travel

Meeting the Landlord

I was outside hanging up some fresh laundry when Matthew came up to me and asked if I wanted to go with him to pick up the landlord from the ferry. I asked if Yollana thought it was okay and he said yes so I decided to go for it. I grabbed a jacket and decided I'd wear a pair of my new jeans since we were picking up the landlord. I wanted to look somewhat nice for this first impression. Matthew changed clothes too and put on a nice polo shirt and some clean shorts to match.

 

The car ride was interesting only because Matthew had just finished a cup of coffee. He jabbered on about all sorts of things and I laughed and listened and chimed in when I could. We talked about the Spanish teacher we had in high school. We had him at different times during the day but our stories were the same. He was in class with several of his friends and together they would push the limits on Mr. Morrero.

 

The best story Matthew told was how he bet Mr. Morrero that he could do more push-ups than him. Mr. Morrero said if Matthew won then the class wouldn't have to take a vocabulary test but if Matthew lost then everyone had to take it. Matthew said they got close to one hundred and then Matthew finally lost control of his biceps. Mr. Morrero did two more and then lost control as well. The class still had to take the test but Matthew got ten bonus points for his brave attempt.

 

When Matthew ended the story I looked up and we were at the back porch of a house where we were supposed to pick up a wine order for Yollana. We got outside the car and I noticed the temperature had dropped several degrees. Before I could start towards the door a tall blonde man with a beautiful tan came outside.

 

“You two must be from Seal Bay?” He smiled when he spoke and his teeth were white and neat in two perfect rows.

 

“We sure are. Do you have some wine for us to pick up?” Matthew stuck out his hand and the man introduced himself as Jeff. Matthew said his name and then Jeff turned and shook my hand while I introduced myself.

 

Jeff then turned and picked up four boxes of wine. Matthew took them from him and I watched as he put them in the car. I thought there was going to be more but Jeff said that was it.

 

“So whereabouts are you from? Not Australia, I assume.”

 

“Yeah, we're both from Oklahoma, USA.” Matthew said.

 

“Oh, nice. What brings you to KI?”

 

“Well we're uh, hoping to be the new managers at Seal Bay soon.”

 

“Ah, very nice. I'm sure I'll see you around pretty often then, huh?” I couldn't tell what Jeff's accent was but it was smooth and easy to understand, but not Australian. Maybe he was from America too, but then again, maybe not.

 

Matthew and I got back in the car and Matthew told me about the first time he got a ticket. He was seventeen years old and it was for public intoxication. He said he didn't tell his mom for several weeks. When he did tell her he started the conversation while he was driving.

 

“So you aren't supposed to mess with someone while they are driving, right?”

 

“That's right.” his mom said.

 

“Well then, I need to tell you that I got a ticket for public intoxication a few weeks ago.”

 

He said his mother was horrified but then eventually responded by saying he was going to have to pay for the entire thing himself. He was horrified because $200 is a lot of money to a seventeen year-old.

 

In time we made our way to Penneshaw. We watched as people poured off the ferry looking for their next mode of transportation. As we watched we realized that we had no idea what this guy looked like, other than he would probably be brown bc he was from Israel and he would also have a small child with him.

 

Matthew pointed to his notebook and told me to call the number on the paper. I giggled a little when I saw the guy's name was spelled “U-z-i.” I got his voicemail.

 

“Uh, Hi Uzi. This is Haley from Seal Bay Cottages. We are here at the ferry to pick you up. It should be a green Ford Festa right out front. Thanks. See you soon.”

 

We continued looking around and finally found a big dark man with dark hair and a small child. He approached our car and him and Matthew shook hands. I got out of the car and shook his hand before looking to see a beautiful young girl. She had bright blue eyes and a ton of big blonde goldilocks curls bouncing all over her head.

 

“What's your name?” I bent down to look her in the eye but she quickly hid behind her father's leg. He looked at me and said, “Leila. Her name is Leila.” I smiled and thought it was the perfect name for such a beautiful girl.

 

Matthew and Uzi loaded the suitcases in the back of the car and I helped Leila get settled in her seat. She sat in the middle seat and I had to squeeze in next to her and the door. It was a tight fit with all of the luggage and wine but we made it work. While Uzi and Matthew chatted up front I tried to make conversation with Leila.

 

“How old are you?” She put her head down with embarassment and pretended to look at her book. I asked her a few other questions before giving up. I heard Uzi ask Matthew about Donald Trump and I laughed a little before turning my gaze out the window.

A few minutes passed and then I was surprised to hear Leila ask me a question.

"Do you speak Hebrew?"  She was grinning at me as if she had a great secret.  I looked her in the eyes and told her I did not speak any Hebrew at all.

She then turned to her father in the front seat and began talking wildly in a language I didn't understand.  Her father ignored her at first and then finally shushed her and told her to use her English.  I was intrigued to see a young girl with such good bilingual skills.  She was fluent in both English and Hebrew.  I wondered if she knew how blessed she was to have this talent.  My guess was that she did.

"How much longer until we get there?"  She restated her question so Matthew and I could understand it.

"I don't know, Leila.  Half an hour."  His accent was thick but his English was not bad.  The only other Israeli I had interacted with was Ethan, the guy from the balcony in Adelaide.  Ethan's English was so good he might as well have been American.  Uzi had a Hebrew name, a thick accent and he definitely looked Israeli, so there was no mistaking his nationality.The two spoke again in Hebrew before Uzi suggested that Leila teach me some Hebrew.

"How do I say, 'Hello, my name is Haley'?"  I was looking sweetly at the girl, hoping she would focus on me and forget about the length of the trip.

"Shalom hashem sheli Heli" she spoke faster than I could listen.

"Say it again, slower."

"Shalom hashem sheli Heli" she hadn't slowed it down much.  I had no idea what she was saying.

"Say it really, super slow so I can understand, please."  Her father said something to her in Hebrew and she made a dramatic exhale before repeating herself extremely slowly.

"Sha-lom.  Hash-em. Shel-i. He-li."

"Shalom. Hashem sheli, Haley."  I tried it out the phrase and thought I did pretty good but Leila seemed to think otherwise.

"No, no, no, no! It's not Haaayleeee like you're from Australia or something.  It's Heli.  You can't drag it out like Hayyyleeee, you have to say it in Hebrew like Heli.  Heli. Heli. Heli. Heli.  Got it?"  

The entire car burst into laughter.  I was a bit embarrassed that such a young girl had essentially called me a hick.  Matthew laughed too and said it was our Okie accent that made us talk like that.  How quickly this girl had picked up on accents and pronunciation.  

After I proved I could say my name without a southern accent, Leila went on to ask me about the holidays I celebrated.  I told her Easter was in a few days and she said she didn't know what that was.  I explained to her that Easter was a holiday for Christians to celebrate Jesus dieing on the cross and defeating the grave so we could all be saved from our sins.  I told her that we celebrated by going to church and by hunting easter eggs with chocolates in them.  She asked if she could celebrate Easter with us and I said of course she could.  

She told me about a Jewish holiday, Shushan Purim, that they celebrated in Israel.  She said they loved to celebrate it even though they weren't really jewish.  She went on to name several Jewish holidays that I had never heard of.  She could not believe I hadn't heard of these holidays and when she wouldn't stop telling me how silly I was for not knowing about them, I asked her if she celebrated Thanksgiving.

I learned that Leila was in year 3 at school even though she was meant to be in year 4.  She was soon to be nine years old and she had one younger brother who was six.  She travelled with her father to Israel once a year but they didn't want to live there because it was full of war.  Her and her father lived in Brisbane, near Byron Bay.

When we arrived at the house Leila and Uzi put away their things in the bedroom Alex and I had made up for them earlier in the day.  After they put away their things all seven of us sat down for a delicious dinner that Kim had prepared.  We had curry, rice, vegetables and baked sweet potatoes.  It was very yummy in my opinion but Leila voiced her difference in opinion.  Because she didn't like it she didn't have to eat it.  Yollana made her a piece of toast with Jam and she had a few bites before Uzi allowed her to leave the table.

Leila and Uzi were exhausted from their trip so they went straight to bed after dinner.  Yollana retired to her cabin and the rest of us cleaned up dinner before settling down in front of the television with a box of Tim-Tams and some hot chocolate.  Together we enjoyed watching an animated film called Big Hero Six.  It was quite cute.

When the movie was over we all went into our bedrooms and retired for the evening.  In my bunk I prayed for Jesus to heal the broken hearts on the island.  I prayed that he would open the floodgates of heaven and let His spirit fill the place. Shatter our walls and melt our hearts. Let your love wash over us and cleanse us of our fears please, Lord. You are great. Your love has more power. There is no fear in love. Perfect love cancels out fear. I declare that your love would cancel out all fear in this hostel, Jesus.

Let me show your love to the ones I work with, Lord. I want to be your hands and feet.   

Adelaide- Day 2

Matthew and I were up nice and early to catch the bus for the Groovy Grape, Barossa Valley wine tour.  To be more specific, we were at the bus stop outside of our hostel by 7am.

I was extremely excited for the tour, though I was slightly concerned about the one hour bus ride combined with alcohol. I took a quarter of a Dramamine at breakfast and decided wine was worth the risk.

Almost immediately after taking a seat on the bus I fell asleep.  I woke up once and saw the windiest road I had ever encountered.  I thanked Jesus for the dramamine in my system and closed my eyes again.  When I woke up we were at our first winery, Jacob's Creek.  Jacob's Creek was the only massive winery, the others were considered boutique wineries.

 

My mother and I had shared a glass of wine on my last night in America. We were together as a family eating at a nice restaurant in Bricktown.  Mom asked me to pick a glass that went well with our food and after surveying the menu, I chose a Jacob's Creek Moscato because it was made in Australia. When we toured Jacob's Creek I was pretty excited to see the place where this wine had been made. As it turns out Jacob's Creek is a world-wide winery; shipping it's bottles all over the globe.

 

When we pulled up to the creek I was star-struck at the view of the valley. In front of me there were rows and rows of grapevines and beyond that there were beautiful pale green hills spotted with just the perfect amount of trees.  It looked like a postcard it was so beautiful.  I had to stop and admire the magnificence of it all before going inside the building.

 

When I got inside a young Asian girl gave us a short explanation of the history of Jacob's Creek. It was founded by a German settler in the 1800's. He was given six acres of land as an Australian immigrant.  In the middle of the six acres he was given there was a creek; Jacob's Creek. The creek was actually a few hundred meters from the window we were standing in front of.  That was how the winery got its name.  I had assumed Jacob was the name of the owner, but it was far from it.  

 

We tasted several wines at Jacob's Creek but the one that won my vote was a Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon. I made a silent vow to buy that bottle in the near future.  It was bold and oaky with a very smooth finish.  The smell alone was intoxicating.  

