Posted in Something New, The Barista, Travel, Wishes, Work, Working Holiday

Apparently buying a car doesn’t have to be difficult

July 2016, my friends and I started dreaming about starting our own business.

Well, no, actually.

We started dreaming about buying a bus and traveling around the United States in it, and we figured we should probably have a way to support ourselves while doing that.

After a quick discussion with my insurance agent, we bought a 1976 Class C RV instead.

We didn’t start the business.

The RV now sits somewhere in Michigan, and I’m sitting in Hokitika, New Zealand instead.

Tonight I splurged on a budget hotel and have thoroughly enjoyed a hot shower and a flush toilet on a gloomy New Year’s Eve. I’m keeping an eye on the weather, hoping the rain stops and I can head down to the beach for a bonfire to ring in 2018. But even if it doesn’t clear up, in the morning I’ll climb back into my brand new old Toyota Estima named Goldie.

 

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Goldie was the name she came with. I meant to change it, but it suits her.

 

I’m not living in a bus, or in a Breaking Bad motorhome. I’m living in a backpacker minivan. The couple before me pulled out her seats and installed a bedframe and foam mats with storage room underneath for my clothes. Because it’s New Zealand, and there’s an entire culture built up around buying and selling fully-furnished campers for a year of travel, she also came stocked with a table (who knew how useful that would be?!?), cutlery and a tea kettle, a gas stove, and the most darling blue curtains to give me privacy at night. Also, can we talk about how easy it is to purchase a vehicle here? A piece of paper to the post office to put the registration in my name, a quick use of my AAA membership to buy discounted car insurance in a country that doesn’t require it, and BAM. She’s all mine!

I’m quite enjoying the magic of being a proper backpacker. I’ve picked up half a dozen hitchhikers in the last two weeks while traversing Southland and the West Coast (and today decided I really need to get a notebook for them to sign and write which country they’re from). This morning, I accidentally bought a latte that had no espresso in it, so when I pulled into Pancake Rocks I set about making myself a French Press (by the way, thanks for the camper press, Glenna! I’ve gotten so much use out of that old birthday present!). Sadly, I couldn’t find my lighter for the stove to boil the water. No worries, just pop over to the car next to me and ask the gal rolling a cigarette to borrow her lighter in exchange for some coffee. A few minutes later, we looked a bit like the start of a joke: an American girl, German girl, Kiwi guy, and French guy huddled under the back door of a van in the pouring rain while making coffee…

 

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Hardly even the first time that has happened! See here travelers in their natural habitat: huddled over maps with complete strangers, swapping stories of their discoveries. 

 

We all started laughing about the impracticality of being a 21st-century traveler in this country: there is hardly any signal! Sure, we have apps galore for finding places to freedom camp or communicating with our friends and family. But it’s completely useless when you can’t get a text message out to another New Zealand number, let alone access data beyond “H”. I think I’ve seen 3G a total of three times in two weeks, and 4G only once: mountains and tiny towns scattered throughout the countryside make physical maps and a willingness to pull off the side of the road for an attraction instead of forcing a plan the way to go.

And it’s not as though I have much choice at the moment. While I do have a perfectly valid visa, the Christmas holiday means that my tax number is a smidgen slower than usual. I could technically work if some employer were willing to either withhold pay or take out double the amount of taxes. But why? Everyone and their neighbor is hiring as soon as I’m legally able. For now, this island is mine to explore. I drink in her beauty with every breath and listen to the stories of Maui building Aotearoa.

 

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Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) on the, er, Wet Coast. The sun tries so hard, but the greenery does come at a price just off the Tasman Sea.

 

Besides, Goldie and I are just getting to know each other. She has side doors that occasionally refuse to unlock, and I have to keep reminding myself that around every mountain curve there could be another one-lane bridge where I need to give way. She’s a kind old soul, teaching me to drive on the left side of the road and giving me shelter at night. We find places to freedom camp, or as needed pay $20 for a place to park with a shower and proper kitchen. Much cheaper than a hostel, and in the long run cheaper than renting a room by the week. She chugs along merrily as we zip along the only road on the west coast (seriously: not even the scenic route. The MAIN road winds through mountains and along the Tasman Sea). The speed limit is 100km, but we rarely are on a stretch of road straight enough or long enough to even get to 80km. So we wander, taking in the scenery that belongs more in a fantasy novel than real life.

