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Mud wrestling

So I had just gotten to Dunedin and was looking for a place to stay. Well, I found one and ended up just hanging around Dunedin for a few days. I really like this town (which is why I’m back here again). It has a cool student vibe and lots of stuff to do (and $2 an hour internet – the cheapest in the country). It is also home to Baldwin Street: the steepest street IN THE WORLD (DUN DUN DUUUUUNNNN!!! – [dramatic music here]). I hiked up it and watched some guy ride a bike up it. Whatever floats your boat. I also met Anne in the hospital, a German girl who’s gonna be a veterinarian and was studying here in NZ, and we had a really cool night together.

But eventually, I had to get moving. My plan was to hitch hike down south to an island called Stewart Island and do a 10 day hike around the island. The only problem was that I had since developed a cold and my foot was hurting me. I figured it would get better in a few days, so I got a few rides down to a town called Invercargill and hung out for the day, buying all my groceries for the tramp (what they call tracks) and separating the stuff I was gonna need for tramping, and the stuff I could leave at the hostel. I ended up meeting these cool Kiwi chicks (Hi Briar!) and they hooked a brutha’ up with a ride to Bluff, the town where you catch the ferry to Stewart Island, and we stayed at the same hostel together. Seeing as there wasn’t much to do on the island when we arrived, we ended up going to the pub and the girls kept buying my booze and got me pretty hammered (I only bought one round of beers and the plan was to stay sober). We stumbled back to the hostel (which was actually just this old lady’s house and she rented out rooms) and bid our farewells in the morning when I started my tramp.

A bit intimidating, no? Ten days hiking around an island which once you start, you can’t really turn back and also happens to be one of the most isolated and difficult tracks in New Zealand. Not to mention the fact that you have to carry everything you need, from clothes to food for the entire time in a backpack. The first few days are the heaviest since you haven’t yet eaten any food and it really wears you down. Not to mention the fact that my cold was going on strong and my foot really hurt. But I started anyways and ended up asking myself why several times throughout the journey. The 90 mile track is very (very very very) muddy and at times, the mud comes up to your mid thigh. Climbing up muddy mountains, pulling yourself over slippery rocks, jumping over streams, walking through rivers (which can get pretty deep), trudging over sand dunes and generally sweating a whole lot in wet and muddy shoes and socks (that you have to put on wet and muddy every morning) are a few of the pleasures of the track. The first few days I was completely alone during the day and then at the huts at nice. The isolation was nice. A few of the days, I ran into hunters on the track and staying at the huts and a few of the days I spent with one other tramper (a Swedish guy) at night in the huts (he was faster than me so we didn’t see each other on the track). Within a few days, my cold turned into a really painful tonsillitis-like thing where it hurt like hell to swallow. My throat swelled up and I couldn’t even swallow my own spit (had to spit it out). After that subsided a little bit, I ended up waking up at 2am with a really painful ear infection which is only now starting to go away. I finished the hike despite wanting to die and did manage to get quite a bit of satisfaction out of it. The beaches, sunsets, forests and wildlife was incredible and the fact that I was able to accomplish such a challenging circuit on my own made it even better.

All in all (I did the math), I have hiked about 270 miles through New Zealand’s forests and beaches. I have destroyed my pair of $300 dollar boots (which I am taking back to the store to get them repaired and then subsequently shipped to China where I’ll be when they are ready). The seams are coming undone in a few places. Oh well, it happens, I guess. Although I probably wont be buying another pair of Scarpas again.

After finishing the track, muddy and unshaven, I walked directly into the general store, bought some ice cream and a candy bar and enjoyed what I couldn’t enjoy for 10 days. How incredible it was. The next day, I took the ferry back to the mainland and worked my way back up to Dunedin to hang out, relax and recover from my cold (I was still sick, which I figure is a byproduct of pushing my body so hard for so many days). I was also to meet up with my friend (the incredible and beautiful) Ali, who I met on the Rees Dart track, and she had promised to put me up for a few days (hey, can’t argue with that). I stayed in the hostel the first night, but last night stayed at her place and met all her room mates and stuff and we made stir fry for dinner. This morning I went to class with her and sat through a lecture on the idea of a social meritocracy. Interesting stuff. I also took a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate factory (you know, Cadbury cream eggs) and ended up eating a whole lot of free chocolate. It’s really cool to see assembly lines and machines that do all sorts of cool stuff like that. And the smell of chocolate was incredible. They didn’t allow any cameras in, so I didn’t get any pics, but oh well.

I just got back with Ali and her friend Rudi (to whom I just sold my tent – HELL YEAH!) from visiting the Otago penninsula. It was pretty cool.

