copyright 1998, James Waldron Design, all rights reserved
It's been a long, long day, and promises to go on forever. I'm on flight841 from Los Angeles to Auckland, about 14 hours since I left New YorkCity. The beauty of this segment of the trip comes from my premier indulgence:a business class airline ticket. I'm typing away on my Apple Newton fromthe luxury of a wide, soft, quiet, roomy airline seat with the promiseof some reasonable food in a half hour or so. I had the good fortune ofspending five or so hours in two Red Carpet Room lounges sucking down freeCokes and eating cheese and crackers. My fellow travellers might say I'mcheating.
This is, finally, the start of a trip that has taken about four monthsto plan, four thousand dollars to prepare for, many hours of personal andprofessional sacrifice, topped off with unhealthy doses of high blood pressureand angst. It's surprising just how much one has to consider when, in theirthirty-seventh year, they decide to close a business, rent out their apartment,escape from the big city, and run away to parts unknown. There is justa ton.
The big trauma's really had nothing to do with the trip, but with extricatingmyself from fr Progressors, Inc., the inline skate wheel company I managedand partially owned. But that's another story ÷ a bloody one atthat ÷ so we'll begin with the easier planning and financing storiesfirst.
So, in July of 1997 my longtime threat of a trip to Thailand somehowgrew into a plan to spend a year traveling around the world. I had a trioof fine role models, beginning with Brian Wu and his then-girlfriend AnnmarieFink. In 1989 they gave up their jobs in New York City, took their savingsand departed for a year of travel. My friend and compatriot Trine Dyrlevhad regaled me for some time about her eighteen month sojourn when whewas just out of high-school where she ended up barefoot in Australia, andsleeping under a bush in Kosomui Thailand. Yet another New Yorker, GeorgiaGoodrow treked around Southeast Asia for a year and described her fantasyfrom one night, hailing a cab in Times Square, instead of the reality ofher situation which was nearly drowning in a moonsoon deep inside the rainforestin Thailand.
Because of all this encouragement, and after reading a couple of compellingtravelogues on the web I'm actually doing it myself. No problem, well maybea few, well maybe a boatload. But here I am anyway. Off around the world.
Auckland S 36 degrees 52' E 174 degreees 46'
About 300 feet from the ground in Auckland I started to hyperventilate.What was I thinking? I have an entire year in front of me ready to crushme. I have no place to sleep, no friends to help me survive, and a really,really small daily budget. It finally hit me what an undertaking this is.And I am afraid that I'll have nothing interesting to write, no enthusiasmto photograph with, which will mean that Agfa won't pay me, and I'll comehome penniless..
Yes, you could say I freaked out just a little. So I'm taking advantageof the little bonuses I've bumped into so far. The flight was uneventfuland pleasant, and United saw fit to reward me with a free hotel room forthe morning at the airport. I checked into the Lord Gregory for a shower,a movie, and an hour of reorganizing my pack, which, I am certain, is 15pounds heavier than it should be. Even still, I only found a few trinketsto dispose of. My back is in real danger.
Got my first taste of telephones and listening to New Zealander's speak.My first two choices for hostels were full, of course I hadn't made anyreservations and this is the beginning of high season, but on my thirdtry I talked to a plesant young woman who took my reservation and instructedme to ride the "Ear" bus to the hostel. It only took me a few minutes ofaimless wandering before I found the "Air" bus idling outside the terminal.Four and a half bucks and I'm on my way downtown on the wrong side of thestreet.
11/29/97 Day two in Auckland
Yesterday I arrived at my first hostel of the trip, Auckland City Backpacers.Its a seven-story converted factory a few blocks from the harbor. My firstimpression was that I had somehow arrived in Haight Ashbury San Francisco.Murals cover most of the walls, and where they don't, travel posters dothe job. In about fifteen minutes I had my room, a small, windowed, eightbedroom inhabited at the time by Mickey, a German woman in the process ofrepatrioting to Australia. She offered me some smoked fish.
