Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Zealand In 55 Words

I created this Wordle as a gift to Abe to commemorate our trip to New Zealand together. After making it, I realized how much it will help me remember all of the little things and the overall essence of our trip. They are only words, but I am very happy I wrote them while the experience is still fresh in my mind. I hope other people who live or have visited New Zealand will see places or activities they loved too and will comment on the blog or maybe create their own Wordle!

My wordle of New Zealand is here:
  Wordle: New Zealand

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ten Reasons Why All Americans Should Watch Rugby

Before I lived in New Zealand I had never seen a rugby match. Living there the year NZ hosted the Rugby World Cup quickly remedied me of that. NZ rugby players are the hottest, biggest celebrities in the country, and now I know why. The NZ All Blacks rugby team are fantastic athletes in one of the coolest sports I've ever watched.

I'm not a huge sports fan; I don't even watch much football in America. But with the entire nation of NZ so excited to host a world event, my curiosity was piqued. And before I knew what was happening, I was watching rugby games almost every night, organizing groups of friends to meet at one local pub or other after work to cheer and boo our teams together, and mourning on Mondays and Tuesdays when no games were on.  It was total rugby immersion.

The All Blacks haka

As a recent convert to the exciting, jaw-dropping world of rugby, I want to share with you why I think all Americans should give one of the world's favorite sports a try. Yes, we have American football. No, America is not currently good at rugby since no one here watches it. But there has to be a reason every other English-speaking country loves rugby, right? I'll give you ten good reasons to stop grumbling and start loving this sport:

  1. We all love football games. Even for those of us who do more talking and eating during them than watching, football is a bonding experience. Rugby is so similar to football that anyone who enjoys kicking back with a beer to watch American football would love doing the same for a rugby game. 
  2. It's exciting. Rugby is faster-paced than football but just as high-scoring. It's a passing game where the clock doesn't stop except for very limited time-outs, and you can score with tries (touch-downs) or kicks just like football.
  3. It's crazy and violent and fierce. Rugby is truly a team game, with the team often moving as one unit, passing, ramming the opposition, or breaking away to score altogether. Especially when the game is country against country in the world cup, these players will do anything to bring home a win for their nation's pride. There is a ton of contact, shirt pulling, and even players picking up opposing players to run them down the field.
  4. Haka intimidation chants. Every Kiwi learns how to perform one in school, and they are an awesome way to bitch out a team before the game, on the field in front of thousands of people. If you've never seen one, watch the NZ All Blacks' intimidate the French with their haka in the Rugby World Cup finals this year.
  5. Scrums. Sounds badass, right? Well, they are. This full-team tackle formation may look silly at first, but before you know it you'll be trying to replicate it at home.
  6. Everyone makes fun of America when we suck. The whole world makes fun of us during the rugby world cup because every half decent team gives us a beating. We owe it to ourselves as a nation to care more about this sport and get better at it.
  7. They really love making fun of us. The whole world makes fun of us off-season too with slogans hinting at the inferiority of American football like: No helmets. No pads. Just balls. Rugby.
  8. Rugby players are really hot (why do you think I watch?). The players all have to run more since it's a passing game, so they are in world-class athletic shape. Think David Beckham plus 30 lbs of muscle. And you can actually see the hot men because they aren't covered in helmets and padding. Nope, they're wearing tight t-shirts and short shorts, prime ogling material.
  9. Non-stop action. For all of the protection American football players wear, rugby players don't seem to have more injuries--some argue all the padding in football produces as many injuries as it covers. But in rugby, the clock stops for no man. Which means the rugby pitch often resembles a battlefield, medics scrambling on, players hobbling off, while the remaining players fight for glory 'til the clock runs out.
  10. You can't get better rivalry than country vs. country. The rugby season is a fantastic excuse to go out to a pub with a bunch of your friends, drink beer, get rowdy and trade loud insults about other teams, just like football. But in the rugby world cup, every fan dons their nation's colors and roots for their home, their countrymen. In the world cup, we all cheer harder and feel the competition deeper because it's our country's reputation, past, present and future on the line. 
My favorite All Blacks player: the dashing yet humble, Richie McCaw. He's so cool, he doesn't even want to be a knight.
If you're still not convinced, you don't have to take my word for it, you can read what NFL players said about rugby on Matador sports.

If we all watch more rugby, and encourage more kids to play rugby, our US team will get better each year. So, when the next rugby world cup comes around, paint stripes and stars on your face, travel to a far-off country to see the glorious rivalries in person, or kick back with a beer and watch the games at home.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recipe Edition: How to Make the Best (and Easiest) Veggie Burgers

Burgers have always been a favorite meal of mine. They are such a filling lunch or dinner and the BBQ is one of my favorite things about warm weather! After becoming a vegetarian a few years ago, I have been on a mission to find the best vegetarian burger. This is what I've come up with.

There are many great ways to make veggie burgers using ingredients from mushrooms or sweet potatoes to nuts and maple syrup. This recipe is my favorite because it is the easiest and cheapest to make while tasting like a delicious unhealthy burger.

I found this recipe while trolling Martha Stewart's vegetarian recipe section (you can find the original recipe here) and made a few slight changes to cut the cost and use things everyone has in the cupboard.

What you need (serves 4):
1/2 cup of any kind of rice, quinoa, or Martha suggests bulgur (I used jasmine rice)
1 15 oz can of pinto beans (preferably rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used crumbled feta, but your favorite cheese will do)
1 small onion or scallion minced
1 egg
olive oil or cooking spray

What you do:
Make rice, quinoa or bulgur substance in boiling water or in a rice cooker (everyone should have a rice cooker because they are amazing). Once the water has boiled off, take the rice substance off the heat and set aside.

Combine pinto beans, carrots, cheese, onion and egg in a bowl. Then mix in rice. Add a pinch of salt and pepper if you like.

Put a bit of olive oil or cooking spray into a frying pan on medium heat. Add burger-sized spoonfuls of the mixture to the frying pan and flatten, so they cook evenly. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until crispy and golden brown on each side.

Serve on your favorite hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, sprouts, avocado, mushrooms or even salsa. Substitutions work very well with this recipe, so get creative people!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


“We are all in search of something; why else would we be here? No one comes to New Zealand to be practical. And we all need someone to share the experience with, to laugh and stare in awe with.”

“Please promise me,” Ingrid says in her beautiful but broken English, her big brown eyes insistent. “Before you publish your book, you will visit me and stay in my home in Chile.” It is my last night in Ohakune, and Ingrid and Pablo cooked me and Abe a Chilean meal of bread topped with fish and lemon and pepper to say goodbye. The mood is heartfelt; we’ve shared so many firsts with them since we met them at Oskat Forest Park picking kiwifruit. And no one says it, but this could be the last time we see each other.

