Archives for the month of: July, 2014

USA vs Germany World Cup

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I had an overwhelming request for some sort of a “conclusion” to my blog. For everyone who’s been following my travels this entire time, thank you so much. For the blog record, I made it home safely. I appreciate you asking. It’s been a little over a month and I am still finding myself consciously trying to adjust back to the American lifestyle, whatever that means. So far what I noticed it meaning is dirt cheap beer, massive establishments and restaurant menus with so many options of flavors it will blow your mind. Oh, and there are people and cars everywhere. It’s almost like sensory overload. We are also huge fans of tipping everyone and their dog. I am pretty embarrassed to say that when I got stranded at the Chicago airport bar, I couldn’t remember if we tip 10-15% or 15-20%. An additional 20% seemed like a lot to add to my existing drinking tab, but I couldn’t be bothered to ask anyone, let alone do the math, so I just assumed that $10 on a $30 bill seemed like a nice round number. Also, has anyone else ever noticed that our currency is a massive eye sore and there are American flags everywhere you look?

Despite the occasional comments I tend to make ragging on life in the States, I have come to realize that we as Americans are extremely fortunate here, and it has been hard for me to see until I arrived back home. Speaking for myself, I have always taken our freedom and safety for granted. After getting to know friends from around the world, I now know that not everybody got or will get those same privileges. And that’s when it occurred to me: my time in New Zealand was more than just experiencing New Zealand. My travels, if only to one country, introduced me to cultures from around the globe that I now feel connected to. I feel like in some small way I have experienced the world, and have opened up a door of wonder and interest in so many other cultures and backgrounds that I cannot wait to explore.

With that said, I am happy to be back in Virginia Beach, VA for the time being to enjoy the summer with my family and friends. Here is a picture of me and my Momma Bear cheering for the US soccer team at the bar after we advanced in the World Cup despite a loss to Germany. Congrats on the World Cup win, all my new German friends! Proste!

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Originally, I thought I wanted to stop over in Fiji on my way back to the States, but after talking to a lot of travelers, I learned that island hopping is the best way to see Fiji. After backpacking for 7 months, the last thing I wanted to do on my one week island holiday was relocate every other day. Since the Cook Islands are so easily accessible from New Zealand with the large amounts of Kiwi visitors, and the fact that they accept the same currency (they also use their own triangular shaped coins which I found pretty nifty), to me this seemed like the perfect transition location between NZ and flying back home. So, I booked a flight to Rarotonga! Most tourists choose to vacation on the main island here as the other 14 islands are much smaller and more expensive to visit. Once I arrived, I checked into my first private room in months, and slept for about the first half of the week. By the time I finally woke up, it rained the second half of the week so unfortunately, I didn’t get to do a whole lot while I was there. It still worked out well for me though considering it’s a relatively quiet island to begin with.

My flight was only four hours, but it still made for an exceedingly long journey, even if I had discovered time travel. I departed Auckland at 9am on Monday, June 2 and landed in Rarotonga just before 4pm on Sunday, June 1. If you are making hotel reservations from New Zealand, don’t forget to factor in the International Dateline if you want a bed to sleep in your first night on the island! I stayed in the capital of Avarua, which I found most convenient since I was on foot. If you want to be within walking distance of most of the bars and restaurants on the island, my vote would be to stay here. But if you are looking for Raro’s nicest beach and snorkel spot, I would suggest Muri Lagoon. That’s where I took this picture.

Raro couldn’t be more laid back if it tried. Everyone drives mopeds to get around. And by everyone, I mean everyone. From grandmas flaunting that windblown look, to large adult men trying to shield themselves from the rain to tourists who just barely passed their temporary island license, you are definitely in the minority if you hire a car. Although, there is also the option to take the public bus. There is only one road on Raro and it encircles the entire island in about a 45 minute drive. Since there are no crossroads slicing through the rugged mountainous terrain in the middle of the island, the bus directions either take you clockwise or anti-clockwise. How simple is that? If you accidentally get on the “wrong” bus, it will just take you a few minutes longer to reach your destination. And let’s get real; nobody is in a huge hurry here. We’re all on island time.

