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How Green Was My Valley

Stop what you’re doing! Seriously, stop right now and get on your computer – oh, I guess you’re already on it. Ok then, leave this page and immediately book a trip to Salento, Colombia. You can fly into Periera or Armenia (yes, Armenia, Colombia) or, if you want, you can fly to Medellin or Bogota or Cali and take a long, curvy bus ride.
Still unsure? Here’s a taste of why you should do it:
 
Following the long and winding road I took from Medellin to Salento, and after finally arriving at the Eco Hotel La Cabaña, I enjoy a brie, apple and prosciutto sandwich while sharing a bottle of wine with the French family staying in the room next to me. They’ve also arrived today but, as they came earlier, they’ve taken a dip in the river behind our house. We’re all hungry and the owner’s daughter, Maria Camila, has brought us dinner to enjoy on the porch in front of our rooms where we chat about our Colombian adventures thus far and our plans for the next couple of days.
The Eco Hotel La Cabaña consists of two houses across the street from each other with a combined total of nine rooms accommodating 26 people. As I settle into my room, a few flying creatures welcome me. This is a leche finca or dairy farm, and, though only a five-minute drive from the town, it’s still in the countryside and, though there don’t seem to be mosquitos, there are moths and other random bugs. This is no reflection on the cleanliness of the place, it’s just my room has lights and these types of insects are attracted to them. After unpacking and catching up on the news (yup, it has cable TV), I settle under my down quilt for a good night’s sleep.HotelWhen I  awake in the morning I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s a bit cool, not cold, but after the heat of Cartagena, the change in temperature (low-60’s Fahrenheit in the morning) is a shock. Climbing out of bed, I open the curtains and consider the possibility that my bus through the Andes might not have made it to its destination safely and I may have died and gone to heaven. The daylight allows me to see what I couldn’t last night; large black and white cows roam the pasture just outside my window chomping on perfectly green grass looking as content as I feel.
 
PuppyI dress and walk outside, immediately hearing the splash of the gently rolling river behind the house. I now get my first real look at the two houses of the finca. The white buildings with red trim are built in the local style with railed porches surrounding the entire structure and Dogwhich remind me of the Antebellum homes found in the southeastern United States. Walking over to the main house I say hello to the very friendly and very-well taken care of dogs who belong to the ranch owners and some staff before settling in a seat in the small dining room where I meet some more fellow travelers and staff.
Breakfast is fresh fruit, tamales, eggs, toast, homemade cheese from the cows on the farm (well, the cows didn’t make the cheese, but they did supply the milk and the farm staff made the cheese), juice, yogurt (the yogurt in Colombia is in the form of a drink), and, being in the coffee region, coffee is available 24-hours a day.
During breakfast, I speak with Maria Camila about the options of activities here and, as the weather is nice today, both Maria and I decide it’s a good day to hike the Corcora Valley.
The Corocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and is known for its Quindío wax palm trees which, growing as high as 150-200 feet (45-60 meters), are the tallest palm trees in the world. It’s also filled with other incredible flora and fauna, as well as lots of mud.
JeepThere are a few ways to see the Corcora Valley. 1) You can drive there and enjoy lunch, coffee, or a beer while contemplating the incredible scenery. Oh, and by drive I mean you catch a ride on one of the many Willys. These Jeeps, which were left over after World War II when the U.S. government no longer had a need for so many, found homes in the coffee region of Colombia. These workhorses are normally outfitted with some bench seats lining the sides of the back and can carry up to 10-or-more people using the front and back seats, as well accommodating four people standing on the back bumper while holding onto Jeep Insidebars on the roof. 2) Grab a Willy to the entrance and take a 2-hour hike into the Valley. 3) Grab that Willy (wow, this is beginning to sound dirty and perhaps you should do that in private) to the entrance and take the 4-6-hour hike through the jungle, up the mountain (up even further if you want to go see the hummingbirds and parrots), and then down into the Corcora Valley. Choosing option number 3, I grab my Willy (wait, do I even have one of those?) and head off.
The first step is to find a Willy. I’m staying just out of town between Salento and the Corcora Valley and most people find their Willy in the town square. (Please excuse me as I need to take a moment to bang on my ear to force the Willy jokes out of my head.)
Okay, I’m better now. On a normal day, I could wave down a Willy with an empty seat, or back bumper to climb on and bring me to the hike. Unfortunately, today is a holiday and many Colombians have come to the area for the long weekend. (I’ve been here for three weeks and this is the second holiday, though I don’t really understand what either holiday has been about.) Maria Camila calls a Willy for me which, as it’s now private, costs me 10-times as much as a shared one would (COP31,000 versus COP3,100 or about US$10.00 versus US$1.00).
I arrive at the park about fifteen-minutes later and find my way through the blue gate to begin my hike. I’m told the hike is well-marked and I shouldn’t have a problem with getting lost. I later find this to be true as I get lost without any problem. Before long, I arrive at a small wooden structure next to which stands a man pointing to a map painted on a wooden sign. He’s giving instructions in Spanish and eight or ten people from various countries who don’t speak Spanish are nodding their heads pretending to understand. The man collects our COP2,000 entrance fee and we move on.

Mud
General trail conditions

I slide along the muddy trail thankful for my waterproof hiking boots yet, as good as the traction may be, I still manage to accomplish pratfalls which leave my pants, shirt, and hands a healthy shade of brown. (It’s my own personal mud bath.) The trail winds through the jungle, up hills, and across a multitude of footbridges made from wood planks and wire which bounce and sway as I walk across. Being sure to wait for the person in front of me to exit before taking careful steps to balance on the wood while touching the thin wire along the side, I quickly learn not to grab the wire as some connecting areas on the bridges and many areas along the trail are linked with barbed Nun Crossing Bridgewire. At the first bridge, I wait for the habit-covered nun in front of me to cross. She stops for a moment before stepping on the bridge. Touching her head and chest, she first crosses, and then she crosses.
I continue on, meeting travelers from all over the world – lots of French and Israelis – slogging through mud, up and down hills (though mainly up), and crossing questionable bridges. I’d already decided not hike up to the birds as I had my fill of Hummingbirds in Minka and, as they surrounded my hotel verandah, I didn’t have to hike uphill for an extra half-hour to see them.
Top of hikeThough I was told the trail is clearly marked, there aren’t really any signs and, at the few intersections I come to, it’s a choice of one muddy trail versus another. Still, hikers help each other along the way to find the correct path. The last forty-or-so minutes are strictly uphill. Eventually, I come to a clearing which allows me to see a series of switchbacks climbing the side of a beautiful green hill. Taking a Flowers Mountain Corcora Valleybreak every twenty steps, I finally crest the hill where I find grateful people happy to have reached the top and enjoying just breathing while sitting on benches or lying in the grass. The sunshine and incredible views give us renewed energy while everyone refuels with snacks they’ve brought. Joining in, I take a half hour to simply breathe.
The rest of the hike is downhill. Along the way, I meet two Italian women who are hiking with a guide they’ve hired. We enjoy nice conversation before coming to the Corcora Valley. Around every bend Corcora Valleywe find unbelievable scenes straight out of a painting. The grass coating the rolling hills is perfectly trimmed and dotted with wax palm trees reaching high into the sky. The guide has us scraping our fingernails on the tree in order to feel the wax coating which indigenous tribes melt and use as a waterproof coating for their legs while crossing the river. She also tells us of the tradition to hug a wax palm and points us to one twenty-feet away on the side of the hill. I and one of the other women go in for the hug while the other lady introduces me to an Italian phrase, “I have arrived,” meaning “I’m done.”
Wax Palm TreesEventually, I do arrive and have a coffee at the small indoor/outdoor restaurant while sitting on a bale of hay and chatting with some locals and travelers. I walk over to the parking area and grab a Willy with one extra spot for me on the back bumper. I stand with three other women and, buzzed on adrenaline, we’re all feeling powerful after our hike and enjoying the wind combing our hair while traveling through the picturesque countryside. Fifteen-minutes later, I jump off the bumper, pay the driver (only 3,100 this time) and head straight to the shower.
Riding on the back of WIllyNow, what the hell are you still doing here? Book a trip to visit this paradise of Salento and the surrounding region right now!

