Read Between the Lines: The Good, New Zealand Style

The Good: Fun? Yes. Memorable? Of course. Pious? … What do you think?

There were a few mornings that I woke up not wearing any underwear.

I will admit that it became far too regular an occurrence.

On this particular morning everything else was in order; I had my socks on, an oversize t-shirt (which upon closer inspection wasn’t even mine, but it did smell nice) and my trusty sweat pants.

But I was not alone. There was a boy lying next to me, lightly snoring – well, it was much more of a light wheezing, the kind you hear when a fat kid runs in gym class.

I was in Taupo and the night before had been a fun one. “Singled Out in Taupo”, the biggest bar event I had ever been to (not surprising considering that I was still underage). When you arrived at the bar you were given a name tag with a celebrity name and the idea was you were supposed to find the person with your celebrity match as their nametage and fall madly in love, get married, and make lots of babies. Or, you know, just hook up. Bits and pieces of the evening are still vivid in my mind ten years later: dancing on the bar table, Bundaberg Rum, and more free drinks than my liver has ever forgiven me for.

I even remember meeting my bedmate. Ben. Or, according to his name-tag from the evening which was still on the shirt I wore, Antonio Ben-deras.

I remember looking over at him, still asleep in bed. It had crossed my mind that morning that I could easily get out of the room without waking him up. It would be far less awkward if I did; morning after talks were always so …. Uncomfortable. Both from the awkwardness of hangovers and uneasy intimacy, and because everything in my life ends up awkward and uncomfortable.

It’s the price I pay for being hilarious.

That morning my body was tense. I knew that I needed to get up and get out if I was going to make it back to the my dorm room before Julia woke up (spoiler alert: I didn’t) or she was going to be furious (spoiler alert: she was) but I really didn’t want to leave behind my underwear.

Now this may, and probably will, sound extremely silly to those of you who’ve never backpacked and been strapped for cash before. But things such as underwear are very valuable. One less pair means that you have to either buy a new one (money I was not willing to spend) or suffer by doing your laundry one day earlier (which results in more money spent on laundry soap and washing machine rentals). Besides, it was a nice pair – black and lacy but not frilly.

I scanned the room hoping to notice it, but the room was dark and the panties were black.

It truly seemed hopeless and I was about to give up. I sighed my frustration, which seemed to make Ben stir, and when he shifted his body a bit I saw it. My underwear was lying half beneath him, pinned onto the bed by the solid body of a 22 year old male.

The safe thing to do would’ve been to slowly shift off the bed and make my way to the empty dorm bed across the room where my own shirt was unceremoniously flung, quickly change, and then bolt for my room a few floors up with high hopes that Ben here would remember me only as a good dream – at least I hoped it was a good dream, as long as my drool puddle on the pillow dried before he woke up.

But I didn’t do that.

Instead I slowly reached down and got a firm grip on my panties. Under my breathe I counted backwards from three, and then pulled with all my might.

Unfortunately for me, just as I was pulling Ben was rolling, and I – thanks to the effort of trying to pull out my underwear – did a backwards somersault off the bed. This woke Ben up.

Ben was just as confused as I was, starring down at my body sprawled out on the floor, hair tangled everywhere with one leg still on the bed. I thank his confusion and probably his hangover for his slow reaction time.

I hopped up to my feet ignoring the twinge up my right leg (backwards somersaults should never be attempted without proper stretching, and definitely not while sporting a wicked hangover). I don’t remember exactly what I said, just that I babbled nonsense at him as I grabbed my shirt, quickly switching out his t-shirt for my bar top (which I put on inside out in my haste), not bothering to slow down the stream of words coming out of my mouth the entire time.

A look of extreme discomfort and embarrassment crossed his face as he tried to reconcile my social ineptness with the siren he’d known the night before. (If you are having a hard time picturing his horror try re-reading my encounter with the Leprechaun. That should give you an idea.)

I practically ran out of the room that morning, but I wasn’t fast enough to salvage my dignity.  And it wasn’t until after I reached my dorm room that I made a very important discovery. I had left the blasted underwear behind, still lying on the floor right next to his bed.

Read Between the Lines: New Zealand, the Middle in Middle Earth

Chapter 2: Experiencing the Middle in Middle Earth

As long as I can remember I have always wanted to go to New Zealand. I’m not going to wax poetic on the how’s and why’s, just know that this has always been a dream of mine.

Let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to go to Middle Earth?

New Zealand and Lord of the Rings are synonymous with mystery. The entire country is a real fantasy world come to life.

