the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

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 jeweler'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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

off for a sail

Got in another run along the waterfront this morning and took some great photos. Unfortunately, stopping along the way to snap photos meant I got back from the run too late to make the walking tour from the hostel so I'll try to catch the one on Monday. I extended my room here at Nomad's for another 4 nights, so I'll have time to check out the city a bit, go to the zoo, and take the ferry over to Waiheke Island for winery tours and tripping around for a day out there. I haven't settled on what I'll do after that though I definitely want to see the Waitomo Caves with the glow worms and might even try to get to Queenstown if possible since so many people have said it's a not-to-be-missed place. Still need to sit down and sort the tight budget to see what I can swing.

Yesterday I passed a Korean restaurant with just Asians at the tables and a "top ten cheap eats" sign on the door. I decided to give it a whirl for lunch since it was right around the corner and I needed to get laundry done before going on the sailboat races this afternoon. For NZ$13 I got a plate of rice with spicy pork and vegetables, along with four small bowls of sides. I know one was cabbage and another bean sprouts (in a light vinegar dressing reminiscent of German cucumber salad), but all of it was delicious. And I manged to eat all but a couple grains of rice using just my chop sticks.

This afternoon I went out for the Friday night Rum Races in Auckland harbor on a Hanse 43 docked at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, somewhat "home" of the Americas Cup (so just don't mention this past year). I've only been racing a handful of times and it's not fundamental to my nature, but I always try to look at it as an opportunity to learn and I was thrilled at the chance to get in some sailing after so much sailing disappointment on this trip. I forewarned that I wasn't good for much but rail meat, and mostly did alright at that other than two tacks where I didn't scramble quickly enough and found myself somewhat hopelessly on the low side unable to pull myself across. The second time I had been poised to launch myself quickly to the other side during the tack but waited a nanosecond too long and the fulcrum swung against me. I began sliding backwards, head first, with little to grip to keep from sliding ever closer to the lifelines and the cold waters below. I shouted for help and scrambled to grab onto other crew to pull me up to the high side. Wet decks, a sharp heel, and gusting 30 knots or more; I was grateful those guys managed to pull me across that slippery foredeck quickly! Many thanks to Zane for bringing me along and to the owner, Kim, and all the crew for having me out. I've now seen Auckland from likely the two best vantage points, the water and the sky. And despite my not being the best rail meat out there, we came in first place with our handicap! 

One of the things I most like about New Zealand so far is that it has such great and varied outdoor activities. From mountains to beaches, geothermal hot springs and caving, sailing and surfing, the rugged terrain lends itself to an outdoorsy lifestyle and mentality that I like. It reminds me a lot of Oregon, but with good weather instead of endless gray drizzle.

Now It's only 8:00PM on a Friday night and I think I need a proper dinner (I inhaled chips, crackers, and brie aboard--it's embarrasing being a bottomless pit for food but when running this girl is always ready to eat). I'd like to freshen up and try to find a place to settle in for some wine and dinner and see if I can find some hot floppy-haired Kiwis out here, but I'm pretty exhausted so that may have to wait for tomorrow night.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

kia ora

Wednesday: Hello from New Zealand! I arrived very early (about 4:00AM) in Auckland. Flying from Rarotonga to Auckland involved crossing the international date line, a first for me, so suddenly Tuesday went poof! and the clock just moved forward an entire day. The upside is that is one less night I needed to spend money on a hotel! I still haven't wrapped my head around the international date line, and had thought I'd have plenty of time to philosophize and come to grips with the concept while sailing across it, but I'll just roll with it like everything else. 

I spent my last night on Aitutaki in Vaipae, on the other side of the island from Amuri, where I had been. Carol and her family were incredibly gracious to scoop me up after they went to church, bring me to their house, settle me into a room of my own, get me on their wifi, and feed me well (ice cream and yellow bread for lunch, some mango, then delicious chicken, pumpkin, rice, potato salad and spinach for dinner). I offered to help cook but she said she's not much of a cook and her husband does all the cooking; she certainly is blessed! And of course Carol made sure I got to the airport on time in the morning. Vaipae is quieter, and it was nice not to hear the sometimes-continual buzz of scooters going by that one can get in Amuri. I'm sad that I went all that way and didn't get to see the beautiful lagoon and its giant clams, snorkel, or enjoy much beach and water time, or hike across the island. However, I arrived a tourist and left a friend, so I will certainly have to return to beautiful Aitutaki. A huge and heartfelt thank you to Carol and her entire family and to Emma, too!

