December 22, 2006


And so the day I had been looking forward to for so long finally arrived. December 22nd. I was giddy when I woke up that morning and it was horrible having to get dressed and head into work, not knowing if I would even be able to get off in time to pick up Mam and Dad from the airport. The morning DRAGGED past at work but we had some champagne and chocolates and swopped presents and got into the Christmas atmosphere. My boss kindly told me I could head away at 12 and I raced off to the airport with Kie and Brian. The arrivals hall at Auckland airport was jam-packed with families all waiting to meet loved ones. We stood staring at the double doors for what seemed like an eternity until they finally appeared looking tired and a bit dazed.
It was so good to see them and I couldnt believe they'd really made such a huge journey just to see me. The first hour or so was crazy with us all talking at once, bursting with news and stories. We took them to One Tree Hill first because it was such a beautiful sunny day. The Pohutkawa Trees were blazing red in the park and it really felt like summer, which must have been strange for my family having come from freezing wet conditions in Ireland.
Anyway, it would take forever to describe the whole three weeks they were here, but we packed in a LOT! We spent Christmas Day with my boyfriend Jonathan's family. They were fantastic and really welcoming. Mam and Dad really enjoyed the day and it was pretty cool to experience Christmas with a Kiwi family instead of spending it in a hotel or something. On 28th Kie and Brian left and we three flew to Christchurch in the SOuth Island. After spending three days there, we hired a car and headed to Queenstown, the adventure capital of NZ, for New Year's Eve. That was great! and the town was mobbed with people. We had four nights there but as luck would have it, Mam and I were smote down with a particularly vicious strain of the flu which hindered our activities a bit. HOwever, we had fabulous hot, sunny weather, and being surrounded by such dramatic wild scenery it was hard to be too down in the mouth. Dad looked after us, administering hot lemsips and hankies and slowly we recovered. The highlight of these four days for me was the trip to Milford Sound. The long car journey from Q'town was worth it. I havent seen scenery to equal it except in Patagonia maybe. Stunning! The weather was spectacular too and it made the actual cruise on the sound reallly enjoyable. We saw seals, dolphins racing along beside the boat, beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous flora. W brought some packed lunches and a bottle of wine with us and really lived it up.
Four days later we hit the road again, this time off to Franz Josef to do a helicopter ride over the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. We stopped in Wanaka which was a nice little town and a little less crowded than nearby Q'town. The weather we left there was mediterranean. However, by the time we got to Fran Josef hours later a thick mist had descended and the mountains were obscured by grey clouds. It sdidnt look good, but we were keeping our fingers crossed for the next day. Unfortunately, next morning it was cancelled to my disappointment. I think Dad had really been looking fwd to it.
Anyway, nothing to do but hit the road YET AGAIN. We had another long journey in front of us to the wine country of Marlborough. We stayed in a little lodge on a vineyard called Straw Lodge and we had two very relaxing days being pampered. One of those days we spent on a wine tour of the region which was really enjoyable. We met some very nice people on that trip.
The 7th saw us on our way back to Christchurch with Mam and I making a two hour stop in Hanmer Springs for some facials! On the 8th we flew to Wellington (my fav city in NZ by far) and we struck lucky! UPon check-in at our hotel, the reception staff put us into an executive suite which was absolute comfort! That night I took Mam and Dad to the Malaysian restaurant myself and Steff were in months ago and we had a really great meal there. Wellington was grey and of course WINDY when we there, and I wished we had had more time there as I dont think Mam and Dad saw much of the city.
Off to Napier on 9th and they loved this! We stayed in a fancy little apartment down on the docks which was a bit lifeless but we were happy to crash out and sleep early that night. Was really feeling under the weather with the flu at this stage and wasnt looking forward to the long trip back to Auckland the next day. Next morning, though, the weather was good and after breakfast and a wander around the shops in Napier we took off for the 2 hr drvive to Taupo. We were back in Auckland that night by 9 oclock and it was good to get home again :)
Mam and Dad stayed with me and Jonathan for a couple of nights and it was lovely to have them there.
The mornign they left I decided not to go to the airport. They were leaving very early, but I knew it was going to be easier to say goodbye to them at my place.
The holiday wasnt over for them though. They were stopping in Hong Kong for two days on the way back home and from what I hear they had a great time there.
So, we parted ways again. I'm not sure for how long this time, but I promised that wherever I am I will make the journey home to Ireland for CHristmas again next year.

December 15, 2006

Countdown to Christmas

I can't believe it's now 2007 and I've been away from home a whole year! A lot has happened in these last few months. I've become really lazy and domesticated again and have totally neglected my blog.
The last month has been absolutely jam-packed. Work got incredibly busy in the lead-up to the summer (i.e. Christmas) holidays but it was worth it to have a full 3 weeks off to do whatever i wanted. I was so excited about Christmas because Mam and Dad decided around late October that they were going to make the long long trip over to spend the holidays with me. I spent the month before they arrived planning a trip of the country and the weeks turned into days, it felt like Christmases of old with the level of anticipation that built up. I was slightly disappointed that my two brothers had decided not to come (for various reasons) but figured that it was a hell of a journey and would put a pretty big dent in their pockets. I had NO idea of what was coming.......
One Monday morning in mid-December, I made my way to work as usual, sleepy and not really relishing the day ahead. As I was walking up to the main entrance of the hospital I heard a male voice behind me calling me. I turned around and saw a young guy with blonde hair and, not being fully awake, thought to myself "He's the head off Brian..." Next thing, my older brother Kieran stepped out from behind him and I nearly keeled over with the shock!!! It took me at least an hour to take in the fact that they were here. I had NO CLUE of what they were plotting, but it was the best CHristmas present I could have asked for!
Unfortunately, while they were here, I had to work - right up until 22nd but we did manage to pack in some fun stuff at the wknds. I'd been meaning to do a skydive since I arrived in NZ, and when Brian got here it seemed like the perfect time to do it. So, we headed off to Taupo one weekend to do the 15,000ft jump - the highest you can do! We had an absolutely perfect day for it, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and there wasnt really any wind to speak of. We had to spend an hour before the jump getting ready, watching a DVD and getting kitted out. We were introduced to our instructors and had to saying stupid things into their camera before hopping on the plane.
As we climbed higher and higher and the ground became a distant blur of colour, the adrenaline started pumping. Peter, my instructor, was really helping by saying things like "Hmm...Im not really sure where this strap goes, but we should be okay!!" LOL! I was first out of the plane. The door opened and the air rushed into the plane deafening me. Peter gently eased us towards the edge and before I knew it we were off! The next minute is indescribable - we dropped through the air at a ridiculous speed. The force of the wind whipped my cheeks back to my ears. In my DVD it looks like I'm enjoying every minute of it, but I was really TERRIFIED!!
Once the chute was pulled, we wheeled slowly in circles back down towards the jump centre. Lake Taupo looks so beautiful below us, glinting in the sun. I was on a complete natural high after! It was one of the best things Ive ever experienced! It was a really bonding thing to do with Brian also. He loved every minute of it as much as I did. The rest of the weekend was a come down from those 3 minutes. I took Kie and Brian to Roturua to the geothermal park that myself and Andy visited back in August, and they loved that! It is a pretty spectacular place when you first see it. We also visited Huka Falls. The next morning was spent in the Polynesian Spa - I love this place!
We spent the week before Christmas just catching up and swopping stories, hanging out with my friends here, me still not fully believing taht they were here. As the 22nd approached, the feeling of excitement started to build again as I got ready for Mam and Dad's arrival!!!!!!

October 1, 2006

Once You've Gone South East Asian, You'll Never Go Caucasian

Sunday morning. Wellington is wet and grey this morning. My friend Steff seems to have taken the last few days sunshine back to Oz with her.
But it would take a lot more than the weather to dampen my spirits today! There's nothing better than facing into another week at work knowing that you've made the absolute most of your weekend. And that's what we did!
On Friday evening, I skipped off work early (perk of being The Manager ) and raced back home to gather up a few bits and pieces into a bag. Simon, my flatmate, arrived home early too and said that he would drive me out to the airport which was great! Saved me having to trudge into town and find an over-priced airport shuttle. My flight was only an hour to Wellington and when I landed at 9:30pm Steff was aiting for me in the arrivals hall! It was great to see her again. We headed out of the airport in search of a bus into town and ended up getting a lift from a baggage handler called Ray who was on his lunchbreak and ran us into the city out of the goodness of his heart! THANKS RAY! I dumped my stuff and we didnt waste any time hitting the town. Friday was Steff's birthday so we started proceedings with some cocktails and outrageously expensive red wine! lol. (Tip: never let the waitress pick the wine for you!) Then we hit the bubbly and it turned into a great night, hopping from bar to bar in Wellington's hio COurtenay Place. We met lots of great people and found a couple of obliging Irish men to abuse. The photos speak for themselves!! ROFL!!
When I finally crawled into my bunkbed at 6 in the morning it was bright outside. Ugh. Wait, Im supposed to be living a detox lifestyle in NZ...? Arranged to meet steff at 2pm and crashed out for a few hours. That afternoon, we were both a bit wasted and thought "Hmmm..wouldnt a facial be lovely right about now?" So we tramped the streets of Welly in search of beauty therapy but none was to be found, and instead we found a coffee bar and sat on our asses for a couple of hours writing ridiculous postcards and solving the world's problems. Cinema seemed a good way to put down the evening, and we went along to The Embassy, probably the nicest cinema I have ever been in. I could happily have hung out in the ladies bathroom for the rest of the wknd. The movie was excellent, "Water", GO and see it soon.
It wasnt long before our minds turned towards food yet again, and Steff knew this great Malaysian restaurant that she had been to 3 yrs ago. The food was amazing and I had something called Mangolassi - bascially a non-alcoholic cocktail with mangos and other delicious things. YUM! We emerged hours later stuffed and unable to walk for the weight in our tummies! Ugh. Overdid it .....again!! Back to the hostel for a little rest before heading out. We went to a bar called Matterhorn and happened to walk in on a live gig with a band called Big Egg. Perfect. Live music, comfy leather couch, a few "quiet" drinks. Just what we needed. the bad were great and had a fantastic sound. Barry White meets rap music meets funk or soul or something. The whole bar was grooving and the atmosphere\ was deadly!
Three oclock saw us wandering back towards the hostel for Steff to catch her shuttle to the airport. Both of us had a great wknd and vowed to do it all again soon! Hopefully, Ill be catching up with her again before she goes back to the Northern Hemisphere.
And so, its back to Auckland for me tomorrow at the ungodly hour of 5:30a.m. I have to head straight to work when I land. UGH!