Having grown up in Beautiful British Columbia I am no stranger to the scenic allure of the coast. The weathered rock faces and the lush green of the woods are just as stunning back home but they lack a certain romance. (I am, admittedly, under appreciative of my home town.)

But despite the similarities, Vancouver Island doesn’t have Tolkien.

… Besides, I’d always wanted a hobbit friend.

(Spoiler Alert: I didn’t get one.)

Regardless of the reasons, the truth is I have never been more excited about anything in my life than I was about going to New Zealand. It was literally a dream come true and I spent the weeks up to leaving obsessing over our itinerary. We were booked with Kiwi Experience on a hop-on hop-off bus tour that travelled through the highlights of both North and South Island.  (The “Kea” Pass, starting in Christchurch and ending in Auckland.) Just like our time in Australia we were going to be rushing through the country. We had just over four weeks and I was determined to make every day count.

There is a spectacular fact about travelling that nobody ever believes until they have experienced it for themselves. No matter how much you plan, no matter how prepared you are or how great of an itinerary you have mapped out, things will always change.

I had refused to believe this before leaving.

Since all of our stops were already mapped out I planned every activity and sight that I wanted to see while gone. I knew exactly where my “candid photo ops” (candid, contrived, they both start with C …) were going to be, and what parks I was going to fall in love with. I knew everything.

Even with all of the spontaneity of Australia it never once occurred to me that our trip to New Zealand wouldn’t go exactly as I had planned.

Considering my chronic OCD I believe I handled the changes a lot better than I would have expected.

(I should note that my sister disagrees with the above statement. Or, as she puts it, “Strongly disagrees”.)

We missed far too many things to count, but we got to see so much more than I had ever imagined.

It’s the little things that stand out the most. Emergency visits to a hospital room in Queenstown. Stumbling home from a hole-in-the-wall pub in Paihia. Bearing witness to the butchering of Macbeth (the play, not the man) in Wellington. Face-breaking horseback rides in Nelson. These are the things you remember. These are the things that still make you smile after ten years.

It all comes back to candid versus contrived.

It always comes back to candid versus contrived.

(And in case you do not understand the bigger picture, candid wins. Hands down. Every time.)

One of the most distinct memories I have of New Zealand is of our arrival. We got into Christchurch in the early afternoon tired, stiff, and cranky from our night at the Sydney Airport. My excitement was overshadowed by sheer exhaustion and we still had no idea how we were going to get from the Airport to our hostel (rest easy, it turns out there was a shuttle).

I was sad to have left Australia, melancholy with the knowledge that there was still so much we hadn’t seen, and I barely (uncharacteristically) looked out the window the entire drive to downtown Christchurch.

Julia and I had long ago learned our lesson about taking naps when suffering from jet lag (the lesson? It’s never just a nap, it’s an actual black out and you will lose more time than it’s worth) so we forced ourselves to explore the town after we checking into the hostel.

I should tell you that it is easy to forget that the southern hemisphere is experiencing winter in July and August when one is traveling down the east coast of Australia. However, this is not a fact that can be easily overlooked in South Island New Zealand.

At first it was a novelty to see snow on the ground in August. Sure, the weather was a bit cold and we were completely underdressed, but here before us was snow! In August!

The novelty didn’t last.

Eventually the unpleasantness of walking through snow while wearing mesh shoes kicked in. With frozen toes and fingers, we continued “exploring” Christchurch. I was depressed. In all the times I had day dreamed about my first day in New Zealand I had never once pictured myself trudging through snow, cold and miserable, down a street where all the shops were closed for “winter holidays”.

After about two hours we finally made our way back to the hostel. I was irrationally angry with Julia (to be fair, her eternal optimism can be grating when one just wants to be miserable) and feeling guilty because of it.

I wanted to go back to Australia. New Zealand, my imagined land of mystery was not at all what I had expected.

A few hours of rest (and wallowing) later, Julia and I left the hostel so we could get dinner at a pub down the street. The pub wasn’t packed, but it certainly wasn’t deserted. We found a booth near the middle and settled in to people watch.

There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a good pub to “turn that frown upside down”.

As it turns out, our waitress was Canadian (born and raised in Winnipeg). Her name was Melissa and she was “always happy to meet other Canucks”. She was doing SWAP (Student Work Abroad Program) and had made her way to Christchurch from Auckland, via Queenstown (not a direct route, but one worth taking). She introduced us to her roommates who were at the pub that evening, two native Kiwis who joined us at our table and told us all about the “hidden gems of Christchurch”.

After finding out we had just arrived from spending a month in Australia they explained to us Australia’s biggest problem (it’s filled with Aussies!)

(As an aside, if you’ve never heard that joke you’ve never traveled down under.)