I already bought my ticket to Australia (for really cheap, $90 bucks) and will be heading over there on May 3rd, so the plan is to hang out here in Dunedin for a few days, get over this cold and then head up to Christchurch where I will leave to Melbourn, Australia. It’s gonna be sad leaving New Zealand, a country which I have very quickly fallen in love with, but I have to continue the trip. Much like Argentina, I have to continue on, no matter how much I want to stay because I know that I’m going to fall in love with lots more countries. I did, however, end up staying here nearly two and a half months (my original plan was a month) so I guess that says something. Sorry this post is so short and there’s no really funny stuff in it. It’s quite hard to cram so many weeks into a single post and fit all the details. I solemnly promise to make the posts funnier when I get to a place with cheaper internet, like China. I can then post more frequently and put more effort into the posts.

I’ve been lucky here. All the New Zealanders that have given me rides, bought me booze, fed me, educated me, and made me laugh have made this place an incredible experience. All the other really awesome fellow travelers (like Ali, Anne, Matt, Katrina, Simon, Kat, Tom, Maria and countless others) who have helped me out and shown me a great time have made this experience that much better. This life is awesome. Traveling is awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Actually, I guess I don’t really have to…I get both the traveling and the world at the same time.

What year is it?

So there I stood, ready to write my name and date on my bag of food so I could put it in the hostel fridge without them throwing it away in the morning. Yep… 09/04/….03 (they write the day first here in the date). Yeah, it’s 2003, right? Shit…or is it 2004. It’s not 2005. I think. Dammit.

I eventually just took a look at the expiry date on some butter. I left before the year change and don’t have to think about which year it is that much. Give me a break.

So what’s new with me? I’m in Dunedin! My plan is to check out this bustling little city (with a cool University vibe) before heading south to Stewart Island to do a 10 day hike around the island. But, the last time I posted, I was in Queenstown. So, let’s backtrack to how exactly I got here.

Like I was planning, I did the Greenstone hike as a “shortcut” (of sorts) to Te Anau. I had no luck hitch hiking so the hike seemed like a better option. It turns a 3 hour car ride into a 20 minute lift so I was on my way. I headed back to the hostel, cleaned my boots and backpack and let them dry next to the heater overnight (they both smelled like DEATH) and was ready and charged by the morning. I headed to the Greenstone Valley and started the hike.

And I was carrying all my stuff.

And my backpack was soooo heavy.

I don’t know how many times, exactly, I called myself an idiot. Why not just take the bus? I’m gonna pass out with all this weight on my back! But I soon realized I was making good time. I was at the first camp site ahead of the recommended time, so I continued on. After a 15 minute lunch and another 6 hours of walking, I arrived at the second, and last, hut. Soooo, that put the grand total to about 8 hours of continuous hiking. I arrived in the dark and the cold, and arrived right before I was about ready to give up and just put up my tent.

“You planning on sleeping in the hut tonight?”, a guy who was cooking his dinner on the front porch, in the dark, asked me.

“Yeah, that’s the plan”, I replied.

“Good luck. There are about 15 kids on a school trip in there and it’s a madhouse. We’re starting to claim parts of the floor.”

I got in quick and put my stuff under the table. That’s MY table! I ended up sleeping under it.

In the morning, I took my time getting up, had breakfast and finished the 2 hours of walking to the main road where I met a couple from Spain and chatted with (in Spanish, of course, so I don’t forget it) them for a little bit while I changed clothes and had lunch. Then I went to the road to get a lift. The first car stopped and a Swiss guy happily helped my bags into his car. We chatted on the ride to Te Anau.

Once there, I found a hostel and hung out. Not much to do in Te Anau on Good Friday. Everything was closed (you couldn’t even buy liquor in the town) so I hung out and read The Economist and watched movies on cable. A bunch of high school kids from Vermont kids were staying there for a school hiking trip and all the girls were staring at me while I ate dinner and trying to talk to me. Cute. If only they were like 5 years older. But it always works out like that, no? The next day went pretty much the same. Everything was still closed and I tried to do as little as I could.

I was tired. Near burnout from the hike (try walking 8 hours in wet boots with 60 pounds strapped to your back after hiking nearly every day for a month) and needed a rest. You really have to pace yourself sometimes. A day “lost” can save you from having to just sit and stare at the wall for about a week because your totally burned out from doing anything. So, yeah, I enjoyed doing nothing. It hurt to walk and was raining anyways.

