Friday, March 22, 2013

Fare Well Wellington

I a sitting in a commuter plane over Christchurch on my way to Wellington which is a stopover on my way to Auckland from where tonight I fly back to Los Angeles.
Wellington is the home of my friends to whom, in my last post, I wrote an apology for insensitive behavior. I have subsequently spoken to them and received an apology. For me, the recent days have been beset with emotional turmoil and, although exonerated, I know that the friendship, like a beautiful vase dropped to the floor and shattered and then hastily glued back together, will always feel flawed and damaged.

Over two days last week, these people drove me around showed me most of the important sites of New Zealand's capital during which time I asked incessantly my hosts questions about geography, history, politics, health care. and demographics, all of which were patiently answered.  

Since I hadn't read about the city in my guide books, I was surprised when my first glimpse of Wellington showed,a clean, bright metropolis lying up against and upon steep verdant hills, which surrounded a large aquamarine-colored bay. Many of the residential houses were either bayfront or commanded stellar views  The scenery of the towering green rocky cragged mountains of The Hobbit was to be found elsewhere. Nonetheless, here was a hint of its grandeur and the magic. That fairy tale world lay just offshore on the South Island which was visible across Cook Strait The downtown was peaceful, yet clearly economically robust, and offered an unusual and sometimes humorous juxtaposition of both modern and historic buildings. This was most poignantly demonstrated by a peculiar building called the Beehive sitting next to a stately late 19th century stone parliament building with its manicured green lawns and accompanied flower gardens. While taking photos of the spot, teenage girls from a nearby parochial school, dressed in neatly ironed dark uniforms and walking in groups of twos and threes, passed by me. I listened to their indistinct chatter and laughter and watched their wholesome intelligent expressions. The scene felt serene and almost picture book. It was as if the rough-edged world of so many inner cities I have toured was missing. Absent was turbulence, noise, litter, and artifice. It was another reflection of the relaxed environment I had experienced on my travels here, of a people living on a large Polynesian island, separated by amazing distances over water, whose positive character I have attempted to capture in previous posts.

I am now in the departure lounge of the Auckland airport and have only minutes before I my flight is called. I say good-bye now and wonder as usual about the place my adventure has taken me. I ask  myself whether I will ever return. There are countries and people and historic sites I have not seen and wish to experience before I die. Yet, somehow New Zealand lures me. It speaks more to my love of the mountains, the sea, and the rivers more than any place I've been. It is a "Call of the Wild" to my essence frrom the South. It is carried on a soft and gentle wind. It draws me nearer and soothes me as I am about to leave.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Thanks and Apology to Malcolm and Lynette

After completing the last post and feeling so positive about my experience in New Zealand, I learned sadly I had committed a gaffe of monumental proportion for not acknowledging in writing the terrific hospitality shown me by my friends who cared for me in Wellington last week.  Worse than that, a previous post, which I had written in a solitary mood during a brief period of physical and emotional discomfort several days after leaving their house, gave them the impression that I was having a dreadful time in New Zealand. Worse yet, the incredible congeniality and kindness they so graciously provided me, I had marginalized by my negative tone in which I spoke of feeling lonely and disoriented.

I write this addendum tonight embarrassed and regretful for my lack of sensitivity that the words in that post expressed to them and as a heartfelt apology for all of my readers to see.

In point of fact, Malcolm and Lynette Chapman showed me incredible kindness and gave me an amazing amount of time and energy in order that I saw and experienced their world. They opened up their home to me and treated me with such deference that I felt we had truly become lasting friends. As I left their house and thanked them, I believed I had experienced a profound meaning in the value of world travel, namely, that it bridges gaps across miles and cultural differences and helps bring people together who would have otherwise never have known one another. It can link humanity in such a positive way. I believe their effort was also a reflection held by the majority of New Zealand's people to welcome visitors to their beautiful country with a genuine attempt to make guests feel comfortable and valued.

Like so many moments in life I wish I could undo what I have done. It is pointless to explain away my shortcomings or my lack of manners or predilection toward carelessness. The damage has been done and this wrongdoing will remain in me a poignant reminder of my stay and my fallibility as a person. I take this opportunity to restate to those who follow me to know how sorry I am for having hurt these people's feelings and apologize directly to them for my actions and to publicly thank them for their fantastic hospitality.

