Wednesday, December 7, 2011

E noho rā Aotearoa, Kia ora Park City (Goodbye New Zealand, Hello Park City)

You don't have to be afraid of change. You don't have to worry about what's being taken away. Just look to see what's been added.
~Jackie Greer

It seems like only yesterday that I was selling lift tickets, rental gear and ski lessons to guests at Mount Ruapheu. The Southern hemisphere winter season went by in a blink of an eye. Two months later it's amazing how much has changed, yet how so many things remain the same. I am in a different hemisphere, but still working on a mountain doing the same job in the same uniform with just a different logo.

It's a funny story how I ended up in Utah. One day I was at Mt Ruapehu and I overheard my Kiwi co-worker, Carmeny, talking about applying for a visa so she could go to the States and work at a ski resort. I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself upon my return, so I thought it couldn't hurt to apply and have a job lined up when I got back to the States. Within a week, I had two interviews and a job offer at Canyons. Only two months later, I now live with Carmeny, her boyfriend Boulton and Boulton's friend, Will, in a two bedroom apartment in Park City. Who would have ever thought I would end up here?! I certainly didn't! However, that is the beauty of not having a plan and just letting the wind take you to the next destination.

It was a bittersweet feeling leaving New Zealand. Aotearoa had become a home to me. I loved the people, my job and the beautiful countryside. It's hard to leave such a magical place, but all good things must come to an end. During my last three weeks in New Zealand, I travelled around the North and South Island. From Cape Reinga (the northwesternmost tip of the Aupouri Peninsula) to the Mildford Sound (in the South Island), I was able to see the most beautiful things imaginable, including penguins in their natural habitat! Some other highlights of the road trip included hiking the Franz Josef Glacier, tubing in the Waitomo underground caves, hiking to the top of various mountains to see the most spectacular views and stuffing my face with a Fergburger in Queenstown. It was a perfect way to end my time in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the sadness and anxiety kicked in the minute I landed in L.A. The vibe was disappointingly different. People were rude, everyone was in a hurry and the air even felt heavier. Perhaps that was just in my mind, but it definitely felt different.

I spent a week in the Pacific Northwest (Portland and Seattle.) It was great to catch up with old friends, try some new restaurants, drink lattes from my favorite spots; but it was a bizarre feeling to be a visitor in my former life. Coming back to the States has been a difficult transition. However, I can't beat myself up about it because in a short amount of time I've had to say goodbye to all of my NZ friends, do an International move, live out of a suitcase (or 3 in my case) for a month, drive cross country, move to a new city, move into an apartment with new roommates, start a new job and meet a completely new group of people! New is always exciting, but I often forget how stressful the transition period can be. But as Jackie Greer said, it's important not to focus on what you have lost but rather what has been added to your life.

Park City seems like a great place to call home for the time being. I have already met a ton of great people, scoped out my favorite new coffee shop (Atticus) and have done some riding on the slopes of Utah. The best part about being back in the states is that I get to fly home tomorrow and see my family! I can't wait to see MacKenna (my niece) and meet Mason (my nephew.) We are celebrating Christmas quite early this year, but being able to see them is the greatest gift I could ever wish for!

As a chapter of my life comes to an end in 2011, I am quite excited to see what's in store for 2012. As the new year approaches, I am just going to keep an open mind, continue to be flexible and welcome change and new experiences. John Lennon said it best, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Happy Holidays!

Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand

Sunday, June 19, 2011

There Must Be Something in the Water

Knowing others is intelligence.  
Knowing yourself is true wisdom.
- Lao Tse

Almost six months ago I was sitting at the Portland Airport with my dear friend Kate preparing to leave for New Zealand. We laughed, we cried, we drank and we said good-bye. As I said farewell to my amazing friends and a city I loved, I was torn whether or not I was making the right decision to quit my career and head to a country where I had limited contacts and resources. Alan Alda once said, "You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  What you'll discover will be wonderful.  What you'll discover is yourself." I finally understand what he is talking about.

My time in New Zealand has been filled with amazing adventures, beautiful scenery and colorful characters. The last six months has challenged me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. My personal relationships, financial stability and mental toughness have all been put to the test. I have had to learn to be flexible to the point I thought I was going to break. I have had to learn to take charge of my own destiny by finding jobs, a place to live and transportation. And I have also had to learn that the one voice I should listen to is my heart.

I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason. If you would have told me six months ago that I would be living in a town of 1,000 people, working at a ski resort while taking online courses for my Mind-Body Wellness Practitioner degree, balancing travel and a pretty active social life, I probably would laughed and thought it was impossible. I was hopeful that all of these would happen, but I was at a pretty low place and never imagined this could be my life.

Sometimes I feel like my life is a movie (with a badass soundtrack), because I didn't believe that after all that I have been through emotionally and physically that I could be so happy and truly feel at peace with my life. Perhaps wisdom, self-confidence and happiness comes with age…I don't know, but something has clicked with me the past few weeks and my perspective of life has changed forever. This new found peace happens to coincide with starting my online course and also developing some great friendships, but this new mindset is something that is here to stay.

I just completed my first contract at Mt. Ruapehu so I had a week of before the season starts. I took the opportunity to do a little bit of traveling. I went to Taupo for a few days with a friend and enjoyed some outdoor activities and lots of laughs and thoughtful conversation. I then headed to Wellington for the rest of the week with my new flatmate James. He competed in the 48 Hour Film Festival in Wellington and his film won Best Editing and 2nd Runner up in the Welly competition. We enjoyed a few days of cafe culture, lattes and crazy nights out. While in Wellington, I stayed in a hostel and met an amazing woman from Argentina. She was my travel buddy and we hiked to the top of Mt Victoria, explored Te Papa Museum, attended yoga and of course hit up the bar for cocktails (with cucumber!) My mini-holiday was just what the doctor ordered. I felt refreshed and ready to come back to Ohakune for an epic season on the mountain.

I think the best part about my new found happiness and confidence, is that I can already see it rubbing off on other people in my life. Perhaps making others happy and inspiring them is what fills up my soul. There must be something in the Ohakune water…whatever it is…I am going to drink it up! New Zealand has been a wonderful part of my journey. I hate to think that I already have to leave in five months, but it will just mean I am starting a new, exciting chapter of my life.

I want to thank you all for your friendship and support over my lifetime. My friends and family are truly the ones who have allowed me to get to this point in my life. I could never have done it alone!

I am going to leave you with a few thoughts from Eleanor Roosevelt.
"Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart. To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart, If someone betrays you once, it is his fault; if he betrays you twice, it is your fault. Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people. Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's the End of the World As We Know It

Life is not a journey to the grave
With the intention of
Arriving safely in an attractive
And well preserved body,
But rather to skid in sideways,
Chocolate in one hand,
Wine in the other,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and screaming
"WOO HOO what a ride!"

Last Monday at 10:04pm I was sitting on my bed and it began to shake. It felt as though someone was jumping on the bed and then my heater began to sway back and forth. My heart dropped and I was a little freaked out. The next day I checked and discovered that there had been a 3.3 magnitude earthquake in Ohakune with a depth of 20km. This is the third earthquake that I have experienced since I arrived in New Zealand, one in Christchurch three days before the big one hit in February and two since I have been in Ohakune. Out of curiosity, I did a little research and discovered that New Zealand has around 15,000 earthquakes each year but only 250 of them are strong enough to be felt by the average person.

In the same week that I felt an earthquake, the 89-year-old fundamentalist from Florida (who has a track record of inaccurate predictions) announced that a series of earthquakes originating in New Zealand would sweep the earth and it would be the end of the world as we know it. So like many of Kiwis, I picked up a bottle of wine and hit up two birthday parties on Saturday night. As we sat on the patio around a log fire, one of the party-goers checked his watch around 10:10pm and declared, "We're still here!" Everyone laughed off the absurd claim made by Mr. Camping and continued to sip their cocktails late into the night.

Like many others, I am quite happy that there was no validity to the Doomsday prediction. However after being in a country that is trying to rebuild after a devastating earthquake and feeling one myself earlier in the week, I can't help but think about the end. It is just a reminder that life is precious and we should not take anything for granted. "Doomsday" should remind us all that we need to live each day to the fullest and live without regret. It is also important to tell the special people in your life that you love them. So even though I am on the other side of the world from those I love and in the epicenter of the supposed destruction, I will just remind myself how lucky I am. I have amazing people in my life and I have had so many amazing life experiences.  