I arrived in Rarotonga at 10:00AM and had until 1:45AM for my flight to Auckland. I left luggage at the airport and paid NZ$16 for an all-day bus pass to go round the island. I grabbed a great burger and fries at Boogie's Burgers in Avarua, then headed to Muri to see likely the nicest stretches of beach in Raro. I immediately regretted not wearing a bikini under my clothes so I could've hopped in for a swim or a snorkel, but going back to the airport would have taken too much time. I sat on the beach and enjoyed the view while trying to get my phone and ipad charged up with my solar charger. I waded in the waves a bit, and watched some of the various off-leash dogs wander about. They always approach me, never aggressive, give a sniff, and once they realize I have no food they just take a pet or two and move on.

I hopped the bus again and headed further around the island. I stopped for a happy hour glass of wine at a very elegant resort and watched rough waves building and crashing just past the beach. I walked further down the road and stopped at The Anchorage for a beer and some delicious garlic bread. The bartendress there was very friendly and helpful and also a blogger, so hopefully she'll pass along her blog information if she wanders over to read this one. The Anchorage had a bookshelf full of books and games and the librarian's daughter in me couldn't help but start organizing the books to fit the shelves better while I waited, but I stopped short of organizing into subject areas. I headed out to the road early so I wouldn't miss the bus going by as I needed to get back to airport. Now the sun had set and all was dark. I waited and waited, but the bus still hadn't come and I grew concerned about whether there was time enough for me to walk. A woman pulled up on a scooter. "Where you going?" she asked. I told her I was waiting on the bus for the airport but it still hadn't come. "Hop on." she told me. I asked if she was sure and she said she had to go right by the airport anyway on the way to her husband's bowling match. So, we zipped along around the last stretch of the island and she dropped me right at the little terminal. My experience has been that while Cook Islanders could be reserved at first, once you break through that circumspection, once you show that you are interested in the locals, they welcome you with open arms. One ugly American put a damper on my trip, but countless Cook Islanders and Kiwis have made the trip a wonderful adventure.

Thursday: I arrived in New Zealand yesterday not even knowing where I would stay the night or where I should head. I spent a few hours in the Auckland airport with a Rarotongan, Doug, who had been seated next to me on the flight, helping him get sorted for his onward flight and gathering an armful of maps and brochures to try to orient myself since I hadn't yet done much research on New Zealand. Though I'm quite free-spirited, I never stayed in a hostel in my youth and although the price was much more palatable than a hotel, I was worried about keeping all my gear safe. A couple of backpackers from the flight mentioned the hostel they had found and I tried to book a cheap rate for a private room online, without success. I was out of free wifi time at the airport and just hopped on the bus to downtown. I walked  a block to the hostel and just rolled the bones on a 6-bed female-only dorm room for NZ$31 per night (about US$27 per night). There is a drawer under my bunk where I loaded all my gear and popped on a small padlock. The mixed (i.e., with men and women) bathroom and showers is down the hall. But I soon realized I'm used to dorm-style bathroom facilities since that's been marina-life for two years. A hotel would have been NZ$100/night, and the fancy place north in wine country that I was dreaming of would be NZ$140/night. I decided that I'll probably enjoy the trip more if I can save as much money as possible on lodging and instead eat interesting food, take some tours and ferries, and buy a little memento here and there. Yes, people come and go at different hours than I might so we wake each other up, but it's a dry and non-smoking hostel and the hostel arranges pub crawls (going on one tonight) and walking tours (planning to join one tomorrow) and even has a sauna and jacuzzi on the roof. 

Though I landed in Auckland not knowing anyone, not even knowing where I would spend the night, by the end of the day I had met two great new friends, Zane and Michelle. A few days before leaving Aitutaki I had posted on Cruisers' Forum that I was looking to hop a boat sailing for Niue and/or Tonga. Zane responded with some tips and when I mentioned that I was resigned to a trip to New Zealand he offered to bring me along as crew on their Friday night races in Auckland harbor. I certainly couldn't turn down the opportunity to go sailing after coming all this way. Then he emailed me that he and his wife had made reservations for an unforgettable dinner and I couldn't refuse to join them. We went to dinner at the top of the Sky Tower, in a revolving fine dining restaurant, taking in a stunning 360 degree view of Auckland and the sparkling lights once the sun set. Many restaurants with great views leave something to be desired with respect to the food, but not this one. I had delicious corn-fed chicken with pumpkin puree and green beans. A woman after my own heart, Michelle ordered a second dish of garlic aioli for our fries. The hokey pokey ice cream (it's a Kiwi thing; think chunks of gooey caramel in ice cream) and ginger creme brulee are not to be missed! Small world that it is, Zane and Michelle are coming to the Annapolis boat show, just over 6 weeks away, so hopefully I can return some of their amazing hospitality with a local's tour of Eastport. Before long they'll be sailing across the Pacific having the adventure of a lifetime. I can't thank them enough for giving such a warm Kiwi welcome to some random girl from the internet and helping kick off my New Zealand adventure in style.

