About me and my travel blog

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." - Henry David Thoreau

Friday, October 30, 2009

Freezing in Taupo

A Weta in the cave, basically a very big grasshopper Craters of the moon

glow worms

Kellys little boy playing with clay....most NZ kids do not wear shoes!

Kelly and Nadine

Huka falls

Gyser across the street from Steves house

Waiting around

Walking into the cave

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Couch Surfing, Hobbits, Sulfer and sheep

Svenja and Lisa cooking
My baby
Getting the bottles ready
Shearing the sheep
Feeding the babies
The shire
Nadine holding a rather good looking Hobbit
Bag Ends
One of the people living down the road from Steve has a pet sheep to cut the grass
This was one of my blankets for the night and also Steve's old boy scout blanket.
In front of Steve's house is some good old geothermal water
Red wood forest
llamas fighting at the agradome
Matamata home of the Hobbiton, I visited this later on, not to be missed by any LOTR fan!

Well on my last day I went up to Mt. Eden in Auckland to get a good view of the city. I ran into Adrien and he went with, it took awhile to get to the right bus, but we made it. On Monday we hoped on the Magic bus early in the morning and got out of the city! I liked Auckland but it was time to move on. Everyone on the bus was rather quite ecept for me and the other American next to me chatting away. She gave me some really good tips for traveling in Australia, even a number for a place to get surfing lessons for 4 hours for only $17! She was really interested in La Senda Verde and I really hope she visits there one day. We stopped in a town and I was able to call Steve my first couch surfer host ever. He was cool with both Nadine and me staying at his place so it was good we could finally meet locals while saving lots of money. For those of you who have no idea what couch surfing is, it is a online site that allows people all over the world to have others stay at their place free of charge. You have your own profile, info, reviews and pics. Jake had done it for years and had great things to say about It so I thought it would be the best way to travel on a budget and to really meet interesting people. We next stopped at a Jade factory in Rotarua and I got a necklace that is the well known Maori fish hook or a Hei Matau in Maori. It represents safe travels over water among other things. Jade is a common stone used in the culture and it is a very Kiwi icon! We also stopped at the Argodome where people bungee jump and do all sorts of other crazy extreme sports. Kiwis are well known for their crazy sports, if you want to try sky diving or zorbing, this is the place to do it. We all visited a red wood forest. They were actually California red woods and I have no idea what they were doing here. It was pretty and I would have liked to walk longer through them, but our tour bus driver had us go through it in a half hour, kinda dumb if you ask me since we were already 2 hours a head of schedule. We then were dropped off at a hostel in Rotarua and used the phone to call Steve, he came to pick us up. We later realized he was across the street from another hostel. Rotarua has lots of tourism and also the highest percentage of Maori's living here. There are many geothermal pools, geysers and volcanoes in the area, and some parts of town stink of sulfur. Even the Queen has visited here! Steve told us there were two other young German girls staying with him, just like Nadine. There were also plans for us to go to a BBQ with his friends that night, I thought it would finally be a good chance to meet locals! He drove us over to his friends house. Tracy, Amy and Nina lived there, he had some other friends but I never really talked to them. The three girls were so nice and their house was awesome. It reminded me of a north woods cabin, with a nice backyard and veggie garden. They were good to talk to and I hope we keep in touch. Amy actually almost claimed fame to a role as a hobbit in LOTR but her parents would not let her miss school. The food was amazing, they do not mess around with a BBQ here! So much food, some of the meet was from Amy's parents cattle farm. Then came dessert, it was even better. There were smores, just like ours...well sort of. I also got to chat with Svenja and Lisa from Germany, very nice girls who have been traveling around working on farms and couchsurfing. It was a great time and I was so thankful for Steve to not only have us over but feed all 4 of us couch surfers so well. Today when we woke up we had to meet across the street for our tour at 8:40am, it was time to get my LOTR fix! I was going to the Shire you know Frodo and and Bilbo's home!! The bus driver there was great. Dan was semiretired and was once a clown in the rodeos. He was really into horses and saddles. We both talked about equine stuff, both of us have a love for the appy breed. He gave me me good ideas about applying to be an extra for the new Hobbit movie...yes I am for real. He was good to talk to, Nadine could not understand us since we were talking too fast so she slept. Hobbiton was really cool. Basically it was found by plane when they went searching for locations for the movies. It had a large tree known as the party tree on a lake which made it Peter Jackson's choice in location. It is very hilly and very sheepy, it is a working sheep farm owned by three brothers. When the movie was over all of the homes and the rest of the set were to be destroyed because of a contract, luckily for the Alexander brothers rain delayed it and they later got the right to open it for tourism as long as they did nothing else to it and made sure that tour guides did not dress up or act the part of a hobbit or any other middle earth creature. Seeing it was fun, we took pics and it was great trying to remember scenes. There are two new LOTR movies that will be filmed here next month for a span of 6 weeks. Our guide was hoping she could get a part in it. Already some things were being done to the shire for the new movies, such as new trees and walls. The other two on our group were way nerdy, they knew a little too much about the movies and books. Our guide told us she gets all kinds of LOTR nerdy fans. Some that speak only Elvish to her, and some that come several times always dressed as a new character. We then got to watch sheep shearing and the chance to feed two baby lambs each! Man were they hungry, I was a natural though, I probably should have grown up on a farm. Dan picked us up and dropped me off at the Kiwi Experience which is a place to see where kiwis are being captive breed. It is owned by the local Maori tribe and run by the National Kiwi trust. It was my first time seeing baby kiwis! One was only a hour old and so tired from breaking out of the egg, they sleep right after since it takes about 2-5 days to break out. They had 30 some chicks at the time and all will be tagged and released back in the while! Lets hope they survive! I could not get enough of them and figured this was the best place to ask about volunteering. Well I did and landed myself a volunteer job for 2 weeks in December. They have another American leaving at that time. This would be my first chance to work with a very rare bird! It will be mostly feeding and cleaning. I can't wait, I will come back to Rotarua on Dec. 6th and will start then. I asked Steve about staying at his place for two weeks and he said it was fine. Of course I will help buy stuff for the house and help out during that time. When I came back I met his roomate Anita and we chatted about Scotland because she has been there as well and both our our grandmas are from there. She is really sweet as well, I don't think I have met a kiwi I don't like yet. In fact everyone here goes out of their way for you, even bus drivers. It is really amazing how friendly people here are. Well I am really looking forward towards the rest of my trip, couch surfing is great! Everything I need is here, company, T.V., tourist info, computer, kitchen, it is perfect!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Auckland New Zealand

