Friday, May 22, 2009

Guide School

Yesterday I finished a rigorous 6-day training class to become a river guide. The hours were long, the teachers were tough, and the physical exertion required was intense. I used muscles I didn't know existed and had aches in places that surprised me. Explain to me how your neck gets sore from paddling? Or your legs? No clue. I've got mystery bruises and a pretty severe abrasion on my right hand from constantly scraping against my PFD while guiding. But it was all great fun. This is me guiding on the Lower Animas and Dave sitting in front of me wearing the dorky floppy hat.

My guide school class was small--only 10 people, which ended up being a pretty awesome number. It meant that we got more time in the guide seat but still had plenty of manpower to move rafts around and get the boat rigging and derigging done in a hurry. It also meant that during our trip on the Upper Animas, the highest and most difficult commercially run river in the country, that we had even numbers in each of the three boats we took along, with the addition of two paying clients. The Upper was my first overnight boating trip and it ended up being a ton of work but it was really beautiful. I spent a lot of time trying to chip in where I could because we were constantly being graded on everything from boating skills to customer relations to teamwork. And those grades make or break whether or not you're offered a job at the end.

We were already given a heads up at the beginning of class that, due to the economy, the company isn't looking to hire very many guides from either of the two guide schools like they did last year. Anywhere from 1 to 4 people will end up with jobs out of the 22 trainees. The competition is fierce and I need a job. I just found out yesterday that I'm only on the office schedule for 6 days in the month of June. Thats not nearly enough to make ends meet. Guiding would be the other way for me to play and earn a paycheck so I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. I'll also be keeping an eye on the competition since I'll be in the office at least a few days during the second guide school and because Dave is working as an instructor so I'll be able to pick his brain and figure out where I stand. The managment isn't making any hiring decisions until the second guide school is finished on May 31st.

I got so into the routine of being at the shop at 8am every morning and going full on until 6pm each day that I felt a little lost last night at the prospect of having wrapped things up. Its kind of a weird feeling--to be so involved every day with a group of classmates, to be rooting for each other and helping each other out, and then class ends and everyone goes their separate ways again. I really enjoyed the commradere we had as a group and I've been excited to see some of my classmates wander in and out of the shop while I've been working in the office. Right now I'm in a bit of a holding pattern until the end of the month, waiting to find out if I made the cut as a guide. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Durango, Sweet Durango

I've been in Durango now for exactly one week and have been using that time to get acquainted with the town, the people, and the surrounding rivers. I've completed my certification for my Wilderness First Aid and Adult CPR class. I've also started a new job working at 4 Corners Whitewater working reception until I complete a 6-day Guide School program which will hopefully result in me being hired on as a river guide. That madness starts tomorrow morning, with Dave acting as one of my course instructors. Needless to say, its been a busy week!

Dave found a place for us to live before I arrived, contingent of course on Brodie getting along with Clyde, the Alaskan Malamute who already lives there. Luckily, the dogs are perfectly fine together and will be able to spend lots of time outside in the fenced in yard while Dave and I are away. Unfortunately, the room isn't ready yet, and won't be until this Sunday at the earliest. So we've been bouncing back and forth between friend's houses for the last week while we wait for the room to be ready. Surprisingly, its been no problem. I've been really impressed with Durango so far. The people here are friendly, generous and accommodating and the town as a whole is exceedingly dog friendly. Brodie has a ton of new doggie friends and we've got multiple places we could potentially leave him should we decide to go out of town, which is a huge relief.

I've been playing a bit on the river lately, getting to know the Lower Animas (aka "town run"), which is a Class II-III run, and I just got back from a 19 mile trip down the Dolores River, which was an uber-mellow Class II run on the section I ran. People bring their dogs with them on the river, which I find exceedingly humorous. Its not uncommon to see a dog or two in a raft wearing a life jacket. Brodie has one too, though I haven't brought him along with us on any of the rivers yet. Not sure how well he'd take to it seeing that he didn't learn to swim until he was 3 and he didn't learn to jump off the dock at our lake house until he was 5. He's 7 years old now, so maybe he's ready to step it up. I'll wait until the water level comes down a bit before I throw him on a raft. The town run is peaking early because of the warm temperatures lately, so its a bit big for him at the moment. Plus the water is COLD since its all snow run-off. With any raft trip you run the risk of flipping. And if I wouldn't want to swim, I certainly wouldn't want him to either.

In my spare time I've been trying to get to know the town a bit better. I don't find it easy to explain to people what Durango is like to people who haven't been here. Lots of people say its like Boulder in the 80s before all the growth and construction, but since I have no frame of reference, that comparison is worthless to me. Its a young town with two small colleges and an abundance of outdoor activities for all seasons. There are lots of rivers within an hour or two of town, two ski resorts just outside of town, loads of hiking and mountain biking trails, and several rock climbing and bouldering sites. Plus, its really beautiful! Its no wonder that the town attracts a plethora of young active people. The place is super friendly and laid back (very "granola" if you will), there's tons to do and I really like it here. I certainly wouldn't have ended up here without Dave but I'm so glad I'm here. I can think of no better place for us to spend our summer. And maybe longer!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Post-Travels: A Follow-Up

I've been back from the trip for exactly a month now and have been busy trying to get my life back in order so I could move out to Colorado again to start my next adventure as a rookie white water rafting guide. Although I'd been making notes all through Australia with the intention of a trip summary, there have been so many distractions that I never got around to it. To be honest, I'm not sure what kind of readership this thing is getting so I didn't think anyone would notice.