I ran 6 miles along the waterfront this morning, and will have to take a camera along on the next run. Then I've been running around trying to find a warm pair of shoes, as the "warmest" shoes with me are open Keen water shoes. I keep wishing I had brought my Uggs but hate to spend so much money on another pair when they are very seasonal in Annapolis. I looked and looked and ended up getting a pair of leather Keen shoes that have the profile of a sneaker but more oomph to them like a boot. They'll be great for tramping around being a backpacker for the next two+ weeks but will also be 3 or 4 season shoes back home. Pricey, they were, but also oh so comfy. It was clear we were meant for each other. The guys at the outdoor shop were great and when I asked for a tip for middle eastern or asian for lunch they suggested a tapas place called mezze. It was about NZ$30 all in, but I had kofte, hummus, bread, a glass of wine, baklava, and some rose Turkish delight. The atmosphere of leather couches and low tables can't be beat, and it's their free wifi that is making this post possible just now. 

Alright, time for me to go enjoy some adventures! Many thanks from the bottom of my heart to my friends back home who made it possible for me to take the trip (Mike and Jenn puppy-sitting and Fred boat- and cat-sitting and all the folks who stepped up as back-ups) and to all my new friends in the Cooks and New Zealand who have made the trip a heart-warming adventure so far. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

kindness of strangers

Somehow I manage in the worst of circumstances to meet the most amazing, generous people.

Earlier in the afternoon I walked down the road just a few doors to the Tamanu resort to see if I could get on their wifi. I expected it to be more expensive than the official telecom accounts, but it turned out that all week I could have had wireless by time instead of megabytes, which would have been a big benefit for uploading photos, videos, and viewing websites. The atmosphere is very elegant, but casual, and just serene. I made sure to wear real clothes, nothing torn or dirty (whereas the captain only wears scissored wife-beaters and shorts showing far more butt crack than anyone cares to see). There was a guest at the desk inquiring about booking a lagoon cruise so I waited for her to get help before asking about the wifi. The guest asked where I was from and I mentioned that I was from the States and looking for a boat to sail on to Niue and Tonga to get closer to Auckland for my flight home. The front desk agent was as sweet and helpful as can be and told me to just go ahead and relax on the lobby couches and get online. It was also the nicest, cleanest restroom I've used since Los Angeles, so that is nice. I got a lot done online in just 40 minutes, so I hung onto the last 20 minutes of the hour I'd bought to use later. I heard that Saturday they have half-price happy hour so I figured perhaps I'd come back by in the evening. 

The captain was all piss and vinegar when I was back at the house and said I should fly out on Monday. I think it's nonsense for me to pay my airfare from here to Auckland so I will push for him to pay it one way or the other. He gave me some total BS that I'm not ready for 1000 miles of open ocean sailing, but personally, I think I'd be risking my life with that nutjob at the helm. I've got far, far more perseverance, physical stamina, and mental aptitude than him, not to mention just generally being a good person instead of a schmuck. He gives a fake face to everyone he meets, is a consummate bullshit artist, and then has nothing but snide remarks about everyone on the island. He thinks he's liked here but locals definitely don't care for him. That is clear both from their body language and what they acutally say to me about how he should've sought local help for things long ago, has had other crew come here and quit, should have married a local girl if he wants to be a part of the community, and on and on. So, because I wasn't going to sleep with him and finally just told him to shut up, stop talking, that he was like babysitting an 8 year old, he will run around saying I wasn't compentent crew. Well, all I can do is call bullshit on that, and anyone who knows me and knows him, knows very well where the truth lies.

Intermission: here's a beautiful drink for NZ$3 at happy hour, yum. 

So after his bellyaching about me leaving, I decided I would get out of the house and stroll back down to the lovely Tamanu resort for happy hour and some internet. I sat at the end of the bar and browsed the happy hour drink menu and a lady at the other end of the bar asked if I'd found a boat yet to sail on. It was the guest from earlier in the afteroon. I told her I hadn't and though I hoped to hop a boat to Niue and Tonga, I may have to fly out Monday for Auckland three weeks before my flight home. I said I'd love to see New Zealand, had heard wonderful things about various sights to see, but couldn't possibly afford a hotel for three weeks. And before I knew it she told me I could come stay at their house on the beach as long as I need, not to worry about it at all, that they are south of Auckland and just 40 minutes from Rotorua, which everyone says I must see. I asked her if she was serious, told her I would really take them up on that. She walked right over, got paper and pen from our wonderful bartendress, and wrote all their information, plus her brother's name in Auckland if I got in a jam there. She said if I get my international driver's license I'm welcome to use one of their cars, too. She said they'd be at work all day so I'd really have the house to myself and that there were plently of beautiful routes for me to run. I actually had to hold back the tears that strangers would be so welcoming and generous to some crazy girl sitting at a bar half-way around the globe from home.