Fishing on the pier
Auckland skyline


At Mission Bay beach

my favorite part ofthe zoo!

Kiwi birdy

Adrian at the wharf

Maori culture

One ring to rule them all

Queen Victoria in all her glory

Kia Ora! I finally made it to New Zealand, after one very long plane ride we finally touched down on a very green island. The flight on Qantas was good, they had all kinds of movies, lots of food, and I chatted with the people around me. When we were coming up to Auckland my first impression of NZ was how green it was, just lush green! After going through customs, ATM, find a bus to take me to Base hostel on Queen St. in the heart of Auckland I met a Argentinian named Adrian who had just arrived. He is planning on biking around the country, we figured we would both walk around the city since both of us were new, we headed to the wharf where the sail boats were. Then over to some of the large parks. At this point I was once again going on no sleep since I can not sleep on planes or buses, and walking all around town was killing me, but I just wanted to see everything so I just had to deal with the pain. We went to the Auckland Museum which was great. The Maori culture is one that really intrigues me. They settled in New Zealand around 1300 from Polynesia. Like pretty much all indigenous cultures they fell to the hand of settlers and there is still some racism here. Their carvings are amazing, mostly the bone carving which can be verry descriptive. Some are made from whale teeth. They also had a good amount of native floar and fauna on display. One that really caught my eye was the albatross. I have never seen one but read about their massive wing spanned and the fact that they can fly for a very long time without stopping. After the museum we got food and called it a night. Day two we met to go to the Auckland zoo. Adrian had met a German girl named Nadine who was going to come along for the ride. The zoo was really great, a little pricey $19NZ but well worth it. I finally got to see a Tuatara, a 200 million year old lizard like creature which is also commonly known as a living fossil. Only native to New Zealand it has been an endangerd specie since 1895. New Zeland was free of mammals up until settlers came and brought cats, dogs, rats, ect over. All creatures native to NZ have paid a toll for this, and some more then others. The Tuatara is not a lizard, it pretty much stands alone, it is most like those creatures that you read about in text books that went extinct many years ago. Next we saw kiwi birds in a dark enclosure since kiwis forage for food late at night. Like the moa and emu they are flightless, and the smallest of this group. They are also only found in NZ and are the national bird. Every thing here is kiwi, from stores to coins. There are 5 different species of kiwis and the lay the biggest egg in proportion to its size of any bird in the world. To the Maori they are protected under the God of the forst and play a special role. They are the coat of arms here and play a role with the symbol of the military as well. They are by far my favorite bird and I can't get enough of them! After the zoo we came back and ate, Nadine and I decided to travel around New Zealand together and I got to her sign up for the Magic Tour bus with me. We met up with some Englishmen later that night and went out to the bars with them, it was pretty fun. On day three we went to the beach and just hung out, too cold for me to go in but Nadine being a crazy German girl had no problem with the freezing water! Auckland is a nice city, but I can't wait to get out. It has a huge population of Asians here, which I had no previous knowledge of. There are lots of people from all over really, and I would rather meet true Kiwis so hopefully outside of the city it will be the case. Tomorrow I leave for The tour and head south. I have already met people from all over the world, lots of American too, unlike South America. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good Bye U.S.A, Hello New Zealand!