 

The second winery was Kies.  Kies was a very neat experience as well. It was a family owned winery that had been in the family for over 100 years. The owner himself poured our wine for tasting and with each bottle he explained the process behind it and the awards their wine had won.

 

At Saltram, the next stop, we only had three types of wine; ending with a nice Shiraz, my favorite. Afterwards we had a delicious lunch of fine pizza, chips and salad. At lunch I sat across from a couple from Melbourne. They were very nice and chatted with me about their careers. This was their first time in the Barossa Valley and they were shocked it had taken them all their lives to get down here.

 

After lunch we went to Wolf Blass and tried five types of wine. At this point in the day the wines were starting to all taste similar and I was getting a bit giggly. I worried about my Dramamine mixed with alcohol so I drank lots of water before heading to the last stop which was an American-owned place called Lambert Estates.

 

The tasting clerk at Lambert Estates taught us more about proper wine tasting and process than any of the others. She reminded us to slow down and smell the aromas before using our pallette. She reminded me that the first sip only awakens your palate and that the second one was the true tasting.

 

I took another quarter of a Dramamine before getting back on the bus. The curves that morning had been pretty severe and I didn't want to have an alcohol-induced motion sickness incident so in turn I slept the entire way home. When I woke up I was shocked to see we were already in Adelaide.  It was cool and rainy and the sun was retiring for the day, though I couldn't see it for the clouds.

 

It was around dinner time when we got back to the hostel so Matthew and I went in search, once again, for food. We were tired and ready to be in for the night so we simply went back to the place we had ate at the night before. This time I had the pasta special which was linguine with cockles. I learned that cockles were a type of sea mollusk and they really were delicious. After dinner we stayed at our table outside and talked for about an hour.

 

When we got back to the hostel we both agreed to go to bed even though it was only around 10 o'clock.

We were laying in our separate beds, chatting about old high school stories when all of a sudden the door to our balcony burst open and in walked a man. He had something in his hand and was headed for the door. Matthew and I sat silently staring at the man. I couldn't tell if he was our roommate or not but he sure acted like he knew what he was doing. The man fumbled for the light a moment before he turned it on and stared at us in surprise. We all looked at each other for a few seconds before the man laughed and said he thought he was in his own room. Matthew laughed too and the man apologized as he turned the light back off and made his way out of our room. I had been a bit scared but I thought about the incident and had a delayed laugh at it.

Sometime later I drifted off into a sleep about wine, friends and food.

Adelaide- Day 1

I think the bus tour wore us out because Matthew and I both slept until 10 o'clock the next morning. We had agreed that day 1 in Adelaide would be a rest and recoup day. I had felt the need for such a day and I had also noticed that most backpackers seemed to schedule in rest days each week in between changing cities.  For that reason I think we left most of Adelaide unexplored during this trip.  

 

I spent the morning catching up on my writing and at noon I called and talked to my parents for an hour on the phone. I caught them up on everything that had happened since leaving Melbourne: the lost clothes, the bus tour, the new friends and our plans for the next few days.

 

I found it interesting that I had to explain to my parents what the difference between a hostel and a hotel was. I hadn't thought about it but I guess there was no reason for them to know the difference. I told them that from my experience hotels were more luxurious: air conditioning, room service, cleaning services and privacy. Hostels were simple, low-maintenance places that made a great place for young backpackers to rest. There were public kitchens and bathrooms at most hostels and room service was not an option. The hostels were generally clean but it was mostly up to the guests to keep it that way.

 

One important thing I had learned was that hostels do not provide towels. This had become a problem when I left my towel in the laundry at Jen's. We were still without half of our clothes and my towel was one thing I didn't have. It was quite interesting trying to wash my face and shower without having a towel. I had mostly learned to shake and air dry and then use my dirty shirt as a way to dab my hair. Either way I ended up walking around with soaking wet hair for several hours.

 

After Matthew made some phone calls we made our way downstairs to reception. I hadn't paid for the room yet and the man on the phone yesterday told me to worry about it when I got there. They had been closed when we arrived the night before so this was our first opportunity.

 

The man at reception was the same man that I had talked to on the phone the day before. He recognized my name and told us his name was James. James was super helpful. He helped us arrange a bus for Sunday morning to the ferry and also found us a wine tour for Saturday. He printed out our vouchers and even gave us a map of cool things to do while we were in Adelaide.

 

The wine tour sounded fun but the three things that worried me were the three things that described it: bus, wine and beautiful windy roads. I decided to grin and bear it, worrying about it later.

 

When we got done with reception it was 4:30 and Matthew and I were starving. We hadn't ate all day but we didn't want to ruin our dinner. We also had a heated debate about whether it was "dinner" or "supper" but eventually decided in Australia it was “tea.”

 

We decided on a Greek snack food place. I ordered four individual calamari rings and a bowl of chips. The calamari was fresh and luscious, like it had been caught in the sea that morning.  The chips were thick and crispy.  I almost burnt my tongue on the first bite because they were so hot.  Matthew had four chicken nuggets and a bowl of chips as well.

 

Halfway through the meal I noticed I never got the glass of water I had asked for. I went inside to find the lady who had took my order but instead found a Greek man who seemed to be a few years older than me. I asked him for tap water but he said they didn't have any. He offered me water out of the sink and I said that was fine as long as it was safe to drink. I had noticed in the non-American world that water only came out of faucets and some of them were safe (assumedly) and others were marked with all caps signs saying, "DO NOT DRINK!"

 

He laughed and asked if I was from America and when I told him I was indeed from the States he informed me that my water back home wasn't any safer than the water on their tap. I shrugged and he came around the counter and handed me a bottle of water. I was so happy to see a bottle of water I could have kissed him.  He said the bottle of water was on the house since I was American. 

 

“What part of America are you from?”

 

“Oklahoma.”

 

“Nice. I have a cousin who lives in Baltimore.”  I found it common that when people knew someone from America it was usually one of the main coastal states like New York or California.  Though it was interesting to hear of people's relations to America, it was almost impossible for me to reply.  I had been to Baltimore once but neither I nor the man speaking to me knew enough about Baltimore to carry on a conversation.  

As the air grew quiet between us I decided to thank him once again for my bottle of water before turning to walk back to my calamari.  As I walked off I overheard him excitedly tell his friend that I was "all the way from America."

 

After our "afternoon tea" Matthew and I went back to the hostel and found a seat in the lounge area. There was a table next to us full of extremely loud men our age. We listed to their accent and tried to determine their nationality.  They were using their hands a lot and talking loudly.  The tones in their voices went up and down like an accordion playing a lively tune.  Were they French?  It wasn't German, not enough spitting.  We finally agreed they were Italian.  It became quite clear that the hand motions and voice fluctuations were dead giveaways.  They also had pasta in front of them too.  With our surroundings figured it out, it was here that I wrote for another three hours while Matthew assisted me in remembering details.

We went over each day of the bus tour.  What had happened on Day 1?  Who did we meet and how did we meet them?  I had scribbled notes at the end of each day but the details were what always fled my mind.  I would describe a scenario to Matthew and he would chime in with interesting facts he had remembered.  He'd tell me the good stuff I couldn't leave out and he'd also give me pointers on things I probably should leave out.

We talked about my blog and what I would do with all of these writings.  I told him I wanted to keep a clear record of everything we were experiencing in Australia.  I wanted to remember my trip when i was old and forgetful one day.  I also wanted others to be able to read about my journey and feel like they were on it with me.  I wanted to inspire those who were thinking about doing what we were doing and I wanted the people I had met to feel the impression they had made on my life.  

Matthew asked me if I thought I could turn it into a book and I said I was afraid that might happen because of how lengthy all of the descriptions were.  He decided it would be a good book and that I could leave the more detailed stuff off the blog so I could have more content for a book.  I thought this was a good idea, especially since I had already written eight pages on just one day of our trip.  

We sat and wrote and remembered for three hours.  Around 9 o'clock I finally called it quits and we made our way upstairs to the balcony outside of our room. There we met an interesting character from Israel. Ethan was traveling the country by car and paid the small fee of $15 per night to use the hostels facilities. He didn't pay full price because he didn't actually sleep in the hostel, he saved money by sleeping in his car.

 

Ethan had a long, full beard and dark, uncombed, curly hair on top of his head to match.  When Matthew complimented him on his beard he laughed and said he had a theory on beards.  He said his beard made him both trustworthy and crazy. He said people believe anything a bearded man says. One time he told a woman that he killed a bear with his own hands and she believed him. He blamed it on the beard. On the other hand, he said sometimes people assumed he wasn't trustworthy because his beard and hair made him look somewhat homeless.

 

We laughed at Ethan's jokes and then began discussing Israel. I ashamedly admitted that the only things I knew about Israel were out of the Bible. I had no knowledge of present-day Israel. When I pulled out my map to find the country I looked for several minutes before admitting that I couldn't find it. I was looking for a big chunk of land but what Ethan pointed out was a sliver that wasn't even as big as the name “Israel.” I was shocked.

 

I asked him a bit about the culture of Israel, mentioning I would like to see the ancient monuments of Christianity. He said Israel was so much more than historic monuments. He highly recommended I look into a city called Tel Aviv. Apparently that is the hip and upcoming place in Israel. He said it was second in the world for tourism destinations.

 

After a long visit with Ethan I noticed I was severely losing brain power. While Matthew and Ethan talked on about politics, religion and other interesting topics, I caught myself gazing at the mural on the side of the balcony. Swirls of blue and gold painted a whimsical picture of Adelaide.  The colors did remind me of the city surrounding me.  The peculiar style of the art matched the hostel with its bold and unusual style.  A few minutes went by before I realized I had missed whole parts of conversation. I decided I needed to get some sleep so I would be able to get up early the next day.  Afterall, I would need to be well-rested for the wine tour.

Great Ocean Road-Day 3

When I woke up the next day all of the guys from our cabin had already left to go on the quad tours. I looked over to see Julie waking up just as I was. We made a comment about enjoying having the room to ourselves.  We soon got into a deep subject for such an early morning.

 

We talked about alcoholism and how it destroyed people's lives.  We talked about how certain people had an addiction and their bodies did not allow them to stop when it was time to stop.  We talked about loved ones with this problem and how it affects the entire family.

 

After a bit we took turns using the restroom and getting ready for the day. In about five minutes we made our way to the meal area where we ate breakfast and then made ourselves wraps for lunch.

 

Everyone loaded the bus just as the boys got back from the quad tour. We all waved goodbye to Steve and told him thank you for the hospitality.

 

On the bus I heard all the buzz about what had happened after Julie and I went to sleep. Apparently Peter had voluntarily done a cartwheel and handstand of his own. The boys were so impressed at this they repeatedly told us how awesome it was. I guess the guys were all up until 4am. They had only two hours sleep before going on their quad tours. Even though they were all horribly hungover, they said the fun night was worth it.

