Saturday, December 31, 2011

Around the World: Fiji New Year

December 31, 1991

After breakfast, compliments of the hotel, on the beach, under the canopy of coconut trees, I accepted an invitation from a few of my hostel mates to explore the market in downtown Sigatoka.

The market is a bustling place full of fresh fruit, fish, touristy souvenirs, clothing and more.  The cost is determined by bartering for the best price.   Fortunately, we were all cautioned about a common market scam and told not to look too interested in anything we weren't prepared to buy.  The vendor will ask for your name, and then carve it into the item you were admiring, at which point you are expected to buy it at an inflated price.  I was curious about a unique type of sword and wanted to take a closer look, but I barely had the chance before it was picked up by the vendor who tried to get me to introduce myself.  I just thanked him and walked away.  After a couple hours of browsing and scam dodging, the group I was with agreed to catch a bus back to the hotel.

Market in downtown Sigatoka
Photo by Brian Gortney

I am adjusting to island time, meaning that everything... in Fiji... happens... eventually.  After lunch, my morning market mates went their separate ways and I met up with Jeanette, who wanted to try snorkeling. Neither one of us had tried it before and it took some getting used to. The hypnotic view under the water distracted us from the fact that we were actually drifting out to sea with the tide. I soon learned that when the fish were larger than the palm of my hand, it was time to lift my head and see where I was. In water that's deep enough to cover my knees, there are plants that wave graciously with the incoming and outgoing waves.  Only a few meters from shore was not unlike being in a pet store fish tank, as I was surrounded by tiny, neon striped gobies.  Just before it was time to check the distance from shore, I caught sight of a beautiful, orange starfish. 

Photo by Jason Blay

At low tide, the water recedes out a couple hundred meters, exposing the ocean floor, to where the lagoon and the deep ocean meet at a coral reef.  You can walk right out to the reef at low tide and only ever be ankle deep in water.

The sun seems to set here for hours.  The group I had gone to the market with this morning invited me to a place where the pizza is really tasty and very cheap.  The alternative is to stay at the hotel and pay $25 for dinner, plus drinks.  The driver of the airport shuttle agreed to drop us off at the pizza restaurant, but told us we'd have to find our own way back.

The restaurant has picnic tables out front where we laughed and talked over continuous slices of pizza (which eventually totaled $3.50) and beer (750ml bottle for 50¢).  Two Aussie guys explained that the stars on the Australian flag are from a constellation and tried to point it out to those of us from the north side of the equator.  I had never seen the Southern Cross, being a circumpolar constellation in the southern hemisphere, and to be honest, I'm still not sure if I have.  It was a peculiar feeling to not recognize the sky above me.

Crux or Southern Cross constellation
Photo by Sid Leach

With almost 10km between us and the hotel, we started the long walk back. We were able to flag down a taxi, but knowing it was ride or walk for us, the driver wouldn't budge on his price.  Once the lights from the taxi disappeared in the distance, we joked about the possibility that we had made a mistake.  After all, walking on a narrow, two lane road, on a tropical island with unknown predators, in pitch darkness was maybe not the safest thing to be doing.  Fortunately, we had the foresight to bring beer with us so the situation wasn't exactly dire.  Yet.

After an hour, maybe a little less, another car appeared, this one a cube van.  When it stopped, Ken, one of the Australian guys, and I peeked into the driver's window, but no one was there. The other Aussie guy and Jeanette looked in a back window and also didn't see anyone.  We were a bit spooked about this haunted van, with no driver, that had come to rescue us from the very, very long walk we faced.  Suddenly, the back doors swung open and a Fijian man welcomed us inside.  He took us back to the hotel for $1 each.

We bought some beer on our way past the bar and were on the way back to the dorm to continue our celebrating when we realized it was low tide.  Changing direction to the pool, each of us picked up a chair and headed out into the temporary absence of ocean.  Soon after we set up our little low tide party, the echoes of counting down and cheering from shore were our cue to clink our giant beer bottles and admire the star covered sky against the Pacific Ocean darkness.

The party around the pool was starting to wind down when our conversation was suddenly interrupted by, "My butt's getting wet," at which point we realized the tide was on its way in.  We picked up our chairs and moved to a piece of ocean floor that hadn't been covered by water yet, and set our little party back up again.  This happened a couple more times until the ocean eventually chased us back onto the beach.  Being so close to the International Date Line, I couldn't pass up the chance to watch the first sunrise of the new year.

Photo by Angela Beza

Happy New Year!