September 15, 2006

Somewhere to Call Home...for now

Found somewhere to live! One thing Ive realised in the last week traipsing around viewing various rooms for rent is that the letting market is NOT THAT BAD in Ireland. I wont be so quick to whinge again at home. What you get for your money here in Auckland isnt great really - almost all rooms are totally bare and you have to set about buying a bed, wardrobe and whatnot. Luckily, I found somewhere that comes with a nice big bed and a wardrobe, so with a few chosen bits and pieces, I think I can have it looking pretty cosy soon.
Im going to be living with two Kiwis which is what I had hoped for. I did have an offer of a room with a friendly Irish bunch, but it seemed a better idea to try and live with some locals. So, I move in tomorrow! I'm telling you, it feels good to be moving out of this hostel finally. Im going to be living right beside the rubgy grounds in Mount Eden too!
So, that's it for now. Im tired tonight after a long week's work, and looking forward to my bed. x

September 12, 2006

Working Nine to Five

So, Im now in charge of critical patients going for heart surgery. Feel free to give a loud snort! Started new job last week, thinking I was taking on "a bit of typing" (to use the doctor's words at the interview). It turns out Im now the Suite Manager.
It's not as fancy as it sounds. Its lots and lots of responsibility, a 6am start in the morning (bit of a jolt after my average 3pm rising in BA!), not to mention coordinating a busy practice with 6 doctors, two nurses and three secretaries.
Im only pretend moaning really though. I'm actually thrilled and it feels really good to be doing something relatively challenging again. The day flies because it's so incredibly busy and that's always a good thing! It beats the pants off working in the Council. Im working in a private hospital in a lovely quiet suburb of Auckland. It's actually a really peaceful place to work (so far! ) and I never mind getting up for work in the morning. Hopefully, it will stay that way!
I NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS HOSTEL THOUGH!!! God, I'm turning into part of the furniture here, and I dont even like the place. Its just total laziness that I havent found somewhere to live yet. The problem is I now value my weekends too much to spend them flat-hunting. This last wknd I really enjoyed. The Auckland Documentary Film Festival is running for the next 2 weeks, and I literally hopped from one screen into another this weekend. Saw some pretty interesting flicks, and there are more to be seen. I'm turning into a serial cinema goer here. This week there's a Harold Pinter double bill on in the theatre so Im looking forward to that too.
Got my first wages this week since last Decemeber! so of course I went straight out and blew the lot! lol. I had a pruning and chucked out some of my old rags that Ive been lugging around in my backpack since January.
The weekend after next, Im flying down to Wellington to meet up with Steff (of Madrid fame!) I cant afford it, but as I said to her, this is why I got out from behind my computer screen and hit the road, right! Really looking forward to going back to Welly! and hopefully this time around the weather will be better. When myself and Andy visited it was CCCCOLLLDDD!
What nothing else to report really, apart from the fact that Im excessively happy and loving every minute of my life right now. Things are really falling into place in my head about the future and what I might eventuallly do when I think about going home again. My head feels clear for the first time..ever...

September 6, 2006

Downing My Backpack for a While

Hi everyone,
By some magical turn of good fortune, I am no longer crunching numbers at the City Council! Today was my final day working there. How did this happen? Well, during the week, as I sat at my desk, work-less, face mashed against the palm of my hand, gazing moronically at the on-screen invoice in front of me, I was startled into reality by the sudden vibrating of my phone on the desk. Figuring it was one of my unemployed hostel cronies buzzing me out of boredom, I let it go. It vibrated away until it fell off the desk and I eventually decided to answer it.
"Heelloooo" I droned, then nearly fell of the chair when the caller identified himself. Hurray! It was Dr. Bowbys from the Ascot Hospital here in Auckland. "Evelyn, we'd like you to come and work for us", he said. Were is possble, I would have transported myself down the telephone line and hugged him fiercely. My saviour. He didnt delay and just told me to call his secretary to arrange the details. I was like a baby for the rest of the day at work. As my boss explained the intricacies of land subdivision processing, I hugged my little secret to myself. I NO LONGER HAD TO CONCENTRATE ON ALL THIS BORING CRAP!
So, what's so great about this other job? Well, I know what I'm doing to start with, the pay is great, and I'm really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the good people at Auckland CIty Council were less than enthused at my news the next day. I cant blame them I suppose. They were understanding about it really, and said they would have done the same in my position. So, I worked my ass off for them for the last couple of days and tried to get as much done as I could.
I start in Ascot Hospital tomorrow. Fingers crossed for me that it all goes smoothly.
Other than that, I'm settling into life in Auckland, although that's not really easy to do when I'm still living in a hostel. Ugh. Im sick of the sight of this place now, even the iron doesnt impress me anymore! and I'm really looking to the day when I can move into an apartment. Auckland wouldn't blow you away, as cities go. It definitely has its plusses though, and this weekend it looked particularly nice. On Sunday, myself and my friend Calum got up late and went down to the harbour for brunch (it's an Auckland thing! "Everyone does brunch on Sundays, hey!"). We lazed over eggs benedict and a bottle of white wine, read the paper and just watched the sailboats going past. Auckland is known as the City of Sails. On a sunny day, the harbour is impressive with superyachts and sailboats filling the docks.
I hear a lot of travellers complaining about the boredom factor here in Auckland but I havent experienced it yet. It's probably not as arty as Wellington or as fun-filled as Queenstown, but I think it has its own charm. Regardless, I'm here to stay now for a while, so "I might as well acquire a taste for it!" ;)

August 29, 2006

Life as a Council Worker

Who'da taut it! The county council for Ev. Well, city council, but it's all the same thing. Council workers around the globe are the same species of individual I am now convinced! They sit around all day on their gradually expanding asses, nursing half cold cups of tea and pissing and moaning about their lives! Is this to be my fate??? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
What's happened, I hear you ask? Well, I got a job, basically, with Auckland City Council processing land subdiv...ZZZZZZ..ision...ZZZZZ...claimsZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.
Well, it's a job and it's literally two blocks from where I'm staying so I can roll out of bed at the last minute in the morning. I started yesterday. So far, it seems like a replica of 'The Office' - phantom phones that ring and ring and are never answered, office clowns sticking post-it notes on each others backs, The Boss faffing about and being "approachable" and, of course, "hip"! I already have developed an intense hatred for the guy sitting on the other side of my partition and have had several muderous tendencies today alone. Yes, yes. It's back to the daily grind!!
I had another job offer today and have to sneak off to an interview tomorrow, but the position is in a hosptial miles outside the city which would mean parting from my pillow at a considerably earlier hour in the morning, BUT if they pay well enough I can do it! So, we'll see how it this space, if you're interested.
Very little else has been happening. Have had a few crazy nights out on the town with various people - Auckland's not a bad spot to go out in. However, I dont see myself staying here for longer than a few months. It's got a bit of a sterile feel to it, and I think Wellington will eventually beckon a bit closer to the summer.
This weekend, I have to go and look for somewhere a little less "hostelly" to live. A girl I know here in Auckland called Fiona picked me up last weekend and gave me the grand tour of the city in her jeep! which gave me a really good idea of where I might like to settle for a while. I'm also thinking of getting some work in a bar or restaurant in the evenings to keep the cash rolling in!
So, that's it for now. Blog entries will probably become less and less as I descend into the gloom of 9-to-5-dom. In case, I become trapped forever in my cubicle processing claims someone PLEASE! COME AND RESCUE ME!!!!!!!!!

