Feb 29, 2008

taking the plunge

Posted by Mary |

See, if Tom and I had not broken up, you could read all sorts of stuff into that headline...

But, alas, we did split up, and two days later we hit Taupo to go bungy jumping. Tom went first, and he assured me that it wasn't scary. Watch for yourself and see. You'll want to make sure you've got the volume up on your computer.

See, posting a video of a man screaming as he jumps is just not the sort of thing a girlfriend would do. An ex-girlfriend, however, knows no such limits. Out of pure spite, I present my video as well.

My silence is pure spite. I was fucking terrified, but refused to make a sound. Except for some gurgling as I got unexpectedly dunked to the waist.

So, now that we're back and my play is almost done, I should have some free time again. Which means it's time to take control of my blog back from Tom Moran. Don't get me wrong - it was a great breakup, and we're still friends and all that, but it seems odd having him posting on my blog. But, frankly, it was just easier to have him put up all the pictures from our trip while I was busy, and I appreciate his work to get the images of our trip up here for all to see. (Sorry about the funky formatting. I told him not to do that.)

Note: Apologies for the sideways videos. I've rotated them and saved them in Quicktime, but the are not showing up rotated. It's my first time putting video straight into Blogger. I'll try to fix the problem.

Huzzah! It is fixed!

Feb 27, 2008

have I told you?

Posted by Mary |

Camino Real. Seriously, you have to see it. Not just because this is my first time speaking on stage in the past 15 years. (OK, I spoke during the burlesque show this summer, but I don't think anyone noticed I was speaking) No, you must come to see the play for my inspired performance as a drug-addicted street prostitute.

And on a side note, I ran into a theater friend last night at The Marlin (what can I say? I'm single again, I go to bars again). Rumor has it that the late night show at The Palace will be returning this summer, and there's a very, very good chance I'll be in it. Even though I can't, you know, sing. Apparently my part in the show last summer was, well, memorable.

Feb 17, 2008

End of the Road: New Zealand, Part 6

Posted by Tom |

Though I've already greatly abbreviated the details of our trip, it does seem like it's about time to wrap up the New Zealand postings - though Mary and I might throw some more choice pictures up sometime if the mood strikes. Also look for her to post the video footage of me bunjy jumping, mostly because you can hear my blood-curdling cry of sheer terror.

We spent a few days in Rotorua, which has been a tourism hotspot for about 100 years. Thanks to the earth's core, it's been a literal hotspot for a few million years more. Rotorua is a pleasant, restrained, touristy town that a.) usually smells like sulfur and b.) has roped-off areas in downtown parks where there is hot steam coming out of the ground. The whole area is awash in thermal activity: grotesquely bubbling mud pools, steaming-hot rivers, and lakes tinted every color of the rainbow by dissolved minerals. We spent half a day walking through one such thermal area, the centerpiece of which is the novel coloration of the steaming-hot Champagne Pool, at left. Rotorua really did have some awesome stuff to see, and its a shame it all smelled so awful.

Rotorua is also the best place in NZ to take part in a Maori Hanji, or big ol' meat dinner. The only way to enjoy one of these is a package tour, so we hopped on a bus and headed to a Maori property on the edge of town, where there was much glad-handling of the gaggle of tourists from every corner of the globe. Then we went outside and watched the Maori glide past in a war canoe...several times, in fact, because they couldn't really turn around in this little canal. The meal was good and the spectacle impressive, if a bit contrived. It was like the Riverboat Discovery of war canoes.

Yes, that's Mary inside a giant inflated rubber ball, fresh off rolling down a hill. This is the only in NZ (well, now Mississippi, apparently) pastime of Zorbing. It's a hell of a lot of fun and, unlike the bunjy, not even a little terrifying. We each went three times: Once together floating around the bottom of a Zorb filled partly with water, once each alone in a Zorb filled partly with water (as in the photo), and once "dry zorbing," where they actually strap you in and you go head over heels. The latter was the most jarring, especially since I ran straight into a fence at the bottom and they closed it right after wards due to high winds. Yikes!