 

Our main event for Day 3 was hiking up the Grampions. It took us two hours but it was definitely my favorite part of the trip. There was an easy route and a hard route and Gnaire led the hard hike.  Myself along with Laurence, Matthew, Maxime, Julie, Sarina, Sven, Kris, Stuart and Elena all went on the hard hike.

 

The mountain we hiked was called Mount Hollow. It took us an hour to get to the top and I'll admit, it wasn't an easy hike. At one point we got to crawl on our bellies and squish ourselves inside a cave. I loved that part! Then we crawled around the cave and up to the very top of the mountain. The very top was absolutely breathtaking and it was awesome to feel like you had accomplished something hard. I felt very good, like I had earned a special privileged view that only those who completed the hike could see. Even Stuart and Elena, who were fearful of the hike, had made it to the top and were displaying self gratification on their faces. We all encouraged one another and took a group photo to commemorate our success.

Our group at the top of the mountain.

Our group at the top of the mountain.

 

On the way down I thought it was definitely harder than the way up, and again at the bottom I felt really good, like I had accomplished another feat. We all took pictures again at the bottom before refilling our water bottles and getting back on the bus. The group who took the short hike said it was a nice view but I could tell they didn't have the sense of self-satisfaction that those of us who had climbed the hard hike had received.

 

From there the day moved on quickly. We had our pre-made lunch at Horsham in a park under some shade. It was there that we realized we were about to have to say goodbye to one another. Julie and I talked about how we needed a Facebook group so we could share all of our pictures with one another.

I agreed and so I passed my phone around and told everyone to add themselves to my Facebook page so I could create a group for us to post in. Everyone but the Denmark couple and Peter had Facebook and I thought that was awesome.

 

After lunch we split up into two groups: those going back to Melbourne and those journeying on to Adelaide. Matthew and I, of course, were en route to Adelaide. Fortunately there was a fair sized group heading to Adelaide with us. We said our goodbyes to Peter, Sarina, Elena, Dikta, Kris and Maxime and then walked with the rest of the group to the bus stop across the street. We had half an hour to kill so I uploaded photos to Facebook while Julie wrote her postcards. Matthew talked on the phone and the Denmark couple enjoyed a few cigarrettes each.

 

While we sat there waiting I realized Matthew and I still hadn't booked any accommodations for Adelaide so I searched the web and found that for this particular city, the hostels were cheaper than using AirBnb. We had a few connections in Adelaide but all of those fell through as well so I called the Traveller's Inn, Backpackers and booked us two beds for three nights. It was $23 per night a piece and I thought that was pretty groovy.

 

When the bus pulled up Matthew and I handed the driver our luggage first. “Wow. Those are big ones!” he pointed at our suitcases and made a slight face as he struggled to lift them into the storage space of the bus.

 

This bus was much bigger than the tour bus. It has big seats and enough room for fifty people. Matthew and I took our place in the front as co-pilots. Behind us sat Stuart and Mark and behind them sat Julie and then the Denmark couple, followed by Denice in a row to herself.

 

Stuart and I began discussing American politics. He asked Matthew and I our views on Trump and we shook our heads and shrugged our shoulders. Before we explained any further Stuart said he thought that was exactly how Americans should feel. We talked again about the fact that Trump may be a wild card but there aren't many other prospects.

 

Stuart made a good point regarding Hilary Clinton. He said if the past six presidents mostly consisted of two families: the Bush's and the Clinton's, that made our democracy look like a joke. I agreed it was a good point and he expressed his distaste for Hilary Clinton.

We then got into a similar conversation to the one we had with Jack; regarding British politics. Stuart told us they discussing weather to leave the European Union or not and in Stuart's opinion they ought to stay in the union simply because it would be better in the long run. He said if they left the union things like passports and immigration would get much more complicated. I thought it was interesting that he had the opposite opinion of Jack.

 

I then asked Mark what was relevant in German politics and he explained to me the immigration problems that his country was having. Apparently Germany was being overtaken with Syrian refugees and his country was quick to feed and shelter these people because they were refugees. The problem was that now Germany was over its capacity for people and the German's were mad at the government for providing so much free assistance to non-German peoples. He also explained that many of the Syrians were taking advantage of the free assistance and it was all happening so fast that the German government was struggling to write laws to keep up with the problems. Mark said every single day there was 300,000 refugees entering his city alone.

 

After learning enough about overseas politics, I excused myself to my writing and wrote for the remaining two hours. When we pulled into Adelaide Mark, Stuart, Matthew and I all realized we were going to be in Adelaide for a few days and promised to meet up for a drink later that evening after everyone was showered and settled.

 

Matthew and I grabbed our luggage once more and made the wise decision to catch a taxi for a 5 minute ride rather than walk a 20 minute walk with luggage in the rain. Adelaide had dropped the temperature another ten degrees and it was cool and rainy when we arrived.

 

A nice taxi man from Iran gave us a ride to the hostel. He pointed out some points of interest on the way and told us to enjoy our stay in Adelaide. The owner of the hostel had given me instructions to find my name on the wall by the door and retrieve my room key from the box above it. Matthew and I did as instructed and made our way inside the hostel.

 

This hostel was different but similar to the ones we had stayed in so far. The staircase was covered in a wild floral pattern that looked retro and dated. The doors were each painted a bright color; blue, green and yellow. Our door happened to be white but the walls inside it were bright orange. We walked in to find two other roommates already there.

 

“How's it goin?” Matthew nodded at the two guys on their separate beds. One of them grunted and the other one looked at us without saying anything.

 

“Hi.” I said as I looked at both of them. The guy on the left laid on his back and the other one climbed off his bed and walked out of the room.

 

Matthew and I discussed our options and then verbally agreed to shower and then make our way downtown for some food. The other guy got up and left the room as I gathered my things for the shower. Before I left the room I had to stop myself from laughing when I saw Matthew's face. He was staring in disbelief at the room around him. I knew he was running on very little sleep and I knew this room wasn't the fanciest but his face just said it all. He noticed me looking at him and said, “What is this place?” He sat on the bed and told me it was hard as a rock. I laughed at his description and went off to take my shower.

 

After we both showered I could tell Matthew felt a lot better. Our room had a half-sized door that led out to the balcony and there was a lot of noise coming through the screen. We decided the best thing to do was to get out of the room and go eat.

 

Down on the sidewalk we walked past a Thai restaurant, an organic pizza place and a rowdy pub. We walked a bit further and found a hip italian bistro that caught our eye. I texted Stuart and told him where to join us. I then took a picture of our table and put it on Facebook to announce my arrival in Adelaide.

 

While we waited on Stuart, Matthew and I each ordered a glass of the house Shiraz which was a variety grown in the Mclaren Vale which was close by. The glass was $5.50 each and a bottle was only $20. After our first glass I went ahead and ordered us a bottle and another glass for Stuart to have when he arrived.

 

Stuart came in as we were halfway through our second glass of wine. I poured him a drink and Matthew pulled him up a chair. We listened as Stuart told us about his 12 minute walk that Siri had drug him through from his hotel to here. He then told us about how he sometimes got lonely travelling alone. He said he was 42 and had never been married. I asked him why and he said he had just never found the right person at the right time.

 

I got the impression that Stuart had a pretty nice job back home. He seemed to have a good amount of money and occasionally I caught him stressing about a situation on his phone, after which he would always explain it was work. I continuously told him to turn his phone off and enjoy his vacation. A few times he would. That night he did.

 

While I was on my third glass I noticed the bottle was empty but I was halfway through my meal so I figured I'd be okay. Just as I looked up I saw two things happening. Our buddy Mark walked in and Matthew also presented the table with a second bottle of wine. We pulled Mark up a chair and began on our second bottle as a group. When we had finished our bottle we noticed the restaurant around us was clean and dark and we got the impression that the staff was ready to go home.

Matthew suggested we walk up the street and find a pub to get into. Sure enough we found a rooftop bar not far away. While I was inspecting the pallet furniture, Stuart and Matthew were busy buying our third bottle of wine. I don't remember much after that but I just know I had a really good time. We laughed and we drank and we celebrated our first night in a new city. We had all become such fast friends and we eventually ordered a fourth bottle of wine before closing down the bar.

 

I remember a chilly wind surrounding us as we said our goodbyes and walked ourselves home. I fell asleep on the rock-hard mattress and didn't wake up until 10 o'clock the next day.

Great Ocean Road-Day 2

When I woke up the next day I got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was on the main floor of the hostel. While other tour groups and backpackers rummaged around in the kitchen, our group had a private selection of cereal, toast and coffee. I opted for cereal and a piece of toast with Nutella on it.

 

I carried my plate to the table and took a seat next to Julie, Laurence and Sarina. Conversation was lite because we had to move quickly to let the others use the table. After finishing my toast and a glass of “breakfast juice” as the bottle said, I took my dishes to the sink and cleaned them thoroughly. While I was cleaning my plate I noticed a girl with beautiful dirty blonde dreadlocks and a septum piercing. I admirred her hair for a few minutes before I realized I probably looked a bit creepy.

 

I went up to the room and grabbed my things. I was way ahead of the rest of the group so after loading my things in the trailor I sat down in the lobby to do some writing. The lobby was pretty hip, I must say. I picked up a guitar but it was missing a few strings so I put it back down. The furniture was bright red and there was several inspiring and whimsical quotes posted around the walls.

 

After a few minutes of writing I looked behind me out the window and saw the rest of the group loading the bus. I put away my laptop and went to join them.

 

On the bus we got to ride with Ngaire for the first time. She was just as bright and chipper as Matt had described her. She started off Day 2 by warmly welcoming us and telling us what our first few stops would be. She then sat down in the drivers seat and told Julie, Matthew and I to figure out some music. We couldn't get the bluetooth to work but Julie said she had a new CD we could try out. To my delight it was Amber Isle, the band Matthew and I had heard on the street in Melbourne a few days prior. The music was just as beautiful on a recorded CD as it had been live. I kicked myself for not acting on my impulses and buying it a few days earlier.

 

Our first stop was a place that looked a lot like the Loch Ard Gorge and the 12 Apostles.  It was pretty but honestly I was kind of ready to see something new. I walked down some stairs thinking I'd get a different view but as it turns out it was just a walkway down to the beach where a lot of the other kids had already took off their shoes and drug their feet around.

 

I stopped and looked at my own shoes. It was our first stop and if I got my feet wet or dirty now I'd have to live with it all day. I decided against the barefoot experience and just as I went to turn around I noticed Laurence standing next to me. He seemed to be having the same thoughts I was.

 

“I don't want to get my feet dirty.” I explained as he seemed to notice me for the first time too.