I’ve tried to explain to Ingrid many times that I am not a writer yet. I only aspire to be a writer, and even then I will probably only write short articles, never a book. My blog is for practice, people don’t actually read it, I tell her. But Ingrid always smiles and pats my hair in response and tells me how much I look like a writer. I love her certainty.

I wonder if it’s the language barrier between us (I only have a few words in Spanish, and she is still studying English every day to be able to get by at work here) that keeps her insisting that I am a writer. Maybe, or maybe she believes in me. I promise her after I finish my book, yes, of course, I will come to Chile and stay with her family.

Ingrid is a photographer, and Pablo writes fiction. Guille wants to be an interior designer, and Julia wants to live in Brazil. Alex wants to learn English well enough to make jokes we all understand. Kath wanted to live somewhere that wasn’t her home, and Bobby seems to want to do everything.

After 10 months of traveling in New Zealand, I’m used to being surrounded by people’s dreams. They are always on the surface of conversation here. Instead of asking people what they do for a living, I ask people what they want to do. Everyone I meet in New Zealand is working at the same relatively unskilled, low wage job and calculating each expenditure. We all want to save money quickly, so we can continue traveling and exploring as soon as possible.

Travel and new things are the dreams we all share, but everyone has a different experience, or reasons why they came. And everyone wants to swap good spots, tips for cheap travel, and personal inspirations. And weird stories. We bathe in shared experiences. We get high on the future travel plans of everyone around us.
It is no wonder living in New Zealand felt like an adventure; I traveled with people who were all in the midst of their own and who wanted to hear about mine. I wonder how I can return home to conversations in bars about what people do all day, and I decide I don’t want to. I don’t care what they do. I am more interested in what they really want.

I don’t think it’s impossible to talk about dreams with people in the US—the podcast This American Life is a perfect example of people who do—but it is harder. In the US, I am not living in a community of travelers. There is so much clutter in the lives of people who have spent years living and building in one place. They have families, friends, office politics, to-do lists, car payments, email and twitter accounts, and an overwhelming amount of material stuff filling up their houses and their minds.

When I left for New Zealand, I was forced to strip down everything unnecessary to travel simply. And unless I wanted to spend one year in isolation, I had to be open to making new friends because all of my old friends were out of reach.

Being away from home made me see things more clearly: I understand what is important to me now. I want to try to connect with foreigners traveling to the US. I want to continue to be a part of that community. But I have a lot of things I want to do now, and I think it will take effort every day to stay focused, and uncluttered, and to bring things I learned from living in New Zealand into my life.

Monday, October 10, 2011

You Know You're in New Zealand When...

We’ve all woken up at one time or another and wondered “where am I?” (or “who am I?” but I can’t help you with that one). And if you find yourself in that confusing, disoriented state, never fear. I’m here to help you out. The following is a list of funny, weird, and wonderful things I’ve noticed about New Zealand after living here for 10 months. It is also a foolproof way to discover if you are or are not in the country New Zealand.

Note: If you realize you are not in NZ by taking this little test, you may still not know where you are, but at least you’ll know one place you’re not.

You will undoubtedly know you’re in New Zealand when:

The birds you see don’t fly
Supermarket rotisserie chickens are stuffed with bacon and the salads are topped with it
Sheep graze in normal-size suburban yards
Girls play netball (seemingly a less physical form of basketball)
Pineapple lumps and jet planes are popular candies
People drive 3 hours to go shopping
MC Hammer and the Friends theme song play on the radio
There’s only one road to take to the nearest city
Your using the word “pretentious” makes people think you’re pretentious
The most popular beer on tap is named after the tui bird
Big old vans full of unshowered backpackers fill the roads
Everyone is “mate” or “bro” despite how recently you met them
You can snowboard down a mountain and not see another person on the trail
Beetroot finds its way into every soup, sandwich, and smoothie
Gorgeous forest trails exist in everyone’s backyard, but no one uses them
The phrase “long black” means coffee
You can casually meet someone and have them invite you to live in their home for a month

Friday, September 30, 2011

Boarding to Live

In my life, I am always asking myself questions to make sure I am living to the fullest: Am I enjoying myself? Am I pushing myself to try new things? Am I taking advantage of every opportunity? These questions are a construction of the way I want to live, knowing I have accomplished things, had fun, and am always open for more things to try.

When I am snowboarding, there is no reason to ask questions. I am flying, living in the moment, drinking in the mountain and the miles and miles of farmland I can see below and feeling the sun on my back. The rush I get from barrelling down the mountain, smooth and controlled, is like riding a rollercoaster. Only I control the coaster, and I’m riding through a  vast, undefined course, up and down ridges, going sideways and backwards, and anything is possible.

I am a beginner snowboarder; I only boarded one day before working on Mt. Ruapehu. But since I’ve lived on the mountain, boarding has turned into an obsession. With each day (or hour break I can get from work) that I snowboard, I become significantly better: I can tackle higher hills, go down steeper drops and let myself board faster and faster. When I first started out, I could only plow and feather down hills, but it was exhilarating to be able to control the board with my knees and hips. Any spare moment I get here, I am boarding. And each day I spend racing down the mountain, going up hills and drifting to the edge of the courses, anything to prolong this feeling…I become a bit more hooked.

Every few weeks on Mt. Ruapehu, they open the mountain after hours for staff only skiing. The lifts close at 4pm to the public and re-open at 4:15 to the staff, and they don’t close until the sun goes down. Last night was a staff only night, and I boarded down the mountain surrounded by co-workers and friends whistling and whooping at each other until the sun hid beneath us at 7pm. We skied and boarded for over 2 hours on a mountain entirely our own.

When I first arrived to work on Mt. Ruapehu, I have to be honest. I thought the people I met who were so obsessed with snowboarding that they talked about little else were a little weird. I wondered, “How much can you really talk about one sport?” But after three months here, I understand the obsession with snowboarding: on a board, you know you are alive. And although I’m not so in love that I am willing to live in endless winters, spending six months in each hemisphere like some skiers and snowboarders do, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I tried something new, and now I can add it to the long list of things I love about life and about travel.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Recipe Edition: Chili with Pumpkin Penne

I created this twist on chili when I had a deep craving for warm, hearty food in one of my first weeks living in the ski town, Ohakune. It is as easy as making spaghetti but much more satisfying. I have never cooked much with pumpkin before, but the Kiwis put it in a lot of dishes to add more flavour. And with chili and cheese, it is a combination to die for.