Cafe Iberico down town Chicago for Carlo's Birthday Bash!
Well my time here has come to an end. It was a good week, I was able to accomplish everything I had planned from packing my bag for a 5 1/2 month trip to meeting up with friends and family. I got to see all of the boys I baby sat for, I could have spent all day playing with them. They showed me all of their new tricks and songs from school. It was good seeing most of my close relatives, most of all got to spend time with my Aunt Gert who has always been an inspiration to me. Shes almost 95 now so I try with to spend as much time as possible with her and shes one of the only people who I can get to look through all 1100 photos from South America. I spent a lot of time at home just relaxing because in reality I won't have my own space to rest in for quite some time. I also went out Saturday night with my friends for Carlo's 27th birthday, and finally got to try Cafe Iberico! I am still pretty nervous for the long flight, and settling in. I already planned that my first stop in Auckland will be the zoo! Packing is all done, I tried to pack as light as I could, I am bringing books that I can leave there. Everything I am bringing for the most part is either mini or travel size. I broke down and bought a cheap and small hair drier. Not a necessity but honestly if I am going to win any Hugh Jackman look alike over, I better not look homeless (even though I really am). Well tomorrow at 7:30 pm I take off and next time you hear from me I will be half way around the world. Crazy I know!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Last days in Bolivia

Death road

Marcelo always has monkeys in his shirt
Nina wanting to be picked up
With Manzana
A hard knock life
Love the spider monkey hand
My new friend
She had the best day ever when she found this

well Jake and I traveled from Arequipa to Puno then to Copacabana for the night. The travel was not that bad but it was a lot of very local buses which to me are a little more cramped and dirty then the double decker buses, but they do the job. After a night in Copacabana we hoped another bus to La Paz and hoped to make it to La Senda that day. One guy sitting across from us had a feather in his hair and a massive pan pipe, not sure what he was planning on doing with all of that. One little girl also brought her kitten on board and the poor thing kept crying. We got off the bus to jump on a quick ferry. The bus was put on another boat and shipped across. Jake figures they had to have lost a bus or two this way before. We jumped back on and ended in La Paz where we got lunch. I got pizza of course, since there is not enough here in Chicago. We then found Villia Fatima, where you jump on the bus to Coroico. The ride was hot but of course it was very scenic. We were dropped off right in front of La Senda due to the road to Coroico being closed. It was so good to be back, everyone there was happy to see me and so were some of the monkeys! Jake was happy to have Tus back.

The next few days it was only Jake and I as volunteers. We took care of all 50 some birds, dogs, cats, bear and coati's. Luckily for us some of the workers there fed the monkeys. I had little experience with the adult capachins and with being gone 2 weeks it only make sense that I deal with the other animals. I spent lots of time with the baby monkeys, even in the pouring rain. On the last day we made arrangements to go back to La Paz on the Gravity bus. Gravity comes daily after the tour group cycles down the worlds most dangerous road. We would be driving up it with those going back. We ran into Michelle from South Africa who had been on the Colca Canyon tour with us. It was very sad to say good bye to everyone, even the monkeys. It was such a great place and I hope to one day go back.

When we made it to La Paz we went to a hostel Jake stayed at before and went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant. There was a cute little girl that kept bringing her yo yo over to us, her brother was pretty good at it. Jake got to show off his tricks he picked up as a kid. The next morning we were up at 4:30 to get to the airport on time. Of course it was running late but not too late. Saying good bye was sad of course, and I will miss him very much. As for saying good bye to South America, that was also very sad. Bolivia treated me well and I can't believe I am already on to the next leg of my journey.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Well two nights spent in our hostel in Arequipa and both nights Jake was eaten alive by bed bugs. Yes you herd me right...bed bugs! I however did not get one bite mark, they must not like my blood. We have been bitten before in Costa Rica, but this was bad. He could not sleep for days. So we moved to a nicer hostel, the one Jake had stayed at before. We left 2 days ago for our $20US Colca Canyon tour to see the condors.