As far as eating and drinking, I quite enjoyed hanging out at the Whatever Bar. I made loads of great friends there, and the open upstairs deck probably has one of the best views in town. I enjoyed me more than one generous serving of the daily catch and an order of ika mata, the local’s specialty consisting of fresh raw Yellow Fin Tuna prepared with lemon juice, coconut cream and veggies like onions, tomatoes and cucumbers. The markets are also something not to be missed. I stumbled upon a lively night market Thursday evening and took a wander around the busy Saturday morning market.

Overall, I found the Cook Islands to be a relaxing destination aside from one very loud problem. Nobody warned me that the island was infested with roosters! You would think with so many of them running around squawking at all hours of the day, the locals would be eating more chicken, but that was not the case. Super lovely people, super awkward flight schedule if you’re meant to be shipping back to the States.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Before I left NZ for home, I flew back down to Queenstown to say goodbye to the first and closest of my friends I met during my travels. And holy cow was it cold. When I left Auckland it felt like autumn, but when I arrived back in the South Island, there was already snow on the ground and it was definitely the winter. No matter what I did, there was no escaping the freezing temperatures. Did I mention that building isolation isn’t really a thing down there? Brr! It was pretty much too cold to do anything of substance since ski season hadn’t kicked off yet, but it was just great to be in the company of my friends. This is a picture of my last night with some of them at Zephyr: Richard, Emily, Me, Rory and Antony.

011- Mount Eden

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I found it quite interesting how the majority of backpackers I encountered wanted to bad talk Auckland. With that said, it is just another big city, but I enjoyed the surrounding areas much more than I expected to. Auckland has a unique location, nestled between two harbours and encircled by fascinating volcanic fields; 50 to be exact. I loved how even in the middle of New Zealand’s largest city there was still plenty of interesting nature to discover with Mount Eden being the most impressive to me. At the top, this massively deep green crater stood before the Auckland city skyline. I have never seen anything like it before. Bunking up in one of the popular neighborhoods of Mount Eden proved to be a smart decision for me. I found it to be a convenient bus distance away from the city centre, and a nice homely escape from everything busy downtown.

010- Lookout

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Markus went home to Germany a few weeks before my flight out. On my way back to the Auckland area, I decided to give West Auckland a look. Piha is a bit outside the city and well worth the travel. Well, only a 45 minute drive if you do it right, but if you’re like me and decide to exclusively rely on explicit NZ road signs, the commute might take you closer to 2 hours. And I’m not even joking. This is a part of the island where you might want to carry a very detailed map in your car. And I’m not even sure if a GPS would help. Needless to say, I had no idea that I was entering a dense national park replica so close to the beach. Once I finally arrived safely, I quickly realized how much of a find this place is. Everyone at the Jandal Palace warmly welcomed me and instantly made me feel at home. The backyard of our backpackers opened up to a luscious tropical view with a defined peak surrounded by green and palm trees. It was the perfect hideaway from the busy city so close by.

During my stay, I enjoyed plenty of downtime and exploring my new surroundings. If I visited during the summertime, I could easily see myself staying much longer. Piha is a very quiet surf town with not even so much as a proper petrol station or grocery store, bordering a black sand beach and smack dab in the middle of tons of great walking trails. I wandered into the bush one afternoon and found myself at the nearby Kitekite Falls. It was a beautiful walk that made me feel isolated in this jungle like setting with thin, twiggy trees all around. And the falls were even more incredible (as always) than I had ever imagined. This was one of those modest cascading falls elegantly streaming down this huge green mountain, almost like a hidden gen among nothing but tropical bush. I found another great place to add to my picnic and watering hole spots.

The picture I chose from my few days here is taken from a lookout at the summit of the peak behind the Jandal Palace. The ocean water was a stunning blue with white waves dotting the coast and the green Lion Rock off to the side.