You need (for a pot that serves 4):
1 can vegetarian chili (you can also make your own chili unless you are living out of a motel room like I am and need recipes that are simple and light clean up)
½ block of Vintage cheese (sharp cheddar or any smoked or sharp cheese will do) grated
3 tablespoons of salsa
1 bag of penne pasta
1 can of pumpkin soup

To prepare:
Add ½ a can of water to the can of pumpkin soup in a pot (or if you’re like me, to the rice cooker that you use for everything because you have no stove). Add the penne to the mixture and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat until the penne is cooked and the pumpkin soup has boiled down to a thick sauce. Add salsa and grated cheese. Add the chili and cook until the cheese is melted. Serve with a bowl of spiced wine or apple cider for the perfect fall or winter meal.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Backpacker Freedom

I came to New Zealand in January, and have moved around for the entire year. My final job in New Zealand is working at Mt. Ruapehu and living in the ski town, Ohakune. And it will seem like an eternity living in one place since I am staying here for three months. Moving around so much is in some ways exhausting. But it is also liberating.

While traveling in New Zealand, I could fit all of my belongings into a single, normal-sized backpack (I use the past tense here because that was before I bought all of my ski clothes for working on a mountain). I never before lived a lifestyle where I could decide to leave one night and be traveling to a new part of the country by 7am the next morning. It is the backpacker freedom. If one place gets boring, complicated, rainy, and the wanderlust creeps in, you are free to move on.

Following are only some of the places I have lived this year:



Franz Josef Glacier





Te Puke


And finally, Mt. Ruapehu. Since I work10 hours a day on this mountain, I think I can now claim that I live there too.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Top 5 Best Phrases in Kiwi English

“I can speak American, British, Kiwi, Aussie, Canadian, and a tiny bit of Spanish.” –a seasonal worker at Mt. Ruapehu orientation

Living in a lodge or town full of seasonal workers is an interesting experience for many reasons. For one, it often feels like a college dorm because the average age of seasonal workers is somewhere between 20 and 25, and the most common night-time activity is drinking followed by loud talking, dancing, and sometimes running or pranking co-workers.

But because we are from all over the world--Taiwan, China, Chile, Argentina, Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, South Africa, America, and Canada—it is also a multilingual place. Many people have come to New Zealand to learn English, which can cause for some really long and strenuous Spanglish conversations or blank looks. And the fact is, even native English speakers have trouble understanding each other at times. American English is different from British English, and Kiwi English is different still.

Language is such a flowing and changing entity in each country that almost all words were borrowed and changed from some other country, so when I decided to make a list of my top five favourite Kiwi phrases I was not concerned with their country of origin. I only care that they are spoken constantly in New Zealand.

What I love about comparing different forms of language is how much it can tell you about a culture. Language is often such a clear reflection of the attitude and the pride of a society as much as their art, music, and food tell stories about who they are. In New Zealand, the slang is friendly and relaxed. It often sounds direct and unflowery, but also inviting.

So here we go, my top five favourite Kiwi phrases are:

#5 Nicknames. I’ve found that Kiwis (and Australians) shorten anything. Breakfast becomes brekkie, hot chocolate chockie, McDonald’s is Mackey’s. Even cities and towns are not exempt: Franz Josef Glacier is Franz, Palmerston North is Palmy, Ohakune is simply Kune, and Wellington is Welly. This form of abbreviation or nicknames makes every concept and place seem more familiar, more fun, or more like home.

#4 Hey/ey, bro and babe. Hey in the US is a way to say hello, but in New Zealand most people add ey or hey to the end of their sentences. After a few weeks of being in New Zealand, I purposely picked this up. It makes me feel some kind of solidarity with other people. Like because we are all humans, they will obviously understand what I am about to say. “The weather was awful last night, ey?”  “The new girl seems really cool, hey?” Some Aussies and Kiwis I’ve met also add bro or babe to the end of sentences, and I think it has the same effect. “Thanks, bro,” sounds familiar and friendly, just as “It’s alright, babe” sounds slightly sweeter than the phrase by itself. That one word addition changes my statements into conversation-starters and to my foreign ear, makes the conversation sound much more relaxed, like I am part of the community.

#3 Cheers—this one word says it all. Thank you, take care, goodbye all with a friendly familiarity that we lack in America. I really wish this word could catch on in my home country.

#2 Good on ya. This phrase sounded so awkward to me before I entered the country. It is said as a form of encouragement, congratulations or thanks. For example: “I got incredibly pissed last night” “Good on ya, mate” or “Here is the rent payment I owe you,” “Good on ya.” This phrase is sometimes said so casually and quickly that my German friend, Alex, who is still honing his English and learning all of the Kiwi phrases thought that our landlord had a queer fascination with onions. “Why is he always saying good onion?” he asked me one night. Good on ya, Alex.

#1 Sweet as. This is the most famous Kiwi phrase, but what I love about it is the form: any adjective can be followed by the word “as” for extra emphasis, for ex: funny as, hard as, cold as, hot as, cool as, anything as! We already do this a bit in America but we feel the need to explain more: “Cool as shit,” or “Hot as hell.” In the Kiwi tradition of shortening everything, they’ve simplified the statement to all you need to know. Cool as, bro.

Runners up: 
Shattered as a way to say really tired or exhausted
Crook, is another word here for sick
Guttered to mean really disappointed or sad
Knock off, meaning leave, for ex: “You can knock off work early today; we’re not that busy.”
The different names for vegetables: Kiwis say capsicum for bell peppers, and aubergine for eggplant
Shot, my Aussie friend Kat says that this is her favourite way to say thank you. It still sounds odd to me, but it is a way some people say cheers or thanks here, for ex: a bus driver might say, “Aw, it’s raining, so I can drop you right at your front door, so you don’t have to walk from the bus stop.” “Aw, shot.”

If you stay in a country long enough, no matter where you are from, you will start picking up their phrases. When I first arrived in New Zealand, I fell in love with saying “sweet as” or “cool as,” but it wasn’t until I had lived here for a few months before I felt comfortable saying it in front of other Kiwis. Was I allowed to say their phrase? Was I using it correctly? But once I got up the nerve to use the phrases I liked, I realized how they natural they sounded and that my using them was just another form of praising this new culture.

The Kiwis and travellers I’ve met have started telling me the American expressions they like too, which is fun to hear. My English friend, Sophie, loved the expression, “That’s so cute,” that many Americans say to compliment a piece of clothing or an object. Some of my Kiwi co-workers think it’s funny that I say, “yo” to start conversations, that my boyfriend Abe says “dude” all the time, and that we both end a lot of conversations with, “awesome.” “What an American, surfer thing to say!” they all exclaim.

This is one conversation that every traveller I’ve met enjoys having because some differences are so strange or subtle that they are really fun to discover. If any readers have favourite phrases from around the world, please share them with me. I never get tired of learning about language.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Joy of Hitchhiking

There is a thrill to hitchhiking: the thrill of the unknown. When that car slows down on the side of the road, nothing is set. I don’t know who is in the car, where they are from, where they are going, or even where I’ll end up. Sometimes it takes jumping in and out of 2 or 3 cars to get to my destination for the day, and some drivers have tried to convince me to join them wherever they were going.