So the next day (yesterday), I decided I would try to hitch hike to Dunedin. I stood on the highway and after some Israeli’s ahead of me got a lift, I got a ride from an American couple. They left me about a quarter of the way there as they split of to go up to Queenstown. I then got picked up by this huge guy out for a cruise in his Mercedes. He told me he was a bus driver and that he didn’t have much money to travel, although he tried to get out every 2 years. He took me to the next town. The sky looked ominous. It was going to rain. Next? An English guy who lived in New Zealand picked me up. I smacked my forehead on his door (I still have a big bump) and got in. We had a great discussion about New Zealand opinions from an outsider’s perspective and talked about farming and prices and stuff. Very cool.

So he let me off, in the rain, in a town called Gore – home of New Zealand’s largest Brown Trout statue (Quiet down, people. Please). I tried to get a ride, in the rain, for about 45 minutes before giving up. Two cars stopped, but could only take me 5k up the road. No one wants to take a wet backpacker to another city. So I gave up and checked into the only hostel in the city. Easter Sunday. Again, not much open. I read and watched “A Knight’s Tale” with the others in the hostel and managed to secure a ride to Dunedin with three others who had a car. Right on.

So now I’m here. After spending about 3 hours walking around the town with my backpack, looking for a vacancy in a hostel (Easter weekend, remember), I found a place and am killing time until the weather gets better.

I’m not keeping my fingers crossed. After all, this is New Zealand.

Big FAT snow!

Yeah, so guess what. I did some more trekking. Yup. Just like I said I was going to. And you know what? I had fun. As usual. Honestly, having fun all the time can get a little monotonous after a while. It’s like: “Oh great, more fun? Damn, when is it gonna stop??”. Hah, just kidding.

It may seem like I’ve been out in the mountains for like 6 days at a time only to pop my head into civilization for about a day or so to check my email, make a post, then disappear back out to the mountains. Yeah…well, that’s probably because that’s what I’ve been doing. Here’s a rundown of what’s gone down since the Routeburn trek.

So I went out to dinner with Matt and Katrina (whom I met at the beginning of the Caples) for dinner and a beer when we got back to town. It rained that night and it didn’t stop the next morning and luckily, instead of having to pay the 15 bucks to get out to the start of the Rees/Dart track via the bus, Matt offered to give me a lift in his little (really little) car. So I packed up my stuff, left a lot of it at the hostel (my tent, sleeping mat, lonely planet, etc… that I wasn’t gonna need since I would be staying in huts, which are pretty much like little resorts with wood/coal stoves, bunk beds and kitchens, but without electricity, along the way). So we set off and about half way there realized his car wasn’t gonna make it. It couldn’t cross the streams. He would have needed four wheel drive. Or at least a bigger car. So we said goodbye and I walked from there. As I walked (which ended up being about 2 hours to get to the start of the track) in the rain, I saw the bus I didn’t take pass me filled with people.

“Fuck”, I thought. “The huts are gonna be full and I don’t have my tent.”

But what could I do, so I continued on. They all had quite a start on me but I figured I could catch up with at least a few and make it to a bed first (I realized later on that I had nothing to worry about. There was plenty of space at the huts). The track was hard core. Walking through the rain, through rivers you had to cross with your boots on (yeah, you get pretty wet), up really steep sheer drop off hills to avoid the river you were walking along, mud/swamp up to your knees and to top it all off, there was no real track. You just had to follow these orange poles every few hundred meters up the valley and hope you didn’t miss one.

But I eventually caught up with everyone and passed them. I met some cool peeps my age on the way (Ali, I know your reading this, HI!) who were hiding under a rock while eating lunch to avoid the rain.

I forged ahead after dumping the water out of my boots from the river crossing and after a really long day of climbing over mountains and crawling under fallen trees in the forest, I made it to the hut. REALLY nice! It was like a little resort with everything you could want…except like, internet and hot water. And electricity. But it did have toilets that flushed! HARDCORE!

Ali, Cam and Jesse arrived (the girl and guys I met on the track) a little bit after me and we made dinner together after getting the stove going (coal fire) and spent the night chatting and laughing. It was cool.

The next day, we left together after making breakfast and tackled the mountain pass, where you hike up the mountain to the snowline to get to the next valley where the next hut is. We made it all in one peace after scrambling up and then sliding down the other side (it’s up to about 4600 feet) and finally arrived at Dart Hut, which was even more impressive. We hung out, played cards, had dinner, hot chocolate (I have a little gas stove for dinner and, of course, hot chocolate) and talked a lot. We hit the sack about midnight and the next morning, we hiked up towards the Cascade Saddle. Since Ali, Cam and Jesse had to get to school in a day or so, they had to turn around early and head towards the next hut. We said goodbye and I continued on to hike up the mountain. It took me all day to get back, but I hiked right up to the Dart Glacier (very impressive) and made it back to the hut before it got dark.

