Friday, January 30, 2009

Time to get the hell out of Dodge

Or; how I swam with sea-lions, met Renée, fucked up my schedule, and ended up having a great time anyway!

Written on Tuesday, january 27th, 2009

I've been feeling slightly cut off on my motorcycle. It was a deliberate and conscious choice to travel alone and with no attachments to home, but that doesn't mean there weren't sacrifices, both before I left and while I'm travelling.
Firstly, before I left I rejected every chance of starting a serious romantic relationship, and this came back and bit me in the arse as I realized I hadn't been honest with myself. I had a huge and tough learning experience when a girl i'd fallen for (without admitting it to myself) slipped through my fingers.
From this I learned (as I think I described earlier) to take every chance of adventure, friendship and love that comes my way, and not worry one bit about what the future brings. As it happens, when the future does show up, it always ends up bringing gifts instead of the poison I'm worried about. So I like to think that I've learned not to worry. Honestly though, It's still a work in progress.

Another big challenge is that, by travelling alone, it's quite easy to get lonely. This means that I have to put that much more of an effort into meeting new people and making new acquaintances. This can be tough, but I'm learning fast and It's very rewarding.
I think Mark Twain once said that the best way to test how much you like a person is to go travelling with them. I went travelling with myself and I'm testing how well I like the person I am. I'm steadily finding out what parts of me are working well, and what needs to be changed. It's a great, but sometimes painful journey of discovery.

one thing that needs to change is my willingness to attempt to be someone I'm not in order to get people to like me. This stands in the way of one of my key assets, which is Honesty.
Also, if I'm not being myself, there's a chance people will like me for someone I'm not, which would muck things up even more.
I've had relationships lasting years being loved for someone I'm not, and I've vowed to change that for my next one.

I think that a note on my route is in order. From home, I'd planned to go directly to Dunedin, thinking there was nothing to see on the way. One of Mike's friends suggested the detour to Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook, and what a great idea that was! As it turned out, two weeks after my arrival i'm not even past Dunedin! I'm updating my google maps with links to my blog posts, so you (and I, when I get back) can easily look up the different chapters, related to where I've been staying. I love you Google. You make me feel fuzzy inside.

The road from Oamaru to Dunedin was ok, without anything too interesting except the Oamaru boulders which I went to see. It was a 300 meter walk from the carpark, and as I walked along the beach I ran into the dutch couple from Lake Tekapo! I could see the boulders not far off, and they didn't look that spectacular so I turned around and followed them to Dunedin. The girl, Lianna, offered to take my bags in their car. Excellent! The guy (Jeroen) had banned Lianna from driving since she'd busted two of the gears, including the reverse. Their car only did 70k/h, so I sped ahead and spent some time in Dunedin.

When I arrived at The Octagon (the center of town), I realized the exhaust had come loose and melted more of the plastic bit. I almost got a parking ticket while considering what to do about it, but I convinced the officer to show me the way to a workshop instead. An hour later and I was back on the road. All it needed was a few bolts that'd come loose. A few very expensive bolts apparantly.

That night we checked in to a backpackers called Stafford Gabels on Stafford street, and later we went out for drinks. Dunedin is a university city, but the students are on their summer break, so nothing much was going on that thursday night, and we ended up at the hostel playing cards.

The next morning saw us headed for the beautiful Otago Peninsula. In particular, a place called Sandfly Bay, which thankfully doesn't live up to its name. Come to think of it, I haven't actually met any of the dreaded buggers. But I digress.
We followed the High Cliff Road, which goes right along the ridge of the peninsula. Beautiful views! They say that everyone underestimates the distances on the peninsula, and we were no exception. Eventually though, we found the bay:

notice the lack of people :)

When we got down to the beach, we realized that we were not alone. Apart from a handful of other people, four sea-lions had taken up residence on the beach, basking in the sands and fooling around. We kept a respectful distance, but I still managed to get some shots.

I was very excited about being so close to a wild animal of that size. I don't think I've tried that before.

I stripped down to my bathers and hit the water. The two others followed quickly after. It was a bit chilly, but I had a viking reputation to keep up, so I stayed in. Besides, the waves were quite big, and I had fun throwing myself against them, seeing if I could remain standing.
After a while, one of the sealions took to the water. We were the only bathers, and it had seemingly taken an interest in us. It swam calmly towards Lianna who kept her distance, and then turned its attention to me. It came right up to me, circling maybe ten centimeters from my leg.If I'd reached out my arm I could easily have touched it. I thought better of it though, thinking there was probably a reason for the name sea-LION. I think it was a female, and she was very qurious, and much larger than I'd anticipated. She swam around me with infinite calm and a pinch of playfulness. She looked right up at me, as if wondering what I was doing so far from home. When the waves came, we'd swim with them together. Me on the surface, her just below. In the breaking wave her body would turn to a distorted blob, and for a minute I got a bit nervous. That old Jaws feeling.