Hitchhiking is like an adventure sport: the adrenaline, the small sense of danger, and the journey. My German friend Alex used to joke that if I was with him, he’d always get picked up. I was magic, he said. I suspect my only magic was being female, but I like to imagine I’d do well if it was a sport.

The first time I hitchhiked, it was out of need. I was living and working in Franz Josef Glacier, a town of 350 people, two tourist gift shops, a dairy (tiny NZ grocery stores that are closer in size to a 7/11), and a movie theatre that shows one film on loop about the glacier. When the weather started to get colder, my British friend, Sophie, (who loves adventure but who is even shyer than I am) and I found ourselves without a car but with a need for warmer clothes. We realized hitchhiking to the nearest town with a warehouse (similar to Walmart), Greymouth, might be our only option.

Since Grey is three hours drive, we knew we could not take the bus. We only had one day off from work. But our co-workers assured us that many people drive from Franz to Grey in one day. We would have no problem getting picked up, they said, because there is only one road from Franz to Grey—the winding two-lane State Highway Six—and it’s filled with trucks, campervans, and buses travelling through New Zealand.

I was nervous walking out to the road with Sophie, but we had already decided we were hitchhiking. There was nothing else to do, so I stuck out my thumb. Less than a minute later, a car full of Kiwis screeched to a stop in front of us. And five cars, two artists, one father, two guys that wanted a date, one invitation to stay the night in a woman’s spare bedroom, a night trip to see the glacier, and nine hours later, we made it safely to Grey and back, exhilarated.

I like hitchhiking, and that surprises even me. When I first arrived in this country my only experience with hitchhiking was from movies where people got abducted or robbed. I thought that anyone who would dare try hitchhiking was either crazy or stupid. But in a small country full of immigrants and travellers, hitchhiking seems like a normal form of transport. I hitchhike to the supermarket if the nearest food store is too far to walk, and why shouldn’t I?

I like hitchhiking for all of its possibilities. It allows me to meet to people outside of those in my daily life and throws me into a conversation with them because of the social contract we all live by. No one can get a free ride from someone and not at least ask them how they are or who they are, and the answers I get are always surprising and never dull. Need inspiration? Crave human connection? Come to New Zealand and stick your thumb out.

I no longer have any trepidation about hitchhiking in New Zealand; it left me that first day. The only anxiety a hitchhiker ever has in New Zealand is that the conversation will die. And that is something a hitchhiker never wants to happen because in my experience, the type of people who pick up hitchhikers all fall into two categories:

  • People who relate to hitchhikers—either they hitchhiked themselves or they have kids and view helping you as aiding one of their own.
  • People who are lonely—a really nice Czech girl picked me up once in a fancy rental car, and just as I was wondering why she had cared to stop for me when so many other people in nice cars passed me by she admitted she hadn’t been able to get a radio signal for the last 50 km, and she was so bored she was scared she’d fall asleep at the wheel.

When being picked up by either type of person, it is the hitchhiker’s responsibility to fill the car with conversation. Share your story, and listen to theirs. Since many hitchhikers in New Zealand are foreigners backpacking through the country, many people I’ve met wanted to pick me up to see what I thought of their country—how did it compare to my own? A few times I had nothing in common with the driver who picked me up. A few times I rode with a person who asked me if I was stuck working for those Indians in a way that I knew meant racism. And it’s those days when I arrive at my new noisy hostel, and think man, hitchhiking is hard work. And maybe the next day, I decide to take the bus.

Often though, hitchhiking forms friendships, relays wisdom, or at least provides that simple human need for good conversation. I’ve met locals who tell me what they like about living in New Zealand, details about the country’s history, industries, weather, cultures, some who offered me a free place to stay or a job. I’ve met other travellers who shared tips about the best places to visit, hiking trails, or stories about their homelands. Most of the people I’ve met will share whatever they have to give.

When I return to the United States I think I will miss the community of hitchhikers and all of the people who pick us up. But I cannot imagine hitchhiking in the U.S., especially if I am living in a large city like Washington, DC. So when I return, I will try to find another way to connect with travellers and foreigners living in the United States. I want to give back to people the way so many Kiwis went out of their way to share themselves and anything they had with me in New Zealand.

Monday, August 1, 2011

To Those of You Who Want To Travel

The response to one of my last posts, Distance Makes the Patriotism Grow Stronger, was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Thank you all for reading about my journey and for sharing so much personal feedback. It made me remember how surprised I was when I told my co-workers and friends in Washington, DC that I was quitting my job and moving to New Zealand the response was mostly envious. 

People all around me sighed and confessed how much they would love to up and leave and travel the world. How did you decide to do it? How did you save the money? They all asked.

It was simple. I wanted to do something different; I was restless. And so I wandered through the travel sections at bookstores and did a bit of internet surfing. I worked hard to put away slightly more money for most months out of a year (not even every month!), and then I went. 

There is no magic to it. You only need a little money if you can get a work permit, and it is very easy for Americans to get work permits in many countries. I quit my job as many of the other travellers I’ve met did. But I’ve also met people who liked the jobs they left, so they asked their employers for a leave of absence or for a promise of employment when they returned if positions were available. You do not have to give up everything. I’ve met people who sublet their apartment or house, so they could return to it later and who are going back to a job or a school they love. 

If you want to travel, do not wait. Form a plan, talk to people and read about it, and go. You will never regret trying to do something you love.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Working On an Active Volcano

“Welcome to Mount Ruapehu!” speaker after speaker shouted at my Ruapehu Alpine Lifts staff induction. Since tourism in New Zealand all but disappears after the summer months (December-February), the only seasonal jobs available are jobs working at the ski fields in Queenstown and Canterbury on the South Island or at Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park on the North Island.

I was happy to land a job at Mt. Ruapehu, so I could stay in New Zealand for a few extra months, especially when so many backpackers told me how competitive these jobs were. Backpackers work all over the country in the summer, but in winter, there are only three towns that employ new workers. I was one of the few that would be able to earn money here over the winter.

But when I arrived on the mountain, my staff training session included safety hazard preparation and taught me the language of volcanic eruptions: lahars, ash clouds, flying rocks, avalanches.

I quickly learned that Mt. Ruapehu’s last eruption was 2007, and that it usually erupted once every five years. “So we’ll be working and snowboarding on an active volcano?” I exclaimed to Abe. “Well, yeah, most mountains we ski on are volcanoes,” he said nonchalantly. But not volcanoes that erupted in 2007.