I stayed there that night and the next day, woke up to big FAT snow, everywhere. It was really coming down and there was about an inch of it on everything. YEAH! The day before was a perfect sunny day which made it kind of weird, but I went to the Whitbourn Valley to check out another glacier anyways. About 10 minutes later it was another perfect sunny day. Weird, huh? The hike was hardcore all the way there. I was going nearly straight down a mountain where there was this drawbridge, then you hike nearly straight up this other mountain, along these foot wide cliffs which plummet down into a raging river below and better yet, there was snow everywhere, making it really slippery. I spent the next 3 hours walking through this crazy volcanic river valley jumping over rivers and streams and climbing up rocks (sometimes wondering how I was gonna get back down). After seeing the tip of the glacier, I turned around and headed back. The trip to the next hut was through mostly grassy flat lands between two incredibly stunning mountain ranges. I made it in 4 hours (as opposed to the 6-8 the signs said it would take) and got back just before dark. I spent the night reading poetry from a book I had bought in Wellington and I got to bed early.

The next day was the last day and after sleeping in, I hiked down the mountain in about 4 hours to the parking lot where the bus picked us all up (my friends had gone out the day before, but I was still with a few others from the trek). I made it back to Glenorchy and stayed the night to recover.

So this morning, I got up early and hitch hiked back to Queenstown and then a little ways out of town to see if I could get a ride.

There were a lot of people hitch hiking and no one was getting rides so I’m heading back to Glenorchy after finishing this post and hiking the Greenstone track tomorrow. The end is right near where I wanted to hitch hike to, so it cuts out the middle man and I get some great hiking in too. Can’t beat it, eh?

I head down to the Kepler track area next to see if I can do any hiking there, which I hear has had the mountain section closed down on account of snow and ice. Crazy, eh?

So today gives me enough time to let my muscles recover from 2 weeks of non stop hiking before doing it again tomorrow. God bless New Zealand!

Damn. I need a bath…

Well, I’m just stopping in to Queenstown to fill up my pack with food and then I’m heading back out to Glenorchy. They have a little corner supermarket with nothing for a backpacker to eat while hiking so I had to hitch hike 50k’s to go to the supermarket then hitch back. I just got done hiking the Caples track, taking a day to visit the Milford Sound and then hiking the Routeburn track. They were pretty incredible and the scenery was absolutely spectacular. They say it rains about 300 days out of the year here and I managed to spend 6 days without a drop of rain (after a day of hiking in the rain though).

The other day I had perhaps one of the best days of the trip so far and I have labeled it the “Perfect Day”. It went kind of like this: I woke up in this valley I had been camping in surrounded by huge mountains with snow frosted tips. The sun had finally come out which was a relief after a day of rain the day before. The beads of dew on my tent had frozen and as I put it away, the ice shattered in a million places in the grass beside me. I put away my tent, ate breakfast, then hiked an hour to the road where I stood in the cold waiting for someone to feel sorry for me and pick me up. My destination? Milford Sound. Take a look on the net to see what it is, but it’s basically a big curvy cove from the Tasman Sea formed by glaciers with awesome waterfalls and incredibly beautiful mountains. Finally some people from New York picked me up and and we headed to Milford. I arrived just in time to catch the 11:00AM boat trip around the sound (which entailed a 15 dollar discount) and drank all the free tea I could. From there, I hitchhiked back to the spot I was in the morning, took a cool 2 hour hike on a side route to the top of this mountain, then hiked back to my same campsite the night before. I made a fire, made dinner and spent the evening staring up at the stars. The Milky Way was splashed across the sky like a cloud and I was the only person for miles. Incredible. Perfect.

This country is really beautiful and I am meeting a lot of people. I met a really cool couple my age the other day on the track and instead of sleeping in our tents one night on the Routeburn, we sneaked into this resort cabin that no one is allowed into except those on guided walks. There was no one in it and they left it unlocked so we slept in the beds and woke up at 5:30AM to sneak out so we wouldn’t be caught. About 8:00AM we were awoken by a helicopter dropping off supplies and a person to that cabin. Close call, no?! It was pretty incredible. In the middle of nowhere they had a cabin with hot water, showers, heat, electricity, tons of alcohol (they left the kitchen open too, although we didn’t take anything except cookies in the jar) and a pretty cozy set of dorm rooms. It sure beat freezing in the tent.

So yeah, I’m going out for another 9 days or so. I’ve got my pack loaded with food as I type this and am going to do the Rees-Dart trek which is 6 days of hiking up to these cool glaciers and then back towards Milford via the Greenstone Valley track so I can go down to Te Anau and do the Kepler track. I bought a hut pass for 65 bucks so I don’t have to lug my tent around and get to stay in the huts with fireplaces and stuff, so hopefully I won’t freeze too bad.

