Friday, 25 May 2012

Wake Up and Smell The... Myrrh?

I believe that in life, everything (barring those few buttons on the TV remote that do nothing) has a purpose. New Zealand's purpose is to make every other country in the world look boring and ugly in comparison. I've moved on to the south island now and, despite my previous impression that the north was the most beautiful place in the world, it looks nothing more than a hole now I've seen how amazing the south is. In all honesty, though, I'm beginning to ever so slightly miss the plain and boring after a guide book I was reading described the town I was staying in as "still volcanically active, with Mt. Ruapehu often having a hissy fit". I don't know if it's my sheltered upbring in England, but I personally would describe a volcanic eruption with language a little more colourful than "hissy fit"... (Although, this is a country that, instead of bright lights, alarm bells and barriers at rail crossings, has a tiny notice advising you to 'look out for trains'). On the other hand, a volcanic eruption might warm things up a bit as New Zealand is one of those confused countries that have their seasons mixed up and as a result it is winter in May. This wouldn't have been such a harsh blow had I not left the only jacket I owned in a town several hours away, thus forcing me to buy the only thing I could afford to compensate - a bright yellow, hideous jumper from a second hand shop. It was only $4.50, and it keeps me warm, but, in short, I look like an absolute knob. Also, yellow is definitely not my colour. At best, I suit various shades of anything dark, but yellow really takes the piss. In an attempt to sweat out my mourning, I went on a little climb to the geological centre of New Zealand. Why the geological centre of New Zealand couldn't have been somewhere flat I do not know, but instead of getting over the loss of my jacket I was instead faced with the grim reality of how unfit I actually am whilst I scaled a hill that even the most expert of mountain goats would have struggled with. At least, that was my immediate impression, but I was forced to re-evaluate the size of said hill when I was joined at the top by a group of primary school children who practically skipped up. They were pretty good company though and I enjoyed listening to them have a debate about whether or not there was a town in America called UpTheBum... (There isn't, I Googled it). The unfortunate thing about New Zealand is that all of the places worth going to happen to be at the top of a huge hill. I climbed over 400 steps the other day to get to a good lookout and was greeted by a sign that read: Lift your heart in wonder! If anything, I felt mocked. It'll be a wonder if I have a heart left after all this, nevermind the ability to lift it. Despite my many attempts at leading a normal life, I found myself last week spending the night in a hostel that had been converted from an old convent. My main reason for staying there were the cheap rates, but I also thought it might be a little fun and quirky. Incorrect. It was neither fun nor quirky and had undergone such little change from its time as a convent that I actually questioned use of the word 'converted'. The walls were still lined with oil paintings of Jesus and Mary and there was an unmistakeable smell of myrrh in the mornings, faintly mixed with the scent of the 4000 cats that lived there... Having been brought up a Catholic I'm used to a certain amount of guilt tripping but I can't say I was too comfortable going to sleep underneath a tapestry that bore the words: Confessional - a place to repent, Father and God would always relent, a sinner would enter and come out clean, sinner to saint, every person's dream. Despite all the Christian paraphernalia, something I found most unchristian was the woman behind reception trying to charge me an extra two dollars for bedding. I was so indignant that I insisted I would be perfectly fine with the complimentary bedding, a decision I later regretted as it itched like mad. (Although I may have just been burning with the guilt of every non-Catholic thing I've ever done - the list is quite extensive). This hostel was also pretty stingy with its electricity, something I discovered as I was plunged into darkness mid-shower. After the initial (and, admittedly, highly irrational) panic that I had gone blind, I realised that the lights were motion sensored and was thus faced with the dilemma of either showering in darkness and risking some kind of accident, or getting out of the shower and risking being caught by a stranger doing a weird, naked dance. I'm sure there are less dignified first impressions, but I felt that that would be particularly humiliating... After surviving my stay at chez Jesus, I packed up and moved on to the next town. Unfortunately, I missed my bus - not because I was late, you understand, but because I was so absorbed in my book that I didn't realise it had arrived and it left without me. (I know, I should not be allowed to travel alone). Anyway, I refused to stay another day and had my first hitchhiking adventure in New Zealand. After persuading a bus driver to drop me near a main road I caught my first lift with a widowed farmer named Dave who had already picked someone up further down the road - Jo, the harp playing stripper from Edinburgh. (She told me she was a stripper later, not being sure whether Farmer Dave would have dealt with the information). Dave drove us for a while and then dropped us in the middle of nowhere and our next ride was a young chap named Ben who determinedly squish us, backpacks and all, into the smallest car known to man and then spent the next two hours talking only in Thai and German accents and driving through the mountains at no less than 100mph. If I hadn't been so sure that my life was about to end, he'd have been quite the entertainer.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

"Do You Speak Spanish?" "Oh, Y'know, Just A Chicken."

