Pretty Things

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Hello again from Vietnam! My last post left off with us being sore, filthy and thoroughly satisfied, cave-wise. After some rest, heavy doses of antibiotics on my part and patience on Curtis’ part, we re-emerged into the chaos of Vietnam and took the bus to Hoi An. Hoi An has a history of tailoring clothes, and as more tourists arrive, this history is ongoing. In fact I’ve heard that for every other type of shop, there are at least two tailors. As an observation I would also say that for every Vietnamese person here, there are at least two foreigners. As such, this quaint little city is very “white person” friendly. Small streets lined with lanterns that are lit up every night, delicious regional food that is served fresh at one of the million food stalls, shops, markets, easy biking (without fear of death but motorcycles), beautiful UNESCO sites that fill much of the Ancient Town, it’s a real holiday type place. We met some very nice older travelers that come here once a year to get garments made and enjoy the surroundings. On the flip side though, more foreigners means more locals trying to make a living off tourism and tailoring, which means that competition is stiff and the locals can be quite relentless. This can make for an overwhelming, but mostly fun experience! Every guest house or hotel has a tailor recommendation to offer you, which is probably their sister’s or brother’s place. Every tailor tries to find out where you are staying and offers you a price accordingly as there are probably kick-backs going around. Everyone is in on it basically, not that I blame them really. We’re choosing to come and take part, they’re just trying to make a living.

Thus we did research quite a bit to try and find places that a) were hopefully not outsourcing to sweat shops, as the turn-around is so fast there is no way the tailors in the shops could do it all themselves and b) were hopefully not part of any quasi price scamming (again not that I blame them, I just don’t want to take part). I say “hopefully” in all earnestness as I don’t think you can ever really be sure. However, we did find a place we were super happy with and had a really great time! Kimmy Tailor is a venture that is half owned by Canadians and while they do have a factory where they send the garments, at least everyone is employed by the company and gets reasonable working conditions (I hope). Kimmy was also outside the main fabric market, which was fun to walk through but pretty congested with people yelling at you, following you around, and thrusting fabric into your hands. I know a few people who got stuff made here, and were happy enough, but it was just too much stimulus for me! I really enjoyed being about to sit with my water and laptop they provided and sift through all the styles and types of clothing they could make. Curtis had no need for computers mind you. He knew exactly what kinds of suits he wanted and was gleeful as can be as he drew out his designs. The tailors were very patient with both of us and offered really helpful suggestions (That cut is no good, you’ll be needing this type of waist-line to hide your cookie belly etc.). So obviously we blew our budget here, but it was so worth it. In the end I got a few dresses, blouses, a “winter” wool jacket and cigarette high-waisted pants a la Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Curtis got two suits, a smattering of work shirts and a really handsome wool trench coat. Like I said, budget completely blown. Getting fitted for clothes is seriously addictive stuff! And to make matters worse/more awesome, they keep your measurements on file so you can order more items as you like. We’re going to have to stay the same size forever now, it will be a good lifestyle motivation. We got some shoes made as well, by the nicest woman around. She worked in the shoe market, which was just as aggressive as the fabric market, but we went in with a recommendation which was very helpful. “We’re here to find stall no. 241, sorry!” I’m really glad we went with her, though we should have bargained more. We let it get personal! But oh well, she was really skilled and professional and the billion photos of her daughter I looked at were adorable. Which is she of course knows. Don’t be cynical Heather, it ruins the fun!

Yes Hoi An was enjoyable to navigate and I’m crossing my fingers that the shipment we sent home by freight arrives in Calgary roughly around the same time that we do. I’m looking forward to wearing clothes that aren’t stained and torn!