Slowly, slowly, me and Goldie.

 

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Morning comes bright and early with Goldie’s curtains

 

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Fox Glacier… the black to the left of center is ice. More of the glacier is hidden behind the cloud cover.

 

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Hunt’s Beach – sometimes the sun does shine! Tasman Sea to the left and probably Aoraki National Park mountains on the right.

 

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If only they would stay behind the gate at Gunn’s camp… Sandflies: mosquito’s evil twin.

 

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A Backpacker Birthday: My 27th year came into being with champagne in my finest plasticware and advanced ramen noodles.

 

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Kiwi bird prints? Maybe maybe maybe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Lessons, People, Something New, Stories, The Barista

the girl in the red dress

It really sucks that we are so bad at learning from others’ life lessons. At least I am – if you’re one of those mythical creatures that floats through life because you take to heart what others have warned you about, let’s chat.

My mentor Hiba did her best to steer me on a better path. And the longer I stood in her shoes (well, I wore flats instead of heels), the wiser she got.

One piece of advice I wish I would have heeded far earlier:

“Take yourself on a date. Be selfish, and take care of you, too.”

Giving tends to be my default mode. “Alright, I’ll figure it out. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” was my answer to every problem – my old staff made fun of me because of it.

Hiba, on the other hand, urged me to take a break.

So tonight, I finally did.

I put on a dress I haven’t worn since freshman year of college. I got my hair cut in it. I went out for sushi in it – and actually bought a drink other than water! I found a necklace that I really liked and spent money on myself for fun. I went to a coffee shop with a flawless view of downtown to watch the moon rise above it. I turned my phone off and told no one where I was going.

Not going to lie, I felt vulnerable all night. I felt guilty spending money on myself with no practical application. I was on display – each person I interacted with said, “I’d hoped I’d be the one to get you.” A single female on a Saturday night, wearing a formal dress and looking content: I was a curiosity. They wanted to know my story.

Tonight, I had no name. Tonight, I wasn’t calming emergencies. Tonight, I wasn’t fixing problems. Tonight, I wasn’t building friendships or asking questions or catching up with my family. Tonight I wasn’t reading the news or a novel or anything where it was someone elses’ words and ideas. Tonight, I was just alone with me – in the constant company of the girl in the red dress.

“Take yourself out on a date,” Hiba urged me.

It’s a scary prospect. I didn’t find it lonely – par for the course of a solo traveler, more people talked to me when I was alone. But being alone meant that I actually had to listen to my inner voice.

It’s in there that I’m vulnerable: tender, quiet, exposed. My soul peeks out from the shadows where it hides, protected.

Take yourself out on a date. Learn from my mistakes, because I didn’t learn from my mentor’s.

It will probably not be bright and beautiful, because to allow yourself to be open the raw emotions and experiences of solitude is frightening. But it is revealing. It is cleansing. It is needed.

So try.

Take yourself out on a date. And find your own story.

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the red dress: seven years earlier
Posted in Backyard Tourism, Something New, Stories, The Barista, The Geek

october nights

Sometimes I’m rather illogical. For example, I dislike horror and gore, and when I was in middle school Scary Movie scared me. I’ve just rolled with that default since then, and assumed that I would hate haunted houses.

False.

One of my favorite things about meeting new people is being exposed to their world and passions. One of my recent acquaintances adores haunted houses, so I agreed to go to one warily.

Colorado Springs is about an hour’s drive from Denver, so when it got dark we hopped in the car and headed southwards to the Haunted Mines.

There’s something pretty magical about October, and last night was a prime example of it. Light clouds drifted across the sky, the moon barely a crescent above the horizon, and few stars were strong enough to brave the light pollution from the sprawling cities. There was a slight autumnal breeze that even the heat lamp couldn’t mask completely, and the entirety of the Thriller music video provided the soundtrack to the line.

I was grateful to experience my first haunted experience with someone who had already been through in years past – I was able to follow behind while he fearlessly worked his way through the maze. I was able to appreciate the details of the experience without worrying about someone grabbing me or screeching in my ear.