 

“Yas. Our feet vill be dirty all day if we do dis.” I agreed with him and together we turned around and headed back to the top of the steps. Not long after we heard Ngaire say it was time to get back on the bus. I was one of the first back on the bus. I sat and watched a coule of the other kids shake out their socks and dust their feet off. They didn't seem to mind.

 

When we got back on the bus Ngaire had the great idea to make a playlist for the rest of the day. Matthew, Maxime and I were the only ones on the bus at that point so we went to work making a playlist with Gnyri. The four of us put down a couple songs each and then decided that everyone on the bus had to put down one song.

 

Around that time Kris approached the door of the bus and before he could step on Matthew put his hand up and told him to wait just a minute.

 

“I'm sorry sir, if you'd like to board this bus you'll have to give us a song request for the playlist.”

 

Kris laughed and then replied by requesting a pop song we all knew.

 

Matthew wrote the song down and told Kris he was allowed to board the bus now.

 

Next was Sarina, she stepped on the bus and Matthew once again put his hand out and told her to hang on just a second. He explained the rules and she smiled and showed us her phone.  She had the song showing on her screen.

 

Behind Sarina was four or five of the Germans. They had overheard what was going on and had their songs ready when they got on the bus.

 

"I'm Blue"  Eiffel 65

German songs I had never heard of.

"Sail" by AWOL

 

Matthew nodded and wrote down each one. A few seconds passed and Peter came to get on the bus. We explained the process and he requestted “Blue Suede Shoes” and walked to his seat.

 

“Who sings that?” Matthew looked at me and Ngyri for help.

 

“Elvis!” I couldn't believe Matthew didn't recognize the tune.

 

“Come on! Everyone knows Elvis.” Ngaire hit her thigh as she too gave Matthew a hard time.

 

“I don't listen to much Elvis, I guess.” Matthew scribbled something next to “Blue Suede Shoes” and looked up to find Denise at the door waiting patiently.

 

“I'd like to hear “Weary Traveler” by Johnny Cash. I clapped and affirmed Denise's selection.

 

When everyone had given their request and boarded the bus, I went to work on Ngaire's phone, making a playlist with each song Matthew had written down. As I was searching and adding songs, Jules, Ngaire and Matthew continue to call out songs for me to look up. We decided that the co-pilots were allowed a few extra songs, though we weren't allowed to hi-jack the whole playlist.

 

By the time I got the playlist together it was time to stop again. “We have about 20 minutes here guys. I just need to run in Woolworths and grab some fresh groceries for lunch. You all can use the toilets to the left, grab snacks at Woolworths or shop around this area. There is a bottle store to our right if you need to get something for later.”

 

I was first off the bus with Matthew falling directly behind me. We looked at each other and without a word headed towards the bottle shop. I told him I wanted to get some wine to have with dinner. He nodded and when we had walked about fifty feet from the bus he bumped me and told me to look behind us.

When I turned around I laughed because aside from Ngaire, who was getting groceries, the entire bus was headed straight for the liquor store. I guess they noticed what I was laughing at because the German guys smiled and Peter spoke out, “Well I guess we're all just a bunch of bloody alcoholics then aren't we?”

 

When we walked inside the store we all stood silent for a second and looked around. Wall to wall their were bottles everywhere. I had never seen so much wine in my life. After evaluating the premises we each took a few careful steps in different directions. I first went to the “World Wines” selection. In this section the wines were organized by the country they were made in. I check out the Reisling, Malbec and Port before taking a left turn and going to the aisles that were labeleed by wine type. I found the reds and then made my way towards the Shiraz. 2 for $30, $7.99, $9...the sales items caught my attention first but I knew better than to settle for a $7.99 bottle. Just then Peter walked up and put in his two sense.

 

“The cheaper the bottle the worse the wine is.” I looked and noticed he actually had a shopping cart. Inside his cart lay five bottles of wine. I smiled when I saw this and he picked up a $15 bottle of Shiraz, added it to his cart and walked away. I laughed to myself and went back to studying my options. I was in between a bottle with a blue umbrella on it and a bottle with a funky orange font. Both were around $13, which is about what I like to stick with.

 

Before I could decide I heard Matthew from a few aisles over.

 

“Haley! Come here.” I walked around the corner and found him studying the white wines. “Should I get Chardonnay or Reisling?”

 

I went with what came out of my mouth first, “Definitely the Chardonnay.” I thought about our supper for a second and remembered Ngaire said she was going to serve us Kangaroo pasta so we could try it.

“Actually, what kind of meat is Kangaroo? Is it dark meat or light meat?”

 

Matthew shook his head and said he wasn't sure what type of meat Kanagroo was. I told him to pair his wine with kangaroo and I walked back around the corner where I picked up the Shiraz bottle with the blue umbrella on it.

 

After everyone loaded back up on the bus with their bottles and Ngaire with our groceries, we turned on the playlist and put it on shuffle. Each song that came on brought cheers from different parts of the bus. Jules was in charge of the volume and skipping when we needed it.

 

“What's your DJ name, Julie?” Ngaire had a big smile on her face as she asked this.

 

“I don't know. DJ Julie?”

 

“No! How about DJ Jewel Box?” We all laughed and agreed that the name fit. Ngaire grinned at her success and then looked at me in the rearview mirror.

 

“DJ Hail Storm. That's Haley's name.” I laughed pretty hard and Jules and Matthew agreed that it was a perfect fit too.

 

Just then Maxime came to the front of the bus and asked if we could play his song next. Jules laughed and burst out with, “DJ Maximus!”

 

For lunch we stopped at a famous inactive volcano that Ngaire said was due for another eruption any day now.  I took a few minutes before lunch to go on a short hike by myself.  I got about 20 minutes into the trail before I thought about the "what-ifs."  What if I got bit by one of those poisonous snakes and I died and no one knew where I was?  What if I got lost?  What if I got poison ivy?  I guess fear got the best of me so I turned around and walk back towards the group.

 

It was a good thing I came back when I did.  Ngaire had just finished making fresh chicken and tomato sandwiches.  Never in my life had I liked tomatos but all of a sudden they were tasting very sweet and delicious.  It helped too that Ngaire was an ex-chef.  We all liked that about her.

 

After lunch we got back in the bus and headed to our next stop, Reed's Lookout. We were only there for about 10 minutes. Reed's Lookout was at the beginning of the Grampions. It was a parking lot area that overlooked acres and acres of green trees growing on the side of a mountain.  I enjoyed it and took a few pictures before joining the others back on the bus.

 

Next we went to a Aboriginal Cultural Center.  I got to play a cool instrument called a didgerydoo but I was really quite terrible at it.  We also got to walk outside for a bit and it was there that I saw my first Emu in the wild.  I was excited though I didn't get a very good picture.

 

Our next stop was a beautiful waterfall somewhere near the Grampions.  I can't remember how many steps exactly but it seemed like there were nearly 400 steps that led down to the falls.  The hike was slightly intense but the view at the bottom was completely worth it.  I was hot and sticky and putting my feet in the water was all I needed to cool off.  

The water was extremely cold so I was shocked when I looked to see Julie and Kris jumping in the water.  The rest of us clapped and cheered as they swam across the pool until they were directly under the falls.  There were signs that said "no swimming" but we didn't see anyone around enforcing the suggestion.  

I had a blast watching the swimmers jump off the rocks and take turns diving.  I wasn't sure if it was the safest idea but oh well.  The hike back up was brutal but we all made it, even Peter.  Once again I was proud of the old sport for being so ambitious.  He really was a neat man.

 

The waterfall was our last stop for the day and when we got back on the bus Ngaire told us we would be camping at a place called Ass's Ears. I asked her to repeat several times before I could tell she was serious. She went on to explain that we would not have any cell phone reception and that we would meet a man named Steve.

 

Matt had already warned us about Steve on Day 1. It seemed as though between Ngaire's explaination and Matt's advice, there were two things we needed to know about Steve. The first thing was that Steve was very fond of a nice chat. They warned us not to get involved in one of Steve's stories if we were in a rush to be somewhere. Matt even gave us permission to walk off mid-sentence. They had both explained that Steve had a rough, low voice that went very quickly and heartily.

 

The second thing we needed to know about Steve was that despite his extreme Aussie demeanor, he was a well travelled man with lots of knowledge. I thought of many people back home who had extreme southern accents and despite the way the outside world stereotyped them, they were very wise and sometimes wealthy individuals.

 

Ass's Ears reminded me of home. We drove 40 minutes off the freeway and soon lost all phone service. Next we drove down a long dirt road full of wild brush plants and eucalyptus plants. Ngaire said there would probably be Kangaroos in the brushes next to us. At one point Jules did yell and point one out. I saw it as it was hopping away.

 

At the end of the dirt road Ngaire stopped the bus and I saw a very rustic scene. There were a few small wooden cottages and a big flat area of land all around us. It was hot and the land was dry. I then saw a man pull up on a four-wheeler and Ngaire told us that was Steve.

 

Steve made his way on to the bus and boisterously spoke out, “Well, what mixed back of lollies have we got here, Mate?” Before we could respond he was pointing at Julie. “Where abouts are ya from, Sheila?”

 

“Belgium.” Julie smiled as she replied.

 

“Ahh...the Belgiums sure are a drinkin' bunch aren't they!” We laughed at this remark and Steve was off to the next victim.

 

“You mate, where abouts are ya from?” This time he pointed at Dicta and he laughed a made a comment about her country of origin as well.

 

Steve went on to tell us that we had to divide ourselves amongst cabins 2, 3 and 4 and that he didn't care how we did that. He also told us that the bar would be open later and that four-wheeler tours would be available tomorrow morning if anyone was interested. In between these instructions he went on a few side topics about snake hunting and jeep driving. When he was finished and we were all drenched in sweat from sitting on a bus that had been turned off, Ngaire quickly told us that supper was at 7:30 in the main dining area.

 

One by one we piled off the bus and pulled our bags out of the back trailor. I had been smart this time and packed just what I needed in my duffle bag so I didn't have to pull out my whole suitcase.

My duffle bag was one of the first ones out and so I picked it up and started walking towards the cabins. I fquickly matched pace with Julie and she said 3 was a good number so I joined her in cabin number 3.

The cabin was actually quite nice on the inside. Everything was wood, of course. There was one full size bed and two twin-sized bunk beds. Julie fell on her back on the full bed and I tossed my bag on to one of the bottom bunks. Around that time Mark and Kris walked in. They looked at our bags, noting where we were sleeping. Mark chose the bed above mine and Kris put his hat on the other bottom bed. Matthew walked in the door next and Kris congratulated him on being our fourth and final roommate. His only option for a bed was the top bunk over Kris.