After an hour of conversation Mickey and I embarked on an excursionto find a city map, some fruit, and a cheap rental car for her trip tothe Bay of Islands on Wednesday. A light rain had enveloped the city forthe afternoon, making it a fair resemblance of Lowell Massachusetts backin the seventies. Auckland's downtown is like those all over the world- stores selling cheap photo electronics, fast foods from americanizedoutlets, movie theatres and clothing shops. We found the map, had ice creaminstead of fruit, and located rental cars, but most definitely not cheap.
Mickey talked and I mostly listened as we strolled around downtown.I began noticing how easy it is to identify the backpacking crowd on thestreet. They are usually tanned, wearing shorts with beat hiking boots,carry a knapsack and wear some sort of earthy jewlery, like native trinketsaround the neck, a tattoo, or some fabric bracelets. It's not difficultto fit in, so I put on my ring, strung my sterling Anna Biggs dog bonearound my neck and toted along my pesky bag filled with electronic equipment.I now pass for a seasoned traveler.
Owing to a significantly skewed internal clock, I managed to crash offto sleep about 8:30pm, tossing about till I woke bolt upright at 4:15amthis morning, but able to hear a rousing soccer match broadcast from someforiegn nation booming into the street like it was a concert. To my knowledgethere was no one listening to the game but me, and it unfortunately keptme awake for an hour or more before I dropped back off. So goes hostelliving.
I only had three things I wanted to do while in Auckland: visit theAuckland Museum, tourist at Kelly Tarltons undersea experience, and playat an open-mike blues club on Monday evening. Besides that, I only neededto plan my month in NZ. Turns out one out of three is not so bad afterall.
I walked through a light rain to the main park in Auckland called theDomain. Nice place, kind of exotic after spending time only in CentralPark Manhattan for so long. I only ran into three people on my trip throughthe park to the museum, and I got a taste of what it will be like to behot and sweaty while carrying a pack through humid territory. I suspectI'll be getting used to that feeling right away, and I cannot reccomendit too well.
I arrived dripping at the museum and spent the next few hours shiveringin the cool hollowed out spaces. I have to say I was disappointed in thefirst exhibit about NZ's experiences through the wars from it's inceptionthrough today. There were great artifacts from everything, but I thoughtthere was no real narrative voice telling the story. For instance, theKiwis fought in the Boer War in south Africa alongside the British, butI never learned who the Boer's were. Shame on me for not paying attentionin history class, but shame on the curator for expecting I'd know.
The highlight for me was an exhibit called Weird and Wonderful. Forkids, this very cool exhibit had lots of hand's on stuff to play with,dozens of live bugs, fish, and annimals, racks and racks of nature specimens.My favorite was split between a mounted set of Cicada and a terrarium filledwith live North American Cockroaches. I expect nightmares tonight. Thisarea in the museum made it come alive, something the rest of the placelacked entirely. Even in the wonderful collection of Maori artifacts.
Underwhelmed by history, I chose instead to visit the 50th anniversarySanta Claus Parade trundling down Queens street in the afternoon. Thiswas an event that was innocent for a big city. The stream of marching bands,costumed participants, and festive floats reminded me of what I expectedparades from the 1950's to be like. Families beaming from the sidewalks,only a light police presence, a few street vendors. I was most impressed,though, at the power of marketing's effect on children. As preshcool'smega-dinosaur Barney slowly moved down the boulevard I heard an audiblechildren's wave of glee follow him, or should I say "it?" This wave alsofollowed Ronald McDonald, the Cat in the Hat, and surprisingly most loudlyfor "The Flintstones." Who knew Fred and Barney were such cross-culturallexicons?
At the end of the parade I followed close behind Santa himself, rightdown the center of the street. I enjoyed watching the faces of the familiesswitch from passive viewing enjoyment, to the dark realization that theynow had to fight traffic out of downtown. The expressions were unbeliveable.
The end of the afternoon found me witnessing one of Auckland's famedadventures: face-first abseiling down a 15 story hotel. Who came up withthis one? Only in NZ would there be few enough lawyers to allow this tohappen. I must say it seems rather interesting, not as crazy scary as bungyjumping, but you do have to hang off a rope looking straight down for acouple of minutes. All that joy for only fifty bucks.
