Ren and Stimpy Adventures!

Author’s Note: Some of the pictures featured in this blog were taken by my friend, Carly Mann, who is a fantastic artist. Check out her blog here and her website here.

Well travelers, here we are! Finally (mostly) caught up to the present situation. After I left my WWOOFing host, I came back to Nelson, as you know from a previous blog. I had set up a couple meetings about working as a housekeeper in exchange for free accommodation at the hostel. One was at the YHA in Nelson, the place I stayed my first three night back in town. I decided about five minutes after being there that I wasn’t going to take the position if they offered it. The place was way too busy, and I didn’t want to have to deal with living with that many people for the next two and a half months.

The other place I’d checked out was smaller and quieter. The building was old and the facilities not as nice as other places I’d stayed. But the owner was nice and friendly, and I’m seasoned enough when it comes to hostels that I could adjust to a lower standard of living than what I’m used to. So I took the job. That’s where I’ve been for the last, gosh, almost two months. I wake up every morning, clean the hostel, and them I free to do what I like the rest of the day. Money is super tight, but I’m alright with that.

But just because I have little money and no real friends here doesn’t mean I haven’t had some fun. My mate Carly, who I’ve mentioned before, has been in and out of the Nelson area over the last several weeks. We’ve gone on a few fun adventures whenever our paths crossed. So prepare for another installment of Ren and Stimpy adventures!

The first adventure we had took place when I was still staying at the YHA. Carly was on, oh what am I saying, has been, still is, enjoying a cave obsession. There was one outside of Nelson she was interested in checking out so she invited me along. I had nothing better to do besides sit around at the hostel so I went.

We had planned to meet at the trailhead, but that turned out to be much more difficult than we had expected. I bounced along the narrow gravel road up the Maitai Valley until I came to a small dirt lot and a locked gate. There was no obvious entry to the trail, but the sign I had passed had ‘Maitai Cave’ written on it. I guessed the start of the trail was just a short walk up the road. I had arrived early, but after waiting for about a half an hour, I decided to drive back to where I had cell reception to try and get in touch with Carly.

Here’s where the fun begins! I was maybe halfway back to town when I saw a silver car appear behind me. I couldn’t entirely remember what Carly’s car looked like but I was pretty sure it was silver. I kept squinting at my rearview mirror, trying to make out the person in the driver seat. Then one time I looked up, I saw Carly hanging out the window and waving her arm at me. I pulled over at the next turn out and we both had a good laugh about our high-speed chase down the valley.

Now that we were together, we drove back up the valley road and parked in a lot near a white foot bridge over the river. Carly thought this was the footbridge mentioned in the DOC directions. When we got to the other side and found a small residential area, we both agreed this was not it, so I told her about the spot I had gotten to. We left my car where it was and Carly drove us back up the valley.

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Pretty picture. Wrong footbridge.

As I’d thought, a short walk past the gate that barred our way brought us to the right footbridge across the river. We walked past a small pool fed by a damn that looked like it would be the funnest and most dangerous waterslide in the world, up a hill, and began to lose ourselves in the bush. Something I’ve learned about the Department of Conservation’s rating system for walks is that they seem to be decided by people who have vastly different standards than me. Things they think are easy don’t ever seem as easy as the descriptions make them out to be.

The first half of the hike was nice and relaxed. The path was well marked, there wasn’t much elevation gain. The description had warned us that at some point we would have to cross the river, but assured us we wouldn’t even have to get our feet wet. Well, either we went the wrong way or the river has changed a lot since that description was written. Carly and I had to wade through the icy river in bare feet to get to the other side. I mean, it added to the adventurous nature of our hike, but seriously, who wrote up that description?!

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The second half of the tramp was much rougher. We relied on the tiny orange arrows nailed to the trees to make sure we kept to the right path. Then the ground began to climb. I had forgone my coat and jacket long ago, securing them around my waist, trying to minimize my sweating. At last, though, we heaved ourselves up over a particularly steep cropping of boulders and found ourselves at the entrance to the cave. My first cave experience was about to begin!

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Almost there!

I had mild anxiety about going in because I’m a wee bit claustrophobic, but Carly assured me once you made it through the rocks the cave opened up wide. She slipped in ahead of me and I awkwardly followed, shuffling all my long limbs in through the opening as best I could. The first thing you notice in a cave is that it’s very dark. Not surprising. But it didn’t take long for Carly to declare this was by far the muddiest cave she had been in. And it was indeed muddy.

We found our way down from the entrance with the help of a rope secured in the rocks. I stopped trying to keep the mud off me after about a minute. There was nothing for it, I was going to get dirty. Carly had offered to bring along a second headlamp for me but forgot, so the two of us were sharing one light between us. Which was interesting to say the least. For a while the light from the entrance and the glow permeating from the headlamp ahead of me was enough to help me make out where to step. When we got to the far side is where the going slowed down a bit.

On the other side of the cave, Carly and I looked down into a gapping hole in the earth. It was filled with pure darkness and terror. There was rope in the rocks here, too, leading down into the depths, but there was no way I was going down there. And Carly, bless her, wasn’t going to either. It was certainly something looking down into that abyss though. I could’ve slipped down that muddy slope and disappeared forever.

With cold fingers and mud-splattered jeans, Carly and I emerged from the cave. It was touch and go for a bit after we’d made it down the hill. The trail was difficult to find and we had to retrace our steps once or twice in order to find the trusty orange trail markers. Soon we were back in the car and on our way out of the valley. We both cleaned ourselves up as best we could, Carly having a bit of tough time since she didn’t have a change of clothes. The day wasn’t over just yet for us. We got a quick bite to eat before heading to the cathedral for a choir performance.

A couple of the girls Carly worked with at the chicken farm were performing that night. She wanted to show her support and had invited me along to this as well. She kept telling me how she wasn’t sure what to expect, and afterwards she kept assuring me that it wasn’t her idea of a “night out.” It wasn’t really mine either, but I was in choir for many years growing up and I quite enjoy a good choral show. It was a relaxing way to end the evening.

Alright, fast forward a couple weeks to our next Ren and Stimpy adventure. The city of Nelson hosts an annual event called Light Nelson, or the Nelson Light Festival if you’d like. It takes place mid-winter, and, as you might have guessed, gives over 40 artists the chance to let their imaginations light up a little piece of the city with brilliant glowing creations.

While we waited for it to get nice and dark, Carly and I entertained ourselves with a different kind of art. The art of making cocktails. Okay, so they were only gin and tonics, with lemon instead of lime and no ice. Hey, you make due with what you’ve got. We had a good time chatting and drinking, and when it was finally late enough, we ventured out into the streets.

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It was a bit chilly that night, but the gin in my veins and uncontainable energy it gave me kept me warm (you know, that and my jacket). I’ve been to many street festivals but never one at night. Black shapes moved across black pavement as we came closer and closer to Queens Garden. Carly and I wandered toward the large group of people gathered on the sidewalk. We arrived at the entrance to the park just in time for me to realize the mass had been a line and we just cut the whole thing. Two festival workers started waving the crowd inside.

The inside of the park had been transformed into a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets college rave situation. Any direction I looked held some brightly colored shape, some easy to make out, others just a piece of a much large structure hidden among the trees. Carly and I joined the stream of faceless people around us, shuffling along slowly, taking in the works of art while trying to stay out of the river beside us.

When we’d finished a circuit of the park, we turned up the street and found ourselves outside of The Free House. It’s a place I stumbled upon back in May. I was mostly taken in by the yurt just on the other side of the fence. But Carly had been before so we went inside to have a beer. We sat for a bit inside the church turned bar before stepping back outside to check out the yurt.