Some of the immediate things that come to mind that have been affected by traveling abroad for over 5 months are my definition of the word "clean" in every sense of the word--food, hygiene, living conditions. You name it. Before this trip, the notion of considering anything edible that had previously touched the ground made me cringe. We often cook on dirty picnic tables where birds, flies and who knows what else has been there before us. I stopped caring when some of the pasta would fall out of the pot (back in it goes!) or we'd drop produce from the grocery store on the floor without a way to wash it off before eating it. No problem. That's what immune systems are for!

As for personal hygiene. That's another matter that I'm not entirely rid of my pre-trip sentiments. I lived in Washington, DC for the better part of 4 years and, with the help of my best friend, Michelle, became much more of a "girly" girl than I had ever been. I kept up with grooming: wore make-up, shaved my legs every other day, had manicures and pedicures, wore reasonably fashionable clothes and high heels. Showered daily. You know, the normal city-girl stuff.

Moving to Colorado cured a lot of that in a hurry. I stopped wearing heels (who can make that work in fresh snow and a nice layer of ice covering the sidewalk?!? Trust me, I gave it a go...didn't work.), and I was outside so much that my ski pants, a warm jacket, hat and gloves became choice attire. I essentially stopped wearing make-up except mascara and Burt's Bees chap stick. But I still showered at least every other day and shaved my legs regularly, even though they were almost always covered up. Other grooming became a much lower priority.

But traveling abroad, I was lucky to get a shower (there's almost no such thing as hot water showers in Asia without paying a fortune for a hotel) as availability and droughts in Australia made it a challenging prospect. I almost never wore make-up and Dave and I were thrilled to be able to do laundry every so often since we only had a few changes of clothes. It became all about the simple things, which was profound and deeply satisfying at the same time. I enjoyed being back to basics and refocusing my priorities much more than I imagined I would. I'm proud to say that much of that appreciation remains even though I'm back home where everything is convenient and easy (but I admit to wearing a bit of make-up here). Hopefully it'll stick.

One of the big things this trip has changed is my tolerance with living arrangements other than apartments and houses. My Southern upbringing has taught me to relish a roof over my head and my age has afforded me experiences that make living alone a joy, but Dave and I spent so many months living in shared dorms with other backpackers and then living out of a tent/car Down Under that I began to appreciate the drifter lifestyle. I loved meeting other travelers and discovering that, though we're from different countries and cultures, we've got a lot in common. I also loved camping out in some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. We saw some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen and would've never experienced had I had traditional housing.

Dave and I are moving to Durango and have no idea where we'll be living. We've discussed buying a camper and living out of it with or without electricity for the summer, as well as camping in people's backyards or in national forests or possibly renting an apartment if we can find something reasonably affordable that will accept a dog. None of these scenarios bother me, but my mom got rather cranky and vocal at the prospect of me being "homeless" for the summer by camping out. Having lived like that for a few months already, the "homeless" comment made me smile. Its really not so bad!

But perhaps the most noteworthy result of the trip is that Dave and I didn't kill each other, are still together, and are still very happy. I calculated at one point that we spent 150 days together, averaging at least 23 hours a day together for the duration of the trip. That's 3,450 hours or 207,000 minutes of never-ending togetherness. My friends joke that it was a crash-course in marriage and you won't hear me argue. All that time gave us uninterrupted time to get to know each other through and through. We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I can't lie and say we didn't have a few snags here and there and that we didn't reach points on the trip where we thought the other might cut the trip short and fly home, but we worked through it and came out much stronger in the end. We've heard all of each other's stories, laughed together, cried together and shared experiences that I wouldn't have rather shared with anyone else. Dave is my best friend and my lover and someone I have tremendous respect and admiration for. After all that we've been through together, I am still thankful every day that he is a part of my life and that we're continuing to share new adventures together. These experiences have been so amazing I feel like the luckiest girl alive!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Travel As A Lifestyle

Since we arrived on the Gold Coast, I've known that our time in Australia was growing short and we'd soon be back en route to the US of A, bringing our 5 1/2 month trip to a close. Up until now, I've approached that fact with very little emotion--its always seemed like such a long way off! "Home" began as an abstract conversation topic back in January when we started compiling a To-Do list upon arrival, but the closer it gets the more frequent it comes up in discussion and the more real it becomes. Now that April is just around the corner, the reality of our departure on the 5th (as well as the 30 hours we'll spend in transit - UGH!) has finally hit me.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out how I feel about my imminent homecoming. David has been quick to point out that the trip isn't over when we get home. We'll only be back in Tennessee for about three weeks before heading back out to Colorado for the summer to play (aka "work") on the river. In all likelihood, we won't rent an apartment and we'll end up buying a camper to live out of which is basically what we've been doing for the last 3 months anyway. So, besides the fact that we'll be in one location for at least 4 months, we'll both be earning paychecks and I'll have my puppy back with me, things won't be too much different from the way they are right now. For David, travel is a lifestyle and the only thing constant in his life is change.

