Leaving & Returning to Blenheim

I quit the vineyard job to go WWOOFing. The vineyard sucked and the hours were too little. Besides, it is within my travel goals to WWOOF. So I left Blenheim and headed to Tasman, west of Nelson.

WWOOFing was a nice break from life. All i had to do was wake up and work a few hours. In return, they feed me excellent home-cooked meals. I love it because I never had to worry about breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

The worst part of backpacker life for me is coming home tired after working and trying to cook a nice dinner in hostel’s shared kitchen. Even if I enjoyed it more, it’s still hard to find storage space for any food I’d like to stock. Honestly, I’m just lazy. Those are my excuses to justify my inaction.

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This little bird followed me around for days. At one point she had more than 12 worms in here mouth. I think she was nursing babies

The WWOOFing work I did was just clearing brush, pushing it into a wood chipper and weeding. I didn’t mind the wood chipper, but I hate weeding. It felt like I pulled weeds for a week straight. It was actually a week straight.

It was unfortunate to not learn to much new skills while there. I learned a lot about life and new ideas from my hosts though. I don’t think I will ever forget that. For this WWOOFing experience I learned mostly from the hosts not the work.

I took one day off to go explore.

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Back to Blenheim

I got a job as a traffic controller. The pay is minimum, but the hours are maximum. My hostel mate got us all connected and jobs. He averages $900NZD a week standing with a stop-go sign.It was just him, now five more work there too. Two girls also working moved to the hostel. Now eight of us work and live together.

It’s a horribly boring job.

A couple of years ago there was a 7.8m earthquake near Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island. It caused a few landslides and took the road out. This road was the main drive for people to go from the Interisland Ferry to Christchurch. I head it was about a three hour drive. The detour is a seven or eight hour drive.

We work for a recruitment agency that works for a subcontractor that works for NCTIR, North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery. We had to go through an induction to get on the site. They showed us this promotion video.

The location is great. It’s a coastal highway, similar to the 1 and 101 on the coast of California. There is a hawk that lives near one of the sites I spent most of my time at. I watch the Hawk glide in the air and drop down every now and then. Everyday, the same hawk.

All day I stand by the ocean. I listen to RadioLab podcast. I listen to Intercepted Podcast. RadioLab has been doing a lot of episodes about race and with their spin off show, More Perfect, race politics. Intercepted is Jeremy Scahill’s podcast about war, surveillance, the failure of the media state, and more. It surrounds me with the problems of the world. I stand by the ocean.

I can hear these, they pull me from my spot into a society. A society with too many problems and too many people.

I stare into the horizon. I love the myriad of blues, greys, and whites, colliding to create the horizon. I stare into and focus everything on my breathe. All I see are dull shades crash into shiny shades. All I feel is the wind enter my body. All I hear is the waves, the wind in the trees, the birds, and, in the morning, an occasional sheep. In these moments, I feel like there is only me. I am one with the ocean. I am the ocean. The ocean is me. I can stay here until my walkie-talkie screams, “Can I send? Sending. Do you copy? Is it clear?” “Yeah, all clear,” I reply without looking. My sign stays on stop.

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This is just a cool photo I wanted to include from Wairua Lagoons Walkway near Blenheim.

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Leaving Auckland Southbound

Mid-October into November

Twenty hours of traveling puts you in timeless haze. Three flights in the middle seats puts you in a grumpy timeless haze. Cheap-ass-budget-flying backpacker. Next time maybe I’ll get the upgrade.

I was sitting next to this kid. I am not sure if he was slow, sleeping, or what. He didn’t appear slow, so I was confused. Periodically throughout the flight he would grab my arm and try to cuddle me. I wasn’t having it. He wasn’t cute enough! I was happy to get the fuck off the plane.

I lost my AT Hop (Auckland Transit) Card on my way out of the country so I paid for my bus and train back to my Parnell hostel with all the random change I accumulated from the tip jar. I don’t know why I was traveling with this. It was weight I didn’t need in my already over-the-limit backpack.