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It was definitely a yurt, but it smelled like cabbage inside and, in addition to me and Carly, was occupied by a group of young hipsters. I couldn’t help but be unnecessarily critical of them, but it seemed to amuse Carly. We finished up our beers and then went back for one last glimpse of the light show. But not before I bought some roasted almonds. My festival food weakness.

Heading back the way we’d come, we found the entrance to the NMIT campus. It didn’t have the same feeling as inside the park, but there were still interesting things to see, and for some reason I found myself thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas despite having never read or seen it. After a bit of time here, the energy was starting to decline, and we headed back to the hostel.

Another fast forward moment, travelers. After a bit of time apart, Carly and I met up again to seek out New Zealand’s deepest vertical shaft (not my words). By that I mean we would be hiking to the entrance of Harwoods Hole. Carly was WWOOFing at a place outside Motueka at the time, and Harwoods Hole was a short drive away near Takaka Hill. It appealed to Carly’s love of caves and my need to see as many LOTR set locations as possible. The walk to Harwoods Hole meanders through a forest of birch trees that served as Chetwood Forest in the films.

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This doesn’t have anything to do with the story, I just wanted to show off some of the awesome paintings Carly did for her host.

I set out from Nelson on a Friday evening and drove up the coast to Carly’s current WWOOFing home. We’d be making the trip to Harwoods Hole the following morning. Tonight we would be enjoying some drinks (more gin) and playing bad board games stashed in the cottage Carly was staying in. We enjoyed a meal of tasty pumpkin soup, bread, and some kumura chips. And, of course, the gin. We decided to play a board game based on the book/film The Da Vinci Code, which actually turned out to be rather fun.

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The night took an unexpected turn for the awesome when Carly dug out a melodica from a bin of toys in the living room. Whaa?! We sanitized the mouthpiece for our protection then took turns figuring out little tunes (most of them ocarina songs from Zelda) and playing along with the music playing in the background. When the gin was gone, and our compendium of Zelda tunes exhausted, we turned in.

The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast of porridge before gathering our supplies, one of which was the melodica, and setting out for the deepest vertical shaft. We drove past blocks and blocks of vineyards, sliced through tiny towns and climbed up steep hills on winding roads. At last we turned off paved road and began bumping along a narrow dirt strip taking us further and further from civilization.

There were one or two moments where we wondered if we were actually on the right road, but eventually we did come to the start of the trail. A few other people started the walk shortly after we did. We let them pass us by while we were busy taking some photos of a nice pond, and after that the walk through the forest was quiet and tranquil. Occasionally I broke the silence with a melodica rendition of “Zelda’s Lullaby” or “Saria’s Song.”

We knew we had arrived when the land before us stopped being flat and instead became bouldery and was flanked by sheer cliffs on every side. I stored the melodica back in Carly’s pack and we began to climb over the rocks to the cave’s entrance. Obviously, we would not be going into this cave. It took a bit of exploring to find the best vantage point. I was a little surprised by how calm I felt crawling around at the edge of this massive drop. My heart does start pounding a bit when I think about looking over the edge though.

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Can you spot the Renee?

Carly and I took some photos before taking a short snack break. The kumura chips we’d brought along were cold and a bit soggy but still tasted nice, and the mandarins had the perfect amount of tartness to them. As we made our way back, we took a small side trip to a viewing area. It was an interesting excursion. The rocks we had to climb over were rather sharp and created a labyrinth of fissures. Cool to look at but not as fun to traverse. The view was worth it though, even if we did lose the path for a moment.

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Back at the car we both enjoyed a victory ginger beer before starting the drive back to Motueka. I left Carly to finish packing up her things. She’d be staying with me again at the backpackers for a night before setting off on her South Island adventure. We discovered that either I drive slow or Carly drives fast because we still managed to arrive at roughly the same time. It gave me the chance to knock on her car window and freak her out.

I’ve been craving good Mexican food for months now (it’s not the biggest thing in NZ) so after we’d dropped Carly’s things in the room, we walked the couple of blocks to a small Mexican place called Nicola’s Cantina. Admittedly, we were a bit underdressed for the place, and the food still didn’t satisfy my craving, but it was a nice meal and a good send off for, what we thought, was our last adventure together.

But the journey continues! A couple weeks ago now, Carly messaged me saying she’d be passing through Nelson on her way back to the North Island. So we had one last hurrah together before she boarded the ferry the next morning. We took this chance to check out a pub her WWOOFing host in Motueka had told us about. It’s an old english style pub called The Honest Lawyer.

I drove, which despite having a car has been a rarity for me lately. Carly had just driven up from somewhere around Christchurch I think, so me driving was good for both of us. The place was only a fifteen minute drive down the coast (boy, that’s a bit weird to write). It’s surrounded by a large gravel parking lot and is situated right by the water. I snapped a picture of the nicely penned and very loopy sign out front.

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I can’t say that I’ve been in too many proper old English pubs (the one time I was actually in England I wasn’t old enough to drink) but I have been in lots of pubs that have attempted to recreate the old English feel, and this one did a pretty good job (I guess). The inside was all wood and brick. The bar was long and turned a corner at this massive tree trunk set right in the middle of the room. Cool, cool cool cool.

Carly and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a beer respectively and had some good conversation to boot. When we’d finished, I drove us back into the city centre. Not to make you think ill of Carly’s character, but she’s never shown up at my door without some booze, which personally I think is a lovely trait for a friend to have. She’d brought the last dribbles of some rum with her, and we bought another bottle when we popped down to Liquorland to get some mixer. We had a few drinks while she marked images from a story I’d written that she’d later turn into drawings.

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Can’t tell if she’s thinking or doesn’t want me to take the picture.

A few rum and cokes in, we left the hostel to find another bar to grab a drink at, and I guess to, you know, mingle with the people or whatever. We ended up at a bar I think is called Rattle and Hum. It was one of a couple bars I’d been into in NZ that seemed to be emulating your average American bar. The divey ones, anyway. There were license plates from the States on the wall, signs for automotive companies big in the States, and I think some Harley Davidson junk too. They even had a mediocre cover band start playing shortly after we arrived.

We tolerated the music for a while. They did play a few songs and didn’t butcher them too badly. We kept ourselves amused by playing Marry, Fuck, Kill using our old Hobbiton cohorts and the Top 10 Turnoffs game, which was new to me. Our glasses grew steadily emptier and the music became less and less tolerable. At last we tossed back the rest of our drinks and called it a night.

That was the last time I saw Carly, or any one of my newly made Hobbiton friends. Soon, though, I’ll have the chance to see Luke and Hannah once more, as well as all those crazy kids back in Matamata. I’m hoping there may yet be one last chance to see Carly and, mostly likely, enjoy another gin and tonic together. For now, I’m spending my last few weeks in Nelson enjoying time to myself. I’m getting a bit restless for another adventure to be sure, but I feel sure once I get home and start digging into all the various things I have planned, I’ll think back to these lazy days and wish I had more of them.

~Ren

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Review: Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce

magic stepsI’ve been a fan of Tamora Pierce for a long while. She writes strong (mostly female) characters, creates vivid and unique worlds, and her plots are well-paced. I think I’ve nearly exhausted her collection of works, but I’ve still got a few series to read yet.

Magic Steps is the first in The Circle Opens quartet. Before I go on I should say I’m doing this a bit backwards. The Circle Opens quartet follows the Circle of Magic quartet. I didn’t feel like I was missing huge chunks of information by not reading the Circle of Magic books first, the story stands on its own. But if you are anal about that kind of thing, read the Circle of Magic books first.

