A Travellerspoint blog

Notes from Northland

semi-overcast 13 °C
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  • as a brief note, this is the first in quite a few blog enteries I will be posting before I leave in the campervan. I obviously need to catch up from a while ago so if you fancy reading back on my thoughts of the times past, all the entries will be there. If you cant be bothered, I take no offence, read on from here. I shall be adding photos to illustrate all of the blogs once i have managed to shrink their file size.

The last week before we return our hire car, a few days before we then collect the campervan, our itchy feet got the better of us and we left Auckland on a tour of the Northland. Tent in the boot, petrol in the tank, I start off down the highway for a 2 hour drive to Whangarei. The New Zealanders posess some terrible driving habbits worth mentioning; every single driver, no matter at what speed will tail just 2 meters behind your car, another confusing one is the fact that very few signal or use appropriate lanes, this is due to it only being made a legal requirement last year, so you can often e surprised by a truck darting across 2 lanes in front of you to exit the highway.

Well after obviously making it safely to the first destination, I toped up my English Breakfast Tea level (something I could not do through most of South America) before driving to the outskirts of the town to some walks through the woods to a waterfall. The beauty of New Zealand is that these sorts of 'tramps' as they call them are everywhere and you immediately feel away from any sort of city sprawl. The waterfall was luckily void of picnicing people so we relaxed there for a while before going to find somewhere to camp for the first night.

A wet and chilly morning made packing the tent away a chore but i can be gratefull that unlike big heavy patrol tents modern ones dont take long to pack away and i was soon back in the warm car. On the road toward the Bay of Islands we decided to head to Paihia as it has a central view of the whole bay and, as it turned out, provided a handmade sandwich shop where I could get a never before seen sandwich combining egg mayo and tuna mayo inbetween the same two slices of bread... inovative i think you'll agree. The afternoons viewing of the Witangi Treaty Grounds was fairly interesting, giving a background as to how England drew these two unied islands into its empire, the answer... they asked us to!

This night saw the camp set up by a river which had what seemed like an incredibly high up swing hanging from a riverside tree, however it may be my lack in vertical stature that made it seem challenging to mount. Morning caled for an early departure as I had a long way to drive to the northern most tip of New Zealand, a swift change of plan partly due to the weather but largely the petrol costs (which are high here as well you'll be glad to know) meant we drove across the island to the bottom of 90 mile beach which is a very long beach you can drive along as the sand is so compressed. It isnt 90 miles long however, only a mere 60, and if the day had been slightly clearer we'd probably have been able to see the whole legth of it from where we parked. After another stint on the road we stopped for the night at a small town with an amazing view of Hokianga Harbour. The view made up for missing Cape Reinga at the top of New Zealand however beside the view the town boasted little more than a take away and a pub, so I had fish and chips from the take away and a pint in front of the open fire at the pub.

Deciding to head off even earlier this morning as the tent was freezing I got on to the winding road running through Waipoua Forest. A few stops for walks lead to a couple of trees which had been alive for around 2000 years and it is impossible to portray their size in photos or words, the girth they boasted was impressive to say the least!

Winding on down the road toward the museum, helping an old gentleman who had come off his motorbike along the way, we expected the museum to be a small review of the giant trees however it was a huge complex of various warehous sized rooms that wore out the whole tree experience rather quickly. With haste, being carefull to avoid the huge Hawks that sit by the road before flying away just in front of you, the aim was now to arrive at the Brick Bay sculpture park for 4 so we could get the last entry tickets before they closed at 5. 3:58 my wallet leaves my back pocket ready to pay the lady who will then hand over two tickets allowing us to walk the trail of sculptures, however the lady feels it is necissary to give a windy lecture on how this is the last entry and shes not sure if she should let us in as they close at 5. This was irritating to say the least, made even more ridiculous by the fact that even with time to enjoy the artwork on offer I complete the trail in an easy 45 min. This aside the trail was enjoyable and the artwork was nearly all by New Zealand based artists and often very interesting work.