The hostel was the same but different. Lots of new faces, most the old ones gone, a few stranglers left behind.

It’s a curious type of melancholy. All these people I have lived with for the past three, some people four months: gone. Everyone is off on their on adventure. It was never supposed to last. No one wanted to stay in that hostel. That’s not why we came to New Zealand. Auckland is just a purgatory; a waiting area. Waiting for better weather in the south, waiting for more money to build up in the bank account, waiting for companions to arrive.

For the longest time it was just us. Just the same long term residents. Hardly any newbies. But slowly one by one, two by two, they took off.  New people would come and go almost unnoticed unless they created a scene. Why was I still here? I don’t want to be the last man standing!

The hostel now was divided into The French and The Germans. No longer was the common, unfortunately my only, language, spoken. That’s alright with me. It’s hard to hear stupid people talk if I can’t understand them.

I was planning to fly to Christchurch and buy a van. I wanted to be out of Auckland, far far way from Auckland. I wanted to be in nature. In deed, it is the nature of this country that drew me here. As of yet I have spent so little time there.

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A friend of mine from the hostel, an Irishmen name Brian, was leaving in two days. He’s driving down to Blenheim for vineyard work. Blenheim is in the north of the South Island, the Marlborough Region. I decided to join him. It’d be easy for me to get to Christchurch from there.

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Views from the drive down

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Views from the drive down

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The ferry to go from one island to the next

And, here I am now as I write this. That was two weeks ago. I’ve since stayed here. I bought a hatchback Ford Mondeo (Focus) and I got us a job working in the vineyards.

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It didn’t take me long to get my shiny new car muddy

Before we started to work in the vineyard we had a long weekend to go out and explore the area. Whiter Farms Park, Nelson Lakes National Park, and some local beaches.

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It’s sometimes back breaking work. It feels like honest work though. I use my hands. It’s outside and the scenery is lovely. Mostly I like it because I am alone. I can be alone with my thoughts or alone with an audiobook torrent on phone.

Brian and I lucked out. We got to spend four days walking slowly behind a tractor picking up rocks. The site was a new development. The vineyard was putting in the irrigation and the fans while we were there. The fans are to blow the frost away.

Wire lifting is by far the easiest job. Although I was told it gets harder when it comes time to lift the wire to the top. The wires hold the grapes up. They protect them from the wind. Apparently, there isn’t harvesting work here. My boss said they have machines do it. Come that time they run 24/7.

The boredom and the back breaking labor was okay. It’s just temporary work anyway. The real problem is that we only get 7.5 or 8 hours a day. We don’t get paid for the hour drive to and from the vineyard. In fact, we have to pay them five dollars to drive us there. In a week I will be driving to Tasman, west of Nelson, to do some more wwoofing. I am looking forward to it.

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Not a bad office

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Picking up rocks

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The fans going up

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Teammates

Taipei in October

It feels weird to be taking a vacation from my vacation(?) [working-holiday] in New Zealand. It was a fact I had no plans to leave. I wanted to spend my entire year in New Zealand. But I had someone important to see in Taipei. So I was traveling 20 hours one way to do it.

I was nervous. I was curious about how it would feel to be back in Taipei with her after being away. It felt hot. Really hot. Really humid.

I left Auckland on a chilly rainy day wearing comfortable jeans for the long journey. I landed with them on. The airport wasn’t hot. I wasn’t focused on it. I was focused on finding her so I could wrap my arms around her.

We walked hand in hand to the Airport MRT and took it to Taipei Main Station. Never going outside. We ditched our bags in a locker so we could go explore. We took another short subway ride to get some dumplings.

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Xiao Long Bao! the smiles in this photo are so staged. I think it’s lame. But she’s beautiful ♥

After walking around for a bit I was dying. The heat was sucking the life out me. The humid was wringing the sweat out of me. Hot an uncomfortable. I wanted to it down and never get up.

