Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Sunday, December 22, 2013

One Week In Fiji

This is the boat we used to go snorkeling on my 2nd day in Taveuni.
Different than way that the cold air hit me the first time I stepped off the plane in Antarctica, the hot humid air in Fiji stuck to my skin creating a dampness that hasn't left yet.  I've gotten used to this feeling in the last 8 days, but it doesn't make it too much more comfortable.

Sunset in Taveuni
Before flying to the smaller island of Taveuni I spent a few days in the city of Nadi (pronounced Nandy) on Fiji's largest island.  I've spent most of my time in Nadi at my hostel on the beach.  There really hasn't been much reason to leave.  I did go into the city center to visit the farmer's market, but I didn't stay much longer since I was tired of being hassled by the locals.  Fijians are known for being some of the friendliest people in the world, but in the city it is a little different.  Their "friendliness" turns annoying really quickly as every third person on the streets stops to introduce themselves and inquires to make sure I've visited the local Fijian market and not the Indian markets.  There is a large Indian (from India) population in Nadi and the locals aren't the biggest fans of them.  A bunch of white people took the bus into town yesterday and ended up all walking down the same street toward the fruit and vegetable market and the group got smaller and smaller as each of us was eventually enticed to visit one of the local Fijian shops.

Fire Dancing!
1.5 seconds of fire dancing.

This trip was supposed to be relaxing so I soon got too fed up with this and headed to catch the bus back to the beach hostel. Walking down the last block to the bus station I couldn't take more than a few steps without being stopped.  There were a few times I would say goodbye to someone and turn around to start walking and not even make a step before someone else came up to me.

My first time snorkeling.

It is such a different world.
From Nadi I got on a small twin otter airplane to fly an hour and a half to the island of Taveuni.  The last time I was on a twin otter I was at the South Pole.  Flying over tropical islands was a lot nicer than flying over that cold, flat, white landscape.  The door of this twin otter didn't quite seal, which freaked some people out, but I was happy to have a little extra breeze in the heat.

Bali was our guide on most day trips around Taveuni.
The van that picked me up from the airport was in even worse shape than the plane.  The first bench seat in the back wasn't attached to the floor so it rocked back and forth with every bump in the road.  But it got me to the hostel.  Not the hostel I originally booked…that one was closed, but the same people opened up another one and simply transferred the reservations from the old hostel to the new one.  The website for the old one is still up and currently taking reservations….oh Fiji.

An hour after I arrived in Taveuni I headed up to some local waterfalls with a few people that were also staying in the hostel.  The heat was killer, but we were rewarded with cool water to swim in at each waterfall.  There were also purple crabs high up in the rain forest.  Later that evening we had a bonfire on the beach and watched some Fijian fire dancing.  The rest of my days in Fiji have been just as amazing.
The grass was covered in these things every night.
I have thousands of photos to go through, but I was able to quickly find a few for this post.  I'll also try to get some more stories up in the next few days.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thinking In A German Accent & Some tips for NZ

Lake Tekapo

Milk truck heading south along the west coast.
Lots of greenery from bus seats throughout New Zealand.
I know when I spend a long time in South America and am surrounded by the Spanish language and attempt to speak it I start to think in Spanish.  I have never gotten to the point where I've started to dream in it.  I've heard that is the sign you need to leave. In New Zealand I'm surrounded my many languages in hostels, but even more prominent than English is German.  There are Germans everywhere!  So far they have made up over half of the guests in each hostel I've stayed at.  English is the second most common language, but in a German accent.  I've heard enough of this that sometimes I find that my thoughts are in this German accent.

Expect a lot more palm tree photos to come once I get to Fiji.
Today is my last day in New Zealand and I feel like the time has go by fast.  I've seen a good chunk of the south island, but there is still a lot to be seen.  I guess I'll just have to come back next year for some more exploring.  You could spend months on just this island and hardly see anything.  