 

Kris, Matthew and Julie mentioned going for a walk around the property and I jumped in the conversation to say I wanted to join as well. After laying down the rest of our things we took off walking towards the main eating area. We had been told that just in front of the area there was a 30 minute walking trail. At the eating place we saw Laurence and Maxime standing away from the group. We approached them and they said they too were going to take the walking trail before dinner. With that we decided to make one big group and head into the wilderness.

 

We had a great time on the trail.  The lot of us covered all sorts of topics on our walk.  We even stopped to chase a kangaroo.   After giving up on the chase, the six of us headed back towards the inland where the meal area was. After going back to the room and grabbing our wallets and purses, we split up into groups that eventually all met at the bar. The bar was really cool, I thought. It was solid wood on the inside with a huge sectional couch in the corner, centered around a television that was broadcasting Trump, Cruz and Rubio in random order.

 

The couple from Denmark, as well as Dikta and Denise were already sitting at the bar, listening intently to one of Steve's stories. I looked at Steve behind the bar and decided it suited him well. Here was a space where his longwinded stories were welcome. His boisterous and inviting demeanor would do well for business too, I thought.  There was no rush behind the bar, simply a place where his words were appreciated.

 

After finishing his story he finally looked at the group of us who had walked in and asked us for our order. I asked if there was anyway he could make me a margarita and he said, “Well, here at the Ass's Ears, we make due with what we have so tell me what's in it and I'll make it work!”

 

I was relieved to hear this and I told him to start with the Jose Gold bottle behind him. He threw some tequila in the glass and waited for my next instructions.

 

“Do you have any lime juice?” I asked and watched him roll his eyes to the ceiling and then clumsly flop around to a cabinet behind him where he pulled out a bottle of lime juice.

“How much of this? A few dallops?” He asked while he poured. I was watching him intently and told him when to stop.

 

“Alright, what's next?” he asked me with raised eyebrows.

 

I had already surveyed the bar behind him and I could tell he didn't have Triple Sec. Most bars in Australia didn't seem to carry this. “Grab that bottle of peach something behind your right elbow. Throw in some of that.” He waved his hands and found the bottle I was looking at. He poured until I said stop and asked if I wanted some soda or anything in it.

 

“Well, if it's good I won't need soda. If it tastes funny I'll let you add some Sprite.” His face scrunched up at my response and I rephrased my answer. “Can I try it and let you know what it needs?” the group around me was giggling and I could see Matthew shaking his head.

 

Steve shrugged and set the glass in front of me. It was a murky yellow color which was a good sign. I took a sip and swallowed. Everyone waited for my response. “Yes! That's perfect.” I gave him the good to go sign and he dumped some ice on top of my drink. Matthew and Julie took turns tasting my drink while I gave Steve my card. He said I'd have to drink more than one to run a card and I told him I didn't mind doing so.

 

After everyoe else had their beer ordered, the guys went outside and Julie and I got into a good discussion about her decision to travel. She explained to me that she had a really rough relationship with an aggressive man for several years. After dumping him she dated another guy for a while who really treated her well. He told her he loved her but would go days without talking to her. She eventually ended the relationship because she didn't feel like he cared for her as much as he said he did. After this breakup she bought her plane ticket to Australia and decided to begin her world travels.

Like she had told me earlier, it was her “fu*k it” moment. She told her job she'd be quitting and she began to prepare for her journey. She had five months in between booking her flight and actually leaving. She had multiple opportunities to fall back into her old relationship but she stayed strong, keeping Australia at the front of her mind. Just before she left her ex-boyfriend tried to get her to stay but she said no. She told him she had nine months of travel ahead of her and she wasn't touching a relationship until after those 9 months.

 

Her first week in New Zealand he called her multiple times crying, saying he realized he really did love her and he didn't want anyone else. She told him again to wait until the 9 months were up. She said every day after that he texted her or called her. After she had been gone a few months he called to say he was meeting her in Bali. He had taken off two weeks at work even though it wasn't allowed. He told his boss he had to do it no matter what because he wanted to see Julie.

 

I had a strong sense of respect for Julie because I could see she wasn't one of those hopless romantic chicks who were going to give up on their dreams because of some dude. She told me she was sticking to her 9 months no matter what happened in Bali and I know she meant it. I gave her encouragement and told her to keep it up.

 

Around that time we heard the call for dinner so we went outside to join the rest of the group. I was pretty stoked to try kangaroo for the first time. I followed everyone to the kitchen and filled my plate with salad, pasta and a spaghetti sauce type of thing that had kangaroo in it. I took my margarita with me and found a seat next to Maxime and Julie. As it turns out, the kangaroo was awesome. I thought it tasted very similar to beef even though Elena disagreed with me.

 

After dinner we all hung out around the table talking for several minutes before people started breaking up into groups. I ordered one more margarita before switching to water, keeping in mind the bus trip the next day. While getting my margarita and tabbing out Steve told me to tell the guys who were signed up to do quads to come back to the bar to have a chat with him.

 

I found Matthew and the other quad guys back at our cabin, sitting in a circle around Peter. They were all laughing and hooping at whatever Peter had to say. Julie was there too, waiting for a chance to go to bed. When I told the guys to go see Steve, everyone left except Julie, Peter and I. Julie asked me to braid her hair like I had braided mine earlier and while I worked on her heair she began asking Peter questions that led to a discussion about his personal life.

 

Peter was 74 and had not had an easy life though he kept an upbeat attitude. Him and his wife had been married 50 years and he didn't plan on quitting the marriage anytime soon. He told us they lost their first child and it was a boy. He said it was very tough on both of them but they had to keep going. They eventually had two girls. Throughout their marriage his wife developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and it got worse as the years went on. Over the past five years she had also developed severe dessepression and at 74 he had to face the hard reality of admitting her into a mental health nursing home. He said it was the hardest thing he had ever had to do and he felt like they were way too young to be in such a situation.

 

He told us about how he visited his wife for a few hours every single day, even though her negative attitude and mental stability drained him drastically. He said it was still his wife and he had made a promise to love her. He expressed his discussion in people who take marriage lightly nowadays. In his opinon a vow was a vow and that was how it was supposed to be. There is no easy way out of a marriage.

 

Peter admitted to being on an anti-depressant himself and said that was partially why he drank so much. The doctors tried to give his wife anti-depressants but her state was too severe so they couldn't do anything about it.

 

After putting his wife in the nursing home he bought himself an apartment near by and was doing the best he could to adjust to living alone again. He told us during the day he kept busy by doing crossword puzzles and being on the events committee at his apartment. In fact, he had thrown several apartment parties at his place and each event had proved very successful. Even the young people came and appreciated his hospitality, he said.

 

He also told us that night time was lonely for him. He said it was hard because he had nowhere to go at night and no one to talk to. One of those lonely nights he called up his youngest daughter's in-laws because he had remembered really enjoying them at the wedding years earlier. One phone call chat turned into another and pretty soon the in-laws were begging him to come visit them in Australia. He said he went back and forth, telling himself he neeeded a vacation for his health and then deciding it was more responsible to stay with his wife. Eventually I suppose he came to his own “---- it” moment and decided he would go. This bus tour was his first trip in Australia an afterwards he would spend 10 days or so with his daughter's inlaws.

 

I was amazed at his courage and also amazed to hear his past. For such a memorable character, I would never have guessed he was going through so much pain. Over the past 24 hours I had watched all of the young guys grow close to Peter and see him as not only a buddy but also a role-model. They definitely looked up to him and I think anyone could see that. Peter had won all of our respect and we loved him for it.

 

After finishing his story Julie excused herself to bed and I told Peter I needed to get some rest as well. He yelled “buggarrr” and poured me another glass of wine. Buggar was a kiwi expression Peter had taught us. It meant bummer or an aggitated explitive.

 

It's awful hard to say no to a glass of wine offered by a fiesty old man, so I took my glass I told him I'd have a glass or two more with him. He smiled and suggested that we go back to the main area and see what everyone else was up to.

 

The funny thing about Ass's Ears was that alochol was not really allowed on premsies, Steve wanted everyon to buy their liquor at the bar, for good reasons. Our group just happened to have a heavy drinking habit so we respectfully went around the rules. I laughed as I watched Peter hide our wine bottle at his feet. He would sneak our glasses under the table for refills, same as everyone else did.

 

Most of the group was sitting around the table drinking wine and listening to music. Matthew was introducing everyone to Red Dirt music and pretty soon we were demonstrating the Okie two-step. Matthew taught Ngaire how to two-step and swing and as I was watching Maxime came up to me and asked if he could show me how to do a French-style two step. It was a swing move where the man put his arm around the girls shoulder and swung her around in a circle. I loved it and asked to do it several more times.

 

When we got done dancing Ngaire told us she had a good idea.

 

“Let's go out to the airfield and look at the stars!” We all grabbed our wine glasses and things and headed towards the empty field. I had switched back to water and was enjoying the view of my tipsy friends. Most nearly all of our group was out on the airfield. We all lay there on our backs looking at the stars and pointing out the Southern Cross constilation. It was very peaceful and many of the others said they had never seen stars like that. I didn't say it outloud, but I thought the stars at my place back home were even more beautiful.

 

Just as I was getting nice and relaxed, I heard someone say that we needed to do airplanes since we were in an airfield. I didn't know what they meant until I sat up in time to see Ngaire jumping on to Kris's feet. He laid on his back and held up Ngaire with his feet and hands. She spread her arms out like an airplane and hollered in great delight. Pretty soon everyone around me was doing the same thing. I was laughing and watching until Laurence asked me if I wanted to try it with him. I agreed and we had a pretty good go at it.

 

Before I knew it everyone was switching gears and the airplanes had turned into a handstand competition. Everyone was in a circle taking turns doing handstands. I had a pretty good background in handstands so I entered in and held my ground for about three seconds, which was more than anyone else had. We all laughed and played like a bunch of kindergardens on a playground. After an hour had passed someone suggested we go to bed and get some sleep. I was grateful for that suggestion and went straight in my room and straight to bed.

 

I fell asleep thanking God for such a beautiful place and such a wonderful night that was shared with wonderful people.

Surfer's Paradise-Day 5

Day five started out a lot like Day four. I woke up to an empty room and did a bunch of nothing until Matthew came back from his coffee run around 7am. I really wanted to go back to sleep but my body wouldn't let me and Matthew's coffee chatter didn't help much either so I mustered up a lot of effort and went and sat on the balcony. We had surf lessons at 10 and I was pumped so I spent the next few hours reserving my energy.

 

Meanwhile Matthew ran in and out of the room doing all sorts of things. He had apparently walked the London girls downstairs at 6am, then got coffee down the street, filled his water bottle on the second floor, found the laundry room on the fourth floor, gotten change for the laundry machines on the first floor and then came back up to the room where he made me get off my bum to collect my dirty laundry. It was obviously a hectic morning for me.