The Haunted Mines is a charity experience run by volunteers – and you can tell how much of a labor of love it is. High school drama geeks (oh, I remember being you!) stare unblinkingly with delightful patterns painting their faces, others leer and mock and get in your personal bubble, demanding your name before you may pass. They follow behind silently and hiss beneath mists and lasers. The props creek eerily and the purple and green lights cast disturbing shadows as you push your way through the black maze. A child-like voice sings slowly, “Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down…

Claustrophobia threatens as we roll our way through tight walls and crawl through tunnels. “Elevators” shake and tip and stop at “666 feet” below the surface. A gypsy demands we spin the wheel to determine our means of dying. “Left or right, which will you choose?” another chants and pushes us into a directionless maze. A waterfall and skeletons, hanging mummies and a wall of faces…

I found myself laughing through most of our time in the Haunted Mines, impressed by the quality I was seeing and using humor as the natural defense to being startled.

Well done, volunteers. I may not be a horror fiend, but I was thrilled to be able to spend an hour or two in your entertaining grasp.

Posted in Funny, Something New, The Couple, Travel

a castle in colorado

I’ve never really be scared of heights. I could stand at Sear’s Tower and look beneath the glass plates on the streets of Chicago. I could peer out the crevices of Oravsky Hrad in Slovakia and look at the cliff side beneath me. While I had no desire to pay the fee, the idea of going up the Eiffel Tower never worried me. I went through an odd phase in my early teens where looking UP at giant structures made me a little seasick, but never in the reverse.

That is, until today.

A coworker had recommended Bishop’s Castle as a daytrip. I promptly decided I liked the builder when I started reading the signs he posted about his constitutional rights and anti-law enforcement sentiments. “This guy would be a lot of fun to chat with for an hour,” I thought to myself.

welcome to Bishop's Castle

Then I started climbing.

And I started thinking, maybe, just maybe, this guy is beyond crazy.

And maybe, just maybe, the government isn’t in on some crazy conspiracy to destroy him but is actually trying to keep people from getting killed on this mad castle he’s built.

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I was fairly certain that he was defying the laws of physics as I climbed ever higher stairs, eyeballing the crumbling cement and carefully watching where I put my feet on the thin metal hatches. I could see repair jobs, and places that needed repairing. I stepped out onto an overlook and started laughing nervously to myself, convinced that I was about to have a terrifying fall to the rocks beneath me and shatter my head.

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The Lower Orb above Bishop’s Castle

We climbed into the lower orb, and as we stepped away from the stone base and continued onto the metalworks, the entire contraption shook with every step and breath. The wind was paradoxically warmer up here, but for the first time in my life, I felt my legs trembling in fear.

We continued around the castle and made our way up to the tallest point in the castle. I looked across the framework and saw another couple walking around the orb. The girl was nearly in tears as her boyfriend urged her onwards. “I’m not afraid of heights!” she defended herself. “I’m just a little uncomfortable with them right now!”above bishop's castle

Her voice carried clearly. I almost shouted back, “Me too! Bishop is crazy!” but instead decided to pretend I was far braver than I felt and continue upwards. Terrence had hardly breathed a word since we arrived, simply looking around in a mixture of awe and horror. And, since I knew he was addicted to heights, we continued to climb. Every time I pulled out my phone to snap a picture, I would clench it tightly in my purse first, praying that my shaking fingers wouldn’t release it to fall to a shattering death.

It's a long way down

“Maybe government regulations aren’t such a terrible thing,” I pondered as the breeze ruffled the Christmas lights at my feet. “And maybe you’ve somehow managed to find the glue of sheer determination to hold up this building. Mountains? No problem. Airplanes? Easy-peasy. Sanctioned buildings with safety procedures designed with them? Always. Absolutely mad hand-build castle? I think I’m good. I really, really think I’m good.”Bishop's Castle

Taking one final glimpse of the dragon’s head beneath me, I inched my way back to solid ground. About twenty minutes later my heart finally started beating normally again.

Bishop's Castle

Posted in Something New, The Couple

hostel: not a horror story

If you tell someone that you are going to stay in a hostel, most of the reactions will be negative.

“Those are so gross and dirty.”

“Sharing a room with strangers? No.”

Or my favorite:

“OHMYGOD YOU’RE GOING TO DIE! YOU’RE GOING TO BE BRUTALLY MURDERED AND I’M GOING TO BE SO SAD!”