Fantastic New Zealand

I am sitting at an outdoor cafe at Lake Wanaka adjacent the Southern Alps on the South Island of New Zealand. The air is tranquil, the temperature is in the low 70's, and there is a gentle breeze blowing across the lake. I am wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Other vacationers are enjoying the sun as well. A couple from the Auckland is sitting next to me. Upon realizing I am from the States, they asked me what I had liked most about my trip to New Zealand.

The question caught me off guard. First, it made me realize that my mind-set had changed. No longer was I telling people that I had just arrived. Now I was announcing I was leaving soon. I fumbled with my words and told them I had to think about my answer. I reviewed where I had been and began considering the highlights of my journey. I'm not sure they meant what geographical location I was most enamored with, but superficially, it seemed that way. Imagine if you asked a New Zealander the same thing after they had spent three weeks in the western part of the U.S. Could they have preferred the Grand Canyon more than San Francisco with its Golden Gate? Was the rocky Pacific Coast prettier than the painted desert? If they are people like me who love to travel as much as I do, such a question is like asking a person who adores fresh fruit salad, whether he enjoyed the succulent peaches better than the juicy plums. From the Northland to the South where I am now, I have seen countless breathtaking landscapes and unique geological features. Even the cities of Auckland and Wellington have their unique charm. The totality is  mind-boggling. It is like a tapestry woven of wool,(of course), of intricate patterns of alpine mountains and volcanoes, pine and beech forests, verdant meadows and high desert, a border of crystal blue oceans and lines of the clearest rivers imaginable.

Second, perhaps my neighbors meant by their query what cultural characteristics impressed me the most. Could I make some statement about the people and their traits that I found most desirable. As I struggled to answer this to myself, the people left and some new guests sat down next to me. These people were from a locale on the North Island's Corumundel Pensinula, a place where I had spent a night. They were excited to know what I thought of their region and hometown. As part of my response, I told them that I was writing an article and that I was attempting to synthesize what I liked most about the cultural climate of New Zealand. As we chatted, they extolled the beauty of the country over and over. It became clear to me that, other than the recent immigrants from Asia who are adjusting to their new home, New Zealanders, it seemed, love to tour and tell about about hiking spots, special lakes and favorite roads. They really take pride in their country not from a political, goofy patriotic perspective, which is common in other countries, but from a genuine respect for their land.They derive a sense of well-being because they live in such a splendid environment. This deep feeling of connection with the land in turn creates a relaxed mood. This attitude is even reflected by the way people drive, which is slow, polite  and with virtually no honking. I think this is what I enjoyed the most about the people. Conversation seemed to be less on money, competition and world affairs and more on outdoor activities, environmental issues,and sports.

On another note, although each town has its quaint or stately Anglican and Catholic churches, I have enjoyed the sense that religion stays quietly and unobtrusively in the background of daily life. Fundamentalism doesn't seem to be pervasive either nor play a role in politics as it does in America. I found it refreshing to not feel the annoying presence of the clergy or of self-righteous people.

On Saturday, I return to Los Angeles and then drive back to Bend. By this time next week I may be home. By then, I know I will feel irked by the fact that memories and ideas gained during this adventure will have faded. This post will serve me as a reference to remind me of the fun I have had and, in spite of doubts, how good it was to have chosen to have visited beautiful New Zealand.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Changing Weather

Blustery northwest winds and choppy seas buffeted the ferry while I crossed Cook Strait. The sea presaged the coming of a front. I leaned up against the rail to steady myself to take pictures and eventually had to give up using my cellphone's camera  for fear it would blow out of my hand. Now I am on the South Island. What began first as a gentle rain born in distant Southern climes has changed into a downpour and is drenching the long dry summer's parched ground. The mountains, so abundantly covered and surrounded by pine and beech forests, are being thoroughly soaked. Shrouded in thick misting clouds, it is hard to tell that they even exist. The once brilliant sunny sky has turned a leaden gray. The weather is telling me there is no sense in continuing my journey. It would mean venturing through narrow gorges on slick windy highways and missing vistas of what is reputed to be some of the loveliest landscape in the country. Therefore, I have decided to spend several days in a little river town named Murcheson where I will pass time with reading, writing, and drawing.