This trip has taught me to share his values much more than I did before we started. He's been an awesome traveling partner and an overwhelmingly positive influence on me as a person. But, to me, leaving Australia has slightly more significance. I began this trip with all sorts of goals in mind: experiencing other cultures, seeing major tourist attractions, delving into Eastern medicine and religion, and being able to understand and have shared experiences with a greater number of people than before the trip.

I feel good about the progress I've made during my travels. I've seen new parts of the world, found new places I love and could call home, met some new and wonderful people and, most importantly, realized that traveling as a lifestyle is both acceptable but also possible. Where I go and what I do is entirely up to me. The only limitations are my own. I've had the time of my life making these realizations and find myself a bit sad to be wrapping it all up. I'm scared to let it all go--it might just slip away on me and never return and then this time and money spent would have been for naught. That idea is something I'm starting to struggle with as I count down the days until we board our plane. I've already realized many ways this trip has changed me but it won't be until I'm home and back into a routine that we'll see the extent of these new lessons learned. I'm wondering how many will stick and how many will get pushed aside. I like who I've become and hope that I'm still the same person when I return. Time will tell...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise!

Surfing is something Dave and I have always wanted to try. But growing up in a land-locked state makes beach trips few and far between. And, while surfing on the Atlantic Ocean is manageable for the seriously dedicated, its not something either of us readily sought out since the conditions are less than stellar.

So here we are in Paradise. Surfers Paradise, to be exact! And man is it ever! Gorgeous beaches, no jellyfish, warm water, and weather that hovers in the high 70s/low 80s all year long. We're staying with a friend of ours, Adam, who grew up surfing around here and he toured us around all the hot spots. I don't know much about the sport but I could tell how beautiful, even and regular these waves form. They hold professional competitions for Quicksilver and Rip Curl on a set of waves called Rainbow, which are the cream of the crop.

We started our foray into surfing at Kirra Beach, just west of Coolangatta, which is supposedly a great learning area. We borrowed a few boards from Adam and he took us out and showed us the basics, helping us catch a few waves and then he turned us loose so he could head further down the beach to some harder waves.

Adam's "beginner" boards were surprisingly short, though at least one of them was thick enough to be called a Mini Mal, which is a stubby version of a long board. The other board, the one I got stuck with since Dave is taller and heavier than me, was a less aggressive short board, which was easy to catch waves with but impossible to stand up on. We were out there for over an hour, getting pounded by 3-4 foot swells (some learner area!!), severely burning the backs of our legs while waiting for waves. Once Dave and I traded boards I was able to stand up almost immediately, although that must have been beginners luck because it was never easy like that again. Dave, on the other hand, equated the small board I'd given him to "surfing a brick." He had almost no float and did nothing but grow increasingly frustrated. We called it a day shortly thereafter, determined to give it another go the following day. However, Dave's stomach rash (from not wearing a rash guard) and the bruises I got all along my rib cage were enough to encourage us to wait at least another day.

We got back out on the waves after borrowing another beginner board from Adam's sister so that neither of us would have the decided advantage and set out again, our friend Tsz (who we'd met in China and who happened to be in the area) in tow. Dave, again, took the larger of the two boards and we both had much greater success than the first time. We were both able to catch waves much more consistently, though most of Dave's attempts ended in a spectacular face plant from being too far forward on the board. Neither of us was having much luck with standing, though we could both pull ourselves up, wobble uncontrollably and then fall off. Dave fell off once, landed on his butt on top of the board, and rode the rest of the way to the beach!

I was having a difficult time fighting the surge and swells, towing a huge anchor on my foot as I tried to walk through the water, and trying not to get seasick as the turbulent water in the shallows made me disoriented. We took a lunch break and gave it another go, this time at the "whitewash" (3 foot waves do NOT qualify as whitewash in my book!) area of Rainbow. Dave and I traded boards, which I immediately recognized as a mistake. I spent the next half hour trying to wrangle the larger board through the current, trying not to face plant myself (though I had my own spectacular plunge), and attempting to avoid swimmers as the current pushed us amazingly fast down the coast and into areas where surfing isn't allowed. I ended up frustrated and exhausted and could barely haul myself and the board out of the water. I plopped down just outside the water mark and sat watching the other guys as the tide rolled in around me and filled my shorts with sand.

We came back from our long day on the beach and caught the news about all the bait fish that are making their way north along the coast being pursued by thousands of hungry sharks. The news crew had used their helicopter to track the sharks down the coast and take photos and video footage (you can watch it here without commentary or commercials), which was shown over and over for shock value. They'd interviewed a few surfers to get their take about what it was like to be in the water surrounded by a feeding frenzy and one guy was so shaken up that he was hardly coherent. I've looked for the interview online but can't find it yet. But here's one of the photos taken from the new helicopter of a pack of sharks swimming just beyond the breakers south of Brunswick Heads at Tyagarah, which is about 35 miles south of where we've been surfing.