 

By 8 o'clock Matthew already had our laundry washed thanks to the bottle of detergent Maria left behind and was back in the room with heaps of wet clothes. Again I got off my bum and helped him spread our wet clothes all around the room and on to the balcony. We decided it was a good thing we didn't have any roommates because our clothes took up the whole room while they dried. Undies, shirts, pants and swim suits laid out on display for all to see. I told Matthew I thought his bright blue underwear was the prettiest and he told me not to look at his panties any more.

 

At 9:30 I donned my clean and mostly dry bikini and also put on my wild printed cover-up which was a loose flowy shirt thing I had bought at KC's in Frederick. I through my hair in another humid, sloppy ponytail and completed my look with one of my signature headwraps. Matthew reminded me to grab my free surfing lesson voucher that I had got from the company the day before. I scored the pass because back in November when it was time to put down the deposit, I put down the payment in full and told the guy from the company that I really wanted to learn to surf. I think my voucher was his way of saying thanks for the commission. For the past five months I have been rubbing it in Matthew's face that I got a free surf lesson and he didn't, but as it turned out Nicole gave us both a free pass when we saw her at headquarters the day before. As soon as she walked away Matthew and I high-fived each other and giggled because we knew we totally beat the system on that one. Being the honest people we are, we decided not to correct the mistake.

 

When Matthew told me to grab my pass I might have panicked just a little. I couldn't find it. I looked in my planner, my backpack, my purse and my laptop case. The voucher as nowhere to be found. Matthew said this kind of thing happened to me because I over-organized stuff. We were supposed to be downstairs at 9:45 and it was already 9:42 so I gave up and told Matthew I'd just talk my way out of it. He told me it didn't work like that so I told him about my special winking powers. At 9:44 we walked ourselves down to the bench in front of The Bottle Shop where we were told a van would pick us up. When we arrived the van was already there and we were the last pick-up to arrive.

 

There was one other student in the van with us. I recognized her immediately.

 

“Hey were you in the hot tub last night?” She looked confused so I went into more detail. “I think we saw you swimming last night with your friends in the hot tub. It was you and three other girls.”

 

She looked uncomfortable for some reason but finally agreed that she had in fact been in the hot tub the night before. I went on to explain that Matthew and I stayed on the third floor and we had been watching her and her friends swim the night before. What I didn't say was that we were laughing really hard and treating them as entertainment because her friends had been super wasted and were yelling at the boys on the balcony below ours. The whole thing went on for about an hour and Matthew and I had a good laugh while we and other watched the commotion. It was kind of hard to miss.

 

After I finished explaining how Matthew and I had been watching her and her friends from the balcony above the pool I looked at Matthew and realized he was giving me “the look.” I hated getting that look. I always got that look, from everyone, all the time, throughout my entire life. “The look” means that Haley said something stupid, inappropriate or weird and needed to either shut up, back track or exit the situation. Most of the time I don't know why I am getting “the look” until it is explained to me what I did that was so awful.

 

This time I figured it out pretty quickly because our skinny long-haired surfer-dude driver turned around and jokingly said, “Well, that's one way to start up a conversation with a stranger...you stalked them from your balcony and knew what they did the night before.” Thankfully everyone laughed and I realized that maybe I did sound a bit creepy. I thought it was funny but Matthew later told me that yet again I had pulled him in to an awkward and uncomfortable situation that he had no way of getting out of. I guess he was a stalker by association.

 

We picked up a few other girls at a different hostel and then drove about ten minutes up the coast to some beach. When we got there we all piled out of the van and joined some other students around a camper van full of wet-suit shirts and surfboards. A dude with a face covered in white sunscreen came up to where I was standing and looked at me while he gave us instructions.

 

“You can strip down to your suits and leave everything else here in the van. You won't need your backpacks, purses, headwraps or hippie clothes past this point.”

 

I did as I was told and put on a wetsuit shirt that a girl gave me. We then picked up two surfboards, one under each arm, with one person in between the front of the boards and another person in between the back of the boards. We carried the boards down a long path that led to a beautiful beach with waves so consistent you'd swear they were machine generated. It was here where we received our 15-minute lesson on surfing and surfing safety. Apparently it only take four steps to surf. You lay on the board flat, get up on one knee, put up your other foot and then stand up with your knees bent. We practiced the four steps on the sand for about five minutes before heading out into the ocean.

 

I was so excited to give this thing a try. I held my board close to my side just as they had instructed us and I slowly waded out into the water. The instructors were only about 50 meters out but the waves were still brutal. Every few steps I was hit with a rush of water blowing over my board and splashing in my face. When I got to the front of the line I watched two students try to stand up but they both fell into the water. I waded up to the instructor that had driven our bus earlier and he told me to put my belly on the board. I did as I was told and held on tight as I waited for him to push me out onto a wave.

 

“Here you go, stand up!” He pushed me towards the shore and I made it to one knee before loosing control of the board and falling into the ocean. Underwater I felt something like a karate chop hit my throat pretty hard. I stood up out of the water and gasped for air. I could breathe, but I was in pain. I choked up some water and spit a few times, double checking my body to make sure nothing was seriously injured. I then waded over to the back of the line and found Matthew standing there watching me.

 

“It chopped my...” I tried to yell out but nothing came out. My voice was weak. I waded a little closer and tried again but Matthew couldn't hear me.

 

“It chopped my throat.” I said just above a whisper and Matthew asked if I was okay and when I said I was we both laughed and waded back out towards the instructors.

 

On my second try I pushed myself to my knees and made it to a squatted position before falling off the board. I spit some more and tried to clear my throat so I could talk again but it was no use. I decided to not worry about it and to concentrate on my surfing. My voice would return before too long anyways.

 

My third try was close but I still fell off before standing up. On the fourth try I very slowly worked my way through all four steps and by the fourth step I was standing up in amazement. I laughed and kind of jumped with excitement which caused me to fall of the board. I was so excited though, I had done it!! Matthew had stood up too on his try. We high-fived each other and waded back out to the back of the line again.

 

After that first time standing I only got better and better. I found myself riding the waves all the way to the shore before stepping off my board into the sand. I felt so cool! Matthew and I laughed and said we were rippin' some waves bruh! We were both doing quite well at this. After about the tenth time I noticed the only reason I was falling was because there were other students in front of me who were in my path. I stepped off the board a couple times to avoid collision. Then I told myself it was just like snowboarding; once you get half-way decent at what you're doing, some slow poke skier runs in front of you and makes you fall down.

 

We rode the waves over and over again until the instructor with the white face told us we each had one more wave and then we had to return to shore. I didn't stand up on my last wave. I was dissapointed but I went to the shore as I was told. When I made it to shore I sat my board down and turned to see who else was still out at sea. Sure enough, Matthew was out by himself riding a wave with no instructor help whatsoever. I gave him a thumb and pinky surf's up sign and sat back down on my board.

 

When everyone had made it back to the beach we took a group picture and then walked back up to the van. In the van we watched a slideshow of all the pictures they had taken of us and were told we could buy the whole flash drive for $20. The instructor that had driven our van explained that there was a folder on the flash drive called “Suf” and that was supposed to be “surf” but he spelt it wrong. He laughed and said he didn't' want us to think it was an Aussie slang term we hadn't learned yet.

 

When we got back to the room Matthew and I each made ourselves a sandwich and enjoyed the fact that we had ate a meal that didn't cost $20.

 

I showered off and changed into some jean shorts and a tank top. We had a meeting at the bank at 3pm to open our Australian bank accounts. Robyn was the name of the lady we had an appointment with. She was super friendly and chatted with us the whole time. We talked about Matthew's dog and she learned the difference between a German Shephard and an Australian Shephard. Matthew told us that they were a similar breed and that they both came from Germany. When the Australian Shephards first came off the ship they were on a ship full of Aussies so someone mistakenly called them Australian Shephards and that was how they got their name.

 

Robyn was a Kiwi and she had two small dogs of her own. She asked us all about our travel plans for Australia and found our job opportunity on Kangaroo Island fascinating.

 

By four o'clock we both had an Aussie checking and savings account. She said they would mail us our cards in a few weeks to the Global Work and Travel Company and from there they would mail them to wherever we happened to be staying. We thanked her for being so friendly to us and then made our way back out onto the street.

 

We had two things to do, we decided. First of all, we needed to buy a pepper for our meal that night. Edward had left us with a pound of hamburger meat, an onion, a potato and chips and salsa so all we needed was a pepper to throw into that mix and we'd have another cheap and delicious meal. After finding WoolWorths we managed to buy one pepper. Matthew stuffed the bag into his backpack and made a comment about walking around with a pepper in his bag.

 

Our second mission was to go back to the store with the five dollar pants so I could get my money's worth of good style. We found the store no problem, but when I went to search the rack I had found them on, I discovered the sale was no longer on and the pants were now $30 each. I didn't want the pants that bad so I walked away empty handed.

 

After admitting defeat we decided to head back to the hostel for dinner.  I had signed up for a night tour at 7 so it was time to get back to the hostel and get supper cooking. 

When we got back to the room I  rushed around rapidly to change clothes and apply some make up. I found a black off the shoulder shirt I hadn't yet worn and paired it with some jean shorts and my silver sequined flip flops. I was putting on an extra layer of eyeliner when Matthew hollered from the balcony.

 

“Haley, come here you gotta meet our neighbors.”

I swiped another line of liner on my left eye and then quickly rushed over to the balcony.

“These guys are going on the night tour tonight too.” Matthew pointed to his right and there stood a guy my age with a red face and bleach blonde hair sprinkled on the top of his head.

 

“Hey! I'm Tannon. How are you?”

 

I introduced myself and asked about the night tour they were going on. It was the same one I was going on. Just then a beautiful blonde girl came rushing around the corner with the same half-faced makeup job that I had going on. We screamed a little and touched hands when we saw each other.

 

“Yes! This is going to be so much fun! You're coming with us!” She had an Aussie accent and an inviting personality to match. I told her I was so excited to have another chick to hang with and we squealed again before running our opposite ways to finish up our faces.

 

I finished slapping some gel in my hair. It was six fifteen. I hollered at Matthew and told him we needed to get supper going. He calmly stepped off the balcony and told me he was ready whenever I was.

 

I rolled on some perfume around my wrists, sprayed my hair one last time and threw my purse over my shoulder.  We walked down the hall and took the elevator down to the first level where the kitchen was. I loved the hostel kitchen. There was something surreal about being in a large kitchen full of other young people cooking homemade meals. Every time I felt as though it was a sign of hope for humanity—like maybe we wouldn't die of over-processed food and acid rain. 