I think she stayed for two minutes, no longer, then swam on down the beach. All three of us were amazed at the experience, and I was just pumping!

I spent the rest of the day running on sand-dunes, feeling like a fremen and getting a savage sunburn (okay, could have been worse, but it's so rare I get to use the word savage).

Lianna and Jeroen; law abiding law students

The netherlanders went back to the hostel and I thought I'd head for the albatross colony at the tip of the peninsula. Like I said, I underestimated the distances, and since I hadn't filled the tank since leaving Oamaru, I ran out of gas and had to switch to the reserve tank. I made it back with two liters left. Later, I calculated that the bike will go 225km on a full tank, including the reserve, but I've yet to put it to the test and I hope I'll never have to.

The day after, Lianna and Jeroen went on through the Catlins, and I had to move to another hostel since the Gables were full for the night. I found a place just a block away called Chalet Backpackers, which is the nicest, comfyest, and friendliest place I've stayed so far (as a plus, there's rumours of a resident ghost).
I'd planned to stay home and look after my sunburn, but three german girls quickly had me convinced to go to Sandfly Bay again. I covered myself up in pants and a long sleeved t-shirt and spent an uneventful day at the beach. (I slept for most of the day, drooling all over. So much for a good first impression.)
I hit the town again that night and latched on to a small group of locals. Went to a couple of bars, all playing shit music but I had fun anyway, and then went home and fell asleep.

On the evening of the next day (which was spent taking care of a severe hangover made worse by the unbearable heat, but miraculously cured by a killer dinner made from all I had left - which included pasta, cashews, pesto and a wonderful cheddar. Here's a picture:- I took another, that's how much I loved it! The setting only made it better...
And by the way, this is probably the biggest parenthesis you'll ever see!), I was sorting out my baggage getting rid of all the stuff I'd found I didn't need when a late arrival slumped herself on the last empty bed in the dorm. I introduced myself with the oft underestimated introduction (and intergalactic peace offering) "would you like a pair of socks?"
That's how I met Renée, the craziest girl you could imagine.

Renée is from tasmania, and recently found out that she's been away more than twice as long as She'd thought (seven weeks in all)
I'd planned to head out of Dunedin by the next morning, but instead I cooked up a hike with Renée to Tunnel Beach. I've never taken such an instant liking to anyone. She's stark-raving barking mad and, quoting her, she should be locked up. Thankfully though, she's not. She posesses an odd mix of inner peace and crazy adventure that I can't help but admire. I'd tell you of her first night in NZ, but that would take up an entire new post, and besides, no-one can tell it like her.

So off we went in the morning, headed for tunnel beach (after I'd switched back to the Gables since the Chalet was full for the night). This is how much I enjoyed the walk on the way out.
That changed on the back home as my feet developed a blister and three sores from sandals I haven't broken in.

All the way we were constantly taking the piss on each other, and she ended up claiming I was worse than her which is of course impossible. I still marvell at how effortlessly we switched from piss-taking to profound and personal conversation, and at how quickly a quite deep friendship developed.

The beach itself was very small, but our reason for visiting was the rock formations.

Meet Renée

The little cove nestled between the cliffs.

Renée tried to take a photo of me, but she made me do weird things, so the only one that turned out decent was this self-portrait

To get to the beach, we had to go through a fairly long, very narrow tunnel.

like I said. Bat-shit crazy.

You couldn't ask for a more beautiful setting for the lunch.

She's headed up to Christchurch to get a flight back to Australia in a few days, but we agreed that she'd show me around tasmania for a few days when I get there. Can't wait!

Since I'd postponed the trip south to the Catlins for a day, I thought today would be the day I'd head out. I sent a big box home, bought a sleeping-bag, and was just about ready to go when the skys opened up. It'd been windy since last night, and with the downpour, I just couldn't see myself enjoying the ride. I booked another night at the Gabels, and around 5 mins later the weather cleared. Great...
Anyway, the weather kept changing through the day, so I'm okay with not leaving until tomorrow. I've spent the day keeping up on my blogging (writing, not posting. Internet connections are slow here, and I'll wait with posting until I find somewhere to do it for free), and I went sightseeing a bit with Renée before her bus left.
I've got a couchsurf set up with a girl my age in Invercargill in a few days, so all that's left before I hit the pillow is do a little planning for the Catlins. I hope the weather turns better tomorrow, but I'm going no matter what. Dunedin's been great, but staying here against my will is a bit frustrating, as you can see in this inspired photo.