The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-yous – Australia

It’s time again for the final article on the current location, always entitled The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-yous. The location? Well it’s a bit murky as you chose the Big Rum Bottle which is actually in Bundaberg, Australia. There’s not a whole lot to Bundaberg except for the rum distillery, so you got some other “Big” things and a trip in a camper van as a bonus. (I’m all about value for money.) But, as they say, all good things must come to an end so it’s time to stop standing on my head, and leave Australia. First, I’ll tell you what was good and what was not-so-good, as well as thanking those who helped make this location special, or simply made it easier. While travel is my love, it can sure be exhausting doing it long-term, and sometimes you’re given some great advice or a soft place to land. So, without further ado. . .
The Good
They speak English! Yeh, I know, I know; so very American. But it does make getting around, meeting people and ordering food easier.
Rainbow BeachThe beaches – They’re really nice. They’re un-crowded (at least this time of year), un-littered and just beautiful. Aussies are known for their beach culture and it’s easy to see why.
The free camping areas – the best campground I stayed at wasn’t really a campground as much as a rest-stop. These are scattered throughout Australia and, though the bathrooms are basic, they often have lots of picnic tables, some barbecue areas, trees, and larger areas to park or pitch a tent.
PicnicThe rum – well, yeh, the rum in Bundaberg was quite nice and but the guides constantly trying to get us to say “poppycock” was pretty irritating.
The weather – yes, I finally warmed up!
The U.S. Dollar – okay, I know Australians aren’t thrilled about it but their dollar isn’t doing so well against the U.S. Dollar (as of this writing in 9/2013) and, well, it really helped me.
Cow with babyThe farm in Thangool – I can’t even. . . (Read about it here).
The people – they really want you to like Australia. No, they’re not as friendly as many of the folks in Vietnam, most of the people in St. John’s Newfoundland, and every person in Ireland, but they do care what you think. And many of them are very polite. They say, “Pardon?” instead of the traditional American, “Huh?” Something that I will now work on. And they seem to not be in so much of a rush and will take the time stop, talk and be polite.
The Bad
The campgrounds, or holiday parks, or caravan parks – whatever you want to call them, a rose by any other name would smell like a can of sardines as that’s how tightly they shove everyone in. Really Australia, you keep reminding everyone how big you are, yet you shove your campers in so tightly that they can barely see a ray of sunshine in between the campsites.
The prices – thank goodness the Australia Dollar is weak against the U.S. Dollar. It’s all that saved me from living on the street. (Ok, I did live in a van for a while and also with my friends’ parents.)
People wanting me to pick stuff – Whenever I mentioned that this was also an around-the-world job hunt, I was told I could pick something – strawberries, peppers, ginger – or about a sign in the window for a short-order cook. And when I asked about volunteer work, I was told that a hostel was trading free room and board for work. (Inconceivable! This word, “volunteering,” I do not think it means what you think it means.) Australia issues under-thirties work visas and most end up working in fields picking things. They seem to have no concept of a foreign worker who might be older than thirty and who brings a resume (CV) filled with experience.
The shortening and cutesiness of words – please note; this is just personal preference. The Aussies shorten everything and add “ey” or “ie” to the end of the shortened words to make them sound cute. I don’t do it because then it seems like a silly American making fun of them which, honestly, it would be. And while we’re on the subject, to me, the Australian accent sounds like a drunken American attempting to do an English accent. (Boom, just insulted Australians and Americans.)
They don’t understand the concept of under-promising and over-delivering. This is something I learned through many years of working in tourism. Australians seem to work on the over-promise, under-deliver concept. Yes, it’s nice. But they’ll tell you something is a must do/see and, when you do/see it, it tends to be a bit less than you’d expected (note: the Manly Ferry and the seventy-two colors in the sand at Rainbow Beach). Besides my feelings on this, I also heard this from other travelers.
The history – I now understand why Europeans are underwhelmed when they come to America and miss a sense of history. Yes, like Australia, America is a young country. I like to point out the Anasazi, or Ancient Ones, who lived in the desert southwest in America left cliff dwellings and petroglyphs for us to see. Perhaps the Aboriginal Australians have some of the history which can be experienced in central Australia. Around the sides, however, the history comes down to the convicts who inhabited so much of the place (yet their descendants won’t allow me to come work here).
The Thank-yous
First, a big THANK YOU to those who let me crash at their houses. Janette and Mark (Farmer Jane’s Yuki Dogparents) – thanks for allowing me to stay in a comfortable place, taking me to see the Big Rum Bottle and introducing me to Yuki, my real, live teddy bear (okay, he’s a dog, but he sure is cuddly). Thanks to Rosemary in Hervey Bay. I appreciate the stay and the loaner computer. And Cattlethanks to Jeanette and Vern in Thangool. I can’t even explain what my stay there meant to me. Your farm is a place of peace and beauty. You welcomed me to your school Christmas party and drove me to the races so I could enjoy a bit of wine (okay, maybe a bit more than a bit) and not get to see what an Australian jail looked like. And you introduced me to your animals and allowed me to give them nicknames (thanks Lampshade, Cher, Colored Girls and White Chicks).
Thank you to the nice bus drivers who understood that I didn’t have small bills and let me ride for free. I learned.
TAFEThanks to Jack, Sue and the students at TAFE in Sydney. Yes, I know Sydney wasn’t part of this vote and was simply an in-between place, but I had such fun meeting you and sharing my experience. I love meeting our next generation of travel and tourism experts. Sue, I wish we lived closer I think we’d have fun hanging out. Jack, my former boss, it was so wonderful to see you again. You still inspire me and I enjoyed our dinners and ferry ride. (Steve Jobs was not saying “Ow!”)
Thank you to the people in the campground who shared meals, good conversation, and even refrigerators. This is what makes camping great.
As always, thank you to you, those who have read about my Australian journey. Heck, those who have read about the journey of the last nine-and-a-half months. You may be wondering about the volunteer opportunity for this vote. Unfortunately, I just never got to it. But, as it’s part of the deal, I’ll be heading back to Akumal, Mexico for a little R&R in a couple of days and will be stopping by the Hekab Be Biblioteca where I previously volunteered (read it here). Oh, and I’ll have an update on what’s next. In the meantime, I give you the budget and the links, all gathered up together. Perhaps you should bookmark this one in case you decide to come here.
The Budget
Accommodations – $251 – note – camper van rental is listed under transportation category and I stayed with friend’s families many other nights. Much of these expenses are campground fees.
Activities – $87 – There were many more activities to spend my money on but, unfortunately, there was less money available to so them. Here and there DMA is provided with media rates or comps. The actual prices are included in the total here.*
Food and drink – $450 – don’t forget, I stayed with other people and we shared meals.
Transportation – $490 – this includes rental of Van Morrison and fuel.
A grand total of $1278
*Drop Me Anywhere would like to thank Australia Zoo, Bundaberg Rum Distillery and Noosa River and Canal Cruises for their comps in support of travel writers and helping me tell you about my experience. As always, no positive reviews were promised, or given, in exchange for any discounts or comps.
**Airfare is not included because you will, no doubt, be coming from a location other than Sydney.
***The Australian Dollar is currently at about $0.70 of the US Dollar and that helped immensely. If given options of what currency to price things in, try various options and convert them. Sometimes it pays to, well, pay, in a foreign currency.
The Links
Accommodations
Caloundra Bay Waterfront Park
Halse Lodge Backpackers Hostel
Landsborough Pines Caravan Park
Ocean View Tourist Park
Rainbow Beach Holiday Village
Rainbow Waters Holiday Park
Activities
Australia Zoo
Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital
Bundaberg Rum Distillery
Ginger Factory
Noosa River and Canal Cruises
Thangool Cup
Food and Drink
Rainbow Beach Hotel
Retro Espresso
Transportation
Spaceship Camper Vans
Virgin Airlines
 