I asked the bartendress where the cheapest place to crash a night on the island would be, so I could avoid even going to the captain's boat tomorrow night. The "paratrooper motel," which I have walked past, was the suggestion. The ladies from the resort and at the bar asked where I was from, when I was leaving, where I was staying now. They quickly knew what house I'm at just up the road and after a while the front desk agent came over and asked when I need to be out of the house tomorrow. I told her probably by noon or so. She pointed out her husband down the bar and her one-year-old daughter running about. She said she has several children and the house is active and noisy, but it would be a safe place for me to stay the night tomorrow, and they could pick me up after they go to church in the morning. It took a minute to sink in that these strangers were also welcoming me right into their home, without hesitation willing to drive from the other side of the island to pick me up. Just, wow. And of course, the women all well understood the conundrum of men expecting more than was offered or reasonable to expect. So I am incredibly blessed by the kindness of strangers and can say that once one breaks through the initial circumspection of locals, they welcome one as if an old family friend. It is heartwarming, life-affirming, and kindnesses I will never forget.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

a tree, by the ocean, in the wind


I haven't been able to spend hardly any time in the water or at the beach. So yesterday I quickly cooked up some dinner for the captain and then hurried down to take a walk on the beach around sunset. The sun was tucked behind clouds, but it was still a nice, peaceful evening. I walked down the beach a ways in the edge of the waves and then headed back to the beach in front of the house. The beach was a little sloped and the waves were lapping at my ankles, but I dug my feet in the sand, took a deep breath, and tried to do a little yoga. On solid ground, or even on a rocking boat but with a firm deck beneath my feet, I can stand in tree pose for several minutes. But in the shifting sand, wind blowing into me, I would begin tipping over after just 20 or 30 seconds, or less. I focused on the horizon and kept telling myself I need to be a tree, by the ocean, in the wind. I have to plant myself firmly, but sway with the wind a bit, and find my balance. Once I had managed to hold tree pose for a couple of minutes on each foot, I moved on to crane. Perhaps a crane is more appropriate to my current circumstances, for I need to find my wings now, rather than planting myself like a tree. But both poses are about balance and in my practice also involve keeping balance in motion. The stars were beginning to appear but the sun was still slowly sinking into the reef. After much frustration and tipping over, I got to that place of real balance. I felt that force holding me in place from head to toe, from fingertip to fingertip, I was focused on the horizon and at that very moment saw a whale blowing and then doing backflips just beyond the lagoon. Coincidence, perhaps. But at that moment it felt very clear that Gaia was telling me that I had found my balance in this crazy, spinning world.

Every couple of hours it seems the plan for the captain's boat changes. If his local friend comes through and they are partners in the business, then supposedly the island council will approve him staying and doing day sails outside the lagoon. The flux doesn't help my situation, but I hope he just gets approved to stay here and that I can hop on another boat to Tonga. If I found a boat leaving soon I would make it to Niue and Tonga and fly to Auckland in time for my flight. Everyone here, locals and cruisers alike, seem pretty shocked that I've been left to get the flight from Tonga or here over to Auckland. But it is what it is. I would just be thrilled to find a boat onward with no one expecting sex. Fingers crossed. I met a great couple who will be heading that way but not sure if they'll take me on. We ran into them at a local dive bar last night. Patrick and Mary are a very sweet couple together, a complementary pair. And in a world full of pretense and agendas, Mary is refreshingly honest, knows what she wants, and doesn't intend to let anything stand in her way. We hung out with a bunch of locals singing and playing guitar and partying way past my bed time. So, we'll see what new twist today brings. I'd much rather sail for the next couple of weeks than have to cut my trip short and head back to Annapolis after so much juggling to be able to get away for this extended time. Something will work out; it always does. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

on the dock

Wednesday, circa 3:00PM: I'm sitting on the dock at the Aitutaki harbor. It's a pretty quiet place. When I finally managed to get online earlier in the afternoon I was sitting across the road from the telecom office on a low wall in the shade. The majority of folks get around the island on scooters, and a woman on a scooter pulls up to ask if I'm alright, if I'm looking for something. I explained I was just trying to find a spot where I could get some wifi. It's funny how people are here; either very friendly and helpful, or distant and circumspect. I think I have an easier time than a lot of folks because I'm willing to just go wherever, ask locals if I need help, and if they are distant at first they usually warm up to me eventually. But I'm not everyone's cup of tea. So, I'm sitting on the dock. 

