Review: A Land of Two Halves by Joe Bennett

2488316This book fell into my lap back at my bookstore before I left. It had come in with some trade a customer had dropped off and my coworker, knowing I was about to move to NZ brought it to me. It was going to cost me not much more than a dollar so I brought it home, not worrying too much about if it would be good or not.

Joe Bennett moved to New Zealand from England in 1987 and had been living in the country for 15 years (at the time the book was written) when he decided to hitchhike around the country to reassess just where exactly he was.

I myself have never hitchhiked, but it was fascinating reading about Joe’s experience. I imagine some people hitchhike for the same reason others travel at all: to meet new people from all walks of life and hear their stories.

As a newcomer to NZ, it was also fun and interesting reading about different parts of the country. There were bits of the country’s history sprinkled throughout as well as insights into the general mindset of different areas as well as NZ as a whole.

Obviously this book had an extra appeal to me because I was about to be living in NZ when I got it, but I think it would also be a good read for anyone who enjoys memoirs, but the kind of memoirs that aren’t super self-centered and narrowly focused on the person writing them. This book isn’t just about Joe, it’s more about life and all the wonderful things you can find if you just get out there are start looking.

~Ren

Advertisements

Hair, boats, and bare feet.

Hello my dear travelers. Wherever you are, I hope it’s cooler than here. It’s a nice and toasty 26 degrees here in Matamata, with just a touch of humidity. (For my American readers that’s about 78.8 in Fahrenheit.) This is one of a handful of days that has made me miss the winter weather currently taking place in my hometown.

Even though the heat is making my brain turn into soup, I’m going to forge ahead with this blog as there are things that have happened I want to share with you all!

Yesterday my friend and I took a trip down to Taupo. You all remember Taupo, I’m sure. I was there back in November during my month long hiatus. This trip was shorter and a bit more enjoyable because I had someone to explore with. The first stop for Blair and me was the Craters of the Moon. It is one of many geothermal areas in New Zealand. A short walking track takes you through the hissing steam vents and gurgling mud pits scattered amongst the bush.

This maybe wasn’t the best activity to do on an already hot day. Anytime you got too close to one of the vents the wind would invariably shift and send a thick cloud of steam at you, making your skin feel even damper and stickier than two seconds before. But the two of us toughed it out and amused ourselves by doing very bad David Attenborough impressions.

See Blair’s impression here. See mine here. I’ll let you decide whose is better (or worse).

After our jaunt around the moon we headed into Taupo proper and met up with Dave. We were just in time to go out for the 4:30 sail. The boat was still making its way back into the harbor when we pulled into the carpark so we decided to pop over to Countdown and pick up a few things for the trip. When we got back, people had already begun to gather in front of berth 31 and we immediately struck up a conversation with them while we waited to climb on board.

It was a lively group of Germans, Australians, and Americans, with Blair as the only native (and Dave of course, but he’s the captain). The whole trip out was spent talking and eating and making jokes. It was the first time I’d been out on the yacht and didn’t freeze my ass off. A rather nice change of pace.

Once we were by the carvings, my hat was flung unceremoniously from the boat after I offended Dave by hanging it on his steering wheel. It landed with a soft clatter on the rocks and then I was told to be off and fetch it. Well, there was no way I was leaving my Hobbit hat behind. With no togs to speak of (that’s what they call a swimsuit here) I emptied my pockets, stripped off my shirt and jumped in.

The water was colder than I expected, so when I reached the surface, my breaths came in uneven gasps. But I kept on swimming and was soon pulling myself up the slimy rocks next to the carvings. We spent several minutes swimming by the carvings then climbed, dripping, back on board to settle into beanbags and enjoy a nice drink on the trip home.

Dave had one more trip to make so Blair and I left him to it and went off to have a drink at Mulligan’s. Lucky for us it was also free pool night. We shot a few games while sipping our drinks and munching on chips. I got into the true Kiwi spirit while we played. Some douchenozzle had left their gum on the floor, which of course I had to step in. When I couldn’t satisfactorily clean it from my shoe with a tissue I decided to say, ‘fuck shoes!’ and went bare foot for a spell.

With another half hour or so to kill before Dave was back in, we left the bar and took a walk down to the water. The sun was all but set when we sat down on a bench overlooking the lake.

When it was well a truly dark we got up and made the short walk back to Mulligan’s and found Dave and his two crew members already sitting down to drinks. We pulled up some bar stools and spent the next couple hours spinning yarns and sharing a few good laughs. When midnight rolled around, it was time for everyone to head home.

The trip to Taupo was a grand success. Now before I leave you, travelers, a few more random bits. First, I had my first successful hair cut outside of the States (this is only significant because I’ve been having my hair cut by the same person for years). Also, in the game of Leg vs. Chalkboard Sign, Chalkboard Sign definitely wins. Also, being stopped on the road by farm animals was bound to happen eventually, and now it has.

