Archive for February, 2009

Sydney Sydney Sydney

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Where do I start? The busyness? The beautiful girls? Perhaps the nature of Australians VS New Zealanders? How about the fashion, the public transportation, or the beaches?

As easy as it was to describe Auckland, It is equally as hard to describe Sydney. But, If I had only one word to use, it would be bold.

The people of Sydney are bold. This is their home and if you want to be here, fine, but they sure as hell are not going to give you a medal.

This is a big city with an exquisite bus and rail system. For about a buck or two a day, you can get around just fine. There are still cars, but you could actually survive without one (unlike California). When you say where you are from, you aren’t the demi god that you were in New Zealand. “California, Sweet (big deal, We’ve got just as much sun and beaches, Jerk)”

But don’t let me convince you that Australians are anything but nice, they are just bold. Though they consume a lot of our culture, they have their own pop stars and their own trendy music. When walking, they don’t wait for the green light, they just go.

They are so bold with their fashions, I begin to wonder if we brought back the skinny jeans or if it was them. And the Women! Not cute, not scandalously dressed, and not just hiding under a bunch of makeup. Sydney has more authentic beautiful women than anywhere else I’ve ever been. That doesn’t mean that everyone is beautiful, but it does mean that a diamond will walk by about every 4 minutes.

How about the bars? We went to the ones that had the best music. Maybe a little too good. In Sydney, about half of the bars are gay. In fact, in about a week they are going to have a huge gay parade. I even saw a gay chemist (pharmacist) store. This is a very diverse city (as many metropolitan cities are) and grunge and punk rock is still very big here in terms of clothing.

I got a red eye for a few days that I thought was infected or pink eye, so I went to the pharmacist who diagnosed me as not infected on the spot and suggested a new type of eye drops. $6 and 5 minutes later I had a solution. If I was in the states it would have been insurance, co pays, three hours, and then the prescription that would probably cost a few hundred including the doctor.

Do I like it? Ummmm, Yes and no. It has a little bit of an LA feel (which I hate). I guess I’m just pissed there are no kangaroos in the streets.

The weather here is crazy. You will be sweating in the sun one moment and then it will be raining huge drops without a cloud in sight.

I am hanging out with my old roommate Pat while in Sydney. He is getting his masters (also his last name) at San Diego State and is doing a Semester here. He is staying at a host family. They are two late thirty’s professors who are equally as charming as funny and shocking. They live in an outstanding 2 bedroom apartment in downtown Sydney that would easily be featured in home magazines.

I am getting on a grey hound bus soon to head up the east coast and of course, the professors want me to stay much longer in Sydney (it’s an Australian thing to competitively think that where you are is the best place to be).

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The Interrogation Went Like this:

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

(In an assuming tone)

Q: Why are you really coming to Australia?

A: Holiday.

Q: Well, how long have you been planning this trip?

A: A few months.

Q: So you must have done some real planning.?

A: Not really, I’m going to 32 countries this year. Micro managing that is impossible. Plus, it’s more fun if you didn’t read the script before you watch the play.

Q: So what types of attractions do you have at the top of your list?

A: I don’t know, Australia! The beaches, the people, you know kangaroos and stuff.

Q: Do you know someone here in Sydney?

A: Um, Ya. I have an ex roommate that is out here studying abroad.

Q: Where are you going after this?

A: Thailand.

Q: Do you know someone out there?

A: As a matter of fact, I do. Another ex-roommate studying abroad. (Even I was becoming suspicious of myself at this point. My story does sound made up).

Q: Do you have any traveler’s checks on you or personal checks? (As she is rummaging through all of my belongings).

A: Yes

Q: How much?

A: $150. Most of my money is accessed with banks cards.

Q: How much money do you have in the bank? (followed by about 40 more questions)

A: None of your fucking business (I thought) and now I will be calling my lawyer/the US military to unleash the greatest force the world has ever known (I thought).

My blood sugar was low and I didn’t feel like being treated like a criminal. I told her “after you are done searching my bag and find out that I don’t have anything to hide, do you mind sharing with me the reason you flagged me so that I can avoid future molesting?” She said “we can’t share what we use as criteria.” Of course, I answer 50 of your questions and you can’t answer just one for me. Australia is so freaking selfish.

To make things more ironic, this was a woman covered in traditional Muslim attire (covered in a shawl) working for customs. Perhaps she saw that I was American and wanted to repay the favor that one of my customs officers put her through for how she was dressed. Nothing like paying the hate forward.

I wanted to tell her that I didn’t have time to stay in her retched country for more than a few months and that the world was waiting. Her country (no matter how heartbreaking it was) was only a small piece to the mission. And the mission came first. (I still haven’t eaten since then, and my blood pressure is still low. It makes for a better post.)