I'm not sure I'll travel with anyone again for a very long time. I don't know why when people travel they feel they have to spend every moment together, eat every meal together, et cetera. I can take a few hours of that a day at most. That's probably why my nice 6 miles this morning alone were the highlight of the day. The captain seemed annoyed that I didn't want to go back to the house for lunch, but I was trying to be efficient and use that time to get online and take care of my affairs, especially since I hadn't been able to let anyone know I'd arrived safely. When I met back at the dock to get back to work on the boat for the afternoon he took the dink and left me on the dock. I sat there for about an hour and a half and then just walked the couple miles back to the house. I suspected that despite my best hopes to the contrary, he expected more than just "crew" for the trip and was being pissy, and, indeed, my suspicion was correct. I'm ever hopeful that not every single guy on the planet has an agenda, but 99% of the time my hopes are dashed. Sigh. I don't think he was satisfied when I told him "Dude, you are totally in the friend zone. And the friend zone is Hotel California; once you check in you can never leave." C'est la vie; I just never learn.

Thursday evening: Yesterday we found out that the new batteries for the boat and the paint for the deck had not made it on the ship that had just been unloaded. The guy in Rarotonga told the captain that they wouldn't make it over until September first. I honestly don't even know how to fill two weeks here. I mean I can always run and write, but I tend to get bored out of my skin just laying on a beach. And in five days here I've only been down to the beach once because I'm cooking and cleaning around the clock. I've only seen maybe two cute local guys. Between everything being very expensive and the conservative culture, I don't really see a lot of partying happening. All the tourists seem to be couples, so I don't think I'll find some hottie Kiwi or Aussie to sweep me off my feet. 

Gratefully, I didn't even head down to the dock today. I ran my six miles, tried out the solar shower (a big improvement over cold water even if no pressure), hand washed my laundry and the captain's, hung everything on the lines out back, and cooked all day. I kept telling people this was not a vacation, now perhaps they'll believe me. I mean, who travels half-way around the world to hand-wash laundry, take cold showers, and be eaten alive by mosquitos for vacation?   Not this girl. We have to move out of the little house on Sunday, which means moving to the boat. Well, the facilities/showers at the dock are filthy, no paper, and certainly no hot water. The captain won't get the head aboard operational despite my lobbying and plans to just bolt a toilet seat off the aft deck. Shitting off the back of a boat is most definitely not my idea of paradise. So moving aboard will be a major downgrade. Ah, living the dream...

Anyway, I chopped and chopped all day, garlic, basil, tomatoes, onions. The pasta sauce smells pretty good and the pesto will be delicious. The chicken still hasn't thawed, however, so it may just be pasta tonight and chicken tomorrow. Today I've been surviving on PB&J and cheese sandwiches. Plus a small apple and half a coconut. And Lion Red beer from New Zealand. One of the local dance shows is at an adjacent resort tonight, so I'm hoping to go down there and watch it. They have internet there but I think I have to buy their credits and can't use my ones from Telecom Cook Islands. It may be worth it, though, not to have to schlep all the way "downtown" to get online.   

When the captain came home for lunch he said the local boy helping him went up the mast, so I won't have to do that after all. He also found out that one of the locals he's friendly with has still been lobbying on his behalf for him to be able to start a business here. The trip to Tonga is to find a friendlier place for a foreigner to start a business (though I'm not sure Tonga will be that much more welcoming). The captain has been living here for six months or so and would rather stay here than go to Tonga, but had been told the island council wouldn't approve him. Now it's sounding like if he agrees to certain terms, the council may approve him after all. He should know after their meeting next Thursday. He asked if I'll be really disappointed not to make the trip to Tonga. I told him no worries, I'll roll with it. But of course I didn't come to hang out in the Cooks for a month and still have to figure out how I'm getting to Auckland for my flight back to the States. Money is really tight so as much as I'd love to fly to New Zealand and hang out there for a couple weeks, there is no way I could afford a hotel there. [Any readers in New Zealand, Tonga, or Australia want a houseguest for a couple weeks? I'm a really good cook.] There are a couple of boats in the harbor here and I'm curious if I could get a hop onward with one of them. The Swiss guy who's single-handing came from Venezuela down the coast of Brazil and around Cape Horn. Unfortunately it sounds like he's leaving Monday for Palmerston to deliver some parts needed for their disabled electrical supply. If I could just sail onward with someone and make it close enough to get a flight to Auckland, that would be ideal. I don't see any way of lasting 3 weeks here. The captain just never stops talking or singing or humming. I don't need or want entertaining and I don't need a soundtrack or for every silence to be filled. I looked up and saw the brilliance of all the stars in a dark sky, without all the usual light pollution of the city, and before I could even take a breath and enjoy that rare moment he was yammering on about the stars and the Southern Cross, and on and on without end. I was screaming inside, "Please just shut the fuck up!" Sigh.

