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“How was Australia?”

Kia ora everyone,

It’s been a while, I know. Two and a half months since I’ve been back, and made my last post. A month ago I sat outside of the Hub on campus, wrote out this entire post, then went home with the intention of sending it when I got there. I got distracted, and when I came back my laptop had updated. Nothing saved. I blame myself for being trusting enough to actually write the post on wordpress.

At the moment I am on a break between classes, sitting outside of Parks. It’s a beautiful day, and it feels good to be here. I am taking organic chemistry, trigonometry, 300 level Spanish, and vertebrate biology. The first three are very homework-loaded, and it frustrates me. American classes have considerably more busywork. I am not going to use o-chem in my career, but it’s required for my major? It’s the third week of classes. I’ve only gotten disenfranchised with the US tertiary education system and ended up in tears or on the floor thrice. Such is my way of coping with my frustration with online math and chemistry homework. 5 minutes, then I’m okay. I wasn’t ready for the actual work part of school, having enjoyed less than half of a summer. Part of my issues have come from not wanting to snap out of summer mentality, part of them are from working as much as I did when classes weren’t in session. Hopefully having my hours cut will help. New Zealand helped me learn to like black coffee (not just latte’s) and caffeinated tea, so I have my own at home. The more expensive stuff, because I have the right to be snobby sometimes. That helps, but if I can go without, I do. If my body is still tired when I drink a coffee I become a clear-headed zombie, in a horrible state of energized exhaustion. I have been writing out my schedule for the week every Sunday, with what things I need to do/start on what days. I’m proud of myself for it. I bought colorful pens and a cute planner so it feels like I’m coloring! I’m working on trying to do more than survive in school, which means not procrastinating things until the last moment. I may need to drop Spanish to be able to do so, which would be the end of me trying to get a minor, but I’ll give it another week.

Three days after I returned to the Land of the Flat Green Corn from the Land of the Long White Cloud, I left again for a class at Iowa Lakeside Lab. Lakeside is a field station at West Lake Okoboji, with two to four-week immersion courses. Last year I took ornithology (the -ology of birds), this year was Icthyology (freaking fish). I came back to science camp partially for the science, mostly because the food is phenomenal, and I had friends from last year that were interning for the summer. Definitely did not come back for mosquitoes and cabins without AC. What if mosquitoes weren’t a thing. Nonetheless, it was tons of fun. If heat and bugs are going to be the only annoyances in my career, I’ll take it. Here are some pictures from those two weeks:

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I was in a relationship from November to the end of July. I didn’t want to take away from the main focus of this blog, but being long-distance with someone taught me a great deal. For those of you who are in or may be in this situation in the future, I want to say a couple things. First, do not accept behavior that you normally would not just because you aren’t together. If something is happening while you’re apart, reuniting is not going to magically fix everything. Second, do not sacrifice parts of yourself to fix someone else. Relationships are about people complementing each other, not completing one another. Call on your friends and family when you need support. That applies to relationships and being abroad. Don’t not do something out of fear, but don’t stay in situations that aren’t doing you any good.

Since I’ve come back I’ve gotten “How was Australia?” at least every other time I reunite with someone. Sigh. I correct them and try not to take it personally when they say “eh, same thing, right?” No, the difference is Australia sucks. Kidding. It’s really hard for me to describe 4 ½ months in a few sentences. “Incredible” is probably my best descriptor. I don’t have hours of catching up to do with most people, because the most important ones have been keeping up every step of the way.

Some things were weird at first. My brain had gotten used to cars being on the wrong side of the road. I only looked the wrong way first to cross the street once. I didn’t need to reteach myself how to drive, luckily. Reuniting with my Jeep felt GOOD. It is my baby and I missed it so. I had several moments of “Where am I? Suddenly I’m here and not there? Why is this so normal and foreign at the same time?”. That was about as close to culture shock as I got. I actually noticed the “natural smell” of my house when I first got back. I’m accustomed to it again, but it was surreal that my brain forgot the smell of my family. I slept a lot when I moved back to my place in Ames. I was enjoying my near-complete lack of responsibilities, but I also didn’t know what to do with myself. I worked out and hung out with friends, and normality returned. I’d missed my Land of the Flat Green Corn. There are some kiwi habits that I’ve picked up, mostly with language and eating. Along with the coffee, I almost always have a wheel of Brie in my fridge. I use cheers, jafe, and the c-word in conversation. Sometimes words and thoughts will come out with the hint of an accent. I don’t try to hold it back.

I still have moments that take me back to Aotearoa. To my friends, to Dunedin, to the mountains, and the sea. I doubt they will ever go away. I hope they don’t. I’ve kept in touch with my flatmates, it was great reaching out to them in the group chat after a couple months and having everyone respond, excited to catch up. My new love-interest and I watched “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” last week, a Kiwi movie about a boy and his grumpy old man of a foster-parent who get lost in the wilderness and start a nationwide manhunt. We both thought it was hilarious and touching. 10/10 would recommend and watch again. It was somewhat nostalgia-inducing, but not as much as my flat mate’s 4-minute stitch-film of the videos she took over the course of the semester. Mine, if it ever happens, will never be this good. I wish I’d upgraded to an iPhone 7 before leaving, but I had to wait to drop mine in the shower after getting back. I was just trying to sing and get clean simultaneously. Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlOqwjJ_TII&feature=youtu.be. I cry every time. Love you, Mack. And Kaitlyn. And Hugh. And Angus. Juicy Pineapple forever.

Also, I know at the top I said I was sitting outside of the library. That was yesterday. Right now I’m at home, about to go play tennis with my mom and brother. ISU just lost to the Hawks, so we’re going to mourn our loss at a restaurant later, after my dad gets home. I have almost never actually been doing what I wrote I was doing when I uploaded each post, even though it would have been easy for me to update what I was actually doing when I published the post. I’m going to turn it into a metaphor now.