• ¤ •

"We can only appreciate the miracle of a sunrise if we have waited in the darkness."
~Unknown Author

Friday, December 30, 2011

Around the World: Viti Levu, Fiji

December 30, 1991

On the plane to Fiji, I met Jeanette, from Sweden.  After the plane landed and passports were checked, bags were collected and a search for tourist information ensued.  The nearest town is Sigatoka, a short distance south, on the west coast of Viti Levu.  The pamphlet I picked up for Hideaway Lodge has beautiful pictures of thatched roof, bungalow-style cabins, all of which are just a short walk to the ocean.  Best of all, this place welcomes backpackers. The Hideaway's daily airport shuttle leaves in just over two hours.  

 Fiji International Airport's Formica Furniture looks very much like this, only yellow

Jeanette and I sat in the airport cafe, which is actually just a small display case containing soft drinks, water and beer just beyond four small yellow Formica tables.  As we passed the time chatting over a bottle of Black Label Lemonade, we were soon joined by another traveler, Roland, who is from Switzerland.  Roland was exploring another Fijian island and is now continuing his trip south from Lautoka, just north of the airport.  He said the scenery was lovely, but there were "lots of little black animals" running around.  He didn't have the word for the little black animals, although I suspect he might mean ants.  I hope it's a north coast thing and really glad I'm headed south.

The bus arrives at the hotel and after the all the arriving guests check in, those staying in the hostel are guided past the formal dining room, through the bar, along a pathway between bungalow cabins and finally around a cement wall to a large pink stucco shack just off the beach.  This will be my home for the next few days.

Although the hostel isn't visible in this
photo, it is located in a nice neighbourhood.

Inside, there are 30 bunk beds divided into two neat rows.  I choose a top bunk because I have a feeling I'll want to be as far away from the floor as possible while I'm sleeping.  It has just occurred to me that I'm sharing a room with up to 60 people, a fact I'll ponder over a beer.  It's happy hour and a 750ml bottle of Fiji Bitter is going for $1.

The sun has set and I found my way back to the dorm in the dark.  I was greeted by a sand crab at the entrance.  At first, I thought it was a dust bunny until I realized it was moving under its own power.  Time to crawl up and into bed.  Ah, tropical island life, in all it's palm tree and beach critter glory. 

• ¤ • 

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, 
find your eternity in each moment. 
Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. 
There is no other land, there is no other life but this."
~Henry David Thoreau


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Around the World: Ta, New Zealand

December 28, 1991

Well, I finally saw water go down a drain... 

... and it goes that way!  Finally, a sink that doesn't slurp like a vacuum.  Hurray!  My quest is accomplished.  Moving on...

I have spent the last of my New Zealand money, and because all the banks are closed on Saturday, I'm going to have to get creative.  I need $15 for the departure tax at the airport, or I guess I won't be allowed to leave the country?  I went over to the hotel beside the Polynesian Spa to change a traveler's cheque, but they said they had no money.  When I told the manager I only needed $20, he cut me a break.  

Just watched some New Zealand news.  The news opens with world events and "The Fall of the USSR",  immediately followed by a story about a woman who was burned at the age of three who just had a baby, followed by tips for the gardener.  The news is only 8 minutes into an hour long show.  In a way, it sums up the paradise that New Zealand is quite nicely.  I have a hankerin' to hear some Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go". 

I will miss traveling with Gail.  Tomorrow, she will continue her way south while I head north, back to Auckland and off to the airport to catch my flight to Fiji.

Ta, New Zealand!

• ¤ •

"How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to."
~Author Unknown

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Around the World: Hells Gate

December 27, 1991

Taking a tour of sites around the area.  The first stop is at Hells Gate.  Paths lead visitors around pools of boiling mud and steam spouting geysers.

Boiling mud at Hells Gate

Once in the park, the scenery is obscured by steam rising out of ponds of boiling, bubbling mud that occasionally emits an audible "splop" as mud is shot up into the air a foot or so.  Further in is a very small forest, full of peacocks and pheasants.  Three stray chickens chased me as I tried to dodge and evade them along the trail.

Passing by the boiling mud, there are signs that warn guests not to add anything to the pools and a dire warning for anyone who chooses to ignore this request.

Works for me!

Next stop on the tour was a journey to the Blue & Green lakes.  They are side by side, separated by a narrow strip of land.  Green lake (Lake Rotokakahi), as the guide explained, is sacred to the Maori, who have buried their dead on an island in the middle since the late 1300's.  No one is allowed to swim or fish in the lake, or go anywhere near it, for that matter.

Blue lake (Lake Tikitapu) was formed after the Mount Tarawera volcano erupted in 1886, when the resulting crater filled up with water.  It has no tributaries, and no visible outlet although it does drain underwater into another nearby volcanic formed lake.  The lake is a popular place for recreational water sports.

