Sunday, 27 February 2011

914 miles done.

I write this next blog sitting in a Quality Inn motel in Tuba City.  Never heard of it?  Not surprising.  It wasn't a planned stop.  As usual, the weather has had a part to play in our current location and as usual, let me give you a recap of how we got to where we are...

We arrived at LAX last Saturday, to a ma-husive immigration line (not queue - they don't have that word here) we waited 2 hours.  Painstakingly long wait...however we were entertained by the 'how to enter the USA' powerpoint that is shown whilst waiting.  We learned that there are 3 check in points before you can breathe 'fresh' LA air.  The first we waited an age for, the second, we were asked 'do you have any food?' we said 'no' so the immigration guy said 'bye-bye', the third check in point didn't seem to be there...hmmmm - anyway we were greeted by an exeptionally patient Jenni and her labra-doodle Coco.

We did LA.  Drinks at Venice beach, breakfast and shopping in Beverly Hills, a massage and a downright dirty Korean BBQ in Korea Town - meaty and amazing.  We searched for famous people and came up empty...they must have all been hiding...

We picked up our 'compact' rental car and have ended up with a Chevy HHR - google it for more details...if you don't want to google it, imagine a mini steam engine train on the road and that's what we got.  So ready with our wheels we scooted up to the mountains to ski/snowboard where my Uncle Jay and Aunt Ronda have a b-e-a-utiful log cabin fully equipped with hot tub on the decking and a basement cinema room.  The location and the company spoiled us - so far the bar has been set far too high for comfort - doh!

For 2 days we skiied/snowboarded and loved it. $10 each a day to go up Snow Valley.  And as it was so cheap, Tim splashed out on renting a helmet to go with his boarding gear - very sensible Timmy.  Luckily I have no stories of us needing to be air lifted off the mountain (which I, and you probably, thought we might have).

As an intercession, I wouldn't want you to think that Tim's animal obsession has wained...whilst in the mountains, he continued his daily hunt for bears and mountain lions - my cousin Michael boasted seeing a squirrel - Tim was sad that he'd missed such wildlife as it was the closest that we were realistically going to get to a 4 legged 'beast' in the wild.

We left the mountain on the Rim of the World (aptly labelled road name as it shoots up from sea level to 5000ft and you can see for miles), headed for Phoenix, Arizona.

This drive was essentially a straight line.  330 miles of the exceptionally straight I-10.  The sat-nav had no idea what to do with itself as it didn't have anything to tell us for nearly 4 hours.  But of course, on the journey I needed a bathroom (not a loo/toilet - they don't have those words here).  No rest stops for 75 miles - I urged Tim to pull over but he was worried that a rattlesnake would bite my rear-end...however we found an exit on the Interstate (not motorway) and I risked my bottom in place of the deposit on the cleanliness of the it happens we found more scorpion/spider burrows in the scantily clad desert of eastern California than rattlesnakes.  You'll be glad to know that we met none such creatures and my be-hind is intact.

At the end of our drive we spent a night in Motel 6 and Bear Grylls!  Yes as luck would have it, Bear was on TV and his 'mission' was to survive in the Arizona desert! We will be fine with this knowledge now firmly set in our minds - all we need is a used parachute, an abandoned microlight and a half eaten wild pig to survive.  We decided to bypass the busy Phoenix and stayed in the very pleasant Scottsdale - we loved it. Native American art galleries, a free tram around town and plenty of pottery and jewellery that I could look at and not touch.  

From Scottsdale we trooped towards Flagstaff but in continuing our theme of bypassing the big places, we stayed in nearby Sedona at the Cosy Cactus.  Our drive was a-maz-ing.  I drove, with only one incidence of driving on the left leaving Tim to continue the search for deer/bear/mountain lion etc...all of which were due to be around as we climbed up to 6000ft and through snow!  Yes, Arizona, the place that we were sure we'd be able to camp has been covered in snow.  We didn't realise that a lot of the state seems to be over 4000ft camping for us then...onto the Cosy Cactus....mmmmm....

Sedona seemed to be having a film festival!  Our lovely B&B owners were also housing a director of one of the films and hooked us up with free tickets - so off we went to see a film called Enemies of the People about Pol Pot and the Cambodian Killing Fields.  A very interesting documentary - nominated for an Oscar I think....

Thus we now come to today - over breakfast we were telling other residents of the B&B our plans to go to and stay at the Grand Canyon...but they warned of snow...snow?  We checked the weather on the Weather Channel (Americans think of everything!) and yup 12" I'm cautious on the best of days but up at 7,500ft in an automatic car with only 1 road in and out - I aired my thoughts and we came to a comprimise - we'd drive up to the Canyon and see the rim but we'd stay a bit further down in Tuba City.  So up we went and literally the second we'd paid our $25 for the pleasure of seeing a cloudy Grand Canyon, the snow began to fall - we did 3 look out points (from which we saw cloud in the canyon) and when the snow started to become blizzardy and settle, I expressed my wishes to leave asap! Et voila - now in Tuba City.