Goodbye Van Morrison

Today is definitely my last in Rainbow Beach. I say this because I seem to be extending my visit here on a daily basis. I’ve enjoyed my time here but it’s nearly time to get Van Morrison back to Brisbane so he can perform for someone else. While I’d love to say it’s a beautiful, sunny day, it’s actually cloudy and a bit cool. Still, after a stop in town for breakfast and free WiFi, I head down to the beach. I’d hope to, once again, play in the waves but, with the turn of the weather, that seems like a crazy idea and I lay back on my towel to read.
Colors of sandFeeling chilly, I soon decided to take a walk down the side of the beach I hadn’t previously explored to see the supposed seventy-two different colors of sand. The sand is piled high on the dunes to my right. As I walk, I try spotting some of the seventy-two different colors, and perhaps I do, but they’re less impressive than I’d hoped. I see light brown, dark brown, sepia, beige, eggshell, taupe, tan, khaki, wheat and caramel. Sure, there’s a smattering of green, but that’s just the plant-life growing in the sand. Also, instead of passing dogs and horses, this side of the beach holds SUV’s and four-wheel-drive buses. Still, it’s a nice, hour-long walk before I head back to Van Morrison.
Cars on beachI walk and drive around asking about accommodations. I’ve decided to try to find a hotel room or something similar as I’ve been living inside Van Morrison for ten days with a break at the farm where I pulled out just the essentials and, as I return to Brisbane tomorrow, I really need to get organized. Things in Australia are very expensive and the only saving grace is the good exchange rate with the U.S. Dollar. This makes finding an affordable, basic hotel room a challenge. After chatting with people, driving around and questioning subjects (oh wait, that was on CSI), I fall upon Rainbow Waters Holiday Park. I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t you just check out of a holiday park and weren’t you looking for a room? Ah, yes, but this place has “cabins” and “villas.” While the cabins aren’t log-cabin-in-the-wood-types, and the villas are nothing you’d find on the French Riviera, they do provide enough space to re-pack in.
I look at two “cabins.” One is basic which includes a cook-top, cooking utensils, dishes and silverware, a small refrigerator, a TV, and a double bed (maybe it’s queen-sized; I can never tell the difference). It doesn’t include linens, pillows or a bathroom. For that, you must use the campground bathroom nearby, which, after living in Van Morrison, isn’t a big deal. This room costs AUD$60 (US$43). The more deluxe cabin I look at costs AUD$80 (US$57.60) and has everything the basic one had, plus two bunk-beds, and a bathroom and shower. While I could do without the kitchen and would rather have linens and pillows, the feel is better and I decide to spoil myself with the deluxe room.
I drag my blankets, pillows, computer, bags, and random clothing scattered about Van and begin the task of repacking. I turn on the TV because I can. I’d cook, as I have the facilities but alas, little food for cooking, so dinner is leftover bread, brie, Nutella and wine. My sheets are way too small to fit the double (or queen-sized) bed but I have two blankets and my own pillows, so I enjoy an evening in while listening to the huge storms crashing outside appreciating the fact that I chose the cabin with the restroom included.
I sleep well until about 6:30am when the very noisy child next door is clearly awake and seems to have had copious amounts of Sugar Pops. My earplugs do nothing to block out her screams, and I think about voicing my opinion but, today, I choose not to be that woman. I lay in bed for a little while longer before getting dressed, loading up Van, and heading back to Brisbane.
Two-and-a-half-hours later, I arrive back at Mark Janette’s house (read Virgin Germs), drop my bags on the back porch, and drive over to drop off Van. After letting the lady there know that the refrigerator didn’t work and that the fluids were obviously not checked as the brake light flashed until I had brake fluid added (really Spaceship, I heard about two other breakdowns of your vehicles while I was on the road and I really wonder about your service standards for your vehicles). I have a heartfelt goodbye with Van Morrison and Mark picks me up to take me back to their place.
It’s now time to enjoy a week in Brisbane before heading off to my next location. “Wait, what will that be?” you ask. “I don’t remember voting.”
This is true. I have big news coming up but first, as always, I’ll let you know The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-you’s of Australia – coming up next.

Rainbow Beach

I spend the evening in Van Morrison watching a bad movie on my tiny DVD screen. Having already watched my previous collection, which I’d picked up in Brisbane, I found a new collection at a DVD store outside of Caloundra. There wasn’t one movie in the bunch which I’d wanted to see, and it’s amazing how many famous actors were in films which, either went straight to video or were released in theatres and so bad that the stars hope you’ve forgotten them. And as far as campers go, I’ve found tent campers to be more approachable as, the popular, fancy campers have TV’s, microwaves, stoves, ovens, satellite dishes, Wifi and more. Heck, some probably have wine coolers and, perhaps, helicopter landing pads. As I have a DVD player (a tiny screen flipping down from the ceiling like the old aircraft ones which is run through the van radio powered by a separate battery from the one which starts the van), my evening entertainment tends to be a DVD before turning to reading (currently Amy Poehler’s Yes Please).
I awake in the morning and decide to cook myself a spinach omelet. I’d stopped at the store the previous day and picked up some items before I decided to completely give up on my “refrigerator” which has worked for a total of about twenty-minutes during this trip. My campsite is near the barbecue are of the holiday park and, as I have a gas stove included with the van, I decide it would be good to use it. Thirty-minutes later, I’m enjoying a spinach, tomato and cheese omelet and a cup of fresh “brewed” Nescafe. (Yup, Asia ruined this coffee snob’s tastebuds and Nescafe is now an acceptable form of coffee. I promise to go into treatment on my return to the U.S.)
After cleaning up, I call Spaceship Camper Vans to, once again, extend my rental, before stopping by the holiday park’s office to extend my stay. It was lovely falling asleep and awakening to the sounds of the ocean (absolutely worth it not sleeping with my earplugs here). The couple camping next to me has agreed to store some of my refrigerated items in their camper for the day and I head down the stairs and to the beach.
It’s an overcast morning and, as I dip my toe into the water, I have serious doubts about whether I’ll dip any more. Still, I march on (or perhaps I tiptoe). When the chilly water finally reaches my girlie-parts, I decide to back off and head back towards the sand. As I sit there, the sun finally makes an appearance and I realize that I haven’t applied sunscreen. I grab my spray from my bag and, as I rub it in, the sand sticks to it and it’s as good as the exfoliation I received in Bali (read Rub Me, Scrub Me, Bathe Me in Flowers).
DogI sit on the beach most of the day, except for the forty five-minutes that I walk on the beach passing by people, dogs and horses. I enjoy this relaxation time as, I’ve been traveling for nine-months and, truth be told, I’m really very tired. I could use a week in a five-star resort (heck, HorsesI’ll take a four-star resort; I’m not picky) with no work to do. Unfortunately, I have a one-to-two-star wallet and am considering my future. I spend my beach time writing and reading (because that’s what writers do) before heading back to the Rainbow Beach Holiday Village, grabbing my bottle of wine, loaf of bread and jar of Nutella from Van Morrison and my brie and some other fancy cheese from my neighbors before heading across the road to a picnic area beside the beach to enjoy a little civilized picnic.
A few hours (and glasses of wine) later, I walk back over to the Rainbow Beach Hotel and enjoy a pint of beer for dinner (don’t judge me). I then return to the holiday park to spend the evening with Van Morrison and Robert Downey, Jr. (if only this were real life).
I awaken in the morning to the sounds of crashing waves and a similar plan as yesterday. The only difference is that it’s sunny from the get go. I stop in a little cafe and grab a bad breakfast burrito (I’ve been jonesing for a taste of my Arizona where I’ve lived for thirteen years) and pick up the free WiFi from the Adventure Travel Bugs next door. I ask the girl there if she knows of any volunteer opportunities (I haven’t forgotten) and am told, “I think Rainbow Beach Hotel will let you stay free in exchange for work.” Really? This is neither working nor volunteering. It’s really just slave labor and I’m getting tired of people suggesting I become a housekeeper, fruit-picker, or short order cook. I’m looking for a career.
Following breakfast, I jump in Van Morrison and drive fifteen-minutes out of town to Searys Creek. Tim, the guy at the skydive center told me this was a peaceful place which he liked to enjoy, as it’s spring-fed and quiet during the week. After finding the parking lot without trouble, I stroll along the walkway for about five-minutes before I hear water rambling over a small waterfall. I’ve been warned that the water is cold, and I creep timidly down the stairs and step into the water. It’s definitely cool but, as I’ve given up on warm water, I step in to my mid-thigh. Tim mentioned something about fish and eels and, as the water is spring fed and is crystal clear, I look around and see, what seem to be a Ceiling Fanfew long, squirmy things. Sure, I’ve been told the eels aren’t dangerous but, as we all know, everything in Australia can kill you (not true but, you know, maybe). I imagine one is swimming towards me and, like a crowd at the zoo running from a lion on the loose, I climb up the stairs in a small panic. When I stand up and look back, it appears my eel might possibly have been a line of algae swaying with the current and, his friends might have been some sticks. Choosing not to take any more chances (I mean, how can I possibly relax with everything trying to kill me, including my ceiling fan?!), I decide to sit in the sun on the wooden platform and read for a bit.
As I make my best attempt at some peaceful reading while communing with nature, the cars on the road directly above the spring speed past, disturbing the peacefulness of the spring-fed waterfall. I finally realize that, for me, the ocean waves crashing onto the uncrowded sands of Rainbow Beach might be a bit more relaxing, so I return to the van and drive back to the coast.
ReflectionThe bright, shining sun today makes the water feel warmer and I plunge in. (Okay, perhaps it’s more of tentatively step in but, as they’d say in Asia, same, same, but different.) I laugh as the tall waves crash on top of me and enjoy the surf as I gain elevation when I ride on top. Eventually, the waves die down a bit and I head back to the warm sand to read and dry myself in the sun. I’ve given up on my micro-towel and am now using my shower towel as a beach towel. Whatever, I’m camping.
At 3:00, I head back to the camper van park, grab my bottle of red, jar of Nutella, package of brie and Kindle, and walk back across the street to, what’s become, my regular picnic area (okay, it’s just two days in a row). As I get set up, I meet Emma and her boyfriend Jeremy (that may or may not be his name; again, I’m really bad with names). They’re from Ireland and are traveling around Australia in a camper van which they purchased for AUD$1500.00. They tried the fruit-picking thing (actually capsaicin, as peppers are called here) and lasted less than a week.
Emma and Peter Piper (get it??) cook their dinner as we talk. Just like most of the Irish I met (except for that Irish jerk in Da Nang, Vietnam – read here) these two are so friendly and enjoyable. We talk long after dark and Emma admits that she had a bit of an attitude when I said I was an American, but realized I wasn’t what she thought of as a “typical American.” She’s lovely and didn’t want to insult Americans and I can only say that I understand what she means and I’ve heard it before. The view of many from other countries is that Americans don’t have a very big world-view. (Can you blame them, what with seeing Trump all over the news? Come on people!)
We clean up and I bring Emma and Peter Piper back to the campground to use the bathroom before they head back to their parking spot, and I settle in to watch another bad movie.
Tomorrow – A final day at the beach and the drive back to Brisbane.