We left at 8am with Ceaser and jumped aboard the van with the other tourists. We had people on the tour from the US, South Africa, Australia, Venezuela, Switzerland, Italy and England. Along the way we got some Coca Candy which would help with the altitude. It was great!! I am so mad that it is illegal in the US because it is some of the best candy I have ever had. We also got to chew the coca on the bus. Chewing coca is very common in Bolivia in Peru and the growing of coca for this purpose is only legal in these two countries. I have to say I have had the candy, tea and chewed it and I really like it. It has many uses, not only for altitude sickness but also used to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It can alleviate the pain of headache, wounds and sores. Indigenous use of the plant is for the treatment of malaria, ulcers, asthma, improving digestion and as an aphrodisiac. As you can see these are just some of the uses, it´s a shame people can turn such a powerful plant into such a negative drug. I do not in any way support the use of cocaine, but I strongly support the plant just as I support the use of hemp. The people here depend on it in their every day lives. It´s a shame we can not use the plant in the US, or at least import the candy and tea. We stopped at an area among the mountains and volcano's where people come to make a offering to Pachamama and the Apus (mountain Gods) You would take some coca leaves and blow on them saying the name of each mountain god, make your wish and put it under one of the stacked rocks. I did this, but minus the naming of the Gods since I could not remember all of them for the life of me.

Saw a bunch of Alpacas and Vicuñas along the way which of course made me very happy!! I can not get enough of them! The Vicuñas had there own reserve there which I later found out has a water issue and people are bringing water in to the park for the Vicuñas. They are also captured once a year and shaved for their fur. Not to much leaving enough for them to stay warm. A Vicuña scarf will go for $500US, it is the softest fur in the world and one reason the Vicuñas faced becoming endangered not to long ago.

We made it to Chivay and went to a buffet with the rest of the tour. It was $7US more then we would usually pay for a meal but they had Cuy (Guinea Pig) so Jake thought it was worth the price since it´s usually more. The South African girl Michelle wanted to try some but when she opened the lid we both peaked in and saw a claw....um yeah talk about gross! I have not been a good vegetarian while down here because I find if very hard at times. The salads get me sick because they are washed in the water here which is usually not always filtered. So I have eaten meat when I left the animal sanctuary. They made good veggie meals for all of us 5 vegetarians there. I not knowingly tried Alpaca and thought it was pretty gross. They had great Avocado there and a juice called chicha morada made from black corn which was brilliant!
After we ate we made it to our bed bug free room and walked around the town. We met three little girls in the plaza who kept asking for money. I gave them some candy instead and Jake swung them around. When they did not give up asking it got old and we got up and left. Jake tried to tell them that asking was rude, but they probably never got it. Lots of locals bring their baby llamas, alpacas and sheep to get pictures with the tourist. Well I paid to get a picture with two baby lambs but then felt pretty guilty afterwards when I figured they were a few days old and should have been with their mothers. The alpaca baby named Harry Potter I took a photo with was not as bad. He had plenty to eat, but I guess he would be happier in a field and not dragged around by the little boy.

We had a local meal for all of $1US which was not great but plenty of food for that price. The next day we would have to be up at 5 for a long day.

We headed right away to see the Andean condors of Colca Canyon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andean_Condor

Lots of tourists there piled up with their cameras waiting for the birds. We first saw some immature birds waiting on a rock but then they started flying above, about 20 of them. They are the largest flying bird in the western hemisphere and let me tell you they make a bald eagle look like a mouse. We watched them and got some good photos! We did a small hike in the canyon which is more then twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US. The rest of the day we spent in the market getting another cheap lunch, driving on the van and feeling pretty sick from the altitude. There was a car race that was going home on the road we had to take back which put us back a few hours. While waiting we got out tosee the cars that were racing and let me tell you it was a joke. One car had a completely smashed wind shield, there was no way this man could see. The cars were crappy and beat up, most had very very worn out tires. We all had a good laugh! By 7:30pm we made it back and went to our new hostel. It was so nice to get off the van!

Tomorrow was leave Arequipa for Puno then cross the border to Copacabana Bolivia for a night, then back to La Paz via La Senda. There is a good chance Jake and I may be the only volunteers there....should be interesting.