That night turned out to be one of the best FANZ had to offer.

People travel to see the sights and get the Hallmark moments of a country. Travelers spend more time with other travelers than they do with the locals. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s always great to meet new people and you can learn so much from other travelers. But often you get so caught up in having the time of your life that you forget to actually have it.

It is far too easy to go to a country and never really see it.

Meeting the Kiwis at the pub and spending a few hours shooting the shit was a fantastic beginning to the middle.

It was this experience, this first day that had started out so terribly and ended so wonderfully that I carried with me for the rest of the trip.

We had many more days like this, evenings of new friends and pubs, but this is the one I always remember.

I honestly sobbed at the end when we boarded the plane for Fiji, leaving New Zealand behind. It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life. I have never felt more at home in a place than I did there, and I often wonder if I will ever feel that way again.

FANZ was a fantastic trip and at this point in my life it has the honour of being the greatest summer I have ever had. When I look back on my life, and the moments that defined me, FANZ is the main entry. I had more fun in those two months than I have ever had before, and I would not change any of it for the world.

But while Australia and Fiji were fantastic, there is something about my time in New Zealand that stands out.

Love is not knowing the Good, the Bad or the Ugly about something.

Love is loving the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

And I love New Zealand.


Boiled Rotten Eggs

This was an essay I wrote while I was attending Grant MacEwan College. 

At first glance Rotorua looked just like every other city on the North Island of New Zealand. The same cracked asphalt, the same tall trees looming in the background. The sky at dusk was still awash with the same pinks and oranges that streak the sky in every other city. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I could really see and feel the difference. The air was heavier in Rotorua with a thickness that clung to everything and made me long to fall asleep.  The accommodations were kept on the outskirts of town and left to cling to the fringes as though banished. The hostel employees didn’t recommend a single restaurant in the town. Rotorua was hiding something.

The town’s big secret is not a very well kept one. Rotorua stinks.

Rotorua seriously stinks, and not in the way the Oilers ‘stink’ at hockey, or the way it ‘stinks’ to miss your bus. Rotorua smells really bad. It is a smell that reaches out to grab hold of you once you approach the centre of town. A foul smell, so thick it chokes you, filling up the inside of your throat until you can’t breathe. The smell of rotten eggs, a by-product of the sulphur filled surroundings.  It soaks into your clothes so that not even a sweater pulled hastily up to your face to block out the smell can protect you. It made me sputter and heave as we walked the streets of town. Kiwis looked at us with a mixture of pity and amusement, they were used to it. But it wasn’t the foul smell that put Rotorua on our map; instead the thermal activity made it a hot spot.

Outside the town and past the assorted hostels is a gold mine of hot springs surrounded by tall trees and ferns. It is the most beautiful place on earth. On a tour, pool after pool of thermal water surrounded us.  In one large pool the size of a small lake the water was an electric blue, so blindingly beautiful it almost hurt the eyes to look at.  Its surface bubbled and boiled, the steam floated into the air like a majestic mist. Another smaller pool was sea foam green with a rippled surface, the red earth stretched along its fringes with leafy ferns reaching out across the edges. I stared at every pool in awe. It is a rush just being there, knowing that from time to time a geyser explodes shooting the scorching water high into the air and burning everything it touches.

The day was cold and stung the skin despite the heat surrounding us. Droplets of sweat gathered on our faces, condensation from the steamy waters surrounded us. The air was so moist and humid we felt like we were in the water. A thermometer was stuck 3 inches into the ground, it read 97.4 ͦ Celsius. I imagined so much barely contained energy beneath our feet. Further along on the tour the pools changed from boiling water to boiling mud. Thick grey bubbles grew bigger than a baseball before bursting in all directions. A popping sound followed every burst. Pop, another bubble. Pop, pop, two more burst.

I was more afraid of the boiling mud than the water, unable to help imagining the way mud clings to your skin upon first contact. Grey splatters cover the ground surrounding the pools of mud showing just how far those bubbles can burst. Every bursting bubble made me jump and I rushed past the last few pools. A serene boat ride across Lake Rotomahana took us to the Te Wairoa Village where my fears were validated.

The village, now known as the Buried Village was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886 which spewed boiling mud destroying the pink and white terraces and killing more than a hundred people. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled as we walked by a white piece of wood sticking up from the ground. A buried house lay five feet beneath us. Some of the old houses have been excavated, preserved in the mud after more than a hundred years. More ferns surround the area, thriving in the area because of the mud. I reached down to touch the ground near the buried house and felt the mud, now packed and dry but still malleable. I left the buried village and all I got was out alive.