Animal Farm

I awake this morning and hightail it out of Noosa (okay, it’s actually 10:00am before I get going, and though I blame the wait for an available shower in the hostel, my dawdling might be a contributing factor). Today I’m headed to farm-country. Thangool to be exact. Any Australians out there will now be posing the question, “What would bring you to Thangool?”
If I were being my regular smart-self I might say, “Van Morrison is bringing me there.” (My camper van, not the singer and, by the way, is he still alive?)
Instead, I’ll tell you the real story. When I was in Sydney, everyone told me, “You must take the Manly Ferry and check out Manly Island.”
As I’m always on the hunt for someone manly, I did just that. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Not only did I not find anyone manly, but I found it fairly boring. Now, if you’re a surfer, you might enjoy Manly a bit more than I, but, as I have enough trouble not falling down when walking on cement, it’s probably best that I find my water sports in the water and not on top of it.
So Manly was boring. And the ferry, well, the thirty-minute ride had its exciting moments as the water was rough and, though I worked on ships for many years, and have taken ferries around the world, there were times that I was checking out the quickest exit should we capsize. At one point, I turned to a young woman sitting alone and said, “Is this normal?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m not from here.”
We spoke further and she told me her name was Tenille (you’d think she’d know if this rocking were normal, knowing The Captain, and all) and she was from Thangool. She now lives on the Gold Coast and was spending a few days in Sydney before heading over to travel around Vietnam for a couple of weeks. She’d spent the first few days in Sydney with friends but they’d just left, and this was her first time traveling alone. She was a bit lonely and, well, I’m kind of an expert on solo-travel and understand the loneliness which can accompany it at times. We spent the day together, chatting about Vietnam, travel, and life, while strolling through the not-too-exciting streets of Manly. At one point, Tenille mentioned that she grew up on a farm and her dad is often meeting travelers at the local pub and inviting them back to the house to stay for a bit. She mentioned something about horseback riding and sheep sheering and offered to contact her folks to see if they could host me for a few days. I thanked her for the offer and let her know that I was up for it as these types of opportunities are exactly why I travel without a plan.
Cool DogSo there’s the story of why, today, I’m heading to Thangool. It’s about a five-and-a-half hour drive and I manage to do it in only seven hours (yay me!). At just over an hour into the, thus far, boring drive, I stop at a Hungry Jacks (Burger King in Australia) for a quick burger. After passing by the coolest dog in the world, I call Tenille’s mom, Jeanette and ask, “Do you think it’s worth me driving all the way over there?”
I’d remembered that, during our pre-trip communications, Jeanette had mentioned that the travelers her husband Vernon had previously invited back to the farm were passing through the area. My situation is different as I’m not passing through; their farm is my destination. While I don’t expect it to be Disneyland, I want to know that it’s worth the drive. Jeanette tells me that the drive is fairly boring, basically consisting of farms and scrub. She doesn’t want to promise too much, and I understand that I’m the only one who can judge what constitutes, “worth the drive” for me.
With some trepidation, I continue to drive. It was tough to leave the beautiful beach of Noosa and, until I drive over three-hours (past the half-way point), I consider turning back. At just after 5:00pm, I finally pull onto the farm. Standing there to greet me, like the American Gothic painting, are Jeanette and Vernon. Oh, and there’s a little, baby goat, which I later learn is actually a sheep. (Seriously, I’m from Detroit) Oh and a dog; there’s a dog wearing a lampshade on his head. (Is he drunk?)
Vernon and Jeanette give me a warm greeting and I’m shown to my room. After I transfer some necessities from Van Morrison to my room, we take a stroll around the farm. I meet the two pigs, the many “chooks” (chickens for us city-people), five-or-so horses, the sheep, the eight-or-so sheepherding dogs and Cheech and Chong, the sheep’s bodyguards. Jeanette and Vernon explain that Cheech and Chong are dogs which bond with whatever you train them to bond with; in this case a herd of sheep. Cheech and Chong live with the sheep and keep away predators and, really, anything or anyone that they don’t know. They love their sheep like the other Cheech and Chong love their spliff.
As the sun begins to set, we head inside and enjoy a nice dinner. Sam, the dog which I now refer to as “Lampshade”, has just been neutered. This is the reason for the lampshade around his neck and has nothing to do with his alcohol consumption (though, after losing his manhood, he might need a drink). This place is already feeling worth the drive and my stressed-out body and mind are beginning to relax.
At about 6:00am, I’m awakened with the sounds of cackling and crowing. Knowing that getting up this early is for the birds (ha!), I roll over and grab an hour more sleep. When I finally drag myself out of bed, Jaenette and Vernon are sitting enjoying tea and watching the news. I’ve missed this bit of normalcy lately and grab a cup of coffee and join them. After a while, Jeanette heads off to work (she’s a teacher) and Vernon and I head out onto the farm. I mention the possibility of sheep-shearing which Tenille spoke of, and Vernon doesn’t seem too keen on it. From everything I’ve heard prior to coming, sheep-sheering is tough work. Vernon explains that watching an expert sheep-shearer looks like watching a dance. They stand in one place and move the sheep around them with finesse. He goes on to explain that, when he sheers sheep, it’s more like a wrestling match, and often, the sheep wins. We decide to skip the sheep-sheering for today and he shows me some other things which happen around the farm.
Sheep HerdingWe  begin with feeding the chickens, birds, pigs, and dogs. Following that, we collect four of the working dogs and walk them over to the sheep. Vernon is training some of them to herd and he gives me a demo. Some of the sheep are let into a round pen so there’s no corners to hide in. Slash is up first. (Yup, named after the guy from Guns-N-Roses.) Slash is a master sheep-herding dog and, while standing in the pen, Vernon explains that Slash understands not to get in the middle of the crowd, but to push them towards Vernon from the outside. Slash is also good at staring down rebellious sheep which try to challenge him. Having a successful run and showing the others how it’s done, Slash is led out of the pen and its now Sophie’s turn. While Sophie has a different style, she’s pretty good at her craft and I congratulate her on a job well-done.
Sheep herding dogNext up is Slash’s son Jinx. Jinx is just learning the family business and Vernon has to give him just a bit of help so that one of the more aggressive sheep doesn’t take him on and ruin his confidence. Finally, it’s Gus’ turn. Gus is Slash’s other son and does just as good of a job as his brother did. Both seem to love the family trade and show that they have the family’s talent. Vernon explains the process of recreating the natural ability through the bloodline. “You’re actually breeding for something you can’t see.” It’s the “It Factor.”
Next, Vernon and I climb aboard the tractor – he sits, while I stand on a step and hold on for dear life – tie a round-bale of hay onto the loader, and head out into the fields to feed the cattle. I ask Vernon how many there are and he’s not quite sure. There seems to be about a hundred, and they know that when the tractor comes, so does the food. We’re soon the Pied Piper and all the cows are following us. Vernon dumps the hay and, as he spreads it out, it’s like a stampede. I quickly step out of the way, hiding next to the tractor in an effort not to get trampled.
CattleAfter the hay is spread, Vernon has me step into the tractor’s bucket and he lifts it high. It’s a great view to get some aerial photos of the cattle. After that, we head on over to see a new mother cow with her newborn calf. With the umbilical chord still attached, the calf stumbles on its new legs. The new mother isn’t too happy about our presence, as she wants some private time to take care of her newborn, so we only stay a few minutes before leaving.
Cow with baby
Vernon then heats up a bottle for me and I head over to feed Terri, the week-old sheep whose mother has rejected her. Vernon and Jeanette don’t slaughter the sheep that have been rejected by their Carole and Sheepmothers. Those sheep are destined to live a long, happy life, mating and eating grass. So far, the farm has Steve, Bindi, Bob and now, Terri. Yup, the whole Irwin (Crocodile Hunter) family is here. (Vernon and Jeanette tell me that Bindi is a a bit of a loose woman.)
We spend more time on the farm feeding the horses and trying to get a bird to talk. (Apparently Vernon has taught him a nasty phrase or two.) We head out where Vernon shows me a volcanic hill, as well as a lookout to the local coal mine. In between, we stop for some tea and chat about life. Any doubts about the worthiness of the long drive here have vanished as, finally, I can breathe.
Tomorrow – Christmas in September and a day at the races.