August 21, 2006


There's a touch of Spring in the air today. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the birds seem to be all out singing. Not a lot has happened in the last while really. Just getting settled into the Kiwi way of life, adapting to new surroundings, and making some new friends. As it happens, there are quite a lot of people staying in this hostel who are doing the same thing as myself - sticking around for a year or so to experience living and working in New Zealand.
One thing that life seems to revolve around here is rugby. This weekend the All Blacks beat the Wallabies here in Eden Pk., Auckland. I decided against forking out $100 for a match ticket and opted instead to watch it from the comfort of the hostel couch. Undoubtedly, there will be more opportunities to see the All Blacks in action during the year.
Last night I ran smack bang into a guy who was my roommate for a week in Rio. It was pretty funny actually. Why is it that people let out a string of curses when they are surprised or shocked my something? So, we went for a drink and a catch up, which was nice. The more I travel the more I realise the world is not as big as we think at all!
I have a job interview lined up for tomorrow morning with a lawyer's firm here in Auckland. So, fingers crossed that they can set me up with something decent for a few months! It will actually be good to get back working for a while, have some routine for a bit. I'm so looking forward to moving into an apartment, unpacking my backpack FINALLY!, throwing away my raggedy threads which have seen to many washes over the last 8 months, and having a wardrobe again!
The plan right now is maybe to stick around in either Auckland or Wellington (depending on where I end up working) until about Jan/Feb. After that time, I'm going to quit work for a bit, travel around, do the skydives and stuff, tour the South Island, and then hopefully work in one of the ski resorts in Queenstown for the last few months here. After that, it's off to Asia I think. I'm more interested in Central Asia than South-East Asia, especially China, Tibet and Nepal. Burma and Laos are high on the To Do list as well, not to mention India, which had intially been my intended start off point on this trip. I might even try to get to Mongolia if I can. Not too sure about Australia. I might give it a miss this time, and just do it on its own as a holiday sometime in the future. It's all a bit far away to be planning yet anyway, and it's very much dependent on what sort of cash I can manage to put away here in NZ, but that's what I'm aiming for anyway!

August 15, 2006

An Average Day in Auckland

Today I met a guy who is allergic to pineapples. I have quite the soft spot for the odd chunk myself. Not a match made in heaven really.
That's about the most interesting thing that's happened in the last few days! I wasnt joking when I said life was quieter these days. It's not a bad thing, however. I'm welcoming the time to wind down and catch up on sleep. After Andy left on Sunday morning, I decided to abandon HI's and all affiliated hostels for the foreseeable future. IM SICK OF EM!
Okay, well maybe I'm coming down a bit hard of Hostelling International there. Anyway, I felt like a change so Ive parked myself elsewhere at a pretty excellent place here in Auckland called ACB Backpackers. Beds are comfy..too comfy actually and they have AN IRON! Yes, an iron!! I was excited as well!! FOr the first time since I left home I have folded, pressed items to wear!! (I did, however, manage to lose one of my favourite socks and shrink a shirt during this particular laundry session, but never mind.) All evening, I have been gazingly lovingly at my neatily stacked pile of laundered clothes bursting with pride! WHO KNEW A SIMPLE ELECTRIAL DEVICE SUCH AS AN IRON COULD BRING A BACKPACKER SUCH JOY!
Today was a beautiful day in Auckland - the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and after breakfast I wandered down to the docklands and the harbour singing away to myself. I spent the day catching up on practical stuff - post office, organising insurance claims for my South American mishaps, grocery shopping, laundry, and APPLYING FOR JOBS! Got my CV out in the field today...(which field I'm not really sure) but it's out there. So, all I have to do now is sit here in my perfect hostel ironing my clothes and wait for my dream employers to ring.......
Actually, something else semi-interesting happened to me today. I was standing outside the hostel gawking up at one of Auckland's skyscrapers, when this local guy sidled up to me and said:
"Smoke weed, do ya, eh?" (Quick digression: The Kiwis put the word 'eh' at the end of every sentence. It works in every imaginable context. I suppose it's akin to "ha' in Ireland. Par exemple, "Do you have the time, HA?" or "Are you startin with me, HA?" You get the idea anyway).

Larry proferred....wait for it......his business card. The title reads "University of Larry - Larry High" along with his phone number and the promise of a smile on your face by the end of the day. He sloped away with a conspiratorial wink. Future lights are big and bright for Larry I think! (I wonder if Larry likes pineapples...)
Lan Chile are trying to get me to come back to South America. They keep sending me emails telling me how many air miles Ive earned with them..and offering me hot deals back to Buenos Aires. Why do they torment me thus??!! I just want to live in New Zealand for a while and try and rid my senses of South America. Tis not possible, I fear!
I miss everything about the last 7 months. But one must not waste today on yesterday......a Mormon from Utah told me that.

August 13, 2006

North Island in a Nissan - Part II

Well, Andy and myself eventually stopped driving when we reached Wellington. I'd been behind the wheel so long there was literally an imrpint of my ass on the driver's seat! Driving into Wellington City was easy enough, although we did get initially confused with the one way system and ended up out in the Ferry Terminal. But we were just too tired to keep going to the South Island!
Found some great accommodation in Wellington. The YHA hostel there is like a 2 or 3 star hotel! And so, we spent two nights there, cooked some good dinners and even did our laundry! (It;s always a mini-celebration when you get laundry out of the way!) Unfortunately, the eather in Wellington was ANTARTIC while we were there, so it was difficult to get any real sightseeing done. Every time we put our heads out the door iof the hostel there was a gale force wind howling and rain battering the docks, so most of our two days was spent indoors in the excellent Te Papa Museum! Its a must see if you go to Wellington, but you need at least a couple of days to do it any justice.
The first day, we thought we'd do the tourist thing and visit the Lord of the Rings exhibit! When in ROme and all that....
But it turned out to be areally great exhibition, with very little focus on the Hollywood stars, providing a really in-depth look at how the film was made and the artists behind it. A great way to spend an afternoon if you are a Tolkien enthusiast! The following day, we returned to look at some exhibitions on New Zealand and Maori culture (of which the Kiwis are extremely proud!) and to learn about what's causnig NZ to move a little every year! Here we are right on the Pacific Ring of Fire! Without doubt, Te Papa is one of the best museums I have ever been in. It;s really interactive...having lots of computer screens for you to play with and keep you interested during the long hours there. And to make it even better, ITS FREE!
While, we were in Wellington we also managed to get out and see some of the nightlife. Sunday night was a bit dead, understandably, but we stumbled across an after party for a hip hop/gangster rap band called Mobb Deep. Apparently, the band had \, in fact, never showed at the venue...but there were a few hopefuls lining up att he after party in the hope that they were there. Mysefl and Andy forked out $15 to check it out. The night had great potential - if the band had showed and there were more people, it would be have been great, but as it was, the place was a bit empty. We still enjoyed it though, and since South America I'm really starting to develop more of a taste for this kind of music. It was funny to see all these Kiwis dressed up in their ganster gear.
Our second night there turned into Lord of the Rings fest in the TV room. Due to the sub-zero conditions outside, no-one from the hostel was venturing anywhere! so we cooked dinner, made some tea and settled into our beanbags for the 9 hr marathon! I lasted until the end of the second movie before I started nodding off.
Rain was hammering down the next day as we left the hostel. We tried to pull a not so ingenius car park scam before leaving, but it went against us! but it was worth a shot! As darkness fell, the traffic started to jam up on Route 1 out of Wellington. Landslides and fallen trees. An hour later, we had clearde the other side and were on the open road, heading for wine country of Martinborough. The drive over the mountains was quite treacherous in the fog and slippy conditions, and it was a relief when we FINALLY reached Martinborough, which appeared to be in total darkness except for the hotel and a small restaurant with a glimmer of light behind its fogged up windows. In we went, in search of food. We were met by a nice old man and his wife who served us up some good food and wine and even helped us out trying to find some accommodation for the night.
In the end, however, after long hours driving , passing what appeared to be ghost towns in total darkness, stopping at many a hotel and motel with no results, we arrived in Napier, about half way up the east coast of the country. Every hostel, hotel and B&B said "No Vacancy", and about one in the morning we were starting to accept the fact that we would have to kip down in the local car park for the night. Ugh. As we were driving up a side street, we suddenly spotted a lit up sign in a little alleyway. "Toad Hall". It was or last resort. Andy hopped out and rang the bell, and after what seemed like hours, a creature vaguley resembling Mole from Wind in the Willows opened the door and peered out at us. She has small wirey, thick glasses and interesting slippers. "You're lucky I'm a night owl", she winked at us. She guided us up the stairs to her office where a half empty glass of wine and some accounts sat on the table. A ginger cat regarded us from the corner of the room. Before long, she had provided us with a room, some sheets and blankets and bade us a good sleep.
In the light of day, Andy said she looked so much older and he was right. Also, she seemed less like a mole. She and her husband ran Toad Hall, which definitely has the most character out of any of the hostels Ive been in so far. They also owned an art gallery and cafe around the corner, which we paid a visit to before we left. They were extremely helpful and friendly, and very relaxed vis a vis checking out, etc. If anyone is heading towards Napier anytime, I recommend checking it out.
Napier is a really interesting little town - full ofArt Deco style buildings, which were constructed in the 30's after the earthquake that devastated the city. It's situated right in the heart of Hawke's Bay wine country, where you can sample the best reds in New Zealand! And we did. We booked a half day wine tour and were picked up by a lovely old man called Graham Ferguson. We really didnt feel we were on a tour with him - he was so laid back and chatty. It was just myself and Andy, and after the wineries he took us on an extra little tour of Napier to point out the historical sites and places of interest. The wineries were great! Some of the best I have been to so far..which is saying a lot after Napa Valley, California and Mendoza, Argentina and Chile! The first one was called Mission Estate. It was originally set up by an order of priests who used to make altar wine, but they eventually sold up and moved. The woman who arrnged our tasting was really informative and had a sarcy sense of humour. Probably my favourite of the three we visited. NExt, was Trinity Hill wineries..which wasnt as good but they did give us around 10 different bottles to taste. Finally, Graham took us to Church Rd. where were met a lovely man called Don who seemed really interested in what we thought of his Malbec compared with the Argentinian varieties. It was a really enjoyable afternoon and we bougght some really nice Reserve bottles in each of the estates.
And so, that brings us to nearly the end of the week. We left Napier the next morning and drove back towards Taupo again. Just North of Taupo we stopped, on recommendation, at the geothermal site of Wai-o-Tapu. This was excellent! and you really could get an idea of what the earth was probably like millions of years ago before humans came along. We enjoyed boiling mud pools, simmering water holes, and multicoloured lakes with steam rushing up from the 100 degree water underneath the earth. We were hoping for a swim, but were told that if the boiling water didnt kill us first, the acid definitely would. Hmm..right so. No swimming then!
Further up the road, we spotted some cars pulled in on the side of the road next to a little bridge and saw one or two ppl draped in twoels running furtively from the bushes! So, we had to check that out. It turned out to be a natural hot spring in the middle of the trees, deep enough to swim in. Off with the clothes, on with the wet swimwear yet again! It was a overall a nice experience, marred slightly by two pervy local NAKED types paddling in the water. They seemed friendly enough to begin with, but just got a bit weird on us, so after an hours soakage, we fled their nakedness!
Hamilton was, once again, a stopping point and we bedded down there for out last night, tired from our weeks adventures. We edned up sharing a room with a lovely SIngaorean girl called Madeline, who is here in NZ to set up her own jewellery business. She talked A LOT! but was a very nice genuine person. The next morning she dragged us out of bed and frog-marched us to the kitchen for breakfast with her, before piling various jewellery samples upon us and sending us on our way back to Auckland.
So, we're back in Auckland again. Andy is flying out on Monday to Brisbane, after which I have to get down to the seriuos business of finding somewhere to live and a job. Fingers crossed, as I have no idea what's out there. I meeting my friend Fiona this evening, and Im hoping she might be able to give me some good tips on how to get settled here.

