Tales of a wandering lesbian

Posts from — January 2011

Stony-faced beauty

One major reason for our detour to the Dunedin area was the boulders at Moeraki.  From the first time a tour guide mentioned them, my imagination was captured.  Some distant memory from a travel show played visions of amazingly spherical boulders 4 and 5 feet in diameter.

The boulders, which sit on a stretch of beach on New Zealand’s South Island, are made of mud and calcite, washed out of the shoreline where they’ve lain for millennia.

They’re the kind of thing that sounds cool in the abstract, but in person elicits a response along the lines of, “Woah!”

The boulders have a presence.  They’ve been on that beach for a long time.  In fact, they formed in the seabed when that part of New Zealand was underwater.  They’re old, and they give off a feeling of pure determination.  As the tides erode the shoreline, freeing them from the earth, the move, slowly, out to sea.

Each boulder takes its own course.  Some remain buried, their tops barely visible.

Others crumble on the edge of the water, turning slowly into sand.

And some complete the journey, visible only when the tide retreats, like great whales catching breath before a deep plunge.  Or Navy Seals on the verge of an incursion.

But the majority of the boulders lie in the middle of the beach, in groups, forming interesting shapes, waiting to be pulled forward by the ceaseless water.

The two of us wandered along the sand, touching the stones, climbing among them, marveling at their round skins and beautiful positions.

On this lonely stretch of beach they play out their existence.  And if you look closely, you can see that even these boulders in their stony determination, seem to take comfort from the closeness of each other.

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January 30, 2011   1 Comment

Golden tickets

We really did see a lot in New Zealand.  We saw mountains and waterfalls.  We saw goldtowns and giant rocks.  But one of the most memorable parts of our trip, honestly, was Cadbury World.  That’s right.  The people that make the cream eggs have a world in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Even though the sign outside told us we needed to call ahead for reservations, we walked in and gave it a go.  As luck would have it, there were two spots left on the tour leaving 5 minutes later.  Awesomeness!  We paid our $20, unsure if we’d really get that much out of the tour, but slightly giddy from all of the sparkliness and chocolate around us.

The first thing we did was walk through a series of displays – vignettes showing the history of chocolate.  When we entered, we took a couple of cacao beans from a basket and began nibbling.  Krista made a face and handed me hers.  I happily chomped away at the bitter beans, imagining them combined with cream and sugar and spices.

Before we’d seen much of the display we heard an announcement for the tour to gather.  The tour kicked off with a mandatory screening of a safety video/history lesson.  In addition to the video, we all received hairnets – super hot – and plastic bags containing one chocolate bar:  a “Chocolate Fish.”

Once we had our hairnets in place,

our tour guide, dressed in purple overalls, took our cameras, phones, hats and everything else that wasn’t attached to our bodies – except for the baggies.

“You will need these bags once we’re inside,” she told us.  This is a competition.  “Let’s see who can collect the most chocolate by the end of the tour.”

Excuse me, what?  Krista and I looked at each other with our mouths hanging open.  A competition?  For chocolate?

(For those of you who may not know, there are a few things held sacrosanct in the lesbian world.  Softball is up there.  Our pets, which we treat as children, rank as well.  But at the top are two things above all else.  Competition.  And chocolate.)

I honestly didn’t notice that the entire rest of the tour, probably 20 other people, was made up of families and children, until somewhere near the end of the tour.  Krista and I were the only interlopers in this family-friendly scenario.  And we had just been baited beyond belief by our tour guide.

She led us through the actual, working factory, stopping every so often to show us another video and tell us about what we were seeing.  “That palate there is one ton of chocolate heading to commercial customers.”  “Those pipes overhead are carrying chocolate.  Red is dark, blue is white, yellow is milk.”  “We keep our chocolate in liquid form in the factory.”  “You should never refrigerate chocolate.”

Then she would put her hands in her pockets full of little chocolate bars, and start quizzing us.  “What color pipe carries the dark chocolate?”  “What other industries use cocoa butter?” “Where does our sugar come from?”

I’m unsure if I physically blocked any children from receiving chocolate, but I do know that parents began participating in the little trivia sessions.  Parents, who will usually prod their children forward, whispering answers in their ears, began yelling out answers trying to beat Krista and me to the chocolate.  And I had planned to hold back.  I really had.  But the words of our tour guide rang in my ears, “it’s a competition…it’s a competition…it’s a competition…for chocolate.”

“Red! Cosmetics! Queensland!”