Local flyer photo of Blue & Green lakes. 

Lost forever in the eruption of 1886 were the Pink and White Terraces, a popular tourist attraction.  The guide also pointed out sediment deposits on a hillside from both major eruptions from Mount Tarawera.  The first one some 900 years ago, the last in 1886, after which, the area was obliterated and remained barren for over 20 years.  Part of the area was replanted with trees intended for export, and the rest grew back on its own.  Most of the area has since remained untouched.

Painting of the White Terraces by Charles Bloomfield

The tour continued around Mount Tarawera.  The 1886 eruption buried a Maori village, which continues to be excavated.  One of the buildings that has been successfully restored is a traditional Maori house, the home of a tribal elder.  The elder suspected that the shaking ground was a warning and attempted to evacuate the villagers to safety.  Instead, believing the elder was possessed by evil spirits, the villagers barricaded him inside his house, a decision, unfortunately, no one who remained in village lived to regret. 

Excavated Maori dwelling at Te Wairoa (Buried Village)
Photo by James Shook at en.wikipedia

Another Maori legend:  Eleven days before the eruption, a boat full of tourists returning from the Pink and White Terraces saw an ancient Maori war canoe carrying an equally ancient warrior.  Science suggests that what the tourists actually witnessed was the effect of  fissures under the lake changing the water levels and thus exposed a buried warrior who would have been tied to his canoe in an upright position.  Maori legend claims it was a "waka wairua" (spirit canoe), a warning of impending doom.  Most inhabitants of the area agree, however, that the inevitable and overdue eruption of Mount Tarawera will again, be preceded by some sort of warning.

• ¤ •

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning,
but anyone can start today and make a new ending."
~Maria Robinson

Monday, December 26, 2011

Around the World: Rotorua

December 26, 1991

After a breakfast of granola and coffee, I went for a relaxing soak in the jacuzzi. Gail headed off on a tour of spouting geysers and steam pools while I hitched a ride to New Zealand's biggest hedge maze. It's a huge circular maze, complete with clear and blocked paths, the goal being to get to the center. After successfully completing the hedge maze, I made my way to the nearby 3D maze.  This one is constructed of wood and is considerably bigger than the hedge maze.  It's also much more complicated, the object being to arrive at each of the four corners before exiting out the same entrance I went in. I wasn't as successful with this one and before the claustrophobic panic set in, I crawled under a few walls to find my way out.

3D Maze, Rotorua

Met up with Gail back at the hostel and we headed off to the Polynesian Spa. All the pools are thermally heated, but at different temperatures. We spent a couple of hours playing Goldilocks, pool hopping until we found one that was just right, until it became too hot or too cool to be comfortable anymore.  It doesn't take long to acclimatise to the stench of sulphur, although it is recommended to remove any silver jewelry, which of course, I forgot to do, and now my silver necklace is black.  Thankfully, it's not permanent. 

The spa claims the pools are hygienic because the sulfur acts as a powerful cleanser for the water. There's another spa just a few steps away from this one that caters specifically to sufferers of arthritis.

Polynesian Spa's hot thermal pools, Rotorua

After the spa pool soak, it is recommended to bathe oneself in the huge pool, filled with an unknown substance that feels very much like baby oil. Even after a shower, I can still smell sulfur on my skin.

Sue, our Christmas dinner hostess, came by the hostel to drop off mince meat pies and Christmas cake.

• ¤ •

"Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude."
~Denis Waitley

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Around the World: Christmas in Rotorua, New Zealand

December 25, 1991

First order of business this morning was to move from the dive we spent the night in to the YHA.  What an incredible difference!  The room is clean, bright and spacious.  There's a jacuzzi and a private bathroom with shower and a comfortable common room to hang out, watch TV, read, whatever.  Opposite the front desk is a bulletin board with an invitation for guests of the hostel to join a local family for Christmas dinner.  Both Gail and I added our names to the list.

A man came to the hostel and picked up Gail and I, plus four other hostel mates and drove us to his home.  He introduced us to his wife, Sue, and their grown children.  The food was awesome and spread out over three picnic tables in their backyard.  Salads and cold meat to start while the steaks cooked on the BBQ.  I ate enough for four people, for sure.  This family I had just met treated all of us like we had been friends for ages.  We chatted about the different countries we were from and places we would like to visit over dinner, coffee and several options for dessert.  Even the dogs welcomed everyone with wagging tails.

I don't have the words to express how incredibly welcome this family made all of us feel, especially being so far away from family and things familiar.  There were no presents exchanged and nothing was expected, but to enjoy a home cooked meal, served with conversation over generosity and kindness.  The evening was such a thoughtful gift, completely unto itself, to feel so very much at home in the company of strangers.