I talked to a few people in town about my fears; most people in New Zealand are used to talking about natural disasters as a possible occurrence especially with the recent Christchurch earthquakes fresh in their minds. Both the induction presentations and the townspeople assured me that alarm systems were in place, so that in the event of a disaster, we would be forewarned.

I shared with one of my co-workers, Chelsea, what I had learned about the alarm systems. “Besides the monitoring of seismic activity, safety personnel measure the temperature of the crater lake at the top of the mountain. Every time an eruption is imminent, the temperature rises in the lake, so they can warn us.” Chelsea worked on Mt. Ruapehu last season too, so she had heard these explanations before. “Yeah, but the temperature began rising a few months ago, so some people are worried.” Ok, now I was one of those people.

The last speaker at my staff induction was a Maori community leader. He wanted to teach the foreign staff about the history of the land where we were working and how to pronounce the Maori names we would talk about with customers. The Turoa (Too-row-a) ski field was located on Mt. Ruapehu (Roo-a-pay-hoo), and the town where we lived at the base was called Ohakune (Oh-ha-koo-nay). But more importantly, he wanted to teach us why Mt. Ruapehu is sacred to Maoris and lauded as a World Heritage Site for its natural and historical significance.

He told us that Maoris use myths as metaphors to explain everything. The myth they use to explain the creation of New Zealand is that a fisherman pulled the land out of the sea. I heard that myth all over New Zealand. But I hadn’t realized that the myth is perpetuated to remind people of the scientific formation of New Zealand, land coming up out of the water from volcanic eruptions and land masses breaking apart and moving around like fish in the sea.

He called the mountain koroua, or grandfather in Maori, and he spoke about how throughout history, many groups of people feel great wonder around mountains. The mountain’s presence is breath-taking, and the land surrounding the mountain is fertilized by the mineral-rich volcanic eruptions that flowed through the valleys for hundreds of years. We live beside koroua, and we respect him. Grandfather is much older than any of us, and he will be around for much longer.

I don’t know why, but this settled my mind. Rationally, I should still be afraid to live so close to a volcano. But after listening to the Maori leader’s presentation, I feel at peace. Maoris call the mountain koroua to show respect and to pass down the myths explaining the truths of living in our world. We are small individuals living on a vast planet we do not always understand. But the more we learn, the more we can try to prepare ourselves and appreciate the wonder of every process in the natural world. And maybe that’s all of the comfort people need to live here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Recipe Edition: My Favorite Breakfast of All Time

I ate my favourite breakfast of all time in Christchurch. And that is saying quite a bit because I am a loyal pancake girl and this meal was not pancakes. Additionally as a vegetarian, I cannot eat a majority of the breakfast options on most menus. When I was a meat-eater I could choose any one of the options with bacon stacked high, but now I often feel limited for my favourite meal. Vegetarians want a hearty breakfast too! And I got it at the Beat Street Café on the corner of Barbados and Armaugh.

My best guess at how they made it is as follows.

Stuff you need:
2 pieces German dark bread (incidentally my favourite bread!)
1 soft boiled or poached egg
A handful of shiitake mushrooms
1 tomato
½ zucchini (or aubergine?)
¼ white onion
½ avocado
Hollandaise sauce
Cooking oil

What you do:
Slice the onion and put in frying pan with cooking oil. Cook for only a few minutes before adding mushrooms, tomato, and zucchini. Boil or poach the egg in a pot. Toast that German dark bread. Slice the avocado into thin pieces. Throw that toast on a plate, and pile your pan-fried vegetables around it. Slice the egg on top of the toast, and pile the Hollandaise sauce on top. Place the avocado slices into a cute design on top of the sauce, and enjoy your breakfast feast. I dare you to find a breakfast better than this. Meat or no meat!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Distance Makes the Patriotism Grow Stronger

When I left the United States, I thought six months was a long time. Now that I am in New Zealand, it is not nearly enough.

I have been here now for five months, and I have worked three jobs on two islands, hiked dozens of tracks and seen lakes, oceans, and mountains that would overwhelm the most unemotional of people. But I need to stay longer.

Yes, there are places I have not seen yet in this country, but the reason I want to stay is more about myself. People often talk about how much they learn when they travel to a foreign country, and when you live in one learning is unavoidable. When I was in college, I studied for six months in South Africa and felt like I had left a separate lifetime by the time I went home to the United States.

But in coming to New Zealand, I have had more freedom. I came here unemployed, with a tiny amount of savings, with no friends and my only knowledge of the country was what I got from a small guidebook. For me, arriving here was terrifying. I needed to find everything from scratch: a place to live, transportation, food, job, friends, entertainment.

Over the past few months, with every new thing I built, my confidence grew. I got a job. I moved into a room. I made casual friends. I made more long-lasting friendships too. After two months of working and saving money, I cut my newly-constructed safety net again. I quit my job and drove to a new city, and another, and another, soaking in the differentness of each place I visited. And with each bout of travelling and each new home I made, I made different mistakes and learned how to avoid them in the future.

When I first came to New Zealand, I was afraid to talk to people from different countries, worrying about what we could have in common. In my first job, when I met my Kiwi co-workers, I felt a little insecure. My co-worker, Luke, smoked cigarettes and talked about the Bob Dylan concert he was going to in a few weeks. Bree and Sonya wore chic leather jackets and dark sunglasses. I thought to myself how they all seemed so cool and confident.

Listening to their foreign accents and interests, I wished I was a Kiwi. I spent a few weeks listening to everything they said, and when I did speak it was to compliment their accents or their clothes or what they thought. And then one day it hit me: Bob Dylan is American. Many of the things my co-workers liked were from America, and I felt proud. Proud that my country produced things that reach all the way around to the edge of the world. Proud to be American myself.

One of my friends from high school, Ryan, told me once that I should stop thinking so much and just treat people as people. The same as me. I did not hear him clearly at the time, but in New Zealand I was forced to makes friends and meet new people every day. After talking to people from at least 30 different countries all traveling or living in New Zealand, I understand the truth in what Ryan said. There are generalizations about people from every country, and there are always dozens of people that will tell you what they think about a race of people whether you ask or not.

But after meeting people from all over the world and talking to them individually, all I see is their humanness. Every person I meet seems very different at first until I talk to them a few times, and I realize how many similarities they have to me. Their longing for adventure and new things or their hope for a future with a well-paying job they enjoy, a partner, a family, and possibly even more traveling.

And after five months in New Zealand, I can finally say I understand that and am confident that I could make friends in any country. Even if I only knew parts of their language. And having that knowledge and that ease of mind, makes further travel more exciting.