Noosa Somewhere

I pack up this morning and walk over to the office to return their keys; for a campground, they sure do have a lot of keys. There’s one for the restrooms (nice to keep creepy, scary guys out), one for the front gate, and one for the electrical outlet in my campsite (really, electric access is like gold here in Australia). I make a stop in town where I find coffee, a decent breakfast at a decent price, a TV with American news (seriously Trump, you’re embarrassing me) and dependable WiFi. I could live in this place. As it is, I simply spend an hour soaking it all in and head up the Sunshine Coast to the town of Noosa, about an hour’s drive away.
The folks in Caloundra have told me it’s nice, if a bit pretentious. “They like to think of themselves as a designer place,” I’m told. While that doesn’t sound too promising for my ever-shrinking wallet, I have asked about campground prices as they’re already fairly high at AUD$35-$45 per night (thanks god for the week Australian dollar), and have been told they’re really no higher than Caloundra.
I hightail it up north following signs for Noosa Head. It’s a bit confusing as there’s Noosa Head, Noosa Flats, Noosa National Park, Noosa, Noosaville, Noosa Springs, and Noosa. I wind up following a road into a really cute town which is one of the Nousa’s, I’m just not sure exactly which.
After circling the bustling streets for fifteen-minutes, I finally find a parking spot (that’s one good thing  not renting a big, comfortable camper van, but a cramped, tiny “van” which makes you feel like a homeless-person sleeping in their car – maneuverability). I walk into the “i-site”, these are information bureau buildings set up throughout both Australia and New Zealand. I approach the desk and tell the kind, older lady that I’m looking for a caravan park. She shows me two on the map. Neither allows you to simply walk into the charming center of town and only the furthest has power (important to plug in my computer which has a battery-life equal to that of a fruit fly). When I ask about any other options she mentions a Backpackers (aka hostel) directly across the road. You might recall that I stayed in private rooms in similar places both in Ireland and in Germany (yeh, the dorms of 16 are for twenty-year-olds). While I consider seeing about a private room there, I’m well-aware that the price is most likely at least AUD$100 (really Australia), The nice lady mentions that this backpackers allows small camper vans to park in their lot for $15. I decide to, at least, check it out.
The lady at the desk gives me the lowdown, telling me I can use all facilities, including the lounge, which is open until 11:00pm unless the bartender decides to close early. Not only are there electrical outlets in the lounge, but there’s WiFi reception as long as you pay for it. At only AUD$2 for four hours, this’ll do. I’m told that I can’t have alcohol in the van due to local law, so I don’t mention the bottle of scotch and half-bottle of red wine sitting in Van Morrison.
While I’m there, she let’s me know that there’s a welcome reception at 6:00 which I’m welcome to attend. Sounds good as there’s free wine, but I notice the sunset canal cruise sign and ask about that. The price is only AUD$22, it’s BYOB and lasts an hour. While free wine at the Backpackers is tempting, I really need to feel like a normal adult and decide to shoot for the sunset cruise. I choose not to book it with her as I’m not at all sure I’ll make it in time. While this project has been about minimal planning, lately I can’t even seem to plan two-hours in advance.
I pay my $15, grab my towel and toiletries and jump in the shower. Making good time, I decide to try to catch the sunset cruise so I grab the half-bottle of wine from Van Morrison (hey, just trying to follow the rules) and walk over to the jetty. As he boat pulls in and the captain explains how boarding will work, I mention that I don’t have a reservation and ask if he might have room. I’m assured it will be fine.Noosa BoatI sit on the top deck and get to know three women from southern Australia having a ladies’ week in Noosa, and two men, one from Texas and one from England. The Texan lives in Dallas and the Englishman lives in Australia. They’re married and doing a commuter marriage until the Englishman’s visa comes through. After hearing my story, the Texan tells me I have bigger balls than him. I tell him that my big balls could use a job. (You never know who has contacts and if big balls are a requirement.)Australia - Noosa Sunset BoatWe enjoy a beautiful sunset offset by rain clouds. It’s peaceful and, for the first time in days, I feel like I can breathe. The wine also helps.
As the light rain moves in, we all head below-deck to enjoy the scenery of the stunning, and very expensive houses, which line the canals. I stare in the windows looking for my sugar-daddy.
Noosa PeacefulAfter disembarking the boat, we all say our goodbyes and I head over to Betty’s Burgers and Concrete Company for a carnivorous dinner. My mom’s name was Betty and, as I’ve been feeling quite homesick, this place called out to me the moment I saw it. I order a Naked Betty (so wrong) which is a really tasty burger served in a lettuce-wrap. I used to greatly limit my carb. intake. That was before these nine-straight-months of traveling (yup, it’s been that long). Now, my diet consists of a combination of local and comfort food. This place is partially owned by an American so, I find it curious that, when I ask for ketchup for my chips (french-fries), I’m told it’s AUD$1 extra. Really? This guy should be put on a terrorist watch list or something. Sacré bleu! (French for, “What the hell?!”)
I head back to the backpackers pack my electronic equipment up in a backpack, and make my way to the lounge. I plug in everything and attempt to log onto the WiFi (the lady at the desk was nice enough to provide me with a free four-hours). After multiple attempts, I have no luck. I speak with the bartender, as well as the front desk lady and am told where the modem is placed. I unplug everything, move to a table close to the modem, and plug it all back in again. Again I attempt to sign on; nothing. The lady tells me that PC’s tend to have more of a problem. That’s a problem for me as that’s how I publish. I try to log in on my iPad and receive similar results. Front Desk Lady tells me that iPads also have problems. Um, exactly what does work?
I finally surrender and sign on with the pocket Wifi I purchased in Sydney and, which I’m unsuccessfully attempting to conserve.
Publishing finished, E-mails answered, Facebook scoured, I shove my electronics back in the backpack and wander over to some girls who have been playing a card game and screaming like sixteen-year olds. It’s a special set of circular cards with a variety of pictures on each. hey tell me how to play and, before you know it, I’ve joined in, slamming down cards and screaming away. It’s nice to forget about life’s issues for a while.
By 10:15pm, the backpackers is quiet. Those playing pool, watching TV, drinking in the bar and listening to the pretty horrible male folk singer (really, he should not be singing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) have mostly gone to bed and we also say goodnight. I head down to Van Morrison and get cozy in the parking lot. While I sleep well, and this is an acceptable way to travel in Australia, there’s still the psychological effect of sleeping in a car and wondering what the future holds.
 