After buying a catalogue of work and leaving the sculpture park, all that was left was to return to Auckland for a better nights sleep before returning our Jucy Rental car the next day. This now leaves me eagerly awaiting the collection of the campervan, hand spraypainted to an original design. To keep myself busy whilst waiting for the camper I guess I'll have to climb up a dormant volcano... you can just do things like that in New Zealand!

Posted by FlatCapped 14:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Green Green Grass

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Upon arrival into New Zealand I am requested to declare certain items, now any normal country you shuffle straight through the 'Nothing To Declare' corridor, however in New Zealand anything that is not shrink wrapped and free of germs appears to be up for scrutiny. Therefore when you arrive on a flight from South America if you're not declaring something, alarm bells are ringing. I, conveniently, had a tent to declare and was wearing the shoes I had been hiking in, therefore allowing easy checking, displaying willing compliance and avoiding some more thorough searches by some very thorough uniformed gentlemen.

Cash was easily obtained in the airport and it was clear to see that the return to English being the prevelant language would make all the little things like that easy once more. After buying some mints for my post 13 hour flight breath, I learnt that the 1 dollar coins would provide reminders of a nearlly 25000 km distant home, with their close resemblance to the £1 coin, including the Queens likeness on one side.

For the first 3 weeks in New Zealand, prior to collecting our pre-booked campervan, Kyla and I have opted to stay at her Dads house in Auckland untill such time that either, the farm stays we are trying to organise come to fruition or we chose to go and see other parts of the country before returning for our campervan. It turns out a few farm stays fall through before we end up then turning one down at the last minuite due to the limited work available leaving us with nothing to do in the days.

Temporary roots in Auckland, although not normal for ths trip, don't stop me seeing New Zealand, as there are quite a few things in the near by area to see. So with the hire of a car from Jucy Rentals for 15 dollars a day (thats 6 English pounds!) we take in the sights of Pihia and the black sands beaches (courtesey of Bobs driving in fairness), the Auckland and Hamilton Gardens, Raglan Beach, One Tree Hill, Mount Eden, The Sky Tower which is the tallest structure in the sothern hemisphere and Waiheke Island.

The first two weeks were a mixture of getting things organised such as buying cold weather clothing as it is heading into winter here, as well as catching up on things I've left undone. Important though, has been getting out and seeing the sights New Zealand has to offer, it is immediately apparent that New Zealand is similar to England, although England appears much flatter. New Zealand would not be poorley described as the unspoilt England, with its rolling green hills and its many woods and forests broken up by farm land and the odd city. I missed green grass whilst in most of South America so the countryside I am now viewing is welcome relief.

Posted by FlatCapped 18:19 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Like Flogging a Dead Horse To Cross Countries

sunny 19 °C
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Early in the morning my bleary eyes notice 15 more minuites untill I need to leave the hotel bed and so they close, not to be opened again until the phone in the room rings with, upon answer, a voice telling me that the taxi is here. After a sleepy taxi ride and entry onto a bus, including a man with a video camera recording my tired face as I climb onboard, I settle into my seat for the journey to Tacna. It turns out the journey is not as long as suggested in the now dubbed Lying Planet instead of Lonely Planet by all travellersand what this guide book, and I use the term guide loosely, neglects to tell us is that upon arrival to this small border town it will become apparent that the trains do not leave for Arica, Chile on Sundays so we will have to find accomodation and spend an unplanned night in Peru.

The next morning, over breakfast, we decided the easiest and quickest way to get over to Chile was going to be in what they call a Colectivo Taxi. You go to the station and sign all the paper work before jumping into a massive 1970's American car (well ours was anyway) complete with bouncy suspension to compliment the pot hole riddled road we would cross on. Usefull due to their help at the imigration points, the drivers drop you off in the Chillean town of Arica. Arica boasts nothing of note, contrary to the suggestions of the taxi driver who took us to the hostal we chose as our nights shelter. The next morning would see us get onto a bus for a 30 hour journey down to Santiago so we attempted to get a good ammount of rest the night before.

