Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Deja Vú

Covering March 13th to March 19th

My plan for friday was to go to the Te Papa museum, but when I got on the bike I couldn't bear the thought of only riding for five minutes so instead I made my way along the coast for half the day.
In the evening I met up with two canadian girls I'd met in the Abel Tasman. They lived in an apartment in Wellington and they let me stay there for the weekend, which was awesome. Very nice people they were, and Joanna and I share a passion for poetry. Hers is very good.

Saturday they went to a music festival by the harbour, and I went to the Te Papa museum. The museum is quite big, but it's a big mishmash of exhibitions and it seems like it doesn't really know what it wants to be. One thing I'd really been looking forward to though, and that was their Colossal Squid specimen. Squid fascinate me, especially the giant and colossal species, and this is the only specimen of the latter on display in the world. Unfortunately, they were doing some work on it and I couldn't get up close to it.

The squid is in the tank in the middle

I stayed in Wellington for one more day, and monday I set off for New Plymouth on the long straight boring roads of the north island. I had no less than three breakdowns on the way. The first happened some distance south of Bulls. I was surprised at how calm I was. I removed the luggaged, opened the seat and took off the tank. I went through all the connections and checked for a spark. No spark, so either the sparkplug needed replacing, or it was a loose connection. I gave up, gathered my things, put the bike back together, and lifted my oil and petrol stained thumb to the road.

As it turned out, the driver who pulled over had a big trailer and we got the motorbike on there before heading north. In Bull, the mechanics thought they'd found the fault; a rusty connector. I think it generates some respect that I'm doing this trip on such an old machine. They didn't want any money for their help.

The friendly mechanics from Bull

Just 8 kilometers later it went dead again. I took the bike apart again, frustrated. I fiddled around with the electronics for a while as by now I knew it wasn't the sparkplug, but couldn't find the fault. When I put it all back together however, the problem had disappeared. This was not an uncommon occurence, and happened a third time before I arrived in New Plymouth.
As I turned off on highway 3, the sun had already set and it was getting dark. In hilly terrain, the bike did an average of 65-70km/h and I still had some distance to go. I had the lonely, beautiful Mt Egmont on my left, and it looked its best in those last rays of the sun, but I did not enjoy the prospect of riding in the dark. Kiwi's are, unfortunately, infamous for their drunk drivers, and I had no lights in the speedometer. The only thing I could see was the faulty rev counter. My only estimate for how fast I was going was from listening to the sound of the engine. When I passed a town with streetlights I'd check to confirm my guess. It worked out ok, and most times I was spot on.

The stately Mt Egmont

That night in the backpackers was very cold, and I found out in the morning that it was because my roomie slept in his sleeping bag and had his window wide open. The bastard. I was awoken by carpenters with nailguns in the hallway. Bad start to a day, and my mood was sullen. I couldn't have known it was gonna get worse. I went south the way I'd come, and turned east on the 43 in Stratford. The road was beautiful and winding, and I was practically alone. I've never seen grass so green as the grass on those beautiful dramatic hills.

Before long though, the bike stopped dead again. I sent a silent prayer to the god of machines, and a loud curse to the bike. This time, no matter what I did, the bike refused to start. I could have gone looking for a mechanic, but I knew the nearest one would be far away, and I was getting frustrated with these breakdowns. I eventually decided that it was taking up too much of my time. I parked it in the lawn of the nearest farm and went looking for the owners. They weren't home. I wrote them a note explaining why there was a wreck in their front yard, and then set off hitchhiking. My deal with Gary was that, since we both knew that chances were it'd break somewhere along the way, all I had to do if it happened was to leave it somewhere safe and he'd arrange for it to be picked up.
I hoped to get all the way to Turangi, but traffic was very slim and I only got as far as Taumanurui by evening. Just as I was loosing hope and considering sleeping under one of the gas pumps, the owner of the station invited me in for some food and water. I gladly accepted, and asked him whether he knew of any backpackers places. He said he'd seen a sign just up the road, and he offered to drive me there.
What I found wasn't really a backpackers, but a guy who had a bed in a dirty room in his yard. His last guest had been seven days ago, and he hadn't gotten around to cleaning the room yet. He still charged me 20$ though. I was in a rotten mood.

This was the kitchen. The plates were covered in cobwebs.

 I'm sick and tired about hitchhiking and not being able to decide for myself when I go where. Especially because the things I want to see are a bit outside of town, and I hate having to rely on the odd chance that someone will drive me.

Wednesday morning I called the owner of the farm where I left my bike. He was ok with keeping it, and he said he'd get someone to put it somewhere safer. I also got a hold of Gary and told him where to pick it up. Then I set out for Turangi and checked in to the Extreme Backpackers. The allure was a climbing wall, as I hadn't been climbing for upwards of three months. Climbing with ropes is entirely different than bouldering (which is all I'd done so far), and I had great fun learning the ropes (haha, get it? Climbing with... ropes?) The vertigo literally saps your strength!