 

Peter, Wendy and Tinkerbell

After departing Australia Zoo and the cramped holiday parks near it, I head to the coast. I need to smell the sea air to clear my head a bit. Today is Sunday and I decide to drive over to the town of Caloundra. It’s only about a half-hour away – right on the shores of the Sunshine Coast – and, though I’d hoped to get further north, I’ve picked up a literal library of brochures and pamphlets along the road and I’ve read that they have a Sunday Market.
Street FairAs I pack up Van Morrison, I find that Van’s chiller box isn’t working at all. I took a chance last night and ate the salmon I’d bought as I headed out of Brisbane. Honestly, when you spend $100 on food, it’s difficult to throw half of it away. Van and I drive the thirty-minutes to Caloundra. I’m not exactly sure of the specific location but, as it turns out, if you just keep driving straight, you run into it! After circling for a while in search of a parking space, I snag one just a few blocks away and walk over to streets filled with dozens of booths selling jewelry, healing oils, clothing, crafts and Street Foodfood items. There are also a few street-musicians providing music to fill the air with guitars and folk-songs. I’m hungry and have a choice of treats from a United Nations-like food area. From Turkish, to Vietnamese, to pizza, to juices, to spiral-cut potatoes fried up and put on a stick, and more. I buy some Tibetan fried and steamed dumplings, grab a stool which I’m warned is not very sturdy and could fall over at any moment (I’ve been feeling the same way lately), and enjoy my dumplings while chatting with a Bert and Madelyn (?), Marianne (?), crap, I’m bad with names. Bert’s just come back from back surgery and Mrs. Bert has worked her way back from breast cancer so, though they used to come to the Caloundra Market regularly, this is the first they’ve been in quite a long time. I’m honored to share just a bit of their return with them.
Camper VanAfter enjoying some time at the market, I walk back to meet Van Morrison and find a place to stay. The streets are much emptier than when I arrived and they look very different without all of the cars which lined the streets on my arrival. Also missing from that line of cars is Van Morrison. Panic sets in as I wander around seeing blue signs about 2P parking and, though I have no idea what that means, I fear it might mean that you must pay for your parking (but it’s Sunday) and Van has been towed. It’s bad enough when your car gets towed but, when your life is inside, well, that’s a whole other story.
After wandering around in a bit of a panic, muttering to myself like a mentally disturbed homeless person, I see a sign that says “Jesus Saves.” Please note that I’m a Jewish girl and, while I respect the right for all to believe what they will, I’m not a big believer in Jesus saving me. Still, I do remember hearing church hymns being sung when I left Van Morrison, and looking to my left to see the open door of a church with congregants singing on a sunny Sunday morning. It really does feel as if this is a sign pointing me towards Van Morrison and, when I round the corner, Van is sitting, all alone, as if saying, “I’ve been here waiting all along, you doofus.”
I climb into Van and we check out a few of the holiday parks in the area. We stop at one on Kings Beach; well, it’s not actually on the beach, but a couple of blocks inland. Actually right in the middle of the very small town. As I’ve found in previous Australian caravan parks, there’s a central cooking are with a picnic table, but none at each site. And the sites are jammed tighter than a pair of Spanx on a linebacker. It’s not very appealing and I head back towards Caloundra (five-minutes away) and check into the Caloundra Bay Waterfront Park which is pretty much on the waterfront, though the sites aren’t. If the place were full, it would be a tight squeeze but, luckily, I’m given a tent camping spot (I mean really, I’m sleeping in a car) and there’s only one tent in the area. It’s on a small grassy area and picnic tables are close by. And, as Van Morrison’s cooler isn’t working, well, it’s not like I’ll be eating in much.
The park is very close to the central business distract and, though I’ve laid in the van and watched movies on the DVD player for the last couple of nights, tonight I head out to see Meryl Streep in a real-live movie theatre. As today is Father’s Day in Australia, it’s just me and four other people and the movie is entertaining, yet forgettable.
I make my way back to the campground and Van and I watch another flick. (Before Sunrise; who knew a movie about a couple walking through the streets of Vienna for a night could be so entertaining?). Oh, and the Van Morrison Movie Theatre serves scotch so, well, there’s that.
After I wake up today, most of the morning is spent attempting to send out a CV in, what seems like, a vain attempt at securing employment. I’ll leave those attempts out of here for now as I don’t want to bore you with the details or bum you out with the depressing results. I take advantage of the fact that my computer seems to be working for the moment (it’s crashed, refused to turn on, and had a power-cord connection issue, all in the last month). I seem to also have some WiFi so I tailor the CV for the job, write the cover letter, and go to attach it to an E-mail when the server says I have no WiFi left. I stop in the office and, it turns out that, when they told me the park includes free WiFi, it means you get 100MB for the first twenty four-hours of your stay. As I arrived yesterday, that twenty four-hours is up and I must now purchase some. Still, it’s cheap, and I hand over my AUD$3.
I walk back to the campsite, sign back into the WiFi and go to open my E-mail, when I receive an error code from Yahoo. I attempt to get in on all of my electronic devices (PC, iPad, iPhone) and have no luck. After a many unsuccessful attempts, I send the CV out via an alternate E-mail address and head over to grab some lunch at the beach.
Beach FeetWhile the Sunshine Coast is, for the most part, sunny, it’s also a bit chilly in September. It’s not quite cold, but too cool for my tastes to even think about going into the water. I sit on the beach for a while, soaking in some sun before it heads behind some clouds.
After a quick stop back at the caravan park, I head back into town to enjoy a glass of wine and small bite. On the way, as I pass a couple sitting on a bench, I hear, “How did you enjoy the film?”
I stop and ask if he’s speaking to me?
“Yes, weren’t you the one I pointed to the cinema last night?”
Wow, we had a five-second exchange and he remembered me. (Yes, I’m wearing basically the same clothes, as my wardrobe on the road, and especially in campgrounds, is limited; but still.)
“Oh, wow, yes, it was good,” I respond.
We introduce ourselves; they’re Peter and Wendy and, perhaps tonight, I’m one of the Lost Boys. Oh, and his full name is Peter Griffin and he’s a family guy. We chat for a good half-hour. There are some people you meet that, if you’re open to it, you feel that they might have been put in your path for a reason, if only to lift your spirits when you’re a bit lonesome while traveling. Perhaps while walking tonight I turned right at the second star and went straight on ’til morning. And maybe I’m not a Lost Boy, but Tinkerbell, a spunky, little fairy, flittering around, lighting up the world.