N.B.: I still don't know which way the water goes down the drain.  It goes up and then straight down in the toilet.  I even filled up the sink and watched it get sucked into the drain - straight down!  What's worse is I can't remember which way water goes down the drain at home.

• ¤ •

"When a group of professional people asked a group of 4-to-8-year olds,
'What does love mean?'
one replied, 'Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas
if you stop opening presents and just listen.'"
~Warren McLaren

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Around the World: Road Trip

December 24, 1991

It's Christmas Eve and I'm spending the day in transit.  The first part of the trip from Kerikeri involved a scenic five hour bus ride to Auckland.  The last part, due to begin any minute, includes a seven hour bus trip to Rotorua.

Rotorua is famous for it's thermal activity, and is peppered with heated springs and shooting geysers.  Although the hot springs stink of sulfur, they are renowned for being medicinal.  I'm sure a nice soak in a pool of thermally heated water, will do me wonders after spending twelve hours on a bus.  I'm not concerned about the sulfur smell too much at the moment.  I doubt I'll smell much better.


Had a little nap on the bus and I am about two hours away from Rotorua.  It's getting cooler as I get further south, a concept I'm having a little trouble adjusting to.  I'm also curious to see the Coriolis effect on this side of the equator.  While I don't challenge that it's true, it's disappointing that I've not yet had the chance to witness it.  So far, none of the drains or toilets spin the water before it disappears.  All of them just slurp it straight down.  It's becoming quite annoying, really.

New Zealand Bus
Photo by AxelF (CC-BY-SA-3.0) from Wikipedia Commons

It's now 11pm and the bus trip is (finally) over.  Gail and I have settled into an independent hostel in Rotorua.  This place is best described as a hole, but it was all that was available for the night.  Anywhere, except maybe outside in the rain, is better than this place, although that's debatable.  Even the wallpaper is attempting an escape and Gail has discovered a sticker from condom packaging on the the headboard of her bed. It just adds to the ambiance.

Tomorrow, we have booked accommodations at the YHA.  I have replenished my supply of Jim Beam and Gail picked up a bottle of gin.  Hoping that a few drinks will improve the state of this place, which needs so much, much more than beer goggles to make it bearable.

• ¤ •

"A traveler in ancient Greece met an old man walking along the road and asked him how to get to Mount Olympus. The old man replied: "Just make sure that every step you take is in that direction."
~Author Unknown

Friday, December 23, 2011

Around the World: Kerikeri Orchard

December 23, 1991

I joined some of my hostel mates on a 4km trek through the woods to see Rainbow Falls.  On the way, we passed several swimming holes, called fairy pools, but from the trail there was no safe way to get down to them.  The falls were really beautiful, draining into a fairy pool that we were all able to swim in.

Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri
Photo by James Shook, from Wikipedia Commons

In the afternoon, I visited the Orange Centre.  The owner of the orchard led a tour around the groves of kiwis, mandarins, oranges, blackberries, tangerellos, and offered me a huge orange-like fruit that is the result of crossing a grapefruit with a mandarin (I think), called an Ugli.  The skin is mottled, like a golf ball so I suppose it's not the most attractive fruit in the orange family, but it's really sweet and juicy.

Kiwi na arvore

I learned that kiwis need to meet exacting criteria to be marketable.  The slightest flaw in shape or size or marks on the skin and they are tossed away.  On the tour was a guy from London who once worked on a kiwi farm in Sydney with a friend of his.  They would gather up all the discarded kiwi and bring them to the docks, where they would trade them for vodka and clothing with Russian sailors. 

Stopped at the LiquorLand on the way back to the hostel to pick up some festive cheer for the trip to Rotorua tomorrow.

• ¤ •

"The Earth is but one country, and we its citizens...
you are the fruit of one tree and the leaves of one branch."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Around the World: KeriKeri

December 22, 1991

Checked into the Kerikeri YHA (Youth Hostel Association).  So far, I've met a lady from Germany who speaks little English, but enough to have a basic conversation.  There's a couple in their thirties, also from Germany who speak no English at all.  The husband is taking pictures of his wife from all possible angles in every conceivable location. In the short time I've seen them, he has taken several shots of her sitting on the deck, standing on the deck, drinking coffee, going into the common room and coming out, eating and washing up their dishes.  I suspect they are on a honeymoon and they are very cute to watch.