Wish me luck!

Where am I again?

So we last left off with Nelson. And Swedish girls. And hiking. Yeah.

So after wandering around Nelson and buying some good pants for hiking (light and quick drying – so I don’t have to carry around jeans) and an LED flashlight (so I don’t waste a bunch of money on batteries), I ended up having dinner with the three Swedish girls, some Italian guys and an Israeli girl. We had pasta and spent the evening talking, listening to music, eating and drinking. It was great! Then we went out on the town. We visited a few pubs and clubs, drank and danced and then I went back to the hostel. Most of the group had already left, so I didn’t leave first, but I couldn’t keep up with the girls (god, I’m getting old!) so I went back and crashed.

The next morning, I got up early, said goodbye to one of the Italian guys who was eating breakfast and headed to the highway. The plan was to hitch hike back to the West Coast (remember the Discman I left there?). So I stood on the street and this old guy pulled up and gave me a ride. He couldn’t hear very well and told me he never leaves his house but did today to visit some Buddhist Temple. Good for him (and me too, of course). He left me about 50k’s from Nelson and after standing on the road for a while, a guy in a truck with a trailer stopped. He was having some sort of a business meeting and just motioned me to put my stuff in the back of the cab so I moved his suit and threw my big backpack over his crap. I put his suit back. And got in.

After about 10 minutes, he hung up and we started chatting. He runs some big contest sponsored by all these companies like Ford (who donated the truck he was in) and he could take me about 100k’s to where I wanted to go. He proceeded to call one of his buddies who was a ways behind to see if he could take me further so we arranged a spot. No worries if it didn’t work out. So he took me to some small town and left me in the rain (yeah, it started raining) so I stood there and stood there for like 45 minutes and no one picked me up. I went in a gas station and got a cardboard box and made a sign – “I HAVE SWEETS”. Hopefully that would work. A lot of people laughed as they passed but before I could see its effectiveness, the two Italian guys from the hostel drove by!

They stopped and I hopped in. We had no clue that we were going to the same place, but we were, so they said I could tag along. We drove for quite a while in the rain and it finally cleared up a little bit and we stopped at some little park with this big bridge and did the swing across the valley. Then we headed towards the beach and checked out a seal colony. From there we headed to Greymouth and after picking up my Discman, we found a really cheap hostel. That night we played pool and had a little beer, then went to the $3 BBQ.

In the morning, we realized that Bruno had forgotten his CD’s in the bar of the hostel. And no one was around. We contemplated breaking the door. We searched for the owner and found a room with some keys in it. Some guy came (who was a friend of the owner, I think) and got the keys for us and opened up the door, we got the CD’s and left. This whole ordeal took about 2 hours.

So we set off. We made it to Franz Josef (one of the only other advancing glaciers besides El Calafate in Argentina in the world) but it was raining. We checked in the hostel and I ran into Tom (the Dutch guy) again. We all had dinner and played pool for the rest of the night.

The next day, in the rain, we did a walk to the glacier and it was pretty cool. Nothing compared to Argentina though.

We then headed off to a town called Haast. Nothing really interesting. Rained a lot and stopped a long on the way to see some cool nature stuff along the way.

The next day, we headed to Queenstown and after getting confused and ending up back in Haast after two hours of driving (don’t ask), we eventually made it to Queenstown. The whole town was booked for hostels and we finally found a triple for $25 each. It all worked out and we had an awesome dinner (Bruno is the chef) and then went out to some pubs. We ended up leaving around 1AM and heading back to the hostel to get some sleep.

So now we are at today. I went up in this cool gondola to the top of the mountain to see the whole city and I did this luge thing down this track a few times. It was cool. And the rest of the day I have just been wandering around this town. I don’t like it. The people are rude and it’s expensive. I’m gonna leave to Glenorchy tomorrow to hang out for a day and then head out for about 7 days of hiking. I’m gonna do the Greenstone track and then the Routeburn, which I booked several weeks ago. I just bought 7 days worth of food and gonna hitch hike to the town tomorrow with Hector (the guy from Spain I met in Collingwood a few weeks back). I randomly ran into him today in town and we are randomly going to the same place tomorrow morning.

So I wont be around or answering email for about a week. These tracks are gonna be cool.

The voices…they are chasing me!

So we left off at me heading to Greymouth. Ah yes…now I remember.