The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-you's – New Zealand

Dead BirdFrank the DogIt’s time to close-out these New Zealand posts. But first, have you voted for the next location? Only a week left so please do it here! I’ll spend a bit more time here as, now that I’ve left Frank, The Dog, I’m staying with a cat named Solie, fourteen sheep, and a dead bird (Solie brought me a present this morning). Anyway, this is where I tell you what was good about New Zealand, and more specifically Auckland), what was bad, and who I need to thank for helping me along the way. I’ll also provide all of the links which I’ve listed, all gathered into one handy package, as well as the budget so, if you choose to do a similar trip, you’ll have an idea about what it might cost. This is a great one to bookmark.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering where the volunteer project is, well, I’m still looking. I’ve run into challenges with agencies answering my correspondence as well as allowing one-off volunteering as opposed to a longer-tem commitment. I’ll continue to search and will write about any I find on www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org as well as letting you know on the Drop Me Anywhere social media accounts, so be sure to follow.
The Good­
New Zealand BeautyThe scenery – Yup, it’s just beautiful. Lush, green hills dotted with trees which seem to be the elusive Truffula Trees from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. It looks a lot like Hawaii (only colder). Sheep dot the hills and pastures like lint on a sweater and fat cows roam the wide-open farmland. It’s just gorgeous.
They speak English! Yeh, I know that sounds, oh so American but, after four-months in Asia, as well as Hungary and Germany before that, sometimes there can be communication challenges. While my Spanish came in handy in Germany (what?), it’s still much easier if everyone speaks English. Still, Kiwi English can sometimes sound like a whole different language. And the accent is somewhere between Australian and South African.
Lake Taupo
Taupo and Rotorua – Lake Taupo, the largest lake, (by surface area) in New Zealand, is just incredible and would be a great place to vacation in the summer. Across the lake, you’ll have a great view of Mt. Taranaki, Mt. Fuji’s New Zealand Doppelganger, while enjoying a coffee, or beer, in this beach-side town. And if Waterfalladventure is what you’re after, well then, name your adventure sport and, between Taupo and Rotorua, well, if you can’t find it, there’s no such thing. Skydiving, bungee-jumping, zip-lining, skiing, snowboarding, white-water rafting, abseiling (repelling), Zipliningzorbing (flying down a hill inside an air-filled ball with absolutely no control as to where you go. Hey wait, that’s just like Drop Me Anywhere!), helicopter rides, hiking, four-wheeling, giant swings, parasailing, mountain biking, sledging (kind of like body surfing through the rapids on a river), jet-boating, paddle boarding, and, well, if you haven’t died yet, I’m sure you’ll find even more. Yeh, you should come.
Black Water Rafting – Okay, so you won’t find this one in Taupo or Rotorua but it’s still pretty awesome and you should try it.GlowwormsAbout New Zealand Car Rental – Lack of new car smell is a small price to pay for, well, a rental car for a small price. While an older wine will cost you a bundle, an older car will save you some cash to help fund your gas money.
The people – New Zealanders like to talk about “Kiwi Hospitality” and yes, for the most part, they’re nice. They’re not nearly as nice as the Irish, or the folks in St. John’s Newfoundland, but most of the Disney princesses aren’t even as nice as them.
The Bad
The heating – What the F@#$? Seriously, is it to make people appreciate summertime more? It’s the twenty-first century. I’m not asking for jet-packs or teleportation, just a simple unit which heats a house, no matter what room you’re in, and allows you to use your laptop to for writing as opposed to embracing it for its heat, like a child hugging his teddy-bear. I’m sheep-sitting while using a wood-burning stove and hot-water bottle to ward off hypothermia; I’m friggin’ Laura Ingalls Wilder!
The prices – It’s not that it’s outrageously expensive; it’s just that I’m coming from a few months in Southeast Asia and well, it’s like three-times the price.
Friday – No, not the day of the week. When you’re traveling, you lose track of time so Friday, the day of the week, is just like Monday or Thursday or Sunday (well, in some countries pharmacies are closed on Sundays so, if you need Tampons, you should maybe plan ahead) and the day of the week matters not. I’m talking about My Man Friday who, although he was English and not Kiwi, will always be a part of the New Zealand memories, and who turned into that wonderful Steve Martin movie, The Jerk (read about the end of that in Sleeping With the Enemy). After what was sometimes a trying time in Asia, as well as coping with the loneliness on the road, I was looking forward to a soft place to land, as well as seeing the same person for more than one day; this was a major disappointment and a girl deserves to be treated better.
The Thank-you’s
Frank teh DogThanks to Frank, The Dog, and Solie, the cat’s (and the sheep’s) parents for allowing me to spend time in your homes and with your fuzzy family members. Staying free of charge is a huge benefit when traveling full-time; but, as I mentioned, it can get lonely and, even if I don’t see the same person for more than a day, seeing the same dog, cat, or even sheep, can be quite comforting. And they’ve been much more considerate than Friday.
SeussThanks to Rotorua Canopy Tours, The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company, Kiwi Paka Accommodations, The National Youth Children’s Theatre, The Auckland War Memorial Museum and The New Zealand Maritime Museum for comps and discounts which allowed me to experience your wonderful and unique offerings. And while I truly appreciate it, dear readers, rest assured that any comps or discounts never guarantee a positive review. Nope, I just can’t lie. (See the links below.)
Thanks to those at home who have helped me take care of some of the business of having a previous life back there while I’m across the world. It’s a tough balance and, while I often fall, you’re my knee and elbow pads, along with my helmet which keep me from getting too banged up.
Thank you to you, my dear and loyal Virtual Travel Buddies. I appreciate you telling me where to go, and traveling along with me. I appreciate it when you read, share and comment. You have no idea how much you comments (or even just clicking on and reading my article) lifts me up. And being called the Taylor Swift of blogging, well, while I was just hoping for an adventure, knowing it wasn’t a Love Story, I thought Everything Has Changed, and why did he have to be so Mean? It left me with a Blank Space and your comments helped me to (all together now) Shake it Off!
The Next Vote!
The Budget
Flights – $31.70 + 25,000 American Airlines Frequent Flyer Miles used for Malaysia Airlines flight
Accommodations – $573.45 – 17 days staying free while house/pet sitting (camper van under transportation).
Food – $683.57 – It’s less expensive to buy groceries and cook while in a campervan, house sitting and at an AirBnB if they’ll allow you to use the kitchen.
Transportation – $1238.99 – Includes buses, ferries, 7 night’s camper van (we paid for all nights though we returned early), 19 days rental car.
Admissions and Activities – $256.31 – cost listed includes actual prices of activities which were comped or discounted for media.
Wireless access – $100.00
Total – $2884.02
The Links
Accommodations
AirBnB
HouseCareers
Kiwi Paka Accommodation
Trusted Housesitters
Activities
Aotea Center
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Legendary Black Water Rafting Company
National Youth Theatre Company
New Zealand Maritime Museum
Rotorua Canopy Tours
Wairakei Terraces
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Yoga Tree
Airlines
Malaysia Airlines
Car, Camper Rentals and Transportation
About New Zealand Rental Cars
Apex Car Rentals
Fullers Ferry
Maui Camper Vans
Super Shuttle
Restaurants
Blue Breeze Inn
Cable Bay Vineyards
The Crew Club
Curly’s Bar
Father Ted’s
Fenice
Mudbrick Winery
Ponsonby Central
Toru
Waimauku Foodstation
Miscellaneous
2 Degrees Wireless
Decked Out Yachting
Forest Restoration Project
Inner Link Bus
New Zealand tourism website
Waiheke

Sleeping With the Enemy

After little sleep, I awake early this morning to sit and stare at the raindrops dotting Ludwig’s window. When Friday awakes, I let him know that I’d like to go back to Auckland. He he appears to accept this but says he doesn’t know whether we can make the drive back early enough to return the camper van by 4:00pm, the latest drop-off time. I make the point that Google Maps says it’s only 251 Kilometers (155 miles) and he points out that we’re in a camper van and there are no super-highways in northern New Zealand, not to mention Auckland’s terrible traffic. I take the point and we decide to travel to a town which, he says, is an approximate halfway point and we can reevaluate then.
We both make attempts to be civil and he even waits for me after I’d pointed out the previous night that it appears he doesn’t even wish to be seen with me, as he walks ahead and doesn’t wait if I use the restroom (he says he’s like this with everyone, yet he waited for the younger girl at the sand dunes to get to the top with her surfboard). Throughout the short trip, I’ve asked questions about his family, the places he’s lived and his history, in an effort to get to know him, as you would with any travel companion. He doesn’t ask about my history. Today, he appears to want to find out more about what it’s like working on a cruise ship and for Disney.
After three hours, we arrive at the halfway point and decide that we, most likely, won’t make it to Auckland in time. Friday gets his wish and we’ll be spending another night in Ludwig. We pull into Helensville and decide to walk over to the beach just across the road. We actually walk together which is something new and different. The huge waves crash fairly far out before creeping up the shoreline to meet the sand. I notice something moving on the beach trying to waddle towards the water. As we get closer, we see that it’s a lone seal pup. As we watch, it slowly works its way towards the incoming tide until it meets the remnants of a wave and follows its nose to disappear under the water. It’s a beautiful moment of peace and tranquility which would be incredible if shared with someone I actually like (or even by myself). As this entire experience is one of learning, I decide to check on the internet what symbolism a seal might hold. One article I found says, “If seal enters your life, you are being asked to review the ebb and flow of your thoughts and emotions and find and keep up a point of balance.” So there’s that. As we walk away, I worry about the seal pup and wonder why he was alone and if he’ll be okay in that vast body of water. Perhaps I also relate a bit.
We head back to the holiday park, pick up Camper van Beethoven, and drive up the winding road to grab some fish and chips at a shop we saw on the way in. Neither of us feels much like cooking as the cooking and cleanup can be a team-effort and this team is beyond repair. And neither of us could face the one-on-one quietness of eating at a table in a camper van in the woods. We stop in the Waimauku Foodstation where I have my first bite of New Zealand fish and chips. It’s cold and rainy outside and the waitress there is warm and welcoming. It’s amazing how far a little kindness can go when you really need it.
After downing our fish and chips, we head back down the long and winding road that, with all respect to the Beatles, doesn’t lead to your door, but to the campground. We use my wireless modem which I bought at the beginning of the trip; me to search out AirBnB’s in which to stay and Friday, to make his plan (though I’m pretty sure he mostly had it when we started out). I’ve already had to spend another NZ$50 on more data as I don’t believe 2 Degrees Wireless gave me the 4 GB they promised, as it ran out after two days (my kingdom for an honest man!).
We awake in the morning and decide to head to the café at the entrance to the park to grab breakfast. This was originally suggested by Friday but, thirty-minutes later, he looks at his watch and suggests we just head straight to Auckland. As this feels like he’s confirmed his plans to meet this other person earlier, I insist that I’d like breakfast.
As I stop the van, he bails and walks into the café and, when I enter, he’s nowhere to be found. I assume he’s gone to the restroom. I also assume he’s attempting to contact whoever he’s meeting to tell them an approximate arrival time. An older man sitting at a nearby table begins making pleasant conversation, asking about where I’m from, how long I’m here, and where I’ll be heading next. It’s difficult to explain. When Friday returns, the man asks the same questions and Friday tells him he’s renting a car in Auckland today and heading to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. I’m floored. This is the place that I’ve said, no less than three-times, that I wanted to go. When I initially mentioned them, Friday said there are many of glowworm caves as he passed countless ones before we met up. When we passed the Waitomo ones on the way up, I was told we’d catch them on the way back down. I said I’d read about the boats at this one which you can go through in and, surprise, the old man talks about the black water rafting there and Friday seems to know all about it. Apparently Friday will see glowworms and I will not.
Camper VanI can no longer find it in me to be nice. We get in the van and do as little talking as possible. We arrive at the Maui Camper Rentals by about 11:45 and clean out the van while saying as little as possible to each other. His few words to me are, “Can you empty the toilet? I only used it about half the time” (He’s a guy and often stepped outside to pee.) Gotta love a gentleman. As he only has a backpack, it takes longer for me to pack as I’ve left my summer things in my big bag which I stored at the camper van rental office. As I finish packing and head off to empty the toilet he waits inside.
We both catch the shuttle to the airport where he heads to the rental car desk and I head for Super Shuttle which will take me to my AirBnB accommodations. We sit nowhere near each other on the bus and, when we get out, he tries to say, “Well, some things were fun, and some weren’t.” Ya think? My response, “You know, some day I think you’ll look back and say, ‘I was a real asshole to that girl and she didn’t deserve that.’” He just grunts and says, “Well, I don’t know. . . “
I wander around and, finally locate Super Shuttle. I climb aboard and, after we drop off one business man at his hotel, Don, the driver tells me this is his last run and he’s headed home for a drink so, if I’m up to it, he’ll take me on a short tour of Auckland center. Again, a moment of kindness goes a long way. I accept his gracious offer and he points out the ferry terminal, where I can catch a ferry to Davenport, where there’s a hill to climb with a great view of Auckland and the harbor, a waterfront area with shops and cafes, and a maritime museum. Ferries also go to different islands with wineries (oh yes, yes, a thousand-times yes!). He shows me where the Auckland War Memorial Museum is (it’s huge!) as well as Queen Street (a central street with lots of shops, galleries, and more) and the wharf area where there’s a fish market. We arrive at my AirBnB and I thank Don for his kindness in taking the time to get me comfortable in the city.
My host is out but has left the key and texted me with instructions of how to get in. Though it’s more than I’d like to pay and further out than I’d like to be, I didn’t have a lot of lead time to search and I’m just looking for a soft place to land.
Tomorrow – Exploring Auckland.