The edition I read didn’t have a map in the front (humph) but I’ve gathered that these stories are set in a world outside of Tortall. So that’s cool, the chance to learn about another world! The heroine of this book is Sandry, a young stitch witch. She must help young Pasco learn to control his magic through dance, and at the same time help track down murders using a most unusual magic.

Tamora Pierce once again has created a interesting world waiting to be explored. There are new kinds of magic to learn about and new evils. Sandry, still being fairly young, has lots of growing up to do. It will be interesting to see what other challenges she faces later in the series.

~Ren

Hello Hawick, Goodbye Scotland

We were bumping along on the bus to Hawick by 9:30 the next day. I took up my usual habit of listening to music and staring out the window as the bus bounced and weaved along the increasingly windy road. Mom and I hadn’t spared much time for breakfast before we left; a bit of toast and a half a cup of tea had been about it. When we arrived in Hawick, we found our way back along familiar streets to the Heritage Hub.

But before Mom dived into her research, we ducked into the Damascus café for second breakfast. This time I enjoyed a full cup of tea, but not before having to run to the nearest ATM to pull out some more cash to actually pay for the tea. We each had a bagel with hummus, exchanging few sentences and filling most of the time looking around the little café. Kathy and Zilla were at the Heritage Hub just like last time. Kathy gave us a warm welcome and got to work straight away with Mom. They went off to a computer near the other end of the room while I sat at one of the side tables to catch up on my trip notes.

Mom finished things up just as lunchtime came around. The Hub was closing up for the lunch hour anyway so it was perfect timing. We said our thank yous and goodbyes to Kathy, and also picked up a good tip to fly through Dublin next time we visited. We left the Heritage Hub for the last time and made our way back to the bus stop. From Hawick we traveled northeast over to Kelso.

Kelso is a much smaller town than Hawick is. The bus dropped us right at the center of town, and even in the heart of town there wasn’t much to see. Not being sure where we were going or what we were looking for, our first stop was in the Visitor Center. It was a small shop with some souvenirs and lots of brochures on things to see in the area. A single woman was behind the counter. We asked if there was any sort of family history center but she told us there wasn’t one. Instead she suggested we try the library.

A short walk took us there. Two librarians sat behind the desk when we arrived. We explained our situation and what we were looking for, and together, with some help from the group having a meeting in the back room (it was some sort of history society of women or something), we managed to glean that the old poorhouse where our ancestor had lived had since been converted into a hospital. They assured us there was a date stone left on the building and that if we went round there we could find it.

We thanked the librarians for all their help, and I went away with another thing to add to my list of why librarians (and libraries) are so awesome. The hospital was another short walk away, and as we came up the drive I found myself having a similar sensation to the one I had when Mom and I walked to the Wellington airport. It just seemed a bit odd to be walking up to a hospital when you were neither sick, injured, or visiting someone who was. Nonetheless, we stepped into the reception area.

Once again, we pestered some poor, unsuspecting person with our quest to trace our ancestry. The woman behind the window wasn’t one hundred percent sure whether or not what the librarians had told us was true. She tried asking a few people to confirm it, and in the end just suggested we have a walk around to see for ourselves.

There was an obvious shift in the exterior of the building, which we had taken note of as we walked in. An older stone half gave way to a much more modern looking addition. We walked back down the drive, turned a corner, and crossed into a small sitting area behind the building. It didn’t look like the place got used much. Several of the chairs and tables had webs strung between them and the nearby plant life. But this didn’t matter to us, because as we came around the corner we found what we were looking for.

The building was nothing to look at, just gray stone with a bit of white piping running along its surface and window and door frames that had clearly been upgrade in the last few years. But there, at the top, was the date stone we were looking for. 1854. Mom and I both took a moment to stare up at the lightly flourished numbers. The sun was low in the sky and sent streaks of sunlight and shadow across the stones. This was the closest thing Edith Sutor would ever have to a headstone. I stood for a time in silence, letting Mom take in the moment.

We left the old poorhouse behind after spending a few poignant minutes in front of the date stone. Back on the main walkway an older gentleman stopped us. He told us he had just been talking with the receptionist and that she had told him about what we were looking for. We spent a few minutes talking to him about Kelso and its history before moving back towards the center of town.

The center of town was quite literally a town square. Mom and I walked the perimeter, looking into the various shop windows with our eyes trained for any shops that might carry thistle earrings. One shop looked promising, so we stepped inside to have a look. The space was a small narrow strip of a room, and there was one woman inside running the shop. We got chatting with her as we looked around. Sadly there were no thistle earrings to be had, but we did walk away with a new earring organizer for Mom and a nice set of bookmarks bearing images of the Scottish Borders.

There was still some time to kill before our bus would take us back to Edinburgh so we popped into a café called the White Swan. We each ordered a pot of tea as well as a scone to split and took a seat outside. The ladies working the café were very friendly and we got to chatting when I brought in our dishes from outside. One woman was telling me about a large horse festival that takes place in Kelso every year and said I should come back and see it. I told her I most certainly would be back.

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One last stop was made before returning to the bus. Just next door to the White Swan was a watch shop, and I had been in desperate need of a new watch for some time (ha, get it? I do apologize for the unintentional bad pun). I spotted one I the window I thought would do quite well but took a quick look at the watches inside before I made my decision. If you’re wondering, the watch from the window is still going strong today, over a year later.

After our brief jaunt around Kelso, we found ourselves in the familiar interior of the bus, once again being jostled back north to Edinburgh and what promised to be a good night’s sleep after several hours of driving. The last of the sunlight was disappearing from the streets as we arrived back at the flat, pale patches of orange receding back into the darkened corners of buildings. The house was quiet. We walked down the hall to our room and flopped onto our respective beds.

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Tomorrow we would be flying back home and leaving the home of our ancestors behind. The night was spent organizing all our belongings back into our bags, making sure the various souvenirs we bought along the way fit comfortably with all we had brought from home. I’d started the journey with two books in my possession. I was going home with 10.

When we entered the room, we found two little visitors waiting for us on the window ledge. Maya had left the Highland cow egg cups there for us to take home. It was a very sweet gesture but Mom insisted she couldn’t take them. She asked me to include a P.S in my thank you note saying as much. I sat down to write the note after we had packed everything away and after I had written a draft of the note down in my journal to make sure I’d included everything I wanted to. I wrote the note on a postcard we’d brought back from Berlin, one that was supposed to be Peter’s only I’d forgotten to give it to him before getting on the train. Oh well. He knows where to get more.

I’m not sure why, but by the end of the trip, I felt like we hadn’t had enough time. Our time was shorter than when we’d visited New Zealand, but not by much, and we’d had fewer things planned. But somehow it just felt like there was so much we hadn’t done. For any passionate traveler this feeling is always present when a journey comes to an end. There is always more to see, more to do. Scotland is a place I know I’ll return to soon. It’s a place built of rock and stone and tougher things. The people are grounded, charming, and friendly. And for all the rough edges there is also beauty and a sense of tranquility to be found.

My adventures in Alba aren’t over yet. But for now there are other adventures to be had. My time in Scotland is simply on hold.

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~Ren

Redwood Valley: My first WWOOFing experience

My short stay in Redwood Valley is also my only WWOOFing experience to date. If you don’t know what WWOOFing is, click here to check out the site, as I’m too lazy to explain it. I know several people who have had fantastic WWOOFing experiences, so do not think the blog is meant to try and deter you from doing it yourself one day. My first time didn’t go so well, and it’s made me a bit gun-shy about the whole thing. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy it!