The Canadians and I had agreed to meet up that evening so we could do the Tongaririo Crossing the next day. They ended up postponing the trip because of the weather forecast and I decided to wait for them, so I spent the whole next day blogging. Good for you guys, but I got more and more frustrated from sitting still all day, and I hated the thought of being dependent on other people. Especially as I hadn't heard from them all day. So in the evening (with no decisive word from them still), I decided to stop that dependency and book the bus for the next day, with or without them. It felt good making the decision and taking matters into my own hands, but before I could get to the reception the canadians showed up. Everything worked out in the end and I had learned an important lesson.

In Wellington, my thoughts strayed back to that girl I screwed things up with before I left. All the time I've been travelling I've hoped that she might be single when I get back. The thought has been hidden way back in my mind, but it was always there, ready to peep out. 'Maybe' I thought 'even if she isn't single, she could still fall for me.' I've played out my 'homecoming' in a hundred different ways in my head, trying to figure out how best to woo her. But always, the thought was accompanied with the knowledge that she might equally well have no interest in me at all. Would it even work with the age difference? Do I even know enough of her to know she's the one I want? Am I wasting my time?
In Wellington however, I felt a change in my feelings towards coming home. Do I even want to come home for her? To come home and feel depressed, overcome, unseen and vanquished? Do I want to spring right back into that old role I so happily left? No. Nay! NEVER! I would rather come home a new man, and see the world and the people I know with new eyes. Meet new people. Meet a beautiful woman, fall for her completely, and then find the courage and passion to ask her to be mine. My passion is my greatest strength, and if I can't bring that out when I meet that girl I left (and I can't because my heart sinks whenever I see her), there's no way I have a chance with her anyway. Might as well focus on something that has a future.

One thing that struck me as odd is how often the sirens go off in New Zealand. In Denmark, they only go off in case of attack or disaster (neither has happened since WWII I think), so I was a bit worried when I first heard them. I asked a kiwi woman about it, though, and she told me that the purpose was to summon the volunteer fire-brigade. "Don't worry, if there's a volcanic eruption they won't stop blaring". Coming from Denmark, that remark put me off slightly. The danish underground doesn't have what you'd call a flaring temper.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back on a Bike

Covering from March 10th to March 12th

Above me, the white puffs turned to big gun-metal coloured rainclouds as I lowered my eyes to the horizon. It looked like rain, but, never-the-less, a smile was starting to form in my helmet. I couldn't care less about the weather. Between my legs, an old single-cylinder four-stroke was pounding along merrily. It was almost as old as me, but looked far worse. Like something scavenged from Chernobyl. Nevertheless, the engine seemed to be running smoothly. There was a slight rattle sometimes, but I didn't ask for the cause and the bike didn't tell. Gary'd told me to ignore it. Reminding the old girl of her flaws might annoy her. I didn't want to risk it. Not when she was taking so good care of me.

It was two nights after the Abel Tasman, and I was on a daytrip to the Golden Bay.
She was an old Kawasaki I'd borrowed off of Gary, the guy who sold me the Honda. I was staying with him and his family in Nelson again. Apart from some coaxing and persuasion when starting, the old girl ran easily and I was falling in love. Gary saw this and generously agreed to lend me the bike for my four week tour of the north island. Or however long she'd run before setting out. The bike drew nice compliments from other bikers, and exclamations like "Oh, Jesus!" and "you drove uphill on this!?!" became a natural part of the trip. One phonecall to a backpackers stands out. It went like this:
- What bike is it?
- Kawasaki 200
- You mean 250
- no, it's a 200
- There's no such thing. Kawasaki only makes 250's
- Well, it says right here, Kawasaki Z200
- Wow, it MUST be old then!

The next day, Gary taught me how to change the rear wheel, remove the tank, check for spark, and how to recognize a bad sparkplug. All the easy little maintenance tasks I might run into, and I was glad to get to know 'em.

As I set off to Picton to catch the wellington ferry, I felt a lot more confident. only twenty minutes outside of Nelson though, the bike gave out. Gary came by and fiddled with the electronics for a bit, and it sprang back to life. I thanked him and set off again, this time in a hurry. The ferry wouldn't be waiting and the ticket was not cheap and not refundable. Two minutes later the same thing happened, and as the bike rolled to a standstill I was shouting curses. I tried fidgeting with the connectors, but with no result. Gary came back, this time worried. After some looking around we found the cause. Turned out I'd forgotten to open the fuel valve. I felt very stupid. All that new mechanical knowledge and I'd let stress get to me and overlooked the simplest of things.

