Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 12th, 2008
Santa Barbara, CA

"Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns."
~Author Unknown

Sometimes a traveler just needs a break. For years Mama and I have been journeying to war-torn, depressed economies where the money comes easy but the travel does not. We've searched out hardship and challenge to test ourselves but this year called for something different: a break. Some might call it a "vacation"....visiting a place where one isn't harassed as soon as they step out into the street, where the toilets are clean, and the economy is strong. The novelties of first world travel might soon wear off for us over multiple trips but, for this year, a vacation was the perfect tonic for our weary souls. Let's face it, 2008 has been a difficult year for everyone I know....need I list it all?....and sometimes we just need a rest from it all.

I'm grateful to New Zealand for giving us just that. The kindness of the people, the mellowness of travel, and the wide open spaces where one can hear their own thoughts and take a sidestep from the ever humming chaos of the world. Vacations like this remind me of the elegance of simplicity: how important it is to keep my life less "cluttered" and instead, filled with quality time doing the things I love and being with those whom I cherish.

I thank New Zealand for reminding me of those lessons (as I struggle to stay balanced in the endless decisions of daily life back in the "real world") and I highly recommend visiting there to anyone looking for some fresh air and a break from "The Grind."

In Tribute to our journey in the Land of Sheep-Eating Parrots and Incredibly Cheery People, I've decided to give you a random taste of what I love most about New Zealand.

With Great Fondness and Dedicated to all the Greatly Helpful, Cheery Kiwis (except that one somber guy at the internet cafe in Nelson): I present to you....

"Rachel's 50 Tell-Tale Signs You're In New Zealand (in no particular order)"

1) Cars actually STOP for pedestrians...instead of speeding up to hit them.
2) "Scroggin" is something you eat out of a bag, not something you do in the sack.
3) Prostitution and gambling are legal but smoking in a restaurant is not.
4) The buses actually arrive and leave on time and no one tries to throw you off when you refuse to buy hash from their brother at the rest stop (not that that's happened to us before).
5) "Bitchamen" is a sealed road, "pasties" are something you eat not wear, "chips" are fries, "crisps" are chips, and "kiwi" is either a fruit, a bird, a person, or a combination of the above.
6) You don't have to tip anyone and you STILL get great service.
7) You can pay someone to go "punting" in Christchurch and you won't even get arrested for it. (Hint: It's something you do in the water in a very long boat...think Venice.)
8) The people working at the Visitor Center actually want to help you and do it quite cheerily.
9) When you bump into someone on the street, they say they're "sorry."
10)You can drink the tapwater without regretting it later.
11) The rest stops have toilets which are free and clean.
12) A food vendor offers to put tomato sauce (catsup) on anything you order...crepes, eggs....?.
13) A "dag" is someone who is a character. "Dag" can also be a term referring to the ball of manure hanging off a sheep's bum (i.e. "dingleberry").
14) The bus driver is not only cheery, but actually tells you what to get off on for the market. Another bus driver apologizes that they can't help pay for a passenger who comes up short and is late for work.
15) You know what a "haka" is and you're not grossed out by it.
16) The local food court offers inexpensive and tasty (besides the infamous McD's) Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, and Turkish food all for under $10.
17) You don't have to tuck your money belt deep in your waistband when walking through the city at night and you don't fear for your life when passing a group of young skateboarders.
18) The skateboarders actually say "hi" back to you.
18) The monosyllabic word "no" becomes a polysyllabic "nah-woo-ah."
19) The food at the airport is cheap and it tastes good.
20) You don't have to show your ID to board domestic flights and you can bring liquids with you!
21) The airline actually apologizes when your flight is delayed and then reroutes all of your connecting flights without being asked to.
22) Your luggage makes it, too.
23) The taxi drivers round your fare DOWN. Every time.
24) More than six cars in a roundabout is considered a traffic jam.
24.5) While backpacking, you can spill your peanut butter or tuna fish lunch on your clothes and not live in fear that you'll be eaten by a grizzly in the middle of the night.
25) A 3,000 foot mountain pass is called a "hill."
26) Some of the park trails are so well maintained that you could take roller luggage with you instead of a backpack.
27) Two Words: Sand Flies. "The gift that keeps on giving," as a Kiwi/American friend tells us.
28) Stores actually shut on Sunday.
29) Locals you meet can name the "All Blacks'" player faster than you can name the "Seven Dwarfs."
30) The ice cream is homemade, the berries are hand-picked, and most of what's on your plate is local and seasonal.
31) The honking car that's passing you is thanking you for pulling over to the side, not flicking you off for being slow.
32) All the roads are well-marked and in English.
33) Locals here can correctly pronounce names like "Kakaka," "Whakatu" (hint: the 'wh' sound like 'f') and "Takaka" Hill without blushing.
34) You don't have to sign a waiver when you bungee jump, sky dive, or river board.
35) You can drink alcohol in public parks and drink wine at the movies.
36) The drinking age here is 18 years old.
37) Women here gained the right to vote in the late 1800s, over two decades before American women could.
38) The cows are grass-feed and free to roam, the chickens are cheery, and the sheep are afraid.
40)You can walk through the city park without being harassed by crackheads, homeless people, or young guys selling postcards.
41) "Feijomoa" is a type of fruit, not a profanity.
42) Restaurants have weirdly creative names like "Hell's Pizza" and "Toxic Coffee."
43) A road sign in the countryside by a pasture of sheep actually says "Hay Ewe!"
44) The alpine parrots here, though incredibly cute and clever, eat plastic and have been known to eat the sheep, too.
45) There's no inheritance tax or capital gains on real estate investments and basic health insurance is covered by the government.
46) When you tell people here that you're an American, their faces light up and they give you an enthusiastic "Congratulations!" on the 2008 election.

