PART I: THE GOOD
I needed to get out of town. There had been a series of annoying events in my life (more on that later) and a change of scenery was in order, so I hopped back on the Stray bus for a four-day loop around New Zealand’s southern coast. It was a relief.
First stop was Milford Sound. The ride to and from there was astounding. We drove alongside Lake Te Anau and were soon surrounded by mountains and rain forests. Eventually we encountered enormous walls of rock with countless little waterfalls cascading down into the valley. Awesome stuff.
Milford Sound was one of the four or five places I promised myself to see while in New Zealand. Above, you will see what Milford Sound looks like in good weather (I did not take this photo). Below, you will see what Milford Sound looks like in a deluge, which is what I encountered. Instead of giant mountains next to the sea, I saw thousands of raging waterfalls. The area has one of the wettest climates of the planet (roughly 20 feet of rain annually) and we felt every drop. I could only stay on our boat’s deck for a couple of minutes at a time for fear of destroying my camera. It was impressive, but the rain was a bummer. Gotta go back on a clear day.
That night we headed for the village of Tuatapere – the Sausage Capitol of New Zealand. We made a visit to a local farm where the owner demonstrated how to shear a sheep. I didn’t actually do it, but I got to hold a sheep down and then shove it down a slide into the “shorn bin.” It’s much more humane than it sounds.
Next morning we were off to Stewart Island. To get there, we took an hour-long cruise from the tip of the South Island. The weather was unusually warm (70s compared to 40s in Queenstown) and I contemplated taking a dip in the nice clean water. Too many sand flies, though. There is a tiny village on the island that reminded me of coastal Maine, but a bit more modern. I bet it is a nice place to stay for the summer. The island is actually quite large and undeveloped. I am sure that there are some nice long hikes to be had. Some of the other Stray people went fishing, so we had a nice big fish dinner. Yummy.
Early the next day we took the ferry back to Invercargill. I haven’t gotten seasick since I was 13, but I did that morning thanks to an empty stomach and the winds of the Roaring 40s. Once I got some food in my belly on dry land, I was fine. We spent the day driving through a beautiful area called the Catlins. I haven’t been to Ireland yet, but the Catlins resemble what Ireland looks like in my mind – impossibly green fields rolling gently towards a rocky coast. Very few people live in the Catlins, so there is little to spoil the beauty of the place. It was the perfect antidote to the majestic but imposing landscape back at Milford. We stopped at a beach and found a rather surly sea lion on the beach. She had a tag on one of her flippers and kept shooing us away with sand.
That night we arrived in the city of Dunedin (pronounced dunn-NEED-in). I had been sleeping on the bus and it was a bit of a surprise to wake up in a city. Many of the local people are of Scottish decent and there is a definite Scottish feel to the place (Dunedin is Gaelic for Edinburgh). There are lots of gothic buildings and gargoyles. Also in town is the Speight’s Brewery. Speight’s is one of New Zealand’s top selling beers, and we did a brewery tour. I didn’t pay much attention to the process, but we got to do a tasting at the end. Again, yummy. I liked Dunedin and wished that we had more time there, but we were off early the next morning. We made a couple of stops along the way. One was a beach north of Dunedin where there are weird boulders that resembled the alien pods from “Cocoon.” The dead stingray was sort of cool, too.
It was a beautiful but long drive back to Queenstown. We made one last stop in the town of Cromwell where there is a bridge over a great big lake. Our driver told us that Stray staff members all have to jump off the bridge during their training trips and that we should all do it. I was a bit hesitant, as the water was freezing and the bridge was about 30 feet up, but some Dutch kid and I did it anyway. Below you will see the precise moment when we hit the water. Several gallons of water went up my ass. It still hurts.
PART II: THE BAD
(No Photos Necessary)
Here on the other side of the world, it is winter. It is cold. Not Boston in January cold, but cold. As I write this, a flurry is dusting the trees outside with snow. The surrounding mountains are magnificent. Down in Queenstown, the annual Winter Festival is in full swing with parades, concerts and other events. The ski fields (down here they call them “fields,” not “slopes”) are open and everyone in town seems to be in a good mood… everyone, that is, except the residents of Chateau Ugo.