Food shopping was fun, to say the least. Those Kiwis got some kind of problem with Krispies!? We discovered many delish Kiwi treats we're already Jonesing for, chief among them being hokey pokey, the Kiwi name for the sugary honeycomb that appears inside Crunchie and Violet Crumble bars in Canada and the UK. They had it everywhere, and we each ate, oh, about half a ton. They also put it in "Hokey Pokey Squiggles," which Mary and I both agree are the best damn cookies on earth.

We spent the final two days of the trip in Auckland, which was 1 1/2 days too many. Auckland is just big and bland - probably the only genuinely unpleasant place I went in the whole country. It didn't help that I was kinda sick and it was about 90 out and muggy the whole time. The only thing we did of note the whole time there was half a day on Rangitoto Island, a volcanic cone in the middle of the harbor which made for a nice day hike. On the ferry ride back, we stopped off at a leafy suburb called Devonport, where we did the only thing to do that humid afternoon - find some shade and fall asleep.

And that was the trip. Obviously, Mary and I ran into some personal problems along the way, but I in no way attribute those to any characteristics of New Zealand itself. It is an absolutely awesome place, one I would heartily recommend to anyone. Despite everything, I know my memories of the place will be good ones.

The only one of New Zealand's famous "great walks" we undertook on the trip was the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a 4-day trek through barren high desert surrounding a couple of enormous volcanoes, one of which was Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. The entire area doubled for Mordor, which was understandable: much of it was a strikingly barren wastescape of scattered rubble and surreal, ominous lava formations. I've never been anywhere like it.

Unfortunately for me, I left my spork in the car, so I pulled out my trusty leatherman on the trail and carved up some camping chopsticks and a couple of forks. The fork in my left hand in the above photo would only really have functioned had we been eating cocktail shrimp,so I ended up carving a larger one. It worked quite well, except that if I wasn't careful it kind of felt like biting into a popsicle stick.

Mary outside our first hut. Directly behind her is Mt. Ngurahoe, aka Mount Doom.

This wonderfully refreshing waterfall ran through bleak desert scrub a little ways from the second night's hut. Mary and I both enjoyed a much-needed soak here but, more importantly, this romantic little spot is where Mary and I, um, broke up. This has given us bragging rights among the many nerds we know, as we can proudly proclaim we broke up in the shadow of Mt. Doom. As Mary likes to note, "Only there could it be unmade." Dork.

The Emerald Lakes, three lakes turned iridescent green thanks to dissolved minerals. New Zealand is rife with these sorts of geological oddities, lying as it does in an active volcanic area. You can't tell from the photo, but these lakes are on the Tongariro Crossing, which makes up a portion of the Northern Circuit and is the most popular day hike in New Zealand. So for half a day we joined a crowd of literally thousands of people - many of them astonishingly ill-prepared for the fairly rigorous hike - while the other three and a half days we had the trail mostly to ourselves.

One more "Mt. Doom" shot: this is the summit. It was actually steaming. The rocks were too hot to touch or even approach. Somewhat disconcerting and very, very cool.

Feb 12, 2008

It's a Puzzling World: New Zealand part four

Posted by Tom |

On New Year's Eve (also my 32nd birthday) we hiked out a few miles along the Hollyford Track, a flat and pleasant trail off of the Milford Road. We spent the night in a backcountry cabin on the track, and it was the first time in a good two decades that I fell asleep before midnight.
None of this, of course, is necessary to appreciate the above photo, which stands on its own merits.

We left Fiordland after the kayak trip (Jan 2-3) and drove up the very empty west coast of the south island for a couple of days. Our most eventful stop en route was clearly Puzzling World, a rather silly theme park which featured a giant outdoor maze. We managed to find our way out in about 38 minutes, which I think is better than average, though Mary repeatedly chastised me for cheating. Hey, it's not my fault the partitions are only six feet tall and easily glanced over.

Puzzling World was also memorable for its various optical illusion rooms. One of them had walls that were translucent, backlit inverted busts of folks like Nelson Mandela and Abe Lincoln, which had a supremely eerie effect of following you around the room. They had Nelson Mandela inverted heads for sale in the gift shop, which were too expensive to justify Mary buying one as a Jell-o mold.