Tomorrow I bus up to Pahia at the Bay of Islands and start a 5 day open-waterscuba class. The NZ adventure continues.
Ah Pahia, the Bay of Islands, a little harbor town about three hoursNorth of Auckland by bus. I found my way here through the hostel travelagency because I wanted a nice place to learn to Scuba dive. I'm rightin the center of town in a little hostel called Centabay and at this momentam being extremely bored by a fellow american traveler who injured himselffalling over a rock in Fiji. So goes life on the road. At least I soldhim some of my batteries and lightened my pack by and ounce or two.
I got to Pahia on Monday afternoon and jumped directly into a fully-certifiedPADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) Open Water course.It's a five day course consisting of classroom theory, enclosed water (pool)instruction and two days of ocean dives starting tomorrow. I'll probablystay on for an additional two days for the advanced course, and get anotherfive dives. I'm hooked, on yet another truly expensive sport. How wisefor a man with a $31.50 per day budget.
I like the diving though. I think it's because of the combination ofdanger, need for logical thinking, and cool gadgets you have to touch,fiddle with, and integrate with your body. Due to my constant need forcorrective lenses, I bought a prescription dive mask just before I leftNew York . Over the last ten years or so every time I used a mask I justtucked a pair of glasses inside for a semblance of vision. Imagine my surprisewhen I could actually see through the entire mask! But I must say, in thepublic pool where we did our instruction it might have been better to haveblurred vision. You would not believe just how much flotsam and jetsomsatellites around a pool. Most things you could identify, that is if youwanted to, but mostly you notice the flakes of skin, curly hairs and otherdetestable muck.
There is a certain beauty in seeing the general populous swimming forhealth. There was a group of retired ladies aerobosizing with little floats.The flouresecent lights don't add to the beauty of anyone frolicking inthe pool, but there is a certain grace to the movment of limbs under water,even a gaggle of syncronized septagenarians. So I had fun being under thewater without the constant need to surface for air. It's calm, and genuinelyother worldly.
It's also much noisier than you might think. I was amazed at just howloud the bubbles are when you exhale. It takes a while until you don'tnotice it anymore. The rhythm of inhaling and exhaling becomes a littlemesmerising when you can hear it so well. The audio portion of the actmakes it seem even stranger that you are under the water and still breathing.Especially if you have ever spent time snorkeling like I have. I felt slightlypanicked and claustrophobic, waves of fear that had to be controled. I'ma little concerned what it will be like 50 feet below the surface tomorrow.Remember, calm, deep, slow breaths. A little danger goes a long way.
I've been gone under a week and am still having some anxiety about what'sgoing on back home. I left only days after finalizing my bastardized dealwith fr Progressors and Nick. I wonder if there have been any complications?I wonder if Agfa is concerned that they haven't heard from me for a week.I wonder if my photography software from Los Angeles is ready, and willit work, can I connect my computer, how much will the telephone chargescost, etc., etc.
I haven't given up my need to work or think about entrepreneurial opportunities. My dive instructors's shop has secured the internet domain name "diveNZ.com"but still do not have a web site. I offered to build them a simple site,fill it with digital photographs from the Agfa camera, and upload it onthe web in exchange for two dive courses and three free dives. I have orcan get just about everything I need, and I could rely on Skinny Dave forany technical help. The shop is considering the offer, but I suspect thywould rather have a local produce it, and I can't blame them either. butyou can see that my mind is not yet at ease.
Last night it rained hard. This morning it rained hard. As I left thehostel for my first ocean Scuba dive today it rained hard. On the boatout it rained hard. Putting on our equipment it rained hard, the surf kickedup, and a cold wind whipped the hard rain sideways. This was not the tropicaldive fantasy I signed up for.
About five minutes into my first dive my hands turned blue. See, itturns out that New Zealand doesn't get really warm till late January. Twentyfeet under water is a lousy place to realize you should have bought someinsulated gloves, especially when you need to use your hands to pass atest. This is my big lesson for today.