I’ll start at the beginning. I was pulling out of Mount Cook Village by 7am. It was still dark outside, and I watched the valley get lighter and lighter as I drove. A few cars passed me going the other way, but besides that the road was empty. I took in the view of Lake Pukaki’s stunning blue water once more before I took a turn and started driving along a new road.

The day before I’d plotted out locations to stop for gas. (Mount Cook brings back memories that make me extra cautious about gas, primarily how much of it is in my car and where I can get more.) I was soon making my first stop in Tekapo. This was the first placed I’d seen some snow that wasn’t on the top of a mountain. It was also the last place, which has continued to mess with my brain for the last month. How can it be winter when there is no snow?!

The road stretched on ahead of me. My only company was my music. Sometimes long drives are nice, but they usually come to a point where they are just tedious and boring. Things got better once I got into Lewis Pass. There is a lovely braided river that runs through the valley below, so there were lots of nice views to see along the way. I considered stopping to take a picture or two, but I was on the wrong side of the road for turn offs.

The majority of my 9 hour drive went just fine. There was one doofus GPS move when I made my second stop for gas. Don’t ask me why I followed it, but Google Maps took me off the highway, had me drive through some back roads only to bring me back to the same highway, where I then had to turn back the way I’d come to reach the gas station. *insert frustrated eye roll here*

But it was the end of the trip, when I was almost there, where things really started to go south. Here’s what happened. I was about fifteen minutes away, according to Google. This is when GPS told me to turn off the highway to a smaller country road. I drove along this for a while, and eventually, after several turns, started to get that feeling like I was gonna be turning around soon. Sure enough, I found myself on a dirt road barred by a gate. The sign on the gate read “Authorized Entry Only.” Fantastic. So I tried to turn around.

Did I mention it had started to rain? No? Well it had. And the road I was on was already quite soggy. So when I tried to turn around, I pulled my car too far into the wet and muddy ditch at the side of the road and got stuck! Son of a biscuit! I spent a few short minutes trying to work myself, gave up, cursed a bit, then got out the car and hoped there was someone at home in one of the houses near by.

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There were F-bombs.

I got lucky on my first try. An older chap, who I think was Scottish, answered his door and was kind enough to help pull my car out of the mud. He told me I was the second person he’d had to tow. I guess this made me feel a bit better, but not much. He got a rope secured to our cars and with a bit of tire spinning I was back on solid road. I should’ve gotten out of the car to thank him profusely one more time, but instead I gave him a wave and smile and shouted “Thank  you!” through my window and left Pigeon Valley behind.

By the time I got to the highway again, it was getting dark. I had hoped to arrive with a bit of daylight, but getting stuck in the ditch had destroyed any chance of that. And the fun wasn’t over! I put in my destination on Google Maps again, thinking this time it would take me the right way. But no. This time it took me up a hill and tried to have me get to the house via the forestry road. Which was closed, obviously. By this point I was fed up, so I pulled over and called my hosts.

They gave me the last set of directions I’d needed, and I made my way back down the hill. It was still raining, and was now fully dark, but somehow I managed to navigate the many corner turns in the road and spotted the entrance to my host’s driveway. This is where it got really bad. I didn’t realize it, not knowing the area and never having been to this house before, but the place is basically in the middle of nowhere at the top of a hill. And if you remember, my car hates hills.

I’m not joking when I say this driveway traumatized me, just a bit. It was a dirt drive, uphill pretty much the whole way, and it was wet. And dark. Gah, I’m getting anxious just writing about it! Now, by this time I was just ready to get there, so even though I was terrified I was going to drive off a cliff or that my car wasn’t going to be able to pull itself up the slippery drive,  I knew I just had to keep my foot on the gas and keep going. I could only see a few feet ahead of me. The corners loomed out of the shadows, and the headlights occasionally illuminated hanging tree branches, my only indication where the edge of the road was.

Finally I heard a dog barking and saw the lights of a house. I had made it! There wasn’t much room in front of the house for parking, at least not parking that wouldn’t take a bit of maneuvering. I just pulled up as far as I could and got out of the car. Shaking just a bit, I walked up the wide flight of steps to the door. Rollie, the woman I had been emailing with the last few days, greeted me. She was very nice, and comforting after I told her about my ordeal getting there. She showed me the area I’d be staying in (it was basically a whole apartment to myself) then we went upstairs so I could meet her husband and have a cup of tea.

I didn’t leave that house the entire week I was there. I was that scared of the driveway. Even thinking about driving up or down it made my heart start to pound and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was one of the reasons I left the place. The second was Rollie’s husband, Liam. He’s a nice guy, but is very new age-y and into astrology and numerology and all that junk. He is also a conspiracy believer or whatever the hell you want to call them, and good god, if I never hear the word Illuminate again I will be a happy woman (unknown to me then, it wouldn’t be the last I heard of it).

I could only nod politely and say ‘mhm’ and ‘yep’ so many times in response to Liam’s crazy rambling about things. Rollie had a day job so I didn’t see much of her. The first five hours of my day were spent with Liam. He wasn’t around much when I was working on a project, but he made lunch for us everyday, so I got an earful then. I think I would’ve liked Rollie though. I got the sense she didn’t buy into that stuff as much as Liam did. I did at least get to spend a morning picking mandarins with her before I left.

Most of my week was spent shut up in my room reading and watching TV and talking with friends and also trying to figure out what I was going to do at the end of the week. I was running out of money, didn’t want to find another job, but I needed a place to stay. I had a few options, most that didn’t work out. But eventually something came up and I no longer had to worry about living out of my car. I’ll get to that later.

The work I did was pretty easy. I mean, it was work, but it wasn’t challenging. The first day I painted coats of oil onto a staircase, a few sections of baseboards and some door frames, giving them a nice honey glow. I spent a few days in the greenhouse, weeding like crazy. And I got to spend a couple days sorting through Liam’s collection of books, rolling my eyes at several of them. My last day was when the three of us went out to their property closer to Richmond and picked mandarins.

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That was probably my favorite thing. It was tough on my back and arms, but it was nice being out in the sun, in the orchard, listening to the sounds of birds and the rustling of leaves as Rollie and Liam picked fruit near by. I had a brief moment where I thought to reconsider my plan to leave. Driving with Liam and Rollie down the driveway in the day made it seem less scary. But when we drove back up the drive later that afternoon, my resolve came back. Lucky Mark 2 would hate me if I made her do that drive every time I went somewhere.

I was as honest as I could be with Liam and Rollie about why I wanted to leave. They accepted it, though I heard them through the floor afterwards and I’m sure they didn’t totally believe me. But it didn’t matter. I had to go. Liam and Rollie were up and off early Saturday to sell the mandarins we’d picked at the market in Nelson. I packed up my things, loaded up my car, stole a bit of food, and steeled myself for the journey down the driveway. I was headed back into Nelson. I’d booked a few nights in a hostel and had made an appointment about housekeeping for accommodation.

This wasn’t where I thought I’d end up when my time at Hobbiton had finished. It was a bit scary, but I felt prepared to start my next adventure, wherever that might be.

~Ren

Review: How They Met, and Other Stories by David Levithan

how they metDavid Levithan slays me once again! This man has a beautiful gift for evoking ALL the emotions and feels in his writing. There is not one of his books that I have not liked. So, when I saw this at the library, I picked it up without hesitation.

How They Met is a collection of stories about love. Not just romantic love, all kinds of love. Between friends, between family, everything. That is something I really enjoyed about the book. It gave some attention to all the other places love exists in our lives. So much of what we see in movies and books (that aren’t this one) is just romantic love, between two partners. We are always encourage to find our soul mate, the one. And as nice as that is, there are lots of other kinds of love that are just as nice, if not better.