So if there was no tomorrow, I could truly say that I died a happy young woman and lived a blessed life. I definitely will be able to scream, "What a ride!"

Friday, May 6, 2011

Where Adventure Begins

Haere hoki ki o maunga…kia mau ai te rongo pai he mea paihere na te rangimarie.
Return to your sacred peaks…spread the good news and cement all deeds with peace.

Change is inevitable, and if I have learned anything during my time in New Zealand it is that change happens quickly and things seem to fall into place. A little over two weeks ago, I had to say a lot of goodbyes to many special people including my amazing friends at Seeka, my awesome roommates at the Mount and my dear friends Laura and Mike. I always hate saying goodbye, but goodbyes tend to mean I am moving on to a new exciting chapter in my life!

A few weeks ago I was offered a position at Mt Ruapehu (pronounced "roo-a-pe ("e" as in egg) -hoo) for the winter season. I packed up my life at the Mount and hopped on the Intercity bus for the four hour ride to Ohakune, the Carrot Capital of New Zealand. When I arrived in Ohakune, Donelle (Mt Ruapehu HR Assistant) and her boyfriend Denim (Ski Patrol) picked me up at the bus station and brought me to my new home. My flatmate is Wal Wood and he is a mechanic at Mt Ruapehu. He has worked at the resort for 10 seasons and typically gets new flatmates every season. Wal welcomed me to the new flat by offering me a beer the minute I walked in the door…classic! That evening we hit the town for drinks with his friends and then hit up a spa party (hot tub party) hosted at a local lodge by some of the Mt Ruapehu staff members. I met so many cool people my first weekend here, so I am quite excited to work with them all. Ohakune may be a small town, but I have heard it comes alive in the winter. And if my first evening here is any indication of the fun to come, then I think I am in for a great 2011 season on the mountain.

Speaking of the mountain, I think I will give you a little history lesson on my new "home." In September 1887 the sacred mountain peaks of Ruapehu (2797m), Ngauruhoe (2290m) and Tongariro (1968m) were gifted to the people of New Zealand by the Paramount Chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, Horonuku Te Heu Heu Tukino. The gift formed the nucleus of the Tongariro National Park (TNP), the first in New Zealand. TNP covers approximately 75,000 hectares and is home to some of the world's most violent volcanos, because of the line of weakness in the earth's crust that was formed when the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates collided. It sort of reminds me of home (Portland), because we too are part of the 'Pacific Ring of Fire.' This region plays a very important part in the Maori culture and is considered to be a very spiritual and magical place.

Mt Ruapehu is the highest point in the North Island and for you other LOTR geeks, is home of key scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Whakapapa Ski Area is located on the north side and are traditional lands of the Ngati Tuwharetoa people. I currently work as a Season Pass Customer Service Rep prior to the season at Whakapapa. I enjoy working in the pre-season because I am getting to meet the locals and getting to know the full-time staff. I am also learning a lot about the ski areas, which will be helpful once the season starts.

Turoa Ski Area is located on the southern slopes and are traditional lands of the Ngati Rangi and Ngati Uenuku people. Once the season starts in the end of June, I will be working part time in Customer Service and part-time in retail at Turoa. I love it, because I will get the opportunity to work with several departments and alternate my job responsibilities on a daily basis. I have also met some great people through work, including T-Ha who is my new dinner and exploring buddy!

The landscape is stunning and it is mind-blowing(no pun intended) that I work on a live volcano. On my first day, the mountain road was closed to the public because of bad weather conditions. However, we forged ahead and made it to the top of the mountain to our office. It was so windy, that we ended up losing power and had to run off of generators. It delayed my training, but as soon as we were back up and running the managers had us start talking orders and dealing with customers. We just jumped right in, but I think that is the best way to learn! During my second day of work, we had an induction with HR (Donelle.) A large portion of the training was about avalanche and volcano hazards and safety procedures. Both are serious concerns for working on the manual and my training manual even says, "Yes, you have been chosen and have accepted to work on what is considered an active volcano." I just finished my second week of work and I love it. Our projected opening day at Turoa is June 25 and with the way time is flying, that is going to be here before I know it.

I am most excited about boarding in the backcountry. Mt Ruapehu has more chair access to backcountry than any other resort in the world. Ski Patrol offers courses in backcountry safety, so I can't wait to sign up and hit up the backcountry. I have also been told that the peak is very walkable, so I look forward to strapping on my board and riding the top level terrain. I have always wanted to do this, but now it is at my finger tips (and FREE!)

So things are off to a good start…it should be a great season at Mt Ruapehu!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Save the Date

Life is not measured by the 
number of breaths we take,
but by the number of moments 
that take our breath away.

It is rare for me to get mail, so you can imagine my excitement when I came home from work this week and saw a letter on my bed. I quickly ripped open the envelope to find a "save the date" card for Courtney's wedding (my former boss and amazing friend.) Congrats Cor! I am so happy for you!

For some reason, that "save the date" stirred up some emotions in me and got the wheels turning in my head. It made me think about how our lives are a series of "dates" and important events that often follow a particular order. Babies are born, we celebrate their first birthday, we celebrate their first day of school, darn they grow up fast and now they are graduating from high school and marching to "Pomp and Circumstance", then they are off to college, how four years fly and they graduate from college and get their first job in the "real" world, they meet a nice boy or girl, get married, buy a house, have kids, then the cycle starts all over again and then we die. The Germans refer to it as "the system." My friend Stephanie from work, said that in Germany you have to be part of the system or you will be "lost" and won't get a good job or be successful. In Germany, they put kids on a track in school at a very early age. At age 10 (4th grade), they already decide what type of school the "kinder" will attend and thus determine what type of career they will have as adults. I thank my lucky stars that I was born in the U.S. because I wasn't the strongest student growing up. If I had been on a particular track, I may have never gone to college and had as many opportunities that I have. I am so glad that I was able to work hard and choose my own path.

Many of my friends are celebrating milestones and specials occasions in their lives. Weddings, homes, babies…all very exciting things. But every time I get the exciting news from someone, it makes me realize how different my life is and how I am not part of the system anymore. I was, I definitely was…graduated in the top of my high school class, went to college and graduated Summa Cum Laude, had impressive internships, had a great job and at one point was on the track to a marriage and house. But sometimes the system is broken and it doesn't feel right. Instead of being part of the system, I decided to follow my heart and leave the routine behind. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. And you know what? I am am completely okay with that! I recently decided that I am going to start taking online classes at the South West Institute of Healing Arts in Arizona. I found something that interests me at the school, so I am going to take classes simply because I want to. Just like how I am in Taupo right for an interview for the Mount Rupheau Ski Resort. I need a job, so I thought why not work at a ski resort , get a free season pass and have easy access to something I love to do. And I am happy to announce, that 10 minutes into the interview they offered me a job and I start next week. That means within the next few days I need to pack, find a new place to live and find a mode of transportation. Crazy stuff! So as you see, life isn't about being on a track anymore…it's about dabbling. Life is like a buffet, so why not try a little bit of everything?!

I am sure at some point in my life I may celebrate the "special dates" that Hallmark makes millions on. Maybe I will get married to my life partner in a beachside wedding, maybe I will pop out a couple little monkeys, perhaps I will get my lab and house (or loft) with hardwood floors and brick walls. I am excited about these moments, but I am doing my best to put them into perspective. By that I mean, I have heard so many people say that their wedding day was the happiest day of their lives. I get it, it's your day, you are marrying the one you love and all your loved ones are their to celebrate with you…of course that sounds amazing! As I look back on my life, I have so many days filled with happiness and they weren't necessarily days that I planned for my whole life. The day I climbed La Tour Eiffel with Mindy, the day I tackled Tammy while snowshoeing in Colorado, the day I went sledding with Shelley, MacKenna and my Mom in Wisconsin, the day my Portland family rented a cabin and made our own Christmas stockings, the day Team Bridget/Amy took on Team Marty/Mac in an interpretative dance competition, the random day Marty and I got in the car and drove around the state of Washington for 18 hours just to see the sites, the day my NZ family went hiking and climbed through a mudslide and waded through a river….those were all just random days in my life, but those are my "save the dates." 