Life happens. You’re not always going to make the most logical, time or money-conscious decisions. I just dyed my hair purple and got a new piercing. Think about things, but don’t get in your own way. Studying abroad is not cheap, but it is worth it. Don’t be afraid to spend money on things that are important to you. Good metaphor? No? It doesn’t matter! I like it.

I will be back someday. It will be years before I have an income steady enough, but I’ll get there. For now, I have pictures, video, my friends, and this blog. I hope you all have had as much fun reading this as I have had writing it. Thank you to the ISU Study Abroad Center for this opportunity, and thank you to everyone in my life who helped me along the way.

For the last time, cheers.

Leah

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The Grey Havens

Kia ora everyone, from Dunedin International Airport. My flight to Auckland leaves in less than an hour, and in less than five hours I will be headed back to the U.S. So here we are. I finished my last exam yesterday, at long last. Home has somewhat become an abstract concept. It doesn’t feel real, because it’s been so far away-physically and timewise- for so long that I haven’t gotten used to the idea of coming back to it, yet here I am, about to time-travel (leaving Thursday and arriving Thursday) and be in my parents’ arms. The dual realities of my life are overlapping, and it feels too real.

Alright I lied a little. I’ve been home for over a week now. I expected to have more downtime between flights, but my Dunedin-Auckland plane was an hour late, and my Auckland-LAX plane was delayed on the tarmac for 30 minutes because the previous one hadn’t left. I basically hopped from one flight to the next, and was busy reading an entire book, watching movies, having a glass of wine, and sleeping while in the air. It made the journey back feel much faster than the journey out.

June 12th-14th I bussed up to Queenstown to do a cruise of Milford Sound. Milford is one of the most famous attractions in New Zealand, for good reason. It was pretty rainy bussing into Te Anau and looked bleak for the cruise, but once we drove through the mountain pass it magically cleared up. The peaks had fresh snow on them, and had waterfalls everywhere from the rainfall. I couldn’t believe my eyes at some points. The bus driver was a funny middle-aged man who decided to come on the cruise with us that day, asked me if I was scared while we got on. I said no, and thought that if I was going to die this place was as close to heaven as I could imagine.

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The weekend before last, our flat and some neighbors went to Victory beach in Dunedin, on the edge of the Otago Peninsula. We messed around with a football, drew things in the sand, and saw a sea lion returning to shore. I made my peace and said goodbye to the ocean before we headed out.

Last night one of our friends had a birthday party at her flat, as an early 21st celebration and one last get together before the internationals flew the nest. We played a couple games, watched an entertaining and semi-painful 21 shots (something I will not be doing on my birthday this year), had carrot cake, danced on the table that was about to break, and tried to karate chop old pieces of mail in half. We also managed to get one last group picture as an entire flat, on the porch of a different flat. I have always loved the odd but gold music choices, dancing, and shenanigans that we get together for. When things began dying down and people started to head out is where the title of this post comes in. The Grey Havens are the second-to-last scene in The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, where Bilbo is leaving on the last ship out of Middle Earth with the elves, and Frodo joins him. Pippin, Sam and Merry said goodbye with tears in their eyes. I knew I was going to cry. I’ve been tearing up intermittently for the last couple of weeks thinking about saying goodbye. I won’t be seeing some of the friends I’ve made for years, if not ever again. Saying goodbye to my flatmates and next door neighbors was the hardest. I couldn’t do more than hug them tight and agree with the things they said. All the things I wanted to say got stuck in my throat and had I tried to say them the real floodgates would have released.

By the last month my flatmates and I joked about being a family, and how our assumed roles were similar to those of our real families. It was easy to joke about because it’s how we really felt about each other. You know you’re close with people not when you’re nice to one another, but when you mess with each other. When you can push each other around, name call, and flip each other off without taking any offense, because that’s what siblings do, and what we did a lot, but not too much. It’s why saying goodbye to my new brothers and sisters was so hard. I have tears going down my face as I write this. For any of you guys reading this, thank you so much for the best semester of my life. You guys are a bunch of jafe’s, and I love you all so much. From family dinners, to BYO’s, to takeaways, Rob Roy Dairy and the night we had a potluck. From rugby games to going downtown to the capping show. From just sitting around chatting to running around the house doing dumb and funny crap. From going to parties with a “too American” vibe to throwing our own parties, and then sitting in the living room staring at the carnage the afternoon of the next day, having beers and popcorn instead of cleaning it up. New Zealand has some breathtaking scenery, but it would have felt like the Lonely Mountain without you all. Thanks for the time of my life.

Having been backand seen most of my closest friends and family now I’ve gotten the “how was it” question, which is really hard to answer. How do I describe the best semester ever in just a couple of sentences? What I’ve been saying to people is if I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing (besides a couple things I didn’t need to), but I don’t think I’ll live abroad for an extended period for a few years. It felt right to come home. My next (and probably last) post on this blog will be in a few weeks, about how it’s been to be back. Thank you all for reading up until this point.

Cheers,

Leah

The Deliciousness–Self-Discipline Theorem

Hi everyone,

It’s Sunday morning, a spider is running around on the floor while I avoid picking my clothes up off of it. I’m sitting in bed after the first night in months that my room has been warm enough to not have to curl up in a ball. I just had to switch out my space heater because allegedly I put my last one on a book under my blankets and the sheet got sucked into the back and knocked the fan off kilter. Hypothetically it was a pretty sweet ride up until that point.

Last weekend I went on a trip with the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club to Mount Somers, 5500 foot mountain in the Canturbury region. We left Friday night and my group stayed in a cabin while the other one camped at the trailhead, and Saturday we made our way to the Woolshed Creek Hut (about 3 hours) and then up to the summit (about 3 up, 1.5 hours back). We spent Saturday night there, did a couple smaller hikes on Sunday, spent Sunday night, and headed back Monday morning. I didn’t know anyone else going, I just wanted to go on one more hiking trip and get to see the south island up close and personal, and it did not disappoint.