It became clear to me that I needed a respite from traveling and  to release tension built up by constantly making spontaneous decisions about where to go, where to sleep, what to eat, and a myriad of other choices. What better way to accomplish this unwinding  than to allow imagination and fantasy to work in productive ways. So in  the quiet of my room, hearing only the forming of puddles and the rhythm of my breathing, I begin. First though  I must overcome distracting doubts and worry and  reassure myself in a series of staccato-like thoughts that  I'm alive, I'm doing okay, and I'll make it back home. I repeat this to myself. I'll be okay. I'm only a little lonely. I'll be okay, now Lee, Start writing!

I shut my eyes. I am a distant traveler recording thoughts. It is Fall 2013 or is it really now Spring for me? My journal is my blog. Each entry is like a buoy marking a spot in time, a moment  preserved from the fate of  being  jettisoned into a sea of forgotten events. The posts are waypoints which I share with those that care. They show my course through life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

As The World Turns?

I look out the guest bedroom window into the dawning light and see tail lights. Cars, buses and occasional trucks are rounding a curve. Their occupants are heading for work in Wellington. Across the road is a bay which is at low tide. Soon water will be flooding in from the Tasman Sea. Its grayish-green tint suggests the reflection of the bushes and squatty trees that cover the surrounding hillsides.

My mind continuously wanders. It is laden with memories, ideas and scenes collected over the last several days. It is like a rope loosened from a mast of a sailing ship. It is a gathered chain of associations flopping in the wind and colored by volcanic ash and bleached sunlight.  I feel its length paid out across this Pacific Island over the ocean and back to America, through my childhood and beyond, into my imagination of the past.

I am in my second week in New Zealand, a land first named and briefly touched by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in the 1690's but whose essence and magnitude was first brought to light to Europeans in 1770 by the Englishman Captain James Cook. When Cook arrived he encountered native South Sea Island people, the Maoris. They were vastly different than the gentle Tahitians that he had met before. This group practiced cannibalism, were covered with full-body colorful tattoos and extensive jewelry, and had a penchant for carving, poetry and song.

Like so many places in the world today, the vestiges of earlier cultures can be found in museums, at tourist-oriented villages and staged reenactments, from the names on street signs and geographical and historical landmarks. I see the descendants of these people everywhere.  They physically resemble their long-departed ancestors but probably only a very few full-blooded Maoris left in New Zealand. I hear them speak, along with English, some approximation of the original language which has now been equipped with written letters. These people make up a significant part the lower eschelon of the economic spectrum and have been the beneficiaries of government compensation and largesse. What this fact means and its ramifications in New Zealand is the subject of countless debate and impacts its politics on many levels.

I shut my eyes and see a vision of the earth turning like in the opening credits of a movie. It is sunlit and has a huge blue expanse in its lower half. Within that azure area, there are clusters of brown spots intermingled. I am infinitesimally small, but alive, and existing on one of those larger, but still tiny, sandy-colored flecks. The many dug-out canoes are gone from the shore, the sailing ship, the Endeavor left over two hundred years ago and the luxury liner cruise ship with 4000 people left Wellington harbor yesterday. Tomorrow I cross Cook Strait to the South Island tomorrow. My journey is a human one, a predilection to wandering. In the past, it was expressed as venturing to lands where  "no man had gone before". Today I have my ferry ticket and rental car. I feel the good fortune of a promising wind at my back and a decent map to guide me.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Having a hot time?

Over the last four days I have languished in the lovely tranquil surroundings of Rotorua, and then near the southern tip of Lake Taupo in Turangai where theTongariro enters the lake.  Both locations are noted for trophy trout fishing. In anticipation of visiting these locales, I packed along a special bag with me full of fishing equipment for the pursuit of the "tall tale" or  "tall tail." I have not been disappointed exactly in my effort but have now nicknamed myself  "Mr. Almost".  I have "almost" landed four whoppers, two while wading waist deep in a lake and two in the current of a sneaky, roiling river. Ask any fisherman how it feels to unintentionally release big fish. The mature ones proclaim that it's a privilege and a joy just to be able to hook one. Even the man who manages the lodging where I stay and is himself a guide, has said I've been incredibly lucky to have even hooked these "bad boys".  I, on the other hand, who have a long history of being hard on myself, will try one more time tonight at last light to feel the mighty tug again and bring one in.