So save the date, mark it on the calendar, cherish the big moments, but never forget to enjoy the small ones too. Those random days that are filled with laughter, tears and smiles are the ones you will remember and cherish when all is said and done.

Mount Ruapehu

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Amazing Faces of Oakside

Travel not only stirs the blood...It also gives strength to the spirit.
~Florence Prag Kahn

My hands and arms are covered in bruises and cuts. My back hurts and my legs are tired. 11-hour shifts, six days a week and all for a measly $13.00 NZ dollars an hour. I never in a million years thought that I would be in New Zealand packing fruit, but I wouldn't have it any other way. There is nothing glamorous about being a kiwifruit packer and some days are unbearable. However, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything for one simple reason...the people. In my short time at Oakside, I have met some amazing people from all over the world. I am learning about different cultures and I am learning to speak a few different languages in exchange for helping my new friends with their English. Rather than me telling you about each of them, I thought I would let them tell you in their own words.

Hola! Mi nombre es Carmen Maria Alvarez Rodriguez y soy de Meico, naci en el D.F., pero vivo en Torreon que es en el norte. Me encanta viajar, conocer nuevas culturas y gentre y algun dia me encantaria escribir un libro.
(Hi! My name is Carmen Maria Alvarez Rodriguez and I am from Mexico. I was born in D.F., but I live in Torreon, which is in the north. I love traveling, meeting new cultures and people and one day I would love to write a book.)

Hallo, Hoe gain ditto. My naam is Kate Grant. Ek is van Suid Afrika AF. Ek is die enigeste kind en my family en ditto is nie so lekko nie. My verjaarsdag is ap die 25 April zdi en sisal 27 ewes. Ek hoop my Afrikaans is reg. Want ek ka nie dak nie en my had is see anti ek het kiwis gepok.
(Hello, how are you? My name is Kate Grant. I am from South Africa. I am the only child in my family and it is not so nice. My birthday is the 25th of April and I will be 27. I hope my Afrikaans is good enough because I can't think or write properly because I have been packing kiwifruit.)

Hallo, alles goed? Mijn naam is Martijn Robert en ik hom muit Nederland. Reizen voor mij is een instelling.
(Hi, how are you? My name is Martijn Robert and I'm from Holland. Traveling to me is an attitude. Peace!!)

Hola, mi nombre es Geri! Soy de Argentina, Cordoba! Tenes que visitar Cordoba! Estas invitada! Ya tenes casa en donde Quedarte! Es un gusto haberte conocido Amy! Tenemos que organizer una comdia todo juntos así nos conocemos mas. Fuera del ámbito de los kiwis!! Espero poder viajar y conocer mucho mas de NZ! Y quien sabe, capas que podemoa hacerco juntas! Un beso!
(Hello, my name is Geri! I'm from Argentina, Cordoba! You should visit Cordoba! You are invited! You have a house you where you can stay! It is a pleasure to have met you Amy! We must organize a dinner all together so we can get to know each other outside of the kiwi ambiance! I hope to travel and know more about NZ! And who knows, maybe we can do it together! Kisses!)

Hallo Amy, Mein Name ist Stephanie Galtz und ich komme aus einer kleinen Stadt im nördlichen Duestchland au der Ostsee. Wir Kennen Uhus vou der Arbeit bei Oakside. Wenn du dieses Buch nocheinmal liest kannst du dich bestimmt an das Mädchen erinnern, die mit ihrem Freund im Van geschlafen hat. Ich wuensche dir noch eine wunderschöne Zeit in Neuseeland! Liebe Gruesse, Stephanie
(Hello, my name is Stephanie Glatz and I living in a little town North of Germany on the East coast. We know each other from the work at Oakside and we are packing neighbors. When you read this again you will remember me as the little girl with her friend and slept in a van. I wish you a beautiful time in New Zealand! Nice regards, Stephanie.)

My co-workers are all amazing people. I find spending the long days at the packhouse with them is very inspirational. Being in this type of environment makes me want to spend the rest of my life traveling. We live in a very big world and there is so much to see. Caskie Stinnett once said, "I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine." I couldn't agree more! Although there is a little more routine in my life right now because I punch a clock, things are ever-changing. With each new experience, each new situation and every new person I meet...I grow as a person.

Carmen also shared her favorite quote with me and I think it is very fitting (especially since we are in Middle Earth.)  "Not all those who wander are lost." J.R.R Tolkien.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Kiwi Experience

She works hard for the money
So hard for it honey
She work hard for the money
So you better treat her right.
~Donna Summer

Many people come to New Zealand and take part in the legendary "Kiwi Experience." It is a hop-on, hop-off bus adventure filled with twenty-something backpackers who are looking to travel and party. If I were about 10 years younger and had a little bit more money, I would probably be interested in joining them. However, I am seeing a whole different side of New Zealand and getting the REAL kiwi experience. I made the decision to come to New Zealand on a whim, so I didn't plan and save money like most people do. I knew I had to have a balance between work and play during my trip. Over the last three months I have been doing a lot of playing, so now it is time to work!

Richard (my new roommate) helped me get a job in the kiwifruit industry. I work for a company called Seeka, which is New Zealand's largest kiwifruit grower. They also operate more than 20% of the industry's total packing and coolstorage capacity. I work at the Seeka Oakside Packhouse. On my first day we were told that our packhouse would pack 4 billion boxes of fruit this season, which equates to 4,000 boxes a minute. We have 600 employees and three production lines that work around the clock. I work on Line #1 and my shift is from 8:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m., Sunday through Friday. The packhouse operates 24 hours a day, so there is also a night shift that works from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. The picking & packing season will run from March to June.

Kiwifuit owe their name to a bird, native of New Zealand, named "kiwi." Although most parts of the world refer to the fruit simply as kiwi, you will be quickly corrected in New Zealand if you don't say kiwifruit. Kiwifruit plants need at least 240 frost-free days to grow. The best place for the vines to grow is in a moderately sunny place, where they can grow across a trellising system. My roommates Richard, Marcus and Jessica all work for a local grower and are in charge of picking the fruit during harvest season. Marcus describes his job in the following way, "Pick kiwis as fast as you can and be a slave." Classic! Each picker carries a bag on their chest and picks the kiwifruit from the vines above their heads. According to Marcus, they aren't referred to by their names but rather than the number on their bag. Work has been delayed this year because of the rain and also because a disease called PSA which has infected the vines. Sadly this disease (caused by pollen that they believe traveled here from Italy), may have a drastic effect on the vines and threaten the future of the fruit industry in New Zealand. If they can't control the disease and contamination, there is fear that within three years the entire kiwifruit industry in New Zealand could disappear. 

Once the fruit has been picked, they load it into giant bins and ship it to packhouses in the area. At Oakside, there are three "lines", which each have 60 plus employees working at any given time. There are several positions - quality control, sorters, box makers, packers, stackers and fork-lift drivers. After it has been loaded into the machine, they sort the fruit and then it makes its way down the conveyer belt. The machine sorts it by weight and then it is distributed to each packer based on the size. We have various box sizes, for the gold and green kiwifruit. In under 30 seconds I load 33 or so kiwifruit into a tray/box and then cover it with plastic and then close the box. If I take longer than 30 seconds, then I am screwed. It is imperative that you keep up a solid pace or the kiwifruit will begin to pile up, fall on the floor and then it becomes damaged product. 

This may be the most physically demanding job I have ever had. My back hurts and my hands are full of cuts. However as I stand there for 11 hours a day, I use this time to dream about my future. I brainstorm money-making ideas, dream about travels and think about friends and family. I also have met some amazing people at the packhouse - the type of people who will be lifetime friends. Most of the employees at the packhouse are from Malaysia, Taiwan and India. And then there is the rest of us…our little lunch crew looks like the United Nations. My new friends are Carmen (Mexico), Martijn (Holland), Kimberly (Japanese Kiwi born in America) and Kate (South America). There are a few others from Argentina, France, and Chile. I haven't confirmed it yet, but I believe I am the only American working in the packhouse. Richard, who is a supervisor at the Orchard, also said that in all the years he has been doing this he has never had an American work for him. I am not quite sure what that means. Do Americans not travel to New Zealand? If they travel here, do they choose not to work? And if they work, do they choose to get a more glamourous job? Well whatever the reason, I am slowly changing their minds that not all Americans are bad people. 