If you find that this entry happens to be brimming with even more wisdom than usual, do not be alarmed, it is simply due to the fact that I am now the grand old age of 22 and am therefore well on my way to being wise and mature. (And I know what you're thinking, I have always been wise and mature, and I agree.) I feel that maturity has been creeping up on me since I was 14 and was forced to write people notes to get out of P.E. because I had "mum handwriting". Given the school I went to, this basically just meant I wrote in cursive and was capable of spelling the word 'excuse'... I spent my birthday in Manly Beach and used my newfound wisdom and ever expanding intelligence to make an investment. I bought 6 books from the library for 50cents each, and then sold them to a bookshop for $2 each. Who says I don't have a head for business? (One of the books was entitled 10 Things To Do Before You're Sixteen so I had a flip through to see how I was doing - turns out I'm pretty on track). My turning 22 brought with it 4 hours of free internet from the hostel, a free cookie from Hong Kong, a birthday pint from a girl in my dorm and a package of chocolate from England. Not too shabby to say I'm all alone and on the otherside of the world without an address. I also gave myself a little birthday treat and inhaled all the helium from the free balloon I received after signing up to Greenpeace, an organisation I am now a fully fledged member of. I'm not sure how it happened, really - one minute I was walking down the street enjoying my Hong Kong biscuit, the next I'm being shown pictures of dolphins being killed and listening to how Nestlé should be damned to hell (they should). I thought I'd better sign up, as an apology for breaking the Great Barrier Reef if nothing else. My last few days in Sydney were spent wandering around milking the free attractions for all they're worth. I was sucked in by another do-gooder trying to sign me up to a project to save some endangered species of spider but I wasn't having any of it. Dolphins I'd miss, spiders not so much. It took all my self restraint not to grab her sandwich board claiming that hundreds of species of spiders were endangered and scrawling GOOD underneath it in thick black marker. As a city, Sydney gets pretty lively on the weekend. Amongst other things, I came across a man dressed in a sari holding a sign saying 'free hugs', a market stall dedicated solely to alpaca ponchos (made from alpacas, not for them), and a parrot rebelling against its exotic nature and eating a cigarette off of the floor. I prefer wandering around on the weekend though - it beats mid-week when the city is full of people in suits showing off because they're using their degrees... Before I left Sydney I met up with some of my dad's cousins and had two actual meals and a birthday pie - it felt like pure luxury after two months of making meals so unappealing that more often that not I reverted to picking out peppers like a child, not to throw them away but because they were the only edible bits of the meal. Anyway, I had rare lamb for the first time in my life and I was definitely impressed - I can now understand why people say British people overcook their meat. Well, I almost understand, I still don't see why the French get so irate about it, I mean, we might overcook it a little but it's not like we serve it in an urn.

I'm in New Zealand now and, after finally being allowed into the country, I have discovered it is even more beautiful than Australia. After being 'randomly selected to undergo a security screening for explosives' at Sydney airport I was frisked so thoroughly I half expected the woman to say she'd call me afterwards. Still, I'm here now, and there are lots of sheep, lots of volcanoes, and the words 'geothermal activity' get thrown around a lot. I'm not sure what it means, but it sounds impressive. I've met quite a few South Americans since I've been here and have been scrubbing up on my Spanish. Given that the last time I spoke it (give or take a few times at uni when Jayne would teach me funny words) was during my GCSE oral exam, it hasn't been going too well. My first conversation went a little like this:
Her: ¡Ah! ¿Hablas Español? (Do you speak Spanish?)
Me: Oh, err, un pollo... No wait, shit, that means chicken, um, un poco? (A little)
Then I realised that she wasn't particularly interested in what was in my schoolbag so left it at that. Maybe I'd have a better grasp on languages if I hadn't gone to a shit school where most of our French lessons were filled with 30 people saying, in thick Yorkshire accents, "err... Je m'a bloody pelle, innit?"