I'm very, very glad I brought my own gear and only wish I had grabbed a couple more items, like my own solar shower, that I thought about and then passed up for space reasons. Other things I'd add if I did this again: a mosquito net, a sleeping bag, and a hammock. But now that all the gear I brought for the captain is unloaded, my gym bag is folded down into the bottom of my large duffel and everything I have will fit in the duffel and my small backpack. My friends in Annapolis know I was sad not to buy a GoPro camera to bring on the trip but the cost was just prohibitive. The money I would've used for it was more responsibly spent on a waterproof case for the iPad and a solar charger that will charge small items like my phone, VHF, and iPod, and also charges a rechargeable battery pack that will charge the iPad. One of my best buys for this trip, and that I should have made as soon as I moved aboard: Sea to Summit Tek Towels. They pack down super small and light, pull the water right off of you, and dry in a couple hours. I think they'll become my basic daily towels aboard, though the large is just a bit too small to cover all the important parts if I'm wrapping it and walking anywhere, so an XL will be on my wish list.

So, I'm not exactly enjoying it out here in "paradise," but every adventure is an opportunity. Now I know it's unlikely I would want to permanently settle someplace like this, I can confirm I prefer to travel alone but will always be on the lookout for someone I can enjoy traveling with, and it's always nice to have a new running path now and then. I have a flight on September 15 from Auckland, but what lies between now and then remains to be seen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

kia orana

So, where has this adventure taken me? I've gone from Annapolis to Los Angeles to the South Pacific. 

Kia orana! Be well and welcome to the Cook Islands! 

the beach behind me in Aitutaki
I had planned to check a duffel and just carry on a small pack, but ended up needing to bring various additional gear and supplies for the trip (e.g., chartplotter, 5200, duct tape, and batteries), so I needed to carry on a gym duffel along with my small pack. The luggage became a stressor both in terms of sourcing and weight limitations. At 6:00PM the night before I left I was frantically digging through every locker trying to find my big black duffel bag to get packed. It was no where to be found. I had looked longingly at a blue-greenish Patagonia duffel at Fawcetts boat supply just an hour earlier, but thought I had my duffel and could ill afford to spend money on a bag when I need all my funds for the trip itself. But now Fawcetts was closed and I had little choice but to settle for whatever I could find at West Marine. I grabbed a huge gray West Marine duffel I found on sale and hurried back to the boat. 

I packed the large duffel and even though I had few clothes and shoes, it seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. Air New Zealand is very strict on baggage limitations and weight and the duffel was heavy and unwieldy. I tried to weigh it on my scale but there was no way to put it on the scale and read it. I culled my stash of 24 Clif Bars down to 6. I pulled out a couple bottles of sunblock and of bug repellent. My clothes and shoes would easily fit in the small gym bag, but I also needed my life jacket, snorkel gear, and foulies. I was very worried the bag would be over the 50-pound limit but it weighed in at just over 45 pounds, so I guess I could have held onto my Clif bars and sunblock after all. As I already mentioned, I pulled an all-nighter packing, organizing, doing laundry, and cleaning. I was literally doing the dishes the last 20 minutes before I kissed my cats goodbye and loaded pup dog and luggage in my friend's car (borrowed for my last-minute running around) and headed to his house to scoop him up as my ride to the airport.

It turns out that while the gray rubbery tarpaulin material the duffel is made of seems somewhat sturdy, the zipper pulls are the absolute cheapest crap you could imagine. At BWI I tried to unzip an outside pocket to stow the shoulder strap and the zipper pull broke right off. On arrival in the Cooks I popped into a restroom to wash my face and brush my teeth and on zipping the bag back up, there goes another zipper pull. Perhaps needless to say, I'll be demanding my money back from West Marine when I get back to Annapolis. 

Air New Zealand was a very pleasant and comfortable contrast to flying US domestic flights. I had a preferred seat, but still in basic economy class. Nonetheless, even with my legs fully outstretched only my toes reached under the seat in front of me. I wished I'd known dinner would be served, since I'd have skipped the outrageously pricey pizza and beer at LAX. (But then I'd have missed out on meeting Dan and Omar.) But I ate most of the dinner offering and enjoyed a couple glasses of complimentary New Zealand wine with my meal. I managed to get about 5 hours of sleep, listened to some podcasts, and then they served breakfast. The announcement went something like this: "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Our cabin crew will begin serving breakfast shortly. You have a choice of omelette or fruit plate, served with freshly brewed coffee, assorted juices, and spirits for those of you brave enough to drink them at this hour of the morning."

