but I will be sad to leave New Zealand...less than three days until I fly back to reality. I have a few short, goofy videos from the Cooks and New Zealand that I need to get up on the YouTube channel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

bay of plenty

I checked out of the hostel on Saturday morning, stowed my enormous bag at the travel shop for a couple of hours, and set out for something to fill a couple hours before the bus to Tauranga. I'm glad I took the time to find the stop for the Naked Bus because it was on a block where only one storefront had a street number visable and there was no sign or anything to indicate that was the bus stop. I happened to see a sign for a shuttle to the aquarium and it listed the same address as the Naked Bus stop, so I crossed my fingers that I'd found the right spot. Thankfully, when I showed up lugging my enormous, heavy bag there were two buses lined up and one was indeed the one I needed.

In the meantime, I was looking for some breakfast/lunch because the bus ride would be three hours right around lunch time and it's never fun to arrive somewhere new famished. I noticed some tents ahead and happily discovered the Saturday farmers' market. I had a beef empanada from one stand and a ham and cheese croissant from another, both delicious.


The farmers' market was breakfast, I got on a bit of wifi at the travel shop, and then I figured I needed something for lunch before heading for the bus. I decided to try out The White Lady bus parked by the hostel. It looked and smelled good, but I hadn't tried it before because a cheese burger is NZ$10 and it's only take-away. To get a burger, fries, and shake is NZ$20! But the burger was admittedly quite juicy and tasty, though I might skip the carmelized onions if I did it again.


I slept intermittently on the bus and awoke to rolling pastures with cattle and sheep. I snapped photos as best I could from the bus, but the countryside was lush and green and again reminded me of Oregon, especially when the sun gave way to clouds and rain. 

I've been well spoiled in the lovely Bay of Plenty. Nikki was waiting there for me when the bus arrived in Tauranga. Phil and Nikki have a beautiful home and the whole family was very welcoming. That night they had friends over to watch the All Blacks rugby match and Nikki served up melt-in-your-mouth slow-roasted lamb and the most wonderful cous cous with orange zest and pistachios. Sunday was fathers' day here. After Nikki and I took a walk down the beach and strolled back with a coffee, Phil and Nikki took me to "the Mount," i.e., Mount Maunganui. We walked the breathtaking trail around the base of Mauao, the volcanic focal point of town. Phil spotted a fur seal splashing just offshore, so I'm hoping I'll see more when I return for another walk there. For dinner we had a Kiwi barbeque, Phil grilled up incredibly tender beef kabobs and Nikki made a red and green cabbage slaw and a chickpea salad I couldn't get enough of. I felt bad that they were constantly feeding me so well, so on Monday I walked to the grocery store for provisions. When I got back to the house I made chicken with apricot sausage, white wine parmesan risotto, and baby spinach sautéed with olive oil and garlic.


On Tuesday I took the bus to Tauranga, checked out The Strand (little shops and restaurants, though it seemed sleepy by day), then hopped the bus on to Mt. Maunganui. At that point it was almost 2:00pm and I was famished, so lunch was the priority. Astrolabe turned out the most amazing burger, paired with a Mac's Black beer. Yum! I don't know if it's the meat, the seasoning, or both, but burgers in the Cooks and New Zealand are the best I've ever had. And those who know this runner-girl know she's a "bottomless pit for food" and likes a good burger and fries. I don't know how I'll suffer through American burgers after this trip.

I walked the main strip of boutiques and window-shopped and then headed for the challenge of the day: the summit of Mauao. It was not an easy trek up, but I did take the more gradual route up and then the steep stairs down. The views from the top were worth the effort to get there. I was impressed by all the folks getting in an afternoon trail run on those hills. Folks were also out paragliding. Rain was just around the corner, so I'm glad I seized that clear, sunny day to tackle the Mount.


I'll be back in Papamoa soon, but yesterday I bussed over to Rotorua, so now it's time for a couple days in the geothermal hot spot of New Zealand!

I seriously dislike icloud so I've had to come up with another solution for photos. (P.S. I tried switching to Flickr but the interface is nightmarishly bad. And I would spent hours setting albums to be publicly viewable, and then they still wouldn't be. Basically anything to do with Yahoo sucks so I deleted the Flickr account, and will have to come up with another solution. C'est la vie.)