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Published: November 13th 2010
"Save the Whales, Eat the Japanese" - on a t-shirt I saw on one of the customers yesterday. I've got nothing against the Japanese (except the ones who poach whales), but that's goddamn funny.
I've been in New Zealand now for a week, but it seems like so much longer. I've done a lot, seen a lot, and met a lot of people.
My first international flight was much less arduous than I thought; twelve hours on a plane and I managed to sleep for the first eight or so (with the help of Xanax). NZ time is 17 hours ahead of US Eastern time so I lost almost a day when I arrived. At customs, you're required to show your passport, explain to them why you're in New Zealand, how long you plan to stay, and you must declare a variety of things - food, medicine, camping equipment, alcohol, tobacco, and more. I had to give them my tent so they could check it for any seeds or bugs. With good reason, they are a bit strict about bringing non-native species into the country.
Everyone at the airport was very helpful in showing me how to get where I needed to go. I waited for a bus to show up, the driver knew where I was going and told me when I needed to get off and where to go from there. I had a few blocks of walking which was a bit difficult with all of the stuff I brought. I realized that I may have over-packed some, but the bulk of my weight is my duffel which contains my camping and scuba gear, which is essential. Obviously.
The BK Hostel was quite clean, the showers especially, which is absolutely awesome. I got a room with a window overlooking the road. The rooms are very minimal, just a bed and a table. For $50 a night, I thought this was a little expensive, but the location was pretty nice - not directly down town with as much noise, but within ten minutes walking distance. It was right off of Karnghape Rd, 'K Road,' which has its share of characters.
There are very many parks in Auckland, and Myers park was on the way to down town from where I was - a small beautiful park with a Romanesque statue and gigantic palm trees lining the path. Down town Auckland is busy and diverse like many large cities. There is a large variety of fashion stores and other stores that sell useless, expensive products; an abundance of trendy kids with weird haircuts and clothing. Not unlike some areas in the US.
Motorcycles and scooters are everywhere here. The people are clearly more economical when buying vehicles, there are hardly any of the large gas-guzzling SUV's. The bus and train systems are also very popular. Sushi restaurants, Korean restaurants, Chinese restaurants and all types of Asian eateries are ubiquitous down town.
It was morning in Auckland when my plane landed, so I still had most of the day once I was settled in my room. I walked to a cafe to use the wifi; the internet at the hostel costs money, which was disappointing, but understandable. In NZ (I believe everywhere in NZ), the internet is sold by the amount of data rather than the amount of time. So you pay each month for 30GB, for example, instead of for a month of a certain speed. After you use up that amount of data, the speed becomes very slow. I learned this when I arrived at the Fruit Vans house. Luckily, I discovered that at The Metro, which is a mall with a cinema down town, there is free internet available.
After I walked up and down K Rd. a bit, I walked down town, and then to the marina, which is the northern border of Auckland CBD (central business district). Travelling alone can be lonely, but I did meet a girl from the Netherlands while sitting on the bench at the marina. She is here studying tourism for six months. We walked back from down town together and had a couple beers at one of the bars on K Rd. We had planned to meet up later that evening, but once my head hit the pillow at about 7 pm, I was out until morning. I spent most of my second day in Auckland walking through the Auckland Domain, a large park with an abundance of flower and tree life, some tropical, some not. The trees, the plants, the moss, everything is so much different. There isn't an inch of ground without something green growing out of it. Every step is a photo opportunity.
Wednesday, I woke up, packed my stuff up, and found a bus route that got me to the area of the Fruit Vans house, which is in Sunnyvale, Waitakere. The bus took me to a stop about 1 km away from the house. There was a pharmacy near this stop, and the man working there was nice enough to let me use his phone to call. Almost everyone is exceptionally helpful. I couldn't get anyone to pick up at the Fruit Vans number, so eventually had to take a taxi, which ran a bit high, but I was just glad to finally get to my first WWOOFing destination.