Monday, circa 8:00AM: I'm currently sitting at the Rarotonga airport. I fly onward to Aitutaki in the afternoon. Our flight arrived early, at 5:30AM, and after clearing immigration and customs I waited for someone to show up at the Air Rarotonga counter to see if I could go ahead and check in and check my bag. He couldn't check me in, but better than that he offered to hold both the huge duffel and the smaller carry-on. I just have to return an hour before my flight to check in and get the carry-on back. Although it's overcast and raining, I'd still like to use this brief opportunity to see Raro, so now I'll be able to much more comfortably bus and walk around the island with just my small backpack. I pulled my foul weather jacket from the bottom of the duffel so I don't end up soaking wet. Prices I've seen so far, just here at the airport, are staggering. About $6 for a cup of regular coffee, about $12 for a sandwich. These are not sit down restaurants, just food stand shacks. I'm glad I ate and had coffee on the flight and I'm currently nibbling here and there on Twizzlers I bought in LA. I still need to find a Telecom office to buy  wifi credits, find the immigration office to pay a NZ$25 fee for my approval letter to enter, and hopefully I'll get to walk around downtown Avarua a bit and ride the bus the circumference of the island. Although I turned the cellular function on my phone off, some local carrier still grabbed onto my phone and T-Mobile sent me text messages warning that it would be $.50/text, $4.19/minute for calls, and $15/MB for web/email while roaming. Yikes!

Monday afternoon: I was trying to figure out where to catch the bus into town and a woman from Air New Zealand said it would come around past where I was but then asked where I needed to go. I told her I needed to get to Avarua and pay a fee at immigration. She explained where the office was and then just waved for me to follow her. I thought she was going to show me a better place to wait for the bus but she moved things around in her car and told me to get in. She pointed out where "downtown" mostly started, where I could go to get some wifi credit, where the bus should pass to go back, and then dropped me by the immigration office. I'm very blessed by the kindness of strangers in my life. I had to wait until immigration opened at 9:00AM, and it was the same officer I had had at the airport. I had taken out some cash at the ATM so at least I was able to pay the fee in New Zealand dollars. While she had been somewhat stern at the airport, she softened up as we chatted about the islands and fishing. She wanted to know what the fish I'd been catching, rockfish, was like and how we cook fish. I said most people grilled or broiled it, and she nodded, "ah, same as we do." I think Americans are not that common here because people seemed curious to ask me what America is like and how much it costs to fly here from there. A Kiwi here at the airport made a point to say he likes Americans, just not our policies, and that all the Americans he's met over the years have been good people. 

It drizzled, rained, and misted most of the morning so I was glad to have my foul weather jacket and its hood to keep me dry. I walked the length of downtown a couple of times, window shopping, getting a credit for 150MB of data for NZ$10, taking photos, and checking out Polynesian Tattoo. (Hey, it's a souvenir that doesn't take up space on the boat.) As I headed back toward my starting point near Boogie's Burgers, My path intersected with a floppy-haired glacierologist who had been sleeping in the seat next to mine waiting for our flight from LA. I made a comment about our having made it a long way from Los Angeles and we began chatting and walking. We ended up sitting down for lunch and a couple of hours flew by before I knew it.  He was taking a few days in the Cooks before heading to a conference about Antarctica in New Zealand. Small world that it is, he is also a trail ultrarunner, though surely faster and more accomplished than I. It was fun to hear someone else's passion for that kind of running and now that the sun has come out, hopefully he's enjoying a hike up into the island. I had to get going and he needed to get to his hotel, so I gave him a card and told him to email me sometime. Hopefully, he'll drop me a note about some great trail race adventure he's having and perhaps fate will have us bump into each other out on a run someday. I really have to remember to register for my Seashore Nature Trail 50K when I get back to Annapolis.

Wednesday, circa 6:00AM: As soon as I landed in Aitutaki on Monday afternoon we had to head to the dock and move the boat out into the little harbor because a ship would be coming in with supplies and the container barge would need the dock. A Swiss cruiser also needed to move, so we helped each other tie off sterns to coconut trees ashore and drop anchors off the bow. At one point we needed to shuttle back and forth by dinghy and the Swiss guy got out of his dink to get on his boat and move it. Suddenly I realized I was the one who had to shuttle the dink back to the other shore. Except that I've only rowed my old dinghy, and never ran a tender with an outboard. So I was pretty much having heart palpitations as I would push the tiller the wrong direction and turn the throttle handle too far or too fast and was zig-zagging haphazardly around the tiny harbor trying to get the hang of it and get over to the boat. It was embarrassing and a little scary, but the captain said it was the best way to learn--on someone else's boat! 