Although I am not a fan of the work and the long hours, I am grateful to have a job. I am also grateful for the people I have met through the job. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would make it through the day. I will pack fruit until my next work opportunity comes along. Until then, I will continue to work hard for the money.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Distance I Saw Light

I could not see for the fog in my eyes
And I could not feel for the fear in my life
From across the great divide
In the distance I saw light
The Maker - Dave Matthews Band

I came to New Zealand in search of something. Perhaps clarity, inspiration, peace, adventure or maybe even direction. I am in the most beautiful place in the world and I'm having an amazing time, but over the last two months l've been just as confused as when I left Portland. I had this idea that I would come to New Zealand and all the answers would instantly become clear. But a few weeks ago someone said to me, "Sometimes you have to become more confused to get to a place of clarity." At the time I thought she was crazy, but over the last few days her statement has began to make sense to me.

This morning I went to the beach for my morning run and meditation session on the hillside of Mount Maunganui. As I sat there and listened to the sounds of the ocean and watched the waves crash against the rocks I began to cry because I felt a rush of pure and utter happiness. I have been so worried about having a plan or understanding why things happen, but recently the light bulb went off and I realized that there is no reason to stress or worry about it because there is a plan for me beyond my control. Small decisions I make, actions of others in my life or unexpected circumstances completely determine my future. Let me try to explain…

My entire life I have dreamt about living on an island and by the beach. Growing up in a landlocked state this seemed next to impossible. I don't know why, but deep down I have always longed for this…and here I am, in my 30's, living out a lifelong dream. I started thinking about my entire life and how smalls decisions and actions have lead me to where I am today. Since I was a little girl, I also dreamt about working at Walt Disney World (WDW). Walt Disney was one of my heros growing up because I found his rags to riches story fascinating. I also admired his vision and ability to turn his imagination into a reality. After I graduated from college, I decided I would take the leap and move to Florida to work at WDW. I packed up the car and drove across the country with my mom for one of the best adventures of my life. I lived in Florida for a year and worked as the International Marketing Coordinator at WDW.

After my internship ended, I was drawn back to the Midwest because that was where my family and my boyfriend (of six years) were. I moved home and within three days my boyfriend broke up…but as they say, as one door closes another opens. In that same week, I got offered the Marketing Coordinator job at the Target Center Arena in Minneapolis. Since I saw my first concert at the TC many years before, I had dreamt of working there and in the entertainment business. After I started my boss told me that they hired me because of my experience at WDW. My first concert at the venue was Dave Matthews Band and I remember standing next to the stage with the photographers amazed that I was there...I had landed my dream job at Target Center.

All good things must come to an end…eventually my position was eliminated and I had to find another job. But I will always cherish my memories and the friends that I made at Target Center. I was offered a job in Memphis, but I decided to stay and work at KARE 11 in Minneapolis. I wasn't sold on Memphis and I was also going to be in three weddings that summer (one being Amy's wedding, a roommate from Flordia.) Working at the station was a great experience, but there was always a part of me that missed the music business and yearned for more adventure and travel.

One night I was in SCF (my hometown) out with my friends and I ran into Mike, a family friend of my ex. This is one of those conversations in my life that I will never forget! Mike told me how he had moved to Portland, Oregon. As he described the city and his life, I instantly fell in love of the idea of moving West and being a free-spirit like Mike. However how could I, Amy Carrier, quit my job and move West…impossible?! Well, things have a way of working themselves out…whether I knew it or not, my heart held on to the idea of Portland. I went on vacation with my family to the West Coast in the summer of 2007 and I visited Portland for the first time. After the trip, my mom asked me out of all of the cities that we visited which city would I choose to live in…I said I loved Seattle and San Fran, but Portland seemed like a good fit for me.

Crazy circumstances unfolded and within one month from the trip, I landed the Marketing Manager position at the Rose Quarter and had moved to Oregon. As chance had it, Stevie D a former co-worker from Target Center happen to be in Portland working on the Aerosmith tour. My first weekend in town I met him out at the Good Foot for a drink and while I was at the bar I ran into Mike (the guy who originally put the Portland idea in my head.) How crazy, right?!?

My life continues to get crazy, about a year later one of my best friends Marty (who I met in Minneapolis and through connections at Target Center) decided to move to Portland and we became roommates. The next few years in Portland were amazing…filled with good friends, love, adventure, good food, amazing lattes and much, much more! As chance would have it, two of those friends I met in Portland happened to be Mike and Laura. I was so sad (and envious) when they told me that they were moving to New Zealand last year.

Less than a year later, circumstances in my life led me to the decision to take the leap and follow my dream of living abroad. So I turned in my notice at the arena, packed up my apartment and moved to New Zealand with Mike and Laura. So fast forward to last week, I was sitting in a cafe with my new roommate, Richard, drinking a latte and I picked up an entrainment magazine. I flipped to the back cover and saw an ad for Stone Temple Pilots in Auckland. Seeing that ad made me feel nostalgic and miss the life I once had. Later that night I went home and surfed Facebook (just like anyone does when they are missing home) and I noticed that my friend Stevie D was in Sydney (where I had been one week earlier.) So I shot him a message and asked who he was on tour with and if he would be stopping in New Zealand. Turns out, he is the tour manager for STP and was going to be in NZ that weekend. It is funny how things work out, because less than a week later I was up in Auckland rockin' to STP and then enjoying cocktails with the crew, band and my new roommate in the hotel bar after the show.

Coming off a great weekend we headed back to the Mount and I have enjoyed three amazing days at the beach with my new German (which ironically is the language I took in high school and college) roommates. Marcus taught me how to surf and we have also enjoyed beach volleyball pick-up games with Germans, Argentinians and a guy from France. I never thought this would be my life…ever! I got the call yesterday that I would begin fruit packing on Friday, so I am headed to Hamilton to move my mattress and pick up the rest of my stuff from the Knapps. On the way to Hamilton, I stopped by Hobbiton and chatted with the woman about the filming of the movie. She gave me the name of the production company, so I am going to make a few calls and see if there is any chance to get a job. If I have learned anything, everything happens for a reason and no dream is too big.

I tend to ramble and sometimes divulge too much personal information. However my point of sharing all of this with you, is so you will understand me when I say…that even though I don't have a plan, I see the light. I am starting to give up the unnecessary worry and stress that I have carried around for so long. I am going to stop worrying about the details and how to get to the end goal, because living in the moment, enjoying each day and doing what I love is the goal. This approach to life is what will give me balance, peace and happiness.

You may all think I am crazy and in all honesty, I don't really care if you do. I think I have found the secret to life…don't just live it, truly LIVE IT! When others doubt you or think your dreams are out of reach, don't listen. Keep them close to your heart and be confident in yourself. Look at every situation as an opportunity and appreciate every person you meet…you never know how they will impact your life. Not everyone has to go to the Southern Hemisphere to have an epiphany, but that is part of my journey and is the path for me to see the light.

The view I had this morning from the Mount.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

To Everything There Is A Season

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late
~The Byrds

The leaves are starting to change color, the hot summer days have now "chilled" to an average of 20 degrees Celsius and rain showers are becoming more of a regular occurrence. As we say goodbye to summer in New Zealand, it is time to welcome many new changes in my life. On Thursday, I packed my bags and moved to Mount Maunganui. I said goodbye to my roommates, Mike and Laura, who have become my second family. I also said farewell to the apartment on Lorne Street which has been my home-base since I arrived in New Zealand in January. Even though I have been sick, my last week is Hamilton was filled with lovely girl's days, crazy nights out downtown and lots of great walks around the lake. When I moved to New Zealand and would tell people that I was moving to Hamilton, the #1 response was, "Why Hamilton?" It gets a bad rap (and according to my new roommate it's the chlamydia capital of the world), but it is actually a quaint little city. It's filled with so many great little cafes, hidden nature walks within the city limits and is home of the most beautiful public gardens I have ever seen. It was bittersweet to leave, but it is time to pack my bags, head where the work is and start a new chapter of my Kiwi adventure.