Pancake rocks formed from eroded limestone along the west coast.
A few things that have helped me out in the last few weeks in New Zealand: A BBH card for hostels. It is $45, but that cost is recovered pretty quickly in hostel savings and phone calls. It makes it easy to book hostels online and you get a $3/night discount.  It also is a phone card that make calling around NZ and the rest of the world really easy. 

Another milk truck on the west coast.
I also got a Metro card for the bus system in Christchurch.  It is $10 and you can reload it online or on any bus.  It drops your bus fare by at least $1 and after two fares paid each day the rest of the rides are free.  It makes running errands around the city really easy and cheap.

Church in Lake Tekapo.
The last tip would be to invest in a few tupperware containers.  Not much is cheap in New Zealand and eating out is no exception.  Instead of paying $25 for a dinner, I'd go out and buy $25 worth of groceries and cook a big meal that would last me for a couple of days.

Lastly, it is worth spending the extra money to travel by train.  But if you are going to take a bus, take Naked Bus instead of Intercity.  They are a lot cheaper and the driver doesn't bore/annoy you with five hours of commentary. 

This whole paragliding thing is pretty cool.
Flying! I figured out that I'm not afraid of heights when I'm not attached to anything.

I'm waiting in the Christchurch Airport right now just about an hour before my flight to Fiji.  It has been almost 15 months since I have been on a non-USAP/USAF flight.  I'm looking forward to the seats being a little more comfortable than on an LC-130.  It has been warm in New Zealand, but the heat of Fiji (upper 80s) is going to be a shock.  I remember wind chill temperatures in the winter around -80* once or twice.  I don't know which I would prefer.  

Lake Tekapo
Lupines right next to the hostel I stayed at in Tekapo.

Lupines and Lake Tekapo at night.
Windy night.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The North of The South Island

The Coastal Pacific train travels through vineyards between Kaikoura and Picton.

Watering Cove where I spent my first night on the trail.
Earlier this week I spent three days walking along through the forests and along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park.  It was the perfect respite after 14 months in Antarctica.  Here is a description of the first 15-20 minutes of hiking on my last day on the trail.

Sunset over Nelson Haven of Tasman Bay in Nelson.
The night before I was eager to be up before the sun because I hadn’t seen a sunrise since the sun would come up at noon in McMurdo a few months ago.  However I didn’t feel that eagerness as my alarm went off at 4am.  After hitting the snooze button a few times on my phone and my watch I finally sat up in my damp tent and primed the whisperlite stove in the dark grey, humid morning.  The flames from the stove lit up my little nook in the Awaroa Campground.  I really needed coffee for a little extra motivation.  Even though I only had 5.5 kilometers to hike that day I knew it was going to be a long one because I could already feel my blisters throbbing and I didn’t even have shoes or a pack on yet.

Early morning in the Awaroa Campground.
I thought I was being clever by wearing my lightweight running shoes along the Abel Tasman Coastal trek because it was going to be warm and sunny along this relatively easy track.  While I had run in those shoes a lot over the last few months, I hadn’t carried a heavy pack in them or with any shoes for that matter over the last 11 months.  I don’t know why I though my feet would react well to this. 

The Milky Way isn't as visible in New Zealand as it was during the winter in Antarctica.  
Before I knew it my coffee was gone and my pack was packed.  I knew I’d be walking through some water and mud so I opted for hiking the half-kilometer across the estuary, which is only crossable within a few hours of low tide (that is why I was up so early), in my flip flops. 

The night before I had a my knife, bandage and the only wet antiseptic wipe that was usable from my first aid kit laid out in my tent in the excitement of draining the bloody fluid from my blisters.  Then I remembered that while crossing the estuary my feet would get covered in mud and salt water and I would not fair well with a bandaged foot with even a small hole in the major blister. 

I started across the estuary in my flip flops and pack wincing at every step.  Besides the pain in my feet it was peaceful with no wind and a brightening day.  I was completely surrounded by the sounds of birds also greeting the new day.  I started an hour earlier than most people in the campground because the hiking was going to be slow for me.  I walked on the outside of my feet to avoid putting pressure on the blisters that were nestled in between the ball of my foot and big toe. Yes, a strange place to have them.  Days later my legs are sore in strange places because of walking this way.