Looks like I'm in a hospital or something.

Besides, I'll probably get plenty of rain once I get to the fjordlands, so I might as well just suck it up.

On a side note, I've found that I really miss hitchiking, so I think I'll park the bike sometime in a place I know I'm coming back to, and then ride on my thumb for a while. I'm thinking of doing this in Nelson, hitching up to the Abel Tasman national park and back before taking the ferry to the north island.

That's all for now folks!
Now get me the hell out of Dunedin!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Testing my limits

Written on Wednesday, January 21st, 2009.

It's a bit of a strain to carry the pack on my back, but I suppose I'll develop better shoulder and back muscles. I'll come home looking like conan no doubt! I've seriously overpacked, and I'll be sending a box home with all the stuff I don't need.

Lake Tekapo was very, very beautiful with a milky, completely turqouise colour from glacial sediment, and just a jewel in sunlight. Unfortunately clouds came before i picked up the camera, and they didn't leave.

This little patch had sun (the lake itself is quite big)

I thought I'd do a picture of home

I stayed at a nice backpackers place where, bizarrely, I ran into a woman from Denmark who's good friends with my father's fiancée! I could hear she was danish, so i started the conversation. She asked me how I'd got here. I said it was my bike parked outside, and she said "you must be Jophiel then!". It's a small world indeed!

I took a one hour walk to the top of Mt John which had beautiful wievs of the landscape and the lake. I tried doing some video diary, bu muggles kept showing up. I did however get some nice pictures:

This one catches the colour of the lake decently

The summit of Mt John looks like something out of Tolkiens Rohan.

This beautiful little church was by the lake shore

I played cards with a german girl and a dutch couple until midnight and then hit the sack. What a pleasure to sleep in a good bed after Ashburton! The next morning, the dutch guy and I took a quick dip in the lake (real quick, it was cold!), and then I followed two german girls up to Mt Cook. They were kind enough to let me put my baggage in their car and I had a great time zipping around unburdened. The ride to Mt Cook was truly beautiful, and it was hard keeping my eyes on the road driving through the magnificent valley. The majestic Mt Cook loomed up ahead, seemingly never coming closer. Suddenly the road was blocked. By sheep!

Me and Mt Cook.

We checked in to a beautiful hut run by the NZ Alpine Club. There was no reception and no staff, except for the hut warden who lived next door. We just claimed a bunk and paid the warden 25$ when he came by.

Katja in the backyard of the hut. What a view!

And if you look in the other direction...

The view from the common room of the hut was just spectacular! The girl half in shadow, and halfway in light (like the rooftops of London) is Samone, the other german girl.

Most of the people staying there were mountaineers, and what a crazy bunch they were! There was a real sense of adventure, and two of the guys left to climb Mt Hood around mid-day. They started their ascent at night, but they had to turn back because of poor conditions. One guy staying there, called Stig, was an Australian who'd done the climb already. He was resting for a few days, tending his sore feet and entertaining us with stories. The two Katja, Samone and I went for a walk up Hooker Valley. A beautiful walk indeed. the girls kept laughing at me for taking so many pictures, but it's all so new to me, and I'm awed by everything I see!

That river was really fast, and that bridge didn't feel solid at all!

The view up Hooker Valley. The clouds obscured the view, but made for an eerie feel.

The girls taught me to take it easy. Up until then I'd been rushing on to get my route started, but they said that two months was more than enough for seeing the south island, so I should just relax and enjoy. I took their advice to heart and the joy of travelling increased immensely.

That afternoon, I went up the Tasman Valley on advice from Stig. He'd told me there was a 4WD track up there which would be great fun riding on my bike. The road there was gravel, and I rode slowly (25-30km/h), testing the bikes handling on the loose surface. I found the track and read the sign besides it:

Warning: Route ahead is not maintained and is subject to periodic flooding. Vehicle travel beyond this point is not advised.

Ball Shelter was a little hut on the glacier they'd dismantled only days before because it'd come dangerously close to the edge of the glacier wall dropoff (or rather, the glacier wall had come dangerously close to it.)

I continued unfazed since Stig said it'd be doable. What I'd forgotten to tell him was that I only had a couple of days of riding experience! The track was made almost entirely of a mix of gravel and big rocks. By no means easy! This was the first place doubt started creeping into my mind:

The sign says "AVALANCHE AREA: no stopping between signs". Rock avalanches that is!