Stay safe, fellow travelers! I’ll chat with you again soon.

~Ren

 

Review: Where Do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson

book_camels For those who are unfamiliar, I’m not only passionate about books, I’m also passionate about biology. So a book about biology is right up my alley. I picked this book up simply because it was about invasive species, a topic that interests me greatly. And the subtitle had me intrigued: ‘Why Invasive Species Aren’t All Bad.’

This subtitle had me intrigued because for a long time my stance on invasive species was one of opposition. I was in line with the group that thinks native is always good and alien is always bad. But this book has given me some new insights and changed my viewpoint.

Thompson does a good job of breaking things down into digestible pieces for the reader. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the complex issue of invasive and introduced species. He delves, not just into current discourse on the subject, but also the history of where things have come from.

As with most things pertaining to biology and ecosystems and all the pieces that make them up there, is no easy answer, no simple solution or quick fix. The issue of invasive species and whether or not they are good or not is a complicated and complex topic, the real effects of which often occur well outside a timeframe we can comprehend in the present moment.

Throughout the book, Thompson examines both sides of the issue, avoiding the childish act of calling one side wrong and the other side right. There really is no right or wrong answer to the question, “Are invasive species bad?” It depends on the situation. Thompson does offer many reasonable suggestions as to how further discussions of invasive species should be handled, which ultimately is the best we can do.

~Ren

New year, new adventures

Hello travelers! A very belated Happy New Year to you all. I hope it’s been a good year so far for all of you and that you haven’t screwed up writing the date too many times.

It’s been a while since my last post so I figured it was about time to give you another update. Well what can I tell you. Life in the wide world goes on, much as it has this passed age, full of its own comings and goings. I rang in the New Year alone, enjoying a nice quiet night at home with the house to myself. I had worked New Year’s Eve and was working New Year’s Day so I decided a night in was a better idea than going out and drinking copious amounts, as some of my coworkers chose to do.

Things in the Shire have quieted down a bit. The busiest bit of the busy season has passed it seems, yet oddly enough I’ve had some of my longest days recently. The weather has been hot/cold a lot. Some days the sun is fierce and unrelenting, refreshing the Hobbiton V etched into my chest. Other days are full of wind and rain and you go home feeling damp all over and looking like some drowned rat.

IMG_4478

(Just a small taste of how I look after a rainy day at work.)

But no day is entirely lost. Sometimes on the rainiest days you have the funnest groups. Just last week my guiding services were requested by Danny, one of our drivers. Now the story with me and Danny really quick. Danny was the guide I had on my first visit to Hobbiton three years ago. He’s also the reason I even have a job at Hobbiton. So I was very touched when he came to me and asked if I could be the one to take his four nieces around set. They were on the 8:30 tour and I had been scheduled for 9 that day. But I managed to track down Debbie, who was on the 8:30, and have her switch with me.

It was a rainy day, but as I said, those can bring out the best groups. And this 8:30 crew was definitely one of them. Despite the wind and the rain, we all carried on around set. The group laughed at my jokes and Danny gave me high praise, saying I was very good and knew things he didn’t even know. By the end of the tour my ego was sufficiently stroked.

IMG_4490

I’ve also been single-handedly supplying a good chunk of the Hobbiton staff with my fantastic ‘Gandalf for President’ badges (designed by yours truly, courtesy of Old Firehouse Books). If any of my coworkers are reading this, they are coming soon!

IMG_4477

Now when I’m not at work guiding hobbits around set, I’m at home doing this, that or the other. I’ve endeavored to start coloring more. I now have two coloring books in my possession, one being an intricately sketched spread of dragons done by John Howe (a conceptual artist for Lord of the Rings, so very appropriate), and the other being a collection of animal images composed of smaller items. Fun is in my future!

Additionally, I’ve been engaging in TV-ception. Before I left, my mother and I had just wrapped up a season of Castle, which of course had to end on this MASSIVE cliffhanger (so not cool). She finally got the next season from the library, and in order to watch it together, we’ve been FaceTiming while she plays it at home. Yeah…

I got to swing a sledgehammer and smash some shit the other day as well. A friend of mine is in the process of demolishing a house, so I went round to check it out. Watching four Kiwi men demolish a house is a type of entertainment I didn’t know I was missing. And it was pretty sweet to see a house slowly being stripped down to its foundation. Not something you see everyday.

One last exciting thing to report before I sign off. The other day I was just about to lead an inbound group away from The Green Dragon when who should wander buy but a couple of hobbits. I went over to compliment them on their costumes and tell them they looked oddly similar to Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan. This in turn brought the attention of my group on them. Photos ensued. The funny thing was everyone thought the two worked there. I assured them all we didn’t employe hobbits. But really, how cool would that be?

IMG_4494

And now before I leave you my travelers, a small sampling of the beauty of Hobbiton.

~Ren