I am a bit of a slow hiker. I keep up fine but steep hills take a bit longer for me. It was gorgeous on Saturday after the morning fog cleared off; visibility was fantastic and there wasn’t much wind. At the top of Somers we could see Aoraki/Mount Cook, the tallest in New Zealand, as well as several other notables. That night it snowed, but we were expecting it and being prepared kept the day from sucking as we hiked around. It was like we were in a different place altogether. It did suck a little at a couple points. We went to this overhang called the “Bus Stop”, and on the way up we could see the end destination but we were at cloud level and it was misting and windy and cold and I wasn’t having it. I stopped a couple times and a couple of the ladies asked if I was alright and I said it’s not worth it for me and the only reason I kept going was because one said I’d get cold if I stopped. I trudged on pissily and getting there was marginally better than just turning around.  I just get frustrated when things take longer than expected, and when one of the women asked how I was doing later I said I just get grumpy and she’s like “Oh I’ve been there so many times” and that made me feel a lot better.  I haven’t looked at my GoPro videos yet, but if my iPhone photos are anything to go off of then they will be gorgeous.

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I said I wanted to get more familiar with the south island. I did, and it was fantastic. It quiets the mind. The sense of wonder has always been what draws me to nature. I just hate being cold constantly. Once the wood stove got going in the hut it was alright, but for some reason everyone and their mother wanted to stay in Woolshed that weekend, and the door was always opening and closing. I am pretty sure I have Reynaud’s syndrome, which is where your extremities overreact to drops in temperature. It happens a lot in women because estrogen controls more than it darn well should. Mom, this is why my feet are always freezing. I know it didn’t use to bother me, but it does now. My toes and fingers get pins and needles if left too long, and it takes forever to get them to relax. Obviously not showering is a bummer for everyone, but having eczema means my skin throws a fit if it is anything but clean and moisturized. Getting sweaty while climbing and then not being able to wash it off is a big no-no.

Yes I am complaining a little. I can live without my creature comforts, and it was well worth the experience, but I wasn’t able to voice my frustrations with the group so I’m making you all read them instead with little to no shame. The reason I couldn’t say a word was because I was with 7 other very experienced trampers. One guy was probably around 25, one woman was 32, and the rest were 40’s-60’s. Let me tell you something about complaining in front of old people: you can’t. Say a word and  it’s “ah you’re young, just wait until your our age and then you’ll have this that and the other thing.” I get it, but being young doesn’t mean I’m invincible. The group were all nice, but they probably thought I was very quiet. Half of the conversation seemed to revolve around healthy dieting. I kept getting recipe suggestions and asked if I had ever tried chia seeds in this and salmon with that. “Does that place have extra virgin coconut oil? I won’t get it otherwise, too processed”, “I swear by avocado oil, but olive oil is great, too.”

The women talked about how they have so much energy now that they don’t eat beef or fast food or dairy products.

bean

I bought the “fancy” peanut butter (has 99% peanuts instead of 97%) and realized that because it’s more watery I can save myself from dirtying a spoon by just dumping it into my mouth. That is where I am at. Last night I ate almost an entire small pizza. It was two for one night (obviously you split with a friend) so it was $6 and had potato wedges on it what am I supposed to do?

The problem is that when I buy chocolate and sweets here I buy the good stuff like Whittaker’s and Tim-Tams, and they’re so amazing I can’t stop. When I buy the cheapest chocolate chip cookies on the shelf I can pace myself, but Thursday I made 6 double chocolate chip cookies from scratch and they were so good I had three-the rest went to my flatmates. Hence the title of this post. I hope I can afford avocado oil and grass-fed beef and all the other environmentally conscious foods someday, and maybe I could now if I NEVER went out to eat, but I’m not going to kid myself on that one.

I had my first exam yesterday, for my Marine Biology class. I only needed a 33% to pass the class, and I think I can safely say I did better than that. My next one isn’t until this Saturday. I’ve been taking advantage of the extended finals period by spacing out studying instead of just putting it off and cramming at the last minute. It’s a lot easier to think “I have to do 8 lecture note summaries today” rather than “oh my goodness I have 44 stats lectures to go over”. I can see the benefit of the 3 week time period now. Much less stress. I booked a bus to Queenstown tomorrow to do a Milford Sound cruise on Tuesday, and I’m so excited because Queenstown was awesome, I didn’t get to see enough of it. The one place I said I was going to for sure was Fjordland, and it’s taken the entire semester but I’m finally going.

I guess I should pick up my room. I could fold my clothes instead of just throwing them in the closet, but with 11 days (really thats it?) left what’s the point. I’m having a party tonight because today is my half birthday. In reality it is because I know my time left with all my friends here is limited. Hopefully I’ll have one last post before I leave, but I’ll be back soon.

Cheers,

Leah

Funedin

Happy Memorial Day!

It’s been two (?) weeks since my last post. I tried to do this Saturday, but the creative process wasn’t… processing. Instead I watched The Aviator, Gangs of New York and then diverged from the Leonardo Dicaprio theme with a documentary about whales- although I was thinking about trying to find The Revenant. Last week I watched Pacific Rim, all of the episodes of Rick and Morty that I hadn’t seen, as well as Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I’m particularly fond of. I remember going to see it with my dad and we were the only ones in the theater. Paying for Netflix means I have to get some use out of it. Yesterday our flat plus a couple of the neighbors watched the first Hobbit, and tonight we’re on the second.