Deep, dark, damp

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What kind of cheese do you use to get a bear out of a cave? Camembert! Ha ha ha. That’s literally the only joke I can remember. No joke! While our caving adventure in Central Vietnam was bear-free, it certainly wasn’t short of excitement. But I should back up a bit. A few years ago I read an article in National Geographic about the recent discovery of the world’s largest cave. Largest in all dimensions: the newly discovered Son Doong Cave has a height of 250 meters, width of 200 meters and lengths of approximately 8 kilometers. That’s enough space for a) a city block of 40-story buildings b) a 747 airplane to sit comfortably c) two and a half Statues of Liberty d) all of my excitement. Oh, and it has a completely distinct rainforest ecology growing inside. Watch this to see! Unfortunately we couldn’t quite justify the week-long $3000 adventure in Son Doong, so we settled for another tour with the same caving company, Oxalis Adventure Tours, who I would highly recommend should you ever be in Phong Nha National Park. There are heaps of caves to choose from here, and they take you to the least known/furthest away ones.

We met our guide, three porters from the local village, and three fellow cavers in the small town of Phong Nha. We collected our helmets and torches, dry bags and life jackets and were off! We weaved through the peanut and corn fields, past the buffaloes wading in the river and immediately found ourselves in the rocky terrain of the next two days. Dry bags slung on our backs we scrambled up craggy rocks and boulders, always being outpaced by the porters who were carrying at least twice as much weight as us and wearing nothing but flimsy sandals. It’s worth mentioning at this point that I had gastroenteritis (undiagnosed at this point) and a lingering ankle injury that was definitely put to the test. My rough shape made the porters’ strength and agility that much more impressive. These guys were dynamos! Anyhow, with the distance between them and us always growing, we enjoyed the jagged limestone karsts jutting out all around us, the sounds of the jungle, and the constant climb towards our first goal, Hung Ton Cave. Our group of five finally arrived, caked in sweat and a glimmering sheen of bug spray, just as the porters were casually finishing up their umpteenth cigarette. Looking effortless in the jungle clearly involves an aura of smoke at all times. They prepared us a fantastic meal at the mouth of the cave, and from here we found ourselves surrounded by blackness, creepy spiders, and dripping stalactites. Trying to take in the immensity of the cave is difficult. As we crane our heads up, the heights of the ceiling engulf our tiny headlights, which is for the best really as we need our trivial beams to shine light on the damp stone beneath us. Shimmying down through cracks, hugging walls to avoid gaping holes into nothingness, we crept our way down into the vastness. (Afterward, Curtis and I pondered what would happen if someone had a serious accident in there. It’s probably best that no one did.) Eventually we reach the bottom and find ourselves in deep black placid water. Our guide regales us with (not) hilarious stories of monsters in its depths. We swim and swim, casting our lights above us to try and catch glimpses of the thousands of bats echoing around us. It is absolutely serene in the belly of the cave, swimming awkwardly in all our clothes and trekking gear. I feel connected to the millennias before me that have created these caverns, and will continue to do so long after I’m gone. It’s comforting in a weird way, the world is an amazing place.

This pattern of climbing up, shimmying down and swimming in our gear continued until we reached our campsite for the evening. Our piddly water-proof camera really doesn’t do it justice. It was a beautiful spot tucked between the mouth of the cave, waterfalls and green jungle. There were the porters, smoking away in their care-free sandals as Curtis and I struggled to swim to shore. For some reason everyone else was much better at swimming with helmets and shoes than us! I mean I’m not a great swimmer I know, but clearly I need to do some drills. The evening was spent under waterfalls, then under thick layers of deet, then under the comatose state we were all in after the most amazing dinner I had in Vietnam. Those porters were excellent cooks! Not that their families would know, unfortunately, as apparently they never cook at home. Vietnam has very clear gender-roles, unsurprisingly. Soon it is dark out and there isn’t much left to do besides swig rice wine that would clean out a car battery and climb into our hammocks slung between two trees. I’ve never slept in a hammock all night, it was quite nice!