 

I looked around and found a cutting board and a knife and began to chop the potato, the onion and the pepper. After each vegetable was chopped Matthew would gather up the pieces and throw it in with the meat. I would dump the rubbish into the bin and proceed with the next vegetable. Within 20 minutes we had a sizzling pot that smelled amazing. I had added in the remaining salsa and coconut milk and Matthew salted and seasoned.

 

I toasted two pieces of bread and then we made our way out to the patio where we had sat the night before. Once again I was filled with inspiration as I looked around and saw city lights beaming on dozens of backpackers eating their fresh made meals. When I finished eating it was almost seven o'clock, the time of which I was supposed to be at a certain business to start the tour.  I looked at my phone and saw that Tannon had sent me a message instructing me to meet them downstairs. Matthew and I cleaned our dishes quickly and then headed towards the elevator.

I walked towards the elevator and out walked Tannon and Grace. They made loud, happy noises and Grace gave me a hug and welcomed me on to the elevator. Matthew and Tannon chatted on the elevator ride down to the ground.  Tannon and Grace begged Matthew to change his mind and come out with us but Matthew declined. He said he was going to the store and then relaxing in the room. We all gave him a hard time before picking up pace and walking towards the business we were told to start at.

 

By this time it was nearing eight o'clock and when we got to the first stop a representative told us we had missed this stop and that if we went straight to stop number two we could catch the rest of the group. Luckily, Tannon knew exactly where to go so the three of us walked arm and arm towards it. 

 

I learned that Tannon and Grace were just friends traveling together and had experienced similar issued that Matthew and I had, meaning it was annoying that people always assumed we were dating our travel partners. Grace and Tannon were Aussies, the first I had met and I loved them. They were just like the stereotype I had heard about; loud, fun and very friendly. They were only in Surfer's for a week's vacation, after which they would return home to a suburb outside of Sydney. They were both teachers even though I found that hard to believe. Grace actually taught Kindergarten. I wondered what her students would think of her clubbing outfit.

 

When we got to stop number two a representative gave us a wristband and a voucher. We walked up some steps and entered into a place with lots of flashing lights. Grace said something to Tannon and then led me by the hand into the most amazing bathroom I had ever seen. I heard someone say it was a $1.4 million dollar bathroom and I believed them. The walls were a gold color and the sinks were covered in marble countertops. There was a crystal chandelier above each stall and the toilets had a rose pattern all over them. I sat down and studied my surroundings more. Everything was fancy and cool, just how toilet stalls should be! I snapped a picture for my friends back home before finishing up my business and reuniting with Grace at the fancy sinks.

 

When we got back to the main part of the business Tannon was super excited to tell us about his bathroom experience too. Grace then pulled us out on the dance floor and we swang our hips and tried not to spill our drinks. Once again, I was delighted to hear American music that I knew the words to. We dipped and bopped until someone announced that the night tour was heading out. We followed the crowd. Together a big mob of young people headed towards the next stop.  After a while we grew tired and decided to call it a night.  I went to bed thinking that day five was a huge success.

 

New Zealand-Day 3

6am came quicker than I had anticipated. I understood we were waking up at 6am, having coffee and then going to the race. To me this meant that I had about 30 minutes to get around and get ready because I don’t drink coffee. What it actually meant was that at 6am everyone was up and by 6:15 we were all out the door and headed downtown. That being said, I was learning how to fit in with the kiwi women. Make-up was unnecessary; you’d either sweat or swim it off by noon. Mascara was a bit excessive and definitely don’t touch your hair because the humidity will restyle it anyway. I had learned already that sunscreen was the ultimate accessory, especially for glow-in-the-dark-pale-white people like myself. Oddly enough I saw several people who were as pale as me in New Zealand. Why we were all gathered in the most easily sunburning place in the world, I will never know, but I decided secretly that we were all part of a tribe, the Pale Power People.

Before the sun was up Johnny, Maaike, Misha, Elise, Matthew and I were all rushing towards Lake Taupo with thousands of others. We made our way through the crowd where we stood against a fence at the top of a hill overlooking the lake. Johnny told me I could stand in front, right against the fence because I was the most vertically challenged. It was here that we saw the Maori row in on a waka and then perform a traditional dance that invited the athletes into the water and onto the land which the Maori owned. By 6:20 there were hundreds of athletes warming up in the water and about a thousand more on land doing stretches. Everyone was full of anticipation as we waited for the race to begin.

Amanda and the other pros began at 6:45 and 6:46, while everyone else had to wait until 7 to begin. The pros were fast and flawless and out of sight before I knew it. The following fifteen minutes were very interesting. Over a thousand people were wedged into a small piece of water. The crazy ones had swam out a few hundred feet and were treading water for ten minutes before the race even began. The shy ones, I learned, would stay towards the shore where they could easily touch bottom and bale out if they needed to. I was also anxious about the twenty or so people who waited until the announcer was counting down to the final thirty seconds to get into the water.

When the cannon went off I squealed with excitement and the entire crowd cheered and yelled as what looked like a million little fish swam towards the destination. Johnny had completed an Ironman in years past and was explaining that at that very moment many of those people were getting swam over, wacked in the head and kicked in the gut. The sad part was that at least three people dropped out of the race before they had even swam 50 meters. While it was easy to ask “Why start the race and pay thousands of dollars if you couldn’t even get past the first race?” it was explained that some people have unexpected health problems, others could have slept wrong, stretched wrong, ate wrong, or any number of things.

I really enjoyed watching a misplaced duck, swimming a few meters from the swimming blob of athletes. The poor duck realized what was going on and luckily made his way to shore before getting clobbered.

After a few minutes our crew walked down to the transition out of the water and got to see the first few pros out of the water. When they announced Amanda Stevens as first out of the water, everyone in the group looked at me with surprise and said they didn’t realize my cousin was that legit.

After cheering Amanda out of the water, Matthew and I sprinted across a hill and behind a building where we caught her just as she was riding off for her five hour bike ride. After the transition we realized we had five hours to kill before we would see Amanda again. Johnny and Maaike invited us back to the house for breakfast. Because we got lost trying to get back to our car, we missed the group breakfast but Maaike was nice enough to make us breakfast separately. The menu…traditional Dutch pancakes which were out of this world amazing. They were about the thickness of a crepe except filled with ham and mozzarella cheese. Maaike explained that the Dutch syrup went in the middle of the pancake and then we were to roll it up and eat it with a fork. The taste was very unique and delicious.

 

After breakfast we spent several hours on the free wifi figuring out the next few days of our trip. It took us a few emails to figure out that I had mixed up the days and we actually had one more night in Taupo before having to drive back up to Auckland for our flight to Australia. During this time period we accepted a job offer and made our plans for traveling across Australia to our new job. These plans would be completed over the next two weeks. I booked cars, accommodations and flights and by the time I was done we were starving and ready to head back downtown for lunch and Amanda’s next transition.

Lunch was downtown at an adorable little cafe Matthew and I wandered into. Pacolli I think was the name of it. I had a Spinacolo, which was a kind of spinach and cheese pastry cut into a pie shape. The man taking my order had told me that my entree came with a big, huge salad. When I got my plate I was reminded once again that everything was bigger in America. The salad was very tasty, but about the size of my palm. I did get full, however. Every time I have mentally criticized the portion sizes over here I have been pleasantly full and realized that there are certain reasons why America is fat. Another example is that the entire four days I was in New Zealand, I only saw one soda fountain. Another reason is that everyone is always outdoors doing stuff, rather than sitting around, working, sleeping or watching television.

After lunch we walked down to the bike transition and watched the top males come in, followed by the top females with Amanda coming in around seventh or eighth. We were so proud of ourselves for finding the transition and being able to cheer Amanda on as she began her 26.2 mile run. After getting her started we ran across the park to the main road where the runners would be crossing by six times. It was here that during her run, Amanda saw Matthew and I cheering and threw her biking gloves at us. The people next to us automatically thought we were pretty cool and so did I. That was, until we asked them how many miles the first leg of the run was. The man laughed and said, “Miles! You aren’t local are you?” He joked with us and then explained the run to us and we all converted the kilos over into miles so Matthew and I could figure out just what was going on. Because we were either super friendly or super lost, the man helping us offered to meet Matthew for a beer later. I have been constantly surprised with the friendliness of the kiwis. I love their cheerful hospitality.

All afternoon we would cheer on Amanda when she ran by, and then sit and wait in the sun for 30 minutes until she ran by again. Towards four o’clock we camped out by the finish line and watched the first, second and third place males run in. One of the males broke a record on the bike. Meredith Kessler was first in for the women and she broke her own course record by quite a bit. Amanda came in fifth place with a time of 9 hours and 12 minutes. It really is fascinating to think what all the human body can accomplish in just 9 hours. It is even more fascinating to be downtown at midnight and see other human bodies doing the same thing in 17 hours.

We heard that there are a lot of people who don’t finish until midnight and that Ironman has a big midnight party at the finish line to cheer people on.  We were too tired to find out.

New Zealand-Day 2

Taupo was such a lovely town. I could easily move their it was so wonderful. To me, it was a mix between a beach town and a mountain village. With a population around 23,000 the size was ideal as well. Our hosts, Johnny and Maaike told us that they loved it because they could do mountain biking and water sports there in the summer but also winter skiing was just as close.

Day two started with a complimentary breakfast that we fixed for ourselves. I had yogurt and Matthew made himself some eggs and cereal. After breakfast we headed downtown. We had contacted Amanda and told her we would meet up with her for her Pro Q & A session just after noon. Because we had an hour to kill we parked the car then wandered into the Taupo Museum. At just $5 per person this was money well spent.

First we took off our shoes and walked around a traditional Maori meeting house. The walls were made out of traditional Maori weaving that must have taken a million hours to complete since it was hand woven. A lot of the history we had been taught the day before at Rotorua was applying in this museum too.

Next in the museum was my favorite part, the art gallery! I loved getting to see two different artist’s displays. The first was a local New Zealand who did Oil Painting in still life, plein air and abstract. Each type of painting was so vastly different for one artist. Though the abstract and still life were worth up to $10,000 each, I absolutely enjoyed his Plein Air pieces the most. Beautiful scenes of Lake Taupo, New Zealand farmland and common countryside barns had me captivated.

The second artist did African Batik paintings on stretched cloth. I really enjoyed this artist as well because she had a folky-whimsical style and used lots of bright colors. The artist was from Auckland but had spent many years living in Africa with her husband who was a surgeon. When she wasn’t working as his surgical nurse, she was sketching and painting.

The final stage of the museum contained the oldest Maori Waka in the area. A waka is a huge wooden canoe that he Maori used for transportation across the waters. The waka is often used as a symbol of unity because all passengers in the waka had to row their oars at the exact same time in order to get from point A to point B.