Chateau Ugo is the name I have given to the house I have been living in for the past two months. It is named for Ugo, the Brazilian guy whose name is on the lease. Every Wednesday, my fellow flatmates and I give Ugo our rent money and he delivers it to whomever it is that actually owns the house. At first, he seemed like a nice enough guy. He appeared to be a laidback dude with decent taste in music. The other residents of the house were cool, and the rent was ridiculously cheap considering the house’s location. I figured that I had lucked out and made a terrific find. How wrong I was. Simply put, Ugo is a douchebag.
The shit really started to hit the fan when the refrigerator broke down. The moment I noticed it, I alerted Ugo. Seeing as the fridge preserved the food of five people, including Ugo’s, you’d figure that he’d do the responsible pseudo-landlord thing and call the refrigerator repair shop the next morning. Nope. For two long weeks, we went without a fridge. All of us had to completely alter the way we shop for food, being careful not to purchase perishables. I pressed Ugo on this issue several times. You’d think that in the age of cellphones he could have made a simple call on his lunch brake and have the whole situation solved, but no. I was the one who actually called the repair place to make an appointment. That appointment was eventually cancelled when Ugo decided to rent a new fridge instead of fixing the old one. Since all of us had to throw away a bunch of food, you’d think he might compensate us monetarily. Nope. Not only did he not give us anything, he decided that it made sense to charge us an extra $5 per week for the privilege of having a working fridge. We bitched and moaned about this, but he wouldn’t budge. Dick.
During the same time period, we ran out of firewood (I know that I griped about this issue in my last post – deal with it!). Neither central heating nor proper insulation come standard in New Zealand, so a regular supply of firewood is necessary to keep the house warm. We had no wood for two weeks and could see our breath in the living room. You think Ugo made the call for the eventual wood delivery? Of course not. That was left to Ivan, our other Brazilian roommate who was smart enough to jet off to Fiji because he was sick of Ugo’s shit. And it was I, not Ugo, who stayed home to receive the wood delivery when it actually arrived. Oh yeah, I was there to receive the $5/a week fridge, too.
Once Ivan left, Ugo decided that he needed to have another one of his countrymen in the house. Enter Jose. Jose was a nice guy. Another Brazilian, he was about 6’2” and had a gut that could gestate triplets. Unfortunately, his grasp of the English language was even worse than Ugo’s. Seriously, he didn’t speak a word. Verbal communication was impossible. At least with Ivan, I could talk. Living with Jose was akin to living with a Samba-obsessed Teletubby. Jose left a couple of weeks ago and was replaced by Tiago… Jose’s brother. Seemingly every night, we get a steady stream of Brazilians coming over to party with Ugo and Tiago. Guitars, smoke, and the Portuguese language blast through the halls ‘til the wee hours.
All this has taken its toll on my fellow housemates and me. Max (from Argentina) is leaving for Tahiti on Thursday (lucky bastard) and can’t wait to go. Julia (from France) has had it the worst. She’s been here for six months. Before I arrived, she had arranged to share her room with a female friend of hers from back home. Two days before the girl was to arrive, Ugo moved Ivan into the room without saying a word to Julia about it. Who knows what happened to her friend? One day, Julia closed a door a bit too loudly for Ugo’s taste and he threatened to throw her out on the street. Had he actually done that, I would have called the cops immediately. As usual, he was all talk.
The last straw was yet another goddamn issue with the refrigerator. Ugo tried to convince Julia, Max and me that since he bought the original fridge himself (which is laying dormant on the porch) and that it broke down while we all were living here, that we each owed him $40 because all of us could have done something to bring about its demise. Bull…….shit. We all refused. Julia and I both gave him our two weeks notice and announced our intent to leave the house. Julia is perfectly content to live in her car (she did it all winter last year) and I would rather be in a hostel than put up with this crap anymore. Since we gave our notice, the house has gotten even more Carnival-esque. I met the dude who will replace Max as my roommate. Three guesses which country he’s from. With all due respect to the millions of decent Brazilians out there (what’s up, Gaya!), if I wanted to party like I’m in Rio each night, I would have skipped New Zealand and stayed in Framingham.
I’m sure that it will improve around here, but man, it’s taking a long damn time! It’s been more than two months since I arrived in Queenstown, and I just now am starting a steady job! Starting this week, I will be waiting/bartending at a restaurant in town. I still might have to get another side gig to keep the money flowing. I’m looking at other flats now, and they aren’t cheap. It will be a massive relief when I get one. Expensive or not, it will be worth it.
PART III: THE UGLY
Behold John Travolta in "Hairspray." L. Ron Hubbard almighty!