The next morning we arose to complete the pattern of climbing and swimming, only this time with the added challenge of sore muscles and filthy wet clothes. All was forgotten though once we slipped into the murky water in each cave we (we went through four in total). Time froze, darkness reigned, and it was truly spectacular. Finally we found ourselves back in the peanut fields we started in, and the flat solid ground found us again. Incidentally so did a flash floody rain storm. Good timing on our part! Well sort of, the porters were waiting back at the village for us, bone dry of course, smoke and babies everywhere. I’m so thankful that Curtis and I were able to do this trek together, it’s been a bucket list item for me since I knew the National Park existed! Rock on, awesome caves, rock on. I’ll be back again one day, I hope.

Salty, Sweet, Spicy, Sour

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“Is that a baby riding on the back of a motorcycle?!”

So begins our arrival Vietnam. Families of five on motorcycles zipping in and out of other motorcycles, paying no interest to the lines on the road, or even the side of the road for that matter. There are no apparent rules, and also no apparent physics to abide by. Honking your horn means “Hello there, Here I am”, and whatever stack of babies you have on the back of your motorcycle better move over in a hurry. Welcome to South East Asia. People here are on the move.

(Motorcycle passenger personal favorites so far include: two men and a giant pane of glass; one man, one woman and an IV pole attached to the man’s arm whilst he is driving; a man and a tree complete with roots and leaves; a woman, two toddlers and a newborn…it is a rubric’s cube of possibilities.)

Vietnam is intoxicating. A kaleidoscope of colours and smells, left-over colonial French architecture surrounded by ramshackle homes stacked on top of each other, glimmering rice paddies and beautiful women in conical straw hats riding push bikes. It made us feel at once alive and exhausted as we navigated our first developing country. Our first stop was in Hanoi, the cradle of Vietnam’s history. It is a great mix of ancient history, colonial remnants and a modern Vietnam that is still finding itself. We spent most of our time just walking around, eating street food on squatty plastic stools and discovering the many wandering bits of the Old Quarter. Street food culture in Vietnam is pretty fantastic, even though it definitely gave me some serious “Asian belly”. You can divide the Vietnamese food regions into thirds: the traditional North, the spicy centre and a sweet South. So while in the North around Hanoi, we mostly enjoyed pho and spring rolls.

We did not enjoy people constantly hawking trinkets or constantly having to barter for everything (like everything, even water), but I guess you could say we just got used to it. I suppose it is part of being a foreigner in a market economy where the market is supersaturated and margins must be razor thin. I can sympathize, I just can’t stand still or make eye contact for too long if I’m not willing to buy.

From Hanoi we headed North still to our first of three UNESCO sites in Vietnam, Halong Bay. It was breathtaking! We slept on a private-ish island in bamboo bungalows, kayaked around all afternoon with new friends, and enjoyed seeing the floating homes scattered about. It was a really nice reprieve from the constant folderol of Hanoi. From here we made our way down to Hue in Central Vietnam on our first SE Asian train experience. Some valuable lessons learned here: 1) Vietnamese people are in a crazy hurry to get on the train! Like bonkers pushy. Why? I couldn’t tell you, there are assigned seats that are constantly being monitored by the train staff. We just had to embrace the elbows and get ours in there too. 2) Don’t assume the train will have toilet paper or soap or drinking water. 3) I will get motion sick, all the time. This is an ongoing lesson that has been the hardest thing in SE Asia for me hands down. But all things considered I did really enjoy the train system, we ended up using it quite a bit. Thanks France and colonialism!

I’ll save our favourite experiences for subsequent posts (CAVES! TAILORS!) because that’s just too much at one time. The rest of our time in Vietnam can mostly be summarized by precarious bike rides in varying levels of heat and traffic; continuing our food journeys from the spicy to the sweet (details can be found here ); antibiotics; searching for hipsterness in Ho Chi Minh City; fine tuning our bartering skills; and constantly trying to explain to curious locals why were weren’t married with tons of babies, ha. And while Vietnam has had a very sad history, and continues to struggle especially in its rural areas, we saw a lot of positive action taking place. I found the Vietnamese to be a resourceful and resilient group of people. I hope the strides they are taking in education, social activism and poverty-reduction continue to improve.