So I woke up early (too early), dragged my stuff out of my 35-bed dorm room and packed up. It was still dark, so it proved challenging, but I succeeded nonetheless. Then I waited for the bus. A couple was speaking Spanish (from Peru I think) at the bus stop, but I didn’t say anything. The bus came, took me to the train station, then I hopped on the train. Perfect weather. I found my seat (four to a table, two on each side) and we were off. I spend the time admiring the scenery, talking to an English woman next to me and before I knew it, I was in Greymouth. And it was raining. No worries, put my rain cover over my backpack and looked for the hostel. After some searching, I finally found it and checked in. The 10 bed dorm was the cheapest option (she tried to sneakily put me in the 8 bed dorm which cost more) and I turned out to be the only one so far. So I decided to take a tour of the local brewery.

Very interesting. The lady here knew a lot more than the lady at the other brewery, but the weird thing was that they did open fermentation on ALL their beers! And they gave tours of the brewery room and everyone walked by and stood over the open vats of fermenting beer as the tour guide talked. CRAZY! The beer didn’t have any hint of infection though which was pretty crazy. I couldn’t believe it. So of course, we had the obligatory “tasting session” after which meant for about 20 minutes we could go, at will, to the faucets and pour ourselves beer. COOL.

So then I headed back to the hostel (a little tipsy) and met this Dutch girl with whom I went to dinner with (3 dollar all you can eat barbeque) and got to listen to another lecture about American politics by someone who knows absolutely nothing about it – but really want you to think they do.

“Yeah, I really don’t like Bush. But I don’t think the opposition is any better, you know?”, she proclaimed.

“Yeah? How so?”, I asked.

“Uhhhhhhhhhh, you know”. I guess that was where I was supposed to be like, “Yeah, I concur. Because of this and this and this”, which I could have, I just wanted her to fry in her own juices for a few seconds. Sometimes seemingly modestly interjecting a few moments of awkwardness with people like that is kind of fun. I get this a lot with people, so I have to make it interesting for me. Do you blame me?

So anyways, went back to the hostel, full as a tick (after sucking someone’s blood, like ticks do, otherwise I wouldn’t be full), and talked with this Australian guy for a while before reading my book and going to bed.

Next day, I was up early and out on the highway hitch hiking North. It was fun. You stand there and look at all the people’s expressions. You get the people that ignore you, the people that look at you strangely, the people that wave, the people that nod their heads, the people that throw their hands up in the air like there is nothing they can do (I still don’t know what that means. I see that empty seat right next to you!) and everything in between. Finally, a guy pulled up on his way to work (Strange. Only the locals seem to pick you up). We chatted about my plans to do Heaphyaphy Track and he told me how he and his wife did it with their two year old kid in one of those outdoor baby stroller things and we chatted about my trip and stuff. He showed me this hotel he built and stuff then dropped me off in a town about halfway to where I wanted to go. I ended up leaving my bag at the information center and seeing these crazy rock formations at the beach and the blow holes where ocean water flies up into the air.

Then it was back to looking for a new ride. Still quite a few kilometers to go. I stood on the corner with no luck. Then I walked a little bit further up the road and stood some more. No luck. Then finally this guy picked me up and said he could take me a little bit up the road where I might have more luck. I went there and still didn’t have any luck. It’s hard on the West Coast because there aren’t many locals going on it. Just tourists. And they suck.

I knew that this bus was gonna leave in a half hour so I started walking back toward the town to maybe catch it, but held my thumb out for every passing car. Finally, some guys stopped. Pit Bulls in the back, tools all over the place, and my pack flopped on its side and I was on my way to Westport! We chatted about New Zealand, I took in the stunning coastal scenery and before I knew it, I was there. They took me to the information center and after thanking them, I found out that my bus to Karamea was leaving in 3 minutes. I ran to the bus station and made it in time, and before I knew it, I was off. I couldn’t hitch hike because there wasn’t going to be much traffic and it was late. And the bus ended up being the mail truck. It took three hours to go about 40 kilometers because I had to stop at every mailbox on the way. I was in charge of handing the newspapers forward and entertaining the little girls that the mail guy was giving a ride home to (it’s a small town).

But I eventually made it and checked into my hostel. I cooked dinner, checked my email (free internet) and watched some TV before bed. In the morning, I bought my passes for the hike I was gonna do, bought my food for the trek and got a ride to the beginning of the hike. It was gonna be four days long and my pack was heavy. I set off. The proceeding four days were filled with stunning coastal scenery, incredibly dense forest/jungle, open savannah grasslands, beautiful waterfalls, little streams (from which you could fill up your water bottle and drink), caves, mountains, brilliant star filled nights (with the Milky Way splashed across the sky) and really cool swing bridges. Each night I camped out in my tent at the designated huts (little cabins with gas stoves and fireplaces, for those who pay more to sleep inside) and chatted with everyone. I was going the opposite way as everyone else so I got to walk in relative silence each day as I only saw people in passing. It was awesome. Like meditation. Walking in nature with nothing but birds chirping, streams bubbling, and my thoughts. I love it. The final night I ended up sneaking into a hut instead of camping because there was no ranger and it was cold and there were only three other people.