According to the report, sharks are starting to be seen in our area as well! We'd noticed a few news helicopters flying by as we'd been surfing after lunch. It makes sense now that they were tracking the sharks. Glad I didn't know that at the time!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

You're Doing It All Wrong!!

Dave and I went last night to have an Iridology session and blood typing done to identify our ailments and get advice on dietary supplements and changes that need to occur to achieve optimum health. I've taken an interest in Chinese medicine over the last few years and have been keen to try out new things to see what interests me the most. I really like Iridology!

Turns out that the photo the lady took of my eyeball was extremely telling--there's lots of stuff wrong with me (surprise, surprise). She was able to identify all sorts of things that I'd never have really believed possible, such as my hypoglycemia, knee problems, and constipation, among many, many other things. She recommended a whole host of things to take like B-6 for my carpal tunnel, B-12 for improved memory, iodine for my knee troubles, zinc to help keep my insulin levels regular, and magnesium for my heart, as well as things like journaling to relieve some pent-up resentment and jumping on a trampoline for 5 minutes a day to get my lymphatic system moving. Lots of things that were tailored just for me based on her findings.

Then she pricked my finger, did a quick test and pulled out a sheet of recommendations that are tailor-made for people with my blood type (you can find out more information here, if you know your blood type). Here's where the news got a lot harder to hear.

For those of you who don't know, food is my life. I love to eat, not eat to live. Its part of the culture I grew up in and its a huge part of my relationships with friends and family. Food is how people show love. At the start of this trip, I "joked" that part of my motivation for traveling was to eat my way across Asia. And it turns out that for my whole life I've been doing things all wrong for my body.

I was kind of a picky eater and grew up practically living on chicken fingers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pizza, soda and sweet tea. What picky kid doesn't stick to their favorites? On this trip I've also had a few staples including hummus with pretzels, chicken, canned tuna, pasta, pizza (when I can convince Dave to go out for dinner), peanut butter and fruit. We've both been light on the veggies because we've had no way of refrigerating things to make them keep for longer than a few hours. Not the healthiest way to be, but we're doing the best with what we've got.

Last night I found out that I can't eat chicken. It contains a blood agglutinating lectin, which is bad for my blood type. And then it got worse. According to the good doc, I'm a meat-eater who should eat veggies (Dave is the opposite--a vegetarian who should eat only chicken and fish). I'm reduced to eating mostly red meats, which I've severely cut back on in the last 7 years as a personal choice, and fish. But I'm not supposed to eat ANY shellfish. I was crushed!! I LOVE crab, shrimp, oysters and lobster!!

I'm supposed to eat nuts (which I don't really like), just not peanuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (the only kinds I like). I'm encouraged to eat beans too, just not lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, pinto beans or black beans. Hummus is essentially only garbanzo beans and I've been subsisting largely off it for the last 2 months. UGH!!! I'm not supposed to eat tomatoes, corn, avocados (which largely rules out Mexican--BUMMER!), artichoke, olives, tofu, coconuts, distilled liquor or soda. All of these things are absolutely precious to me! But!! It turns out I can eat all white bread and white rice I want. And I can still drink lager beer. Go figure.

The plus side is that I can still eat all the fruits, veggies, and dairy I want with very few exceptions. I adore cheese, so this was at least a bit heartening. And if I stick to eating only the things my body wants, I know I'll start feeling quite a bit healthier. I always do when I start cleansing and cut loads of things out of my diets for weeks at a time. This will be similar, just much more tailored to my personal needs.

Its going to make the rest of the trip quite interesting because my dietary needs are almost the exact opposite of Dave's. I'm still mourning the loss of the foods I love and know that its going to take quite a while before I can entirely cut out hummus, chicken and popcorn. I'm determined to give it a real go once I get back to the States and I'll happily follow up to let you all know how I'm faring. Wish me luck! I'm going to need it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let's Go Outback Tonight!

So again, I'm horribly out of date with posting. But I have an excuse! We've been in the Outback for more than a week and the access to much of anything, as you can imagine, is very limited. We're talking hundreds of kilometers between gas stations, let alone anything else. We'll be on the road for hours sometimes and not see another car. Its great!

As remote a place as this is, its not as remote or barren as we'd expected. We purchased several extra days of food, water and an extra 5 gallon gas tank to put in the trunk for emergencies and planned our stops so we'd never be stranded with an empty tank. Turns out that the roadhouses along the way are usually decently equipped and we've never had a scare about running out of anything except money (we neglected to hit up an ATM before leaving civilization in the Adelaide vicinity). Luckily, we're not in a third world country or anything and everyone happily accepts our credit cards.

We've been touring around the vast nothingness that is the Australian Outback and haven't had as many difficulties as we'd expected. Finding an impromptu camp site next to the road is a cinch, the wildlife (kangaroos and cows) are not often along the road, so no worries there about hitting anything with the car and the weather has been awesome! Nice and warm and dry, with the evenings dipping into the low 70s. Perfect!