August 10, 2006

North Island in a Nissan - Part I

So, what have myself and Andrew been up to for the last week?
Well, Thursday morning saw us up and out at 9 o'clock, hair and teeth brushed, bags repacked, and we even managed to squeeze in breakfast - one meal of the day with which we were neve familiar in South America. We picked up our white Nissan Sunny (the most desired of all rental cars, tis true) and drove out of Auckland with a full tank of petrol and a map. The sun was shining, spirits were high and we were both looking forward to the week ahead.
Our first port of call was the small town of Hamilton, about 2 hours south of Auckland. Not much to recommend this place, except the absolutely OUTSTANDING bangers and mash in the Irish pub on the main street! The drive was pretty interesting with the scenery becoming more interesting the further south we went. We decided to head for Rotorua, in the middle of the island, for some serious soaking in the thermal springs. The guide book informed us that we would smell Roturua long before we would see it....and we did! GOD THE PLACE STINKS! They say it's the sulpher....
We found a hostel with a car park, dumped our stuff and wasted no time in getting to the Polynesian Spa. The water in the natural springs is 42 degrees! and there we soaked our tired limbs for 2 long hours. I had a particularly disturbing time in the ladies changing room when a flapping bunch of naked japanese ladies descended upon my quiet time in the shower...but that's another story. Quick shower.
Next morning, we had an early breakfast and headed for the local forest for a 3hr trek. Packed a lunch and off we went. It was great to get back into the outdoors again, breathing clean air (both us noticed the difference in the air between here and SA immediately upon arrival). After lunch, we checked out the local Zorbing centre...What's Zorbing? Well, basically you get into a giant plastic-like ball and roll down a steep hill! This time around though we decided to participate only as spectators...$45 for 1 minutes fun was just out of our price range this time. But we will be back! In the afternoon, we were back in the car again bound for a little place called Waitomo.
When we arrived in Waitomo darkness and a dense fog were descending on the area. The town is literally in the middle of nowhere and would surely b bypassed by most travellers were it not for the famous glow worm caves. The landscape is quite unique - full of hills and saucer-like depressions indicative of vast subterranean cave systems. We found some cheap but adequate accommodation for the night in the form of a cabin. Andy took himself off for a soak in the hottub while I indulged in an hour of girlie pampering before we hit the hay, both of us hugely looking forward to the next day's planned activities.
Saturday morning - up bright and early ready for action! We got ourselves to the Black Water Rafting Center for about 9 and decided, after some deliberation, to sign up for the Black Labyrinth tour. Part of me was quite terrified, as those who know me know that Im not so great in the dark or in deep water. But, I decided to face my fears! The trip sounded quite intense, involving two backward jumps down waterfalls aided only by a rubber rube, not to mention the floating into pitch darkness and some serious scrambling about in the underground rocks. Gulp! However, the thought of gazing up at glowworms in the dark was enough to spur me on. Having half an hr or so to wait around before our tour, we headed into "town" to the Museum of Caves for a bit of a run down on what makes glowworms tick (and other interesting stuff about limestone and so on). At 10:30a.m. we were met by Lucas our guide for the morning....good looking Maori guy with a slightly unhinged sense of humour. I had a feeling he was just going to suddenly disappear into the black abyss leaving us in the dark....because it would be funny....thankfully, he didn't!
Next, came the most unsavoury part of the week so far...stripping off, donning an already sopping wet bikini, and then struggling (and I mean STRUGGLING!) into a wringing wet, freezing cold, icky wetsuit. Ugh! Not only did it take me an ETERNITY to wriggle into the accursed attire, but in one of my usual ingenius moves I managed to put it on backwards. Off to a great start! This didnt bode well for the rest of the tour.... A short van ride brought us to the mouth of the caves where we had to select a rubber tube big (or small ) enough to fit our respective bums. I'n telling you, if looking sexy or dignified matters in any way to you, Balck Water Rafting is not for you! And, then came the hard part....we watched as the group in front of us vaulted backwards on their tubes into the 10 degree water. I looked desperately for possible escape routes through the trees...but suddenly, it was my turn. As Lucas counted down 3, 2, 1, I tried to think about diving into a vat of warm chocolate or something. That didnt help at all! It only made the shock of the ice cold water on my body 10 times worse! But it did wake me up! We paddled after Lucas like a trio of physically challenged swans to where the water disappeared into the black underground. No going back Lucas disappeared into the darkness. We stumbled over moving unsteady rocks, fell into holes, and waded through rushing waist-high water until we came to our second waterfall. My adrenaline levels were pumping as I launched myself backwards and down into the water far below. The current took me and swept me further into the caves, as a thrashed about looking blindly for a rope that Lucas swore existed on the side of the cave wall. I found it and clung for dear life as I waited for the boys to follow. Lucas then directed us to form into a line each of us holding on to the white boots of the person behind us. He took hold of my feet, turned off his headligth and pulled us gently in the dark through the caves as we lay back and gazed transfixed at the sight above our heads - thousands upon thousands of glimmering lights clinging to the black canopy above. It was a thing of rare beauty.
An hour later, we emerged into the daylight again shivering and teeth chattering but on a high after our experience. Lucas took us straight back for hot showers, followed by soup and bagels, and our bodies slowly warmed up again. An excellent adventure! Worth every penny. Once we felt human again, we boarded the Nissan again, this time bound for Lake Taupo and the skiifields. I couldnt wait to go snowboarding! It was quite a long drive that evening through bad weather to Taupo. We stopped there for some sustenance and to weigh up our options re where to stay. The Whakapapa skiifield is about an hr and a half south of Taupo so we decided to look for somewhere to stay in a nearby town. We happened upon some great accomodation and spent the evening soaking our still chilled bodies in the heat of the jacuzzi and sauna.
HOwever, sadly, our skiing trip was not to be. Next morning, the weather on the mountain was wet, extremely windy with almost no visibility and only the lower pistes were open. We sat at the base of Mount Ruapehu in dismay watching a few hardy skiiers and boarders battling against the high winds. Back on the road again, having no real plan for where to go next. We had planned 2/3 days in Whakapapa. What were we going to do now??
As we drove, the weather worsened and driving became tiresome. This part of the north island is a bleak place \, populated only by forest. After some hours, we arrived in a little town called Waiouro. Just outside the town, we spotted a sign for an army museum. I really wanted to check it out, so we decided to get out and stretch our legs for a bit. The museum was maassive and covered NZ's involvement in all the major we ended up spending a few hours there. I really enjoyed it! Before we left, we had some lunch...and stole some cake from a group of veterans who were there on a tour! Hee hee.
And so, back into the Nissan YET AGAIN! not knowing where we might end up........