By sundown the weather cooled and I was comfortable again especially at the top of Taipei 101.

Taipei 101 view

a blurry view from the top

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We spent the next few days hanging out with her grandparents flipping through movies and a show about rattle snake wranglers. We enjoyed a buffet with her parents. They were curious about my work in in New Zealand.

We spent two nights in the city alone. One of them we had a fancy birthday dinner on the 85 floor of Taipei 101. We went to a movie after.

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I was getting sick of so many photos. I just wanted to eat my dessert!

Honestly most of our time was spent alone in the studio we rented listening to jazz music slow dancing together or in a used book store somewhere in the city. I couldn’t be happier about the time we spent together doing that. In my mind, I think we found “our thing.”

It was sad to leave her. It was sad to leave Taipei. The moment I stepped back into the crowded city streets I felt more at home then I anticipated. It was a lovely warm feeling. Maybe it was the feeling not the humidity that was making me sweat.

Taipei will always be a home away from home. And home will always be when I’m with her.

Bad Waiter, No Tips

I don’t think I was a very good waiter. Most days I didn’t have any problems and I did enjoy the job marginally more than one does with a minimum wage job. Nevertheless, there were I handful of times I made some big mistakes.

To my own benefit, they hired me with no experience. I told them I never worked in a restaurant. I asked for a bus boy or dishwasher position. Something I could just do to keep busy for the the month between now and going to Taipei.

English as a first language paid off here. It helped the guests understand me. Not that it helped me understand them. Lots of Chinese customers with little English. I mean no offense by this it’s just how it was. Sometimes it causes problems.

Take this for instance: I’m helping an older Chinese couple order. He speaks no English. Hers seems limited to food items. They decided on a seafood salad and a Prosciutto Pizza. After I put the order in she comes up to me and says she’d like to which the pizza to Fettuccine Bolognese. Because of mistakes in the past, I write down that she asked me to switch it.

I wasn’t the guy to take them food. When she saw the Fettuccine she told whoever she didn’t order it. I forget who, but they got me and told me to figure it out. I told her you order this. She said, “beef pizza.” This was the only time the boss was every on my side. “We don’t have a beef pizza,” she interrupted.

That’s not an exciting story but it’s a decent example.

I think my biggest blunder was forgetting to put in a tables order. It happened once. I forgot an item or two for a tables order maybe twice or thrice. One of those times the patron was asking me about prawn salad but because of my lack of interest I understood it as prawn linguini.

I was working three twelve hour days Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Forgive me if I lose concentration or forget to care. It’s not like we had assigned tables. The wait staff was always all over. We don’t get tips either. The only incentive to work hard is to work from your heart.

Honestly I tried to do good. I believed being a waiter for a short period of time would be beneficial to me. In some ways it definitely was. I saved money money on meals because they feed me five days a week.

More importantly, many people say that everyone should work in the service industry for a month. Now I have. And, they’re right. It sucks. People are awful! People are grumpy and in bad moods and take it out on the staff. They are needy and overly demanding. I’ve never been the person to get mad at a waiter(ess), looking forward I imagine I will be even nicer.

But don’t expect my cheap ass to put any money in your tip jar in New Zealand. Y’all never tipped either. You want tips go to America!

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One of my regulars and by far one of the cutest customers we got in.

 

Heading Back to Auckland

July-August and into October

After my experience wwoofing I headed back to Auckland to work in event production again. They had another big event coming up. This one in Auckland. I would be living and working here.

I took up residency in a familiar hostel. It’s nice to go back to a place with a few familiar faces. There were also a lot of new people. Most of them long-term guests also working in Auckland on working holiday. We all sort of got situated in the city and hunkered down to work.

I spent most of my time at work during this time. I feel more close to my coworkers than the hostel guests. But, there was certainly a sense of togetherness in the hostel. It felt like a home. People had schedules and you could expect to see them return at certain times.