YHA Kerikeri
Photo by Virtual Tourist

The rest of my hostel mates are four girls from Japan who are inseparable.  Anywhere they go, they go together, arm in arm, giggling and chattering away, followed by more giggling.  Other than the hostel keeper, I think Gail and I are the only ones who speak any amount of English.  Looks like charades will be the most useful method of communication.

Behind the hostel is a church.  The pastor dropped by the hostel to invite anyone staying at the hostel to the services tonight and asked if anyone could sing.  I declined, for everyone's benefit.

There's a pool table in the common room and I have discovered that my game is not improving.

• ¤ •

"My people? Who are they?
I went into the church where the congregation worshiped my God. Were they my people?
I felt no kinship to them as they knelt there.

My people! Where are they?
I went into the land where I was born, where men spoke my language...
I was a stranger there.
"My people," my soul cried. "Who are my people?"

Last night in the rain I met an old man who spoke a language I do not speak,
which marked him as one who does not know my God.
With apologetic smile he offered me the shelter of his patched umbrella.
I met his eyes... And then I knew…"

'Who Are My People,'
~Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni (Who Are My People)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Around the World: Bay of Islands

December 21, 1991

There's not much exploring to do in Paihia. It's a touristy town, called "The Gateway to the Bay of Islands", full of shops and cafes, and the hostel I'm staying at.  It's known as the starting point for tours around the Bay of Islands. Gail and I took a ferry to Russell for some local history.

Russell is formerly known as "The Hell Hole of the Pacific" and home to New Zealand's oldest surviving church. After the Maori chased British defenders out of the town in 1845, the inhabitants fled aboard ships and proceeded to shell the town until it was pretty much leveled. The church still bears scars of cannonball and musket fire from that time.

New Zealand's oldest church, "Christ Church" in Russell
Photo by Pulv, from Wikipedia Commons

Russell's reputation has improved considerably since, and is now quite a peaceful place full of cafes, touristy shops and bed and breakfast accommodation.

From Russell, we hitched a ride from an older couple from Wales to Long Beach. It was described as one of the more beautiful beaches in the area, but the rocky beach and weedy water was a disappointment. There were little crabs scurrying in the shallow water which made swimming a bit unnerving with these little creatures under my feet.

Gail and I set off on a hike for Haruru Falls, following poorly marked trails, but it was still awesome. After an hour of walking, we found a boardwalk trail through a mangrove forest.  We sat in the middle of the bridge to savour the scenery when we were treated to the shadow of a manta ray just under the water's surface, gliding right under the bridge beneath us.

Trail through mangrove forest en route to Haruru Falls.
Photo by Julia Gardner

Finally, after over two hours of hiking the trail through the forest, we arrived at the falls. After taking in the scenery, we realized we were rapidly running out of daylight and with the trail being poorly marked, it would be too risky to follow it back in the dark. We found a road and tried to hitch a ride back to the hostel. A dozen cars passed us before one finally stopped.

The driver and her friend invited us into their beat-up green station wagon. After we asked them to take us to or near our destination, up went the volume on the stereo and down went the foot on the gas pedal.  Our driver and her friend screeched out the lyrics to a country song about poor Diane driving down to Dixie that was on the radio. I watched the needle on the speedometer hover around 140km/hr. Once we got out of the car, Gail and I laughed off the terror and thanked our lucky stars for arriving home safely.

• ¤ •

"Perhaps we're too embarrassed to change or too frightened of the consequences of showing that we actually care. But why not risk it anyway?
Begin today. Carry out a random act of seemingly senseless kindness,
with no expectation of reward or punishment, safe in the knowledge that one day, someone somewhere might do the same for you."
~Lady Diana Frances Spencer, Princess of Wales

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Around the World: Kauri Trees

December 20, 1991

This morning included plans to head to Tikipunga to see Whangarei Falls and find kauri trees that the hostel keeper told us about last night, but a malfunctioning alarm clock meant missing the bus. Steve, another hostel mate from England, had hired a car and offered to bring Gail and I along. The falls were gorgeous. A narrow stream of water tumbling over a high cliff into a river winding through the lush valley below.

Whangarei Falls
Photo by Simon Fearby

Steve drove us to the area where the kauri trees are supposed to be. We were told that kauri trees can grow to over 200 feet tall.  The really impressive ones are at least 600 years old, while some are rumoured to have survived "since the time of Christ". We walked through one park and after walking in a complete circle, we saw nothing but your garden variety tree. On the way, we stopped to ask a few locals for directions, but when we got to where they had sent us, we still couldn't find these legendary trees. Finally, we came upon an elderly lady watering what looked like cabbage sized bushes near the road. Steve stopped the car and inquired where we could find the kauri trees.

"Oh, I'm watering one right now," she replied.