Sydney so far is about what I expected: a city for the people and the tourists. There are a LOT of real Ausies here and because of that, there is a certain degree of assumption when it comes to getting around. Everything is a little less user friendly. The people are a little less friendly and care a little less. The time Zone is 2 more hours away from home (for a total of 5 now). It was what I expected. Not the city that you will be mugged in, but not Auckland. A perfect progression into the real traveling.

My training wheels are off and though I’m not doing back flips out of the pipe, I’m definitely riding dirty (what does riding dirty mean?) (I always wanted to say it :)

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Queenstown Was. New Zealand is

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Today I snapped back on over to Auckland from Queenstown via Qantas Air. It was a swift two hour direct flight. Incredibly fast in comparison to the last month or so bus journey that I have been on. I watched a movie called “four holidays” (known in America as Four Christmases) on the plane. It’s funny how the international crowd might get a rebranded, perhaps slightly refurbished, version of one of our Hollywood creations. Speaking of rebranding and refurbishing movies, the movie “Lucky Number Sleven” has about 20 more minutes of worthless footage in the beginning and is called “The Wrong Man” internationally J I wonder how often this happens? Maybe my screenwriting stepbrother Andrew might know.

Back to Queenstown and what it was. For me, the week I stayed was enough. It was a tourist and backpacker utopia, but I actually enjoyed a bunch of other destinations along the way even more. I think when it all comes down to it, the people who you interact with ultimately can make or break a day, a year, or even a second. Once I stayed longer than the usual 2-3 days in Queenstown, most of my new found friends had continued on back north on the bus line.

But I did do some pretty incredible things while I was there. I also spent a pretty penny, but am happy to part with the cash in exchange for the memories. Queenstown itself is one of the more beautiful places in New Zealand with its picture perfect mountain ranges that promptly dump into the glacier filled crystal clear lake. This is a place that has Para-gliders landing on the elementary school’s soccer field every day of the week. This is a place that has more 360 spinning jet boats than ferry boats. This place must manufacture extreme sport legends. This is the birth place of the bungy and most likely the birthplace of the jet boat (basically an overgrown, 1000+ horsepower jet ski that seats 15 passengers and is an acrobatic marvel of the water).

Many tourists take a bus down to Queenstown and don’t come back for a year. They decide to work in this paradise and call it home. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and the 200 days of rain per year that Queenstown gets (and I had 3 of those days).

Queens town was the Park City, Utah of New Zealand. Hip and trendy, with a buzillion dollars going through it each and every day.

New Zealand IS.

A surly nation: Though they do have the art of tourism down to a science, if you ask a stupid question, you’re sure to know it in the tone of a Kiwi’s (someone from New Zealand) answer. They aren’t the impossibly happy and optimistic bunch that you might find in the poorest reaches of South East Asia. Theirs is a life with certain luxuries which breeds a natural gap between want and have. This gap is where dissatisfaction lives. Those who have absolutely nothing, have each other and often a smile which can define a nation. Unlike in America, if you ask a Kiwi something that they don’t want to answer, they will first respond with something less than civil and just as you have time to think “Well I’d better ask someone else.” They will promptly respond with a full and complete answer. I learned this when walking into a bar to ask for directions to a competing bar (but in my defense, this particular town only had bars open at the moment).

A first name nation: When trying to reserve a room for the next hostel/attraction (over the phone) you only have to use your first name. When verifying your $150 tour ticket, you point out your own name on the bus driver’s role sheet. This is a nation of trust, unadulterated by the same folks that made hitch hiking an impossibility in the states. This is why: You aren’t just born into this place (for the most part), you are born into Compton. People don’t save up for years to fly out to Compton. They didn’t choose to end up there. But here, it’s a bit out of the way and people who are here are generally not out to get back at the system, or barely scrape by. They are purpose driven and usually not desperate or deprived enough to resort to dishonesty. If you aren’t on someone’s roster/roll sheet, they will just write your first name in (no questions asked).

An easy nation: It’s not that different from America really. It’s the perfect launching point for a traveler or just a great get away for an inexperienced traveler. You couldn’t close your eyes and plug your ears hard enough to effectively silence the attractions that New Zealand has to offer and there are a thousand ways to get there and do it.

A small nation: You can AND WILL run into the guy who just led your tour of a glacier/volcano/hot spring/mountain in town getting a beer and they WILL have a meaningful conversation with you on the spot. This country only has 4 million people after all. You will get a small town feel when your waitress from the night before is shopping right next to you in the local super market.

A nation of visitors: Many of the people you run into had the same predicament as you just a while ago. They were just a backpacker and now work at their favorite attraction. They are easy to talk to because they are just as dazzled as you are.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Sydney for the start of 1-2 months in Australia. The warm up is over. Let’s do some serious traveling!