I stayed there for a few months while building. Everyday I would wake up early, make some eggs and walk to the train. I’d read for about twenty minutes on the train and then walk to work. It wasn’t bad. I quite enjoyed my morning commute.

I was always against the flow of traffic. In the morning, everyone is headed north bound to the CBD. I was heading South to an industrial area called Penrose. After work, people head south to go home, I would head north to Parnell.

A few times, and I could never figure out why, the train would skip Parnell station and head to the last stop: Britomart. I hated this. It added an addition thirty to forty-five minutes to my commute. The train was always crowed leaving the CBD too.

More often than not I would get off the train in Newmarket, one station before Parnell. I would walk to the grocery store. The library was on the walk back from this station as well. I would use the opportunity to check out or return books. The library card was my best New Zealand investment.

As the event got closer, the management got more and more disorganized. They weren’t thinking ahead enough to hire more people. We were falling behind, working longer hours under stressed conditions. Management-imposed stressed. I brought in a guy from the hostel who was working at a labor exchange. He had a car; free rides to work for me! That really cut into my reading time.

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We built all these panels…

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…and turned them into backdrops like this

During the two weeks that my friend from the hostel worked with me I lost all respect for the organization. I decided I would quit. Since I am a nice guy, I stayed until the event was over. I mostly did that because the long hours gave me lots of money.

The day of set up was a 19 hour day. It didn’t have to be. They just didn’t know what they were doing.

 

For better or worse, the event was a success. Part of me feels it would have been nice to see them fail. I would have still got my hourly wages and they would have learned a valuable lesson in their incompetence. Most of me is happy that it worked out. I love that type of work. I consider myself an integral part of the team whether they do or not.

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I just thought the texture of this ship was fascinating. This view was all you could see looking out the giant hanger doors of the event venue. I enjoyed it enough to snap this photo.

For better or worse, the event was a success. Part of me feels it would have been nice to see them fail. I would have still got my hourly wages and they would have learned a valuable lesson in their incompetence. Most of me is happy that it worked out. I love that type of work. I consider myself an integral part of the team whether they do or not.

The idea that I will remember the most from this experience is valuable. I learned that any moron can run a business. This inspires me to start my own. If these guys can pull that off, imagine what I could do if my heart was in it.

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On pack down day, which was the next day, the event was less than 8 hours, there was another ship docked

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I took about a week off after quitting before I started to look for work. During that time I caught up on some reading and traveled Auckland a bit. I made it out to Whatipu Beach and Rangitoto Island.

I wasn’t hitting the streets as hard I could have because I knew I’d be leaving in a month. I contacted a few temp agencies, had a few interviews. I got offered a fundraising job. But decided against it.

I ended up working in an Italian restaurant near my hostel. Walked to work everyday, 17 minutes. It actually was a pretty cool job. I got to meet other travelers. They were quite different from the hostel backpackers. I got to practice talking to customers. I got a new skill for my resume: waiter. Most importantly I ate a lot of free food!

I worked there for a month. Then I flew out of New Zealand to go back to Taipei. That was through September and a few days into October.

