Kia ora! Welcome to the first Moranadu entry from the Southern Hemisphere. I have been in New Zealand for six days now. It feels like much longer.
The flights weren’t nearly as bad as I had feared. I flew from Boston to Washington/Dulles to LAX to Auckland. Apparently, the whole of the United States and the most of the South Pacific decided to be cloudy just to make the views from my window as boring as possible. The only cool things I saw in the USA were LA at night (been there, seen that) and Catalina Island lit up by moonlight. I managed to sleep most of the way from LA to Auckland. Tylenol PM, how do I love thee? The sun came up just as we passed the International Date Line. The first land I spotted was a bunch of huge rocks, followed by rolling green hills and valleys filled with fog. Very pretty.
I made it through customs with little fuss, and it was on to Auckland. Ah, Auckland! Unremarkable Auckland! Actually, Queen Street! Unremarkable Queen Street! Queen Street is the main drag of Auckland that rolls quite steeply down a large hill to the harbor. It could be the main drag of any large western city. American businesses are everywhere – even Dunkin Donuts! How is it that New England’s great institution of fried, sugary pastries and addictive coffee found a market in the most isolated nation on Earth yet was nowhere to be found in Los Angeles? The Kiwi accents were the only indicators that I had left North America. Queen Street sucks.
I decided to caffeinate myself through my first day, thus making jet lag My Bitch. Soon I discovered that with an 18-hour time difference, jet lag is no one’s Bitch - least of all mine. Delirium set in around 11AM during my orientation at the International Exchange Program’s headquarters. They were giving us the rundown on New Zealand’s varied regions and job opportunities when speech became slurry and hands unsteady. I went through three copies of a bank account application before I spelled my name correctly. Still, I fought off sleep through the afternoon and collapsed at around 9PM.
Hostelling is a new experience for me. The one I am currently staying at is basically a 7-floor dormitory populated by transients ranging in age from 18 to 75 from all corners of the globe, but mostly Germany. My room has four beds, and people are constantly coming in and out. So far, I have shared the room with a couple of Americans, a Brit, a Canadian, a German, and a very smelly 40-something Australian bloke who I call Stinky Dundee. Great Christ, does that man smell bad! I have noticed that the older hostel dwellers have a more difficult time masking their Backpacker Stench than do the younger ones. There is a room down the hall from me where the BO is so bad that it actually creeps out from behind a closed door. Gross. There are lots of cute girls running around, but also a lot of not-so-cute girls with facial piercings and blond dreadlocks. The hostel has showers on every floor, ladies. Take heed.
On Tuesday, I took a free tour of the city courtesy of Stray Travel. It was led by a guy named Nate who is undoubtedly the greatest tour guide in the world. A half Welsh/half Maori, he showed us Auckland’s hot spots. There was hardly a sentence that didn’t include shit, fuck or an insult directed towards Australians (“The Convicts”). My favorite quote was his description of New Zealand’s winemaking industry: “A hundred years ago a bunch of dairy farmers got sick of milking cows and said ‘Fuck it, let’s make wine.’” He advised us to run over any possums we might encounter on the roads, as they are unwanted Australian pests that are destroying the local ecosystem. We saw some of the residential areas which could have been plucked right out of San Francisco or Los Angeles – small single story houses set about a foot apart from each other with little to no backyard. Then we saw the harbor, which is pretty amazing. I have never seen so many sailboats. Supposedly, dolphins and whales swim through the harbor all the time. I didn’t spot any.
Another stop was the Sky Tower, which is New Zealand’s answer to Toronto’s CN Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle, meaning that it is a very tall building whose height serves no practical purpose. This is New Zealand, however, and tall things must be jumped from. Three people from the tour took the elevator to the top and rode a vertical zip line down the entire length of the building. Take THAT, Toronto!
The bus then took us up to a gorgeous hill overlooking the harbor and surrounding areas. To our left was the Auckland skyline. To our right, distant hills and a giant bay filled with sails. Behind us, a sacred Maori meetinghouse. Before us, a dormant volcano. It was here that Nate made the sales pitch for his tour company, detailing all the amazing activities his company could provide us – swimming with dolphins, rafting on whitewater and in caves, thermal hot springs, skydiving, skiing, surfing, scuba diving, and many, many more things that I can scarcely describe for a relatively good price. SOLD!
After that, we headed over to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The crew there harnessed us to a guardrail as we climbed up the catwalk under the bridge to the bungy jumping pod. I am guessing that we were 150 to 200 feet over the water, and a little Indonesian man won a free jump. His wife, in full Muslim headgear, photographed the whole thing. It was hilarious and awesome. Nate saw the big goofy smile on my face and surely knew that he would soon be enjoying a healthy commission from the deluxe travel pass I would be purchasing. He invited me and a few other prospective buyers out for a pint.
Which brings us to The Fat Camel. The Fat Camel is a hostel/bar near the waterfront where the Auckland backpacking crowd congregates. It is the closest thing I have ever seen in real life to the cantina in Star Wars. There people from America, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany (MANY from Germany), Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Belgium, and of course New Zealand – both White & Maori. Several people asked me what I thought of Dubya. They all hate him, and were relieved when I told them that I didn’t vote for him either time. There was music, games of pool, cheap beer, cheaper food prepared by residents of the hostel, and maybe a dozen languages being spoken. People were negotiating road trips and house shares. Everyone was friendly and easy to talk to. It fucking rocked! Sadly, jet lag kicked in around 10PM, and I headed back to my lame ass hostel at the top of the hill… and Stinky Dundee.
The last few days have been less eventful. Bizarre rain and wind storms blow in and out with amazing speed and ferocity. There are still a couple of parks and museums I’d like to see in Auckland, but I really want to hit the road and I can’t do that until I clear up some legal details and get my stupid money transfer from home (Bank of America can bite my ass). I found a nice, cheap public pool and discovered how out of shape I am after ten feeble laps. Gotta get leaner & meaner. I have been unable to find a place to go online with my own computer. All the internet cafes have PCs and charge too much. No free wireless anywhere. Boo!
Elsewhere in the world the Democrats have taken control of Congress, Rummy resigned, Deval Patrick is Governor of Massachusetts, Saddam’s gonna hang, and Jack Palance is dead. Crazy. More to come.