In the afternoon the clouds parted and sunlight poured down, makingthe second dive a little more bearable, but by then the waves, some saltines,and a too-strong cup of tea had conspired to give me one of the worst casesof acid indigestion I can remember happening to me without the aid of Gin.Twenty feet under water is a lousy place to realize you want to vomit too.I'm thinking Bali might have been a better place to learn to dive. Tomorrowwill have to be better, right?
So, I suppose you wonder what I'm up to here in New Zealand. Well, Iseem to have brought two things with me from New York: poor weather andcrime. Here in the costal town of Paihia the weather is usually good andeveryone leaves their doors unlocked. Well, not any more. Now that goodole' Jim is in town we have rain and thievery. In all reality the rainisn't that bad, about every other day, but the comedy of crime in Paihiaeffects only me, I swear.
See, for over five weeks I fretted about which type of footwear to bringwith me on my trip. I wanted some solid shoes that would stand the addedweight of a 70 pound pack, but be light and breathable enough so my feetdid not bake when I was in the tropics. Well, the folks at the local EasternMountain Sports recommended thse Vasque GTX boots that felt great, werereasonably light, and were purported to breathe and keep your feet dry.
I thought these were the most comfortable boots I had ever worn, butfeared they would be too hot and too heavy to carry around. I went to threeother places, all backpacker experts, and they all agreed that the VasqueGTX was a good choice. I finally relented and took a pair home, still worriedthey'd be a pain.
I put my boots on Thanksgiving morning and they stayed on for 29 hourswhile I flew to New Zealand from New York. They remained on my feet foranother 18 hours while I found a place to stay, explored the local sightsand snuggled into my bed for the night. They were warm, but not oppressiveto wear, however my feet did begin to create a distinct odor over the nextfew days.
I took a bus from Auckland to Paihia and settled into a cozy littlehostel in a hidden away nook of downtown housing only about thirty peopletotal. Because of our close quarters, and being concerned about the olafactorydiscomfort of my roomates, I strung my boots out on the clothesline nextto my smelly socks to air out a bit. Big mistake. New York came to visit.
Awakening late for my dive course at 7:30 the next morning I dashedout to the clothesline and met the sorry sight of my socks hanging lonelyon the wire. My boots, so digilently shopped-for 9000 miles away, weregone. My first theft came after less than a week on the road.
Everyone at the hostel was distinctly surprised at the disappearance.Through the day several other guests discovered missing belongings÷araincoat, some jeans, a few t-shirts÷and everyone voiced the samedisappointment in the state of affairs that lead to random thefts of clothing.Most agreed it was low to steal someone's shoes. True.
The funny thing about being shoeless and on the road is that it doesn'tmake that much difference. I was on a dive boat for most of the weekend,and never was in town when stores were open, hence I went shoeless tillMonday morning. I ended up getting a fairly nice, though exceptionallyoverpriced pair of sandals, finally ending the pain of my soles, afterall I'm really a tenderfoot from New York and my feet hadn't seen the lightof day for months.
So goes my introduction to group living. I've been thrust back intothe distrustful, conspiracy-believing person I thought I left behind. NowI even lock my shaving kit.
Who would of thought that I would be so filled with a work ethic thatI couldn't escape, even in a tropical paradise. I can't get out of workmode.
You understand that I am ostensibly on vacation. I've dedicated a yearof my life to traveling around and checking things out. This is not a bigcareer-enhancing option when you're thirty-seven years old. Bailing fromthe mainstream for a year is the life of a slacker, a good-for-nothing,a loser. Just take every day and maybe do something big, like shower, ortake a walk.
Well I'm here to tell you that for me, it's just not like that. GrantedI've only been out for a week and a half, but so far I have been goingstraight out every day from 8am till 11pm. I jumped right into an advancedtheory and activity Scuba class that took all of my time for a week. WhenI figured out that the Dive shop needed a web site I offered to make onefor them in exchange for more diving.
So for the last two days I found myself learning an entire new computeroperating system (Windows 95), and four new programs: Netscape NavigatorGold, Paintshop, CuteFTP, and Agfa Photowise. I've been downloading freewarefrom the web, writing marketing copy for the dive industry, editing underwaterphotography, taking, and retouching digital photographs. All this for acouple lousy two-hundred dollar courses. The dive shop is getting an excellentdeal.