Laura, Lindsay and I packed up the car and road-tripped to the Mount. It was a beautiful day, so we went straight to the beach. When we arrived, we saw a crowd of people so we headed over to take a closer look. The Travel Channel was filming a show about New Zealand and they had built a beautiful Maori sand sculpture and were performing a haka, which is a traditional Maori dance. We jumped in as extras and played the role of "excited crowd members"…I even gave my character a Southern accent for a little extra flare. After the filming, we hiked to the top of the Mount and took in the amazing views of the beach and city. To reward ourselves for the hard work, we hit up the gelato stand and then walked around the CBD and did some shopping. It was a lovely day with the ladies and a special visitor all the way from Wisconsin, Flat Stanley. My cousin Tanner, who is in second grade in St. Croix Falls, sent me his Flat Stanley. We toted "Stan" around with us everywhere and we were pretty excited when he ended up on camera for the Travel Channel.

Within the next week or so, I will start packing kiwi fruit at Seeka Oakside. Typically the season starts in mid-March, but due to a disease that is killing the vines the fruit is not maturing at the normal rate. Thousands of people come from all over the world and work for 3-6 months during kiwi fruit season. For most of them, they can make more money in those months than they can in an entire year in their own country. Since the work is in Te Puke, I have moved in with my friend Richard who also works for Seeka. There is also a cute German couple, Marcus and Jessica, living with us. The two are working for Seeka, but are actually picking fruit.  We enjoyed our first night in the house and all sat around the dinner table and discussed differences in American, Kiwi and German culture. We also swapped NZ travel stories. Marcus, Jessica and their friend were snorkeling and their van (they were living out of) was recently broken into and they lost everything. Their clothes, packs, computers, ipods and all of their money were all stolen. They had to borrow $200 from a local cafe in order to buy Petrol and drive down to Richard's house. They are currently filling out forms for the insurance company and applying for new visas. Makes me realize how smooth my travels have been!

It is quite funny living in a house full of accents. I can't understand half of what my roommates say, but perhaps this will be a good way for me to brush up on my German. I think having international roommates will challenge me and broaden my horizons. On a sad note, my friend Lindsay had a family emergency and is cutting her trip short. Lindsay has been an amazing travel buddy and roommate. We have traveled all around New Zealand and Australia together and I will cherish my times with her. I am sad to see her leave early & not have her there to work in the packhouse with me, but I am so glad that I had the chance to become such good friends with her. Best of luck in your travels Miss Lucia Sue!

The only constant in life is change, so I must be flexible and open to what life brings me. As the Byrds said, "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose."

The Mount

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Like A Rolling Stone

How does it feel
To be Without a home
Like a complete unknown
like a rolling stone?
~Bob Dylan

I can relate to Bob Dylan's lyrics because in the last month I have been living out of a backpack and have spent approximately 20 nights in either a hostel, hotel or bach. We have been traveling quite a bit over the last month both in New Zealand and Australia. In the beginning of March, Laura's friends Heidi and Aaron came to visit so we booked a bach in Whangamata in the Coromandel. Because we had company in town, Lindsay and I had to rent a car for the weekend. Our little economy rental car didn't have AC or a radio. However that didn't stop us from having a great roadtrip. We rolled down the windows and used my ipod speakers to rock to everything from Bon Jovi to Otis Redding. The trip to Whangamata took a little longer than expected because we kept stopping at all the tourist attractions, including the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa. When we arrived at the beach, Lindsay and I went straight to the beach. I just took in the sites, while she combed the beach for treasures.

The next day we headed to Cathedral Cove (Te Whanganui-A-Hei), the marine reserve which is located on the Coromandel peninsula. It is named after the cave located there linking Mare's Leg Cove to Cathedral Cove. When we arrived at the cove there was a giant fence and danger sign warning hikers to not enter because there had been a landslide. Like typical Crazanks (Crazy Yanks), we hopped over the fence and headed to the cove. We hiked 45 minutes to the cove and had to crawl over several piles left by the slide. When we got to Cathedral Cove we had to shimmy ourselves down a slope where the slide had taken out the staircase. It was a tad chilly, so we just relaxed and enjoyed a nice little picnic at the beach. When we got home, a few of us decided to go for a nice run along the beach…it was amazing! Later that night we went back to the bach and enjoyed a nice kiwi dinner, which consisted of lamb & rosemary sausage, salad and red wine. On Sunday, we went for another run and then headed to downtown to treat ourselves to a latte and some lovely conversation. Later that day we headed to Whitianga for a day at the thermal pools called The Lost Springs. I felt like we were at a tropical resort because of the foliage, native birds and waterfalls. After the pools, Lindsay and I parted ways with the group and headed to the Mount to crash at Richard's. We got a call earlier in the week from Seeka saying that we both got jobs packing kiwi fruit, so we needed to head to the packhorse to fill out our tax forms. We also drove around and scoped out the hostel that we will be staying at while we pack fruit. We will truly be living the life of a migrant worker!

Lindsay and I went basically straight from our Coromandel trip to Australia. We hopped on the Naked Bus to Auckland and flew New Zealand Air to Sydney. We arrived in Sydney on Tuesday night, just in time to check into the hostel, grab a nice Mexican dinner and take in the amazing Sydney skyline at night. We walked down to the nearest harbor and each enjoyed some American candy. We called it an early night and headed back to the hostel for a "good night sleep" (which is never possible in a hostel. We decided to stay at the Original Backpackers Hostel in Potts Point near Kings Cross. It was a cute little neighborhood. The streets were lined with trees, hostels, quaint cafes and quite a few dodgy strip clubs.

On our first morning in Sydney we spotted the Coco Cafe on Victoria Street and headed there for brekky (breakfast) and a latte. I enjoyed the most amazing fresh tomato, avocado, olive oil open-faced sammy on artisan bread. While we sipped our lattes (local roast Campos), we discussed the GFC with Grant, the cafe owner and then exchanged travel stories with a lovely, young couple from Ireland. They told us about their recent travels to Thailand…and it made me want to go even more! (So if anyone wants to come visit & go to Thailand with me, I am looking for a travel buddy.) After brekky, we headed to the train station and made our way to Bondi Beach, which is located about 7 km from the Sydney CBD. While looking at a map at the bus station, a man stopped us and asked if we wanted help. The minute he heard our accent he instantly started to rave about Napa Valley wine and how much he loved wine country. It was rather cute (but he's right, Napa is amazing.) When we finally arrived at the beach, I was in awe. The beach was amazing! The sand was like nothing I have ever seen before and the water was filled with surfers. While we chilled on the beach, we met a nice girl from Chicago who was living in Sydney for about six months. She told us her story and also gave us a list of places to visit. That night we headed out on the town and went to a bar called O'Mallys. We sat next to a Southern Irish man and a guy from Scotland. I swore the Irish guy wasn't speaking English because his accent was thick and I believe he was extremely intoxicated. The sun had wiped us out, so we called it an early night and went back to the hostel. Our German roommates, were fast asleep so we had to creep around in the dark in order to get ready for bed. (Traveler's note: always bring your head lamp!)

The next morning we went back to the cafe and enjoyed a latte to go as we made our way downtown. We took the path along the harbor and that cuts through the Botanical Garden. There are amazing views of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House from the garden. We made our way to the Opera House and for kicks decided to see if there were any tickets available for that evening. Belle & Sebastian and Carmen were sold out, but they had a special going…a tour of the SOH and a ticket to the opera, The Barber of Seville for $85. Tickets for that show were usually $280, so it was quite the deal…and come on, you can't go all the way to Sydney, Australia and not see a performance at the Sydney Opera House. The tour was worth every penny. It is a phenomenal building and it was so interesting to learn the struggles they went through for it to become the icon it is today.