When I arrived, everyone here was very welcoming and kind. There are Calvin and Ama, from Indiana and Argentina respectively, who rent the house and do most of the organizing for selling fruit. Isa is Ama's sister, who does a lot of the cooking, work around the house, gardening, and organizing. A house with 20+ guests requires a good deal of planning and organization. There are Taryn and Marcello, from Australia and Brazil, another couple who help organize everything; they are also starting a WWOOF farm in Waihi, about two hours south of here, where they currently travel periodically to bring supplies and prepare for operation. My first (half) day, I worked with Isa, Elton from Mexico, and Ana from Spain, in the yard, laying down fertilizer and preparing the area for a small herb and vegetable garden, the products of which will be used for cooking in the house.
The bedrooms are crowded but comfortable. In each bedroom, there are three sets of bunk beds, so six people per room. For the first few days I shared my room with a French-speaking couple from Belgium, and two girls from Germany. People come and go frequently, so this changes every few days.
Working in bare feet is irreplaceable.
My first time driving on the left was intimidating. I wasn't really trained, per se; I rode with Carlos, from Brazil, to the mechanic to pick up a van that had been repaired, and followed him back to the house. It's much easier when there is someone to follow. I was lucky to be able to take my first drive in an automatic. I found the roundabouts to be a bit confusing at first, especially the ones with two lanes; also getting used to the gear shift, the turn signals, etc. being flipped was a challenge.
The next day, I went with Sammy to my selling spot, on the east coast, north of Auckland, about 1/2 hour from the house. It's right by a golf course, with a great view of the sea. Currently, Fruit Vans is selling strawberries ('strawbs'), asparagus, oranges, and avocados ('avos'), all locally grown and purchased from the farms. The weather was excellent which is probably the reason it was so busy. I only worked about 1/2 day, but it was non-stop work. Even when Sammy came back to help me for a couple hours, it was constant bagging and collecting money. Here, almost everyone is appreciative and kind, albeit very scrupulous at times; I almost always get a "Cheers," or a "Thanks very much," when someone buys something. The Kiwis seem very sincere and genuine; they're also very interested in buying locally-grown fruit. Originally I was going to follow Sammy back, but as the plans change often here, I ended up getting directions and a map from him and finding my own way back. This was stressful and I made a couple wrong turns, but got back without hitting anything. The driving situation could only improve after that.
The following days of selling weren't as busy, nor was the driving as stressful as I became familiar with the route. It's a long day with all of the unloading and then loading; there are signs to put up, and the fruit and veggies have to be displayed properly. The avos and strawbs are the most popular, selling out almost every day. Jasmine, a girl from Mexico travelling with Elton, came with me for my second day of selling since it was so busy the first. This day, however, the weather was mostly rainy and cold, and she rode back early with another van, since two workers weren't necessary. The weather in this area is very erratic; one minute it's sunny and warm, the next there's a cloud over the sun with rain falling, and the temperature feels like it dropped ten degrees.
Every morning, Emily wakes up early and prepares a concoction for lunch for all the sellers. I've never lived off of vegetarian food before and there are some interesting things one can make. I've tried all sorts of new dishes, and probably couldn't recall the name of a single one. Also, a veggie diet digests quite nicely; I've had some of the most satisfying shits lately. Ama creates a schedule for everyone to take turns cooking dinner, with help from Isa, because many of us are not used to cooking vegetarian food. We all eat as a group in the evenings, have drinks, and play games. The dishes are assigned by a lottery after dinner, where Isa walks around and everyone picks a paper out of a bag. There are a few that say to do the dishes, others say things like 'give a hug to the person on your right,' or 'be happy and smile.'
It's ironic that, working in an organization called 'Willing Workers on Organic Farms,' the food isn't organic, nor am I working on a farm, but all the same, it's met my expectations. Living in a community environment like this is very different. It's like living at the dorms at OSU, except fewer bathrooms and less privacy. Being around people from all over the world, I've tried to pick up some bits of other languages, although it's hard because most of the non-English speakers are interested in speaking in and improving on English. Some of the other WWOOFers barely know English; I can't imagine travelling to another country and barely knowing the language. It's challenging enough for me, and I already speak English.