Also this area is aptly known as the "thermal wonderland". The verdant, luxurious countryside is dotted with collapsed volcanic craters, cold and boiling pools of mud and water, geysers, and steaming fumaroles. The serenity of the landscape is reminiscent of the Baroque depiction of the vanity of life, a beautiful woman on the surface, and a hideous ogre just below the surface. I don't think there is any place in the world where people live amid more seething volcanic and earthquake activity than in New Zealand. Next week I will travel to Christchurch, where there have been two recent devastating quakes, but, in fact,  the whole country is one long history of "rock and roll" events. It has crossed my mind that the ground could begin shaking while I am here.

Tomorrow I leave for the capital city of Wellington and then on to the South Island. I am traveling slowly but I fear I am running already short on time. I can already hear voices telling me I should have seen this or that. Right now I consider myself lucky to be able to see the next day, let alone the next week.

The first picture is Lake Taupo which may be as large as Lake Tahoe. The second is a carving from a Maori village I visited, and the third is a boiling hot pond at Wai-O-Tapu, a thermal area in the Taupo Volcanic Zone.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Heading South

It has been several days since my last post. In the interim, I have left the comfort of the Bay of Islands and have driven hundreds of miles crisscrossing from the Pacific Coast over to the West Coast along the Tasman Sea to see the giant Kauri trees and gannet colony, then back to the eastern shore again for a dunk at Hot Water Beach . During the long hours of driving, my mind has covered a myriad of topics, mainly have considered everything from family issues to personal goals. I have ruminated about geopolitical circumstances especially the value, or lack of value of my dollars, a circumstance which gripes me every time I buy anything. I have thought of countless mock dialogues with  my liberal and conservative friends about world affairs. Also I have spend an inordinate amount of time trying to understand the people I see along the highway, the square-faced Caucasian New Zealanders, the brown-skinned Maoris and, of course, the Chinese, who seem to run every convenience store, take-out joint, and even probably the Jewish delis on the island. Yet, most of all, I look at the geography, the forests, crops, mountains, wildlife, and ocean.

There are drawbacks to all of this floating mind time. My focus on the road loses precision. I have hit the left hand curb hard with my front left wheel much too often and have made deep scratches on the rim and rub marks on the tire. I must be living under a lucky Southern Hemisphere star since I have not had a blow-out. I don't naturally stay to the right enough nor go down the center of the lane. Driving from the right of the car makes me wander while I wonder.

You most likely would like to hear some conclusions about my ideas on any of the above topics, something pithy, profound, or even salacious truths from the mouth of Rabbi Lee, so to speak. Unfortunately, today does not feel like the time to synthesize my observations of New Zealand into sloppy platitudes. I have places to go and people to see and I'm not sure I'm up to the task of saying anything meaningful besides. I suppose such rolling about doesn't necessarily produce much enlightenment anyway nor does it add to my confusion about life either. It is almost like seeing more makes life less expressible. It reinforces over and over the simple notion I have said before: namely, that are a lot of people out there, more than I can imagine. In addition, it strengthens my belief, that, as with me, people live in a continual struggle for redemption, however conscious, from the expectations of others. Plainly, it is a peculiar trip down a road that looks ever shorter the older you get. Today I have new miles to go. I am off to some fly fishing spots near Rotorua and plan to have some sporty stories to tell.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Peace in our time?

In the middle of the night when doubts dart like daggers and sleep is elusive, it is natural to feel more like Clark Kent rather than Superman. I, the fumbling, mild-mannered Doppelganger, am reporting to you in the wee hours from the Northland in the small town of Russell, New Zealand on the Bay of Islands. Yesterday, I bit the so-called "speeding bullet" and departed the security of my lodging in Auckland and ventured out, lacking a clear direction nor a confirmed place to stay. As I rolled north, I became disappointed as I passed a meaningless Fall landscape of burnt-colored, brushy hillsides, vacant farmland, small patches of degraded tropical forest and peek-a-boo ocean views. I felt like I had seen this all  before  in Hawaii or in California. The architecture of the towns and the faces of the people that I encountered did not excite me either. Of course, I didn't expect huts, nor primitive people, nor signs in strange languages nor exotic animals, although I was truly gratified when I spied the carcass of a roadkill kiwi. Frankly, most of what I saw, I found downright boring. I knew before I left America that this would be a different trip than previous world travel.  I had expressed with pompous conviction to someone who asked me why I had chosen to travel to New Zealand, that such an adventure would require finding new ways to be challenged and to discover meaningful information. Now the challenge was suddenly at hand and I began to feel unnerved about what to do on this unfamiliar road of immersion into the familiar. I had no one sitting next to me to bolster my courage or assure me that I hadn't made a mistake in coming. Predictably, I felt in my gut the onset of loneliness, the pernicious dark shadow of the solitary traveler.

