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...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


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 rmy 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: 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, 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 ( 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. ( 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. Working as best I can to get all the photos uploaded to Flickr, so do check the link I've added on the main page. I also 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. It will take a bit for me to get things sorted and uploaded but this will be the new home of my photos: Check back there in a couple days and hopefully I'll have gotten all the photos from the trip so far uploaded and organized into albums.

Friday, September 5, 2014

cafe culture

Monday: I made it in time for the walking tour from the hostel, but the guy who leads the tour was sick and as the girl in the travel shop said "the weather is rubbish" so they cancelled it. It turns out that I had basically already covered their walking tour with my big loop yesterday, anyway. I do still want to pop by the fish market, even though I'm allergic, just to see it. I thought about making today the zoo day but the zookeeper talks today don't cover the NZ birds and reptiles, so I'll wait for tomorrow. 

I hopped on a city link bus to Karangahape Road (a/k/a K'Road), which has vintage and second-hand shops, cafes, tattoo parlors, and sort of a general counterculture element. Apparently Ponsonby Road is the more upscale hipster hangout and K'Road is slightly "shabbier." When I got off the bus I went into The Paper Bag Princess and found a pair of second-hand jeans for NZ$9 and a cute short-sleeved top for NZ$4. I only have one pair of long pants on the trip since I thought I'd spend 99% of my time in a bikini. The farther south I head from Auckland the colder it will get, so the jeans will come in handy and I won't cry if they get roughed up climbing or caving, but I would cry if I wrecked my fav yoga pants. I should get a long-sleeved t or a sweater, but I wasn't completely in love with any I tried on, so I'll keep looking. 

I turned down Queen Street for a couple blocks and saw a noodle shop packed with Asians. All the other spots I passed were empty, so I headed back to try ShaolinKungFu Noodle. I should have trusted my gut that the meat would not be up my alley, but I got a huge lamb noodle bowl. The broth and noodles were great, but the lamb was gray, flavorless, and mostly gristle. I wish I'd gone with either lamb and fennel potstickers or a tofu and veggie noodle bowl, but c'est la vie. I feel like as much broth splashed on my fav t-shirt as made it down my throat, so now I'm worried the top will be stained. Eating huge flat noodles and broth with chopsticks isn't exactly easy or neat, at least for me! I felt like all the Asians were staring and laughing at this white girl fumbling with her chopsticks and noodles, and wanted to scream "You had your whole life to master chopsticks, give me a break!" But I'm sure none of them even noticed me as the cacophony of all the different conversations bounced off the walls. 

I stopped into a tattoo studio ( that is by far the fanciest I've ever seen, so I tend to think it's outside my budget. Since a cafe culture is big in Auckland I figured my trip to these neighborhoods would be a good time to stop for coffees along the way to rest, write, and people watch. Coffee seems pricey to me here, but I think I've at least figured out that what I am looking for is a "long black" with some hot water added. I settled into a comfy couch for a long black at Alleluya Cafe and enjoyed a bit of free wifi. 

K'Road was full of cute, eclectic shops reminiscent of Portland.  I wandered up a narrow stairwell to Dreamhands Tattoo ( just to browse around. They told me to make myself comfortable, sit down and browse the books for ideas, and brought me a cup of green tea. One of the artists, Liam, was sitting at a table sketching and gave me some great tips for travel. He turned me onto Naked Bus, which is a cheap bus line for me to hop around the country, but doesn't involve any nudity. He's from the south island and got online to show me a beautiful national park at the north end of south island near his home town. Everyone makes it sound imperative to see Queenstown, but it's a long haul to get all the way down there and the budget is just too tight. But it would be cool to take the bus down north island and hop the ferry across to be able to see a bit of the south island. I wanted to see portfolios of the work from folks at Dreamhands so I begged off getting anything right then and headed to Ponsonby Road.

The same things at a second-hand store (called an "op shop" here) might cost NZ$20 on K'Road, but NZ$100 on Ponsonby. It's just obviously posher and while the shops were cute, they were too pricey to even be worth much window-shopping. It was a dreary rainy day so although the very large park on Ponsonby, possibly the oldest in the city, was tempting, I figured I should find a nicer day for walking through it. I popped into a pub for a beer and was shocked to find bar stools at the bar. It really makes a bar so much more welcoming.