It’s the last week of classes, and I really only have one more assignment before final exams. Finals here last for three weeks, and I really have not gotten a specific reason why, but I think if Iowa State can get all of it’s finals done in one week than so can a university 2/3 of it’s size. Oh well. It gives me more time have fun and do a few things I haven’t been able to yet. If this was the five stages of grief I’d be at acceptance. I miss home, but given the option to go right now I would choose to stay these last 24 days. I am also simultaneously in the denial phase of leaving all of my friends here, to not see some for years or even decades, and some never again. I can’t think about saying goodbye because I’ll start to tear up. I know I’m going to cry a lot, so if my flatmates are reading this here’s your warning. I also can’t think about the flight home because I’ll get so excited I can feel it in my chest, and I know that I’m just not going to sleep the last couple of days (like I did last time) and probably pass out from exhaustion on the plane.

The week before last I volunteered with one of my flatmates and other international flat students at the Orokonui Eco Sanctuary. It is like the one I went to in Wellington- Zealandia, but bigger. For half a day we cleared trails in the part of the sanctuary that isn’t accessible to visitors, but are still needed for employees and researchers to walk through and set traps in. We saw fantails, New Zealand Robins, a Hihi, and a kaka (a brown parrot known for being curious and chewing stuff up) came and squawked at us. At the end we looked at the skink exhibit. It wasn’t too hard, and it was fun chatting with the girl who worked there and the other girls in my group. It was also a great way to see the place for free and get up in the hills around the peninsula. It was a beautiful day and the views were spectacular.

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That weekend I did more volunteering, for Ki Uta Ki Tai Volunteer Week in Karitane, which is a small coastal town about 35 minutes north of Dunedin. My adventure education class had a guest speaker last month who talked about her postgrad work on adventure and environmental experiences as a Maori. At the end she talked about the volunteer opportunity, and as soon as I knew there weren’t any costs I was in. The first day the leader of the conservation project started with a Maori greeting of who he was and what the project was about. Each day started with a greeting in Maori of what we were going to do that day. Karitane has land given back to the local Maori from the crown, which isn’t uncommon, as well as protected/limited fishing around the area in respect of the culture and environment. The project is mainly habitat restoration, planting native species where invasive ones have taken over.

Friday we spent the morning repotting sprouts in the greenhouse, and the rest of that day, Saturday, and Sunday we planted ones that were ready. The theme behind the weekend was “from the mountains to the sea”, so we started up in one of the hills surrounding the town and moved inward to the wetland around the coast. Our group of students and the volunteer coordinator stayed in the local marae (mar-aye), which is a Maori meeting house. It is an ancestor, symbolically, and therefore we treat it with respect. “Tapu” is the concept of sacredness, where certain things are treated a certain way to retain their sanctity. Once “called on” to the marae women went first from the archway up to the porch of the building, then we took our shoes off before entering, and men took the lead to stand in front of the locals of the marae that were in charge of the project. The conservation project coordinator was also the leader of the welcoming ceremony, and he welcomed us in Maori and English, then one of our men answered in thanks, and we sang a short song that we’d practiced beforehand to reiterate that thank you. Then with each of the locals we lined up and did a hongi (hoo-ngi), a traditional greeting where you grab hands with the other person (European style), and press noses gently (Maori style). Sometimes women do a kiss on the cheek instead, or both. I managed to not make a fool of myself doing it. Then we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. Traditionally Maori start with the mountain, ocean, and river that they call home. I said that my mountain is the Great Plains, since Iowa is notoriously non-mountainous. I said the Des Moines is my river, and the Atlantic is my ocean since it is the one I first met, the one I know the most, and the one that connects me to my ancestors in Ireland and Germany. It was nervewracking, and my voice shook terribly. I hope that it just sounded like I missed my family, because it was my little brother’s 17th birthday that day. We also each said a little bit about why we were there. Then after a few more words we adjourned to the kitchen/dining area in the adjacent room. Food and drink are not permitted in the marae itself as part of its tapu. I ate better as a volunteer than I have all semester. Each day the locals brought stuff for midmorning tea and coffee and snacks (happy dance), and then we got lunch with desserts (more aggressive happy dance) and we had dinner back at the marae- loaded nachos, fish pie, and spaghetti. The foam mattresses that we pulled out of the attic were comfy, also.

The food was great but the experience was better. We had tons of opportunities to learn and ask about Maori customs. Saturday night the project coordinator’s wife came and taught us how to weave bracelets and flowers out of flax. Mine came out too small for my hand, but oh well. The marae is very open and this one has an amazing view of the coast, and I got up to look at the sunrise in the mornings. The weather was sunny and gorgeous the whole time. It felt good to give back to the place that has given me so much. Monday day we went out to the “po” which is a post on a small ridge by the sea with two carved heads, one looking to the sea and one looking to the hills, representing the past and future, and respect for what is around us. We repainted him, and I did a majority of his face. We then went out in wakas, which are canoes that were used when the first Polynesians came to Aotearoa and eventually became the Maori. I was sitting in front of the project leader while he threw a line in to fish, and after letting the first go (to not anger the sea), he caught one and then handed me the line while he killed it with his bare hands. It was a little gruesome. I caught two more before we headed back in, and we saw a Little Blue penguin on the way, headed out to feed. So cool. He gave me one of the fish I caught to take home, so when I got back to Dunedin that night I roasted it in the oven and did my best to debone it, but probably only ate about a third before picking the little bones out became too much. I don’t even like chicken on the bone because there is too much risk of getting a hard piece, and I didn’t want to ruin fish entirely for myself.

At the beginning of the weekend us students were about getting in, planting stuff, and getting out. At the closing ceremony, where we each stood up and talked about what we’d learned and what we were thankful for. Some talked about how the Maori’s connection with nature helped us see its as more than a resource, and how this had helped them see the big picture. I talked about how thankful I was to be able to learn about the Maori and give back. The locals talked about how having us there each year helped them feel revitalized and hopeful. It was an amazing experience, and I’ll never forget it. One of the girls said “I feel like I’m leaving a soul and a half bigger, and all I did was plant some trees”.