Later than night we took the train back downtown and I saw my first opera. I remember sitting there thinking, "Wow, I am in Australia while my sister is at home giving birth. It is amazing how different our lives are right now." At about 2:30 a.m. (which is exactly when Shelley was scheduled for the c-section) I was awaken by rowdy people in the hostel and I couldn't fall back to sleep because I just had this weird feeling. I kept thinking about Baby Mason and had this feeling that something wasn't quite right. At first light, I got up and ran to the communal area to use the computer. I had 3 emails from my mom - the first telling me that they were headed to the hospital, the second telling me that Mason Phillip Guptil had arrived and then a third email that said that they were taking him to the NICU in the cities because he was turning blue and his oxygen levels were low. I instantly broke into tears and I didn't care what all the other travelers thought of me. At that movement I wanted nothing more than to be back in Minnesota with my family. I was literally on the other side of the world and there was nothing I could do. I was able to gchat with my Mom and get an update, but they didn't have any answers. I didn't want to ruin Lindsay's vacation, so we decided to walk downtown and go to the Sydney Wildlife World. On our way we stopped at a little cafe to get our morning latte. After I ordered my latte, I made my way to the bathroom and saw a quote on the wall that changed my frown upside down. It said, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." In that moment, I knew I had to stay the course and not fly home. I came here to find something for myself and I need to stay true to that and do my best to be a support for my family from afar.

So after my latte and revelation, we stopped at a shop and got a free boomerang throwing lesson. We eventually made it to Wildlife World and saw kangaroos, koala bears and a giant crocodile. For our last night in Sydney, we went to the Rocks, which is the hotspot in Sydney. It is located right under the Harbour Bridge and is lined with so many cute bars and restaurants. Lindsay and I made our way to a couple different spots and did our version of a progressive dinner. Our time in Sydney was amazing! It is one of my most favorite cities in the entire world and I definitely want to go back there again.

So there it is…I will continue to be a rolling stone…without a home and into the unknown.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hope You Had the Time of Your Life

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time
 "Good Riddance" by  Green Day

In the middle of February, Laura, Mike, Lindsay and I packed our bags and embarked on a roadtrip through the South Island. The trip was amazing, but it was definitely a test for all of us. Over 3,000 windy kilometers, a 3.8 tremor, a fatal earthquake in Christchurch, and a broken & abandoned car, but we can count our blessings and be thankful that we can look back and cherish the memories from the trip.

On February 17, Arran gave us a ride from Hamilton to Auckland so we could catch a flight to Christchurch. Domestic flights in New Zealand are like nothing I have ever experienced. No one checked my ID or luggage and the security was minimal. We arrived to a chilly Christchurch a few hours later and Phillipa, a traveler that Laura's parents met, picked us up from the airport and took us back to her house. We enjoyed a nice evening getting to know Phillipa and Aaron (her husband), drinking Speights and planning our route and sightseeing destinations on the map.

The next morning I was awoken by a giant boom and a shaking room. I laid there for a seconds and tried to wrap my head around what had just happened, so when I emerged from the bedroom Phillipa told me that it was a 3.8 tremor. She told us about the September 4th earthquake and said that people had sort of become numb to the tremors…but who knew that only a few days later the city and people of Christchurch would devastated by another fatal earthquake. On Friday, we hopped in Berlina (Phillipa's parents Holden) and headed West to Queenstown. The New Zealand countryside is like no other because the terrain changes every few hundred kilometers. On the way to Queenstown we stopped at Lake Tekapo, which is an intense turquoise color caused by the 'rock flour' from the glacier's headwaters. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Cook from the Church of the Good Shepherd view point but unfortunately it was a bit cloudy the day we were there. We also made a stop at Lake Pukaki and saw someone getting married on the cliff…so amazing! As we approached Queenstown, the Gibbston Vallery Winery caught our eye. We detoured to the winery and enjoyed a tasting and a platter from the Cheesery. A short time later, we arrived in Queenstown and checked into our hostel. We stayed a Nomads and it was crazier than I could have ever imagined. The Kiwi Experience bus was there, so the hostel was booked with 20-somethings looking to get crazy. Lindsay and I shared a dorm with 10 other people, none of which we ever met because no one was ever in the room. While at the hostel we did meet a nice girl from Canada, who had been traveling around New Zealand for 3 months and had already blown $15,000. She decided to stay in Queenstown and had just landed a job at AJ Hackett (which is the company that invented bungy jumping in NZ). She currently was working in our hostel for 2 hours a day in exchange for free accommodation. We went out that night for drinks at a few local waterholes, but called it an early night because we had decided to go white water rafting the next day and save our energy for my birthday celebration.

On my birthday, the ladies got up and ran the lake in Queenstwon, got lattes at Halo and hit up a local farmer's market for cupcakes and empanadas. Later in the day we loaded on the bus and headed to the Shotover River, which is a grade 3-5 and the most popular white water rafting destination in New Zealand. We had to take the winding road up into Skippers Canyon and it may have been the scariest ride of my life, because the van and trailer were basically on the edge of a cliff and at times the tires would hang over the edge…so scary! On the bus, we met Troy and Yun from Colorado, Josh from Canada, and river guide, Nolan from Memphis. We all became fast friends, so the Colorado crew joined us in our boat for the day with rafting guide, Clarke. Clarke was originally from the UK and taught many interested facts…for example, Fornication Under the Concent of the King, where "OK" comes from and the origin of the two finger gesture the French/UK use to express their feelings for each other. Rafting was a great way to spend my birthday! Later that night our new friends met us out for drinks at a bar called Red Rocks. My 31st birthday was definitely a memorable one (or at least what I can remember after the shots.)

Sometimes a memorable night turns into a slow moving day. I ended up taking a 2-hour nap by the lake in Queenstown, while Mike and Laura hiked and Lindsay explored the town. After a few hours of recovery, we hopped in the car and headed to the Milford Sound, which is the Fiordland region. The drive into the sound was beautiful because there are giant rock cliffs with so many waterfalls you can't even count them. We also drove through the Homer Tunnel, which runs 1270 m and remains unlined granite.  When we arrived we checked into the Milford Sound Lodge and I called it an early night. Ironically, two French girls in our room had also been on our rafting trip with us and out that night at Red Rock. That is the thing about traveling around New Zealand, it is not that strange if you see familiar faces and run into the same people. In some ways, that is a nice feeling.

After a much needed night of sleep, I woke up that morning and realized I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Although it was pouring down rain, the Milford Sound was absolutely stunning. We headed down to the boat launch and ran the loop in order to see the waterfall. When traveling in New Zealand you have to do sightseeing rain or shine. We had hoped to do a good hike in the Milford Sound, but we decided to hit the road and head up the West Coast. We took Cardrona Valley Road to Wanaka. We scored an amazing little hotel in Wanaka (minus that fact we had to share twin beds). We got in a good workout, spent a few hours in the hot pools and then headed to town for our first real
meal in days. We found the most amazing Mexican restaurant called Amigos. That is one thing you take for granted in the states…Mexican food and affordable limes!

The next morning we headed downtown Wanaka to Dough Bins for some morning pies and then made our way up the coast to Franz Josef. When we arrived at the the Rainforest Lodge and checked in they told us that they had just felt an earthquake. However, it wasn't until we walked into the TV room and saw that news reports that we realized how bad the quake actually was. We instantly tried to contact our new friends in Christchurch and then the flood of messages from people the states started to hit my Facebook and email. Because we were in the car, we actually didn't feel the earthquake. My thoughts go out to those in Christchurch who have suffered from such a terrible thing and to those who have lost loved ones.

Once we settled into our bunk, Mike and I headed up to the Franz Josef Glacier. It was the most amazing site and if I had more time I would have loved to do the day tour that hikes up on the glacier. Later that night we went to dinner downtown, played some card games and then hiked into the forest to see the glow worms. Because of the circumstances in Christchurch, our plans drastically changed over the next few days. Instead of heading back to Christchurch like we are planned to get our camper van, we decided to drive the car up to Nelson and drop if off with Phillipa's parents. On our way to Nelson, we stopped in Punakaiki to see the pancake rocks and blow holes. The rest of the drive was quite beautiful (but still windy). We were low on gas, so when we drove into the town of Wakefield we spotted a gas station. However, when we pulled in we noticed it was closed (sans eftpos payment) and then our car died. We all had a bit of a freak out moment, because here we were stranded in a small town where everything was closed with someone else's broken-down car. We felt horrible, but we called Phillipa in Christchurch and luckily she has a friend who's parents lived there. Without a second thought, they jumped in their car and came to our rescue. They had to jump the car and then follow us to the next station where we could get gas in order to jump the car again. We then set off on our way with the confidence that we could make it all the way to Nelson. However, we pulled into a town called Hope and when we came to the roundabout that was under construction we had to stop and the car died. So we all jumped out in the middle of the road and pushed the car off to the side. Eventually, we pushed it to a parking lot and Rosie and Tom came to our rescue once again and dropped us off at a motel.