How They Met doesn’t just tell the stories of straight couples. There are also same sex couples, both male a female. There is a vast amount of diversity among the characters, from their situations, lifestyles, location, ages, and more. Every story is different. The writing style varies as well. Some are very straightforward prose and others read more like poetry or stream of consciousness.

This book read very quick and easy, and made me smile like a freaking idiot on at least five occasions. Sweet, insightful, and simultaneously light and heavy-hearted. Highly recommended.

~Ren

The Last Days

The next morning started our last full day in New Zealand. I hadn’t planned anything definite for the day, just scribbled down a few ideas in my notebook, none of which came to pass. The only thing we had decided to do was drive to McLaren Falls that night to see if we could find any glow worms. We spent the daylight hours wandering around the streets of Matamata.

First it was breakfast at Robert Harris. I sat and enjoyed some people watching while I ate my bagel and sipped my chai. It isn’t often I have days like that one. Usually there was something planned, somewhere to be. But today we moved at whatever pace we felt like. When we finished breakfast, Dad and I crossed the street to the iSite. We had walked around it last night after dinner, but Dad wanted to check out the inside, too.

I enjoyed seeing the inside as well. Last time I was in this building was over three years ago. It hadn’t changed much, still lots of souvenirs and travel brochures and Hobbiton stuff. I picked up a few more postcards before we left the iSite and took a short walk up and down Broadway. I pointed out all the places I frequented during my time in Matamata: Redoubt, Horse and Jockey, Eat., even Tracs got an honorable mention.

When we’d finished our tour it was back to the car. Now that we were somewhere I knew the roads, I decided it was finally time for Dad to do a bit of driving. Which turned into a bit more of a trial than I expected. I drove him out to see the first housed I’d lived at, then pulled off at the next street and told him to get in the driver seat. He did so with minimal grumbling. Once he was all adjusted, we turned back onto the main road.

We’d driven maybe 100m when we noticed the cop car up the road from us and the officer standing in the street next to it. Now, Dad would’ve been legal, you can drive on a foreign license for a year in NZ (at least that was the case for a US license, not sure about any place else) but we both still thought it was best to pull over, switch back, and let me drive through the stop. After that Dad finally got the chance to get the car up to speed and take us on a drive through the countryside.

I had a few things to pick up from my old place, so that was our next stop. My former landlady, Dee, invited us in for a cup of tea, and we spent a while there talking with her and her husband before we said our goodbyes and loaded up my car. Most of the day had passed by the time we left, and though it would still be a while till it was dark enough for glow worms, we left for McLaren Falls.

Lucky Mark 2 pulled herself over the Kaimais one more time like a champ. Forty minutes later I was turning her off the highway and onto the narrow road through McLaren Falls park. But before we made it into the actual park, I pulled over into a small lot by the river. When I’d come here with my friend Emily some time ago, we’d seen on our way out that there was a large area of stones you could walk across to get better views of the river. I’d wanted to do this since that first trip, and now would likely be the last chance I got.

We crossed the road and took the few steps down to the river. The rocks were pretty easy to traverse, most of them being fairly flat. The only difficulty was finding the best path across the pockets of river that poured through the maze they made. In front of us, the river stretched back into the bush, and off to the left, it continued its journey by cascading down over the cliff and beneath the bridge we’d soon be crossing into the park.

Dad and I were the only ones out. The occasional car drove out of or into the park, but we were too far away to take much notice of them. It made me feel a bit like a kid again, clambering over the rocks. I guess I was feeling a bit too confident in my kid-like state. Because when we came to a particularly steep drop, I looked at it and thought ‘That ground is flat enough, I can jump that.’ And I could, but not without slipping and slamming both of my knees right into the rocks. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt much when they made contact, but they sure started to throb a bit later.

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Epic bruises were in my future.

After Dad had sufficiently made me worry about him by venturing down to the lower rocks, we found our way back to the road and finished the drive into the park. We still had plenty of time before it got properly dark, so we pulled off again to take a short walk along the lake before heading to the falls. The view was picturesque. A perfect autumn afternoon. The trees on the far bank were a wonderful collage of red and yellow and green. The water was still. A few ducks swam  across the surface, making gentle ripples. And there were just a handful of clouds in a pale blue sky, some bearing a golden kiss from the last of the sun’s rays.

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We left the lake behind and drove the last bit of road to the lot at the end. There were a couple other cars there, which I took as a sign that we were in the right place. I’d been here once before, so I felt confident I knew what falls Amelia had been referring to when she told us about the glow worms back in Tauranga. Dad’s survival instincts kicked in as we made our way down the path. He was feeling anxious about being on an unfamiliar path (to him anyway) at night with no torch. I assured him there was nothing to worry about.

No one else was at the falls when we arrived, and we were the only two people there for a while. We took a seat on the bench at the base of the steps leading to the upper viewing area. There we passed the time talking and taking horribly lit selfies. We were both reassured when more people began to show up. One, because we were no longer alone in the bush at night, and two, it seemed we were indeed in the right place.

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The graininess!

At last it started to go dark. But it still took a while for the glow worms to final show themselves, or at least, their light. For a while, our minds just seemed to play tricks on us. A dot or two of light would seem to be showing through the leaves, but we couldn’t be sure it was a glow worm. After a little while, more of the little wormies started to come out. At this point I’d like to say, if you ever have a chance for a glow worm experience, take it!

I’d seen glow worms a couple times before this night. I definitely still enjoyed seeing them, but I think I enjoyed seeing Dad see them for the first time even more. We kept our spot on the bench for a while as small clusters of pale blue light started to glow around us. But then I stood up to get a better look and realized what we were missing.

The glow worms were hidden amongst the vegetation lining the path. More glowed in the bush across the stream, which gurgled softly in the dark. They were everywhere. It was very much like the kayaking trip I’d taken earlier in the year. Dad and I decided to slowly make our way back to the car while we enjoyed the bioluminescent light show. We let the glow worms light the way (mostly). Sadly I can’t do much more justice to the glow worms than that. It is definitely something you have to see with your own eyes.

As the concentration of glow worms began to thin, and we came closer to the end of the path, I took out my phone to help light the rest of our way back to the car. The lot was now full with the cars of the people we’d left back at the falls. After the dark walk back, the headlights of my car felt that much brighter as we began our drive back to Matamata.

The next day had that melancholy feel that always lingers over the last day of a trip. Dad and I lounged for a while in our room before loading up the car and driving into town. We went to a cafe, one I would often get vegan treats from, for breakfast, and while we were there we saw a couple of my mates from work. When we’d finished eating we killed a bit of time by wandering around before making a stop at Sen Sushi. Dad had mentioned to me he wanted to get sushi while he was in NZ, and now was our last chance. It made for a nice light meal before our drive to Hamilton.

In my effort to avoid going to Auckland, I was putting Dad back on a bus to the airport. We were there with a bit of time before his bus left, so we took a seat in the lobby. Most of the time was passed with Dad making jokes about how hot the guy at the next table was and that I should ask him out and me rolling my eyes and shaking my head at him. Then it was time to go.

Dad stowed his bag in the belly of the bus then came to say goodbye. He tried to make me get all emotional in public by saying how proud of me he was and it was good to see me and all that (I think he might have been getting a little emotional too), but I kept it together! I gave him a big hug and got one last kiss on the cheek before he took a seat on the bus. I stood on the sidewalk and waited until the bus pulled out of the station, waving goodbye as I watched Dad get smaller and smaller. The bus left the parking lot and disappeared around the corner.