An oystercatcher searches for food in the evening in the Awaroa Inlet. 
The sky was slowly turning from grey to pink and I wanted to stop to take photos, but it was too wet to set my pack down and I just wanted to get this crossing over with. At first the going was easy, but I soon got to the muddy section filled with the crabs.

I’m not afraid of spiders unless they surprise me and I have no reason to dislike crabs unless there are thousands of them near my exposed feet.  As I walked they would scuttle in all directions.  Some would scuttle sideways away from me and stand there looking terrified as if saying, “Please don’t hurt me,” and others would run toward my feet and stand there swaying back and forth as if saying, “Come at me bro.”  Others would quickly crawl back into their little holes in the sand.  I knew I was stepping on many of them beneath the sand, but I hoped that they would be able to crawl out after I moved on.  I also didn’t feel too terribly bad about this because of the unease they were causing me—even though I was in their home.  Every once in awhile I would test the “come at me bro” crabs and poke them with my trekking pole.  This would be enough to scare some away and others would get aggressive and attack the end of my pole.  I was never sure which ones were right next to my feet. To my delight the crabs eventually thinned out and I was confronted with the Awaroa river.

It was hardly knee deep and I was wearing shorts so getting my clothes wet wasn’t an issue.  It was also very mellow so I had no worries of falling in.  The cold water felt good on my feet.  The crossing brought back memories of terrifying river crossings with 100 pound packs and mountaineering boots in Patagonia.  Thinking about holding on to four other people and walking sideways across a waist-deep, grey-colored rushing river sounds absurd to me right now.  And, well, it did at the time too.  Besides the ocean, the landscape that I’d traveled through for the last few days reminded me a lot of Patagonia.  

Typical beach along the trail.
I was most of the way across the estuary by this point and felt like I was home free.  No more crabs and no more scary river crossing memories left.  Nope, I was wrong about the crabs.  More crabs! There were less on this side of the river and they seemed less aggressive.  With just about 100 meters left I got to the sticky mud.

If I hadn’t had enough of a harrowing crossing this sealed the deal.  There was a nice thin layer of black mud mixed with sand that made my sandals stick to the ground with each step.  My feet and sandal straps were covered in the same beautiful golden sand that covers the beaches of Abel Tasman National Park.  However, this sand is from granite and the crystalline structure was extra painful as it was ground between my skin and sandal strap as I tried to free my flip-flop with each step forward.  I tried to slow down, but that just prolonged the pain and the grinding of the sand against my skin. 

After twenty long minutes of walking I made it to the rocks on the north side of the estuary where I brushed the sand off my feet and let them dry out before I put on a fresh pair of socks and the same blister-causing shoes I’d worn for the previous two days.  I resisted the urge to grab my camera, while being eaten by sand flies, I watched the bright pink sky turn to daylight.  There was only five more kilometers to go that day.

I'm going to have some fun with this underwater camera housing.
Watering Cove where I spent my first night.
Waiharakeke Bay
This photo almost makes me dizzy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Upon Leaving The Ice

I often talk to people who tell me how lucky I am to travel or how they wish that they could.  Almost anyone can travel if they really want to.  They just have to be willing to cut those strings that are holding them in place.  That can be uncomfortable to do, but often worth it.  

A Weddell Seal rests in front of the Barne Glacier.

The citizens of Antarctica have quite a different view on traveling.  I've never met so many people without an excuse to drop everything (or most things) and travel.  Sure there are some people that go down there just for the money or just to get out of debt, but most of them go down there for the adventure and the excuse to travel afterward.  It is refreshing to not hear excuses as to why they can't travel. Instead of dreaming of places to go, Antarcticans are always planning the next trip.