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Nevis 440 foot Bungy

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Nuff Said :)

The tallest bungy in New Zealand.  The Tallest unassisted bungy still in operation on the planet.  There is one in Hong Kong that is 90 meters higher but it has a guide line so it isn’t technically a free falling bungy.  There was one in South Africa similar to the Hong Kong one but there was an unfortunate Murder that closed down the Platform.  For now, This is it!

This is the official Nevis Copy that I bought for perspective !

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Hang Gliding in New Zealand

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

While the skydiving companies and bungy companies take top tourism awards for excellence in New Zealand, the hang gliders are the quiet and unsung step children.  Hitting their peak long before bungy and skydiving became a household name, these guys are hardly an icon of entrepreneurial talent.  When I tried to arrange a hang glide session, they said “we just call the guys and they will show up in a van pretty much when ever you are ready.”

They didn’t have the gleaming brochures or the posh boutique stores in downtown Queenstown.  They didn’t identify with the service and tourism industry.  In fact, they hardly talked to my friend and me when driving up the mountain.  They didn’t care where we were from.  They didn’t want to know how long were were in New Zealand for.  They were underground.

I couldn’t even pronounce the name of my glide master, but I knew he was from Sweden (or Switzerland) and he would have no bullshit on his ship.

We got out of the van 4000 feet above Queenstown and he started assembling the glider.  Still no small talk; still no safety briefing.  He looked at me and said “we are going to practice running now.” So we practiced: Step, step, run run run.  And that was it.  He didn’t tell me anything else. So I pried “So after we just run, what happens?”  He looked and me and said “You just run.”  He later told me that “The Less you know, the better off you are.  If you know to much, you don’t end up running and we all get in trouble”

This along with the lack of brick and mortar building, scarred me to say the least.  I thought “WTF is this shit?  Who does this guy think he is?”  The answer was that he was a glider, not a sales man, not a customer service rep, just a glider.

We ran off the cliff and it was extremely smooth.  From there he had me hold onto the controls and taught me how to fly.  All I had to do was lean.  Left goes left, right goes right, back slows down, and forward dive bombs.  It was easy.

There was a wind meter that would beep and warn him of oncoming wind.  It was a sobering beep that would alert the pilot of the ability to climb.

Just as I was getting comfortable, the pilot said ” hold onto me, I’m going to scare you now.”

The Video is the landing that followed.  Watch the trees that we nearly collide with at the end :)

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Milford Sound New Zealand

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Up until now, I found that the landscape of New Zealand was good, not great.  I could find even more dramatic rock formations at home in the national parks of California, mainly Yosometie.  Milford sound, on the other hand, is as stunning as any land formation I’ve ever seen.

A “sound”, also known as a “fiord” or “fjord” is characterized as a narrow sea inlet, surrounded by steep sides.  Situated at the southern western coast of New Zealand, this place looks like it is something out of pre-historic times.  It looks like King Kong is going to be spotted, climbing around like an insignificant ant.

These cliffs stretched a mile out of the sea.  It was a sunken mountain range.  Absolutely spectacular.

The Movie does this place no justice at all, but I thought I would make some sort of attempt.

This was my first excursion from Queenstown and It unfortunately was with a tour bus full of old timers.  Theese old fogies were constant reminders that my timing could not have been better.  You will hear  my earitiation with them in the video.  At every step, they would jostle around like sheep, making the experience ever so tedious.  We began to run off the bus at every stop in order the beat the crowd and experience the beauty before the old folks came and ruined it.

On the way back we were persuaded to take a plane ride that would take 1 hour instead of sitting on the buss for another 4.  We are indeed, flash packers.

“A flash packer is a backpacker with money”.  It’s the guy who brings his laptop with him on the trip.  It’s the guy who sleeps in a twin room instead of a 12 man dorm because he doesnt care about the extra $4 he could have saved.  Yes I am guilty.  But the devide between backpacker and vacationer is vast.  There has to be a flashpacker class.  Maybe in the end of my trip I will down grade, but for now, I’m here to enjoy myself, not starve myself :)

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Franz Joseph Glacier

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

 

I’m in Franz Joseph at one of three tropical Glaciers on the Planet. The second one is called Fox Glacier and it is only about 30 miles up the road and the last one is in Argentina. This glacier is special because the bottom of it is only about 600 feet above sea level, it’s about 20 miles from the sea, and you can walk on it in shorts.

Getting to this Glacier requires walking through the jungle (seriously). It’s the weirdest feeling, but it’s truly special to run around on a glacier in shorts. But HOW you ask? The top of the mountain range (where the glacier starts) is the WETTEST place on earth! On a good year they get 40 METERS of Snow, not feet, METERS! The record is 80 METERS! That’s so much snow converting to ice that the ice river (glacier) remains there at the bottom (in the jungle). This is a topographer’s wet dream. This is such a unique place from a weather and topographical standpoint.

