Tales of a wandering lesbian

Arthur’s Pass

There are a couple of things that one must realize about traveling by campervan.  Depending on the kind of van you have, you’ll have certain amenities.  And you won’t have others.  Ours, for instance, had quite an adequate kitchen area.  The cooler stayed cool, and we were able to cook great meals on the camp stove.  We did not, however have any kind of bathroom facility.

During our two weeks on the south island, we had two showers.  That’s all, just two.  Neither of those took place on day two.   Even with the drapes pulled around our little bedroom, we woke with the sun, slowly and steadily working our way into a conscious state.

Krista, who had already been traveling the north island for two weeks, was in full-out adventure mode.  “I’m thinking about a bath in the lake,” she declared, beginning to strip down the morning layers.

Appalled, I crawled deeper under the covers.  I like being clean, but the idea of a morning dip in a glacial lake wasn’t the kind of adventure I was quite ready for.  I require a bit of warm before hurling my naked body into freezing water.

And so, from my warm perch inside the van, I watched as more and more skin appeared, and Krista walked out into the water.

(Yes, of course I took a picture.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of compromising shots of me…)

After a good shimmy and shake, she emerged, smiling and clean.  I shuddered, and pulled my hood up over my ears.

Day two meant that it was my turn to drive.  I was looking forward to the challenge.  The gas and brake pedals were in the same configuration as in the states, but the steering wheel was on the opposite – as were the windshield wipers and turn signal.  I’ll say that there were only a couple of moments when Krista had to yell, “wrong side!” to get me onto the right side of the road, and I only tried to climb into the other side of the cab a few times.  However, I activated the windshield wipers approximately 24 times every day, while trying to signal.

As we drove on, with an exceedingly clean windshield, we delved deeper into the beautiful New Zealand countryside.  We climbed higher, working our way to the pass.  Unreal landscapes presented themselves to us over the edge of the road, perched along the mountain.

Mullen, scotchbroom, water, mountains and lupine stretched in fingers below us, the foliage following the waterlines of glacier-fed streams that led from the distant, snow-capped mountains.

As if in response to the flora, and not wanting to be outdone, the fauna began asserting itself.

Kiwi bird crossing signs popped up, and while we were out photographing the landscape, a large, brown-green bird landed on the roof of the van and stuck its head inside.

“What was that?!” I’d looked up to see it land on the van, 20 yards away from us, up an embankment.  “Something big landed on the van.  I’ll go check it out.”

I scrambled up, wondering what I’d just seen.  It had appeared to be checking out the open window, but fluttered to the ground when I walked toward the van.

“No way.”  I was looking at something completely unexpected.

“It looks like a parrot!”  I yelled back to Krista who was now climbing up as well.  “I didn’t know there were parrots here.”  We both looked around at the mountains and then back to the bird.

He was friendly, and seemed as curious about us and our colorful van as we were about him.  He stayed in the shade of the van and turned his head back and forth looking at us.  One of the people Krista had stayed with on the north island was a zookeeper who had showed her something similar.  We were both excited to confirm what we were seeing when we hit the next ranger station.

When we described what we’d seen to the smiling ranger, he pointed, without looking, at a picture on the wall.  Sure enough, it was a Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world.  These guys are known for being social friendly, and mischievous, famous for removing the rubber parts off of cars, and stealing anything they can from campsites.

Along with the Kea confirmation, the ranger gave us directions to a couple of different walks that would take us into the Arthur’s Pass wilderness, and waterfalls.

The first was a towering two-tiered fall.  We walked the half mile up, seeing a couple of other hikers.  The falls were beautiful, and we climbed down to the pool below for a closer look.

Coming from Oregon and Idaho, comparisons were almost unavoidable.  The falls looked like Multnomah Falls, a well known set in the Columbia Gorge of Oregon.  We took our pictures and moved along.

Our next hike would take us further in, closer to the mountains, past alpine lilies, and a gorgeous tumbling river.

Soon enough we found ourselves facing a series of large rocks, falls and pools.

“Shall we cross?”  The question was barely out of Krista’s mouth before we were picking our way across the river.  Once across we clambered up the bank, working our way toward the larger pool.

“It looks pretty deep.”  The hot sun had me thinking about a bath of my own.

“It’s not.”  Krista’s time as a member of a swift water search and rescue team gave her the ability to tell whether we should be jumping into any rivers.

“Okay, I’ll start lower.”  Now, I’m not known as someone who will strip down and throw my naked body into a body of water with other people around, but my sense of adventure was growing, my body was starting to smell like 40 hours of travel, and the clear skies were taunting me.

I looked over to see Krista taking off her shoes.  “You coming, too?”

“Of course.”

While she waded in, I climbed to the lowest ledge of a boulder on the side of the pool.  It gave me maybe a 6 inch drop, but it was enough.  I much favor the sudden cold to a gradual freezing.