If you've answered 'yes' to 20 or more of these questions: You may be in England, Australia, or New Zealand.
If you've answered 'yes' to 25 or more questions: You're in Tasmania or New Zealand.
If you've answered 'yes' to 29 or more questions: Congratulations...You've made it to the Land of Sheep-Eating Parrots, Waterfalls, and Fiords!

Welcome to Nueva Zealandia!

Hoping you all are taking some time for yourselves to rest over the holidays....

much love,
Raquelita and Mama Chihuahua

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 10th, 2008

In tribute to my Mama's literary skills (one of these days I hope we write and publish a short story together), I thought I'd post one of the blogs she sent out to her own list from New Zealand. She so perfectly captured a magical experience we had with a wallaby at a Wildlife Reserve outside of Christchurch...
"The Magic of Marsupials" by Mama Chihuahua

The little wallaby sat quietly by the fence, munching on a strand of grass. He was close enough to pet. What a thrill to actually touch a creature I had only seen from afar in my Australian travels, here in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Then I saw the thing that protruded from his belly.

The poor thing had a claw sticking out his midsection. I suppose that wallabies might fight but this one had come off poorly, with a body part stuck into him.

The sticky-out thing was in the soft part of the belly. Righteous indignation roiled up within me that the park staff had not noticed such an injury.

Then the claw wriggled. And a tiny nose appeared. Then a face, right beside the clawed foot. And the boy wallaby became a mama wallaby with the cutest little baby wallaby face, foot beside its nose, looking at the outside world from the fur of the mama's belly.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. To hear about a marsupial pouch is one thing but to see something protruding right from the fur, no zipper, no dark interior, just a little alien looking out was so very cool.

The mama arched her wallaby back and pushed that baby pop! right out of her pouch and that baby landed on the ground, turned around and dived back into her belly, by golly. In the second I had to see this, the baby looked like a giant fruit bat, had no hair, was spindly and dived into her pouch, getting extra leverage from a leg push off the ground, and was invisible again. The mama never missed a beat chewing that strand of grass.

I was surprised, amazed, not sure I'd seen the baby at all and then it happened two more times, with the baby taking a bit of a walkabout before his head dive back into mama's handy home.

Rachel and I are home now. I'm checking my slides and re-living the good times in New Zealand, remembering the illegal vacation eating that I love so much and miss even more. I have only 15 pieces of toffee licorice left.

Things I love about New Zealand:

1. They speak English.

2. green-lipped mussels

3. fresh fish

4. They speak English.

5. It isn't Morocco.

6. fresh raspberries/boysenberries smashed up into yogurt in a cone.

7. The southern terrain looks real Lord of the Ring-y.

8. The really cute guy in Auckland.

9. I didn't fall down more than twice on the Routeburn.

10. They speak English.

Leaving Flagstaff makes me appreciate where I live all the more.....clean and fresh air, a surfeit of personal red blood cells acquired by living at 7000 ft., an abundance of hiking trails and riding vistas, cool university and teaching opportunities. and they speak English.

May your holidays be splendid.

Karen, Rachel and Steve