Back in the saddle, I held a steady pace to avoid further breakdowns. Halfway through the ride I decided to stop worrying about the departure. I was doing all I could, and worrying wasn't useful. The road there was beautiful, and enjoying it proved much more fun. I arrived withing minutes of departure and was rushed into the ferry. I felt excstatic. I'd made it, and I had a bike for the north island.

Hours later, I find myself sitting on the deck of the ferry watching and photographing the majestic sunset. Finishing the south island was the first big leg, and it's been two wonderful months. Before me lies another wonderful month on the north island, followed by three more on the west island (as the kiwis call Australia). The bike I'm now riding is the best one I've ever had. Watching it, I feel like Indiana Jones. I could outrun a Panzer on that one. In my imagination anyway.
Starting this second leg feels quite different from the first one. Is it the bike? I don't think so. I think it's because of me. I've changed. I can feel it in the way I walk. In the way I tackle problems. I see it every day in the way I interact with people.
I'm far more open and outgoing, but at the same time I've become more stubborn in defending my values. I'm not as naïve as when I started, but I still have my heart in the right place. And I believe without a doubt that the world is a good place, filled with good opportunities and good people. And that's it's a place for limitless growth, abundant in it's ressources.
Here we go. We're now leaving the Marlborough Sounds and I can feel a definite difference in the sea. I think we're in for it tonight. On each side, the mountains of the sounds rise up like the Argonath before Rauros. The moon has appeared behind the clouds, making a halo of light. It's not cold, in spite of a brisk sea breeze. Not yet anyway.
The Cook strait is opening up in front of me, and I can hear the first real waves against the hull. It's taken more than an hour to get through the sounds.
I think it'll be good for me having my "apprenticeship" on a bike like that.
It's twilight now, and it's starting to get hard to write my diary. I don't want to go inside yet, but I'll put my book down.
I feel like thanking someone for two wonderful months in New Zealand, but I don't know who. Thank you, whoever you are, you who helped make my life what it is today. I love you for it. I love you all.
Here comes the first big waves.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Abel Tasman National Park

Covering March 7th to March 9th

Using the underwater-casing for the camera for the first time.
you don't know moonlight until you've seen it bathe the beaches of the Abel Tasman in silver.
This national park, along with the Milford sound and the Fox Glacier, is some of the most spectacular scenery I've seen in New Zealand.  The two days of kayaking I had here (followed by one hiking) were spectacular, and our guide Kim, though young, were very competent.
She taught me to roll a kayak upright after capsizing it, and I got it right in the third try. She was impressed, and I was very proud.

The good life!
Kim. Our guide.

After rolling the kayak for a couple of times my skull was filled with salty water. I had to hang like this to get it out. On the bright side, my sinuses were cleaned thoroughly.

The first night she took us to some cramped glow-worm caves not far from the camp-site. After we'd had our fill, she told us to turn on our torches and look up. The ceiling was crawling with Wetas, no more than half a metre above our heads.

You know how you open your mouth automatically when looking up? I shut mine promptly.
A Weta is a family of insects indiginous to New Zealand. They grow to different sizes, but the cave weta is one of the biggest, reaching 20cms in overall length. They are disgusting, and easily look like something out of a monster flick.

The next day we paddled out to a sea-lion nursery. The babys got quite qurious and came out swimming around the kayaks. One allowed me quite close.

At four o' clock, the others went back home on a water taxi, taking the kayaks with them. I started walking south to the Bark Bay hut, an easy walk of about one and a half hours. Just before the hut there was a tidal crossing. The tide was out, but plenty of crabs were roaming about, eating what they could find and scurrying back into their holes at my approach.

The tidal crossing

At the hut, a pair of paradise ducks had taken up residence.

Another gorgeous sunset.

Monday, I walked further south to Anchorage where a water-taxi would pick me up at three. On the way I met two czheck girls. After giggling secretively for a time, they told me that I reminded them of the guy from the movie Into the Wild. I didn't know wether to take it as a compliment as I haven't seen it, so I asked them how come. 'He does crazy things like you'. This was just after I'd attempted a shortcut resulting in me falling and sliding down a muddy slope on my bum. Not my proudest moment. 'Is he good looking?' I ventured. 'Very', came the reply.
Some lazy kayakers brought out sails.
The inlet in the background is the tidal crossing at Anchorage. The tide was still in.

There was another tidal crossing before anchorage, and we arrived before the tide had gone out. I wanted to attempt it anyway, so I repacked my pack to be waterproof. As I took out my diary, one of the girls (the other was changing) got very excited. "Oh, you keep a diary? Very good! Just like him! That way people will know what you've done even if you die of berries!"
As I set off, however, I found that the water went to my knees at the deepest place. Not the kind of "adventurous watercrossing" I'd imagined.

One of the girls 'ventured' the crossing with me.