Friday, April 29, 2005

La Nina

Four days into the espanol and I feel despondent. the more you study the more you realise you dont know. At the stage I am at I can relate very well to the little 2 yr olds I see on the street. I can point and say things like 'cat' 'dog' 'window' 'chair' but unfortunately as I am not two foot tall and as cute as a button I can't really get away with it.

The other trouble is smiley Juan got tough with me today. He told me to quit the Spanglish as he calls it and to lay off the miming as well. I am only allowed to speak proper espanol with the assistance of my dictionary and my notes. It is painful and I have a strong suspicion that I sound just like Manuel in Fawlty Towers.

Also when Ed asked smiley Juan how I was progressing he said something along the lines that I was doing okay but could try harder.........sounds just like my high school reports. Has nothing changed?


It seems my new family have decided to turn me into a Catholic, and I don´t seem to have much say in it.

So far we have been sitting through 5 minute prayer sessions before lunch every day, today I had to lead the prayers in Espanol with little Marcocita. I had no idea what I was reading but they were all being very encouraging. Even better is the news that on Sunday our new family are taking us to their favourite Church so we can attend mass. This is most exciting in itself but when they dropped the news that their favourite church just happens to be two hours north and over the border in COLOMBIA I almost fell off my chair.

I never imagined that I would be going to church on this trip, let alone having to take my passport to do will be muy interesante as smiley Juan would say.

Random piece of info: Latin Americans refer to the Pope as Papa. Papa is also the word for potato (which they also seem to be most passionate about.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Son of a bitch

Language can be a tricky beast, what you think you are saying can come out as something quite, quite different.

Only this morning I told smiley Juan that I can´t help getting married all the time when I thought I was saying that I get really tired all day.

However this is nothing compared to Eds corker at our formal family lunch at the dinner table yesterday. He thought he was saying that he really liked to eat trout. I could see Yolanda and Marco smirking and I thought the little boys were going to self combust through tying not to laugh.

Finally they put us out of our misery by explaining that Ed had announced that he really liked eating 'son of a bitch'

Think I will keep my mouth closed from now on.

The Pink Palace

So while we have some time in Otavalo Ed and I have signed up with the local Spanish School. It´s four hours a day, one on one in a room with your very own spanish teacher. In addition the school offered to place us with a local family for 12 bucks a day for accomodation, 3 meals and of course much practise in terms of using our Espanol - a scary but practical idea.

Morning one and we have to start class at 8.30 in the morning, this is never a good time for me at the best of times and this was definately not a good time. We have been staying in a cold, damp hotel notable only for the fact that is had the worlds smallest double bed. When we hopped up to go to the school I was already a bleary eyed mess.

Dumping our packs at the school office we are assigned our teachers, Eds is a stern looking `cool guy` with spiffy clothes and a bit of attitude. I am grateful to have the diminutive, smiley Juan who takes me to our classroom which looks just like the kind of rooms they have in films for interogation - four walls and a small table smack bang in the middle with a chair either side. The lessons begin from scratch, it is exciting but incredibly challenging as smiley Juan speaks only a few words on English and I have had about 3 hours sleep. We spend the next four hours miming, pointing, drawing on pieces of paper and when I've had enough I just nod and say 'si', 'si', 'si' when I actually have no idea whatsoever.

Once school is over we are met by Marco who is to be our host dad person... he has brought along his two cute little sons Carlos and Marcocita (little Marco). Before I can draw breath Marco whips up my bag and spirits us both down to his car. As we drive along Ed asks Marco if he speaks english - 'no' he shouts 'nada!'. We burn through the streets in his brand new Toyota family wagon and then pull up in front of the biggest and pinkest house I have ever seen. Deep rose pink, two stories high with a huge flight of white marble steps up to the front door, arched windows and cupolas seem to be attached on every corner. Yolanda meets us at the top of the stairs, she is quite glamorous and babbles on in Spanish to me us she leads us inside. Inside there is polished wood floors, a bar, a huge dining room, a salon topped off with a huge wooden spiral staircase. Below the staircase is a huge glass pond filled with koi carp and above is a massive glass chandelier. I start to think I´m hallucinating when the little boys take us to our room with its massive double bed, tv and all the mod cons. Wow - the homestay thing is a winner.