WWOOFing in Northland

I’ve spent the past few days WWOOFing in Peria, near Taipa and Kiataia. I do a few hour of labor for them and they provide me with room and board. As you can see from the last post, I haven’t always been at my best here.
But I believe I have figured out why sometimes I feel so shitty when I wake up. It’s one of my goals for traveling, for being on working holiday: to overcome negative thinking.
I enjoy the work. I work outside everyday. Most the tasks are the homestead busy work: stack firewood, cut kindling, pick up horse poop, dig. I’ve done some more random things too like: harvest gravel from a river, harvest bamboo, and clear a drainage ditch. On the day I wrote this I worked a few extra hours to sand some doors that will be painted.
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They’re build a new bathhouse structure from adobe. It’s absolutely beautiful. a friend of theirs was here to build in the door frames and hang the doors in. Today (July 5th) he cut the wood from larger timber to fit, crafted some tug-and-grove, and the lumber was oiled up for protection. A few more coats will be added in the coming days.
Being here excites me to do all this myself. Their home, while not perfect in their eyes, is handmade by them. The material is most recycled, salvaged goods. It’s beautifully put together. And, now that their kids have all moved out, it’s size works.
They’re off the grid. Their winter heating comes from a wood stove (which doubles as a hot water heater). The electric power comes from both a solar voltaic system and micro hydropower.
A good percentage of their food is home grown. All the veggies come from in a few meters of the kitchen. The property is littered with fruit trees. Apples, citrus, banana, avocado, various nuts. It’s quite impressive. All year they have different fresh fruit to pick.
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My hosts own a sculpture business

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Feeding horses. I picked up wheel barrels full of their shit. It’s excellent compost.

Seeing how they did all this without a huge budget makes me want to fly home, buy property, and start building myself. I could start collecting salvaged and dumpstered wood, find bits and pieces to use for home construction, furniture, all that good stuff. Start planting fruit trees so in a couple years I’m swimming in fresh fruit. There are a couple problems with this though.
There are still many places in the world I want to see. I’m definitely not ready to lock myself into a few dozen acres, even if it is a few hundred. I know in the future I will want that. For now, I need to travel around. Besides being here I’ve learned a lot. Not just how to do it, but how not to do it. I’ve thought of things I would have initially out. I know what features in a handmade house are more important to me now.
If anything being here has made me realize I want to visit a lot more homestead, permaculture farms, and intentional communities so I can absorb as much as possible before setting in  my roots.
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My host and I after a football game. They need an extra player a guy who hasn’t played since he was ten was good enough. I never ran so much in my life! But i was able to kick the ball a bit and even stole it a few times.

Leaving Auckland

(June 25-ish)
My coworker and I have been sleeping in a trailer behind a hostel. The floors are muddy and the sheets are dirty. Our roommates are some spiders in the cupboards. The last tenant used it to deal meth and smoke in privacy. But the worst part about it is I can feel the fucking springs inside the mattress. They haven’t much spring left in them anymore.
Sunday morning and are stay is over. I have no where else to go. No plans made. I don’t want to extend my stay. The Lion’s Cup is in town and every bed in Auckland is booked, prices are up. I’ve been talking to some WWOOF hosts. Perhaps I should finalize with them? Either way I’m leaving now.
Well, I’m leaving at 12:50 P.M. (June 25th). I’m taking the bus to Whangarei. I use my time between breakfast and the bus leaving to send some last minute couchsurfing requests. Hopefully someone replies.
I walk from the hostel to the Parnell Train Station. It’s first uphill. Then downhill. Then back up the hill again. The bus stop is only one stop away. Britomart.
While sitting on the bus I get a message on the Couchsurfing App from Alex. He has agreed to host me and will be picking me up at the bus stop. That’s fantastic.
Alex is a 74 year old New Zealander. He has hosted over 360 couchsurfers in the past few years. He says yes to everyone who sends him a request.
I’ve spent the last few days with Alex. The WWOOF host in Whangarei never replied to me. Alex didn’t mind me staying. We’ve been hanging out watching movies in the evening. Been pretty relaxing since leaving the hostel.
The other day Alex took me around town. I saw some waterfall, I saw some middle-aged Kauri trees, and I pet and hand feed a kiwi.
I’m leaving today. I got a bus up to Taipa. I’m heading to WWOOF up there.
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I don’t remember the name of this waterfall

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Big ol’ Kauri Tree

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I forgot to mention my host, Alex, and I found these four puppies abandoned on the side of the road

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Me with a Kiwi

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Whangarei

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Whangarei

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Like an idiot, I totally spaced on taking a photo of myself with the Alex! 😦 Here is a pic of the living “Paris When It Sizzles” on the screen