August 1, 2006

A Week of Insanity

Finally managed to organise myself enough to get on a bus and leave Argentina once again. Arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday 26th after a 22hour sticky uncomfortable bus journey and was immediately jolted awake by the surroundings. Rio, possibly one of the coolest and most striking cities in the world, is surrounded on all sides by depressing and dangerous slums which dont exactly put the frazzled backpacker at ease! Tourists are constant targets in this city, and from the moment you step off the bus you sense it in the air. I decided, after some consideration and recommendations from fellow travellers, to stay in a hostel in Copacobana called Mellow Yellow. If anyone is going Rio way, I HIGHLY recommend it! if only for the comprehenisve breakfast every morning!
My week in Rio began quietly enough as I ventured tentatively out from the hostel to some of the city's markets, leaving all valuables "at home" and taking with me only enough money to buy a few souvenirs. These markets are crazy places - you can buy literally anything you need! You name it, its there. Managed to pick up some fake Chanel sunglasses for about $5. Ah, it had to be done!
Events took a slightly crazier turn later that evening. A group from Mellow Yellow piled into the hostel minibuses armed with VIP tickets to the Brazil Cup Final. The drive to the station was half terrifying and half exhilirating as our slightly inebriated driver weaved in and out of traffic at high speeds, hopping lanes and missing cars by millimetres! For some reason, we all expected to be ushered quietly through some "special" channel into the stadium avoiding the riotous rabble outside....but then, I suppose we were not real VIPS, just lowly backpackers who paid through the nose for a "security escort". Hmph!
WHAT AN ATMOSPHERE! I will never be able to get across what it was like to be mixed up in the pre-match antics outside the stadium. I think eveyone agreed it was quite frightening for all of us at times. To begin with,police armed with swords (YES< src="">, and thankfully found out guides again! Fireworks cracked and fizzed overhead, the tribal beat of drums and fans chanting rang in our ears and police helicopters hovered shining spotlights into the crowd. After what seemed like an eternal wait, we were directed into the stadium, after which we had to climb over huge barriers, standing on toes, fingers, heads, who knows! to get to our seats. But boy was it worth it! The stadium inside throbbed and pulsed in pre-match anticipation. Flamengo fans on one side seperated from their rival VAsco fans by police and guards dogs and LOTS of barbed wire! We happened to be with the Flamengo fans who eventually won the match. All throughout the game, the fans taunted each other, vaulted beercans as far as they could over the fences, and then all hell broke loose in a corner of the stadium as bombs went off and the ;police dived in with batons! A few definite KODAK moments there, but of course none of us dared bring out our cameras THAT night! Somehow, the All Ireland Hurling Final will never seem quite so exciting again!
Next day at 2, I was picked up by a guide from the Dont be a Gringo, Be a Local project and was taken on a tour of a real Brazilian favella. For those who are in the dark, a favella is a Rio ghetto as depicted in the movie City of God. I was lucky enough to wtness what life is like in one of these places.....and I will never forget it. Ever. The beginning of the tour was a high as I zoomed on the back of a motorbike (helmetless I might add!) up through the crazy winding streets of the favella. At the highest point, we were met again by our guide who explained a few key things to us before setting off through the slum:
- We would not be robbed.
- If we took photos of the kids we should show them. They think they will be famous some day because of these pictures
- We should not under ANY circumstances photograph the boys carrying guns or the police at the perimeters of the favella.
- We should not attempt to buy drugs in the area
We began to walk down through the ghetto, and i dont think any of us knew really what to expect. All the houses are built on top of each other adn the streets are extremely narrow, winding steeply downwards through the maze of delapidated buildings. As we walked, our guide explained the basic dynamics of life in the favella to us. It is controlled totally by a group of druglords and operates a system of street justice. The cops have no influence in this place and rarely interfere. If the residents need to build or buy something, they get money from these druglords (who, by the way, earn up to 10 million reals a month..thats about 5 mil US). In return for these "favours". the residents harbour the criminals and hide their weapons in the event of any raids, searches...attempted assassinations! No-one knows anything and no-one makes mistakes in this place. To begin with, it felt extremely voyeuristic wandering through these people's personal hell with a flashy camera, staring openly. But, bit by bit, it became clear that we were welcomed. Indeed, I am sure, if one of us wandered into a ghetto alone, it would be an entirely different story, but by being with this tour group we were accepted. 60% of the money generated by the favella tours is pumped back into the slum in donations - this is independent money, uncontrolled by the barons, and so the people are glad for this. We stpped intermittently, spoke to receptive individuals, joked with the kids and bought souvenir bracelets to take away as reminders that we come from a different planet. The deeper into the favella we went, however, the darker and seedier it became with bullet casing strewn on the streets and eyes peering from darkened windows. Raw sewage flowed down the streets and slogans were daubed on every wall. Part of the tour included a visit to the local school which was a bitterweet experience. It wasnt easy to look at these little angels and contemplate their futures. Our guide explaned that, while these people appear to live in utter poverty and squalor, they DO have a few "perks", as it were, as favella residents. For example, they dont pay for electricity or cable TV, simply connecting whatever they wish to the main supply. Local gas meters have read 0000 since 1995 when they were installed and no one pays for utilities. Like the Potosti mines, this tour was a profound experience and a look at the dark underbelly of the "shiny happy" world we live in.
Days were spent covering Rio tourist attractions of which there are many - trip to Christ the Redeemer statue (a classic picture of Rio which we have all seen many times), an very enjoyable afternoon wandering in the bohemian district of Santa Theresa with my roommate, Becky , a stroll along Copacobana beach. Nights were spent in a whirl of Brazilian funk music - one at a Lapa Street Party in the open night air mixing it up with the locals, and another at Favella Funk Party, which involved another trip out into the slums to bust some moves in a cordoned off area of a dark and seedy club. Myself and another girl, Chloe managed to get down and dance with some of the locals which worked out fine and i learned some great Brazilian moves! It would take forever to really describe the last week here in South America - suffice to say, it was INTERESTING!
I left on 31st, speeding to the airport in heavy rain to make my flight. A short hop to Santiago was followed by a long 14 hour flight to Auckland which actually passed quite quickly. What felt strange was that we seemd to be chasing the night as we flew west, night never turning into day. At NZ Immigration, I was expecting an interrogration, or worse DEPORTATION not being in possession of proof of funds and my working visa for NZ. HOwever, I was fortunate enough to meet a decent guy who turned a blind eye and let me thourhg without much To Do. Andy, however, ran into some more officious types who pulled him aside for a 15 minute grilling about the nature of his travels.
And so, HERE I AM, in Auckland, hanging tired, body clock in some serious disarray, not really fully realising that this is going to be my home for the next while.
Job hunting is going to be begin IN EARNEST next week. But first, Andy and I are off to tour the North Island in a rental car, taking in some skiing en route! We are picking up our car at 9 in the morning, so I am now getting my ass to bed.
Goodbye South America. 'Sta luego!

July 29, 2006

Pining for the Good Life

It~s coming to the end of my time in Argentina, I~m very sorry to say. I~m writing this on the triple borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay in a little woodsy town called Puerto Iguazu. I arrived here 2 days ago after a long 22hr bus journey from Buenos Aires. Immediately on arrival, despite the sunny skies and soaring temperatures, I began to feel acute loneliness for Buenos Aires and, particularly, for the friends I made there.
Those 3 weeks in B.A. have been among my favourite in all my time in South America. It~s funny how attached you can become to relative strangers. It~s one of the sadder aspects of being on the move. You constantly meet these amazingly interesting people with whom you just click, people you dont seem to meet in your bubble back at home, but because you happen to be going in different directions, have different plans, you go your seperate ways. Of course, emails are exhanged and promises made, but the very nature of travel is moving on, meeting new people, seeing new places...and you tend to forget about the promises. It happens everyone. The people I met in B.A, the people who became my band of friends for nearly a month, were some of the funniest, most interesting people Ive met in SOuth America, and if I manage to stay in touch with even just one of them, I will be happy.
My Welsh roommate, Ciaran, and I hit it off from Day 1. In fact, he has been my favourite roommate of my entire trip. Sometimes, you just meet people with whom you dont have to try at all, and Ciaran was one of those people. It helped that we both had the same ridiculous sense of humour and I will definitely be swinging by the south of Wales on my way home.
Nico and Anthony, the closest match to Bill & TEd that Ive ever seen!, were the life and soul of our group. Ive never laughed so much in all my life as I have around those two. Anthony was one of those people who, when he started to tell a story, managed to paint a total picture for everyone by describing every little detail. One of the Top 5 Moments in BA is his story about this nutter called Chris who was in his class at school who once picked up a barking jack russell and just threw him over a fence! Nico was my drum´n´bass buddy and I have some great memories of our nights out around the city - a very unique guy who reminds me a lot of an old friend.
Next up was Andy, a really sound guy from Westmeath, who moved into our dorm. Andy and I became really good friends and had lots of ¨lying in bed¨ chats. Andrew and Evelyn´s Day of Culture is my favourite memory of Andy! We set out one day, frazzled from a week of heavy dancing and partying, in search of some soul satisfaction. Inititally, we had great plans - museums, churches, various murals, etc. We thought we´d go for a ¨spot of tea¨ to get us kickstarted for our mission, and decided to check out Cafe Tortoni (BA´s oldest cafe), but ended up having a massive afternoon tea, after which we couldnt physically stand up, so it seemed appropriate to go the whole hog and order a bottle of champagne! A very giggly, silly afternoon was had! Needless to say, the Day of Culture never really got under way! Going to be meeting up with him in Auckland, NZ which Im hugely looking forward to.
Every day in Buenos Aires was exciting. You never knew when you got up in the ¨morning¨ (2pm onwards ) who you~d be having dinner with that night or where you might end up. Like New York, it is a city bursting at the seams, full of possibilities. There´s never an excuse to be bored in BA! Ive never partied so hard. Its funny because I thought I had grown out of clubbing...or at least I had at home...but I´d forgotten how much I enjoyed it, especially drum n bass. We had some ammmaaazing nights dancing!
And then, there were the restaurants!! Oh god, in Buenos Aires you can grow fat happily. If anyone ever needs a recommendation for eating in BA, you know where to find me!!
Favourite moments were going hat shopping with Nico and Andy, dinner and a tango show with a big group from the hostel, Anthony doing my make-up for a night out , going to th zoo with Ciaran, getting kicked out of an Indian restaurant! (not our fault!), our last night together, and of course Tuesday nights in Bahrain!
Life is somewhat quieter after B.A. We all happened to leave around the same time and go our seperate ways. Ive been spending the last few days relaxing in the tropical weather of Iguazu. Up here near the jungle its stickily hot, but it~s great to feel the sun~s rays on my body again.
Yesterday, I visited Iguazu Falls with my roommate Belinda and her boyfriend Ollie (an Ozzie couple). Iguazu Falls are spectacular, even though right now the water levels are the lowest in 9 years!
Legend has it that the falls were created when a young warrior named Caroba incurred the wrath of a forest god by escaping downriver in a canoe with a young girl named Naipur, with whom the god had become infatuated. Enraged, the god caused the riverbed to collapse in front of the lovers. Naipur was turned into a rock at the base of the falls, and Caroba into a tree which overlooks the river.
Im not wild about the hostel here - its more like a hotel. Its like a shopping center or something - big and white with lots of lights. The staff arent friendly and theres a weird vibe about the place. Having a good laugh hanging out with Belinda though....she´s a really interesting girl who has been a tour guide in Vietnam and Cambodia for the last 2 years, so she has a lot of good stories!
PLanning on moving on to Rio in the next day or two, which seems like the perfect place to finish this great adventure in South America!