The boys are 8 and 11 years old and are complete darlings. They have trotted around with us dutifully carrying my things, helping out and giggling whenever I try and speak spanish. Marco is the youngest and a typical youngest child, always making a mess, always getting in trouble and getting bossed around by his big brother. They are great fun and I think to them we are giant toys to play with - I am just a mostly mute toy.

Last night we took the boys to the local 'carousel' think funny little rides and games outside and of course on giant, decrepid ferris wheel being captained by a drunken local. Of course before I knew it, I was on the bloody thing screaming my head off much to the amusement of the boys. They are obviously into value for money here because for 5o cents I think we were left on the thing for about 20 minutes......I keep shooting the guy in charge evil looks to let us down- it didn´t work. If anything he seemed to keep speeding it up - I prayed I wasn´t going to come to grief ¡n my first week away in such a stupid way and kept my eyes squeezed shut.

After an amazing delicious dinner we I fell into bed by 9pm delirious with so much new stuff going into my brain.


So having felt like a 60 year old lady with asthma for days I have finally got my mojo back this week. We have hightailed it out of scary old Quito and have taken the bus outta hell (in terms of speed anyway) two hours north to the very traditional town of Otavalo.

Here amongst the pointy snow capped extinct volcanos live a large population of the local indigenous people - who are renowned for their amazing craft making skills, from weaving, knitting, jewellery making and sculpting. It´s a lovely quiet, friendly and most importantly safe place and has neen so nice to wander the streets by day and by night with no problems.

The most wonderful thing about the place is that the locals still dress the way they did 100 years ago, and they are really sharp dressers. The men have long plaits all the way down their backs, they wear jaunty little felt trilby hats in dark green or brown, white shirts, wide tweed trousers topped with a poncho. The women are super elegant in long black skirts, little rope sandals, white embroidered blouses and bright red shawls. They also wear rows of gold glass beads around their necks. It´s a really good look and I feel like a drab little tomboy in my jeans and jumper as they shuffle elegantly past.

Only annoying thing is that there are quite a number of earnest hippy types (western travellers) who can be found sitting around in cafes smoking a lot and looking intense all day long. Oh well, as long as they're having a good time I guess.......I just hope I don´t turn into one of them!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The High Life

Quito, 2850 metres above sea level and boy don't I know it. After our first happy evening at the Secret Garden drinking and eating on the roof top, surrounded by an astonishing view of snow capped mountains, thousands of little colonial buildings clinging to steep hills all watched over by the benevolent gaze of the virgin of quito who sits on a narrow but steep mountain in the city wearing a crown of stars, eagles wings and holding a dragon on a chain. The city sits in a bowl created by the surrounding peaks.

After dinner we race off to bed keen to sleep off the last three days travelling. Within two hours we wake up, I feel like I have been run over by a truck which has then backed over me a couple times more for good measure. My hands are numb and it feels like someone has stabbed me in the head with a knitting needle. Ed isn't fairing much better, he's waxy and pale holding his head before disapearing to the toilet for a vomit session. I lie in bed shivering then sweating then shivering again. We are a tragic pair and the dance between the bathroom, the bed and some pitiful whimpering (on my part anyway) continues through the long dark night and into the majority of the day.

Today things are better, though I still feel like an 80 year old woman with asthama when walk too quickly up a hill. People tell me things will improve after a couple of days. God knows what it must be like at 4000 or even 5000 metres. Personally, I think I was designed for a life at sea level.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

El Presidente

What can I say....what seems like 4 years ago we got up at the crack of dawn on Wednesday in Lake Taupo to drive all the way to Auckland to sit in the airport for 4 hours to then sit on the tarmac for another hour and a half to sitting on a plane for 11 hours to sitting in Santiago Chile for another 4 hours to getting on the plane looking forward to another 5 hours flying to Quito in Ecuador when just after the safety video we are taxied back to the terminal because the entire country of Ecuador has been closed down thanks to the massive street protests wanting the president out. The people won and El presidente escaped in helicopter from the roof of his palace.

For us Latin American chaos then ensued - three more hours of waiting to see what happens, then another two hours where the chileans took our passports and finally put us on a bus to a hotel. By now my eyes are hanging out of my head and thaks to the dateline it is still WEDNESDAY. We arrive at the hotel by now having bonded with all our fellow passengers, drink beer and watch CNN - here this whole thing is very big news.