Some of the rooms had displays of different products.  Cadbury sells all over the world, and most of the products in New Zealand and Australia are things I’d never seen in America.  So I’d rush over to the products, studying the packaging, the flavors, and the colors.  Soon, I was beating the native kiwis to the answers before the questions were finished.

At a certain point, the tour guide clearly had enough of me.  Pretending that she couldn’t hear my voice, she’d ignore my answers, which were obviously first, favoring anybody else.  So, I had to resort to trickery.  Sometimes, I’d stand to her side, just out of her vision, so that she’d hand over the little bars of approval before she saw it was me.  Other times, Krista would tag-team, hearing my answer and bouncing it forward to collect the chocolate.

Eventually our guide resorted to “kids only” questions.  Which worked for Krista and me, but not so well for the dads, who were now totally worked up and in full competition mode.

Here’s another thing about lesbians:  we’re usually pretty good about rules.  We want to know them so we can decide what to do with them.  And I generally obey rules.  So I backed off.  But I knew all the answers.  Sometimes I’d whisper them to the kids so they could beat their parents, who were unable to control themselves now that they were competing, too.

And, as if the chocolate and trivia weren’t enough, the tour itself was really great.  We saw a lot of the process.  We saw white chocolate being squirted out into chips, and huge milk chocolate ingots being removed from molds.   We climbed into a pitch-black silo, and watched as a floodlight illuminated a 1-ton milk chocolate “waterfall” spilling out before us.  And, at the end of it all, we piled into a little, warm room to receive shot glasses of molten chocolate fresh out of the pipes.

And then, we counted.  “Who has the most?” our tour guide asked, scanning all of our bags.  “Oh, well, you.  You have a lot.” She said, pointing at my bag.  “And you,” she said pointing at Krista.  We grinned and clutched our prizes.  When she reached the kids, she dug her hands into the depths of her overalls and emerged with handfuls of shiny treats for all of them.  Like a grandmother making sure everyone had the same number of m&ms, she evened out the bags of chocolate and sent us on our way to take pictures in the old-fashioned Cadbury milk truck.

Back in our van, Krista and I dumped our bags onto the dash to evaluate our haul.  It was kind of like Halloween for adults.

We ended up with a lot of chocolate.  Which we immediately began bartering.  It was a beautiful thing.  She didn’t want the marshmallow, I didn’t want the gluten.  In the two-hour tour, we had collected enough chocolate to take us through the last week of our trip.  And we won.  It was hard to say which was better.

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January 28, 2011   2 Comments

B-list bliss

Aside from gorgeous mountains and amazing lakes, New Zealand has a number of other interesting attractions, lesser sites, and tourist traps that don’t bring most people to the country, but are not to be missed, in my estimation.

Arrowtown, for example, is one of the historic gold towns of the South Island’s goldfields.  Along with its cute, wooden, wild-west main street

the town has an area of preserved and reconstructed homes of Chinese workers.

The gold town history is still alive, so much so that you can buy or rent a pan from the Department of Conservation information center in town, and head to the river to try your luck.  I grew up in Idaho, in an old gold town, so I was excited to crouch down and start swirling the muck around the bottom of my little, plastic pan.  Until the sand flies found me.

Then we headed to the Cardrona Hotel, which we heard was a great place to grab a bite and enjoy the scene.

Sadly, it was closed when we got there, so we enjoyed the garden and made friends with some of the locals.

From there, it was back to Wanaka to reclaim our day of relaxation.

The first thing waiting for us in Wanaka, was pastry at the amazing Cheeky Monkey Café.  And pies.  New Zealand, being a former British colony, has adopted some of the great parts of British food culture (yes, there are some).  We ate fantastic “chips,” drank wonderful tea in the afternoon, and had pies – savory-filled pastry.  At least, Krista did.  Even though veggie options were often available, the pastry portion was nearly always glutenous.

But not at the Cheeky Monkey.

I ended up with some kind of fabulous vegetable pie on my plate, and finished up the meal with a “slice.”  We ran into slices all over.  Triangles of sweet yumminess.

Krista packed up some of her caramel version to take with her, but I threw back the whole lot of mine, chocolate and coconut and apricot and almond.  It was pretty much heaven.

As we stood to leave, I remembered the fleece.  Krista’s fleece sweatshirt.  Packing for the Routeburn Track in Queenstown, she realized that she’d left her favorite fleece in Wanaka, likely at the Cheeky Monkey.  I was quite sure it was still there.

Krista had asked at the hotel next door, where we’d used the internet, but had no luck.  Now she turned to our server, a tone of resignation in her voice.  “I’m sure it’s not back there, but would you look and see if anyone turned in a sweatshirt?  I think I left one here.  Thanks,” or something equally doleful.