The Asian Invasion Begins

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Yay! So excited to make it to an Asian country after talking about it for a year! First stop was Hong Kong and I’m patting myself on the back because this is a really great place to start an Asian adventure. Yes, there is some culture shock, yes there are language barriers etcetera, but Hong Kong is one cosmopolitan city where Western things have snuck in all over the place! This makes good sense considering they were a British colony until 1997. Hong Kong Is definitely distinct from mainland China and they seem proud of that fact. I know this causes problems, but for us as visitors, we didn’t see any of that. What we did see was shiny buildings, surprisingly clean streets, incredibly efficient train systems, and a feeling of “controlled” chaos in general. Everything felt quite polished…except for maybe all the unusual meats lying about the street.

We were only in Hong Kong for five days so we had to make the most of it. Here are the highlights:

1)     Markets: So. Many. Markets. Our favourites were definitely the themed markets that crisscrossed and intertwined  each other all around the city. Flower market, jade market, goldfish market, bird market, night market, generic Engrish t-shirt and (what I will call) weird meat markets. Everything! My favourite was the goldfish market. Rows and rows of goldfish in bags were hung on large boards all along the street. The prices were written on the bags in marker and there were even some more exotic fish as well. The bird market was beautiful as well, but I’m definite that the vendors did not have the birds’ best interest in mind, unfortunately. The jade market was my first practice at bartering in a long time. Here’s a helpful tip: don’t point at or touch things unless you are legitimately interested in purchasing something. I learned this very quickly. Also, maybe don’t walk down aisles narrow enough that you will be physically blocked from leaving a “purchase”. That was my fault though, I was touching things. Oh, and the fabric market was great too! We’re buying fabric in every country we go to with a grand plan of making a quilt of sorts when we get back to Calgary. By “we” I mean Curtis will patiently teach me and then do the bulk of it himself. At night, after I am asleep. He will then claim we both worked very hard on it

2)     Museums: The history museum was really exceptional. Especially for a foreigner who really didn’t know too much about anything at all. It had English signs everywhere and was really purposeful as it took as through the natural and political history of the area. I respect a well laid out museum! Something that didn’t exist in Vietnam and kind of exists in Cambodia but I’m getting ahead of myself.

3)     Best Dim Sum of my life: So nice we ate there twice…and blew the food budget of the day but who cares when your dumplings taste like magic and rainbows. This Dim Sum created our three-tiered food system. Tier one: best dim sum ever. Tier two: most other food we had, tasty but perfectly normal. Tier three: I’ve made a huge mistake. That only happened twice though, sometimes you just don’t know!

4)     Hong Kong Film Festival: A last minute decision that was really fun! I enjoy seeing films when I travel just to see what the experience is like. We ended up seeing a Japanese movie with two sets of subtitles, Cantonese and English.

I’m not sure I’d go back to Hong Kong, but enjoyed the chaos and was happy to start our Asian circuit there. Someday I’d love to go to mainland China and see how it compares. In the meantime we flew away from Hong Kong and landed in another sort of chaos, Hanoi Vietnam.

The Red Centre

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All I do is drink water and sweat now (part 2)

Hello again! This post is so terribly late and three countries behind. Whoops! I think I left off at my sweating profusely and popping rehydration tablets like candy. I honestly think I lost two kgs in about two days when we were out in Coober Pedy. This is only a positive if you like your face hollowed out though, hmmm gross. Anyhow, cold dark places and six litres of hydrolyte water made me much better and ready to take on another hot dry place. Alice Springs! We were so fortunate to be able to stay with someone we met though a Couchsurfing connection.  He was the most gracious host, driving us around to beautiful things on every single one of his work breaks, which included a really neat trip to the Tropic of Capricorn for night time photography and pavement-lying. Even at 1am the pavement is still warm from the day’s sun. He also took us for a drive around the Aboriginal camp areas which was, eye-opening, for lack of a better word. The Aboriginals’ story in Oz very much mirrors the one of Canada and all countries with indigenous populations. The issues are just as complex. Opinions about such issues are definitely contentious and often times quite…overt, especially in the centre of the country. For me, it is clear that this is a people of amazing knowledge and resources that, in my opinion, have been left the middle of Australia because no one else seems to want it. For a more articulate (though certainly opinionated) vision of this ongoing issue, I strongly suggest you try to find the documentary “Utopia” by documentary film-maker John Pilger. It will upset you, but that’s good; I think that’s the point.