July 7, 2006

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Buenos Aires is my new favourite city - it´s depressing to think that I have only a week left here. Since I arrived here last MOnday week it´s been a rollercoaster of partying, dancing, drinking, eating and meeting new people. My body clock is COMPLETELY out of whack! I am now a creature of the night, catching only a few hours sleep during the afternoon. The people of this city party hard! I dont know how they hold down normal jobs.
Nightlife in BA is pretty different to at home. You dont darken the door of a club before 2! and things stay going until 7 in the morning. The city is literally pumping at all hours of the day and night. ç
Im staying in a really hip old part of the city called Palermo. Up to a couple of years ago, this is where the bohemian population of the city hung out, but recently there has been an influx of rich wealthy families and most of the artists and musicians have moved to the San Telmo area instead. Palermo is a great place to base yourself i you are staying in BA for a while - the bars and restaurants are AMAZING and there are quirky little shops and boutiques dotted all over the place. BA has an exceedingly European flavour to it, and really stands out from other South American cities in this regard.
The porteños (people from BA) are so friendly that it´s difficult to leave. They make you feel at home straight away, introducing you to their friends and dragging you out to their favourite watering holes. There´s no such thing as sitting in a corner nursing your drink for the night - whether you want to or not, you are on your feet dancing constantly. For me, its great! I LOVE dancing and theres so much music here in BA that I actually have sore feet. One of my favourite places tht Ive been here is a tiny little drum´n´bass club called Bahrain. Myself and few people Ive gotten to know here have gone there for the last 2 Tuesdays and, if I was staying here, it would become a weekly ritual.
I have managed to fit in some culturual stuff while Ive been here. Last week I took a trip to Recoleta Cemetary to see where Evita is buried. The richest and most important families of Buenos Aires are buried in this place, and it makes for a very interesting few hours wandering around the ornate graves and headstones. Lots of feral cats live in this graveyard and they are like souls of the dead wandering around the place.
Myself and my Welsh roommate Kieran took a notion of going to the Zoo one day last week, which I really enjoyed. its been years since I was in a zoo and I felt like a big kid again. Also, visited the Evita museum here which was really interesting as I didnt know very much about here beforehand. Going to try and take in some tango lessons before I leave and also see the Teatro Colon, which apparently is one of the most impressive opera houses in the world. The problem with BA is that you dont where to start! ITS HUGE! and its very easy to stay within the confines of whatever barrio you happen to be staying in.
One thing I do know is that I will definitely try to get back to BA in the near future. This is somewhere everyone should have on their travel itinerary!

June 29, 2006

Roommates from Hell

Finally got my ass in gear and left Cordoba. I stayed a little longer than I had planned, so it was time to go anyway, but additionally I may have ended up murdering some Germans if I hadnt. For the second half of my stay in Cordoba I had the pleasure of sharing with two of the most crazy, inconsiderate girls on the planet!! Now, everyone expects a certain amount of disruption in a dorm-room situation. You cant be too anal about it if you are woken up in the middle of the night. People do have to make some noise coming in and getting ready for bed. and let´s face it, you dont really have anything pressing to do the next day! BUT THESE GIRLS WERE UNREAL!!!!
Every night, they would crash into the room at some ungodly hour, turn on the light, always hammered drunk, fall over everything (including stuff that wasnt even in their way!) and spend at least an hour talking and laughing before finally collapsing into their beds. One of our roommates, an American guy, totally lost it with them one night and stormed out of the room, banging the door behind him.
The last night there was the straw that broke the camel´s back, so to speak. This time, it was my turn to come back at 7 in the morning, having been out clubbing with some friends. When I got back to the hostel, the dorm-room door was locked, which was really strange as we hadnt even been given keys for I knocked..and knocked..and knocked....NADA. I went downstairs to see if the guy at the reception had another key...of course, he didnt. So, he came up and THUMPED...and THUMPED....and then he just got mad and starting shouting at them. Eventually, we heard a various array of sounds from within, including a loud thud followed by a stream of curses in German. Obviously, one of them had fallen out of the top bunk trying to get down! An intense battle began from inside with the stiff lock and it took a couple of minutes before the door finally opened. I was greeted with an expression I wouldnt have thought possible for a human being. The key was thrust at the night receptionist and the beast returned to its bed all the while muttering and clicking. I made my way to my bed as best Ias I could in the gloom, eyes slowl adjusting to the dark. I slowly realised that they had not oe but two guys in the room with us, and one of these fine specimens had decided to crash out on my bed, and was snoring splendidly! GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!
Oh, the joys of being a backpacker!

June 21, 2006

Cordoba Province

Hola! Writing this in Cordoba, Argentina´s second largest city, in the heart of the country. When I arrived on Friday morning after a long uncomfortable overnight bus journey, it was grey and wet which did nothing to help my low spirits. YET AGAIN, I was the victim of a robbery, this time on the bus. Unfortunately, I fell asleep my with MP3 player on. I remember thinking before I dropped off that I should put it away but I was enjoying listening to it. Anyway, I must have been sleeping pretty soundly because whoever took it managed to get the earphones out of my ears without me waking up! Grrrrr. I was pretty gutted as I had over 2000 songs on there and it is my constant companion on my travels. The people of this continent rob you blind!! Anyway, what can you do except accept it and continue to be as vigilant as possible. Everyone seems to fall victim to it as some stage. I got an email from Ringo the other day - his bag was robbed in Buenos Aires with his passport, MP3 player, money, plane tickets...all in it. It´s crap when it happens, but in the overall scheme of things, when you weigh up the good and bad experiences here, it doesnt really matter.

Cordoba is a lovely city, full of students and beautiful Jesuit architecture. The centre is compact and easy to navigate on foot and Ive really enjoyed wandering the little streets over the last few days. The people are extremely friendly and it feels much safer than any of the cities I have been in so far.

I met up with a few people I already knew from Santiago, including Karen, the Irish girl from Donegal and have been hanging out with her for the last few days. It was a long weekend here in Argentina. Not only was it Father´s Day on Sunday, but they were also celebrating the day of their national flag on Monday. Apparently, the Argentinian flag was the first of the South American countries and they are very proud of this fact. As the city was like a ghost town on monday, we hopped on a bus into the mountains to a little town called Alta Gracia...the childhood home of the revolutionary leader, Che Guevara. The house is turned into a museum now and we spent a veryenjoyable few hours there. Afterwards, we visited the home of the Argentinian composer, Marcus La Falla. I had never actually heard of him before. Finally, we spent some time on a Jesuit estancia (ranch) in the town. The Jesuit order owned many such ranches throughout Argentina in years gone by, and they kept many black slaves who worked the land. Pretty informative afternoon all around!

The food here in Argentina is absolutely AMAZING! and every backpacker you meet is dining like a king every night. For $6-10 here, you can get a steak which would set you back €30 at home! Wine is dirt cheap and excellent. Also, the people in this country are really stylish and dress really well. Even though the economy is in the doldrums (with 50% of the population below the poverty line), they seem to maintain a pretty good standard of living.

So, tomorrow I am heading to a little town in the Sierras called La Cumbra.