We spent a couple of nights staying in the coolest hostel ever in Punakaiki, midway up the west coast: our room was a "stargazer," a small hut with a mattress in the middle and a transparent roof. It was awesome. We were in Punakaiki to hike the Inland Pack Track, a two-day journey that leads through a majestic landscape of high limestone cliffs. The only route between said cliffs, however, was a riverbed, which meant we forded the river, by my count, about 65 times. Good thing we brought sandals. Most were easy fords, and only twice did we have to hitch up our shorts and step gingerly to make it across.

This is the Ballroom, a giant rock overhang under which we spent the night on the Inland Pack Track. For scale, note my tent on the left and me in the middle. It's absolutely huge. Fortunately, it's also waterproof, because as soon as we got under it it started raining. We spent the second day of the Inland Pack Track hiking through an unrelenting downpour the whole way - then had to stand on the road, sopping wet to hitch a ride back to our car 12 miles away. We stood for maybe 45 minutes before I talked the driver of a campervan parked in a rest stop into giving us a ride.

After Dunedin, we drove to the southern edge of the South Island, a remote and beautiful area called the Catlins. We spent two days there hiking the Catlins Top Track, a mixed bag of a hike that led through some wonderful beach and clifftop scenery, but also through some ugly logged areas and past three, count'em three, fetid sheep carcasses ditched in the middle of the trail. Clearly La Chupacabra at work.

The highlight of the track was our night's lodging, which was an old Dunedin trolley bus that had been lugged up to a wonderful hillside and converted into a camper, complete with beds, gas stove, shower(which didn't work), and "loo with a view" (an outhouse fashioned out of an old camper trailer. We inexplicably neglected to get any close-up shots of the bus, so this will do - the bus, is on the lower left. You can at least admire the view.

This is another photo that doesn't do the situation justice, but at one point the path crossed a cow pasture. This would have been no big deal, except the cows were all staring at us expectantly. When we walked toward them, they all - 100 head, maybe, gathered a short distance from us and stared, blocking our way to the stile that led out of the field. Now, I know this sounds like no big deal - I mean, they're cows - but any one of them could have stepped on us, and they were all quite deliberately standing in our way. We eventually sucked it up and walked into their midst, at which point they obligingly made room, and in fact stared after us expectantly as we walked away. Them cows is none too bright. Tasty, though.

We spent a night in the nothing town of Riverton, mostly because it was between two places we wanted to go and it had a cheap hostel. We clearly lucked out, however, because they were holding a mammoth lumberjack festival, featuring lumbering (so to speak) fellows from throughout the land displaying their expertise at hacking stuff to bits really, really fast. Pretty awesome way to spend a morning, needless to say.

This is a kea, the world's only alpine parrot. Flightless, they're the packrats of birds, and this was the first of several we saw along the heavily-tourist-travelled Milford Road, begging for scraps at rest stops.

A view along the Milford Road. Milford Sound, on the west coast of the South Island, had some of the mind-blowingest (also totally a word) scenery in NZ. Milford Road is the only road that cuts through the heart of Fiordland National Park, which is essentially a nonstop series of fiords encompassing much of the southwest of the south island. I lack superlatives to describe the scenery, which chiefly consisted of mammoth snowcapped peaks the sides of which plummeted stright down thousands of feet into impossibly deep water. It may even have topped Alaska, which isn't easy to do.

We drove the Milford Road to Milford Sound then took a boat trip, which is pretty much what every single person who visits NZ does. Then we splurged a bit and got off the beaten track by taking a two-day kayaking trip through Doubtful Sound. To get there, you have to drive to a ferry, which takes you across a lake to another road, where you hop in a van, drive over a 1,500 foot pass (which Mary and I are standing atop in the photo) and descend to the kayak launch area. We were ostensibly going to kayak out, spend a night at a campsite in the sound, and come back the next day, but due to inclement weather we turned that into a couple of day trip combined with a night in a hostel on the sound. Inclement to say the least: 5 inches of rain fell overnight!
We, fortunately, lucked out and missed the rain, kayaking on the sound for two days in scattered drizzles and blinding sunshine. Mary and I both got the hang of our double kayak pretty quickly and enjoyed the company of the other people in our group. And as I will affirm, there is no circumstance on earth where scenery does not look better, when nature does not look more beautiful and inviting, when the world does not seem brighter when you see it under your own power. Along with the also sublime Banks Peninsula track, Mary and I declare the kayak excursion the highlight of the whole New Zealand trip.