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Last week my flat and I went to the 2017 “Capping Show” which is a skit-based play that happens every year at the U of O. This year’s theme was “The Cat in the Cap”, the cap’s being red and white graduation caps stacked on top of one another. Two flatmates living in Dunedin ended up in the Cat’s alternate reality, “Funedin”. They then went on an adventure to find them new flatmates, and came across Trump 1 and Trump 2, who sang a song about how great they were, yelling “racism, sexism, racism, sexism!”, and Horton, a psychology major doing postgrad work on the sentience of dust, as well as the Grinch, a guy who’d been at uni for 53 semesters, and decided to steal grad once and for all. Between the main story line were a lot of random skits. Some based on dumb puns, funny and not so much. Some were based on what goes on here at Otago i.e. The song “500 Miles” based around the fact that the construction workers are always blocking stuff off and making a ton of noise- the “da-da-da-da’s” replaced with them laughing and the “dundadadundadadunadadumdumdum’s” replaced with the sound of jackhammers. Hilarious. There were a lot of a Capella songs about… mature content… that got a little repetitive. There was a skit where men pranced around in ballet gowns with subtly increasing amounts of nudity. A rollercoaster ride from start to finish.

Yesterday I finally made it to Tunnel Beach, with one of my flatmates and a couple of her friends. I tried to take my family there when they were in Dunedin, and the weather seemed nice until we got to that half of the city. Visibility was nil and the walk was longer than I thought, combined with not being able to see anything we just decided to go straight to dinner. It was a gorgeous day this time around. The white cliffs are so picturesque. It was definitely worth the hike back up and all the way down to a road with a bus stop that we didn’t have to wait half an hour for. Pictures are below. My health app on my phone said I had over 7 miles and 16,000 steps, and I counted that as my workout. Today I went the gym before class and then after class I got a burger and fries because I am a garbage person.

Tomorrow I am finally mailing out all of my postcards. Garbage. Person. I’m going to try to get ahead on studying for finals, because I’m going on a trip to the Mount Somers area (south of Christchurch) this weekend with the tramping club. 25 days left, but the adventure isn’t over yet.

Cheers,

Leah

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success as a hiker, and failure as a vlogger

Last post I said I was going to do a vlog of my spring break trip instead of blogging because I’ve found it hard to write about traveling without it just being a boring recollection of events. I was doing good at first, taking video of me moving from place to place and talking about how things were going, but I ran into obstacles both during the trip and afterwards. My gopro takes amazing quality video, but my voice was often drowned out by the wind when I was outside. It also doesn’t have as much battery as I thought it would, dying not even halfway through the Tongariro Crossing. Videos that I took on my phone sometimes had sound, but sometimes they just make a fuzzy TV channel noise, so I don’t know what the deal is with my microphone. I also dislike recording in public, whether it’s actually happening or not I can feel the eyes of judgement on me. I did actually catch a lady openly staring out of the corner of my eye while I was filming in the airport in Christchurch. When I was finished I immediately looked directly at her, with a maybe-slightly-over-dramatized head turn, and she looked away. That’s what I thought. The same is true with taking selfies in front of anyone I’m not comfortable around. When I was in Tauranga I had my selfie stick out taking one with good view of Mt. Maunganui, and a guy told me to “smile” while he walked by. Thanks, dude, I never would have thought of that. Guys, here’s a helpful guide of when you should say things to a girl/woman while you walk/drive by.

  1. Never.

I also have had trouble finding free, user friendly video editing software. Youtube editor is alright, but it’s very skeletal. Everything else wants to leave a huge watermark or something. I just want to use goods and services without paying for them, darnit. Nonetheless, I’m working on editing what I have and hopefully I can make something half decent out of it.

The first part of the trip (after bussing to Christchurch from Dunedin, then flying to Rotorua) I met up with a classmate and his flatmates to ride down to Turangi. On the way out of Rotorua we stopped at Rainbow Mountain, mud pools,  and some weird guy’s campground property that we paid 5 bucks to see farm animals then walk around a stream with geothermal vents and named structures like “Singing Cliff” which was more like “Whispering Geothermal Vent Hill.” We also stopped at Huka Falls and Lake Taupo before they dropped me off at my hostel in Turangi (they’d booked a different one) where I ate their free pasta, took a picture of the sunset, and went to bed early because I had to get up at 5am.

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My favorite part of the trip by far was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I’m glad that I found people to go with, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to climb Ngauruhoe- for safety reasons and a time constraint that I would have been on, needing to be at the end before the last shuttle left. The sign at the bottom of Mount Doom (Ngauruhoe is it’s real name) said 3 hour return, 2 hours up, 1 down. It took us 4 hours total. We took our time, but it was still grueling. I kept thinking of the Return of the King, where Frodo and Sam are filthy, exhausted, and literally crawling up the mountain. “Do you remember the taste of strawberries Mr. Frodo?” “I can’t recall the taste of food.” When we got to the near top we laid down on some unnaturally warm rocks (it is a volcano) to rest and eat. The clouds had swooped in, so visibility was nil and I was a little freaked by the high winds, but one of the girls from our group pushed me to come with her to the very top, the edge of the crater, since it was only another 10 minutes. I don’t know how I hauled myself up that last 200 feet, or how I stood on the edge of that thing, but it was worth it. The crater was much bigger than I expected, despite not being able to see the whole thing. Below is a picture I took on the way down to give an idea of how steep it was.