The Halloween party on Sunday was absolutely awesome. It was also my last day working before having three days off; even better. A couple girls decorated the living room with tissue ghosts and carved a couple pumpkins. We all made makeshift costumes: Carlos was a mummy, a costume made with only toilet paper; Helena, another girl from Spain, was the main character from 'A Clockwork Orange' - she won best costume; and I was inside-out man; I turned all my clothes inside out, wore my underwear outside my shorts, and shirt outside my jacket.
Monday, I slept until almost 1 pm, which felt amazing; I had some catching up to do. I used the rest of the day to explore the nearby area. Everything here is so lush and fertile. I walked about 20 min to Henderson, a nearby town, to the mall. I found a new mp3 player to replace my old one (R.I.P) and found that they offer free internet at the Henderson mall, which is huge.
Tuesday was my first taste of the true beauty of New Zealand. Helena, Elton, Jasmine and I rented Carlos' Honda Accord and drove to Bethelles beach, which is about 40 min from the house. We picked up beer and food (meat!) on the way. The drive was absolutely astonishing; plants and trees everywhere, some tropical, some not. Many parts of the road had walls of earth on either side covered with ferns and plants. Periodically, a beautiful landscape would present itself through the trees and we stopped a couple times for pictures. When we arrived at the parking lot near the beach, the black sand was immediately noticeable. From here, the pictures speak better than words. The landscape at the beach was unbelievable. We were given a ride back to the parking lot from the beach by a nice Kiwi couple who had been fishing, after walking in the wrong direction trying to find the dunes. We drove a couple hundred meters back up the road to the dunes, and walked about 20 min and finally saw the dunes. Again, the pictures do much more than words. We were searching for the place where we could supposedly 'surf' down the dunes on pieces of cardboard that we had brought (we had read about it in one of the books from the house). It wasn't quite steep enough to ride them down, but we had fun rolling down the dunes. We walked past Lake Wainamu to the waterfalls that fed it. This was about 2 km from the car. I decided that we had come this far, so I should go swimming in spite of how ridiculously cold the water was. After I jumped in, this persuaded Helena to do the same. We could only stay in for about 20 sec due to the cold. After drying off, we headed back to the car, stopping again at the dunes to roll down one more time. My first exposure to wild NZ couldn't have been more impressive. I had wanted to camp overnight on my first three days off, but the others had to go back that night, so Helena drove us back.
Wednesday, it was my turn to cook, so I couldn't plan anything big. I walked with Icka and Jenny, two girls form Germany, to the mall again. I got a hot dog and they got ice cream, and we went to the supermarket for crackers and chips. The veggie diet is great, but nothing can replace the taste of meat. My first vegetarian cooking experience wasn't perfect; I tried to make potato cakes. I also didn't have the other person helping me, due to a miscommunication, so it was just Isa and me cooking. The cakes came out all different sizes, textures, and shapes, but everyone said they tasted good. The whole cooking process took almost five hours, which is about normal when cooking for almost 30 people.
Yesterday, Thursday, began another four-day spell of selling. After the first few days, selling becomes somewhat repetitive, but it keeps me busy and the day goes by fast. I had some mixed emotions Thurs morning, missing my family and friends, not knowing where my life was headed. I love the adventure of moving to a new country with no long term plan, but at times it feels lonely and uncertain. We played guitar on the back porch for awhile again in the evening while it was raining lightly on the roof.
Today was another typical day of selling. We were allowed to leave a little later because it was rainy in the morning. It cleared up in late afternoon, and turned out to be a nice day. I'm not sure why last Friday was so insanely busy, and today wasn't; maybe the weather.
Guy Fawkes Day has been celebrated every night since Halloween, a UK holiday celebrating a failed revolution. The mask in 'V for Vendetta' is in the likeness of Guy Fawkes. There are fireworks every night, and tonight they are exploding in all directions. That's what she said.
I've stopped at Wendy's and McDonald's on the way home from selling a couple times since I've been here; it's just too tempting. It's finally not windy for once at my selling spot. I feel that the workload is a little bit much for just food and lodging. Considering that the average WWOOF job is about 20 hrs. a week according to the website, we work almost 40, and we share a bedroom with a few other people, we're not getting much in return. I discussed this with a couple others and they agree, but all the same, the experience is invaluable. Yesterday another new person arrived, a girl from France named Caroline. She watched an episode of 'It's Always Sunny' with me, and although I'm sure all of the humor doesn't fully translate, she got a kick out of it; it feels good to expose foreigners to some real American culture.