I still miss my home in the United States. I miss it very much. And the longer I am away, the more I love the United States for things as little as having at least 60 different choices of breakfast cereal and cheap t-shirts and for bigger things like the dozens of large, prosperous cities that offer opportunities. But if I had not left America to work in another country, I would not love the U.S. to the degree to which I love it now. When I meet new people and they ask me what the U.S. is like, I tell them they need to go.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Viven en la Pack House

Close your eyes. Imagine standing in a large warehouse with conveyor belts whirring and fork lifts lightly beeping and honking in the background. The radio is playing softly, but is barely audible over the squeaking of the belts, which at times sound more like crickets than something man-made.

You watch a machine: filling, cycling, returning. 100 kiwifruit drop in a box and it moves toward you. You grab the box, shake it roughly to balance the fruit in the box, settling the fruit in place with your fingers and checking to see if any fruit have bad spots and need to be thrown out and replaced. You pull the packaging up over the fruit, wrapping it like a present, and press the cardboard flaps down over the cardboard notches.

Imagine doing this once every 10 seconds for 11 hours. Or perhaps, three or four times every 10 seconds if another employee called in sick or never showed up for work.

I worked in the Seeka Oakside kiwifruit pack house in the Bay of Plenty for four weeks, and despite the mundane, physical demands it was the job I wanted. I needed to save money, and the pack house employees work 11 hour days six days per week. Unfortunately, standing for 11 hours per day, six days per week is no easy feat. And that is without considering the mental test employees must endure that degree of mindless repetition.

Surviving the boredom and physical exhaustion of the pack house makes me feel that I can do anything. The experience also made me determined to educate myself for an in-demand job in the future, so I never have to work on an assembly line ever again. As with most terrible jobs, the people I worked with saved me from depression or insanity. And in hard times or unappealing jobs, people really bind together to become close. So, the pack house became a kind of family to me, and they made that one month livable and even enjoyable.

Many of my friends at the pack house were Spanish speakers from Argentina or Chile, and making friends with them made it worth it for me to go to work every day. We all agreed that when we came to New Zealand, we did not expect to be working on an assembly line. "New Zealand te sorprendo," they would always say to me, rolling their eyes.

I learned a lot of Spanish phrases living and working with them, and I must say, I did not expect to work in a factory either, but I also did not expect to learn to speak Spanish. Living as a temporary resident of New Zealand has presented a lot of challenges and a lot of funny little stories to complain about. I certainly hope I do not have to work as a fruit packer ever again. But some of the surprises here have been great. Because I never traveled to another country to work, I was not sure what to expect, and a lot of things that I did expect turned out to be wrong.

I do not know how to surf, I have spent very few hours on a beach, and I have no swam in the ocean at all even though I am living on an island. But I have met amazing people who create interests in me that I never thought I would have. I lived next to a glacier in a rainforest speaking Spanish and learning to build fires to heat my home. My expectations were wrong, but I think the reality of my trip in New Zealand is even better.

Abe would sometimes help me on slow days at the pack house, even though his position was stacking. He was too tall to be a packer like me.

Some of the Line 2 family

Two of my favorite Argentinians and language partners: Daniela and Mariana. Miss you girls!

Another photo of my Oskat Farm family. Our dinner table talks helped me survive pack house life.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

To My Housemates at Oskat Forest Park

There are so many things to worry about when traveling—so many plans to be made, streets to navigate, and money to be spent on even basic things like shelter and food. So when all of these things come together perfectly it is amazingly special. For the last few weeks I have been living in a backpacker-converted farm house called Oskat Forest Park with about 25 other people. We are all working in the kiwifruit industry for the season—either picking or working at the factories—to save money and then embark on travels through New Zealand or throughout the world.

The farm house is very old and not well maintained, and there are only two showers for the 20 of us lucky enough to be in the main farm house—the other 5 or 6 live in a small shed down the hill. The work is also less than perfect. We all have very physical jobs and work long hours.

But there is something special about all of us living here together. We are from Argentina, Chile, Germany, France, Scotland, Ireland, and the United States, and we are aged from 19 to 31. In our home countries, we worked in many different jobs and had all different kinds of interests. But here we all have at least one thing in common: we longed for something more, something exciting and new.

Last night, we had a party for some of the people who are leaving our farm house to continue with their travels. We celebrated that they were saying goodbye to the kiwifruit--the fruit which haunt all of our dreams since we work 8-11 hour days picking and packing them.

Though I have only known my housemates for the few weeks that we have worked here, I feel close to them. We have spent these few weeks sharing complaints about the condition of our old farm house, learning about the food of all of our cultures and laughing about how silly we look at work and how tired we feel afterward. Everyone seems to love to learn from one another, and that interest we all have in each other creates some kind of magnetic, positive energy. It runs through the house drawing people to the kitchen table to talk about everything—our similarities and our differences.

I don’t know why this particular group of people is so special to me—maybe we hit some perfect ratio of kind, compassionate, curious people altogether. Or maybe it is that we are all here sharing this one short time in each other’s lives, when we are all on the same type of journey to discover new places, things and people. Whatever it is, I treasure it, and I want to thank all of my housemates for making this few weeks wonderful when without you, they would have been terrible. I wish you all luck, and I hope we will all continue to make great connections with new people throughout our lives.

Left to right this is Guille, me and Alex with our friends from the kiwifruit packhouse: Daniela and Mariana. I think in this picture we are showing our anger at the kiwifruit, but I'm not really sure.
Tess and Paul, from Ireland and Scotland, respectively.

One of the two Goodbye Kiwifruit cakes made for the party.

Wady, Pablo, Ingrid, and Mariana are from Chile and Argentina. This spot later became our Cumbia dance floor.

Daniel and Laura are a couple traveling together from Argentina, pictured here with Ingrid from Chile.

We have a slight Argentina vs. Chile rivalry in the house. I think it is always playful, but since I can't understand Spanish when spoken that quickly, I can't be entirely sure.

Me, Mercedes, Abe and Guille

Pablo and Ingrid. Ingrid got us all up on our feet dancing right after this picture was taken.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Adventures in Queenstown

Abe and I are now on the North Island—I will soon upload a map of all of the places I have been so far—and we both agreed that we are missing something about the South Island. Maybe it’s because we spent three months there or because we have not yet had time to sightsee here since we need to work first. Or maybe the South Island suits us better.

I read an article in a NZ magazine about the North-South divide and realized that the regions have as many stereotypes as the North and South of the United States, and they are surprisingly similar. Busy Northerners are materialistic and Southerners are provincial and conservative. In the U.S., New Yorkers are often targeted for being rude or looking down on any place that is not New York City. In New Zealand, some Kiwis have a name for the residents of the islands’ biggest city: a JAFA or “just another fucking Aucklander.”