I kept going. I went through three big, deep puddles, which was the second, third and fourth time I doubted the wisdom of my choice. The second avalanche sign was the fifth. I passed a parked Nissan, and I thought "this must be the right route then" and carried on. From here the road turned worse (it had never been less than difficult!) and eventually I couldn't even make out a road anymore!

Yet again I was riding on a prayer, and this time I was scared shitless. Eventually, my good sense came back to me as I thought "this is ridiculous", turned the bike around, and headed for home. This is a view back on the "road" I'd taken:

On the way back, this big puddle next to the parked Nissan almost killed the bike, as the engine started taking in water. I got out of it, but for a second the exhaust blew out a lot of smoke.

I don't know what I would have done if it'd died on me. I don't know how to drain an engine, and I'd probably have been stuck out there. After this ordeal the gravel road held no fear for me, and I sped down it at 50km/h. I'd made it out alive and I was very relieved!

What you see in these eyes is adrenaline and relief.

The valley didn't care one bit about my predicament and still looked mockingly gorgeous.
I think Thunder and lightning would have been more appropriate. The Tasman Valley has no situational awareness, apparantly.

Well back in the hut Stig told me that the parked Nissan marked the end of the track he'd suggested. I'd passed it, going on far into what was considered a tramping track only! I told them vividly of my fear and subsequent triumph, and well back in safety I was able to laugh it off quickly. There's another story for the grandchildren!

A gathering of adventurers

I'm still without a sleeping bag, and that night was quite cold. I slept next to the old iron stove in the common room, but it went out after a few hours. I did manage to get some sleep, but not much.

The morning greeted me like this.

Yesterday morning I took off not long after waking, and by 2pm I found myself in Oamaru (had to look at a map to remember the name - crazy kiwis!) the road here from Mt Cook was 208 kilometres and quite cold, reminding me that I need to get a scarf. On the way I passed these remarkable rock formations:

There was also some Maori rock-art, but it was too worn to be good in pictures. This poem on a nearby plaque, however, touched me.

We are cleansed by the winds of our ancestral mountain Aoraki,
We gaze upon the swift waters of the Waitaki river,
We are here under the cloak of the Ngai Tahu Whania,
Write it in the sky,
Write it in the land,
Write it in the hearts of the people...
Behold! There is life!

Right now I'm in a decent hostel right smack in the center of town. It's pretty cheap, at 23$ per night, and it's quite homely. It's quite close to the sights in town, but of those there aren't many. I went to see yellow-eyed penguins at a nearby beach with an italian couple, but only two birds showed up. Later in the evening would have been better, but rain came, and I didn't care to ride in it.

Just this first week or so, in which I've ridden more than 1000km, has already taught me so much about travelling on a motorbike. Even though I've done some rookie mistakes, I've learned so much from them and feel much better about the whole deal, and much surer of myself to boot. Also, I've learned a lot about what I need and don't need, and I'll surely be able to pack my stuff way more efficiently in the future. As I said, I severely overpacked, and I'm gonna lighten up one way or the other.

Tomorrow I head to Dunedin.

Until next time.

I am still Jophiel.

PS.: A few weeks before I left home, a danish guy, Ulf Foss, (I didn't know him) died in a tragic diving accident in the red sea. The details were sketchy at that point, and it seemed that three divers had agreed to go much deeper than what is safe on normal air. I thought them fools, but today this article was brought to my attention.
It is a thorough description of how the dive progressed, written by the sole survivor. I don't want to make any judgements, but there's some serious lessons for all divers here. Yes, they are obvious, but apparantly not everyone has taken them to heart yet! Take care who you dive with!

I've promised myself (and my mom) to be very careful when diving with people I don't know. Some people put them selves in unnecessary danger, and without thinking they drag their dive-buddies with them. To any future dive buddies of mine: If you're a fool and put your life in unnecessary danger, I won't risk my life trying to save you. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A warrior worries. Then he makes a decision and worries no more

Written on January 17th 2009

I should get myself a warcry or something.

Mastercard didn't work either. I flew up to Nelson anyway. What a view from the plane!

I was picked up at the airport by the seller, a great guy called Gary. I'd called him about my problem in advance, and he offered me to stay at his place for the night. He took me to his home on the hills above Nelson and introduced me to his wife and one of his three sons. What a view they have!
I called the bank at 10pm, and eventually we found the problem. I can only take out 2000,- DKR from my card on any given day. Would have been nice to know in advance! Anyway, my banker was very helpful, and we decided to express-transfer the money instead. Gary agreed to let me have the bike if my banker sent a mail personally confirming the transfer. Great! I hit the sack a little past midnight. 12 hour time difference is a bitch!