The house is very green as far as recycling and composting. There are two large compost bins in the back yard (which naturally, smell worse than an old lady fart passing through an onion), full of mostly food scraps. Anything that isn't good enough to sell (partially bruised or bad appearance) we take back to the house to eat; anything that's inedible we take back for the compost. There is also several recycling bins outside for basically anything that's recyclable.
I slept in late today, which felt awesome. I walked down to the Henderson mall again, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I can withdrawal money from my PNC account at ATMs here in NZ. Now that I know this, I might not have to open a local account.
It's rather difficult to plan things for my day off here; the bikes that we're allowed to use are usually taken (as they were today) and renting a van for $25 per day is a bit expensive, as is gasoline here, unless there's someone else to come along and share the expense. I'm hoping tomorrow to find at least one other person to travel somewhere with me and go camping. I'm not really picky about where we go, I'd just like to go somewhere. I was told about the hot water beaches at Coromundel which is about three hours away, but seems totally worth it. Apparently, one can dig a hole in the beach sand at low tide and it fills up with warm natural spring water. Sounds amazing.
My allergies are going absolutely crazy; I bought some very expensive Zyrtec at the pharmacy, which doesn't seem to help at all. I hope this goes away soon.
It's raining and shitty out today, so almost no customers. Two days ago, I borrowed one of the house bikes and road down Henderson Valley Rd and tried to make it to one of the bush walks that's in the Waitakere Ranges. Unfortunately, I didn't make it all the way; it took a lot longer than I thought; the roads are very hilly, and much more challenging to bike on; I also didn't bring enough water. I did, however, pull off the road and found a stream with a bamboo forest next to it. Pretty awesome. I'm glad I at least got out and exercised. Also, they requested for a house inspector to come and check the house for eco-friendliness; the governement subsidizes these inspections, so it didn't cost them anything. They check for things like water usage, electricity usage, thermal insulation, etc. Apparently, this house with almost 30 people living there uses less than the average Kiwi family. Not bad.
Yesterday, I went with Caroline (France), Emily (Belgium) and Tania (Germany) to the Waitakere Ranges in Carlos' car. We had planned on going to Tiritiri Island, where there's a conservation/restoration project with an abundance of native birds. But we waited too late the night before, and there were no tickets available when we went to book the ferry ride. The southern area of the Waitakere Ranges is called Haui. It was about a 1/2 hour drive, and we stopped and took a walk to Haui Dam, 2-3 km. We saw some of the famous Kauri trees, which can live for hundreds of years and grow very large. There were multiple views, on the walk, and on the drive, of the wide inlet from the Tasman Sea. There was a clear blue stream that was relatively deep at one point; I decided to jump in a few times, the water was surprisingly not too cold. We then drove to Whatipu Beach, another unbelievably beautiful beach with black sand. Emily and I went for a quick swim in the cold ocean water. I climbed to the top of one of the smaller rock formations for an even more excellent view. We laid down on the beach to rest for awhile, then drove back to the house.
More new people arrived the other day, Nicky and Patricia from the UK, and Hannah from the US. They all moved into our room, so now I share a room with four girls, lucky me! Today was a busy day of selling, very beautiful sunny weather. I went to McDonald's on the way back from selling, the lunch just wasn't enough. One of the coolest things around here is that it's totally okay to go into an establishment without shoes. Several of the people in McDonalds, including myself, were barefoot. I also went for my first run in New Zealand today after selling. I ran around the neighborhood and along the bike path, much more hilly than I'm used to.
A couple people have copied 'Flight of the Conchords' and 'It's Always Sunny' from me in the past few days. Which is awesome. I love spreading the free wealth. Tomorrow I will train one of the newer people to sell, then I'll have the rest of the day off, then leave on Monday. I'm really looking forward to having some more privacy. Fruit Vans has been quite an experience, meeting people from all over, but I'm also looking forward to staying with some native Kiwis.
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