Steve explained that we were looking for the really big ones and the lady pointed us in the right direction. "I haven't been there since last year. I don't know how many there would be now."

How quickly do these things grow!?!!

Te Matua Ngahere "Father of the Forest"
3,000 years old and 5m in diameter.

We finally found them and are they ever impressive. The bark looks like clay and the sap is used for glue and as a varnish for violins.

Leaving Whangarei for Pahia in the Bay of Islands. Not far from my seat is a fellow having a slurred disagreement with his reflection. I suppose this is what happens after consuming the wine on sale from LiquorLand.

• ¤ •

"We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way."
~Gloria Gaither

Monday, December 19, 2011

Around the World: Whangarei

December 19, 1991

Made my way from Waiheke Island back to Auckland and bought a bus ticket that allows unlimited travel for 14 days. Took the bus to Whangarei and found the hostel atop a very steep hill, which is quite the workout with a backpack. On the bus, I talked with a lady, originally from Scotland, who has lived in New Zealand since 1965. She told me about the rainforest here and how most of New Zealand's trees are protected because they are native only to here.

Not far from the hostel is a nature walk along a narrow and uneven path that ends at a cave full of glow worms. The hostel keeper volunteered to take anyone who was interested to the cave at night, which made the path just that much more of an unpredictable adventure. 

Waipu Caves, Whangarei
Imagine this trail in the dark.

I had no idea what to expect from a glow worm other than a worm that glows, perhaps like a firefly, but longer. Arriving at the cave was such a treat, not only having survived a treacherous hike in pitch darkness, but looking up at the cave's ceiling and seeing this:

Glow Worms

I am so sunburned. I look like a long tomato.

This morning, while I sat outside drinking my coffee, a peacock flounced by, followed by a chicken and two dogs. The hostel manager, seeing my surprised expression, added that there was also a donkey behind the hostel.

On the way back from picking up a few more groceries, Gail and I had to investigate a store marked with huge letters that spelled "LiquorLand".  It was expected that it sold alcohol, and wonderfully unexpected to choose from their selection of mix, munchies and assorted clothing.  It's a kind of one-stop-shop for all your kicking back needs.

• ¤ •

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."
~Helen Keller

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Around the World: Waiheke Island

December 18, 1991

Arrived in Auckland after giving a day away at the International Date Line.  Met a fellow Canadian at the airport, Gail, from New Brunswick. We introduced ourselves to three more Canadians from Huntsville at the hostel in Auckland I've already made enough money cutting my hostel-mate's hair to pay for the night's stay at the hostel and some groceries.

After a good night's sleep, I seem to be adjusted to this time zone.  On a quest to get out of the city and explore an island just off the east coast.  Walked through Auckland from the hostel to the ferry docks and bought a ticket to Waiheke Island.

Onetangi Beach, Waiheki Island, New Zealand
Photo by: Trakesht at en.wikipedia

Staying in Onetangi Bay and the beach here, which is only a long stairway trek down a steep hill from the hostel, is virtually deserted. The shells on the beach are spectacular and I have easily filled a large container. The people here are incredibly hospitable. The water is beautifully clear and free of jellyfish.  The waves are perfect for the novice body surfer. The island is peppered with flowers and every corner I turn is more beautiful than the scenery behind me.  I think I'm in love!

The sun here is very strong. The 15SPF I brought with me is nothing more than a basting, I swear I can hear it sizzling on my skin, like bacon in a pan. I am kicking myself for balking at spending $9USD for 45SPF in Hawaii. I am already regretting that decision!

• ¤ •

"Go down to the beach before the tide comes in,
And write your worries on the sand.
Then watch the ocean come in and wash them away."

~Maithri Goonetilleke

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Around the World: Waikiki

December 15, 1991

It is very, very early in the morning. I called to confirm the flight for, what I thought was tomorrow evening and found out it was leaving in three hours!  I ran up to my room and scooped up all my clothes, wet and dry, and crammed it all into my knapsack.  Ron, the hostel driver, rushed me off to the airport, arriving seconds before missing my flight to New Zealand. The clerk who checked in my bag told me that if I had missed this flight, I could have booked on the one that leaves next week.  Hmmm, stuck in Hawaii for a whole week.  Why did I rush to the airport again?  Oh well, the plane has already taken off.  More Pacific Ocean... more turbulence. I see the beverage service heading my way.


Although my stay in Hawaii was shorter than I thought it was going to be, I still managed to get in a swim on the beach, some soft sand between my toes and a beautiful partial view of a dormant volcano.

