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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.