“Oh, it’s grey, right?”  The waitress was walking into the back room.

We looked at each other and I started laughing.  She emerged a moment later with the prodigal fleece.

Krista pressed it to her face like a child greeting a favorite blanket.

“Thanks!”  We were all smiling now and Krista was pulling the fleece over her head.

The fleece reclaimed, we were off to Puzzling World, some kind of puzzle Mecca that included an immense, outdoor maze.

Both a little reluctant to admit we were interested, we floated the idea back and forth.

“I’d be up for it if you’re interested.”

“It looks kind of hokey, but I’m game.”

“Do you want to go?”

“Do you?”

Finally we admitted our interest and headed up the street to the strange building that housed New Zealand’s puzzling center.

It certainly was unique.  And fun.  When we entered the huge maze, we were told the average time spent inside was 45 minutes.  That’s a long time in a maze.

We raced around, taking time to survey the quadrants from the elevated bridges, and trying to make sense of blind corners and hidden turns.

We made it through in about 30 minutes, and felt like we’d conquered the final immunity challenge in SURVIVOR.

But the maze wasn’t the only thing Puzzling World had to offer.  Inside were rooms and rooms of illusions.

We played around in each of them, stared at statues, moved our heads a certain way, and sat down to play with all of the puzzles you could purchase in the gift-shop.  Puzzling World offered literally hours of entertainment.  We were happy.

Our next off-the-tour stop was the ghost town of St. Bathans.  We spent the night just outside of town, but before we settled in, we cruised up to the town itself, and the haunted Vulcan Hotel.

The hotel and the rest of the ghost town were interesting for sure.  We visited each of the little buildings, all managed by the family that runs the hotel.  Knickknacks and honesty jars lined the walls of some buildings.  Old bottles and cobwebs lined the windows of others.

But all of this came at the end of our visit .  When we pulled up into the little gravel lot across from the hotel, we were greeted by the town guide.

“Buddy,” as we called him, guided us into the lot from the street, and waited for us to get out of the van.  He led us over to a little info display and then, hearing that we were interested in a short hike, took us out to the trailhead.

We chuckled hard as Buddy led us the entire way.  He jogged ahead of us, running off the trail every so often to sniff a favorite rock or greet a bird.

The trail ran through the remains of a sluicing operation – a great lake made by the use of pressurized water to wash away gravel and mud, revealing gold.  Supposedly, when the light hits the water, the lake turns an unearthly blue.  It was an overcast day, so we didn’t see it, but the carved walls surrounding the lake, and the old pipes still sticking out of them were unearthly enough for us.

The next morning, we headed to our next destination, Dunedin, for a smattering of interesting activities.  We photographed the second most photographed building in the Southern hemisphere: the Dunedin train station.

We filled our cistern with water from the local brewery.

And visited the world’s steepest street.

The mountains and waterfalls of New Zealand are remarkable, truly.  But the unexpected, unplanned parts of any trip are usually my favorite, and New Zealand didn’t disappoint.

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January 26, 2011   1 Comment

Solace

One thing about New Zealand is that there aren’t a lot of people there.  During the day, we would see a handful of other campervans driving from one city to the next.  And there were even a couple of nights that we spent alone.  I mean, really alone.  The first was outside the city of Cardrona.

Unable to locate a suitable Conservation campsite, we searched the map for an alternative.  As we made our way along, we happened along the parking lot for the ski resort at Cardrona.  The gravel lot was the entrance to the closed-for-the-season alpine area.

We pulled the van off the road and found a quiet spot away from a couple of disturbingly flattened rabbit carcasses.

Krista went to explore the little gatehouse, while I stepped into the old cemetery adjoining the parking lot.

A handful of old headstones and obelisks stood in the gently tended graveyard.  I wandered among them watching the darkening sky.

Krista, on the other hand, made an exciting discovery:  power.  The little gatehouse had an outlet where we could charge our electronics.  And, inside a flap on the outer wall, was a key.  Apparently, our “success” with the stolen showers made us rather brazen.  We took the key, opened the little door and walked inside with an armful of electronics.

We left the cameras, ipods and computer plugged in while we made dinner, cleaned up and began our nightly cribbage tournament.  The wind kicked up a bit and the sky continued to put on a glorious show of light-on-cloud.  When the light began to fade, making the stark white gravestones shine in the dim, I climbed out of the van to retrieve our belongings from the gatehouse.  I had no intention of being out after dark.