June 16, 2006

World Cup Fever

One thing is pretty evident as you travel around South America right now. The people of this continent LIVE for football!! The atmosphere here is absolutely electric, and I really wish Ireland were taking part. Every guy you meet is coordinating travel plans around the world cup games and the cities are jam-packed full of people on the hunt for big screen TVs.
The Argentina - Serbia Montenegro match is on right now. I am sitting in an internet cafe bursting with locals all glued to the tv! Argentina seem to be kicking ass, as expected. Most of the businesses have shut until the match is over, and there´s a real holiday atmosphere around the centre. Every time Argentina score, you can hear roars for miles around! The girls seem to be screaming the loudest, while the men run out of shop doors and perform strange ritualistic dances with each other in the middle of the street before hurrying back inside to catch the replays.
I´m waiting around like a fugitive for a bus at nine o´clock tonight. I´m off to Cordoba for a few days and am planning to escape into the Sierra mountains for a bit if I can. I really want to get away from the big cities for a while and just chill out somewhere quiet. Today, also, I have to organise my flight to New Zealand. I´m hoping to fly on July 31st and have found a pretty good fare, I think.
Went horse-riding for the second time yesterday. It was fantastic to be out in the fresh air all day surrounded by spectacular mountains, condors soaring above us. My horse´s name was Penqueño and he was a particualarly willful creature. We rode all afternoon and returned to a blazing log fire and a spread fit for a king in a little log cabin. We lazed for a few hours drinking Malbec wine and mate before climbing reluctantly back into our bus back to Mendoza.
(The Argentinians are really addicted to drinking mate. It´s a herb grown mainly in Argentina and Bolivia, and is full of good things apparently. They drink it from special gourds with a long spout, and it is prepared by filling the vessel almost to the brim with the herb, adding some sugar to the top and then topping it off with boiling water. You suck the liquid through the straw until it is gone, then top it up again and pass to someone else. It´s a very social pratice, and you rarely see an Argentinian without a gourd and thermos flask under his arm.)
When we arrived back Rachel, Ringo and Sarah left to travel to Buenos Aires, so myself and Karen had a "quiet night" in the hostel playing Jenga with some Argentinians and a couple from Longford. Good clean fun all around. Had a much needed early night but had some seriously crazy dreams....

June 14, 2006

My Knight in Shining Beetlecrushers & An Illegal Border Crossing

Well, ít´s been an EVENTFUL few days! Right now, I´m back in Mendoza, Argentina feeling like I need a holiday from my holiday. I travelled here with Ringo, an English guy, two English girls called Sarah and Rachel, and Karen from DOnegal. On SUnday night, we made our way to the bus terminal in Santiago to reserve our tickets to Mendoza for the following day. On the way back, we were walking along the main street, the Alameda, deep in chat about world religions or something when suddenly my bag (which is more of a satchel really) was yanked violently. I had it around my body underneath my jacket and so the mugger nearly put my shoulder out with the force at which he pulled. The pretty sturdy strap gave way and he disappeared into a huge crowd of people while I looked after him completely helpless. Out of nowhere, this guy with a punk hairstyle, covered in studs, and wearing an enormous pair of boots, came running up to me and asked me in which direction the mugger ran. He took off running. I stood there not really knowing what was happening...thinking maybe they were together...realising slowly that my passport, my recently replaced credit card, bus ticket, money, MP3 player were all in the bag. I felt ill.
Two minutes later, the guy emerged from the crowd holding my bag. He had managed to get it back with EVERYTHING still in it. He didnt seem to want any thanks, but I hugged him so hard. Ihave never been so grateful to anyone in my life! Looking at this guy, you would expect him to be the one on the street to rob you. He was amazing, and now looking back I feel that I shoudl have made some gesture of thanks to him, but it all happened so suddenly. It was very surreal for all of us. Anyway, he left and, as we stood there recovering from the shock of what had just happened, the thief reappeared and grabbed the bag from my hands!!!!! This time, everyone around was ready for him, and he didnt manage to get enough of a grip on it to get away.
We took off up the Alameda at speed, back to the safety of the hostel. That night, I lay in bed thinking about what had happened, how fast it happened, the feelings of those moments. I remember the punk guy´s face so clearly, how glad he seemed to be able to help. I hope that something really wonderful happens for him. I wish I had done something more by way of thanks. It´s a great feeling when someone, especially a complete stranger, goes out of their way to help someone else.
So, the next day we got the midday bus to Mendoza. Not long into the journey, Ringo realised that he didnt have his tourist visa slip. Without this, you cant leave Chile. Panic ensued. Being the only one of us with any bit of Spanish, (yes, I am proud to say, I can now make myself understood without looking like some sort of tree-top creature, pointing and hooting) I explained the situation to the bus steward who said that, unfortunately, Ringo would have to turn back to Santiago. We looked out at the heavy snow and the white peaks of the Andes - the prospect of abandonding poor Ringo at the frontier in the snow and ice wasnt a nice one. As we sat, comfort-munching cookies and discussing RIngos plight, the steward calledthe two of us to the back of the bus. In hushed tones, he said that if we were prepared to pay he could bribe the Argentinian border officials. None of us had any CHilean, Argentinian or American dollars. All Ringo had was about $100 Australian dollars. HE told us to wait for him at the border check and he would tell us how much it was going to cost. He was very anxious to stress that none of this money was for himself...only for the border police. But later that night, when the bus finally arrived in Mendoza, he looked well pleased with Im sure he took a nice chunk of it for himsef...understandable really!
We got to the border and we negotiated a price with him. He wanted $100US, but in the end agreed to accept the Australian money (which worked out to about $80US...). He took Ringo under his wing while I went through the "proper channels". Ten minutes later, Ringo had his exit stamp and was grinning like a Cheshire cat! Success! The snow was heavy at the border and it was COLD! As we huddled over polystyrene cups of coffee and waited for our bags to be searched, we spotted a big Mercedes partially buried in the snow.
Anyway, so I´m back in Mendoza. It´s marginally warmer than Santiago and much sunnier. There are leaves falling everywhere, which I love. Myself and Karen are going horse-riding tomorrow, and then we are heading off to Cordoba for a few days, while Ringo, Rachel and Sarah go to Buenos Aires. I´m looking forward to Cordoba...apparently, there is a lot of Jesuit architecture there and a lot to see and do.

June 8, 2006

In Travelling Limbo

It´s pouring rain here today in Santiago. It feels somewhat strange, as it hasnt rained once in all the time I have been here, though not unpleasant. It´s quite nice to be sitting inside watching the little rivulets of water racing each other down the window. Unfortunately though, this rain is a bad sign for me. If it´s raining here in Santiago, that means the weather in the mountains is terrible which means that the road over the Andes to Mendoza is still closed. I had hoped to leave yesterday, but the bus company told us it´s not possible for a couple of days. So, we wait. I´m travelling with an English guy I met here in Santiago, called Ringo. To be honest, I really just want some time to myself for a few days, but itmakes sense to travel together seeing as we are both going the same direction. It´s very surprising just how little time you have to yourself when you travel. One would think that travelling alone could be quite lonely, but it´s not at all. When you are hostelling, sharing dorms, you rarely have time where you can shut the door and just be on your own. Of course, that´s not a bad thing - it can just get a bit claustrophobic sometimes when you need to be on your own.
So, the time has finally rolled around to say goodbye to Santiago. It´s been 4 months since I arrived here!! I never expected to settle here for this length of time. I´m sure if I stayed and tried hard to build up my work hours, I could, but it could take a while. I´m anxious to get back on the road again, meet some new people, see some new countries. I´m leaving Chile with some very fond memories, and hopefully I will be given the chance to return one day and do it all again.
So, what´s next? If the road to Mendoza EVER opens up again, it´s Argentina (AGAIN!) for the next few weeks, followed by Brazil. From Rio de J. I hope to fly to Auckland in late July, early August. I have a contact there who may be able to help me in finding a job. My biggest regret in leaving South America is that the little SPanish I have grasped will undoubetdly decline, although I imagine a certain relief will come with arriving once again in an English-speaking country. I´m hugely looking forward to NZ, and Ive a whole heap of things planned for there. I´ve no idea how long I will stay there - 3 months, 6 months, maybe even a year...but I´m looking forward to seeing a new continent and starting another chapter in this trip!

May 25, 2006

Itchy Feet or Homesickness?