My feet touched gravel, and my head popped quickly out of the water, followed by the rest of me.  Krista was still splashing around as I stumbled from the pool.  She ambled out, and we worked our way over to the big, flat rocks in the middle of the river.  Sun-warmed, the rocks were perfect for drying off.  We threw our soggy bodies onto them, and closed our eyes, sighing happily.

I jerked a little when, ten minutes later, I felt myself sliding down the sloping rock.  When I’d plopped down, my wet body had effectively adhered me to the slab.  Now, as I dried in the sun, I was losing friction and moving slowly to the edge of the rock.

It was then that I looked up from my perch and realized where I was.  Naked.  In the middle of the river.  Fully visible from the trail we’d climbed earlier.  Startled, but laughing, I rolled off the slab and looked around.  There were hikers below, but it wasn’t clear whether they’d had a chance to see the enhanced view.

I laughed as I gathered my clothing.  It was entirely possible that the unwitting hikers would find a surprise if they looked closely at their pictures when they got home.

Well rested, cleaner, and sunned all over, we packed up and headed back, with one last look around at the towering scenery.

We repeated our routine from the day before, scouring the map for a campground and picking our way through the mountains to one that would give us a good start the next day.  Lake Ianthe was the winner.  While it was a much smaller camp site – barely more than a parking lot on the side of the road – it had running water, a picnic table and a dock.

It was here that we learned the true value of our van’s paint job.  While a little creepy to us, it was equally creepy to others.  In the small campground, we had two separate vans pull in next to us, only to move a short time later.  It seemed the van served as vehicle, home, and protective gargoyle, a handy feature throughout the trip.

The lake provided us with another delicious meal, another comfortable place to sleep, and another beautiful sunset.

We ate and watched, and laughed about the perfect moment on the rocks in Arthur’s Pass.

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January 5, 2011   1 Comment

Tower and lake

Here’s the thing about Torre Del Lago, the city Deb and Sandra took us to:

There’s a tower.

There’s a lake.

There’s a beach.

There’s Puccini’s opera house.

There’s a gay disco or two.

There’s more than one crazy person.

And there’s more than one vendor.

We experienced this.  All of it.

Also, should you forget your bathing suit, it’s not a problem.

The locals don’t mind.

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July 11, 2010   5 Comments

A day at the beach

After a culturally significant trip to Paestum, we were ready for a day of rest.  The weather had been getting gradually warmer and sunnier, a challenge for my afternoon runs, but gorgeous for a bit of beach.  Salerno sits on the gulf of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  The water is warm, salty and blue, blue, blue.  The colorful umbrellas of the pay-to-play beaches called a siren song, inviting us to enjoy a lavish day in the Italian sun.

We gathered our books and towels, donned our suits and slathered ourselves in sunscreen.

The owner of our apartment, Carmine, had pointed out his favorite private beach and the underground passage that would take us from the bus stop behind the apartment directly to the crosswalk in front of the beach.  Beach bags in hand, we decided it was time for a mid-morning snack to prepare us for the sea.  Like every morning, we’d made our espresso in the stovetop Moka pot and heated our croissants in the little toaster oven.  But we weren’t sure what kind of food we’d find at the beach, and we didn’t want to cut the day short if we got hungry.  I like to eat, but I also like to swim.

Considering and rejecting the possibility of carrying a pizza box with us, we stopped by our local coffee shop for a cappu and pastry.  We’re good at ordering and eating these things.  We’re not so tidy with it, however.

This view would become a familiar one to us, and to our patient waiters and waitresses.

Once full of pastry, we located the underground pass-through and descended the stairs into the passage that used to serve an out-of-commission train station.  The entrance was obscured by an orange construction barrier, its walls plastered with colorful posters and littered with graffiti.  But it provided a valuable shortcut over the coming weeks, allowing us quick access to gelato and sand.

Carmine’s beach, Karsaal seemed to be a favorite for many locals.  With a large parking lot, fancy sit-down restaurant, fine pool and pretty beach, it was much more full than many of the others we’d walked by on our adventures in Salerno.

Along with mothers and children, grandmothers, and men strutting like peacocks, we followed the after-church rush through the gates.  For 15 Euro a piece, we had the run of the place.  Lounge chairs, umbrellas, pool, cabanas, and some of the best people watching, ever.  We headed to the waterfront and chose a couple of lounge chairs under an umbrella on the small black and white rocks.  We watched the locals for a bit, and I dragged one of the fancy chaises that littered the beach over to our camp.

The built-in shades were amazing.  For the next couple of hours we bathed in the sun, swam in the sea, and watched the scene unfold in front of us.  Spettacolare.  Sailboats danced across the bay, competing for our attention with the sea of humanity dancing on the sand.  A pair of men, lounging in their tiny swimsuits, and gold chains, gestured wildly, emphatically trying to convince each other of their position on some unknown topic.