Shortly thereafter, the once busy highway quieted and narrowed over a one-lane bridge and then curved through a grove of strange tall trees and unusual ferns. A sign at the crest of a hill announced a turn-off to Russell which needed to be accessed by ferry. My guide book had extolled the scenic virtues of this place and so, with some skepticism, I decided to take the exit which, after a bend, immediately offered an amazing panorama. Within moments my disposition began to change. Before me lay an azure and sea green bay that was pocketed by lush islands. A number of sailboats, luxury craft, and curious-looking work boats were tied up near a quaint landing.  A pleasant looking, middle-aged woman flagged me aboard the ferry along with five other cars. Much to my surprise she was the skipper. Immediately the lady inquired about my nationality and then gushed proudly about her community, thrusting a map in my hand, and jabbering on about where I should stay and what I should see.

At a tourist office built at the end of a pier another incredibly cordial lady booked me a room in a boutique motel and then suggested a snapper fishing trip for the morning. I was treated with deference and hospitality. On my return to the car I walked along the strand past well-preserved historic buildings and hotels shaded by ancient trees. Calmed by a gentle breeze and perfect temperature, I began experiencing a genuine tranquility and a feeling of safety that reminded me of no similar sensation on any of my travels. It occurred to me that my other journeys have been intense, educational, exciting, awe-inspiring in their beauty, and even dangerous, but certainly not relaxing.

Perhaps, mate, I was onto something special and unique about this land. My first lesson of this trip is that a visit to New Zealand is learning how to slow down and  enjoy. It is what locals call being on "holiday".

Saturday, March 2, 2013

New in New Zealand

The clock on my phone shows that it is 21 hours later in Auckland than it is in Bend. The common expression is that I have "lost" a day.  For those of us who are sensitive to criticism, struggle with ADD, and fret about aging and the onset of senility, the idea of having inadvertently squandered precious moments is slightly disconcerting. Friday simply evaporated and Saturday arrived untimely, amid fatigue from the long flight and star-crossed with annoying technical hassles. Fortunately the impact of travelling violently through time and space has passed. I am now sitting quite well rested this early Sunday morning in my budget motel room reviewing my first impressions of New Zealand.

In truth I have seen little yet and have spoken with few people. What is abundantly clear though is that locals have the temerity to believe I talk funny.  At home, the fun of hearing a weird English accent which identifies that someone is not American is now reversed. I am now the guy who neither uses the vernacular nor knows how to properly inflect a word such as  "petrol". In addition, being slightly hard of hearing anyway and increasingly feeling like an illiterate U.S. alien, I have had to ask shopkeepers to repeat themselves to be sure I understood how many dollars I owed. At least they don't charge in quids or bobs.

To improve my perception I scrolled the tv remote, something I like to do to when I visit a country, and watched a Maori channel, a Chinese channel, and saw programs on gardening, golf, and evangelism. These reflected what I had seen on the streets, a large amount of cultural diversity. A New Zealander is an Asian, a Maori, a Malayan, a Polynesian, and also incidentally a Caucasian.

It is now time for me to go out. My goal is to negotiate my way to the renowned harbor area and explore. Unfortunately it has started to rain and my skill at driving on the left, with steering wheel and controls on the right reversed, is still somewhat lacking. This is a perilous part of the trip since, already once, I entirely circled a round-about to avoid entering the wrong lane. Among other minor mistakes, I am constantly turning on the windshield wipers instead of the directional signal, a gaffe which today may come in handy. With the GPS on my dashboard to help guide me through this country and not the Southern Cross which is today clouded over, I hope to report many more days of my adventure to you. Too soon my lost day will be found, and I will be in the "States" again.