Once again, we had to change our plans. We no longer had a mode of transportation so we had to figure out which busses to take over the next few days. The morning after our breakdown, we took a coach bus and headed up to the Abel Tasman National Park. It was the most beautiful day of hiking and laying on the beach at Coquille Bay. It was exactly what we needed after the few rainy days and the mishaps with vehicle. But still, we were so lucky and should count our blessing for not being in Christchurch. We stayed two nights in Richmond and then headed to Nelson to catch the bus to Picton. The ride on the coach was quite entertaining b/c it was filled with middle schoolers were were heading home from college for the weekend. We drove through wine country, but were bummed that we didn't get to stop by for a wine tasting tour day. However, we had previously booked our ferry and bus ride home so we were on a tight schedule. We arrived in Picton in the late afternoon and checked into our hostel for the night. Picton was just one of those spontaneous nights where random things happened and it ended up being a ton of fun. We went to this odd local bar, then to the bottle shop and then to the local dairy for some chips. We sat outside under the stars and chatted with the man who ran the hostel. We retired to the room for some late night laughs, until I got a call from home and caught up with a loved one that I hadn't talked to in awhile.

Our alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and we had to walk to the ferry. Lindsay and I slept for most of the three hour ride, but Mike told us it was amazing and there were 15ft waves hitting the boat. We arrived in Wellington around 9:30 a.m. and then hit the town for exploring. We went to the Saturday market (like Portland), got a vanilla latte (like Portland) and then went to the museum (Te Papa) and ironically learned about earthquakes and the colossal squid exhibit. Later that night we met Angela out for dinner and drinks. We had such a blast dancing in the crazy town of Wellington.

The next night we had to get up early and walk to the bus station, in order to take the Naked Bus back to Hamilton. The bus ride was about 10 hours long and drove us through most of the North Island. It is crazy to think that in a week and a half we were able to see a large portion of both the North and South Islands.

The trip definitely had its up and downs, but I wouldn't change a thing. It was an amazing experience, with great friends. Although we all broke on the bank during the trip, it was worth every penny! I feel so lucky to be able to have life experiences like this and to be able to see the world. 

My thoughts and well wishes to those in Christchurch.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rise Up This Mornin' Smiled With the Risin' Sun

Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right. 
Singin': Don't worry about a thing, 
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right
~Bob Marley

Summer in New Zealand is so amazing! Sunshine, beaches, festivals, smiley-happy people on holiday, heaps of things to do and great music. Nothing says summer like reggae music and since I have arrived I can’t seem to escape Bob Marley…so this entry will tend to have a lot of Marley references because he has influenced my life this week. (Which is ironic since it was his birthday last Sunday.)

On Tuesday, Team Kigel got together for the weekly Eastside 5k Run. (Kigel is the unofficial name of our group of friends. A Kigel is what you get when you cross a Kiwi bird and an American eagle.) I was pretty happy with my time, but nothing beats getting a free Tui beer when you are done running. It’s fun because I have met a nice group of people in Hamilton and our circle continues to grow.

Later in the week, Lindsay and I went to Mount Maunganui to complete our paperwork for fruit packing at Seeka. We are contemplating working in the fruit industry for a couple weeks to make some extra cash in order to fund our adventures. It will be crazy long hours, but it’s money! We stayed at Richard’s (a friend of Maura) house at the Mount. He and his roommate, Ramon, took us to the beach for dinner during sunset. We enjoyed a kiwi-favorite, Fish (tarakihi) & Chips. I also tried a deep fried pineapple ring with brown sugar…so yummy! After dinner we walked downtown and decided to grab a drink, but picked the bar solely based on the fact that someone was singing karaoke to Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain.” That evening we returned back to the house and enjoyed a nice glass of New Zealand wine and listened to tunes on the record player. We also decided that new names were in order – Ricardo (Richard), Lucia (Lindsay), Amelia (Amy) and Ramon (Ramon). The next day Lucia and I got up and headed to Te Puke for our “interview” at Seeka. Fruit packing would not be ideal (that’s for you Quentin), but it’s steady work until I can hopefully get something in Wellington. Plus, Richard has graciously offered up his couch for Lucia and I to sleep on. This whole experience is teaching me a lot about myself…what my limits are, how I can survive on my own, how I can make something out of nothing and how truly blessed I am. We drove back to town that day and stopped in Cambridge for a nice little lunch and latte on mainstreet. That night we headed to Arran and Leesa’s for a BBQ and I tried my first mussel. It was giant! Later in the evening, we went out in downtown Hamilton. We enjoyed meeting some local folk and we are still laughing about some of the things that happened that night!

It’s been a nice little weekend in Hamilton. We checked out the Frankton Street Market, worked on our tans at the pool, went for a walk downtown and enjoyed acoustic music and $5.00 pizzas on the patio at The Helm. It was good to stay in town this weekend, because we just booked our tickets for our 12 day trip to the South Island for the end of February. It is crazy how the trip is coming together so quickly. We booked $100 tickets to Christchurch and then a random person who Laura’s parents met while traveling is picking us up, letting us crash at her house and then take her car for a couple days. We are going to spend a few days visiting Mt. Cook, Milford Sound and wine country. After exploring the island, we are going to pick up a caravan in Queenstown and drive it back to Auckland. It’s part of the Transfer Car program, so it’s free. We just have to pay for the fuel to drive it back to the office in the North Island. I think this will be a great way to spend my 31st birthday!

It’s hard to believe I have been here for a month. I love New Zealand and I am so glad I made the decision to quit my job and move to the other side of the world. Every new experience, adventure and challenge helps me move one step closer to the person I want to be. This experience also makes me realize what and who is important to me. Like Bob Marley says, “my heart says follow through.” So that is exactly what I am going to do. From this point forward, I am going to follow my heart and live the life that my heart tells me to live. I am just going to be me.

The Mount

Monday, February 7, 2011

When It Rains It Pours

Well there’s a small boat made of china
It’s goin nowhere on the mantelpiece
Do I lie like a loungeroom lizard
Or do I sing like a bird released
Everywhere you go
You always take the weather with you
~Jimmy Buffett

The last few weeks have been a little bit of a whirlwind…perhaps cyclone would be a more appropriate way to explain it. Lindsay (Laura’s friend from Olympia) arrived a little over a week ago and moved into the apartment. She and I are sharing a room for the next few months. It’s like college again and we are becoming fast friends.

After Lindsay arrived, we headed to the Kay’s bach (that is what Kiwi’s call beach house) at Waihi Beach, which is positioned between the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. When we arrived at the bach they had Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” playing. It was perfect! Unfortunately it started to rain, so we had friends over for cocktails and game night. It’s small world because Donna Kay (Laura’s co-worker) is from Rush City, Minnesota. She met Terry, her Kiwi husband, when they were both attending school at the University of Minnesota. Since Terry is from NZ, they decided to settle here. One of Donna’s friends who joined us for game night is from Boston. She also met a Kiwi in the states, fell in love and settled here. It seems to be a trend. We enjoyed a lovely evening of cocktails and conversation as the rain continued to pour down. We retired for the evening around midnight, but were awaken by the sirens at 2:00 a.m. Cyclone Wilma had arrived! It was high tide, so the town began to flood. We started to move the furniture to high ground and watched the water rise into the wee hours of the morning. We were literally one inch away from the bach flooding and having to evacuate. But then the rain miraculously stopped.