Abe and I will visit more of the North Island and see for ourselves what is true once we have worked and saved a bit more money. But for now, we are in love with the natural beauty and diversity of the South Island. The South Island’s cities are all very different from one another, and they are spread out all over the island leaving the vast areas of land completely unpopulated. Hailing from the East Coast of the United States, I have never seen completely uninhabited land before I came here, and I think it must be similar to what our country used to look like before the Europeans arrived.

One of my favourite places in the South Island was Queenstown, and I am finally sharing the pictures now—a good internet connection is too hard to find in this scenic country! Queenstown is known as a party city and the “adrenaline capital” of New Zealand where you can do everything from the comparatively tame bungee jumping to parapenting (parachuting off a mountain) or zorbing (rolling down a mountain in a giant ball that eerily resembles a hamster wheel).

I love Queenstown because of the restaurants, nightlife, and the beautiful scenery. The city is built around the longest lake in New Zealand, Lake Wakatipu, and the lake is a perfectly clear blue-green. Little beaches, barbecues, trees, and the Queenstown Botanic Garden line the lake on one side of the city, and the wharf full of restaurants, sweetshops, and cafes line the other side. Queenstown often roars at night with young travellers celebrating their successful adrenaline rides of the day, there is a peaceful, natural beauty to it too.

The beautiful Lake Wakatipu

The Queenstown Botanic Gardens

This is one of the many beautiful forest walks that surround the huge lake.

Lake Wakatipu right before a storm

Bob's Weigh was one of the many Queenstown cafes we fell in love with.

This sunset was captured from our fantastic new hostel: Adventure Queenstown.

Nothing could be better than coffee and toast at the Patagonia Cafe. They serve jams and caramel with their toast!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Art of Picking Kiwifruit

I say kiwifruit-picking because in New Zealand, the people are Kiwis, the fruit is kiwifruit.
When I left the Bay of Islands, I had depleted more of my savings than I cared to admit, and I had stared unemployment in the face in Kerikeri. I needed to go somewhere where I was guaranteed a job, and now I was willing to do anything.

Abe found a backpacker hostel in the Bay of Plenty (southeast of the Bay of Islands and of Auckland) that advertised as a place where you could stay while you looked for work kiwifruit-picking. The owner, Owen, told us there was plenty of work to be had, so off we went to his farm house turned backpacker a few minutes south of a small town called Paengaroa.

Before I came to New Zealand I pictured fruit-picking as a fun job working outside. I imagined myself helping out on a family farm, walking through small rows of vines, casually picking fruit and placing it in a woven basket while I talked and laughed with other backpackers in the sunshine.

That vision was obviously not reality.

On our second day at Owen’s farm, a contractor showed up to see if any new backpackers had arrived looking for work. We said we would like to work, and he replied that we should follow him. “Oh, you mean right now?” Yes, he had come to collect anyone who wanted to work today.

We grabbed a few things to eat for lunch and hurried to follow him to his car. Pravin, our new contractor, was a 21-year old guy originally from Nepal. He has worked in the orchards for three years. We tried to ask him a few questions about what we would be doing in the car, but he waved his hand or answered with an annoyed, “Yes, yes.” After driving for about 30 minutes, our driver, an older South Korean guy whose name I can’t remember since I’ve never seen him after that first day, admitted he could not remember where the orchard was. “Oh, do you work at a lot of different orchards?” I asked. Yes, they worked at new orchards almost every day.

After driving around for another 30 minutes looking for cell phone service, we ran into a car they recognized and followed them to the orchard. At the orchard, we followed a sea of people to a shed where several official-looking people wearing bright orange construction vests were standing. As we passed them, they handed us giant black picking bags, hair nets, and gloves. I studied the bag to see how I was supposed to wear it, and another official barked at me to put my feet in a bucket. “What?” “You need to clean your shoes before you go into the orchard,” he said quickly. I dunked my shoes one at a time in the soapy water and followed the crowd.

Now I saw just how incorrect my vision had been. The kiwifruit vines were in thick, long rows, and there were dozens of them. I was not sure how many pickers were at the orchard, but it seemed like at least 50. Abe and I, and our new housemate Alex, a young chef from Germany, were assigned to a group of 12 to start on one row. In our group, it was everyone’s first day picking kiwifruit. We stepped under the thick shroud of vines to begin picking, looking at each other to see how to wear the picking bag. 

Noticing our confusion, a contractor, named Bhakdat, came over and showed us how to wear the bag and how to pick the kiwifruit “five or six fruit at a time in each hand” he said loudly in broken English, and then how to dump our full bags into the large wooden bins scattered around the orchard. I looked around for Pravin, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Ok, pick now! And pick fast,” Bhakdat said. “The more you pick, the more money for you. You pick the fruit gently, but quickly.” We started picking because we did not know what else to do. As we picked, I said to Abe and Alex, “How will we be paid?” They shrugged.

After a few hours of picking, someone called out, “Lunchtime!” and we followed the sea of people back to the carpark. Pravin and our South Korean driver showed up and unlocked the car, so we could get our food. We sat on the grass by the car and ate, speculating about how many kiwifruit we had picked and how we would get paid.

At the end of the day, Bhakdat took our group aside and told us that the 12 of us had picked 39 bins of kiwifruit. That sounded pretty good to me, since each bin is about the size of a double bed. He said he would pay us $15.50 per bin, which was higher than the going rate of $15 per bin. “How much is that per person?” one German girl asked. Since that rate had to be divided by 12 people, it turned out we had made about $38 after taxes for six hours of work. Six hours of hard work reaching up or bending below vines to pick handfuls of kiwifruit while carrying around a picking bag on your stomach that made me feel pregnant with a 40 pound baby.

This did not seem worth it.

Pravin dropped us at Owen’s farm house and took down my mobile number. “I will text you tomorrow morning if there is work,” he said. “What time?” I asked. “Be ready at 7:30 a.m.”

And each morning for two weeks we woke up at 6:30 to check the weather. If it rained, we could not work, if the sun was out, we got ready by 7:30 a.m. in case Pravin showed up. One sunny day, he did not come pick us up or text to say why. The next day when he showed up around 10 a.m.— we never knew what time he would come to take us to work because it depended on when the orchard told him the fruit was dry enough to pick—he told us he had a flat tire the day before. “Was your phone dead too, so you couldn’t call us or answer my texts?” I thought to myself.

We worked four days that first week and only two days the second week. Half of the days we did not work it rained, and the other half it was cloudy or Pravin just never showed. “Everyone told us you could make great money fruit-picking,” I said to my housemates one day. In Owen’s house, we lived with about 20 people, from Argentina, Chile, France, Germany, England, Scotland and Canada. It all depends on the weather, they said. And it has rained a lot this season.