The first hostel I stayed in was in Bratislava, Slovakia. I have never feared that I would be attacked, and I’ve also never encountered gross accommodations. Goodness, I have stayed in worse hotels than hostels!

The idea of community living always appealed to me. I’ve stayed in rooms with as few as six bunks and as many as forty. Noise never bothered me – I was usually too worn out from travel to stay awake anyway. Linens were usually handed out at check in, so I could tell they’d been laundered. And in my observations, the traveler community looks out for its own. From Croatia to New Zealand, I’ve stayed in some incredibly fascinating places.

The one thing I haven’t done in my travels is stay in a hostel in the United States. I’ve only this year gotten into car camping (one of the few reasons why I miss my minivan) and only this summer started properly camping. So when the Chaser and I would travel, we would stay wherever we would get the most bang for our buck.

To my disappointment, most of the time hotels were cheaper than hostels. Between that factor, and being content with each other’s company, we would explore domestically driving overnight and picking the cheapest hotel within a 45 minute drive of our destination.

We finally lucked out though. While wandering through Telluride during their film festival, we’d intended on camping. But when the rains wouldn’t cease and the temperatures kept dropping, we ceded to the idea of paying for lodging. As luck would have it, the only open room in a two hour radius was a hostel.
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You. Guys.

The Mine Shaft Motel and Hostel was a gem hidden in the middle of nowhere. For $55 (plus the 1% lodging tax), we got to stay in a house built in the 1800s which was converted into a hotel, then a bed and breakfast, then a motel and hostel. Pancho, the owner, was delighted that Terrence and I actually showed up after calling for a reservation.

“Even people who give me their credit cards don’t show up!” He bemoaned. We thanked him for holding the room for us even without a card. “Oh, it’s fine,” he waved us away. “I just didn’t want to get up to go take it down and hoped for the best.”

Because of the rain and cold, we queried as to the best place to find a hot chocolate. “Oh I can get that for you! I might even have whip cream!”
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The hostel had fifteen foot ceilings, parlors, and a modern kitchen. The shower was a converted tub with the copper tubing holding up a curtain – I felt like I’d gone back in time a good seventy years. It was warm, the bed was comfortable with lots of blankets, and we got to experience the point of a hostel: meeting other people in the common rooms and swapping stories and tips.

We were thrilled, and after a solid night’s rest turned in our keys, planning once again to camp in the evening. But, Nomad Rule #1, plans change. A phone call later, we’d reserved the dorm with Pancho.
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Upon arrival, and a text message to the owner, he rushed back from his radio show to check us in.

“They hear me all the way down to Four Corners,” he replied when Terrence commented on the great stations in the corridor. “There aren’t many of them, but they can hear me. Say, want to stay in a nicer room? I’ll give it to you for the same price as your little one last night. It’s the nicest room we have.”

People are incredibly awesome, and sometimes a touch of luck can bring the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

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Posted in Something New, The Couple

go west, young man

I woke up in Utah this morning.

I fell asleep in Colorado.

Only half a state apart, but the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains of Denver gave way to the arches and canyons of Moab.

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Let me give you a nomad’s pro tip: leave the plans behind.

Terrence and I took off from a latte art throw down Friday night and started driving. I do not like driving in general, night driving even less, and night driving while it’s raining even less. So the Chaser generously traded out with me to get us over the mountains.

And no, we really didn’t have a plan. We just wanted to go west.

Grabbing coffee in Moab, we turned south for Cedar Mesa. We were a little heartbroken to realize that the storm that had plagued our drive west had first passed through these red dirt roads.
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That’s what comes with not having a plan, but it also made it easier to continue onwards when our vague idea fell through.

Paved roads are great. Unpaved tend to lean towards much more interesting adventures. Keep in mind that we were traveling the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.

We found a sign neither of us had seen before: a warning that the pavement would cede to gravel.

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We turned down the first dry road we’d seen in twelve hours and my heart stopped. Nomad pro tip #2: national parks aren’t everything. We found an isolated overhang that spread Goosenecks beneath us and Monument Valley before. We climbed down crevices and watched the lizards dart around. We peered at the beauty that in an hour, fewer than ten other people spotted.

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There’s beauty in isolation, often being off the beaten path brings just as much joy – if not more – than doing the traditional travels. I love going to the known spots – they’re beloved for a reason! But even more, I love being able to breathe in the silence while taking in something phenomenal.

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