Friday: When I got back to the hostel on Monday evening and mentioned I might go back to K'Road the next day to see about a tattoo, one of the girls in my room asked to come along. On Tuesday we went back to Otautati since I was feeling I should do some traditional moko Maori ink, though I was very tempted to see what lotus flower work Liam at Dreamhands might be able to do for me. I had to make an appointment, and make a NZ$50 deposit, to come back on Wednesday to see the artist at Otautati. The traditional Maori patterns are generally hand-drawn right onto you, ensuring that each one is unique and that it flows with the shape of your body. I explained what I was looking to do and why it was meaningful to me. He drew on a piece but it was a very big solid-looking piece and definitely not what I had in mind. 

I really like the idea of a piece on my upper neck along the hair line, but the very old butterfly simply had to be covered as part of that. I came back again on Thursday to see what the artist had come up with, but again it just wasn't capturing what I was after or covering the butterfly. It's a pretty design, but not what I was after.

I decided there just wasn't a good fit and I'd pass. Luckily my friend Elsa who came along for these various appointments decided she definitely wanted a turtle, so they just applied my deposit toward her tattoo and I got my cash back. I went back to Dreamhands hoping to chat with Liam about a small cover for the butterfly, but he wasn't there at the moment. Another artist there said he could definitely do a lotus and use a leaf to cover the butterfly, but they were talking about NZ$300, which seems really expensive for what I envision as a small neck tattoo. Anyway, the large cover I need to do should match with it, so it would be best to have the same artist do all that work in the same style. It would have been nice to get a Maori fish hook (matau) with fern spirals (koru), as those designs have a lot of meaning for me, (safety over water and rebirth), but I think it just wasn't meant to be on this trip. Perhaps when I get back to the Cooks I'll go back to Polynesian Tattoo in Rarotonga, where I felt the artist would work well with me and was much less pricey than in Auckland.

I sat with Elsa for almost two hours while her turtle tattoo was drawn on but she felt bad having me spend my last day in Auckland sitting there with her. I felt bad to leave her without someone to distract her during the painful bit, but I headed out. I grabbed a quick lunch of beef curry over rice for NZ$4 at a cafe on K'Road that serves two choices every day for lunch at that price and all the money goes to help fight homelessness. Elsa and I grabbed lunch there yesterday, too, and it was good, a nice portion, and the price was right! Then I walked through beautiful, lush Western Park and mugged for selfies in front of the trees.

Off to the zoo! I had to get online to figure out a bus to get to the zoo, and the stops and routes are not very clear. But I finally found the bus I needed. A whopping NZ$4 one-way to get there, plus the zoo will be NZ$28, and just three+ hours to see the zoo, but better than just wasting my last day in town. I generally dislike the idea of animals in cages and that aspect of what zoos are about, but more and more zoos play an important role in wildlife and habitat conservation, through both education and breeding programs. Auckland Zoo appears to be very involved in promoting conservation and was also the most "open" zoo I recall visiting. There are a lot of areas (not the lions and tigers, duh) where animals are free to walk around though people are directed to stay on the path. So wallabys and lots of birds could hop, stroll, or fly on over to investigate the goofy humans. 

I didn't get to see any kiwis, which was disappointing, but they are just too shy and noctural. The very cool blue penguins were hiding under an overturned row boat to stay out of the rain, but the seals were playing and goofing off tirelessly. The zoo has virtually no feeling of traditional cages or wire, with lots of natural materials and beautiful Maori design elements incorporated throughout. It was heartbreaking to see signs that said along the side "gone forever" and on the front listing the all-too-numerous native New Zealand species that are now forever gone. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

rainy days

I got in a little over 12 miles running this morning and then hoped to head for the zoo. Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, I think the buses run less frequently and I wouldn't have more than a couple hours at the zoo. At NZ$28 to get in, I want to make sure I have plenty of time to walk around and while I'm really only interested in going to see the native flora and fauna, since apparently some very large percentage of New Zealand's bird species are unique to New Zealand, I wouldn't have made it in time for the zookeepers talk on NZ birds.

All I'd had to eat thus far was a Clif bar and some shot bloks on the run, so I'm pretty famished. I wandered down very cute Vulcan Lane, full of little cafes. I finally settled on Vulture's Lane, a craft beer pub. I think my pint of dunkelweizen, which is quite smooth and lovely, will be a staggering NZ$9 or so a pint, and I ordered mac and cheese with sausage to go along with it. I thought the burgers in the Cooks were crazy expensive at NZ$8.50+, but they were twice the size and twice as good as the one I paid NZ$15 for at Sandbar on Waiheke. The burgers here looked good and enormous, but the mac and cheese was a good call, comforting, and fair at NZ$10. It's blustery and cold out, so I sat right next to the little fireplace and got all toasty warm.