The only annoyance has been the flies. We're still not sure exactly how they can handle such dry climates and survive, but where there's a will there's a way. And these flies are certainly determined. They're much more annoying than anything we experienced in New Zealand because they try to creep into your eyes, nose, mouth and ears at any given opportunity to get the tiniest drops of moisture possible. Plus, they bite. Seriously annoying when you're trying to line up your camera for the money shot of Ayers Rock. They only go to sleep at night and they wake up with first light so there are only a blissful few hours of darkness that we get to enjoy outside the tent or the car without being harassed by swarms of hungry flies. It must have rained a few days before we arrived in the Outback because we started experiencing them when the winds would die down. They've gotten so bad that we've both bought fly hoods to wear whenever we're outside. It cranks up the heat factor a few degrees, but at least we're not doing the "Bush Walk"--constantly swatting, spitting and sneezing to keep the flies out of our face.

We're currently in the Parliament's library and I'm having trouble uploading some of the photos I took. I'll back-post as soon as I can so you can check out the amazing scenery. If you're my Facebook friend, you can check it out already, as for some reason I've had no problem uploading them there. Its a bit out of the way but the Australian Outback is highly recommended! Its got the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen in my life! David and I are both happy campers!

Ayers Rock during the day:

The Olgas:

Ayers Rock at sunset:

The Devil's Marbles:

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Since David has stopped boating and shipped all his gear home the focus of the trip has once again become tourism. This is my doing, as David would happily boat every single day and not see a bit of the rest of the country. We've spent the last few days running around the country to hit the known hotspots for lots of sea life. And man! Its been great!! We stopped at Curio Bay, which is a beautiful petrified forest that's located on the beach. We got super lucky and managed to see several rare yellow-eyed penguins even though they aren't usually there.

We also went over to the other side of the bay and managed to score a few sightings of the world's smallest dolphins, the Hector dolphins. They use the bay as a nursery, so there were lots of babies around. No luck with photography though. Bummer.

Next, we headed to Nugget Point, where there are seal colonies and sea lions. We scored both! There was a crowd of people on the beach surrounding this huge bull sea lion. I can't believe how close people were getting to this thing! I kept my distance...

As we were driving up the coast, Dave (my awesome navigator) brought to my attention that we were passing by a place that has blue penguins, which are the smallest penguins weighing only 1 kilogram. Turns out that there's a tour operated where you can actually walk through with an expert inside their man-made nesting area. Blue penguins are unique because they're the only penguins that live in burrows. They didn't let us take any photos and because it wasn't dusk, we didn't see any penguins returning back to their dens from the sea. But we did manage to get super close to some seals!

And then today, we went whale watching. I've never seen a live whale before and we were really excited about the whole thing. That is until it started POURING last night. As if that weren't bad enough, we'd been lazy the night before and left part of our dinner in the tent. Dave woke up at 5am because there was something on his sleeping bag. Turned out there was a mouse in the tent!! He got it out by scaring it back through the tent door, which is how we figured it got inside in the first place. We didn't realize how wrong we were until we were packing up and discovered it had chewed a hole in the tent and through the bread packaging. It left us a nice little mouse turd in the bread as evidence. Lovely.
So we'd already paid for the whale watching trip and weren't backing out for a little rain. No way! We arrived to find a prediction of "ideal sea conditions" for our scheduled departure, with "slight seasick conditions" for the departure after ours. I think they got things backwards. The seas weren't nearly as rough as they were returning from Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, but it was still sufficient to turn me several different shades of green. Even Dave, who never gets motion sick, was feeling the effects. I eventually threw up (the only person on the boat who did!), and quickly recovered. I ended up feeling great and even managed to get a last-second shot of a whale's fluke before it disappeared beneath the surface on its way to another deep feeding dive.
We stopped on the voyage back to the pier to admire a giant albatrose. These birds have up to a 12 foot wingspan! They're really impressive in flight, though we never got to see it. Instead, it bobbed happily on the sea watching us watch it.
New Zealand has provided several "first" encounters with so much wildlife that I've really managed to get everything out of this trip that I wanted. We leave in two days to head to Australia and I'll be completely satisfied with this trip by then!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Snip Snip Here

We started this trip in October with fresh haircuts, among other things. We looked all neat, trimmed and tidy for our 10-year high school reunion that we attended less than two weeks before departing. Man, we were styling!

Four months later, that was not the case so much. You could argue that we were just fitting in with the rest of the backpacker crowd, but those are often some well groomed people who travel with large bags of toiletries, hairdryers and beard trimmers. I'd been asked by my mom what I planned on doing with my hair while traveling. She worries about a lot of things and apparently my personal grooming had made the list. I figured I'd either get a haircut along the way or arrive home with 6 months of growth, a huge ponytail and plenty of hair for Jamie to work with as she did her styling magic and gave me another awesome cut. I absolutely hate having hair that is longer than shoulder length. As David points out, it makes me look like a hippie, but I think it makes me look more like a drowned rat. We'd reached that point so it had to go!

