Cheers, New Zealand

26 11 2009

We’re at the airport, about to get back on a plane after four weeks of time here in the land of “No Worries.” We’re sad to leave, but also feel  like we got a huge sampling of this place, and we’re up for new adventures.

It’s Thanksgiving here, at least in terms of the date, and we just finished a stint at a cool hotel/restaurant/cooking school. It was heaven for Sunny; he got to cook and learn all about working in a restaurant. I played the role of dishwasher, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Unfortunately, our hosts, despite being chefs, weren’t particularly into eating. We went to bed hungry most nights, scared to go rummaging in the kitchen for fear we might mess up the morning meal.

The two children of the owners were loads of energy, and I think we made one of them extremely happy, as she plays “wedding” every day after school. She insisted on staging our wedding, and she was the flower girl and officiant. I walked down the aisle donned in her dress-up clothes, while Sunny and Barney the dog waited for me by the fountain. She asked if we could swing by her house and pick her up for the actual event, and we said we’d try, as she was quite a good officiant. Not to mention dance party queen. She made us dance the minute we met her, and tried to make us dance every free moment we had (or even when we were plating food for the guests.) Sunny enjoyed the dance parties so much he downloaded her CDs. The boy loves NZ teen-pop…he’s a special one, folks.

[HEY THIS IS SUNNY NOW.  Jocelyn got up and told me I can type.  I’m blogging for the first time everybody!!!  Is anyone reading this?  Well, we are indeed leaving the land of “No worries.”  That is what people say instead of “You’re welcome.”  I’ve gotten a lot of “No worries, mate” here.  I like it.  I’ve been keeping a little “No _____ in New Zealand” list since we arrived.  No gluten is one – they are on a serious gluten free kick.  We have found all sorts of good-tasting well-labeled gluten-free foods.  Guess it’s not the land of no hyphens.

We also have noticed that it is a land of no napkins.  We stayed with one couple for five nights, 3 meals a day, 15 meals total, and saw exactly one napkin, when a particularly messy sauce caused our hostess to go find one for herself.  But that was it.  Figuring the four of us eating, that’s 59 napkins saved.  We are doing our part to live green, though my jeans took the brunt of it for me.  There’s also no ozone here – that “hole in the ozone” you hear about (that was unfortunately probably caused mostly by us in the States… remember all that spray deodorant in the 8th grade locker room, guys?) is actually sitting over New Zealand.  They have the highest skin cancer rates in the world and even I don’t need any reminders to slather on SPF 55 regularly.  I’ve gotten quite skilled at estimating the right amount of sunscreen to squeeze out to cover the right body parts.

Sadly, for Jocelyn, this is also the land of no iced tea.  Iced coffee, yes.  Iced chocolate, yes.  Iced tea?  Not so much.  We did find it at Starbucks.  Sadly, this is not the land of no Starbucks.  They are here in force, with McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway (eat fresh).  Speaking of food, though, it IS the land of no tips.  Which is kinda nice.  Food just costs what it costs, no figuring to do.  I felt kinda guilty until we met a waitress who said she thinks it is awkward for her to accept tips.

Anyway, it is time to go.  So good old N-Zed will also soon be the land of no Sunny and no Jocelyn.  But we enjoyed pretty much every day of our time here and that is a lot to be thankful for.  Enjoy your turkeys and your football, and as you’re giving thanks, just know we are sitting on a plane heading for Sydney and thinking, “No worries, mates!”


Tourist Trap/Marriage Training

20 11 2009

It’s been over a week since I last posted here. After our last farmstay, we’ve been interacting with a different group of people in New Zealand…the tourists. We’ve met them on several different adventure activities, from kayaking to cruising to hiking. We haven’t done the adventure capital of the world kind of stuff that New Zealand is known for, mainly because I can’t figure out why the gorgeous scenery and stunning vistas should make me suddenly want to jump off a bridge or out of a plane.

Despite missing out on all the near-death experiences, we have managed to thoroughly explore the magical outdoor playground that is New Zealand. It’s truly beautiful, and we highly recommend it to each and every last one of you.

I’m also considering marketing a new version of adventure travel in New Zealand modeled after our experiences here: pre-marital travel courses.

Hear me out on this one. Stick a couple in a double kayak, order up a surprise torrential downpour and winds going at fifty knots, and you have what I might call a sink or swim situation.

There’s a saying that you experience four seasons during one day in New Zealand, and that seems to be true in our experience; we’ve gone from seventy degree weather to snow in less than a hour.

So take the aforementioned couple. Throw them on a multi-day hike in the mountains. Change the weather every hour, from bright, blistering sun to thick fog to snow. Tease them with avalanche warnings. Drain their water supply. Can you see it? It’s a reality show waiting to happen. Lights, camera, action.

Truth be told, we’ve had a pretty fun time navigating each situation together. It almost feels like our personalities are starting to meld into one larger self, and on some days, we wake up and unknowingly, we’ve flipped roles for the day. Just yesterday, for example, I (Jocelyn) spent the entire day craving meat pies, and Sunny insisted on setting the alarm clock an hour earlier than needed because he was worried about catching the bus on time. It was eerie.

We’re off to one more farmstay before we leave this country. We can’t believe it’s almost December, and our first month is already behind us. We’re missing all of you, so send any and all emails our way. We’d love to hear updates!

We don’t know our flowers from our weeds…

11 11 2009

Probably one of the biggest criticisms that Sunny received as a principal was that he couldn’t tell his flowers from his weeds. Some teachers felt he spent way too much time on the hopeless weeds, instead of focusing attention on the already-blooming flowers. That’s also probably one of the reasons I fell in love with him.