So I ended up getting a ride at the end of the track with this guy who was giving this German girl I met on the trek a ride. I had to ride in the back of the farm truck since there were only two seats and I eventually arrived at the hostel where the German girl was working. It was full but I was able to get a tent site for 10 bucks (which is a good deal) and after dinner, free mussels and clams that they had picked up at the beach, and checking my email, I went to play ping pong with the locals in the next town over. The owner of the hostel took me and some others there and we had a blast. When I got back, I met Hector, a kid from Spain and we talked for a while (in Spanish of course) before I headed out to my tent. In the rain.

Chris, the owner of the hostel, promised to give me a ride to Takaka (where I was to start the 3-day Abel Tasman trek) at 8:00AM, so I got up early and had breakfast, said goodbye to Martina (the German girl) and was off. It beat hitch hiking, as it was still raining. I made it to town and bought my camping pass, bought my food (I was smarter this time and bought less and lighter food), and started walking in the direction of the trek (30 k’s away). I had missed the bus so I had no other option. With the help of my thumb, I ended up getting a ride halfway there from this lady who was really happy to help me (we had to move all her baby stuff aside to fit my bag in) and then got a ride the other half of the way there by this guy in this crazy tiny, old, and beat up car where I had to have my huge pack in my lap and lift it up so he could shift gears. He had to shut my door for me since you had to push it down in this special way to get it to shut. The seat was wet and crusty and it stank. But it was a free ride and he was an interesting guy. He said some kids borrowed his car in the night. He came out in the morning, there was half a tank less of gas in it, the gear shift knob had been chewed up by a dog and the door wouldn’t shut. Funny stuff.

So I made it to the trail. Almost. I took a shortcut along the beach which was at medium low tide. I had to take my shoes off and walk through some streams of retreating ocean water in the muddy sand and dodge clam shells, then ended up walking through all this cow shit since it was right next to this cow field and got it all splashed up on my shorts (although it somehow miraculously wiped off my nylon shorts with a little water) and was on the road. I walked toward the trail. I was still sore from the Heaphy trek. But I had no choice but to continue on.

I’m glad I did, but wasn’t as impressed with the Abel Tasman as Heaphy. For one, there were a ton more people. It’s a beautiful walk up and over hills along the beach and is a nice mixture of beach walks (at one point, you have to wait for low tide and wade through the waist deep water) and forest, but there were these water taxis that would take people to parts of the track so they could walk it without a backpack so you would get tons of old people walking in huge groups laughing and talking and socializing and couldn’t really escape them. The final day I walked really fast and passed a lot of them, and even ran a portion of it, only to find each time I passed someone, a new group of loud people waited beyond. I like to walk in silence. But the weather was nice, I couldn’t complain. It did rain one night and I had to cook dinner in the little rain cover overhang of my tent, but that was it. I also got bit by about a thousand sand flies and at this very moment I am scratching them like crazy. They really itch.

I also ended up running into Tom, the dutch guy I traveled the North Island with, but he was going the other way, so we chatted a little bit and said goodbye again. Strange coincidence. So I finished the three day trek and waited around two hours for the bus to take me to Nelson as I spoke with some cool American chicks I met waiting too. I finally made it to Nelson and checked into a cheap backpacker hostel and cooked dinner. That night, I chatted with some people and ended up meeting these cool (and absolutely stunning) Swedish girls, which it seems to me that New Zealand is filled with, and we ended up chatting throughout the night and watching a few movies. We are supposed to hang out tonight too.

And today, I got up, bought some stuff like an LED headlamp for reading (batteries last a lot longer – my current flashlight is going through double A’s like nothing and I can’t afford them with the prices of batteries here) and some lightweight quick drying pants for hiking. I wont be taking jeans with me on hikes anymore. Way too heavy. Gotta travel light when you have a pack on your back for four days at a time. Then I was back in my hostel and Tom randomly walked by. He had finished the trek and them come to the exact same hostel was me. He actually was in the same room as me too. Crazy coincidences. So we hung out and then I went to he the botanical gardens here in Nelson and read for a little bit.

So here I am. Tomorrow I am going to hitch hike down South. I gotta go back to Greymouth since I left my Discman there (I had to call a few hostels to see where I had left it). Must have left it on a table in my room. But it’s on the way, so no worries. Then I’ll head over to the glaciers and maybe meet up with Mia and Hannah (the girls with whom I traveled the North Island). No definite plans yet. I was supposed to do this today, but I was really sore from seven days straight of hiking and camping and needed a rest (don’t wanna get burned out and have to stay somewhere and recover for a week an a half like I did in Bariloche).