Dave was first in line for the haircuts. We're on a budget so instead of going to a barber, we invested in a pair of multipurpose scissors and I gave him a haircut--my first (unless you count the time when I was 10 years old and overheard my mom talking about going back to the barber to have him cut my brother's hair shorter than he'd cut that afternoon. I took it upon myself to save my mom the trouble and butchered Scott's hair so badly that he practically had to have his head shaved by the barber to correct my attempt). Given my track record, I was less than certain about my abilities. David had full confidence in me though, fully aware that he'd have to wander around with a bad haircut if I failed. We took photos to document the progress and I had these great before and after shots of his haircut but my memory card died and I've been unable to recover any photos off the card at all. Instead, I have had to dig back through some earlier photos and try to find a picture of Dave without him wearing a hat or helmet, which is next to impossible because his hair is thinning and he's always wearing a hat to protect his head from sunburn. Many of my other shots of him are kayaking shots, which include the helmet. I realize he's wearing a helmet in this photo but its the best I could do. You can see his sideburns starting to curl and the long beard. Unfortunately, the helmet strap is covering his flowing mane of hair in the back. You get the idea though.

I sat him down in our handy dandy camping chair on a beautiful sunny afternoon and got to work with my rudimentary tools (i.e. multipurpose scissors and a huge, ghetto comb. The kind you buy in a dollar store with really wide teeth). We'd discussed giving him a mullet, as is the fashion here in NZ, or maybe a faux-hawk but he said whatever style I cut I'd have to live with until we got home in April. I decided that as funny as it would be, I'd rather not look at a balding mullet for another two months and he didn't really have enough hair to rock out a faux-hawk. My first priority, therefore, was to cut the back of his hair and work my way up. I've watched the stylists cut my hair for years and did my best to copy what I'd seen. I did okay with things until I got to the left side of his head, when I accidentally sliced into Dave's ear. OOPS!!

I felt really awful, especially since it was a gash about a 1/4 - 1/2 inches long and it wouldn't stop bleeding. After a few minutes to clean the flesh wound and for me to calm down about gashing my lover, I resumed my work and did my best to finish the job. Aside from cutting the left side a little uneven (out of fear of cutting his ear again), I thought I'd done a fairly decent job of things by the end of the haircut. David thought I'd left it a bit long on the top and couldn't figure out why I was cutting it so specifically. He said I'd done a good job but that he wasn't used to the look and thought he resembled college boys he'd hustle while playing pool. After about a half an hour of looking at it, I realized why I'd cut his hair the way I had. Its the same haircut my brother has had for years!

Dave thought it made perfect sense that I'd given him Scott's haircut since its the cut I'd been looking at for a good part of my life. The resemblance was really uncanny. He'd turn his head a certain way and it was like my brother was right there with us. That's not the first time I've experienced that--Cristen Hair pointed it out so eloquently at the football game during out 10-year high school reunion in October when she asked if I was sitting on the bleachers holding hands with my brother. It'd only been that afternoon that I'd first though Dave resembled Scott, so her affirmation hit me hard. Of course I'd never meant to make my mountain-man boyfriend look like a fraternity boy, so we decided that I'd shorten it again in a few days. In the meantime, I trimmed the beard down to a manageable length (so it wouldn't get in his mouth or itch in places). Of course the end result is being held hostage on my memory card, so here's a shot I found of us from this past week after the final trimming, illustrating his shorter look (not too bad, if I do say so myself!) and my scraggle. Two birds, one stone!

We've been in Queenstown for the last week and something about the humidity levels has been making my usually wavy hair really flat and dry. I've been looking in the mirror at hair that's started to creep past my shoulders and my first reaction is to grab the multipurpose scissors and attack it with everything I've got. And then that awful haircut I gave Scott all those years ago flashes through my head along with the trouble it was to correct the damage and I realize its not worth attempting to cut my own hair. So I sucked it up and went into town and found someone far more competent than myself. Here's the result!

I'm so glad not to have a mullet!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Same Same, But Different

Its been (again) quite awhile since my last post. I can only attribute that to a slow couple of weeks, much of which has been spent killing time as David kayaked around the South Island. For me, its been a routine of sleeping late, wandering around the tiny town of Murchison or the slightly larger town of Hokitika while waiting for Dave to come off the river, filling my days with grocery shopping, meal planning and quick jaunts to internet cafes which have been unable to read my camera memory card, making uploading photos almost impossible. This routine hardly warranted much blogging. As the famous backpacker phrase in Thailand adequately captures: "Same Same, But Different." Such has been my routine. Full of the same things each day. Doesn't make for exciting reading or blogging.

There have been a few exciting activities amidst all the boating though. First was our trip to Marlborough, which is the South Island's wine region, famous for their excellent Savigion Blancs and Pinot Noirs. We toured 8 vineyards in two days, sampling much or all of what each vineyard had to offer. New Zealand has been impressive in its wine offerings as far as I'm concerned. Most things on the island are expensive but the wine has proven both affordable and extremely tasty. We've been drinking wine for the past 5 weeks (sometimes more than a bottle a night) and I have yet to have a bad bottle of wine. Even the cheaper bottles are great! The vineyards were often some of the best wine we've had to date, as evidenced by the 11 bottles of wine we walked away with at the end of our tours. Some of that was bought to drink here on the island while some bottles were bought to take home and drink or as gifts. I'm in the process of trying to figure out how to ship some of the wine home while not spending a fortune on shipping (one company will ship 12 bottles for $270 and it will take a month to get there), or ending up with the unfortunate shipping experiences I've had so far.