It´s been a few weeks since I touched the blog, but tonight I find myself with some time to spare for the first time in a while. It´s been GO, GO, GO for the last while running around (in my only pair of respectable shoes) doing interviews and sitting in (like a big plant) on demonstration English classes and the like. But, at last, I am working - boring the pants off (i.e. teaching English to) executives in various companies around the city. So far, I´m enjoying it even though it´s pretty demanding. It involves a lot of hopping on and off the Metro, preparing classes and writing up reports. Also, I love the students I have. They are really lovable, and I thought I´d explode laughing when one of them gave me a little present of an alarm clock during the week. It was so nice! (and I really DID need an alarm clock...) So, all in all, it´s going well, and the Institute I work for are very pleasant to deal with and very encouraging.
Atfer all that, after happily having made up my mind to settle here for a while, two things have happened.
1) It seems that $100ish a week isnt enough to live off here in Santiago. Iif I stay, the rest of my travel kitty will be gone in a matter of a few short months. If the Institute feel that I dont suck too much at the whole teaching thing, there is always the possibility that I may get more hours...but ´taint a certainty! So...Im faced with a dilemma....Do I love Santiago enough to dwindle all my savings here and simply return home having not seen NZ, Australia, etc.....?
2) I have suddenly become the victim of a SEVERE bout of homesickness. It´s Ennio Morricone´s fault, so I´ve boycotted his music in future. I was wandering around Santiago last Sunday in super form until "that song from the Aer Lingus ad" (Gabriel´s Oboe) came on my MP3 player. As I walked, I thought nostalgically of our national carrier, it´s sad decline into low-faredom, my family´s various employment histories with the company, the beloved members of my family, our faithful dog and cat, my bed at home......(you get the picture). Since then, I have been on a major DOWNER...tearful...checking out airfares....staring for hours on end at pictures of Aer Lingus aircrafts....
However, if it came to actually booking a flight home, I´m pretty sure it´s not something I want to do yet. And so, I started thinking that maybe I just have a dose of itchy feet again. Staying too long in one place causes you to make too many comparisons with your life at home, and maybe the homesickness would be easily cured by just getting back on the road again. I have until August to get to NZ before my working visa becomes null.....and I have yet to see Buenos Aires and Rio de J. before I have completed my SA leg...
What to do......what to do.....I really dont know.
Apparently, getting work in NZ is effortless, and I could earn pretty good money there, which would fund the rest of the trip back home...
HELP!!!!!!!!! Advice/suggestions appreciated........
Confused Ev.

May 8, 2006

My First Flirt with the Law

Well, it finally happened! After four careful months of watching my back and never leaving my belongings out of my sight, my bag finally was nicked in probably the safest area I have been in yet. On the same day of my last blog entry, as I sat gassing on the phone in a very respectable looking internet cafe surrounded by suits, some fiend managed to manoeuvre it right out from under my leg. That horrible sick feeling came over me when I looked down and slowly realised that it was gone.
Luckily, I had gotten into a habit in Peru and Bolivia of never carrying more than one card with me and usually very little money. So, on this occasion, there was only my Mastercard and about the equivalent of US$3. Unfortunately, by the time I got to cancel the card it had been used in a department store, but thankfully not for a huge amount. Here in Chile, when you offer a credit card as payment you are required to show some form of photo ID, so that probably meant that the thief had trouble racking up sales on it.
There was little in the bag that cannot be replaced. What I am the most upset about is the fact that my camera was in there. Usually, I never have my camera around Santiago (mainly because I live here now and have just stopped taking photos) but this particular day I brought it with me to download the photos from the memory card. Anyway, the camera is covered by insurance, but I have lost all my photos from the last few weeks. Those, i can never get back. So, the thief got almost nothing from taking my bag, while I lost all my personal belongings (he/she will no doubt just toss those somewhere without a care).
Surprisingly, I wasnt as upset as I thought I might be in such a situation. Its more of a bother than anything else, havng to go and make a police report, source receipts for insurance claims, etc. Pain in the ass.
Ian, the owner of my hostel, very kindly came with me to the police station downtown to file a report. We were met with a boorish sullen looking tub of a guard who had ZERO sympathy for me or my loss. He looked like he positively loathed his job and sat hammering away on his keyboard, pissed at all of humanity. Ian and I beamed at him continually and in the end, he cracked a smile of sorts as we were leaving. Off we went to drown my sorrows in fits laughing at the state of him.
Today, I am back at said internet cafe with my bag welded to the chair beside me, killing time before my English teacher training begins at 3:30pm. I have 2 hours of training before I hve to give a demonstration class. I am NERVOUS! Wish me luck!

April 25, 2006

The Job Hunt Begins

Oh, its good to be back to the warmth of Santiago! This time I decided to stay in a different area of the city called Bellavista, and happened upon a great hostel where I may even have a job for the next while. Its run by a very friendly American ex-pat (there seems to be lots of them living here in Chile) who knows everything there is to know about the city and is being very good in helping me to get settled.
This morning I had my interview with The Santiago Times, an English newspaper, and have been offered a position, although after careful consideration I have decided not to take it. Initially, it is not going to pay well and it could be some months before I actually get to do any writing. I was disappointed that the job was not what I thought it might be, but never mind, there are lots of things I can do here.
And so, the job hunt begins in earnest! Tomorrow, i´m hitting the English schools around the city to see if they are looking for teachers, and I also have a few other contacts in the city who have told me to get back to them and they will see what they can find. Hopefully, the hostel job will keep me floating for the time being.
The next thing I have to do is enroll in a Spanish course - this, I am really looking forward to. Having landed in Lima, nearly 4 months ago, with ZERO Spanish, I am now getting quite good at understanding conversations, although cant string much together myself. I hope, after some proper classes, to really improve!
It will take some time and effort before I can settle in, but Im looking forward to spending the next year of my life here.

April 19, 2006

Al Fin del Mundo

Okay, I´m getting a bit lazy about this blog thing, I know. Ive been pretty busy for the last ten days or so. Once again, I left Santiago and took a bus, this time to Puerto Montt in the lake district. It was cold and grey there and I was glad to be just staying one night. Far from a picturesque place, it looks like what I imagine a small Alaskan fishing town to be. The local people looked a lot different from their fellow countrymen in the North - it seems that the further south you travel here, the whiter people´s skin in and they have longer facial features.
Anyway, before I go off on a tangent about faces, the following morning I was up bright and early to catch the NAVIMAG ferry. In hindsight, this was an excellent decision and well worth the money. Over the course of the three day trip, we passed some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, saw whales, dolphins, otters, shipwrecks and lots more! On the first and third days, the ship was navigating through narrow channels, which meant that the water was quite calm, and so it was pretty pleasant. The second day, however, we were out in open sea and there were lots of green faces and projectile vomiting! On this day, the boat docked at a tiny little town called Puerto Eden, which was interesting because 15 of the 200 inhabitants are pure-blooded Kawesqar people. They look completely different to the CHileans, looking more like Asians. It was a strange little place and seems to be really cut off from civilisation.
Then something completely random and unexpected happened! I was chatting to this aging American hippy called Jeff about matters Irish, when the guy sitting beside us decided to put in his two cents. The minute he opened his mouth, it was obvious he was Irish, so obviously we struck up a conversation. I thought I vaguely recognised him, but couldnt put my finger on where I might have seen him before. Anyway, after about an hour of conversation, he mentioned that he was meeting some friends of his down in Patagonia. Something clicked in my brain because I knew one of Brian´s friends was going down there, so I said to him "Youdont know Dave Nevin, do you?" To cut it short, it turns out that this guy Fergal was in my brothers class in college and they share common friends. Its funny how small the world is really. As I was also heading to Ushuaia, we spent the next few days travelling together and it was great to meet up with Dave.
Ushuaia is absolutely amazing and is exactly what the end of the world should look like! It is surrounded by huge mountainous towers which lend it a very dramatic feel. The town itself is small and very touristy but not in an unpleasant way. We stayed in a great hostel there, one of the best Ive been in so far in South America. Proving yet again, how small the world is, I met an Irish guy who knows a friend of mine quite well and then a girl from Newmarket on Fergus who knows my cousins! There were a lot of Irish in Ushuaia, which was interesting.
Myself and Dave climbed a glaciar and had a great laugh slipping and falling all over the place. Another day, I got on a boat down the Beagle Channel which I hugely enjoyed. We were blessed with good weather for the days we were there. I didnt get to see any penguins, unfortunately, as the feckers have all migrated at this time of the year. Its getting very cold now. I did see lots of sealions and king cormorants though, so that kept me happy. Our guide on the boat was excellent and I found the history of the area fascinating. For example, 6,500 years ago Shamana people used to live in these tiny little huts on the islands of the channel. They didnt wear clothes - can you imagine being naked all the time 1000km from Antartica!! The females of these tribes were the ones who swam searhcing for food (naked) - typical! The men sat in the boats tending fires which were lit on a mound of stones in the middle and waited for the women to swim back with food. The Beagle Channel is divided right down the middle bewteen Chile and Argentina and is bio-oceanic, opening to the Pacific on one side and the Atlantic on the other.
Due to some bad research on my part, Im now stranded in a place called El Calafate. I took a flight up here yesterday, foolishly assuming that I could continue by bus on to Bariloche and then on to Santiago from there. People warned me about the lack of good transport down here at this time of the year (the minute the summer months pass, everything starts shutting down here) but I didnt heed their warnings! This morning, I found out that I cant fly out of here - all flights are full for a few days and I cant even fly on to Buenos Aires! So, the only remaining option is a 36 hr bus journey to Bariloche leaving at 3am. Yuk! Its looking like thats what Im going to have to do.
Normally, none of this would bother me as I have as much time as I want, but during the week I was called for a job interview in Santiago and I promised the guy I would try to be back within the week. He was pretty understanding, given where I was at the time (Ushuaia) but I got the feeling he wouldnt wait forever either! so I need to be back in Santiago by the wknd. Ive made up my mind at this stage to discard my wokring visa for NZ and spend the year in Chile instead. Working in NZ is probably just going to be like working at home really, and here I get to continue perfecting my wobbly Spanish and experiecne a different life. So, Im praying that this job works out.
So, the travels are going to be put on pause for a year, and hopefully I can pick up where I left off after that.