McMurdo Sound, Antarcitca

I've been back in New Zealand for five days now and Antarctica seems like a dream.  It is as if the rest of the world has stood still for the last year, but while I was on the ice for what seemed like forever--just like in the Chronicles of Narnia.  As strange as it sounds this was one of my major realizations of getting off the ice: the rest of the world continued to work while I was in McMurdo.

This year's last field work for me in Antarctica: delivering cargo across McMurdo Sound to Marble Point.

My reintroduction hasn’t been as extreme as I expected it.  I had months to think about how shocked I was going to be and I’ve been let down.  Everything just feels normal again.  I’m not looking forward to this grand moment when I see a tree again.  I’m simply back.  I was hoping for more.  I do walk around grocery stores in more of a daze than I used to and it took me about 20 minutes to pick out a bag of coffee on my second day back.  I know everyone is moving faster than me, but I was hoping to be more uncomfortable in such a situation.  I even feel like I have a purpose when I walk into the produce section. 

Akaroa, New Zealand
Managing my own newfound freedom has been hard to re-learn to do.  After 14 months of working 9+ hours a day six days a week I have forgotten how to do what I want to do.  I am in luck however because most of what I want to do is just cook and eat and enjoy “new” sounds and walk around and enjoy “new” views. 

Akaroa, New Zealand
While thoroughly enjoying walking through the forest and grassy fields I find myself reluctant to touch too many plants.  I have an undying urge to hug every tree I see and feel every leaf but I am afraid to.  I am afraid that they will disappear between my fingers or turn into the fake office plants that are scattered around McMurdo.  I don't want that disappointment.

The garden of the hostel I stayed at in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The absolute scariest part of my re-entry has been learning how to walk.  Throw me in the middle of an icy road with shoes that don’t have any traction and I can do just fine.  But now that I’m trying to negotiate muddy trails with slick wet grassy I am doomed.  I haven’t fallen on my ass yet, but have been very close many times.  I went for a hike in the hills above Akaroa yesterday and on my way down I would stop at the top of every steep muddy section the same way any other person would stop at a rocky precipice or an icy cliff.  Then I’d try to plan a decent route and walk down bent at the waste taking each timid step with the hopes that I wouldn’t slide to the bottom.  With each slip I’d throw my arms up in the air in a theatric dance move in a feeble attempt to stay on my feet.

Akaroa at night.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Places I Call Home

This peninsula has been my home for the last 14 months.  McMurdo is tucked in out of sight and the end of the land.
I am usually able to pretty quickly feel at home in most places.  I've developed this ability over a few years of traveling and guiding in places all over North and South America and never staying more than a month or so in one place and am pretty happy with this skill.  While I am always longing a real home I am usually pretty content with wherever I am.

Mount Erebus on a particularly active day.
Sometimes this home is a tent in a backyard in Anchorage, Alaska, a hostel in Puerto Montt, Chile, wherever my old van was parked or in a tent at 19,000 feet on a mountain.  Lately my home has been a dorm room at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

Mount Erebus framed in a pressure ridge on the west side of McMurdo Sound.

Antarctica is a strange place to call home, but for the last 14 months this has been my home.  The people and the landscape have drawn me in for much longer than I could have ever imagined when I arrived here.  I've been reflecting on this as I enter my last week on this continent.  I'm not sure how much I have changed in the last year since the place around me hasn't changed.  I think I'm usually pretty aware of changes within myself since I am the only thing that is slowly changing while everything else around me seems to be on a faster pace.  I know I'm not the same person I was when I arrived here over a year ago, but I'm not yet sure what is different.  Months of constant sunlight and darkness and no living things certainly takes a toll on a person, but I won't know that toll until I get back to something different than this.

The Erebus Glacier Tongue and the Dellbridge Island from Ross Island.
I will miss the people and this little "town." But it is time to leave.  It is time to close the longest chapter and see what the next pages have to hold.  It is time to go swim in the ocean for the first time ever.

Chunks of ice and the Wilson Piedmont Glacier at Marble Point across McMurdo Sound from McMurdo Station.