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We used the bigger rock outcropping on the left on the way up, and nervously watched people skating their way down next to us, afraid they were going to cause a rock slide; but after watching a couple groups make it all the way down safely without doing so I kind of lead the group to do the same. I would rather have several soft falls than one hard one, and it ended up being my favorite part of the day. Basically skiing down the mountain, being able to see farther than 10 feet again, not worrying about falling because the lava rocks were so lightweight; I even played some music on my phone because I was in such a good mood. It even lasted through remembering that we still had 5 hours to go (it’d been 6 already) because nothing could be as hard as what we’d just done.

The rest of the crossing was beautiful. I loved how it looked like we were on Mars, or in Star Wars. The clouds blocked the view sometimes, and the wind at the top of the ridge before the Emerald Lakes was killer, but there were plenty of chances to see what was around us.

We took the “easier” way through the crossing, starting at Ketetahi car park. This way is about 2/3 downhill, while coming from the opposite way is mostly uphill.  Walking downhill for 4 hours absolutely wrecked my joints. The next day my knees felt like an 80 year-old’s. My feet were sliding in my heavy duty boots and hitting the toe every time I took a step. That toenail is now gone. It was agonizing, but my friend let me switch shoes with her and we booked it to get to the end before dark. 11 hours of hiking. I have never been more excited to see concrete. We found the closest bar in town. We’d been daydreaming about hot food and drinks since the bottom of Mount Doom. I wanted a beer, and I hate beer. Conversation halted when our orders came out. I barely waited for my fish and chips to cool before inhaling it. Didn’t get a beer. When I got back I read my book a little, and passed out with the lights on.

The other highlight of my trip was biking the coastal walkway in New Plymouth. I went to the Te Rewa Rewa bridge, a pedestrian bridge frames Mount Taranaki  and is meant to represent the wind and honor the dead, before turning around. I was going to go to climb a cool rock by the shipyard the opposite way of the center of town but after the first two hills I decided that I’ve seen plenty of cool rocks.

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I also had made the mistake of booking a hostel a half hour walk from the center of town. I tried to be optimistic at first, telling myself that I liked the exercise. In reality my body was done with my crap, letting me know that I can’t feed it pb&j’s and granola and expect to be the energizer bunny.

The day I took a bus back to Dunedin from Christchurch I explored the city and took lots of pictures of street art. Christchurch is still recovering from a devastating earthquake 6 years ago, so the mix of modern buildings and half-destroyed ones is interesting. I enjoyed walking around the museum and art gallery, and wish I had more time to explore the gardens that make it “The Garden City.”

Apologies for this being late and probably having grammatical errors, I had a lot of schoolwork due right when I got back and I’ve been trying to get ahead this week because tomorrow and this weekend I’m going to be doing volunteer work!

Cheers,

Leah

pita bread and self reliance

Kia ora everyone! At the moment I am sitting outside at the enjoying the sun at the Marsh Study Center at the end of my street. It is a newly renovated building with plenty of comfy seating, windows, and outlets, with a little coffee and snack shop where one can get the cheapest espresso drinks in town. I just burned my tongue on a flat white. I also completed student loan entrance counseling this morning, yay for debt!  This week I had a stats homework assignment, a marine biology midterm, and a paper due for my adventure education class. Luckily they were all spaced out so I could focus on one at a time. I got an A on the stats homework, I would be shocked if I got less than an A on the midterm, and I feel pretty good about the paper. Aim for an A, hope for a B, be happy with a C. Yesterday I met up with my Zoology lab group at the botanic gardens to do a trial run for our experiment with house sparrows. We didn’t get a single bird to come to our feeding site.

When we were done I headed to the supermarket just outside the gate opposite of my street, which is apparently the most expensive grocery store in the nation. There are others, but is one is about an 8 minute walk, where the two next closest are 20 minutes away. I’ll pay an extra 2 bucks to save myself the time and effort. Some people might argue “but you’re saving money, and getting a workout!” which is correct, but fails to take into account that I am lazy. Even though I walk 20 minutes to get to the gym. “But you could just run there and back and save yourself half an hour!” To which I would reply “no because I hate running” even though I ran 3k yesterday after biking for 8 minutes, rowing for 10, and stair climbing for 6. I acknowledge my personal hypocrisies, I just have a certain amount of time that I am willing to allot to  walking to things. For example, the first week I was going to walk with the wildlife biology club to see glow worms. I didn’t expect there to be 60 other people who wanted to go too, and I didn’t expect the walk to take an hour to get there, so I dipped out. I will walk an hour to see birds, small mammals, bats, a waterfall, a butterfly migration, etc., but I draw the line at bioluminescent fly larvae poop. Getting groceries is more of a chore, so the less time it takes the better, and working out helps me look and feel good, so I don’t mind it taking a while.  Is there a point to this tangent? I’m not sure yet. Maybe its’ about not feeling bad about things you don’t need to. I’m also saving money that I lose in not walking to the other store by making my own baked goods. I’m really surprised at how much one can make with flour, salt, oil, and yeast. I’d like to thank food bloggers for all the work they do, without them I couldn’t get on Pinterest, find the “best ____ ever” and scroll past the 5 paragraphs that they wrote to get straight to the recipe. I did Red-Lobsteresque biscuits with gravy on Thursday, and yesterday I made my own pita bread.

This week the student association gave away free tickets to the rugby game, and I have my season pass so friends came over to our flat and we hung out, drank some, and took turns painting each other’s faces beforehand. This game was much more exciting than the first one, the Highlanders started out behind and then pulled ahead and won in the end. I am starting to understand what happens in rugby, which helped. When the group got back I stayed up a little but went to bed early because I was tired and knew that everyone was soon going to get to a level that I neither had the time nor resources to keep up with. I’m not a fan of music so loud I can’t hear myself think. This wasn’t the case last night, but I also don’t like being squished in a crowd. I’m really a cranky old person sometimes when it comes to parties or concerts. I still had fun though, I know when to go to bed before the female Mr. Nebercracker comes out. Watch Monster House if you haven’t-movie recommendation of the week.