~Ren

Close Encounters in Tartan

One would think, having just returned from Germany and having gone through a travel nightmare the day before, we’d be traveled out. One might think we’d be happy spending the last couple of days in Scotland just wandering the streets of Edinburgh, finding cozy cafes to wile away hour upon hour in. How mistaken one would be! The day after our return from Germany did see us spending our time exploring nooks and crannies in Edinburgh. But we also had one or two more bus trips left in us before all would be said and done.

We took our time waking up that morning. Our first waking hours were spent putzing around the room getting things organized for the flight home. Then it was breakfast, where we enjoyed toast and sipped from steaming mugs of tea. When we reached the last bites we began to formulate our plan for the day. The only real goal was to drop off donation copies of Goodnight Brew to the library. A simple enough task. There were a couple locations to pick from, and after visiting the National Library I decided to leave the books with the Central Library (National felt a bit too uppity).

After leaving the library, Mom and I made our way back up the Royal Mile. One right turn later and we were in front of the same vendor stalls we’d passed on nearly every other visit to the Royal Mile. Often when we passed, I found myself seriously eyeballing one stall displaying a variety of shirts with images of all sorts printed on the front. I was captured by the style of the artwork, so finally I stopped to take a closer look. After a few minutes deliberation, and a nice chat with the man running the booth, I left with a cream colored tank covered in blue clouds sprinkling rain into an assortment of glasses gathered below.

We then rather unexpectedly (or not unexpectedly at all) found ourselves at the Scottish Family History Society. We had passed by the same sandwich board we’d seen when Peter was with us over a week ago. It was surely to blame. I should say we eventually found ourselves there as it took a bit of searching to find the place. The phrase ‘nooks and crannies’ is an apt description of the streets of Edinburgh. After popping into a restaurant to ask for directions, we found the History Society office down a flight of steps in an alley.

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The culprit.

It was a productive visit. Mom was taken to the far side of the main room to be helped by an older gentleman. She was hoping to discover the names of the closes (narrow alleys) where her ancestors had lived. I planted myself at a long table just inside to door and began to get a bit of note taking done. I’d only been at it for a few minutes before the man sitting at the table with me struck up a conversation. This time around I didn’t mind. Eventually I’d run out of travel notes to make and then where would I be?

The man was visiting from California with his family. Like us, they had come to Scotland partly for genealogical reasons. We shared stories about our time in Scotland and the successes and failures his wife and my mother had had in their genealogical endeavors. Finally, Mom returned with the location of two closes where her relatives had lived. I said goodbye to my tablemate and we left to find our first close.

Both closes were located along the Royal Mile. Long, rectangular placards mounted above narrow entryways made it easy to spot them. Even the copious amounts of souvenir displays lining the sidewalk weren’t enough to hide these modest portals to more secluded parts of the city. The first we found was Chalmers’ Close. I snapped a quick photo of Mom beneath the plaque, and then we descended the ramp into the close. At the bottom we found Forsyth’s Tea Room. Had we not already gotten our morning beverage we would have stopped in for a cuppa. Instead, we spent a few moments taking pictures and gazing up at the looming brick walls of the surrounding structures.

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The brick on our left looked positively worn compared to what I was sure was a new exterior on its next-door neighbor. Exposed piping snaked from inside the building out and up the walls. The shop fronts on the High Street were just the first layer of a much deeper world beyond. When we’d finished, we walked back up the water-streaked pavement to the street level and headed to the next close.

Trunk’s Close was a ways up the High Street from Chalmers’ Close. We each cast a lazy eye over the tourist shops with all their trinkets on display as we walked by, more enjoying the colors and energy of the street than looking for anything to buy. The entrance to Trunk’s close was set adjacent to a stairwell, and several sandwich boards were placed around it. Once again we followed the slopping path down into the depths of the city. The rough rock walls were covered with slim, dingy windows, and more exposed piping.

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The first break in the buildings gave way to a small courtyard. Here there was a circular planter and a few benches. Set to one side was a large bronze statue of a rooster with a thick comb set proudly atop his head. It was rather peculiar, standing there in this modern city built on so much history. And here we stood in front of a bit of our own history. Our ancestors could’ve looked out those same grimy windows onto the flat stones Mom and I now occupied. I felt haunted and exhilarated all at once.

After we’d had our fill of the hidden depths of the High Street, Mom and I reemerged to find our next adventure. We began walking back the way we had come, toward Chalmer’s Close, when I looked over and saw a full-length, red tartan dress on display in a shop window. I hadn’t yet purchased anything tartan, and I’d been in need of a good ‘going out’ outfit for a while. A sexy red tartan dress seemed a good choice to fill both needs.

I expressed my desire for the dress to Mom, who was equally thrilled by the idea, so we stepped inside. There was a single clerk working, a young man who I think was from somewhere in Eastern Europe. We found the display outfit on the rack and discovered it was a two-piece deal. The top was a corset, and the full-length skirt came separate. This worked better, because who’s gonna wear a full-length skirt every time they go out for a night on the town? No. Instead, I ended up getting something I was just as unlikely to wear out. Instead, I got a mini-skirt.

Let me just say that I rarely even wear shorts that don’t reach my knees, so a mini-skirt was way outside my comfort zone. But, it went with the corset, and one mini-skirt never hurt anyone, right? So, I stood patiently while the young male clerk very awkwardly tried to measure my bust to find my size then took the pieces into the dressing room to try on. As if trying on a corset and mini-skirt weren’t enough to make me sweat, the dressing rooms were right on the sales floor and had a curtain rather than a door. So that was fun. Also, like an idiot, I struggled to loosen the lacing on the corset for about ten minutes before realizing, of course, there was a zipper.

Once I figured that out and we found the right sizes for everything, I stepped from behind the curtain in all my red tartan and pale-skin glory. I must have run my hands over my butt 20 times while modeling for my Mom and the clerk. After they assured me several times I looked fantastic, I scampered back into the dressing room to get my all-covering pants back on. We left the shop a few minutes later, a big bag of tartan clutched in my hand.

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Our spontaneous shopping excursion finished just as it was rolling around to lunchtime. We headed back to Spoon to eat, mostly because I wanted another pot of their delicious lemon ginger tea before we left for home. We took our time eating and sipping our tea. There was one day left in our trip, and it was going to be a day full of bus rides. I think we each felt a minimum amount of guilt deciding to spend most of that day relaxing. When our teapot was empty and our bellies were full, we left Spoon and stopped by Sainsbury to shop for that night’s dinner.

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Back at the flat, we spent some time lounging about, checking email, tidying the room and making sure our suitcases were orderly. Hunger finally caught up with us again so we cooked up our last bit of pasta for dinner. Maya and Malc popped into the kitchen while we were eating, and we spent some time chatting with them. We finished and washed up so the kitchen was free for someone else and retreated back to our room. Next morning we would have an early start for our back down to the Borders, so it wasn’t long before were both slipped into our PJs, snuggled under the covers and fell asleep.

~Ren

At the Roots of the Mountain

Here we are, travelers, at the end of the journey. Well, this journey anyway. So don’t get too sad. There are more to come!

Our trio was headed back north. Hannah and Luke were due in Fairlie in a few days, and I was off to Nelson for my first WWOOFing stay (we’ll get to that later). But before going back to the real world there was one last stop to make. We were headed to Mt. Cook, or Aoraki as it is also known. And this time, I was sure to have enough gas to get me there and away.

Civilization slowly vanished around us, replaced with mountains and wide plains. I got to drive by what I think might be my favorite place in NZ (maybe tied with Hobbiton), Lake Pukaki. We didn’t stop, but I still managed to enjoy the view of the lake as we drove along its coast. Lake Pukaki was replaced with a wide valley flanked by peaks of the Southern Alps.