We are offered dinner and after about a 2 hour wait from the time we ordered(during which I actually realised I had mimed chewing my arm off to the waiter - oops must have been overtired) my omlette arrived. Finally bed for 6 hours before being dragged back to the airport to wait for a few more hours yet again.

We are here now though, the new presidente has been sworn in and everyone is happy. the old one has been hiding in the brazilian embassy and I believe they are going to give him asylum. How wonderful that a country can get pissed off with their president, take to the streets banging pots and pans and with a bit of minimal violence have him leave. I would love to see John Howard fleeing from the roof of kirribilli house and the angry hordes!

We are staying in a beautiful place in quito called the secret garden. It has an internal courtyard, mosaic work on the floor, a roof garden with a view of the mountains, organic food and a very silly sausage dog called Gino. (ginos legs are so short he can barely get up the stairs - maybe thats why he has so much attitude).

Looking forward to some sleep and a lot less aeropuerto action.

PS: felt strangely at home in Chile - i think because just about everyone there looked just like me. Have I found my home at last?

Monday, April 18, 2005

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Taupo Super Volcano

Last two days in NZ, and we chose to head Northwards and to the beautiful Lake Taupo. The drive from Wellinton was very cool, we drove right through the Tongariro National Park which was the setting for Mordor in LOTR. There are also two huge mountains in the park that are both dormant volcanos, they are both huge, imnposing, snow capped and most closely resemble the pointy mountains of my childhood drawings.

Taupo is on the shore of Lake Taupo which was once the crater of the worlds biggest volcano, funny I only read an article not so long ago that mentioned that Taupo is one of the worlds "super volcanos' due for another explosion 'some time soon'. Unfortunatley some time soon could be tomorrow or in 300 years - best not to stress over that one.

It is however a glorious place, the crystalline lake, mountains, the huge Waikato river and it's waterfalls and because it's still in a thermal area there are those wispy curls of mist floating over everything which makes it look like witches have just left the scene after a spot of spell making.

We did our one big tacky NZ thing today and went jet boating - I loved it, spinning around, being airborne and of course getting one extremely wet and soggy arse. We are staying in a most hilarious place as well - it's an old fibro 1950's lodge that looks like the house that Samantha and Darren lived in, in Bewitched. It's our last night in NZ, I already feel like I have been away for months but come tomorrow the serious travelling begins......... eeeek.

Sydney, Melbourne, LA, San Fran, Auckland, Wellington

Wellington, what a groovy little city. I could be uncharitable and say that it's quite apparent that the only semblance of cool in the whole country seems to reside down at the bottom of the North Island but I do like to think of myself as quite charitable so just pretend it was never mentioned.

So Wellington seems to the Melbourne to our Sydney, the San Fran to the USA's LA. Imagine being at a party and all the Sydney, LA and Auckland types are the girls in versace, sass and bide, drinking the latest vodka and braying on about themselves and their latest real estate aquistition while the Wellington, Melbourne, San Fran types would be the girl sitting in the corner wearing some one off fabulous vintage piece, dark lipstick stopping only from sipping her Merlot to make a couple of understated but very witty, intellectual remarks.....well you get the picture.

Wellywood is a delight, all wooden gothic houses on steep hills, dark lit bars and cafes, amazing movie houses and of course the mighty Te Papa museum. Kate was one happy lady bar one accomodation disaster....the World Wide Backpackers. So far we'd not had much luck with accomodation, from the prison to a succession of fairly grimy and or noisy places full of backpackers (why am I suprised?) but this place i loved, a spotless old wooden home on the edge of the city. I loved it until I encountered Carole, the bossy german who ran the place. Not only did Carole deny all knowledge of our confirmed booking for the weekend she then denied Ed a piece of toast the next morning cause brekky finished at 9am and it was 2 minutes past...she then told us we could not stay another night cause we 'had not booked' I showed her the confirmation but to no avail...... we had to move. Not after I had a rather large altercation with her that is still continuing to this day over fact at one point Carole did refer to herself as a 'bloody german' and I'm happy to agree with her on that point.