Out of the 3 packages I've shipped from Asia, the two from China have finally arrived. According to my mom, the package I sent November 30th arrived sometime around January 28th intact, while the one I sent 10 days prior (marked "FRAGILE" on every surface of the box) arrived on February 8th. Here's what my mom had to say about that unfortunate package:

"Well, guess what? Your package that you mailed November 19th arrived today. The mailman was so sorry to deliver a package in such bad shape. Suffice it to say that everything you sent that was china/glass came back broken. The box was pretty squished. He had to bring it to the door in another box because glass shards were oozing out....It must have come by boat and had all kinds of heavy packages put on top. The box was really a mess."


At least it made it. I had already resigned myself to the fact that it was lost in the mail and that all the souvenirs I'd bought in Asia would never make it home. Guess I'll spend some time in April trying to reassemble some of the porcelain bowls I bought in Japan, though it seems the glass tea canister I bought as a gift for my dad is far beyond repair. With that rough treatment of boxes though it makes me nervous about shipping wine....

Anyway, we also did a short hike up to the Franz Josef Glacier the other day, which was part of the mountain ranges that were filmed in the "Lighting of the Beacons" scene in Lord of the Rings. Let me tell you that its some impressive scenery. We were there on an overcast day, but that didn't spoil it in the least! Gorgeous!

We're currently in Queenstown visiting one of Dave's friends that he met through (Stephan stayed on Dave's couch for a few weeks in Utah last year, so now we're crashing with him!). We're going to do some adventuring with hikes in national parks and visiting seal and penguin colonies on the shores in the coming days, which I'm excited about. In the meantime, I'm enjoying having a kitchen, a bed, a shower, laundry and a computer at my disposal. Ah, civilization!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Are There SOOO Many Bugs???

I've been contending with my fair share of insects during the past 3 months. The ants in Asia had a real knack for finding our food bag and raiding our stash as well as crawling into every nook and cranny in my backpack, for what reason? No idea! There was no food in there so I assume it was just to annoy me and cause me the grief of having to shake out everything I own lest I put on clothes with ants inside. Not pleasant! I realize how minor these annoyances are now that we've arrived on the South Island of NZ. Let me tell you that the bugs here take things to a whole new level.

This is our first time dealing with sand flies, which are actually small black flies that are similar to mosquitos because they bite and suck blood. However they're far more resilient, often recovering from being swatted to come back and bite you again! Our campsite outside of Murchison was routinely covered in no less than 100 sand flies at any given point. We had to start spraying the mesh with bug spray because they somehow found ways in! But now that we've moved to Hokitika, we're contending with the usual sand flies but have upped the ante with hordes of mosquitos. The "mozzys," as our Aussie friends call them, are not quite as resilient as the sand flies but they're equally annoying and we're often shooing them away at all hours of the day, not just at dusk. I killed no less than 30 of them inside our tent last night! They can smell our CO2 and are super excited to come in and take a nibble. Its getting highly frustrating trying to keep the bugs at bay and has become a large part of my daily routine. Even though its warm during the day, I find myself wearing several layers to provide an extra barrier against bug bites and spend more time in the tent or in the car hiding from the bugs than I'd like to admit rather than enjoying the sunshine, nature and several of the beautiful hikes in the area. I had no idea New Zealand's South Island would be like this. If you come here, bring LOTS of bug spray!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

South Island And Kayak Adventures

I realize I haven't posted anything in forever...since we were on the North Island over a week ago. My bad. I also haven't uploaded any photos, and its starting to get ridiculous. Yesterday's count was well over 150 since my last upload. And lets just say we've seen and experienced a lot! Tongariro Crossing, Lord of the Rings film sites, Castlepoint, Wellington, the tiny town of Murchison where David began his South Island kayaking, and now Hokitika, the base camp of the serious kayak trips. David got in his first helicopter boating trip with a bunch of really cool Aussies yesterday and had a blast. The pilot was nice enough to take me up for a quick flight around the river bed too! First time in a helicopter and it was TOTALLY AWESOME! We're working on acquiring more photos and videos of yesterday from the Aussies and will do our best to post them ASAP. Sorry for being so quiet lately! Internet access is tough to come by when you're camping out all the time! Its even harder to post when you're racing the clock to try to get something writen before time runs out and the computer shuts down the internet access. Fingers crossed this goes through!! More soon! David's doing more kayaking tomorrow, so I'll have some free time....

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Counter-Culture Shock

Coming to New Zealand has been a great experience so far. Its almost like a home away from home since its so Western compared to what we've been traveling through for the past 2.5 months. And while its great, its also a bit odd to be back in such a developed country. Dave has experienced this counter-culture shock on trips before but this is a first for me. I got so used to not being able to read signs or menus, speak much more than a handful of words in the language, calculate currency conversions in my head, concern myself over restroom conditions, carry my own toilet paper and hand sanitizer and ponder at what to eat that not having to do so anymore feels like we're cheating! Especially now that we've rented a car and eliminated the additional headache of figuring out bus and train schedules and worry about carrying heavy backpacks or shipping stuff home! Its meant that we can add luxury items like a cooler for all of our food and beer, camping gear to do things on the cheap, and of course, David's boat.

