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Archive for March, 2006

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eels, clams, and penguins, oh my!

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

I’m starting to settle in to this whole traveling thing. I’m getting used to the hostel/backpacker life, and am enjoying getting to know some of the other travelers. It seems like the majority of the people I’ve met are from the UK, but I’ve also met people from all over Europe as well as a couple of Canadians. However, most everyone seems to be a twenty-something Caucasian so I’m not really experiencing anything new. But New Zealand does have its little differences. Everything is a little slower paced here, and not rushed like in the U.S. Mostly everyone’s just a little more relaxed. When working with the Habitat crew, we always made sure to break for tea at exactly 10:30, and again at 3:00. And most everyone here drinks tea, not coffee. Those that do drink coffee drink instant coffee, although you can usually find espresso in the cafes and restaurants. Also, with your tea you usually have biscuits, although biscuits here are what Americans would call cookies. Another thing you can find all over are meat pies, usually mince or steak, and fish and chips. With the exception of the Maori, most of the people in the North Island are English, so this all makes sense. The prices here don’t seem too different, but gas is really expensive at over 4 bucks a gallon. That doesn’t surprise me much, though, since we are on an island. What did surprise me was that it cost $4.80 NZ, or about $3.10 US to buy a bag of ice. Beers run about $4-7 NZ a pint in the bars, and a good six pack runs about $12 in the stores. But overall, things don’t seem much different here. I am spending a bit more money than I had planned, but I’m still in a kind of vacation mode these last few weeks, so that’s not too surprising. Besides, I’m hoping I can make up the difference in Asia and Africa where things are much cheaper.

[read on]


Saturday, March 25th, 2006

The last couple of days have been really good. I got pretty tired of the Fat Camel pretty fast and moved up to a little place near Mt. Eden called Bamber House. I’m booked here for three nights before catching the bus up north to Paihia. The Fat Camel was your typical downtown hostel, full of twenty-somethings who wanted to party. It was really loud, and not nearly as nice as where I’m at now. The Bamber house is great, with probably only 30-40 beds total. The grounds are nice with a yard and decks, and also a swimming pool. It’s been a nice relaxing stay so far.

I checked in at Bamber around noon on Friday, and then went for a walk around the neighborhood and picked up some groceries at the market. When I got back I grabbed a shower and relaxed outside with a couple of beers. The weather was quite warm yesterday and the cold beer felt good. I spent some time relaxing, then changed and went for a walk towards downtown to see what was happening on a Friday evening. Up here at Mt Eden things are much quieter than downtown, but it’s only about a 20 minute walk to the University district and not much farther to downtown. I passed one couple sitting outside a building and asked them if they knew of anything happening on a Friday night. As it turned out they were attending an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting, so they really didn’t have any good advice for me. 🙂 [read on]

One Adventure after Another!!

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

My stint with Habitat for Humanity is now over, and after a few days of R&R, I’ve left the group and am now heading out on my own for the first time. I am excited, nervous, and a little confused, but mostly just happy that the real journey has now begun. The Habitat experience was really a great one, but because New Zealand is very westernized and I’ve been traveling with a large group of Americans, I really didn’t feel like I was that far from home.
Since my last entry, we spent another week working on the two Habitat homes, and also had about 4 days of sightseeing. The building was going well, and I got to split my time between both houses, which was nice. On the first house I continued to help with the finish work by installing shelving, prepping for paint, etc. When I wasn’t doing that I was over at the second house helping to build the foundation and getting ready for the concrete slab to be poured. The second house is an “experimental” construction that is built using mortar-less blocks. This is a type of construction that was developed by an engineering student at the University of Auckland, and it was designed to help withstand earthquakes. Unfortunately, we did not get to stick around long enough to see the slab poured and the walls start to go up.
Our time on the building sites lasted a week and a half, and we had one rest day on Sunday the 12th. Over that weekend we did homestays with some of the HFH Board members and their friends. My hosts were Ken and Jill Stevenson. Ken is the Board Chairman of the local HFH affiliate, and Ken and Jill hosted a bbq on Saturday night for all of the builders and our hosts. On Sunday we were taken out on a boat trip by one of Ken’s friends, Bill. Bill has a beautiful boat that has been in his family for close to 50 years. We set off from Pine Harbour to Motuihe Island . Even though it was raining that morning, the trip out was beautiful and by the time we got to the island it had cleared up so we had a nice afternoon of exploring the island and swimming in the ocean. Monday morning it was back to work for three more days of building.
  [read on]

Kia Ora!