The guide service gave us boots and thick wool socks, but we didn’t need the extra optional gear that they offered were an over coat and thick pants. We had Crampons for the ice portion of the hike which is spikes that easily strap onto the bottom of the boots. The whole time I was completely comfortable.

As hard and tedious as mount doom was, Franz Joseph Glacier was easy. When you had the spikes in place, it was nearly impossible to lose your footing. The ice and the spikes were make for each other.

Our guide was a surly English man named Brent who didn’t take shit from no one J He was equipped with a full sized mining pick ax for clearing ice and maintaining paths. As he made his way up the glacier he would radio down to the rest of the guides, scolding them for their inadequate jobs of maintaining the paths. You could tell that he was the boss. This was his glacier and if anyone wanted to remain on it for any amount of time, one had better stick to the program.

I’ve taken some video of him clearing trails on the glacier but I didn’t talk because I don’t think that I was allowed to take the film in the first place while we were walking on the ice. He won’t ever find out though, but I apologies if the movie is boring because it lacks my beautiful voice.


Tomorrow I head to Queens Town, the “G-Spot” of New Zealand. Apparently it’s like a coke rush mixed with an extreme sport orgy.

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My First Donation

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

The first person to make a donation on my website was. With perfect timing, he donated a fancy meal. And with this donation, I went to a Portuguese chicken place called Nando’s. This was apparently a fairly common chain in the UK. I ate with some British friends who told me to get a half chicken and when the person taking my order asked me how spicy I replied with “hot.” Much to my surprise, the chicken was quite spicy. I was thrilled. It was much more than I expected from a first world nation. Usually the only good spice comes from the people who are poor enough to need to mask the stench of rotten meats. The byproduct is often the best food around. Who was this Nando? Was he from England? How did the English have access to such spices, and why the hell didn’t Patch know about this?

Maybe it was the fact that I was way past hungry, maybe it was the idea that the food was authentically from a country, that at one point, needed to hide the stench of rotten meat. Either way, it was poetry on a plate. Perfectly succulent, and wildly spicy, this was a perfect exit from back breaking bangers and mash.

Thanks Sharelle – you Rule!

Sharelle – Elektrocat Records
132 N. El Camino Real
#371
Encinitas, CA 92024
United States

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Wellington

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

 

Capital city, eatery capitol of the world. More cafes and restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world. The ratio was 4 places to eat for every one resident. Then why in the hell was I carrying a bag of groceries across town?

Patch (the Irish guy), bless his heart was on a true backpacker’s budget and chose to survive off of groceries and vegemite (half Australian). At first on this trip I welcomed the experience. At first, when the markets were near the hostels. At first when I was cooking muscles from the sea. But I had officially hit a breaking point. Of all the places to eat out in New Zealand, this was it. But I went with the flow. Never again would I cook in New Zealand (I thought in my head as I peeled the skin off of boiling hot potatoes.) This was bullshit. I was cooking a mediocre meal in the first place (bangers and mash- what is the UK’s brainless obsession with sausages anyway? It’s a scrap meat. Low grade, and unimaginative), and at the Irish man’s request, I was removing the best part of the potato. An English man looked at me in the kitchen and said “awwww you’re taking off the best part!” He took a handful of the skins and popped them into his mouth. I started yelling! What do Irish people know about potatoes anyway!? The spice trails are open, why do you still chose to live in the filth of bland?! Fuck the Irish!!! I was in the middle of a three hour ordeal that maybe saved me 2 dollars. This was bullshit and never again.

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Down The River

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

The next day in Taopo, I wet with a few friends to the local river. There was a hot springs at the edge of it that made the water about the heat level of a spa. As we walked down to the river my friends pointed out a spot a half mile up the river that would eventually lead us to the hot springs. I watched it for a moment as it moved swiftly. It was about 300 feet wide, just wide enough to get a poor swimmer in some serious trouble. I said to my friends, “that looks a little fast” do you know if there are any waterfalls or anything in between here and there?” And they said that they saw some locals doing it the day before. The deep blue was tempting and we looked at each other and realized that perhaps we grew up too fast.
This was life and we faced a false ultimatum. We could really live, or we could live forever. So then we just jumped in. It was about 70 degrees. I was freaking out at the prospect of alligators, Parana, or even bull sharks. I was comfortable with the 7mph river but under the river was what freaked me out. My German friend Vasco looked at me and said “there’s nothing that can kill you in New Zealand, all of that is in Australia.” (my next stop). I remembered that this was specifically the reason that my Mom had already been here, and not to Australia. No poison in this land, no teeth, not even a bug with a stinger. It turns out that the city of Auckland was just a foreshadowing of the rest of the land.
And there it was, the hot springs. We had arrived without a scratch on us. I had colored outside of the lines, kind of 

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