We finally made it to the little house by the beach where we're staying for $10 a night until Sunday, when we have to be out. If the boat isn't ready to go at that point, we'll at least have to have it in shape to stay aboard. Yesterday morning I finally managed to get a shower. I don't have to worry about the hot water running out since there isn't any to begin with. I definitely wasn't going to stand under the cold water when I didn't have to, but it wasn't too bad. Today I will try to use a solar shower as well to have some warmer water to rinse off with, but I don't think the solar shower will have much time to heat up since I'll be heading out for a run at sunrise and need to run though the shower an hour later. The day yesterday was full of running around in a borrowed truck getting groceries, dropping things off at the boat or the house, and seeing the entire perimeter of the island. Groceries are very expensive and the selection is very limited. Prices varied wildly; a cabbage was NZ$5.50 at one store and double that at another. Only one place had cheese. I saw blocks and blocks of Colby at another shop and got excited, until I saw the sign that said "Cheese is NOT for sale!" We picked up a bicycle that I'll use to get around. Today we have a lot of work to get done on the boat but I really need to get a run in, so the captain will head to the boat to get started and I'll bike down shortly after so I can get in a run. Down at the dock there should be wifi access, so hopefully I'll be able to post this! Not sure I'll be able to include many photographs (I've taken a lot), since the wifi access is by data not time. It was $10 for 150/MB credit from the Telecom shop. So, the video I shot and lots of photos I've taken may not get posted up here until later. Rates are still high but better in Tonga, and at the end of the trip in New Zealand I think access and prices will be more akin to the US.

Wednesday, circa 10:00AM: Managed to get in a good 6 mile run this morning, take a cold shower and walk 40 minutes to the dock. The bicycle seat was a couple inches too high to be remotely tolerable, and I have hated being on a bike ever since a bad accident in law school. So, I hoofed it, and happily spotted the place that sells delicious cheese bread, so that fueled the later half of my walk.

Wednesday, circa 1:30PM: At last! Internet at last! It is incredibly difficult on the iPad to post photos. The blogger app lacks a lot of features I need but in Blogger via Safari, when I try to insert a photo or video it doesn't "see" any of the ones on my iPad. Arrgghhh! So, I'm going to try just putting a lot of photos in a stream in "the cloud" with a link for those who want to check out the photos. I'll try to have that in the next post.

NB: Please note that I try to get comments posted quickly (they are moderated due to the amount of spam comments that come through), but there may be significant delays while I'm out here due to my limited internet access. So, don't take offense if a comment takes a while to post.

For now, I'll leave you with this. But let me assure you, it isn't all fruity rum drinks and palm trees on this trip. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 18, 2014

city of angels

I had to pull an all-nighter to get packed and on my way. On the plane, crying babies on both flights. But I made it to the City of Angels and one of my oldest friends scooped me up from the airport and delivered me to a little garden oasis where I relaxed, took care of last minute bills, emails, and such, and chatted with King Leo, her sweet and majestic semi-wild Santa Monica jungle cat. She insisted that I sleep in her bed and let her take the couch, so I got a great night's sleep sinking into the mattress and pillows up in the loft. She could certainly live on a boat, for her house is diminutive but everything in its place and beautifully decorated. Far more organized and downsized that I have managed so far.

I also met up with an old college friend and even if only for an hour and change, it was so great to catch up. We always make new friends throughout life, but those ones who were with us in our formative years, our wild and crazy years, when up was down and such, they are something truly precious.

I had hoped to post here nicely formatted rows of photographs but it seems impossible to select text that I want to select on the iPad. Indescribably frustrating. I just want technology to work, to do as I tell it. It does not know best. Sigh. At least I was able to select my sigh and make it italic. Sigh.

I got to the airport early and had time to stop for a bite to eat and a couple of pricey ($11 a pint, ouch!) beers. I chatted with Omar, a Mexican living and working in New Zealand, and Dan, an Aussie returning home after a month-long tour of the major American cities. Very cool to meet interesting, smart, and adventuresome fellow travelers. Hopefully we'll all find what we're looking for, though it secretly is always already within us. Sometimes we just have to have an adventure to see that.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

two years in the blogosphere

It feels like just yesterday that I started this crazy adventure. But at the same time, it feels like I've been at it--blogging and living aboard--for as long as I can remember. It's funny the tricks time and memory play on us. A big thank you to my readers who have followed along from the beginning, the middle, or just happened upon our tale. 

I don't really think I'm doing anything particularly brave living on a boat at a fancy marina in a sophisticated metropolitan area of the "civilized" world. Living aboard feels so natural to me that I couldn't really imagine life any other way now. But it is a "different" and "challenging" lifestyle, so I guess that's why when out walking my dog a couple of ladies thought this single girl living aboard with a dog and two cats, staying aboard through last winter, is so brave. But living aboard doesn't seem brave in and of itself to me, even a girl doing it on her own. Brave is being willing and able to do anything on your own, walking away from the "safe" and "predictable" with no idea what lies ahead. 

I'm on the plane and miss my pets already. But I told them I love them and I know they will be alright and it's just a month without me. So it's a few minutes to wheels up and the adventure will begin.