The absence of films on the bus journey was unbelievably irritating as I had yet to be on a bus in South America that did not show films, and this was the most obvious time that people would require films as some form of entertainment to wile away the 30 hours on board. Regardless the trip passed in a manner that I'm sure could have been a lot worse. Santiago, the capital of one of the richer South American countries, seemed like a return to developed civilization after months in countries like Bolivia and Peru. Although it wasnt a relief as I was most excited by my time in those countries, on some level it was easier and so therefore enjoyable to ride a metro for example and walk tree lined, pavements at the side of the road.

My time in Santiago was relatively short and other than visiting the Art Gallery and looking around the centre and the Plaza, I didn't visit many places. walking the streets however I got a greater feel for the city as I witnessed a University building that had been taken over by students and blockaded with stools and chairs as well as the next day walking into a march down the main street of Santiago which again appeared to be student protest.

Almost as quickly as I arrived in Santiago I'm heading toward the airport to fly out. After finishing the book I was reading whilst waiting for the gate number, I find that it is infact open and people are already cueeing. Shuffling forward at a pace slower than the zombies in old horror films we get to within two people of our target before an employee of the airport tells us the flight is now cancelled and that we will be put up in a hotel, now dont panic I thought, this could be a fancy hotel she's talking about. It turns out it was a fancy hotel, and our room had an amazing view of the illuminated Santiago skyline, the downside, and there always is one in this situation I imagine, was that the taxi would collect us at 4 in the morning, allowing us very little rest before our now daytime flight. My body wasn't going to know if it was coming or going, if it should be asleep or awake, would this bring my first experience of jet lag?

Posted by FlatCapped 19:07 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Sublime [su-bleem-A] Burners

sunny 25 °C
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Even after beeing warned by my volunteering contact Conor to not make the same mistake as him, George, Kyla and myself decided to spend the weekend in Huacachina before going on to Pisco to help out with the earthquake relief. Huacachina truely is an oasis in the middle of a dessert, although only 5 min tuc-tuc ride from a main town, it is surrounded and seperated by towering sand dunes and in its centre even has a small lake and some picturesque palms. The reason Conor would advise againt such a get away was due to the sandboarding injury he sustained there just a day prior to him starting his volunteer work with the Burners Without Borders Charity. So having ignored his advice and gone to Huacachina regardless I obviously didnt sandboard so as to avoid injury.... of course thats not true, I rode down those dunes as fast as I could, standing up and staying up, all no problem until I got to the bottom where the dune levelled out. With no chance of turning thanks to the planks of wood they called boards, in a dust ball of limbs and sand, I luckily managed to walk away from repeated crashes with the only the crunch in my mouth not of broken teeth but of the sand I was fed a face full of every time.

On the Monday, we finally managed to arrive at the Burners Centre Camp conveniently for the end of lunch. We dealt with the legal forms and were offered the rest of the day off to have a look around the safe part of Pisco (of which there is very little). That evening, whilst still trying to meet people, I was offered a prime chance to look stupid at the Intercambio. Intercambio happens every evening, it translates in English as Interchange, here the local people, mostly young kids come and interact with the volunteers, twice a week the volunteers teach them English, picking up bits of Spanish in return and then the other evenings are open to suggestions, this Monday an 8 year old Peruvian dancing champion was teaching the traditional dance, I dont have to explain how this led to my looking stupid, you can picture it.

My first day of work and a small group of us head to the Watermelon Man's house to break up his concrete foundations so he can begin rebuilding his house. The tools of choice were a pick axe, a chisel and various sized sledge hammers. It was good work but at lunch I was pulled off the project to start a new one. One of the Burners houses has people sleeping on the roof and it is also the Tsunami Point so it needed a rail around its perimeter to make it safe. Designed by Jason it was my task to weld all the metal parts together and teach Swiss Sam how to weld too. Between this and other welding jobs as well as teaching David and US Sam to weld, I worked with metal for the rest of my time in Pisco.