From Alice Springs we continued our journey in the red centre and made our way, officially, to the Outback. This was definitely the highlight of the trip for me, and I think for Curtis too. It’s just so remarkably different from anywhere else we’ve ever been, including coastal Australia. We did a three day, two night tour with a really great guide who sincerely seemed to enjoy being covered in red dust and sweat all day long. His enthusiasm was infectious, and as he blasted some of my favourite 90s tunes, we drove and drove and drove. We arrived first at Kata Tjuta, a grouping of giant conglomerate rocks covered in iron oxide to give them that deep red hue I love so much. We didn’t even know this rock formation existed, so it was a welcome surprise! Necessities for hiking here included: one litre of water for every hour you hike, fly net for your face, giant hat, probably more water. You’re not even allowed to start a hike after 11 am as it’s just too stinking hot and you’ll probably get the aforementioned hollowed-out death face….or heat stroke…or death. Cheerful stuff, but they had rangers out and about to make sure you abide by these sensible rules. That evening we unwrapped our swags (flat open-air tent type things), scattered them across the dusty ground and enjoyed the most beautiful starry sky I have seen in a very long time. With nothing around us for miles, save the wildlife, it was a very special experience. The only thing more special would be seeing Uluru (Ayers Rock) at sunrise and sunset. I’ll let Curtis’ photos explain why.

All I do is avoid death and other backpackers now

The last leg of our tour was to jump on the famous Ghan train and ride 24 hours up to Darwin at the “Top End” of the Northern Territory. The trip was really fun and surprisingly affordable as long as you’re willing to sleep in chairs. We made some nice train friends and overall the 24 hours was not too bad at all. Arriving into 86% humidity was a smack in the face though. As soon as you get used to one kind of heat, Australia will blast you with another! My body showed its displeasure by constantly feeling lethargic and generally like it was full of bowling balls. The Northern Territory is beautiful though, once I actually went outside. This region is home to some of the world’s most famous waterfalls and unique flora and fauna. All of which want to murder you, but they’re still lovely to look at. The most well-known danger is of course the salt water crocodile. These prehistoric scaly beasts are a huge boon to their tourism industry as well as NT’s export demands. If you’ve ever bought a crocodile purse or belt or shoes, chances are the Northern Territory is where it came from. The “salties” are the reason no one goes in the ocean, or rivers, or any body of water with the exception of a few swimming holes in Litchfield National Park. The saying is “if it’s sign posted that there’s crocs, don’t’ go swimming; if it’s sign posted that it’s safe, don’t go swimming; if there’s no sign about safety, don’t go swimming”.  Watching crocs jump for raw meat from the safety of a tour boat though, totally cool. And it was actually, as much as they scare the heck out of me, it’s crazy to see them in the wild. The males get up to 10 metres long and their jaw pressure is officially the strongest of any modern animal. They’re bonkers!

As much as I did like the Northern Territory, I didn’t love its capital city Darwin as much as other places in Australia. In short, I think the city is perhaps ironically named, as I would say that some natural selection still needs to occur. Or maybe it already has! Thus leaving the city plagued with terrible humans. I mean I’m sure there are very nice people that actually live there, but unfortunately many people we met were awful backpackers bored out of their minds due to aforementioned imminent death which apparently limits the activities to: drinking; waking up at 2 pm and proceeding to drink; maybe throwing garbage at strangers; showering in Axe body spray; using loud racist, sexist, generally ignorant language all day long. Barf. I retract my earlier statement that there is “no wrong way to travel, and its all part of a spectrum.” Sometimes, you should just be terrible in your own country and leave us all alone. Anyway, rant over. It was definitely worth ending our trip up there and I’ll miss Australia as a whole very much. From Darwin to Hong Kong, we’re off to Asia!