I read an article on BBC online just recently about whether couples should do long travelling trips together, highlighting the worry of knowing too much about each other...and thus far I think this.  I've learned more about Tim's odd habits that rub me up the wrong way but I've also learned more about how I'm not a saint either.  I've learned I become moody very easily if Tim doesn't do things the way I want them done, but have had to learn humility about when actually my way isn't always the right way.  I've learned to share my feelings and frustrations more than hiding them as travelling together doesn't allow time for one to stew by oneself.  But most of all, I know that travelling together means that we can share our thoughts and experiences.  Just today, looking over the wonderfully vast landscape of Arizona, if I ever wanted a vision of how big God is, I just have to look at the desert plains and canyons to know that He's even bigger than that and I can appreciate that with Tim.

We're hopefully (weather permitting) off to where 4 states meet at the same point - answers on a SAE as to which 4 they are...I'll give you a clue - we're in one of them already...if you've been concentrating, you'll know which one that is....


Tic Toc xxx

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Onwards and Eastwards....

Well, I'm sitting where I started.  In my Aunt and Uncle's house in the same clothes in which I arrived.  And here I am reflecting upon the last 4 weeks in Kiwi Land.

First, a brief summary of the events since the last blog.

We left you at Cloudy Bay...I navigated us (navigated is a strong term, more like informed Tim that he should follow the 1 road that there seems to be going south...) to Kaikoura.  The coastal road boasts exquisite views of both sandy and rocky coast line and Tim's favourite feature, seals.  

As we remember from the last blog, Tim has a love of all things living (the ducks) and likes to really bond with them as closely as possible.  Make no mistake, seals still fall under this category...  After stopping on the side of the road we found a seal rather close to the layby...snappy snap went the camera and I was set.  But Tim ventured.  Course he did.  He found another, slightly more awake one which was hopping (do seals hop?) from rock to rock - in my view trying to get away, but Tim wanted to follow.  So I went on with him and to my surprise, a seal was hiding under a rather large rock (seals are surprisingly well camouflaged) and I got the shock of my life.  Tim thought it was hysterical.  I was terrified.  The seal didn't seem too happy either.  I decided to head to less rocky pastures and use my long angle lens, Tim thought that using close proximity instead of the zoom was much better.  We left unscathed but upon our next (much more official seal sighting area) stop we learnt that one should stay about 10 metres away from the seals.  Oops.

We made it safely to Kaikoura.  Nothing untoward happened there so we'll move on.

Christchurch-ho!  The last time I went, the directions to my now 90 year-old great aunt Marion were 'keep the mountains on your right and the sea on your left and   you'll be fine'.  Super.  One way systems and ring-roads don't always behave according to such directions.  But we pressed on hoping I'd recognise something.  I did-ish...after a quick look at a map in an information centre we were on our way.   Marion gave us a guided tour of the earthquake aftermath of Christchurch, its so sad to see some of the oldest buildings turn to a pile of bricks.

We spent Sunday in Akaroa - a peninsular nearby and Tim swam with some dolphins.  He was told by the guide that if you sing in the water that they come closer to you.  He sung the theme tune to Emmerdale and up came the dolphins.  I cannot explain how such a song entered Tim's (I'm-super-talented-at-music-and-can-play-a-million-songs-on-the-piano) head, but it certainly did the trick.

We left our little blue shoe of a car in Christchurch, 3,000km older and headed back to Auckland.

We planned to explore some of the Coromandel but a dodgy tummy on my part led us to the doctors and a nice B&B for 2 nights...yesssss...hill top, sea view, a golden retriever called Bailey, a kingsize bed, ensuite, tv and dvd player, dressing gowns and tea and coffee making facilities.  It'll do.

Our penultimate night in NZ was at my Uncle Simon's where we were to camp again.  The long and short of that night was, we managed to pitch our tent on a slope, it had a hedgehog at our door when we finally went to it that evening and my uncle's last words were 'you won't have any problems camping here except for the wild animals'.  Super.  Wild boar, possum, rabbits and seemingly hedgehogs were on the list... 

As with all our stories, we survived that night and were greeted to a kipper that had been imported from Aberdeen.  My uncle knows what he likes and sources it accordingly.

So, as I started this blog, here we are, 4 weeks older and more travelled, browner and warmer than before.

We've loved it.  We could stay longer, perhaps forever.  We constantly window shop at estate agents dreaming up our future.  But for now, let me muse on what we've learnt.