Soon we arrived at Mount Cook Village, a tiny place with not much more than a few places to stay, a petrol station and a cafe. It’s a great place to go if you want to get away from life for a while. The three of us were staying at the Mount Cook YHA. It’s a cozy place with a cabin feel about it. We checked into our room then slipped into the kitchen to grab some water for our noodles before clearing out so they could finish cleaning.

Since our time here was short, and it was too nice a day out to waste it sitting inside, once we were settled and fed we stepped back out into the nippy air and drove back the way we’d come to Tasman Valley. We followed another winding road through the valley until we came to the carpark at the end. There were several other people out this afternoon. The trail wasn’t very long; it would take maybe a half hour to reach the end. But it was uphill almost the entire way, and there were lots of stairs. Ugh.

Before we started, I once again tried to find the perfect combination of clothes, so I would be warm, but I also wouldn’t be sweating my ass off after 10 minutes of walking. I’d been working on this for a while. Off we went, up the hill, through the bush. Aside from the other people on the trail, there was barely a sound to be heard. The higher we went, the better the view of the valley was. It looked almost infinite as it stretched toward the horizon.

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At the end of the trail was Tasman Glacier Lake. It was a mirror amongst the gray scree of the mountain slopes, catching the last of the day’s sunshine. The surrounding snowcapped peaks reflected in its surface, and seemed to hang suspended over the endless sky below. At the far end, fragments of the glacier floated near the banks. Most were two-toned, great chunks of them turned black by the earth.

There was a fair-sized group at the viewing platform when we arrived. We took a moment to sit and catch our breath on a rock before wandering away from the crowd and over the rocks. The actual glacier was at the other end of the water, nestled amongst the mountains and covered with dirt and stone, making it look like it was just another part of the landscape. But it was still there, hanging on in this ever-changing world.

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The sweat had dried and the chill was beginning to make its way through my clothes again just as we began to head down the hill. The sun had vanished behind the mountains a while ago, and in not much longer it would be dark. I was expecting a nice quiet night back at the hostel, and it was for the most part. But unbeknownst to me, something big was going on in the UK.

We all know about Brexit by now, right? If you don’t, where exactly is that rock you’ve been living under? Over the course of making tea, Hannah and Luke were constantly checking the live stream of the polls, discussing the matter with a fellow Brit who managed the hostel, and just generally having a mild freak out about the whole thing. Not to say that England leaving the EU won’t have any effect on me, but at that exact moment, it didn’t. All I could do was commiserate with Luke and Hannah.

The drama spilled over into the next day, but just for the morning. Again, as I’m sure you know, England did indeed leave the EU. The topic was discussed over breakfast but when we left to do the Hooker Valley Track, our minds moved onto other things. The last time I was at Hooker Valley, it was midnight, and Mom and I were trying to get some star gazing in. We’d driven a ways into the valley in hopes for clearer skies but had no such luck.

This time I would actually get to see the valley. The drive to the trailhead was very similar to the Tasman Valley road. The sun was out in force when we arrived at the carpark. This time I felt sure I had achieved the perfect clothing combination, and I followed Hannah and Luke up the path feeling confident I wouldn’t be sweating my ass off, at least not too much. The track was quiet starting out, and stayed that way most of the walk.

The Hooker Valley Track is about a 3 hour return trip, but it is a very easy walk. The ground rises and falls in gentle hills. There are no stairs to speak of (if I recall right), and there is even a toilet near the midway point. But the views are fantastic, and the end of the trail provides a spectacular view of  Mount Cook, as well as another glacier lake. We kept up a fairly brisk pace the whole way, which I later found out was because Hannah was afraid the clouds would move in a she didn’t want to miss the sun at the lake.

We passed gently gurgling rivers and wandered through tussock and boulder landscapes, all the while surrounded by towering peaks covered in brilliantly white snow. The track has several suspension bridges to cross, and we bounced our way over these with a note of buoyancy in our steps. We stopped for a toilet break when we came to it, and took a moment to look inside a small shack that was covered in names, dates, countries and quotes from the wide collection of travelers that had taken this walk before us.

Of course, we added our own inscriptions before we left. We picked spots on the left hand side of the entrance. I guess I was feeling a bit cheeky that day, because I put my name, where I was from, and declared proudly “Our mountains are better.” With our names forever scribed onto the corrugated iron of the shack, we had a quick snack then left to finish our tramp.

More and more rock began to dominate the landscape as we moved closer to the lake. Soon we were making the last climb. The viewing area housed a large picnic table where people were sitting and having lunch or taking a breather. Off to the left of this area was another path that led down the the shore of the lake. This is where the three of us headed.

We picked our way through the rocks to the water’s edge. The lake had frozen over, but sections right up against the rocks had been broken by people treading over them. I took a few pictures, then Luke, Hannah and I joined in with a few other people who were throwing fragmented pieces of ice across the frozen surface. They shattered into bits and skittered off over the frozen water, making a sound like fine metal scattered across stone.

Down the shore, the lake fed the start of the Hooker River. I climbed over some large rocks here to a get a better view of the rapids. The water was colored like diluted milk. Some calm sections hugging the banks looked almost like the ice on the lake. A few droppings were left on one of the rocks, but I can’t for the life of me think what animal left it. There are so few mammals here!

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After a bit of exploring we all came to sit and have another snack. We passed a few minutes waiting to see if large sheets of fractured ice would fall prey to the current and get washed away down the river. Then we wandered away from each other of a bit. Luke and Hannah stuck to the water’s edge, throwing the occasional chunk of ice and seeing how far it would go. I hung further back on the bank, carefully finding my footing amongst the rocks.

I left Luke and Hannah below and returned to the viewing platform to find a nice place to sit and take in the view. I tracked their progress below until they disappeared and then reappeared several minutes later on my right. They had free climbed it up the slope. And, I found out, they ran into some shit. Literally. Luke had slipped and ended up landing in some goat poo. (Oooh, that’s probably what pooped on the rocks. Wild goats.)

I helped clean up his jacket a bit before we took our last view of the lake and headed back to the car. Hannah and I attempted to get a few photos now that the light was more in our favor, but mostly we just enjoyed the stroll and passed the time talking about whatever came to mind. We got started on tea shortly after arriving back at the hostel. Three hours of walking makes you hungry!

With our bellies full, we retired to the lounge and ended our night with a viewing of Finding Nemo. An oldie but a goodie. We also had a couple golden kiwi fruits as a treat, and the feeling was unanimous: they were amazing! You know it’s true when you each tell each other at least once. Since then I’ve only had the golden kiwi fruit. So good.

Okay, I appear to have gone on a kiwi fruit tangent to avoid wrapping this narrative up. That night at the Mount Cook YHA was our last together. Early the next morning I would be making the 9 hour drive (Luke and Hannah nearly fainted at the thought) back to Nelson to start my WWOOFing stay, and they would be making the much shorter two hour drive to Fairlie to settle in for their winter jobs. I was glad to be headed somewhere I could stay for a while (or so I thought) but I was going to miss the time with Luke and Hannah.

But this wouldn’t be the last I saw of them before we both leave NZ. I’ll be seeing them again, even if only briefly, this September. Besides, the ground work has been laid for future trips to Colorado and England. Till our next meeting.

~Ren

Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

the giverThe Giver is one of those well-loved books that’s been around for ages that I’ve somehow managed never to pick up. Until now! People weren’t making a fuss when they talk about how good this book is. I wouldn’t call it a dystopian book, but it is set in a future where the rules and structure of society have changed dramatically.