I needed to figure out where to wander about and the tourism authority magazine I was browsing mentioned that the Auckland Art Gallery is free of charge. The bartenders pointed me in the right direction and I walked just a few blocks up to the art gallery. I took about an hour and half to walk through then headed to adjacent Albert Park. The park is quite lush and beautiful. From what I've seen so far Auckland is a beautiful city. One of the things that has made me love it as a runner and pedestrian is that there are water fountains and clean, safe public restrooms all over. They were conveniently located along my waterfront running route (likely for beachgoers in summer) but I also spotted ones in Albert Park. I could definitely see myself living in New Zealand, which is pretty rare for me to say.

I walked up past the Sky Tower and made a large loop around the Central Business District. I went into a pub but as I've found too often here, there was a long bar with no bar stools. It's very unwelcoming to someone on their own because I don't want to take up a large table or couches by myself, but I also want to be comfortable. It'd also be nice if the atmosphere were more conducive to meeting people, though, alas, I haven't actually spotted any hot Kiwi guys yet. I strolled back out the other side and headed to the grocery store a couple blocks away. I needed some food for breakfasts, though I'm nervous about putting it in the communal fridge at the hostel. Prices in the grocery store are, of course, far more reasonable. In theory I could cook all my meals at the hostel, but not eating out in a new city seems a crime to me...dining out is the best way to experience the city, its flavors, and people watch. I'm not here to shop and there is only so much window-shopping I can take since it simply enhances the feeling of poverty. But if I'm just famished and need to eat, I'd rather grab something at the grocery store and save a bit than eat junk. I had possibly the worst quasi-Mexican food ever at Mad Mex a few doors down from the hostel. And I sure didn't come half-way around the world to eat fast food I can eat back home (and I don't want to break my fast-food-free streak going all of 2014 so far). Eating out also provides a place to sit and study maps and travel information, write these blog posts, and just not be sitting idle on my bunk in the hostel, which would be totally depressing.

On the way from the grocery store I stopped at another pricey pub with no bar stools. It looked more happening and inviting from outside. The hot mulled cider was good on this cold day, but I'll find a better value for my money for dinner tonight. Since I have no idea where I'm going once I check out on Wednesday, I think perhaps this evening I should start looking at the bus and train options and whether I can afford to grab a hostel in Waitomo and then in Rotorua. I could so sink into a geothermal hot spring or mud bath after I have to run 14 miles next weekend. So, we'll see. It's all up in the air, which is nice and nerve-wracking at the same time, but I do prefer to be able to just set my own agenda as I see fit and go with my whims. So it's really only budget that constrains me, so I just have to be especially creative. 

Good news: the bar attached to the hostel has a deal for backpackers at the hostel where if I buy any pizza at regular price, I get a jug (about 2.3 pints) of house beer "free." I had expected to buy the NZ$12 jug of beer anyway, so for it to come gratis with my NZ$11 Hawaiian pizza was a no-brainer. I could defintiely have eaten a medium pizza rather than just a small, but for tonight it will do just fine. The atmosphere is pretty cute and my room actually looks down onto the rooftop bar area where I'm sitting. 

On my run this morning I passed Okahu Bay, which was my 3-mile mark and turnaround on earlier runs. I passed through Mission Bay, Kohimarama Beach, and hit my turnaround point at St. Hellier's Bay. From downtown until Okahu there were only a handful of other running or cyclists on the path, but from Mission Bay onward there were a lot of folks out, running, biking, walking dogs, and even kayaking in the cold and wind.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

waiheke island

The next four days in Auckland are looking rainy and windy, but with today being perhaps the least rainy I decided to walk to the ferry a few blocks from the hostel and head to Waiheke Island. It's a 45 minute ferry ride and thanks to my wonderful friends Lane and Eli providing a donation towards my adventures, I upgraded this trip from just a ferry ride and all day bus pass to the "Taste of Waiheke" tour with wine and olive oil tastings and a tour of the island. Lane and Eli are oenophiles enough that they even had their wedding reception at a lovely vineyard and rather than a little bag of Jordan almonds as a memento for their guests, we each received a specially-labelled bottle of wine to take home. So, I knew using their "blog subsciption" toward a wine tour would be very appropriate. Thanks Lane and Eli!