During my time there I also became slightly addicted to an ice cream called Sublime (that's pronounced Sub-lim-A), this was pretty much a right of passage for any Burners Volunteer, particularly US Sam who could be seen to have 3 or 4 a day, to put this into perspective you have to bear in mind that these ice creams are more expensive than a litre bottle of beer. Talking of beer, on the Wednesday all the volunteers were invited to get drunk for a very good cause. The young locals who come to Intercambio have created there own group to take over re-build efforts when the charity eventually has to leave. They are collectively called Pisco Power and to raise funds for tools etc they put on a party with beer, sangria, Peruvian cakes and some crazy music. The entrepunerial skills of the youngsters didnt end there. the next day was a public bank holiday and so we only worked for half the day, for the second half we, for safety rasons, as a whole group, went to the beach. Soon after, Pisco Power turned up with a volleyball net and buckets full of beer in ice, selling them for cheaper than the night before but still a mark up from the shop... they must have made a killing.

It got to the time that Kyla and I had planned to leave and start the journey down to cross into Chile for our flight but there was a big job on the Monday in nearby Chincha that I really wanted to help with and so after the half day Saturday we headed off with a group of people to spend the weekend in Chincha. The weekend was great fun but Monday was going to be very hard work, a school that had been rebuilt after the quake needed its large concrete roof pouring, all hands were on deck for this. The cattle truck picked us up at half 6 and after getting the concrete bags, sand etc in the right place we started up the two mixers and kicked off about half 7. For the next 7 to 8 hours everyone carried buckets of cement up the slippery ramp, shovelled the mix or manned the pouring tray so that by around 3 in the afternoon we had finished. It was amazing to see so many people working together to get this done and after setting a cross and flowers on the new roof for good luck we were gifted with a free litre bottle of beer each and plenty of food from the pit fire.

Posted by FlatCapped 01:14 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Anyone for a Birthday game of Steps and Ladders?

sunny 23 °C
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At an early 4 in the morning, I rose from my slumber to get changed into my walking gear ready for the last leg of my treck to Machu Pichu. As I checked the room to ensure we had everything I lifted the contents of my hand and placed it on my head. Bit by bit everyone joined the group around the table waiting for breakfast, my make shift hat was not ridiculed of course for its meaning was obvios especially to those who had shared a drink with me so few hours ago. As we all finished the breakfast our minds had just about woken up and there was general talk of the goal so close to us, then the talk was interupted by the appearance of something I had never expected... a birthday cake. It was my birthday today, the day I climb up to see Machu Pichu, and the cooks who had been with us for the whole treck had baked me a traditional Peruvian cake for my birthday, and so everyone sang as is also tradition.

We all arrived at the ruins of Machu Pichu in time to see sunrise although it was fairly bright in the first place so I unfortunately can not suggest it was a huge moment. The place looks incredible and getting there early was essential so that I could take it in for what it once was, come midday the ruins will be overrun with tourists and the magic all but hidden, upon our arrival there were only the llamas that live there and tend to the grass within the ruins.

The tour Ricardo gave us of the ruins was sadly to be the last time we would see him and everyone was dissapointed to say goodbye, we could not have asked for a better guide, he was a truely great person. After the goodbyes, our group agreed to mount an attack on the sumit of Wanu Pichu, the nearby peak which a limited ammount of people are allowed to climb and provides a birds eye view of the Machu Pichu site. The route up Wanu Pichu was steep but manageable and most definately worth the effort for the view and the feeling. The way down was not so easy. Im happy to admit when I was wrong and I made the wrong decision here, I suggested that the ones of us that went to the very top should go the back way down as it would be less crowded and consequently easier to walk. Unfortunately the back way provides what can only be described as a poor excuse for a cave as well as an ungulating track which would make us do the equivalent of the original climb twice over. This isnt fair, its supposed to be my birthday and this felt like torture, I've never climbed so many steps and ladders. All of us found our moral at a low at some point during this painfull walk off the mountain, especially after the 4 days of trekking we'd done prior, but we urged each other on untill the downhill and eventual exit.

After a train ride back to Cusco, we all arranged to meet for lunch the following day. The next day we did meet for lunch, then also dinner and then we went out for drinks as well. When we left for our respective accomodation that night we arranged another lunch meeting before we all left Cusco, obviously no one wanted to say goodbye to what had turned out to be a group better than we could have imagined.

Posted by FlatCapped 02:14 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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