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

I’ve been in New Zealand for five days now, and we’ve been going non-stop. But I’m having a great time. The flight over was amazing and one of the best flights I’ve ever been on. The flight attendants were all great (and beautiful too), the meals were wonderful, and each seat had it’s own little mini entertainment center with tons of movies, TV shows, and music to choose from. I saw some great movies, and also a documentary about this great Maori singer named Anika Moa who cut an album in the U.S. a couple of years ago. The flight was right on time and we landed in Auckland about 5:20 AM on Sunday. It took me about 30 minutes to get through customs, and the only thing I had to have checked were my hiking boots to make sure they were free of dirt and mud. New Zealand is very careful about what they let into the country, especially anything biological that could introduce any foreign species into the country. After getting through customs, I relaxed in the terminal and waited for the rest of my Habitat team to arrive. By 8:00 all but two of us had arrived in New Zealand, and the others were to arrive later that day.  [read on]

Confessions of a Food-aholic

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

My first night in San Francisco I was treated to a great meal at an authentic German restaurant. My last two days in San Francisco were an action-packed, food-filled adventure. My friend and I went bar hopping on Thursday night, eating the whole way. We went to a corner bar called Solstice, and I originally went there to try the Bloody Mary, but bar was packed and the bartender suggested the Raspberry Mojito (I normally don’t go for fruity drinks, but these were really good!) We had sweet potato fries to eat, and if you’ve never had these I recommend you try them. The atmosphere and service at Solstice were tops. After a quick stop at the Rye bar we headed to the Ferry Building and had spring rolls and drinks at The Slanted Door. Next was the Clift Hotel, a swanky upscale bar that was way too pretentious and overpriced. We finished the night off at a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint where I had fish tacos and a cheese and mushroom quesadilla. Mmm, Mmm, Good! [read on]

I don’t think we’re in Eugene anymore…

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

I left Eugene just over 48 hours ago and I have to say it feels good. I’m now in San Francisco, having arrived on the train yesterday morning. I thought the train ride was going to be fun, but it turned out to be long and boring. It took 18 hours to get from Eugene to San Francisco, and since it was an overnight trip there wasn’t much scenery. I spent most of the trip reading and sleeping.

I arrived in SF to sunny blue skies, and spent yesterday afternoon just relaxing. Last night my friend Anna and I went to a great authentic German restaurant for dinner. I had Spaten Bier and Jagerschnitzel (sp?) which was a real treat. I also got to meet a friend of Anna’s named Jen who just recently returned from her own trip to South America. It was great to talk wth her, and hearing about her experiences only helped to solidify my own reasons for wanting to take a trip of my own. After dinner we went to visit my friend Justin who bartends at this great little dive bar downtown called the Tunnel Top. Apparently it used to be a Korean gambling club, and although the place was tiny, it had a great, funky vibe to it. The DJ was spinning some old soul and r&b, and Justin makes one of the best Manhattans I’ve ever had.

Today we got up and went for a short walk up the hill to Lyon Street, near the Presidio. There is a great set of stairs there, and I did a couple of intervals on the stairs and worked up a good sweat. Although I’ve been running regularly, it hasn’t exactly been good hiking weather in Eugene so I haven’t been doing much climbing. I think I’m going to feel it in my arse tomorrow.

I fly to New Zealand tomorrow evening and will arrive there Saturday morning (whch will be early Sunday morning NZ time). The one thing I’ve already figured out is that I packed way too much stuff, but I had already planned on unloading a bunch of it in NZ after the Habitat build is over.

Below are a couple of pics. The first is me at the train station with my humongous pack, and the second is the view from the top of the Lyon Street stairs overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

Amtrak, Here I Come! SF Bay from Lyon Street