By this time next week I will be in Christchurch arriving at my hostel to fly to Rotorua in the morning. I am doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway over mid-semester break, two of New Zealand’s most popular day hikes. I was trying to decide if I wanted to find people with a car to ride around with, but I chose to go solo instead of waiting around and then ending up stuck here the whole week. Which brings me back to the tangent I was on earlier, about not feeling bad about things you don’t need to. I could feel lame about not having friends that I can travel with. Part of me wants to; it might be because I imagined coming here and roadtripping around the country with people. I’m choosing to be positive about the situation. I don’t mind traveling alone, I get to go where I want and meet new people along the way. There is also something more pensive about going solo. I get space and anonymity that is really new and rare; just because I am alone doesn’t mean I need to feel lonely.

I know that last post I said I would talk about the differences between living at home and living here, and I will, but I think I have set this post up better for what I have learned about self-sufficiency. I have had a car and a job since I was 16, and have always been able to drive places and replace the money I spend. Now I have to walk everywhere I want to go in town unless I’m riding somewhere with friends. I can only buy from the store what I can carry home. I have a limited budget and have spent time working and reworking it to get to where I can track my monthly spending and give myself the most money possible for doing fun things. I have to make my own itineraries, book things, and map out where I need to walk in the cities I stay in. I enjoy the challenge and it makes me feel confident about my abilities. It feels good when I get somewhere that I wanted to go after walking for half an hour or spending hours planning the flight, bus ride, and route to take to get there. It’s also helped me learn how to be smart with my money. I am bringing food on my spring break trip to save what I’d spend going to a restaurant. I am going to sign up for Spotify’s free trial right before I leave because my iPod broke (I’m gonna bury it in the yard, RIP). I bought a tent for $30 at the thrift store and sold it for $51 on TradeMe, New Zealand’s version of craigslist.

Money and transportation are one thing, emotions are another. Relying on myself to remedy homesickness is not as fun. I miss home more than I thought I would, but I have never been far from it, so I’m not shocked. It comes in waves. Skyping my family and friends usually helps, but I can’t do it whenever I want, so I’ve had to figure out other ways to help get over it. The best advice I heard before I left was that on days that I am sad to just let myself feel it instead of burying it. I think that happened to me after the first couple of weeks in Dunedin. I didn’t want to admit that I missed home, even though it was hitting me how far away from it I was and how long it would be before I would see it again, so I took a lot of naps and ate junk food. On average days I have thoughts about things I miss, and usually I can let them pass with a bout of nostalgia. On days that I can’t help missing everything I take some time to talk to people back home if I can, and turn to doing stuff that I like to make myself feel better. I’ll treat myself with good food or coffee, go work out, watch a movie, or I’ll be productive with school. Things that make me feel good and pass the time. I’ll also hang out with my friends here if they’re around, because a friend made the good point that I have all the time in the world to see people back home, but I have a limited time with the friends that I’ve made here. I do like the people I’ve met, the people I live with and around as well as people I have class with. My flatmates and I call ourselves a family, jokingly calling our Kiwi host “Dad”

I have a long way to go, but I’m already almost halfway there. Time goes slow when you’re looking ahead, and fast when you’re looking behind. I’m excited for the next couple of weeks as well as the rest of the semester. I think I am going to vlog my spring break trip- I’ve finally uploaded some videos to YouTube! I’ll post a link here the week after next, I’m going to try my hand at video editing, so wish me luck. Here are a few pictures from the other week, because I did a lot of cool stuff but the post was a little photographically lacking. Below is Lothlorien, Bag End, and the hill where the wargs attacked on the way to Helm’s Deep.

Cheers

 

home comes to visit

Two weeks ago on Friday I flew up to Auckland to meet my family, who had decided to come see me in New Zealand basically as soon as I decided to go. My parents told my grandma that they were going, and she decided to come. Then my cousin decided the same thing. My mom posted on Facebook a few days ago (after they’d arrived back home) that her favorite part was seeing me as I came out of the gate, because I looked so happy. I might have teared up a little while hugging everyone. I told them to get neck pillows for the plane ride and they got three, I wish I had taken a picture of my brother with all three of them on his head. We laughed at my mom for pushing the luggage cart to the corner of the parking lot where Dad had parked the rental car. Our first stop in the North Island was Hamilton, just to break up the drive between it and Waitomo before the jet lag caught up to them. One of my favorite little moments is the childlike feeling of wonder when getting to your hotel and walking around the room for the first time. I would be a real estate agent if not for the talking to people and selling things. We turned on the TV and watched Hoarders for some quality relaxation time. I actually love watching dumb shows with my family; we have good color commentary. Favorite things to make fun of would probably have to be Finding Bigfoot and old Kung Fu movies with primitive special effects. We ordered takeout, but Mom forgot mine so Dad and I had to run and get pizza. The last time I had pizza it was Dominoes Hawaiian, this time I tried Pizza Hut Pepperoni. I haven’t had good pizza since I left. I am beginning to suffer. Everyone went to bed early, so I took a bath since I probably won’t get the chance for another 3 months. My flat only has a stand up shower, and I can always sit in that but it’s not the same.

We left early in the morning for Waitomo to do a 4-hour tour of the Lost World cave. To get into the cave requires a 600 foot abseil straight to the bottom. That’s  a good deal taller than the Statue of Liberty. The sides of the cave are covered with prehistoric vines. I can’t explain what looking around while hanging in the air in the middle of the cave felt like. It makes ‘amazing’ seem like such boring and common word. We made our way deeper into the cave and saw cool rock formations, including “cave bacon” and then to the glow worm section. Glow worms are actually fly larvae, and the glow part is actually their sticky poop that they use to catch other insects. So we looked at a poop galaxy. I have never been so moved. I don’t have any of my own pictures of the cave besides the ones the guides took, but they did get nice ones of the family. We got back and had a quick lunch. The homemade chocolate chip cookies sold there will haunt me forever. I should have bought the whole jar.