Lowry introduces these differences very slowly. It starts with something small, like Jonas referring to his sister as a Seven, not that she is seven. As the book progresses, more and more terms come out that begin to illustrate just how different this world is from our own. I think Lowry was very clever in her plot progression. Everything starts of seeming very idealistic. It’s different, but not dramatically so. There are rules in place so everyone is taken care of and everything is fair.

But then Jonas becomes the Receiver of Memory and suddenly things don’t seem so perfect. The shell is cracking and Jonas is seeing through the cracks into the dark underbelly of his perfect world. So like I said, not exactly dystopian, but foul things are clearly at work.

This book seems a pretty good metaphor for how our own world works. Many people are comfortable and happy. They have access to the basic needs of life as well as luxuries and things that make life easy. But they don’t always see all the terrible things that are happening elsewhere. And if they do, sometimes they just try to ignore it. Just because you live a perfect happy life does not mean the world is a perfect place, though. It’s important for us to remember that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There are only people. We’re all here together, and when some of us suffer, we all suffer.

If you were like me and haven’t read The Giver yet, read it!

~Ren

Trolls exist! They steal your ponies

I’m excited for this blog, travelers! And I think I might go about it a bit differently. It’s going to be very picture-heavy, so I think what I’ll do is let them tell most of the story and I’ll just fill in some of the gaps. But let me get us started first.

That morning saw us headed west, to a tiny town called Piopio. The Alexanders aren’t the only ones with a Lord Of The Rings farm tour. Another farm outside of Piopio was made famous after the cast a crew of The Hobbit came through to do some filming. It’s not nearly as big an operation as Hobbiton though, but that was really refreshing.

The scenes filmed here a seen near the beginning of the first in the trilogy, An Unexpected Journey. The set building was minimal, unlike Hobbiton, which I think in part contributes to the small scale of the operation. But good things come in small packages. Dad and I left the sulfuric city of Rotorua behind and drove the two hours to Piopio. We would be meeting Luke and Hannah there. It would be good to have a fellow nerd to get excited with on the tour.

Our tour didn’t start until one, and, as usual, we had a bit of time till then. We pulled into a cafe called the Fat Pigeon for lunch. It was another near-perfect weather day. The air held a bit of a chill, but the sun kept things warm. Dad and I took a table on the covered deck. As we ate, I sent off a message to Hannah to see where she and Luke were at. I hadn’t heard back by the time we left for the farm, but I figured they were driving and either hadn’t seen the message or didn’t have a signal.

The road to the farm took us up a narrow valley road that followed the course of a small stream. Unlike the rolling green hills of the Waikato, the landscape here was more rugged and housed great crags of limestone amongst the green fields. The sign for Hairy Feet appeared as we turned another corner, and I turned into the gate.

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The office was up the hill. I pulled into a spot and Dad and I walked down the path to a small building. Here we met our fantastic guide Suzie. (Since working at Hobbiton, any guided tour I go on I’m just constantly critiquing the guide in my head.) But she was awesome. She is the third generation to own this farm. She was there when the film crew was. She knows her shit.

Suzie was upbeat and very friendly. You couldn’t not smile around her. Dad and I introduced ourselves. Just a few minutes after we arrived Suzie told us there were two other couples on the tour with us. Of course I knew one of those was Luke and Hannah. And apparently they were going to be late. They’d called Suzie to ask if she could wait for them. Of course Dad and I didn’t mind waiting, and luckily the other couple didn’t mind either.

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Just meant more time to hang out with this cutie!

Our time waiting wasn’t wasted. Suzie’s got some awesome props at the office for people to take pictures with. So we spent our time doing that, as well as looking around the shop for potential souvenirs.

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The little hobbit in the background is actually Suzie’s husband. She turned him into a hobbit. How nice for her.

Shortly after we had finished getting lots of awesome and nerdy photos, many taken by Suzie herself, Hannah and Luke arrived. They were a bit frazzled, and immediately launched into the story of how they’d gotten a flat or had some sort of car trouble — who the hell cares! They were here, and we were about to go on an adventure!

The seven of us climbed into a very familiar looking van. It was the same sort that we had at Hobbiton, only it was silver instead of green. Hannah got to pretend like she was still at Hobbiton when she hopped out of the van to open the gate for Suzie. Then it was just a short drive up the hill until we were all climbing back out. From here, travelers, I will let the pictures do most of the talking.

The first spot we saw was the location the dwarves and Bilbo make camp for the first night. This is just before they have their run in with the trolls. Suzie told us that the set team liked all the old run down fencing so much they just used it in the scene. Of course, they added a few things of their own, but most of it was part of the farm long before the film crew ever showed up.

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You can’t see because of the glare, but Hannah is holding a picture that shows Bilbo and Balin with one of the ponies. Hannah is doing a better job recreating the scene than I am.

This spot wasn’t in the film, but you might be able to see it if you watch any behind the scenes features. Suzie told us that Richard Armitage, who played Thorin in the films, would often seek solitude between takes so he would stay in the right mind frame for Thorin. One day the behind the scenes camera peeps spotted him on this rock.

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You shall not pass! Wait…wrong movie. The dawn take you all!

A little further on, we came to an open area surrounded by low hills. And you’ll never guess who we spotted amongst the trees…

I might be wrong in saying this, but I think our next stop was the one Hannah and I were most looking forward to. Our group moved down the path, turned the corner, and came into the shadow of a massive boulder. Suzie was talking, telling us more fascinating things I’m sure, but my eyes were scanning the ground and I was think ‘Where’s Sting, where’s Sting?” Suzie set up the scene, and then, out of the foliage, she pulled Sting.

It was only a plastic replica of Sting, but we all got kickass pictures anyway. Further into the trees we went.

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Warg attack! Okay, not really. We were now standing in the trees where the company meets up with Radagast the Brown for a few brief moments before they are attacked by wargs. They certainly were getting their money’s worth out of this location. We got to recreate a few more scenes and sit where actors sat and even stand right where Bilbo stood. Sometimes film crews forget things.

So we were facing the wrong way as Gandalf. Oh well.

I’m not sure why Hannah was so excited in that one photo, but I like it. Also, a brief mention that we were walking by lots of interesting rock formations, some of them with fossilized shells in them.

We were coming close to the end of the tour, but we had one stop left. Suzie left us for a few minutes while she went back to get the van. After she picked us up, we moved down the road a little ways to where the land opened up.

Suzie directed our attention back the way we had come from. She pointed out a large rock at the side of the road and told us this had actually been added to digitally. A warg jumps up over this rock and the pack swarms into the trees trying to get the dwarves. Suzie supposed the rock the way it was would’ve been too hard for a warg to jump up on. The trees near the gate are roughly where Radagast bursts out of the trees with his rabbits, attempting to lure the wargs away from the company.

With that our tour was over. The seven of us got back in the van, and this time I got to feel like I was back at work when I got the gate. Okay, I lied a little bit. The tour was over, but we still had business to attended to. Hannah and Luke had missed out on all the props, so Suzie brought them out again and we took more awesome pictures.

All of us thanked Suzie profusely for the wonderful time. Hairy Feet tours definitely makes my top three best LOTR/Hobbit tours. If you are a fan, go! Before we parted ways, the four of us made plans to meet up later in Matamata for dinner. I hadn’t had Fez for a while and this would be my last chance to do so for a some time.

Our first stop when Dad and I got into town was to check into our motel. It was the same place Mom and I had stayed on both our visits to Matamata, but the place was now under new ownership. We got checked in and went for a walk around Centennial Drive before I took Dad along to harass my friend Blair about…something. I then I dragged him along to dinner with us. It was a great way to end the day.

~Ren