Here's Gary with his newest purchase:

The story behind that bike of his goes like this: His motorcycle club has an annual challenge. You purchase a bike for no more than NZ$ 500. You repair/restore the bike, using no more than NZ$ 500. You go on a trip with other challenge-takers lasting 3 days and covering 1000km. You win prizes for things like Most Unrecognizable Brand and the likes. Sounds like fun!

Unfortunately, I never got a really good one of Gary, but here is a foto of his wife, Janet:

When she heard that this was my first time riding since taking my license, she responded with "Either you're very brave, or very stupid!" A bit of both I suppose.

Turns out their eldest is only one day older than me.

In the evening we had a barbeque and we talked at great lengths about the differences between Denmark and NZ. They both seem like very knowledgeable people. It's a shame I didn't get the chance to get to know them better. That chance might come when I come back up to Nelson, though, as Gary offered to help me do a bit of maintenance on the bike then. The legendary kiwi hospitality at work!

The next morning I rode my new bike back to Christchurch, a trip of 400km. I'd had my breakfast at Gary and Janet's place, but no sooner than I'd thought "what about second breakfast" I ran into this great couple from America (sorry you two, forgot the state!) who treated me to coffee and breakfast!

The guy (sorry mate, forgot the name!) had done a good bit of dirtbiking back home, and he confirmed some of the things Gary'd told me about it. Mainly that it's a good and reliable bike for the money.

Along the way I did a bit of video:

I named her Valkyrie after the valkyries of norse mythology. She's already taken so many brave bugs to valhalla that Odin started complaining. That's right, Odin's got my number.

The reason I'm panting in the video is the heat. It was a beautiful sunny day, and when I were riding the temperature was ok. Once I stopped, however, it wouldn't be more than five minutes before I had to loose the jacket!

The landscape kept outdoing itself, and every time it changed I thought "damn! I should have done the video here!" Here's some fotos, but they (or videos for that matter) just don't do it justice.

After a while the bike went dead. I realized I'd run out of gas! This is the first vehicle I've ever owned, mind you, but I felt very stupid none the less! I switched to the reserve tank, not knowing how much it held, and headed to the next town, 70 kilometers ahead. I leaned forward and lowered my speed. I was riding on a prayer.

This is the first time I've ever talked to something I'm driving, except maybe my first bicycle who was very sociable, but all the way I was urging the old girl on. Sometimes tenderly, sometimes in stronger terms. The moral support apparantly did the trick 'cause she took me all the way to Springs Junction. I watered her and thanked my lucky stars. Here she is, taking a rest next to the watering hole.

Google Maps said the trip back to Christchurch would be 5½ hours. I took 9 hours! The bike did 100 fine, but I took it easy to enjoy the scenery and because I don't know the bike that well yet. The mountain roads were curvy as well. Add a few stops, the slowing down on the reserve, and that about explains it.

Back in Christchurch I stayed with Mike one last night. This morning I got up and rode to a bike shop to buy riding clothes and panniers. The guys and girls at the shop, sport and street motorcycles, were great, and when I told them what I was doing they got really interested. One of them said he'd put my blog-link on their web-site, and when I left they gave me a beanie and some tie-downs saying they'd come in handy. They did!

I went back to Mike's place and started packing. I finished up around 4pm, and Mike helped me strap everything to the bike which took some time too. I realized I didn't have any pictures of Mike, and we got a bypasser to snap these. I rode off heading for Ashburton at 4:40.

Now I'm sitting in a budget (read: crap) room in an Ashburton motel. I'd hoped for a backpackers place, but no such things exist in Ashburton. Why would it, there's nothing to see here.
As I parked my bike I realized the panniers were too heavily loaded with the bag on top, and a plastic exhaust covering had down on the exhaust pipe, causing it to melt in places! My panniers took some damage too, and I was afraid my laptop was in that bag. Thankfully it wasn't, and there were no further damage. Tomorrow I'll try riding with my rucksack on my back and the panniers as far forward on the bike as possible. If the plastic thingy lets go of the exhaust I'll hopefully be able to push the panniers back into a comfortable position. This whole thing (crap motel and damaged bike) had me really bummed out for a while. To remedy this I called a backpackers at Lake Tekapo and reserved a room for tomorrow. It made me feel a lot better having a plan for the bike, as well as good (read: fun!) lodging for tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to seeing the lake, as I've heard it's beautiful.

Leave me a comment and tell me about one great adventure you've experienced!

This is Jophiel. Signing off.