First stop was Stonyridge Vineyards. We had tastings of a chardonnay and a merlot. The whites from Stonyridge are all made from grapes from other vineyards farther south in New Zealand, but all the reds are grown on the vineyards there. We enjoyed a lovely lunch with baby greens, delicious spinach quiche, chicken quiche, and cheese and grapes. They gave us a special deal to have a glass of either wine we tasted for NZ$5, so I enjoyed a glass of the merlot called Faithful, named after the vineyard dog, a Labrador Retriever, who passed away four years ago or so. (Yes, I'm missing my pup dog and cats.)

Next stop: Rangihoua Estate olive farm. The olive oils were quite tasty, and each distinctive. My favorite was the one that was actually rated a top 20 olive oil worldwide by some Italian authority. It was just a bit too pricey for me to buy a bottle of olive oil but I couldn't pass up the jar of herb spread for NZ$15, so my Annapolis friends can look forward to trying it when I arrive back home.

Next we stopped at Wild on Waiheke, a local microbrewey. We sampled a pale ale and a porter, (the porter was delicious), and then a ginger beer. The ginger beer was quite nice, better than Goslings, but apparently can't be taken out of the country because it and their cider have no preservatives whatsoever. I would've upgraded to add a shot of local island rhum and make it a dark and storny, but need to get cash and didn't want to run a card for just a little sample shot.

Final stop was Mudbrick Vineyard. We tasted a Sauvingnon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Bordeaux style red blend, and two Syrah. The grapes grown in New Zealand are quite similar to those that do well in Oregon (Oregon does Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris that are world-renowned). Particularly on this rainy, blustery day, Waiheke reminds me of Oregon in terrain and weather. There truly is something about volcanic soil that makes for amazing wines.

Apparently a few orcas were spotted swimming around the island a couple of days ago so I was hopeful I might see them, but no such luck. I guess they are spotted here a couple of times a year passing through.

I opted to stay on the island and walk around, visit the little shops, and have dinner before heading back to Auckland city. I popped into a beautiful shop of jewellery and sculpture by Paora. I was immediately welcomed by the scent of nag champa incense, which just soothes one's soul. Paora's work is very elegant and unbusy. If my budget were larger I would certainly have picked up a memento of New Zealand there. He was busy carving by hand at his jeweller's bench as we chatted, and it is always so nice to meet the artist rather than just get something mass-produced without personal touch. I tried to pop back in to get a web address to include here and find out if he might have a small koru charm on its own (there were ones attached to various semi-precious stone necklaces running around NZ$90) that I could add to my necklace, but alas he had already closed up for the evening. Here is a beautiful sculpture out in front of his shop, not sure if it is his work but it would seem logical to be.

Oh, here are my awesome Keen shoes that make me really look like a backpacker. I love them.

The shops closed up at 5:00PM so I should have done my window-shopping earlier rather than stopping for a coffee and cookie, but I headed to Sandbar for a burger, fries, and pint of beer for dinner. The outside tables with a great view of the beach are probably hopping on a sunny day. I think between it being winter here and a cold, rainy day, the island was relatively quiet for a Saturday. I'll probably make it an early night and catch a ferry back to Auckland before too long. 

Not sure what surprise will await at the hostel; for some reason one of the girls in the room had to move rooms, which she was upset about. I was grateful because she sleeps all day (so we tip-toe around even at noon) but then she stays up very late and won't turn the lights off. This even though she can easily see her tablet in the dark to read and write, and there are plenty of community spaces she could hang out in for that, but the rest of us would like some peace, quiet, and darkness for getting some sleep. Such are the downsides of dorm living, so fingers crossed whatever new roommates have arrived are better and not worse. I still have to decide what my plan is for tomorrow. I'd like to see the zoo and the unique-to-New Zealand flora and fauna, even though I do hate for animals to be caged. Monday there is a little walking tour from the hostel, so perhaps I won't be late and miss it like I did Friday's. I'd also like to see some of the eclectic and hip areas of town like K'Road, Mt. Eden, and Ponsonby. What I really need to do is get out for a 14 mile run, so perhaps I will rally for that tomorrow morning. I know I will feel better having knocked it out and I don't want my training, (or my figure), to slide any more than it already has.

For folks who may not be up on every exchange rate, when you see the New Zealand dollar prices I lament in these posts, multiply by .85 for the US dollar price. Two things that make the prices sting a smidge less is that (1) they already include tax and (2) tipping is not customary here.