While not the city that originally spawned bullfighting (Spain’s national sport), Seville is the sport’s most historic and most celebrated home. For hundreds of years, in the stadium at the center of the city, each Sunday night has seen a battle of Man versus Beast.
Despite the theft of my wallet and the ensuing hassle that caused, Lisbon (are its residents called “Lisbians”?) was nice. Any city moves up in my rankings when it can offer me an enormous meal of a whole fish, soup, potatoes and vegetables for less than five dollars.
Amongst guidebooks’ most frequently offered safety-conscious tips: “Avoid large crowds and gatherings.” Whatever. I was touring Lisbon’s Castello de Jorge the other night when the horns started. Yelling crowds, swelling in numbers, swarming the streets. Cars honking in continuous blasts. Then more cars, building to a cacophony of earsplitting proportions.
Run to the ocean, run to the sea.” Or, in my case, run straight back into a major snowstorm whose howling winds scream “Welcome back, sucker!” The yin and yang of travel continued to the end. The bitter, cold, snowy, icy, sucky end.
As I write this from an internet cafe in Auckland, I am awaiting lunch, awaiting my bus to the airport, awaiting my flight home (fingers crossed for a cancellation). New Rule: Buses loaded with Japanese tourists, faces pressed to the glass, all holding cameras (some holding two), can appear at any time, in any location.
It began this morning in Taupo with a 5 am wakeup call for the bus ride to Tongariro National Park. The bars were still bumping and thumping with New Year’s festivities, but I suited up with cold weather gear, attempting to be prepared for the Tongariro Crossing, billed as New Zealand’s most spectacular one-day walk.
Going drinking last night was a wonderful reacquaintance with city life. Shops, bars, public transit, streetlights — the sweet signs of a major metropolitan area. And a break from hostelling, staying at Helen’s house in Wellington, was a perfect respite.
Abel Tasman National Park has golden beaches and water so clear that kayaks in shallow water simply appear to be floating in space. I bask in the sun and climb some of the 57 km of trails that wind and twist through dense trees. I wander beaches and explore tiny side trails.
Absolutely Brilliant” reports the Sea Conditions board of the whale-watching shop in Kaikoura. But a cruise doesn’t appear to be in the works for my afternoon. It’s 11 am, but without a reservation, I am the 34th person on the waiting list.
Driving more than 2500 km around New Zealand is an endeavour filled with hazards. But winding roads and falling rocks and monsoon rains are to be expected. It’s the bridges I’m not prepared for. Constructing highways through challenging landscapes has led to bridge designs that are rather shocking by North American standards.
The miserable cold and rainy weather of last night is still in full force this morning. It doesn’t look good for heli-hiking. I figured that I would destroy my budget and take the rare opportunity to go on an absolutely extravagant excursion (as if this trip wasn’t already).
It’s been some time since there’s been internet access and an equally long while since things like paved roads, gas stations and towns with populations in the triple digits. We reach the relative metropolis of Fox Glacier by midnight, despite our little car fiasco.
The road from the Purple Cow Hostel in Wanaka to the glaciers of the west coast takes us past Puzzle Town and it’s massive 3-D maze (open on Christmas day!). We push on through amazing mountain vistas toward Haast and through Mount Aspiring National Park and the Blue Pools. Weird mailboxes. Abandoned and dilapidated shacks.
The site of the fifth highest annual rainfall anywhere on the planet, Milford Sound sees some 9 m (30 feet) of rain pour from the sky each year. And most of it seems to be coming down tonight. After driving through places like “Devil’s Staircase Bluff,” so many rivers that they’re numbered rather than named.
Two hours from Christchurch, through low, grass-covered hills, we swing around a bend. The road stretches out across a massive plain of grass and flowers and sparse trees, sliced in two by the grey road — a straight shot that stretches out until it disappears at the base of the Southern Alps.
AChristmas carroll singalong concert in the park. Mean black swans the size of 8-year olds. Casinos and strip clubs around every corner, almost as frequent as churches. There are steaming and wheezing and erupting geysers. Volcanoes. Boiling and belching mud pits. It all has an intrinsic juju that evokes the future that theologians have promised the wicked among us. Set it under a quintessential postcard-blue sky and infuse it all with the transient — yet sinus-clearingly acrid — smell of sulphur, and you’ve encapsulated Rotorua. What a great town. Although the bar scene is a bit confusing. The crowds are big and varied. Hipsters and klub kidz. Senior citizens. Backpackers. A busload of camera-toting, karaoke-seeking Japanese tourists. But when the posse of Maori warriors walk in, pierced and painted and some with a hairstyle that most resembles a large, spikey crown atop an otherwise shaved head, I can’t decide if in my jeans and t-shirt, I’m over- or underdressed. So I just order another gin and tonic and get my groove on. I have since moved on from Sulphur City, with a flight down to Christchurch, on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. “The most English town outside of England,” says the sign. And here from my perch at the corner of Worcester Street and Oxford Terrace, beside the bridge over The Avon as a punter glides past and in earshot of the tartan-clad piper playing two blocks up, I cannot possibly think of where such an eristic comparison…
From my hostel (with its own rock-climbing wall!) in downtown Rotorua, I walk the 3 km to a Maori village, where after $17, a musical performance and a few hours, I realize it’s not the place I originally wanted to go.
On the bus to Rotorua, light is fading and we’re rolling across Middle Earth. Well, northern Middle Earth. Sheep and horses and merinos dot roadside pastures. They’re around every curve out here, and an hour south of Auckland, there have been a lot of curves.
I normally begin a trip recounting the items, often essential, that I’ve forgotten. And while this excursion isn’t without a few minor wayward objects, the major gear is all with me. As the days tick by, however, I’m now progressively losing stuff. At this rate, it’ll be me and whatever I can stuff into my pockets.
Kia ora, everyone! It’s that time of year again. Time to polish those brass knuckles for yet another pre-holiday stampede-like trip to the mall. Time to take a page from Elvis’ playbook and shoot out those radio speakers after the bazillionth grocery store listening of Chimpmunks Christmas songs.
A light drizzle coats the back of the camera hanging around my neck. Released from the steel gray sky, the tiny drops aggregate on the plastic as I stand lingering, idling amidst the ebb and flow of travelers. A stiff, cold breeze abruptly enters the mix and the reaction is instantaneous amongst the crowd: scarves get wrapped tighter and jackets get zipped up higher and gloves are pulled more snug.
Casting off for an extended voyage is a paradigm shift in the experience of usual, brief sojourns. I cherish the basics: Having only beginning and end points to a trip. The freedom to think of time as a minor, abstract detail — able to move in any direction, to capitalize on any moment. Spontaneity. Serendipity. Experience. As for so many travelers, these themes have become my very definition of escape.