- That Dr Pheasant's (my Geography teacher) teachings on longshore drift, meandering rivers, stumps, stacks, arches and caves at sea, tectonic plates and deforestation have all come in handy when gazing over the astonishingly varied landscape of Aeotearoa (Maori name for NZ).

- The Maori language will never cease to amaze me.  Seasoned with vowels like you wouldn't believe - Tim's pretty sure that all rivers have the same name.  And indeed in some cases it's true.  There are names in the North and South Islands that are the same because the meaning of the word makes sense in 2 places.  That's really helpful when you can't remember the name of a place and you're trying to tell someone about where you've been and it turns out there are 2 of them anyway.

- My family will always inadvertently call me by my mothers name, Julia.  It'll never change and I'm absolutely fine with that.

- Tim will always try and befriend any creature that moves and endeavour to learn it's 'noise'.  His hedgehog hiss is coming on nicely...

- Quote of the trip:
(whilst Nicola is driving the windy roads)
Nicola:  You ok Tim?
Tim: Yup....a little less lateral g-force would help...

I'm sure there's more.  One starts to think in blog as I'd love to share more of this trip with you.  But by now I'm sure that your coffee/tea is cold or your internet connection has timed out or you're losing sleep that would make tomorrow a much brighter day.  So til next time....


Tic Toc xxx

Thursday, 10 February 2011

It never rains, it pours!

When composing this blog in my head on Monday morning, I began with saying ‘I feel ill equipped to write another blog after the spectacular lesson learnt of not ‘building’ on flood plains’.  However, by Monday evening I had already composed this blog’s title of ‘It never rains, it pours’.

We spent the beginning of the week in Taupo, enjoying time with my god-mum and her family and entertaining ourselves with our self-guided Lord of the Rings tour – we have ‘done’ Mordor, don’t know what Frodo was complaining about – a perfectly agreeable volcano with a super set of rapids to play in.  We headed towards Wellington for the weekend, unawares of the Rugby 7s but thoroughly embraced the fancy-dress by going as ‘tourists’.  Once losing the final against New Zealand, we slunk back to Sophie’s flat (old Saudi friend) and hibernated, drowning our sorrows in fine NZ wine and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  Sophie, a newly crowned ‘resident’ of NZ had never seen any of the films.  Thus we introduced her to Peter Jackson’s work as he was due to be starting the Hobbit just up the road soon.  We bid our farewells, giving Sophie her bed back as she’d kindly given it up and slept in the living room all weekend, onwards and downwards to the South Island.

Anyway…onto the ‘exciting’ part.  The Weather.

Once again, the scene is set; cloud overhead but glimmers of hope as the sun endeavoured to shine through.  Some word of a shower (there were isobars on the weather forecast which implied as such, however my Geography A-Level failed me once again and I didn’t know what they meant, nor do I know the capitals of Europe Daddy) but it was heading north past where we were staying so we should not worry. 

3pm. We find a site with glow worms, gold panning and river tubing.  Oh and 90 teenagers should be arriving. Ace.  Nevertheless we set up our tent away from the kids and just before the drizzle.  Drizzle?  The drizzle turned to rain, morphing to small lakes being released from the clouds and we were told that the kids were unlikely to come.  So I tentatively asked that if they weren’t coming could we have one of the cabins?  The campsite was flooding.  I couldn’t believe it.  Luckily the common room (cement room) had snakes and ladders and a TV to watch the news.  The rain was due to clear.  Really?!  It wasn’t doing a great job of it so, we agreed to ‘splash out’ (excuse the pun) on the cabin and leave the tent to do as it pleased in the rain.  2 out of 3 camping experiences have included flooding.  I know I only teach 6-year-olds but I know that they aren’t good odds.  Anyhoo.  We survived.  In the cabin.  The nice wooden shed-like cabin.  The sturdy-rain-won’t-come-in shed-like cabin.

Since this event we have spent 2 water-free nights in the tent.  Surrounded by ducks.  Tim likes feeding the ducks.  Thus, we have ducks wherever we go.  One stole my apple today as I was sitting by a lake.  I think they’re the evil ducks (Eddie Izzard quote).

In other news…

My accent is almost fully kiwi – I now use vocab such as jandels, togs, undies, rellies and chucks.  Tim’s accent is still more Australian than it is kiwi but endeavours to call ‘cliffs’ ‘cluffs’ and asks whether any bird we see is a kiwi. No. They’re nocturnal.  

Kiwi radio is brimming with quality music from all eras – today’s highlights were Five and Blur.

Oh and Cloudy Bay wine tastes best at the Cloudy Bay winery, looking out at the vineyards, backdropped by mountains under a crystal clear blue sky. (After which, Tim insisted that we play swingball which was in the winery garden. Idyllic-ish.)


Tic Toc xxx