A young buck of a man who looked like a statue of a tattooed Roman god strutted back and forth from the water to his chair, lovingly arranging his girlfriend’s towel on the matching chaise.

Despite our best efforts, the morning pastry was wearing off.  We’d missed the lunch rush, watching families disappear from the sand, and reappear with sandwiches.  I ventured out again and again, taking advantage of the deserted sea.

Eventually, we agreed it was time for food.  We packed up, smiled our goodbyes to the tattooed god and trudged up the stairs in search of a pizza.  Our first attempt was the restaurant.  It was short lived.  Walking along the patio above the beach, we peeked at the people who were dining.  They weren’t eating.  They were dining.  In dresses and white linen pants.  My hula-girl camo boardshorts weren’t going to cut it.

So we doubled back and hit the snack bar.  They had colorful industry signs for gelato and snacks.  And an empty case that looked like it might have held real food at some point.  I sidled up to the bar and braved a question, “qualcosa para mangiare?”

The girl looked back at me and pursed her lips, looking at the empty case.  “Un attimo.”  She disappeared into the back of the shop and reemerged with a middle-aged woman, who was carrying a good amount of sas in her mane of auburn hair.

“Di mi,” she commanded.  Okay, but tell her what?  I tried again:

“Qualcosa para mangiare?”  We were just looking for something to eat.  The people outside were eating.  Was she the keeper of the food?

“Si.  Panini?”  I nodded.  A sandwich would work.

“Formagio, salume?”  She ran down the list of ingredients, shrugging.  “Prosciutto.  Cotto o crudo?”

I looked at the Aunt.  “You want ham and cheese?  Cooked or raw?”

“Cooked.”  She was nodding.

“Cotto,” I confirmed.


“Due, per favore.”  There was no way we were sharing today.

“Okay.”  She turned to walk away.

“Pero, sono vegeteriana.”  I didn’t want ham, cooked or not.

She turned halfway around, and looked at me, challenging.  “Quindi?”  So then what the hell did I want?  “Formagio?  Pomodoro?”

“Si, si.  Buono.”  I get pretty thrilled when it comes to food, and my excitement about the sandwiches this woman was about to make was starting to show.

She turned to face me fully, “buonissimo?” she asked, an amused look on her face.

“Si.  Buonissimo,” I said, smiling and giving an affirming hand gesture.

She nodded, closed her eyes briefly, and disappeared into the back room.

While we waited, we cruised around the little shop.  We looked at the gelato, and perused the bags of chips, deciding we’d probably need some of the “Wacko” brand.  A few minutes later, the auburn food commander reappeared with two wicker baskets, and two beautiful sandwiches.

The girl at the register looked at her, and the commander told her how much to charge us, shrugging as she apparently pulled the number out of thin air.  Perhaps this wasn’t where the locals were getting their sandwiches.

The little patio outside the shop was empty, and we chose a table closest to the view.

On closer examination, it was clear that the sandwiches we’d seen in people’s hands weren’t these.  Those were more like pre-packaged deli sandwiches.  These were not.

I’m not so sure how it is that we came to have these spectacular sandwiches.  We didn’t see any others like them.  We gobbled them down, along with the un-spectacular Wacko chips and a decent, no-color-added Fanta orange soda.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at the pool, by the edge of the turquoise water, rimmed with mahogany cabanas, more lounge chairs, and people in colorful bathing caps.  I’d been looking forward to a dip and a swim, but first I thought I’d let my lunch digest.  Safety first, you know.

We sat and watched the kids running around the edge, the lifeguards yelling at them, the girls tucking their hair into the swimcaps.  The boys tucking their hair into the swimcaps…then the Ant noticed it.  Everyone in the pool had a cap.  90% of them looked the same:  yellow with a white racing stripe.  Maybe we needed a swimcap to go in the pool?  Interesting.

I pulled out my little dictionary (I bring it pretty much everywhere – even to the beach) and looked up swimcap.  “Cuffia.”  The Ant had seen a couple of girls picking up yellow and white packets from the front desk.  I gathered change, practiced the word, “coof-ya” and walked to the desk.

“Ciao,” one of the women was looking at me with a friendly smile.  The other looked like a puppy that someone had kicked.  “Una cuffia?”  The puppy woman looked at me like she didn’t understand.  The other responded.  “They are all done for the day, I’m sorry.”

“Can I swim without one?”  She looked shocked.

“No, I’m sorry.”

Back at the pool, I watched the swimmers taunting me.  In their colorful caps, they lazed about, up and down the lanes.  Teenage boys splashed each other.  I was quarantined to the poolside, my short hair a menace.

As we packed up, I reviewed what I’d learned that day:  if you’re hungry, ask someone to make you a sandwich; also, along with my little dictionary, I should always carry a swimcap.  These were valuable lessons for someone who likes to eat and swim.

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June 20, 2010   Comments Off on A day at the beach