 

While walking through the museum we also saw exhibits telling the story of Taupo. I learned that timber and also fishing were huge economical foundations for the area. It was fascinating learning the history of the city and figuring out what made it tick just so. I couldn’t help but to think, “why couldn’t Frederick do this?” Why doesn’t the Tillman County Historical Society charge a $5 fee for every visitor. Why isn’t it so clearly marked that all visitors make it their first stop into town. Tourists love stories. They want to hear what makes our town click. They want to know what economic foundations started our community and what continues to fuel it now.

The entire town was easily marked for tourists. We knew where the big destinations were. We were given a paper map every time we asked for directions. Locals would tear them off and circle where we were and where we needed to go. I’ve said before, this is something Frederick needs. Whoever the last Chamber Director was should have got that done…tisk, tisk.

After the museum we wandered over across the street to “Ironman Park.” Sure enough, Amanda Sadler sat on stage with only seven other professional Ironman triathletes. The whole ordeal looked much like an ESPN session. People were taking photos and asking questions and the athletes were smiling and inspiring, which is what they do best.

Amanda seemed excited to see us—her two biggest fans—because we in fact flew all the way from the US to be there for her big race. She gave us big hugs and then we quickly asked questions and listened as she explained the ever-fascinating Ironman competition.

Per Amanda’s recommendation we decided to spend the afternoon at WAITAPO Thermal Park, just at the edge of town. After donning our suits we walked about a half mile down to an awesome site. Thermal pools, just as we had seen at Rotorua, except this time with lots of visitors swimming and bathing in them. We jumped in for a quick dip but quickly realized it was too hot for comfort on a warm New Zealand day. So we instead decided to take the one hour hike down to Huka Falls. Every turn of the hike was full of beautiful plants, water and shrubbery. We would hike for a while then stop and take pictures and soak in the beauty that was too good to seem real. Around 40 minutes in we started to wonder if the falls were worth the full hike but several other tourists walking by told us it was worth the extra hike.

Boy were they right, I have never seen such an amazing site. If you would have told me to hike an hour to look at water I would have told you you were crazy, but this was so beautiful it was worth it. The water was rushing so fast they said every minute it could fill up eight olympic-sized pools. That’s a lot of water! There were people camping everywhere and the beautiful green hills in the background just made the picture that much more beautiful.

The hike back was much shorter, probably because we weren’t stopping as much and we actually jogged parts of it.

When we finally arrived back to the house, Johnny and Maaike explained that they were having friends over for a barbie and that we were totally welcome to join in. So we showered and walked back to the corner liquor store for a bottle of wine to give to our hosts. The friends they had coming over was a man they had met while backpacking in another country and his new girlfriend they had yet to meet. Misha and Elise were their names and once again it felt like we had made fast friends. Misha was a tall, 100% New Zealand boy, full of orneriness and adventure. He had a loud laugh and a huge smile. Dinner was wonderful. Steak, sausage, fresh salad and twice baked potatoes. The only thing different from an American cook-out was the size of the steak. I guess everything really is bigger in America, because our steaks are normally about the size of our heads, where as the NZ steaks we ate were about the size of my palm. I enjoyed every bite and left nothing remaining on my plate.

Throughout dinner we discussed politics, traditions and culture. Maaike was actually Dutch and had married a kiwi. Elise was from Wellington, New Zealand and Misha was from Auckland. Throw in two Americans and you have some really great discussions.

We talked about how New Zealand is currently voting on a new flag. They are doing this to get rid of the Union Jack. Johnny and Maaike explained that the entire country could put in designs for the flag, then professionals dwindled the entries down to only five designs. The country then voted between the five designs and picked one design that could possibly be the new flag. This week the country would be voting on the old flag versus the new flag. How cool it was to hear about history being made right as we were visiting. I don’t yet know the outcome of the flag election, but I did notice there were dozens of places around the country that were already flying the new flag. Personally, I thought the new flag was much more conducive to New Zealand culture, at least what I had learned about it in my four days there.

We also talked about the American presidential race. They asked us about Trump and Obama and we agreed that our politics had become a bit ridiculous lately. Matthew showed our new friends a video of Trump defending his “tiny hands” that another candidate had insulted him about.

After lots of interesting discussions and observations, we all retired early so we could be up early for the Ironman beginning ceremonies at 6am.

New Zealand-Day 1

Kia Ora!

We arrived in New Zealand on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016. It is still crazy to me that we lost an entire day to the universe somewhere. I will never know what might have happened on March 2nd 2016.

The first 30 minutes of being in a foreign land was extremely hectic. After picking up our rental car we had to take a few pictures with the car because the steering wheel was on the right side of the car instead of the left. Before we could get over the novelty of that situation we had to quickly figure out how to drive on the left side of the road. We made a few laps around the parking lot and then decided to give it a go. The roads leading out of the airport were busy and crazy and Matthew was a little tense while first trying to turn into the left lane while sitting on the right side of the car. Within a few (meters) we ran into our first roundabout. I thought Matthew handled it quite well but he said he was a little freaked out.

We then spent the next fifteen minutes driving circles around inner-city Auckland before we finally figured out how to get out of the city and onto the highway towards Rotorua. A few minutes down the highway and the left hand side of the road was already feeling comfortable.

The foreignness of the land set in when we hit up our first quick stop of the journey. We walked in and there were rows and rows of pastries I’d never heard of. What really caught my attention was all of the beef pies. We quickly noticed that New Zealand loves their meat pies. We found them at every quick stop after that one. I opted for a pizza looking dish. When I went to pay with my credit card the clerk shook her head and I had to pay with my New Zealand cash I had pre-purchased at BancFirst. After Matthew paid we set down to eat and looked around for the first time and noticed everyone was extremely tall and in extremely short shorts–especially the men.

The pizza thing turned out to be a pizza-like crust topped with some kind of noodle, a tomato sauce, some kind of meat and some kind of fruit or vegetable, I’m not really sure which one. Though it was an odd concoction, it was actually quite tasty.

Somewhere in between Auckland and Rotorua we realized we were in a foreign country with absolutely no phone service. This was fine until we realized that meant no GPS, no google, no phone calls…nothing. Then we realized that even if we did have phone service we didn’t have anyone that we could call if something were to happen. This was mildly frightening, so we had to laugh about it.

An hour or so of driving and we were at our first destination, Rotorua. Of course our first stop was McDonald’s for free wi-fi. What’s was interesting was that the menu was way better than American mickey-D’s menu. They had loaded french fries with salsa and guacamole, a hokey-pokey shake, a burger with guacamole, chips and lots of vegetables on it and even scones! I decided to try a Fanta lime shake concoction. Surprisingly it was only $1 New Zealand Dollar. That’s about sixty cents in USD!

After connecting to the wifi we realized all that did was give us a chance to Facebook message some friends back home, so we did what all good tourists do and we picked up a handful of pamphlets for the area. Bungy jumping, ATV tours, geothermal walks and more! After discussing our options and comparing our budgets we decided to start off with a Maori walking tour. Thankfully the pamphlet had both a discount and directions to where we were going.

When we pulled up to the walking tour place we noticed a stiff smell of Sulphur. As we walked closer to the front desk the smell worsened. The lady greeted us and said the tour began in 3 minutes, so we walked across the street and joined a huge group of people who were already listening to a cute little tour guide. The tour guide was of the Maori culture, though he did not live in the village we were touring. He began the tour by pointing to a word with more syllables than Mary Poppin’s most famous song. He said that was the actual name of their village but they had shortened it to make it easier for us to remember. The shortened version was about seven syllables long. He taught us how to pronounce it and then let us over a bridge to a pool full of steam.

The pool was a natural pond and the steam was natural. I learned that a geothermal pool is a small natural pool that is heated by the earth’s magma. Most of the north island of New Zealand is full of dormant volcanos. This particular village was built around the craters of the volcanic holes. These holes were filled with warm water that would come out in steam or geysers. Some of the pools were over 50 feet deep and were so hot that they burned the thermometers that the scientists used to measure the heat and distance of the pool. Other pools were made from water that had trickled slowly from a bigger pond, these were about the size of a bath tub and the Maori people did in fact take their every day baths there when the tourists were gone. Even these baths had to be cooled down before the people could use them.

The back of the village was where the geysers lived. They shot off around the clock and got so high as eight feet into the air. After the tour we got to enjoy a traditional Maori show which included a love song and also a war dance. The Maori are known for sticking out their tongues and making crazy eye faces to scare off their opponents. They also shook their hands throughout the dance so as to bring “life” to their choreography.

After the show we went for a hike behind the village with a German couple we met. They were spending four weeks in New Zealand and had had a 30 hour flight from Germany. Apparently Europe is the farthest point on the map from Australia. At that moment I thanked God for our 12 hour flight.

After the hike we got to enjoy some traditional Maori corn which was cooked in a hot box. The hot boxes used for cooking were literally holes in the ground that had been boxed in with wood. The village people would wrap their food up in these pouches and then either through them in the box or throw them in the boiling hot pool for a few minutes, cooking the food entirely without boiling it. The corn was fabulous and the process was very intriguing.

Overall I learned quite a bit about the Maori people. I guess you could say the Maori are to New Zealand as the Native Americans are to America. They were the first to inhabit the land and so their tradition and culture is scene throughout the country. Everywhere we went following this tour we connecting the Maori history with the present day surroundings. The names of towns and streets were all Maori words. The opening ceremony for the Ironman race was a traditional Maori dance. Even the tattoos we saw were Maori inspired.

I learned a lot but I still have many questions to ask about the Maori heritage.

We loaded up from Rotorua and drive the remaining hour to Taupo where we would be spending the next three nights. After realizing we had an address with no means of finding it, we stopped for directions and were happily pointed to the street we needed. Of course, then we found the street and couldn’t figure out if it was the front house or the back house. We then realized we had the phone number for our host couple but we had no phone service to call them. I thought about using AirBnB messenger to contact them, but realized I had no wifi. So back in the car we went until we found a public library with free wifi. After connecting to the internet we realized that Maaike, our host, had already messaged us and told us where to find the key to the house. Finally, we made it back to the house and unloaded our things. The house was beautiful. The kitchen was lime green, the bathroom was bright purple and the shower room was bright orange. The front porch was full of beautiful green grass and shrubs and the back porch was a beautiful deck that looked out onto the mountains surrounding the area.

Maaike and Johnny walked in just a few minutes after us and greeted us warmly. They were a kind, adventurous couple who had dated for six years but just married in January of 2016. It quickly felt like they were close friends. They pointed us to the store behind the house that had the best fish and chips I’d ever ate, then they told us to make ourselves at home. Our first real meal in New Zealand consisted of corner store fish and chips paired with a bottle of New Zealand chardonnay. We ate our picnic dinner on the beautiful deck and were fully satisfied.

Day 1 was slightly stressful at first but considering it was my very first day abroad, I think it was very successful and not scary at all!