Halfway to the house, my headlamp caught the head of one of the flattened rabbits.  Long dead, the opened mouth and white teeth took me off guard, and the fur was loosely held together, blowing in the breeze.  Startled, I jumped back as though I’d just run into a glass wall.

When my heart climbed back down from my throat, and I forced myself to chuckle, I continued on, sure to pass far enough away from the second rabbit so as not to repeat the ridiculous jumping scene that Krista was surely watching.  I climbed the fence and reclaimed the wires and machines that would help us document our trip.  Holding the keys tight, I stuck my hand inside the flap and found the hook where the keys belonged.  I heard a guilty jingling clunk, stood still while the sound registered, and then hoped that whoever returned in the fall to open the gatehouse, would return with their own set of keys.

***

Although we saw only a handful of cars that night, the next campsite was by far the most remote.  The Department of Conservation pamphlet had little descriptions next to a picture of each campsite.  St. Baathans caught my eye.  The picture itself was only of a gate and a sign.  This was the kind of site where we would close the gate behind us so the livestock didn’t get out.  Cool.  According to the description, it was in an old goldfields area, just up the road from the ghost town of St. Baathans.  The pamphlet also indicated that it was a popular picnic spot with locals.  Usually that would eliminate the site from our list, but we were so excited about the goldfields that we decided to give it a go.

The spur road that led to the town and campsite was empty.  We didn’t see another car the entire 10K.  We saw sheep, we saw horses, we saw cows, but we didn’t see people.  None.  The further we drove, the more alone we felt.  We cross-referenced the site in our guidebook and found that the St. Baathans area was known to be haunted.  Great.  Maybe we’d be excited to see picnicking families, after all.

Our road dead-ended at a sheep fence.  I hopped out to swing it wide, and Krista drove through so that I could close it.  We found ourselves in a field, a few acres in size.

It was empty.  There were no families, no campers.  We were, again, alone.  And this time we were in a place known to be haunted.

No matter.  We had our choice of camping spots.  We settled in under a tree, a short way from the bathroom and water faucet.  Still tired from our three-day trek, we took some time to relax.  our recent camp spots had been without river or lake, so we were in need of a washing-up.  And even the shower we’d appropriated had left me no time to shave my now prickly legs.

I filled a plastic tub up with cold water from the tap and set to shaving my legs, sitting in the door well of the van.  It was a beautiful view.  What looked like an old ramp for loading and unloading sheep was the only other thing in the field.  Rough and weathered, I fell immediately in love with it.

As I finished up my legs, I realized how warm it felt out.  It was probably due to having poured the frigid water over half of my body, but I was suddenly struck by the fact that we were alone in the middle of New Zealand.

“I’m going for a run!” I yelled at Krista who was lying in the van and giving me a bit of privacy.

“What?”

“Just around the field.  I’m going to be naked, so be warned.”  I was stripping off my remaining clothes.  (I swear this isn’t a normal thing for me.)

I did a lap around the field, the foot-high weeds smacking the tops of my feet as I ran.  Then I headed to the ramp.  Up, over and off the end of it I flew, laughing all the while.  There wasn’t even a sheep to see me as I jogged back to the van.

There was, however, a friend with a camera.  I wrestled the camera out of her hands, approved of a couple and deleted the rest.  (Bodies look funny when you’re running, just by the way.)

We spent the rest of the evening resting, cooking, eating, and, of course, playing games.  When we went to sleep, it was dark.  Really dark.  We slept hard.  And uneasily.  The place was beautiful, but it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to experience during the night.  The idea of slipping out to pee in that darkness was uninteresting.

When we woke, it was also uneasily.  We both had stories to share.  Krista had a series of disturbing, grisly dreams.  I, unable to wake from the dream I was having, called out to Krista in the dream, and she rolled over in the van, waking me up.  In our morning haze, we cuddled up next to each other, offering the kind of comfort that can only really come from the closeness of another person.

We didn’t linger.  Neither of us was eager to spend another night in St. Baathans.  The place was beautiful, but it was quiet, and lonely, and a little too dark.  On our way out of the gate, we poked a $20 bill into the donation box, settling up for the nights we’d forgotten to pay.  This was a free site, but maybe we’d delayed payment a bit too long.

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January 20, 2011   2 Comments

Arrested development

We arrived at the campervan sometime around 9PM, disheveled, and happy.  Our bus from the Milford Sound had stopped for fish and chips (or in my case, chips and chips) on the way back to Queenstown, leaving our stomachs full, if complaining about the grease.  We climbed off the bus a few blocks from our parking spot, and shouldered our packs instead of asking for a ride.  At this point, a few blocks was nothing, and our bodies functioned more normally with heavy packs than without.