I can't believe what an odd feeling it is not to have to worry over our basic needs anymore. These daily concerns were ever-changing and required us to adapt quickly. It really became such a part of our existence that I almost feel a bit lazy for having more "stuff" (i.e. gifts) than I can fit into my backpack or carry comfortably by myself and a bit guilty for having toiletries that exceed 3.4 fluid ounces after being so limited for so long! Where are we going and how are we going to get there? Put gas in the car and consult the road atlas. Where are we going to eat? Grab something from the cooler. Or we can duck into a grocery store to buy things to cook on our camping stove. Where are we going to sleep? Doesn't matter, we have ground pads, sleeping bags, mosquito netting and a tent. We'll make it work. What if I have to pee? No worries, there are public restrooms with Western toilets, TP, soap and paper towels everywhere!

And we're back in an English-speaking country, so we can read signs (except our pronunciation of Maori words is AWFUL! Would you be able to pronounce the hill on the North island Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu without butchering it?) understand when people speak to us (even if the accents are a bit difficult sometimes) and we can absolutely be understood by those around us, which eliminates our previous ability to have rather private conversations in public without fear of being overheard. So even though we're still traveling, it doesn't feel like we're doing things much differently than we'd do if we were back Stateside. Its a bit of an odd existence to know that we're still 2 months from coming home, but in a way, we're already there. This whole experience has affected the idea of what my necessities actually are in a surprisingly profound way that I'm realizing I don't need nearly the amount of stuff not only to get by, but to be happy. Weird to me since I'm totally an American when it comes to consumer culture. Things are going to be different now....

Monday, January 5, 2009

Land of Kiwis, Sheep, Cows And The Biggest Ozone Hole On The Planet!

David and I arrived here in New Zealand yesterday afternoon at about 1:00 after an 11 hour flight. Despite only a 6 hour time change, we're having a really difficult time adjusting. Those overnight flights always kill me, though somehow Dave manages to catch several hours of solid sleep. I traded seats with him so that I sat in the middle and he had the aisle seat since he was going to be driving the rental car upon landing. Nothing like feeling like a zombie behind the wheel when you're driving on the left side of the road. Ever try to hug the wrong side of the road while sleepy? Doesn't work so well. David tagged a curb pretty hard on a round about and came close to swiping a few bumpers of parked cars before my screaming registered and he started to get the feel for things.

Things have been interesting during these last 24 hours Down Under. We're slowly getting over the jet lag and getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road. The landscape is absolutely gorgeous and its bright, sunny and warm all the time. Its light outside from 6am til 9pm, which is fantastic because the sun was setting at 6:45 in Thailand (which is great for "winter," but still....). There are more cows and sheep than I think I may have seen in my whole life. Milk is a HUGE thing here dairys and shops advertising milk are everywhere. There is so much to do and the people here are exceedingly nice, helpful and generous. My only complaint thus far is that the hole in the ozone above New Zealand is the largest in the entire world and the sun here feels like its scalding your skin even in the shade. For those who know, its like being on a glacier at 10,000 feet. People here wear sunscreen ALL THE TIME. You can wear 30 SPF and still get burned after only a few hours of exposure. Its really incredible.

We stayed in Tauranga last night with the sister of a guy Dave met while rafting in Colorado (he crashed on their couch for free for like 2 weeks). Christine and her husband Mike are wonderful and have volunteered their home for us to use as a base while we tour through the region. They're super awesome and we're going to totally take them up on it! Tonight we're back in Auckland staying with Jose, another boating friend of Dave's. No idea what's on the agenda for the next few days but we're going to spend some time tonight mapping it out over a few tasty beers. More to come!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Total Slacker

Okay, I know its been 10 days since my last post. I'm a total slacker when it comes to trying to keep this blog updated lately. But you should feel good about my attempts to update this thing since I haven't even caught up on my journal writing. Its January 3rd and I'm still trying to finish my notes on what happened in Cambodia on December 19th! I'm WAAY behind! And I can't promise it will be better any time soon.

David and I are flying out of Bangkok tonight on our way to Auckland, New Zealand. All I know is that we have a rental car waiting for us at the airport and we're going to try rounding up his boating gear and kayak at various friends' houses before heading back to Auckland to crash with some boating friends. From there, who knows? We're going to try to buy some camping gear like ground pads and either a tent or a tarp so that we can try to save some money by living out of the car/camping as much as possible. Will do my best to keep things updated, but I have very little idea of what to expect from our routine once we're in a new country. New Zealand is going to be centered very much around kayaking for Dave, since he humored me for 2 months following me around Asia and even extended our stay here, which cut into his boating. He's been such a trooper and I owe it to him to run shuttle at put-ins and take-outs for as many runs as he wants to descend for the next 7 weeks. Happy New Year, everyone!