The next morning we ate breakfast on the deck and enjoyed the new "lakefront view." The local workers had to come and pump the water out of their yard because it was up to my waist. By midmorning the storm had cleared and the sun came out for the day. We decided to explore the beach and hiked the Orokawa Bay Track. I think we should have realized that the rain was going to affect the track, but we just charged ahead. We had to maneuver our way through a mudslide and cross two freshwater streams that came up to our knees. By the time we reached the third river, I had reached the end of my rope so we turned around. Mike told me that I gave him hiking blue balls...oh Mike. The following Monday was a holiday (Waikato Anniversary - each town celebrates their anniversary and gets a day of each year), so we headed to Raglan Beach for the day. It was windy and a bit overcast, but we set up camp on the beach and made pictures in the sand. It was a nice little Monday.

When I decided to make the move to NZ, I knew I couldn’t afford to just explore and play for a year. It was important for me to get a job while in New Zealand. I spent the first couple of weeks applying for office jobs, but I keep getting rejection letters. I think my CV and cover letters get lost in translation and I think I may be overqualified. In the meantime, I picked up a temporary gig at Convex Printing Company. It isn’t ideal work, but it’s a paycheck. Luckily, I work for Quentin who is a friend of ours and he looks after me. He is entertaining at work and brings me New Zealand treats. He has introduced me to some of his favorites including, vegemite (which is disgusting), scones, pie, povlova and smoked marlin (which his mom caught.) Although I am dedicated to finding work, I am more focused on having fun for the next couple of months. Lindsay and I might pick fruit in Tauranga in March and then my plan is to move to Wellington by the beginning of April.

After I received my first paycheck, we took the day off and headed to Auckland (NZ's biggest city.) We did some shopping and I randomly met a guy whose brother lives in Gresham, Oregon. How random! After we explored Auckland for a bit (which is like most other cities), we hopped on the ferry and headed to Waiheke Island. It was such an amazing day. The ferry ride was so beautiful and when we arrived on the island it was like a little slice of paradise. We walked from the dock to downtown Oneroa and found ourselves a nice little spot on the beach. We enjoyed a glorious girl's day filled with sunbathing, reading and gossiping.

On Friday, we packed up the car and headed to Taupo for the weekend. We set up camp and called it an early night because we had to be up by 5:30am to head the Tongaririo National Park. We hiked the Tongaririo Crossing. It is often described as the best on day walk in New Zealand. It has varied terrain and includes spring water lava flows, an active crater, emerald colored lakes and hot springs. It was 19k and took us about six hours to hike. Unfortunately, it rained most of the day and our visibility was limited. Before I leave New Zealand, I think I want to try it again when the weather is better. After the hike we headed back to the campsite and enjoyed soaking in the Taupo Hot Pools. It was a great way to relax after a big day of hiking. We had friends join us for that evening and we went out downtown Taupo. It was a great night filled with dancing and socializing. We even met some of the All Blacks rugby players, including Richard Kahui. The rugby players are like A-list celebrities here, so our kiwi friends were quite excited. 

My first month in New Zealand has been absolutely amazing! I can’t believe how much we have done in such a short amount of time. And even with all the rain, I still have managed to get an amazing tan. Life is pretty good on the island!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

"Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff." ~ Richard Carlson

I found an article on Yahoo that said that New Zealand was the 5th happiest country in the world. The article stated:

"For most, being happy starts with having enough money to do what you want and buy what you want. A nice home, food, clothes, car, leisure. All within reason. But happiness is much more than money. It's being healthy, free from pain, being able to take care of yourself. It's having good times with friends and family."

In the short time that I have been here, I have definitely started to examine what it is that makes me happy. And I have to agree; it’s not the car, food, clothes or home that put a smile on my face. Since I have moved, my life has drastically changed and I have been “forced” to go back to the basics.

Back home, my daily ritual included driving my SUV to the local coffee shop to get my gourmet latte (of flat whites as they call them here) before work, dining out for all three meals a day and then closing the day with some sort of social activity. I never wanted for anything…if I saw something I desired, I ran to the closest store and bought it new. I was living the American dream. Or was I? Was living in excess, really more of a nightmare? Well, it was at least a nightmare for my pocket book!

In one week, all of this has changed! We cook almost every meal at home, I search for sales at the store, I sleep on a twin bed, I walk just about everywhere because I don’t have a car, and I drink instant coffee (wtf?!?!) However, I wouldn’t change a thing. I needed to simplify and get back to the basics.

Although I moved to one of the happiest places on earth, relocating to new country was no small feat. I moved to an English speaking country, but I have so much to learn from a cultural standpoint. My first weekend here was epic and was filled with adventure, but early last week it was time to get real and start “living life in New Zealand.” It is a little bit overwhelming at times, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t “sweat the small stuff” and that it would take time to truly fit in. I sometimes feel like a child who is seeing the world for the first time and so I am constantly asking questions. If you plan to visit New Zealand in your lifetime, I will share with you some of the things that I learned this week:

1)    Everything is backwards! – The toilets flush counter-clockwise, cars drive on the opposite side of the road and people walk on the “wrong” side of the sidewalk. I have to admit, I have been too scared to drive. I am extremely intimidated by the crazy drivers and all of the roundabouts. It is also a big transition moving from Portland, which is a bike & pedestrian-friendly city, to Hamilton where cars won’t stop and will hit you if you are in their way.
2)    Can you convert this? – Right about now, I wish I had paid better attention in school. I have to convert everything into in kilometers, kilograms and military time. I think I must have been sick the day we learned all of this or perhaps I was daydreaming in class about visiting a far away destination. Who knows?!
3)    What’s for dinner? – As I mentioned, I rarely dine out. (However, if you were to visit and eat out it is important to note that you don’t tip.) The cost of living is quite expensive in New Zealand, so now we cook most of our meals in. However, the trip to the grocery can be quite daunting for two reasons. 1) I don’t really cook, so I have no idea what ingredients to buy. 2) Stores don’t carry all the brands I was used to at home. Good news, is that I have almost completely cut out processed foods from my diet (because they are so expensive.) It is also important to know that people refer to meal time as “tea time.”  When I attended my first BBQ someone said, “tea time” which meant it was time to eat. Don’t be a fool like me and think it is actually time for tea…they will laugh at you!
4)    Slow down you’re moving too fast! – Everyone moves a little bit slower here and I have had several kiwis tell me to slow down. When I got here, I instantly started searching for a job and people are amazed by that. Well, it paid off because I start my first day at Convex today…it’s a part-time gig at a printing company until I find something in a field of interest. But at least it is a paycheck!
5)    What? Say that again. – I can’t understand half of what people are saying, so I often have to have them repeat themselves. The accents are strong, but the challenging part is learning all of the kiwi "slang". Jandels = sandels. Tramps = hikes. Partner = boyfriend or girlfriend. Rubber = eraser. CV = resume. And don't forget to swap z’s and s’ – i.e. organise.
6)    No shoes, no shirts, no service! – Bollocks! No one wears shoes here. I went to the grocery store this week and there were several people without shoes on. Gross! Also, all elementary students aren’t allowed to wear shoes at school. I asked if athlete's foot was a problem and they said "Never!"
7)    It’s getting hot in here! – apparently there is a giant whole in the ozone layer above New Zealand. Within one day, I had a killer tan and a crazy tanline. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen…and nothing less than 30 SPF. The country actually has a pretty massive ad campaign promoting sunscreen use because they have such a high rate of skin cancer.

Of course there is going to be a learning curve, but I am up for the challenge. I not only love the cultural experience, but New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. On Saturday we did a five hour hike in the Pinnacles which is located in the Kauaeranga Valley on the Coromandel Peninsula. The hike (or tramp as they call them) was amazing! I felt like we were in the rain forest because of all of the palms, rivers, rata trees and swing bridges. We did the entire hike in the rain, but we managed to finish majority of the loop before the big storm hit.

On Sunday, Laura and I had a nice little girl’s day. We headed to the Te Aroha Thermal Pools, which are built at the base of Mt Te Aroha. The thermal spring water that flows in the pools is supposed to be good for skin conditions and arthritis. While at the spa we also treated ourselves to much needed pedicures. It was such a relaxing day. I swear my stress level went from an 8 to maybe a 1 or 2. I am definitely not sweating the small stuff anymore. After we left the spa, it stopped raining at there was a beautiful rainbow arched at the base of the mountain. It was a perfect end to our day of relaxation.

I could definitely get used to island life!

The Pinnacles