The little van was there, its fancy paint job clear, even in the fading light.  As we approached it I began to smile.  We unlocked the doors and slid them open.  The funky smell, part motor oil, part fabric softener, met our nostrils.  What had been strange a week before now was beginning to smell like home.

Bags heaved on top of the bed, we climbed in the cab and headed to our old Moke Lake camping spot.  Even with the weekend crowd at the lake, we found a quietish spot and nestled in, both of us feeling secure in our little van.  Even when the midnight fireworks started again…

When we awoke the next day, the van smelled less homey, and more like our dirty bodies, dirty laundry, and fried food.  We drove into town, in search of three things:  food, laundry, and a shower.

The icy river-baths had been nice, but they didn’t provide the kind of scrubbing opportunity that a shower does.  We were sure that Queenstown, being a tourist town, would have showers that we could purchase.  We were wrong.  The girl at the tour office looked at us strangely when we asked.

“Hmm.  I’m sure there must be somewhere you could get a shower.  You know, you could go to the youth hostel at the end of the block.  There’s a separate entrance to the dorms, and nobody at the front desk would see you.”

Steal a shower?  Great.  I’m not a big fan of stealing anything.  The idea of sneaking into a hostel and stealing a shower made me nervous.  If we got caught, we’d be naked and in trouble.  It wasn’t the relaxing image I had in mind.

After asking around, it seemed this was our only real option if we didn’t want to pay for a hotel room.  So we packed up our day packs and headed to the hostel, trying our best to look like we belonged there.  The girl was right.  There was a separate entrance.  Nobody even saw us head up the stairs to the dorms.

The facility was more like a hotel than a hostel.  Each room had its own bathroom, accessible from the hallway, so we were able to walk directly into a bathroom.  The first one looked unoccupied.  I headed across the hallway to see if I could find another.  The door was open, so I stepped inside and waved to Krista before closing the door.

I stripped down as quickly as I could, and pulled out my soap and razor.  It had been far too long since I’d used either.  Then I stepped into the shower.  “Shit!”  I’d chosen a bathroom that clearly had an occupant.  I looked around:  shampoo – soap – conditioner.  Damn!

There was nothing for it.  I wasn’t going to try to find another bathroom at this point.  I turned on the shower and got to work.  It was probably 5 minutes before I emerged from the bathroom fully dressed and mostly clean.  My legs were still prickly, but sunburned chest was clean, and my hair was out of a hat for the first time in a week.  I placed a few coins on the sink and leapt into the hallway.

There was no sign of Krista.  The door where I’d left her was open, so I made my way back downstairs and outside, trying to remain as calm as possible, mentally locating my passport in case I was arrested for trespassing.

Krista wasn’t outside.  The van was parked a couple of blocks away, so I headed that way, sure that she had hurried out to wait for me there.  Only she hadn’t.

I opened up the van, toweled my sopping hair, and reached for my hair gel.  Looking up the sidewalk, I saw a familiar sweatshirt.  Paula, one of our new friends from the Routeburn Track, was walking toward the van.  We chatted, and I did my hair, all the while looking back down the street toward the hostel.  Could it be that Krista had been discovered in somebody else’s shower?  What if she’d been thrown out or arrested?

I’m not a worst case scenario person, but this was starting to worry me.  Paula and I talked for about ten minutes before I excused myself to go find Krista, promising that we could connect later.  Back in front of the hostel entrance, I tried to look up the stairs.  There was still no sign of Krista, but I wasn’t about to head back in.  So I took up a post half a block away to wait.  The next five minutes seemed like an eternity.  I studied an interesting, artsy man in a shawl and beret until Krista came bouncing out of the doorway.

“How was your shower?” she smiled.

“It was about 3 minutes long.  I totally thought you were arrested.”

“No, I was shaving and enjoying my shower.”

Apparently, I’m a little paranoid.  After I had closed my door, she’d jumped into the bathroom next to mine, not the one across the hall we’d looked into.  Like mine, it had shampoo and soap on the shower floor, but unlike me she hadn’t worried about it.  She’d calmly scoured her skin and relaxed while I was frantically throwing my clothes back on.  Clearly, I had no future in shower-stealing.

Queenstown had a couple of things left to offer us.  We still had a pile of dirty clothes and a couple of empty bellies.  Fortunately, the town had a Laundromat and several restaurants, so we were able to pay for what we needed.  And I didn’t have to wonder if we’d get arrested.  It was a win-win, really.

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January 13, 2011   No Comments