Moved to a new, interesting but a bit dodgy place and resumed our time in Wellywood. Most of it was spent sightseeing, I even spent 12 bucks to go to the zoo so I could see a Kiwi but the noctural house they live in was so friggin dark I couldn't even see where I was walking let alone a bloody Kiwi. Apparently it's like that cause "they like it that way" say the overly PC zookeepers - I say bugger them! I don't like it that way, so for the rest of the day I consoled myself with looking at Lions and Chimps and things, hardly natives but I had to take what I can get.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Scared Stiff

After a long and winding drive through some rather pointy mountain ranges and having at last seen some sheep - hurrah! (All I had seen so far were cows which just didn't seem New Zealand enough..) we arrived in the very weird spooky town of Napier. Napier gets raved about because it is the worlds best, or one of the best examples of an Art Deco city. I was imagining pastel prettiness but maybe it was because the weather has just put on a very nasty turn, maybe it's because the wind howls off the black sand beach and the ocean crashes in ominously with nothing between it and the coast of Sth America, maybe it's because the whole town sits on a major faultline which resulted in a devasting earthquake in 1931 or maybe it's because Ed and have choosen to stay in an old prison where they used to hang people......

Yes, maybe it's for the last reason that I'm freaking out. We are staying at the "Napier Prison Backpackers" which is in NZ's oldest prison that was only decomissioned in 1993. Just to add to the drama the prison is located on a huge lonely cliff overlooking the ocean with a few derelict looking houses nearby. Delightful! When we arrived we were faced with an enormous granite wall a la something out of "Prisoner" and a huge wooden door. After buzzing the door a cranky looking guy wearing a beanie pops out with a gruff "What do you want?" errrr to stay here we reply.

Walking in it quickly becomes apparent that not much as been done to the place. I guess there not that much difference in terms of need from a prison to a backpackers's a place of mass accomodation, people sleep in bunks, need somewhere to shower and somewhere to go and eat but in terms of pleasant ambience it has very little. In terms of atmosphere it has an abundance, though not the kind I prefer.

Ed and I are staying in the cheerily named "psyche ward' which has the classic prison dunny in the corner of the room and a lovely view (though the wire mesh) into the yard quite close to where they used to hang people. The psych ward is located near the conjugal visits room, the lock up and the suicide room. Lovely! Other dorm rooms still have the original bunks and gang graffiti on the walls. It's like the inmates simply moved out yesterday and the backpackers moved in bringing a few hippie batik throws and some cushions for good measure.

Last night was out first night and I was totally petrified. Having stayed down in the (equally) creepy town all day I was guzzling as much booze as I could and dragging my feet before we finally made our way back. Back through the massive wooden doors, back through the grim courtyard, past the mess hall, along a creaking corridor with darkened cells on either side, creaking down a lino floor to finally arrive at our psych ward. I curl into bed squeezing my eyes tightly shut and virtually try to climb inside Ed cause I'm so scared. Not that he's much help I think bitterly, he'll be blissfully snoring shortly after looking around our room smiling and saying that he likes it cause it reminds him of boarding school.

Lights off and I lie sleepless occassionally opening an eye half expecting the ghost of some mad person to be looking at me. Outside the wind howls over the cliff and the ocean pounds onto the shore. Amazingly I fall asleep.......

Quick complementary tour of our prison home in the morning was interesting but I'm not sure how much it has helped me settle in. On the tour I discover that 4 people were hanged in the courtytard (3 were Maori) and that their bodies are buried against the wall standing up so they could never "rest in peace". In fact pregnant women and children under five are encouraged not to go into the courtyard as the Maori believe they are too vulnerable to all the evil in the place.

I also learn that a guard was bashed almost to death in a room near ours and that a backpacker in a room 3 doors down from ours reckons that one of the condemed men appeared as a ghost and tried to strangle her. Great! Looking forward to walking past that cell on my way to the psych ward tonight.

Other funnier stories were about the trustworthy prisoners who used to wriggle out of their cells, climb over the huge fence and go out partying down in the town. They got away with it for 7 years before they happened to go to a party that a couple of off duty prison wardens were at. There are the exercise yards with punching bags and weight machines and the marks where the yard had to be separated because of the two rival Maori gangs who were bitter enemies. Their graffiti is all over the place, as are the girlie posters and cigarette ads that are stuck on the walls of the cells.