Every time we got into a new car Pravin came to pick us up in, I felt like an illegal immigrant being carted off to work at a new orchard. Directions on how to handle the fruit and what to do before entering the orchard were barked at us from an orchard manager, and we picked as fast as we could. We guzzled water every two hours when we got a break and ate our sandwiches savagely at lunchtime. Physical work made me hungrier than I’d ever been.

In some orchard groups, we talked with the other workers. In others, they spoke to each other in Hindi, Mandarin, German, or Spanish. In all of the orchards after that first day, we were paid an hourly rate, which was better for us since we were slower than the fruit pickers who had been working at this for 11 years. 

Since we picked only in Golden kiwifruit orchards, we had to be gentler with the fruit than people who picked Green. An orchard manager told us that the Golden kiwifruit, became scuffed or punctured more easily than other fruit. We needed to pick fast but carefully. And we should not pick the under-sized or oddly shaped kiwifruit. None of these were saleable, they told us.

That was all there was to learn about picking kiwifruit, so we settled into the long hours of picking row after row of kiwifruit. We started bringing our iPods to better pass the time.

After two weeks of confusion, hard work, low pay, and boredom, Abe, Alex, and I decided we had had enough of our “kiwi experience,” or as Alex called it “our kiwi nightmare” because we all said we saw kiwifruit when we closed our eyes to go to sleep at night.

“Well, at least we know what fruit-picking is like now!” I said.

A girl we lived with from Argentina, Guille, told us she could get us jobs at the kiwifruit packhouse, where we could work six days a week and work regular hours. “I think we are up for anything,” I said. Because after learning the non-art of kiwifruit-picking, I really am game for anything.

Lunchtime and breaks were often spent greedily eating off-brand Nutella straight out of the jar.

What kiwifruit orchards really look like

Me in picking get up.

This is Abe stretching out his back since he spent most of his time crouching underneath the kiwifruit vines.
Owen's farm house/ backpacker hostel

We have horses and cows at our farm house! And sometimes we have to walk through the cows to get to the house which really freaks me out because the cows outnumber us.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

WWOOFing in the Bay of Islands

“We are not actually WWOOFers,” I thought to myself as Kate, the manager of the Hone Heke Lodge, prattled along enthusiastically about the work Abe and I would be doing for her for the next month. She told us that cleaning the hostel used to be a paid position, but she decided using WWOOFers was better.

WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, but the organization has grown to include employers other than farms. The idea is for employers to gain labour in exchange for housing travellers and teaching them about farming or brewing beer or making chocolate.  True WWOOFing locations, are places that want to help travellers meet new people and learn new things, but many employers now use the term to mean a straight work exchange. They see WWOOFers as cheap labour.

I should have seen Kate’s attitude as a red flag: she was getting us to do paid work very cheaply, and she was not affiliated with the WWOOF in any way. But we had travelled all the way from Christchurch on the South Island to Kerikeri in the far north of the North Island to live here, and I was determined to make it work.

Abe and I had found Kate’s posting for work exchange and agreed to clean the hostel for a few hours each morning for our accommodation and internet. She told us we could easily work in the afternoons and evenings in the town of Kerikeri to save some money.

I listened to Kate talk about the town and our duties with outward excitement and inward anxiety. Abe and I had worked in Franz Josef for two months, but after traveling for another three weeks we needed to work again. Our funds were getting dangerously low, so free accommodation plus working in town sounded like a great proposition. But we had to find paying jobs quickly.

The next morning we started work in the hostel, and our agreed upon two-three hours of work turned into three and a half. The Hone Heke Lodge was a long-term hostel for backpackers working in the kiwifruit and mandarin orchards nearby. Most people stayed there for 4-6 weeks as they tried to save money. I heard working in the orchards was hard and from state of that lodge in the morning, it must be hell. Beer bottles and cigarette butts lined the tables and the floor in the dining area and flies buzzed around dirty dishes and half-eaten food piled in the kitchen.

Abe’s job was to clean the dorm rooms and the TV room, and I was to clean the kitchen, dining room, and bathrooms. That first morning I cleaned each area with latex gloves and a grimace. The Hone Heke lodge was old and overcrowded, with five toilets and six showers for over 80 people. Dead sandflies and spiders lined the ceilings. And people stared at me as I swept the food and trash off the stone floor in the dining area.
That afternoon, Abe and I went into town to apply for jobs. I walked into the first restaurant we saw and asked brightly, “Are you hiring?” “No, our summer tourist season is over, we won’t be hiring anyone,” a woman behind the bar said. Hm. The next place said something similar, and about 30 businesses later, we realized we might not be able to find jobs in Kerikeri.

I freaked out a little that night. I travelled all the way up here on Kate’s word that we could find jobs in town, and there seemed to be none. The only work here was fruit-picking, and we couldn’t do that because we had agreed to clean the hostel in the mornings. We had spent money hiking and traveling, and then more money to get here, and I was now living off of my savings account, which I hate to do. Abe was also feeling desperate.

The next day we cleaned again and endeavoured to find work in one of the remaining businesses in town. We asked every place in Kerikeri from the Asian take away restaurant to the BP station. No, they were not hiring; summer was over. On our way back from applying to the two supermarkets in town (they were not hiring either), we passed the Kerikeri McDonalds and Pizza Hut, the only two places in town we had not applied. The McDonalds was open 24 hours, which was a big deal for a business in Kerikeri since many cafes and shops closed at 3 p.m. There was a Now Hiring sign in the window.

I searched Abe’s expression, saw his disappointment that this was the one business in Kerikeri that was hiring, and smiled. “Yeah, I would rather strip than work at McDonalds,” I joked. We would have to leave this town.

Abe and I felt guilty reneging on our agreement to work for the Hone Heke Lodge for one month, but after a few days of asking around for work and weighing our options, we realized sometimes you have to cut your losses. We gambled and lost, and it was time to go somewhere where we knew would work and save money to avoid the social embarrassment of working at a company we both hated.

Backpacking through New Zealand is often an amazing experience, but at times it is extremely challenging.
In each new place, I have to navigate through a foreign town or city, I need to find a place to sleep, somewhere to eat, something to entertain myself. I need to meet new people and try to make friends, and in some places, I need to search for a job as well. Even though I am sleeping in old or uncomfortable bunk beds and showering in community bathrooms, I need to look presentable and be energetic. Conquering a new place takes a lot of energy.

In Kerikeri, I encountered the worst case scenario for a backpacker. My lodgings were dirty and unkempt, and I did not make many friends. The unpaid work was awful, and there was no paid work at all. And in that moment, I felt depressed and thought maybe I should just go home. I thought, “I feel too old for this; it is too hard.”

But because I am backpacking, when I feel that way, I can pick up and leave. Abe and I put in our two weeks notice (because we’re responsible like that), and we moved on in search of better things.