The next stop that day was Hobbiton. Is it obvious that I’m a Lord of the Rings nerd? I have watched the movies every year with my family since they came out. I’ve come a long way since running out of the room when Gollum was on screen. I was really excited when the tour bus that takes you from the gift shop played a video with the Hobbiton theme song so I didn’t have to sing it in my head. Hobbiton is located in the middle of a family’s  1200 acre sheep farm, and the deal was made to make it a permanent set when filmmakers came back for the Hobbit saga. I don’t even know why the family farms sheep anymore?Hobbiton has 2-3 thousand visitors a day. Do they visit the farm when they’re not hopping between vacation homes? Stuff to ponder. Despite there being mass amounts of people, the place was magical. The amount. Of. Detail. I got my picture in front of Bag End, and the “Party Tree”.

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We got free beer/cider from the Green Dragon, and my dad bought a parchment map of Middle Earth from the gift shop. I asked my dad if he would buy me a souvenir and he said no, so I asked mom and she bought me a ‘lil snowglobe. Sorry guys. After the tour we drove down to Taupo and stayed in a cute little villa type thing that had nice free cookies but a serious lack of garbage cans and smelled a tad like mothballs. My dad, grandma, and I ate breakfast at a sit-down place in the morning while my mom, brother, and cousin walked along the lakeshore. I had an iced mocha and left yet another Belgian waffle unfinished. The only thing on the agenda was to get to Wellington and do Weta Workshop. For all you normals, Weta is the capitol of special effects workshops. Peter Jackson wanted the LOTR films to use as little special effects as possible. For 45 minutes we learned about miniatures, props, prosthetics etc. I wish it had been more LOTR-centric, but it was cool to see District 9 props and hold chain mail. My dad bought me a book of the locations used in all of the movies, and I’m grateful. It’s one of those nice books you put on display at your house, and I can use it for travel ideas for the rest of the semester. Then it was off to drop stuff off at the hotel eat at a place called Mama Brown’s. They did a pretty good American southern food impersonation, but like the rest of eating establishments here they didn’t pass the most important test of them all, the “has ranch dressing” test. Stay tuned for my masters’ dissertation on the history of ranch, surrounding culture, diversity, and lasting impact. My dad drove me to the airport where I flew back to Dunedin for the school week while they made their way down the South Island to meet me.

The following Friday my family got to Dunedin while I was in class. They drove through my neighborhood in the middle of the afternoon. On St. Patty’s Day. We went to dinner on St. Clair beach and I got a pizza with artichoke, ham, mushrooms and olives, a.k.a a “Mistake” pizza. When we got back my brother, cousin, and I watched the Comedy Roast of Rob Lowe and got scolded for laughing too loud. We headed to Queenstown in the morning. The adventure capital of the world-you name it they’ve got it folks. We did a zip-line tour from the top of the skyline to the bottom. I actually used my GoPro for once, and got cool video of flying upside down through the trees. Everyone recommends Fergburger in town, but we skipped the line and chose Devil Burger. I also went next door to Balls and Bangles and got a “milkshake” that came topped with a brownie, whipped cream, Whoppers, Kit-Kat, and chocolate syrup, which was all fabulous but the shake itself was like chocolate milk with a little bit of ice cream. There is apparently a difference between “milkshakes”and “thickshakes” in New Zealand. One is delicious and one needs to stop kidding itself.

The hotel that night was by FAR my favorite of the trip. It was basically a house. Three levels, a beautiful view of Lake Wanaka, high ceilings, truly livin’ like Larry. My parents gave me all of their New Zealand cash and my dad told me to book the jeep tour I had been looking at, so I did. We relaxed, enjoyed the view, and said goodbyes early in the morning before they left for their flight. I cried a little. I stayed until checkout time then walked into town along the lake and relaxed at a Starbucks until it was time to leave for the Safari of the Scenes, a 3 hour jeep tour up to Glenorchy and Paradise, with several stops to point out Lord of the Rings/Hobbit shooting locations. Below is me in an Elven cape with a lookalike of Aragorn’s sword, in Lothlorien. I wasn’t NOT going to. IMG_3945

It was gorgeous all around, bonus points for the free hot chocolate, cookies, and banana bread. When I got back I had an awesome banana-mango smoothie and prepared for the perilous journey to the Air BnB that I had booked for the night, since buses only run during the day. I hitchhiked. I never thought I would, but apparently everyone does there, so I did. The first guy took me about halfway there, the next guy told me we were going different directions (turns out we weren’t), and the last guy took me all the way to the house despite me telling him to go the wrong way at first (not my fault). He was too attractive to even exist, French, and refused to let me give him any cash even though I felt bad for him going out of his way. My host at the BnB was a nice lady who had just had the house built after losing her other one in the earthquake in Christchurch. She lived alone, but her children lived nearby. We had a nice conversation for an hour or so before I went to shower and go to bed. I haven’t slept that good since maybe the first day in Auckland when I was so jetlagged I passed out for 5 hours. My bed in Dunedin is subpar at best, so it was extra glorious. I left early the next morning to catch a cab and bus back to Dunedin, but she texted me later and told me it was lovely to meet me. I left her a great review and she did the same. I am so grateful that my family could come and visit me while I’m here. I think it’s going to save me from the homesickness hitting too hard.

Whew. I hope this post wasn’t too much of a boring play-by-play, but it’s hard to describe traveling without doing so. Now that I’ve been here a while, stay tuned next week for what it’s been like living in New Zealand and how it’s different from back home.

Cheers,

Leah