Since we've now been back for the better part of a month, I figured it's time to get off of my ass and publish some more New Zealand photos.

After Christchurch and the Banks Peninsula, it was time for Mary and I to pick up our wheels. This is a Toyota Corsi (the "Cynthia" model, if a 1.3L engine isn't emasculating enough). I think it a late model directly from Japan, which was problematic because it meant the radio only worked on lwoer Japanese frequencies and couldn't pick up anything. This was even problematicer (that's totally a word) because Mary misplaced her iPod in Christchurch, leaving us music-less until we finally picked up some Willie Nelson and Cyndi Lauper tapes later in the trip. Radio notwithstanding, I liked the car, which had enough legroom for me - though getting in and out was a challenge - and got something like 40 mpg.

Mary at the Moeraki boulders on the east coast of the South Island. Some sort of weird geological processes created a bunch of perfectly spherical boulders that now sit on and around a beach. The biggest ones, as you can see, are more than 5 feet around, while all of the smaller ones have been rolled off as souvenirs.

This bird is called a shag. Mary and I were at a good penguin-watching spot on the east coast, near the boulders, when this guy calmly walked over to us. We watched in amazement (we kinda thought it was a penguin, which seemed odd, as they assiduously avoid humans) as it just kept coming and, when it reached us, promptly started trying to peck at my feet. This went on for several minutes, to Mary's great amusement.

Once we discovered (from an amused local) that I was not in fact being attacked by a rare yellow-eyed penguin, we went off in search of the birds again. As you can see, we found some. We had been looking for an hour and had all but given up when we spotted this one ducked behind a protective fence. The highlight was when he(?) walked forward a few purposeful steps, stuck out its butt, and let out a forceful poop, accompanied by a farting noise so ridiculously overblown that Mary and I could barely keep from cracking up. It was a Kodak moment.

We spent Christmas at a rather amazing hostel outside of Dunedin, on the East Coast of the South Island. It's built on the grounds of an old insane asylum, and the current owner has filled up all the old asylum buildings with an assortment of junked cars (for no apparent reason.) A spectacularly relaxing place, where I spent Christmas morning surfing (trying to, anyway) and we spent Christmas night drinking German alcoholic punch and enjoying a barbecue on an old blacksmith's stove. Interesting group of guests: we were the only native English speakers there; everyone else was from Germany or Hong Kong. Mary and I are on the couch in the photo.

Now that Mary and I have been back for two weeks (and broken up for three, though if you're reading this you probably know that already), we figured it was about time to start posting some photos from our often wild, frequently wonderful, indisputably momentous (see note above!) trip to New Zealand. So here's the first of several parts.

Our first stop was Christchurch, a charming little city we explored for a few days. Laid out by homesick Britons, the place looks like a slice out of England, what with punters working the river Avon in the middle of town, right next to the expansive botanical gardens.

Note the ginormous trees, including this eucalyptus.

Also note the ginormous throne room in the old government buildings. Mary made herself at h0me.

After Christchurch we headed to the nearby coastal town of Akaroa, a beautiful, verdant place that was the starting point for our first tramp, the Banks Peninsula Track. This two-day hike was our mutual favorite for the trip, passing through sheep paddies, spectacular coastal cliffs, and some remnants of native forest. It also featured some of the most incredible accommodation on the trip, including one night spent at a weird compound filled with random stuff like an adult-sized swing, an outdoor pool table and a shower with a tree growing right through the middle of it.

Waterfalls galore. There was one that sprayed out far enough from the rocks that you could actually walk behind it, which was a marvelously surreal experience.

Mary on the trail to our second night's lodging.

The way-cool pool table, which wasn't level and had a stick from a tree for a cue. But, I mean, it
was outside! Awesome.

One last shot from the Banks: Me hiking on the second day of the tramp.