Through the middle

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Country two on the backpack list: Australia. Yes, again. Fourteen months living in the joint and we barely cracked the surface! However, I reckon we saw a lot of variety this time around, even in our few short weeks. The trip seemed to naturally break into three main themes, which are as follows:

All I do is eat cheese and avoid road kill now

We flew from New Zealand into Hobart, Tasmania which was actually the worst (self-inflicted) flight layover experience. To save some cash we slept overnight on the cold, hard benches of the McDonalds in the Auckland International Airport. The experience wasn’t really sleeping; it was more pushing your face into stale hamburger smell while listening to constant announcements and loud (cranky) children at forever am. Bleariness made the five hour drive from Hobart to Launceston, our first stop in Tasmania, a bit dodgy but once we got there all was well.

Tasmania was connected to the rest of Australia via a land bridge until about 10 000 years ago when the rising sea levels separated the two land masses. Thus Tasmania feels Australian but is also quite unique. It’s given its name to the devil and the (now extinct) tiger; it’s been the destination of boat loads of prisoners; it’s only a six hour drive from one end to the other; and we thought it was beautiful. In certain places Tasmania is wet with ancient rainforest. In others it’s jagged with buttongrass-filled heathland and mountains. Either way, the landscapes are always wild….and full of wildlife.

Incidentally, most of the wildlife we saw was dead on the highway. Devils, wallabies, pademelons, wombats, kangaroos, and I’m not sure why! We did enjoy driving through the rural areas though, which most of Tas is. From Launceston we went to Cradle Mountain National Park, and after a night spent in a pub hotel, we arrived back in the capital city of Hobart. This is where the “eat all the cheese” began. Tasmania is known for its fantastic food and drink! Wine tasting, beer tasting, whisky tasting, cheese and spreads were all enjoyed as much as possible. Basically, that’s where all our time went in Hobart, with the exception of MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. I’m not really sure how to describe our experience there. It is a weird and wonderful place. If you gave one thousand art monkeys one thoussand art supplies you might come close to the bizarreness. These art supplies would include computerized nozzles to make “rain paintings” of the daily news or perhaps test tubes and pumps to create a room-sized digestive system (that poops twice a day…yes, really). The themes are clearly sex and death but I will say; besides being shocking I did find the whole thing entertaining and educational.

To wrap up the cheese-specific food awesomeness we spent a few days in Melbourne on our way to Adelaide. It was really lovely to pass through one more time and say hello/goodbye to some great pals. This trip we didn’t even leave Brunswick Street as all the hipster smugness and hipster nonsense cafes and restos you could possibly need are there. Melbourne, you are tied for number one in my heart with Sydney.

All I do is drink water and sweat now (part 1)

From Melbourne we rented our last car for this trip, most likely, and drove the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. I wouldn’t say it was “great” mind you, I would say it was “perfectly fine”. Most likely I would have enjoyed it more had it not been freezing cold and pissing rain. Alas. It was a nice drive though, and it was neat to see the gradual change of scenery from Victoria through to South Australia.

And then things got quite hot. We took the overnight Greyhound bus from Adelaide and arrived in a little town called Coober Pedy at 5am. At 5am it was 29 degrees Celsius. This is why 60% of the residents of Coober Pedy live underground with new homes being dug out all the time. Home owners hire opal miners to dig out their houses and besides the fact that they are underground, they are surprisingly normal minus the whole no windows thing. Our hostel was underground and I was so grateful for the reprieve from the heat…and the ten billion flies. Flies, heat, and warning signs for open abandoned opal mines aside, it was a neat little town. It was effectively only opal shops and churches, but close by you can see the world’s largest manmade structure: The Dingo Fence. It’s longer than even the Great Wall of China! Apparently it does keep the dingos away from farmland, but feral camels not so much. For more on camels in the desert, you should watch the movie Tracks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-DiOyxCQQI
I plan on reading the book as well, as it’s based on a true story of a woman who is far more badarsed than I will ever be. Also she doesn’t seem to get dehydrated and icky as easily, which is a helpful trait in the desert. I’m such a feather weight.