What it comes down to though is my inability to realize I finally madeit out of New York. The pressure to produce is coming from deep in my souland it seems really hard to overcome. I'm more worried about how well I'lldo for my Agfa and I.D.Magazine clients than enjoying myself and seeingthe world.
I expect time will heal this affliction. At least I can hope.
Certainly I didn't plan it, but here I am still in lovely Centabay Hostel,downtown Paihia, New Zealand. How exactly have I become locked in a singletown when I've scheduled only a month for the entire country? Diving andtechnology.
I came here to learn to dive. I did. I liked it so I decided to takethe next class. And because the next class was out of my budget, I offeredto work off the class by creating a web site for the dive shop. Of coursethe shop had only a PC, much different than the Macintosh computers I'veworked with for a decade. So that accounts for technology aspect of mycontinued stay in Pahia. I learned how to use Microsoft Windows 95 anda PC for three days this week. If I had a Mac I'd have been done in a dayand a half, but with the PC and my learning curve it took four days, soI'm still in Paihia. Check out the handiwork at http://www.divenz.com
Added to the above combination is my over-zealousness. I made a biggersite than I promised, and got a bigger payment too. Three more days ofdiving, diving I have to do in Paihia of course. So here I am.
I like it here. Through the dive shop I have met half the town. Well,at least the half that is made up of late-twenties to early-thirties action-sportsparticipants. I went to a local bachelor apartment party on Thursday evening.Like bachelor apartments the world over, this one was decorated with torncouches, beer paraphenalia, and only the finest china. Like most housesof this sort there were a few cherished items adorning places of worship.A tattered cardboard cutout of the Blues Brothers greets people climbingthe front stairs. A lovely seascape oil painting on the living room wallhas a few choice additions, such as a leaping marlin, and a promotionalphoto from a bikini catalog, highlighting the rear assets of a fine maiden,glued to the beach area. The crowning achievement of the house has gotto be the sport-fishing boat fighting chair, complete with rod, reel andlures, sitting just outside the kitchen, near the living room. Nothingbetter to entertain the guests.
I give the boys credit though. Even this impromptu gathering was decoratedwith a selection of inflated balloons and meat ready to be grilled. Allthe preparation seemed appreciated by the equal number of attractive womenwho attended the event. Though I left early to get some sleep before adive the next morning, it was not too early to witness the beginnings ofsome high-quality soon-to-be-successful flirting. Being a tourist, andnot yet having my social footing in town, I left the chase to the hometeam, not to say I didn't do any reconnaissance, but I felt at a distinctdisadvantage. After all, my tan has not worn in yet.
On Friday, Margaret and Graham Moss, owners of the dive shop with theirdaughter Vicki, and son-in-law Tim Barke, invited the staff and myselfover for a Christmas season dinner. Tim, who is the person who hired meto make the web site, and who was my dive instructor, first brought meto his house. We took a look around the farm where his wife, an equestrianOlympic hopeful, was attending to their horses. The farm is simple andpicturesque, set on a hill, with a pond and a big noisy hound dog runningaround. Quite a different life from mine.
Margaret and Graham moved up here from Auckland a few years back totake over the dive company and let Graham attend to his fishing supplybusiness. They have a marvelous house about 100 feet up a hill overlookinga bay and mangrove-surrounded river. The dinner included Steve Bates, Danni,and Dave, all dive instructors, and people I've been hanging out with daily.It was a feast, especially compared to what I've been consuming daily.They all made me feel comfortable, and good-natured harassment darted allover the table. A fine night.
Today was another day diving. I've gotten relaxed and enjoy being underthe water. An equipment problem marred a beautiful day at the Rainbow Warriorfor me. My mask continuously leaked forcing me to spend all my time keepingthe salty water out of my eyes. Yesterday was better. I had one of thoseclassic views. On the advice of the divemaster, I had ventured into a largecave and encountered a huge school of Bigeye fish at the back in the dark.Swimming all the way to the end I turned around and watched my dive buddiesswimming out through perfect blue water surrounded by around a thousandfish. Nice site, needed a camera, but it exists in my mind.