Māori and the Man

We awake this morning in a warm and toasty Camper van Beethoven as “Peter, the Heater” has worked much better than the one in the hotel. It was a bit of a challenge turning the dining table into a bed, but quite cozy in the end. After a coffee for me and a tea for him (he’s English), we head over to take the fifteen-minute ferry-ride to Russell Island.
Ferry BoatFerries run approximately every thirty minutes and you can get a return-trip (round-trip for us Americans) for $12. Russell was the original capital of New Zealand, if only by name. You see, back in the day, the current area of Okiato used to be called Russell. It was only the capital for a short time before the honor went to Auckland and old Russell changed its name back to its original Okiato and the current Russell was named later. (Got that? There will be a quiz later.)
View from Russell Island FerryIt’s sunny outside and during the short crossing we enjoy a great view from the ferry boat. We stop off at a little waterside café for some breakfast before Friday takes Rod, the fishing rod down the beach to try to catch us some dinner, and I wander around town to see what I see.
It’s currently winter and there are few tourists around (but many locals out and about), I can easily see that, during the summer, this place is like the Hamptons without the pretentiousness. As I’ve spent my life working in the travel and tourism industry, and am currently on the hunt for a job which will allow me to write the memoir of these couple of years of adventures (trust me, there’s more than what’s been said here in the website and, it seems, more happening daily), I pop in to a couple of local hotels and cottages to see about their staffing needs. Matthew, the gentleman at the front desk of the Russell Cottages is kind enough to speak with me about their upcoming summer needs as well as taking me on a tour of their beautiful cottages. I nearly hop on the bed and tell him I’ll be staying a week. Instead, I snag his E-mail address and we agree that I’ll forward my CV (that’s a resume for us Americans.)
FairFollowing the quick job-hunt, I wander on over to a local fair being held by the school today. There are really old-fashioned kiddie rides, face-painters, gumboot throws (seriously, you pick up a tacky, rubber-boot and see who can throw it the furthest), music and an inflatable slide. It’s fun and I kind of wish Friday were here sharing it with me.
After some time at the fair, I walk through town stopping at Christ Church, the oldest existing church in New Zealand. This area was the central location of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. The beginnings of this church go back to the first contact between the Māori and the Europeans when the European missionaries came across the harbor to bring church services into local homes. At that time, Russell was officially called Kororareka, but was known as “the Hellhole of the Pacific” (now, Stockton, California.) The missionaries purchased land from the Kororareka chiefs (very different than the Kansas City Chiefs) and they agreed the Europeans and the Māori should have equal rights to burial. We could maybe learn a lesson from these people who decided to simply get along.
ChurchI wander through the cemetery – always great to explore the history of a place – before walking through town and checking out a few shops. I walk back to the pier to meet Friday and the huge fish which he’s caught (or, perhaps, just him and Rod, the empty fishing rod) before we hop on the ferry back to Paihia. where I stop in the ferry office on the other side to inquire about a job and then go looking for Friday as he has disappeared (he does this a lot, but feels quite distant today).
We climb back into Camper van Beethoven, make a quick stop at the grocery store, and head north where we spend the night.
lighthouseIn the morning, we head up to Cape Reinga where we take a short walk to the lighthouse. PeninsulaBuilt in 1941 to replace the nearby Motuopao Island lighthouse, it had little use during its first few years due to wartime blackout restrictions. Besides this lighthouse, this area, with amazing views, is special as Māori legend has it that it’s the departing place for spirits making their final journey home. One last tidbit which makes this a special place is that it’s where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide. (Here’s some good bar-bet information: A sea and an Ocean are different. Seas are generally smaller and are usually located where land and ocean meet. Usually seas are partially enclosed by land. Still, you can get seasick on the sea or the ocean – and now you can win a free beer).
Sand BoardingWe climb back into Ludwig and drive along road paralleling Ninety Mile Beach (though it’s a registered highway, we don’t drive on the actual Ninety Mile Beach as we don’t want Ludwig to be a literal stick in the mud) over to the giant sand dunes at Te Paki Stream where we rent a sandboard and climb the mountain of sand to belly-surf down. It’s a ten-minute hard climb up (two steps up, one step back sliding down the shifting sand) and a ten-second ride down (totally not worth it as you speed down faster on snow and a sled and it’s much easier to climb up). I do it once and Friday does it a few times. We depart much sandier than we arrived and find a place to for Ludwig to stay for the night.
Friday is now being a bit of a jerk and, when I ask for a kiss (yes, this is also that kind of adventure), I’m told, “You have to feel a kiss.” Alrighty then. I have no idea what’s up except that, when we were renting Ludwig, he suddenly told the woman that we’d be keeping it a day less, and explained to me that he’d made a new friend in a hostel and, while he would be leaving New Zealand later than planned, he would be cutting our trip short by a day in order to spend some time with the friend. (When I ask, I’m told it’s a “bloke” which I now don’t believe for a second.) I found this funny as there was something I’d wanted to do further south which I’d E-mailed him about a week prior. He responded by saying that it would be a shame to lose a day up north to head down there. On this night, I bring this to his attention making the point that I had no say in shortening the trip by a day. He responds that he’d just figured it out last week (when I proposed the side trip to him) and, “as you’d already booked your ticket, it was too late for you to change it.” What? I was coming to Auckland anyway. Once it all sinks in, I realize that he means it was too late to change my ticket to come meet him. I’m hurt, insulted, rejected and, on top of it, he’s being an ass.
I tell him it might be best to head back to Auckland and he’s disappointed (are you kidding me?). “Well, maybe the day after would be better if it won’t be uncomfortable,” he says. “I’d like to see the west coast.” I’m upset and we decide to discuss it in the morning. We sleep as far away from one another as possible in a two-person camper van. Peter is my only heater.
Tomorrow – Sleeping with the enemy