That’s the plan. Not much more beyond tomorrow though. Gonna do some more treks. That’s all I’m sure about. And maybe marry one of the Swedish chicks I met last night. That would be cool ­čśë

Freeee at last!

It really is incredible. When you are are going to go hiking, you usually can leave some stuff back at the hostel and pick it up when you get back. That way you travel with a light pack. It’s a little more complicated for me though, seeing as I will be hiking and traveling for about 3 weeks and am just going to leave my stuff here in Christchurch in the mean time. So I made decisions. I shaved off about 20 pounds worth of stuff from my pack and put it into storage. That means that I could be traveling with about 20 pounds less worth of crap. If I can live on what I’ll have for three weeks, I could probably for another year and a half. But what am I leaving behind? Walking shoes (I’ll just be wearing my hiking boots and flip flops), a few shirts (I can wash the ones I have more frequently), mate (the tea I got from Argentina – of which I still have a kilo left), my CD’s (can’t LIVE without those on long bus trips), my Chinese books (I’m trying to see if I can just mail them to the American Express office in China and pick them up when I get there, and some other miscellaneous crap that I don’t REALLY need. But I do. Ah the joys of traveling. You live in a backpack. It’s your home. Do we really need all the junk we have in our houses? Nope. Yeah it’s nice to have a cup of coffee in the morning you just ground fresh, and it’s nice to be able to flip on the TV and sit stare mindlessly for hours, but is it really necessary? Nope.

Speaking of which, I sense a change in my way of thinking since I left the US. I don’t know what exactly to which I should attribute this change, but I like it. How am I thinking differently? I feel more free. “Yeah, jackass”, you might say, “you’re free to do whatever the hell you want – maybe that’s why”, but I mean free in a difference sense. Unlike yourselves, I haven’t been a slave to radio, TV, commercials, magazines and tons of other forms of media that tell us how to think, what’s cool, what’s beautiful, what’s fun, and on what we should spend our money. I travel around with dirty and stinky backpackers and I am no exception. Status isn’t important as you meet new people every day and no one cares, nor can afford, the “latest and greatest” of anything. You talk to all sorts of people just to talk to them. You make friends with whom you would never normally even talk. You live and sleep and eat next to complete strangers in sometimes filthy facilities. And you don’t care. And you laugh all day and night. And you have a blast.

And so what’s the changes have I noticed? Well, most of the people that know me know that I am normally a pretty confident guy. Well now, I notice that I am even more so. What else? I have been finding girls attractive who I would normally not find that attractive. I’ve asked myself why. Well, I don’t see impossibly beautiful girls running around the TV all day selling makeup, clothes, video games, cars, soda, electronics, their souls, etc… I also no longer have a subscription to Maxim (which my mom calls the filth magazine due to the high quantity of beautiful girls contained therein). I only see real people all day. It changes everything. And I only watched things like Discovery Channel and CNN all day. But the commercials are all the same on all channels. They brainwash the mind. I can remember reading in Psychology Today that college professors have a much higher bachelor rate than people in other professions. Why? They attributed it to the fact that the professors are around young and pretty girls all day and when it comes time to be with someone with whom they could actually relate and with whom they could have a relationship, they don’t find them attractive. After all, older women aren’t naive and innocent dressed up 18-20 year old girls.

I guess it’s kind of like that, except for the fact that the girls who I saw on TV only existed on TV. At least the professors have a CHANCE of hooking up with a college girl. I would only have a chance if my date spent about 4 hours in an airbrush studio.

So I’m free.

So what am I up to? No much. Wandering around Christchurch. It’s a beautiful city and I really like it. It has a little river that runs down the middle of it with ducks and trees and stuff and benches all along it. There are old restored colonial buildings everywhere and even free buses! Today I took a tour of a commercial brewery and enjoyed that as well. The final portion of the tour included (of course) beer sampling and as the tour guide kept giving me beers (I think she ended up giving me about seven), I spoke with a few people in the group and untaught them the garbage the tour guide told them. She really didn’t have a clue. But hey, with a spinning head by the time I left, I couldn’t complain. I then went to the museum, botanical gardens, and art gallery before heading back to the hostel (starving) and cooking dinner. Pasta. Can’t beat it.

I leave for Greymouth tomorrow via a really scenic train ride, supposedly among the seven greatest in the world, through the middle of the South Island. From there I will hitch hike up to the north and do a few 3-6 day hikes before heading south and doing a few more. Then I’ll check out the glaciers.

Then? I don’t know. Australia, I guess.