I’m going to leave part 2 of the desert and my final theme for the next post as this is feeling long.

G’day for now!

Also, Curtis’ freckle “tan” is looking rather dapper. He never seems to get dehydrated. I think he’s a camel, but I’m too scared to ask.

Island Hopping

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One month in, four(ish) months to go. It’s an interesting time paradox when each day seems so long, but the weeks pass so quickly! I’m currently sitting in a cozy corner of the latest hostel listening to the din of one-upping liquor volumes in the background. One of my least favourite pastimes as it turns out. Followed closely by one-upping “This one time in Bali when I was high on…blackout” stories; etc. I mean I’m very happy that you’re enjoying your nightlife and young ladies and talking very loudly about it, but your enthusiasm was just as loud last night. But of course this is part of the hostel package: a spectrum of personalities; wafting spliff fumes; disgusting kitchen floors; stained elephant pants; 60% chance of eating pasta with canned sauce for dinner; constant foot and stale beer smell.  That being said, I love it. Curtis and I have actually met some great people as well; we’ll be reconnecting via couchsurfing soon.

From Christchurch, we hopped on the Tranz Alpine train and headed to the West Coast. It’s amazing that four hours will take you through the entire topography of Canada, or thereabouts. Coastal beaches, pallid yellow plains and rolling hills, deep gorges and mountains, then boom! Magical rainforest and land of mist and 1000 waterfalls. What’s that? Haven’t seen a waterfall in 12 seconds? Behold nature’s miracle, again. (Although strictly speaking it’s not a miracle, it’s most likely caused by a glacier, or a volcano, or being on the edge of two tectonic plates subducting like crazies.) Seriously though, I think we both got waterfall necktitis…from looking up constantly. We stayed in Franz Joseph and knocked a World Heritage site off Curtis’ New Zealand list (only subtropical rainforest in the world coupled with a glacier) then headed southeast to Queenstown. I don’t think I noticed when I was there with my mom last year, but Queenstown has a lot of “one-upping” stories to share. This isn’t surprising considering it’s the epicentre for adventure sports and adrenaline junkies. I only participated in a mild adventure, but it was really fun. Canyoning involved abseiling, rock climbing, cliff jumping and generally moving in and around rocks and water. Curtis clearly did not do this with me, but we enjoyed hikes and disc golf together as well.

The best part about Queenstown was definitely getting our sweet wheels: the campervan of awesome. It made our shoebox look like a palace, it was freezing at night when I literally wore five layers to bed, and it was the best. The last ten days of our New Zealand trip were spent driving hundreds of kilometres a day on narrow windy roads, sleeping in fields of sheep, and sitting in McDonalds cafes intermittently to abuse their free wifi. I’m so glad we chose to see the south this way, it allowed for many stops along the way. Our number one favourite place though, was definitely Fiordland National Park. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slartibartfast won an award for designing the Norwegian fiords, but I reckon these were just as outstanding. We spent five hours kayaking around the glassy, placid waters of Doubtful Sound (wrongly named as apparently it’s a fiord) and I would say it’s one of the highlights of my time away thus far. Basically, from the tip of the far north North Island to the south of the South Island, New Zealand is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Full stop. By our last day there however, it was snowing and that meant it was time to shuffle onto Australia’s sunshine once again. It’s great to be back here again, even as I sit doing constant spider-perimeter checks.

I hear the pussy willows have appeared back home. Enjoy the first whispers of spring everyone.

P.S. Curtis’ book count for this trip, thus far, is twenty. Twenty mother flipping books! This is infuriating to my four books, which includes two audio books that don’t really count because he also listened to them.  I should try reading a speed reading book next perhaps.