Waikiki Beach looking towards Diamond Head
Photo by Ryan Tutmarc
I offered to cut a hostel-mate's hair. Bruce, who is missing a foot, is running in a marathon tomorrow (which is actually later today) around Oahu. Weird, in the sense that I never really thought about what it would be like to not have all my parts. Bruce finds it equally weird that he shouldn't be able to do all the things anybody else with two feet can do. I don't see why not either, really. Just never thought to think about it. Not until a few hours ago.  At least I had a chance to wish him luck before I left.  He says he usually places in the top 50.  This time he wants to break into the top 20.  Go Bruce!!

Not only does this chance meeting give me some new perspective, but he brought me some good luck. As I was cutting Bruce's hair, other hostel-mates passed by and saw that I actually knew what I was doing. A line up of interested patrons began to grow. Three guys in line entertained my waiting customers with perilous tales of body surfing on the North Beach. Sounds like fun, if you don't mind ending the adventure in a palm tree. They were pretty battered, but undeterred for a plan to do again tomorrow (also later today).

This time zone thing is confusing and I'll soon cross over the international date line. I'm going to have to track down a calendar when I land in Auckland or everyone I meet is going to think I've suffered some kind of head trauma.

Back to the haircuts... I cut my finger cutting hair and it started bleeding again on the plane. I asked the stewardesses, who were taking a break in the rear of the plane for a tissue. One of them took a look at it and bandaged it up for me and helped me back to my seat with a generous helping of ice cream. :) After some sleep and the morning food service, the stewardess offered me a second helping of breakfast and let me go see the pilot. Whoo hoo!

• ¤ •

The golden opportunity you are seeking is in yourself. It is not in your environment; it is not in luck or chance, or the help of others; it is in yourself alone.
~Orison Swett Marden

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Around the World: Pacific Ocean

December 13, 1991

I'm between zones so I don't really know what time it is. It's daytime over the Pacific Ocean and I am being introduced to the concept of turbulence. The fasten seat belt sign is lit and for good reason. I would have been introduced to the ceiling several times already were it not for the strip of fabric securing me to my seat. My coffee has already left and (fortunately) been caught in my cup twice. Even the cabin crew take periodic breaks to strap themselves down in between the food service.

Arrived safely in Waikiki. The hostel I'm staying at sent a van to collect budget accommodation seeking travelers from the airport. The beach is beautiful, but it will have to wait. The actual time (late afternoon) and myself (very early morning) are not in agreement. Unconscious in 3...2...

• ¤ •


Monday, December 12, 2011

Around the World: Stanley Park

December 12, 1991

Map courtesy of MapQuest

Stanley Park was so cool! Walked there from the hostel and it was pretty cold at times. It seemed to warm up a little once I made it to the park. Even the squirrels here are friendly. I've seen a few people come with a book and their pockets loaded with peanuts.  Once the person settles in somewhere comfortable, the squirrels just reach into their pockets and help themselves.

Photo by Elio Salvatore from Wikipedia Commons

Stopped for a coffee and a snack in Gastown.  I found a used bookstore and went looking for something to entertain me on the long flight to Hawaii tomorrow.  I think "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" should do quite nicely.

At the airport now (7:20pm) waiting for the flight tomorrow at 9:15am. Ok, I'm a little early, but I'm sure I can find someway to amuse myself until check-in begins. I think I'll start with a beer and possibly a bowl of clam chowder.

Went wandering around the airport looking for a bathroom and finally found one tucked away in a poorly marked indent of a wall that could easily be mistaken for a janitor's closet. As I'm in there, I notice there's someone in the stall next to me. They are wearing the strangest shoes. They look quite comfortable, but not what I would describe as feminine, but then neither are mine. I'm thinking, "This guy would be so embarrassed to realize he's in the ladies loo. I'll just wait until he leaves."

When he does, I finish up and as I'm leaving, I notice the stick figure with the dress is on the door opposite the one I'm exiting. At least I was helpful to the mom who was rushing her young daughter to the restroom from making the same mistake I did.

What was in that clam chowder?!?

• ¤ •

"If logic tells you that life is a meaningless accident, don't give up on life.
Give up on logic."
~Shira Millgrom

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Around the World: Vancouver

December 11, 1991

On my way to Vancouver. It's a beautiful day for flying and I have a clear view of the mountains below.

Back on home soil for two more days before putting some of the Pacific Ocean behind me. There's a sense of excitement mixed with trepidation and anticipation. In 36 hours, I'll be the stranger in a strange land. I can't even picture what the places I'm soon to visit are like. For now, it's already been a long day. The bus ride from the airport to the hostel was over two hours and my tummy is grumbling for a nosh.

Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC.
Photo by Flying Penguin from Wikipedia Commons

Dinner is cheese, milk, bread, salad and an orange, all for $6. That, plus the bun and peanut butter package I saved from the meal on the plane will be dinner tonight. The hostel is close to Jericho Beach, but it's only 6 degrees, a bit too brisk for swimming. I'm in a dorm with 15 other people, but my area is sectioned off to include only 2 bunk beds. Going to Stanley Park tomorrow and then I'll head back to the airport. The flight for Waikiki leaves really early in the morning so I'll save myself the two hour bus trip very early in the morning and just sleep at the airport.

People in Vancouver are very friendly.

• ¤ •

"If you just look at all that already exists in your life, all that you already have: unlimited air to breathe, ample lighting to see, music to hear, books to read, stars to dream by, trees to gaze at, floors to dance on, friends to cavort with, enemies to befriend, strangers to meet, woods to walk through, beaches to comb, rocks to scale, rains to cleanse you, rivers to float you, animals to comfort you, you do have to admit, there's more of it than you could ever, ever, ever spend.

But try anyway."
~Mike Dooley

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Around the World: Haight Ashbury

December 10, 1991

Map courtesy of MapQuest

Went window shopping in Haight-Ashbury and had no problem finding record stores and vintage clothing shops. Walking along the streets is like being transported back in time to the 60's with a peppering of modern alternative splashed in black and silver to remind me that it is actually 1991.

Corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets.
Photo by Goodralph, Creative Commons Atribution

Today is election day in the United States.  People are friendly, and politically conscious enough to ensure I have voted, which of course, I haven't.  I quickly learned that saying, "No," to the repetitive inquiries of "Did ya vote, man?" only invites a lecture about not exercising my 'American rights, man', and being chastised for not performing my 'civic duty, man'. Then I have to stop and explain to each person, "I'm only visiting from Canada, man." It's just easier to just say, "Yea, man!" and go on my way.

Made sure to head in the right direction for the restaurant tonight. Met another hostel-mate from Tokyo. He has a rented car and we went for a drive to the beach and through Japantown. I bought some sake on his recommendation and we shared it when we got back to the hostel.

Read an interesting story in "The San Francisco Guardian". The city dumped a couple truck loads of snow in one the city's parks and only parents and their children were allowed to play in it. Kind of cool for a place that rarely sees the white stuff and fun on a day that had temps in the mid 20's. Well done, San Francisco!

• ¤ •

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world
- indeed it is the only thing that ever does"
-Margaret Meade

Friday, December 9, 2011

Around the World: San Francisco

December 9, 1991

Map courtesy of MapQuest

Walked around San Francisco to the waterfront. Couldn't resist "Old Bushmill's Irish Coffee" at a cafe along the Fisherman's Wharf. Then to Chinatown for Dim Sum. Five hours of walking has taken it's toll on my very sore toes. In between, my tour included a walk up the crookedest street and down the steepest. The architecture of the homes with their big bay windows is stunning. It's a beautiful, warm, sunny day and everywhere I go, I can smell the ocean.

Photo by Nicholas Shanks, from Wikipedia Commons

Accidentally discovered San Francisco's less than lovely side while searching for a place to eat dinner. Made a wrong turn at the hostel's front door and within 3 blocks, I found myself in and amongst a wasteland haven for society's lost citizens. Hundreds of people conveniently tucked out of the way, all of them defeated by homelessness, drugs and bad circumstances. Only 2 blocks in the opposite direction from the same starting point is a fantastically inexpensive restaurant that serves pseudo-Japanese fare. Belly full with an adventure on the side, it's time to rest up for another day of exploring tomorrow.


"Never look down on anybody unless you're helping them up."

~The Reverend Jesse Jackson

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Around the World: Leaving Toronto

December 8, 1991

The plane's take off was smooth, but the surge and sound of the revving engines as it raced down the runway felt like riding a rocket. Quickly through the low cloud cover, leaving the rain below me, and finally... sunshine!

Canadian Airlines 737 
By: caribb (2733037757) from flickriver

Through breaks in the clouds, I can see the etchings of cities carved into the ground below. I'm taking advantage of the airline's hospitality service, enjoying a beer with lunch, followed by Bailey's in my coffee. The free headphones have died so for entertainment, I inspect the lavatory. A collection of sealed plastic sticks says "Impregnated toothbrush" on the wrapper. Hmmmm.

Should be approaching the Rockies soon...


In San Francisco. Settled into the European Guest House at 8th & Mission Sts. It's comfortable here, tucked into my sleeping bag.  I'm making use of the jet lag by planning what sites to visit tomorrow.


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by
the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover"
~Mark Twain