One more day here and of course one more night.......we are heading to the Vineyards this afternoon so I might just have to get tanked before I can face another night in the psychward.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Evil, eggy, farty smells hang in the air and sulphur pours from the most unexpected places. All very entertaining but also on the alarming side when you realise that small hole near your foot pouring out sulphur and gases is about all there is between you and the boiling heaving purgatory that is the middle of the earth. Me, I prefer something a little thicker under my feet.

Went to a place that everyone calls Whaka - Wh is pronounced as a "f" sound so if I was a few years younger or more like my brother or my friend John I would be giggling everytime I heard people mention it (though I have to admit that I still giggle when the weather lady says Whakatane on the telly, it sounds completely rude! On another tangent Ed's friend Edmund tells me that all TV folk in New Zealand have been trained to pronounce words properly in the Maori style - it sounds all the more exotic. Shame they can't get rid of that dreary name "New Zealand" "Aoteoroa" is that much prettier) But whoa I digress quite violently.

Today we visited Whaka as I mentioned which is a real Maori village, all cute little wooden houses and the villagers (once they have booted out the tourists each day at 5) take themselves down to the boiling pools of water to cook their food and have baths. It was a really delightful place and nice to see the tourist money and the management of the place go straight to the Maori that live there.

After that, a place nicknamed Thermal Wonderland which had me and Ed signing Boogie Wonderland all arvo. This was quite amazing, lime green fluro pond, mud hopping out of the ground, a wedgewood blue opaque lake topped with a dormant volcano in the background had me half expecting to see a couple of hobbits and an elf sailing accross pointy ears and all. The marshlands with the sulphur gas floating accross them made me want to hiss "don't follow the lights" Gollum style - even harder was the temptation to poke my fingers into a few things, I consoled myself to chucking a few rocks into things which was also verboten but I couldn't resist.

Tonight Ed and I are stooping to new lows in a our efforts to find cheap filling food. Ed has found a Sizzler or a Suzzlier as my Kiwi friends would say. We're are off to load up at the salad bar, have a become the kind of backpacker I despise in less than 6 days?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

In Zid

Finally away....the last few weeks were a blur of tears, sleep deprivation, stress, excitement, alcohol and far too many rich posh lunches and dinners to mention. But finally we are away..... first stop New Zealand.


1: Auckland is a lot bigger than I ever imagined
2: New Zealand looks nothing like Australia
3: They ALL make fun of our accents - how naive of us all to think that while we laugh at them they aren't laughing at us....they think we say things like "roight, oim from Orstralya orright" and they think that is quite silly.
4: they are a nation of possum haters or as they call them "Opossums" ???

Apart from the possum persecution NZ is quite lovely. We started out inAuckland staying with a friend of Eds for a couple of nights and then took off to Whitianga on the Coromandel Coast - very pretty but didn't see much of it really. Iwas desperate to spend a few days not having to be anywhere or do anything...or believe it or not even talk at one stage much to my shame I actually burst into tears while sitting in a gutter in a trendy Auckland suburb cause I was just so tired...oops. Think I was just exhausted from all the hoopla before we left I have just been sleeping it all off.

We are getting our mojo back now though, just arrived in Rotorua which smells a bit farty thanks to all the sulphur pouring out of drains, pipes, the ground, just about everywhere....but we just spent all afternoon bobbing around in hot mineral spas by the lake with a mad assortment of types from locals to old people from Oz on a bus tour to some really crazy Koreans who were wearing bathing caps and swimming goggles on their heads.

Other impressions....everything costs a lot, and everything is so, so green. ferny and secretive....oh and empty. I feel like shouting out heeellllloooooo!! Is anyone there??? Not a bad thing for this city girl I guess.

My favourite thing of all is: a bird called the Tui. It likes to make noises that sound like some contraption a mad professor might have's call is a weird mix of arggh! burrrp! beeep! twrrrrrrr kzzzst bing bing arrrrgh! (I kid you not).

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Panic and Plumbing

Three more sleeps til I'm out of here. I'm waking every morning with images of lists of things to do floating in my head. Running away is much to do not to mention packing and plumbing disasters to boot. Fun fun fun.

I'm sure once we are on that plane to wonderful, wonderful New Zealand it will all be like a pleasant blur....

Til then.