The same might be said about our farming. To begin with, we don’t know a thing about plants. Our first boss discovered this on day one, but remained quiet. On day three, when he ordered me to put compost around the potatoes, I nodded, asking, “And the potato plants are….?”

“Oh, right,” he muttered to himself, “You two don’t know anything!”

We’ve also been given the job of weeding several times, and I must say, we both hesitate to pull out most of the plants, as some have lovely purple flowers, others look remarkably like garlic shoots, and none seem anxious to come out of the ground.  I’ve been weeding cautiously, with frequent dashes back to one of our farmstay bosses, asking for permission to pull out yet another weed.

They patiently walk out to the garden with me, and without fail, they say, “Yank it. It’s a weed, and a bad one at that.”

We chose our second farmstay along the West Coast, which is known for rugged terrain and the “real” NZ lifestyle. The couple advertised themselves as living off the land, including hunting all their meat, growing their produce, and drinking, we found out, rainwater.

We arrived on a sunny afternoon.  There were rhododendrons, stretching seven feet high, and the most enormous Japanese maple I have ever seen. We first met Kim and her two lovely children, one just a newborn. She toured us around the beautiful land, and we felt ready to dig in and learn the lifestyle.

Denny arrived several hours later. He called a cheerful greeting from outside the door and I stuck out my hand to introduce myself. As soon as I saw him, I recoiled. In each of his hands was a dead goat. His face shined with joy, and he walked into the house, holding up the goats as trophies. Quite an introduction.

Without much of a greeting, he began what turned out to be a running narration of all his actions. He proceeded to skin each goat on the wood counter that we had just used to cook dinner (and would later cook breakfast), talking us through the entire process, much like he might on the Food Network. He was amazing at skinning and cleaning the goats, and taught at least Sunny where the different glands and organs live (after about ten minutes, I tried to stay away, play with the kids and not become a vegetarian).

Five hours of goat hanging from the ceiling and three large bowls of mincemeat later, he was finished and goat curry was on the menu for dinner.

As we spent the next day together, Denny continued his daily narration with a bit of lecture thrown in for good measure. He started to teach me why he lives the way he does, which is mainly because he does not want to be controlled by anyone or anything, including the corporations that apparently control Obama. I did find Denny’s anger at industry curious, especially due to the fact that his two year old daughter already has a toy cell phone, T.V., and camera to play with.

Denny then continued his lecture by telling me about the various countries and groups who, according to him, own all the banks and Hollywood (take a wild guess who he blamed for that one), and the general U.S. conspiracies that dictate, among other things, pesticides in New Zealand. 

For a grand finale, Denny then lectured the two of us on the complete pointlessness of school. Perhaps thinking he had a captive audience, he lectured us on why school should not be offered to children in society, because after all, no other animal sends their child to school.

I kept trying to remind him that we were actually educators, and so believed in school that we had made a career of it, but that point didn’t seem to stick with him.

Likewise, when Africa came up, and his friend said, “Who in their right mind would ever live in South Africa?” and I quipped, “We are going to live in South Africa,” he brushed it off as if I had made a mistake.

Despite all of our differences, we managed to find some common ground with Denny. In all honesty,  he was a exuberant chap, and taught us many of our favorite NZ phrases, including “Good on you,” usually used to mean “Job well done.”

Indeed, we learned a lot from our time with Denny, and as we drove away from three days of living without water, heat or what we considered safe food to eat, Sunny decreed that our children should be encouraged to do these farm-stays in New Zealand as part of a full and robust educational experience.

At the very least, they’ll be able to tell the flowers from the weeds.

Heavy Metal

5 11 2009

We’ve arrived in New Zealand. After spending four days learning to drive on the left hand side of the road, finding pubs that would show the World Series, and staring in awe at the country’s beauty (though everyone swears that we haven’t seen the beautiful part yet), we are at our first “farm.” Turns out it’s not so much a farm as it is a beautiful house and grounds, and besides a few chickens and cauliflowers, there is not much growing here. However, the house has an extensive trail system and access to the coast, and our tasks mostly involve maintaining this.


Yesterday, we spent the day fortifying a track in the bush (read trail on the mountain). Sunny had the lovely job of carting loads of gravel, which they call metal, down a narrow, winding, steep track. Key word: Down. On a wheelbarrow. With only two wheels. The proper response is: Wow.

My job was to clear the trail, change some of its slope, and rake out the gravel when it arrived. I don’t get a wow for that one.

Afterward, we were given the task of using up the large pile of metal by re-graveling the driveway. I think we might deserve another wow for that. Or at least a, “Sounds like a load of work. No pun intended.”

I know my dad might read this and say, “If you wanted to work with gravel, you could have come to Cleveland.” He would have a point. However, what this “farm” offers is not only fascinating job opportunities. We are living, rent and board-free, perched among a set of mountains on the edge of a fjord. We work in the morning and kayak or hike in the afternoon. It’s a multi-taskers paradise.

Truly, this way of travel seems to be relatively brilliant, as we’re getting three abundant meals, great company, and access to some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. All for four hours of manual labor a day.

We’ve finished our tasks with the heavy metal and now we’re on to wood splitting, deck scraping, and tomato growing. Our host and boss is an older man who has bushy eyebrows and seems to enjoy the company of Wwoofers (as we’re called) as much as or more than the actual work we provide. He apologizes profusely when he gives us our daily tasks, and has already corrected us many times for being “too much of a perfectionist about it.” At each meal, he fills us with stories from his very eccentric life. I can’t quite get the life story down, but I know he dropped out of school and spent several years traipsing around the globe, where he happened to be in South Africa and witness some apartheid laws coming into effect in Parliament. He also seems to have thought up a dozen different inventions, and based on the look of the house, at least a few of these have been successful.

So despite the blisters on our hands, we are happy to be here and to be earning our keep. Back to the grind, as they say.