Sunday, February 28, 2010

Surprise! ...and Welcome to Tuateawa

Yes, I've made it to New Zealand.  Two plane rides, three bus rides, and a very winding, bumpy truck ride over the hills of the Coromandel brought me from frigid Ithaca to bright Tuateawa.  Except I didn't actually leave on March 1.  Back in October, I bought a plane ticket for February 20 and told everyone except for Dave.  What do you give as a birthday gift for a guy whose belongings all fit in a backpack?  One hell of a surprise.

So, I'm here, and I've been here nearly a week.  How's life?

View from the deck of the house, Tuateawa, New Zealand
Pretty sweet.

A lot of people have asked about what I'm doing here.  Dave spent the summer after he graduated college living and working at Tararu Valley, on the other side of the peninsula.  The man who ran the previous Tararu Valley project is working on starting a brand new project here in Tuateawa.  The "project(s)" vary by season, but the end goal is to create the physical and non-physical infrastructure to support a small community in an environmentally sound manner (so, basically, we're building a commune).  I ended up here because I figured it would be an interesting, less expensive way to stay in New Zealand for a while and maybe do a little good in the world while I was at it.

What do I actually do?  I expected that I would be doing more to help organize and manage the residential part of the program, but the program director's partner has been living here and volunteering her amazing meal planning, kitchen organization, and cooking skills.  She left today to travel for a few weeks, so I may be doing more in the kitchen soon.

A typical day (let's take today) goes like this:

February "To Do" List

  • SAVE!
  • Research & purchase travel insurance
  • Wash sleeping bag, wash & re-waterproof shell
  • Determine forwarding address & change all mailings
  • Scan & print NZ Field Guide
  • Get full physical @ Family Medicine
  • Eye care:  new glasses, replace bridge pads, adjust sunglasses
  • Backup computer, encrypt external HDs, pick what music to bring
  • Purchase bus ticket to NJ on 2/19
  • Get final dental cleaning
  • Sew day bag
  • Sell full-spectrum light
  • Clean out file folder box, scan everything useful
  • Rehome plants
  • Pack & move stuff to storage
  • Sell car (title, DMV, send receipt -> insurance)
  • Bank (deposit checks, withdraw some US dollars)
  • Give cell phone & fire safe to Dad
  • Pack backpack
  • Hug my friends & family
  • Get on a plane
  • GO!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Playing Outside Instead of Packing

On Saturday, I visited Treman State Park for my last Finger Lakes hike for a long time.  The weather was pleasant, for winter, with temperatures around 25F (-4C) and no wind.  The sun even peeked through the clouds at one point!

 Rare winter sunlight through the hemlocks

There was several inches of snow on the ground; I was happy I had brought microspikes, since I'm very cautious and slooooow on unstable footing.  Kate, Tim, and I covered the 4.5 mile loop in ~2 hours by going up the Rim Trail and down the Gorge Trail.

Lucifer Falls, in all of its 115 foot frozen glory

It was appropriate to return to Treman for my last hike in the region, as my very first experience hiking in the area was a snowy, icy day trip through Treman State Park in the winter of 2001-2002.  Funny how things tend to come full circle...

On Sunday, I went ice climbing at Lick Brook, thanks to Cornell Outdoor Education's staff ice climbing clinic.  It was a great time.

Action shot...  with a rather crunched up posture.

I would love to become proficient in ice climbing in order to climb outdoors year-round (or I could move to a warmer climate...  nahh...).

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Obligatory Packing List: Introduction

This past weekend, I started packing up my (few) belongings in the lakehouse and putting aside the things I'll bring with me on this trip.

Now, if you're gonna have a travel blog, you pretty much gotta write about what goes in your pack.

Part of me strongly dislikes this.  If everyone is doing it, that's a sure-fire indication that I'm not going to want to do it (I'm a brat like that), or at least won't do it without an inordinate and unnecessary amount of soul-searching.

I mean, the point of this trip is to get rid of all of my stuff, to think less about stuff and the acquisition and maintenance of said stuff:  to transcend stuff, if you will.  Won't I be the backpacker with the microscopic pack at whom everyone looks in awe and whispers, "She's on the road for three years, and all she has is a small Ziploc baggie, a toothbrush, and a book of Psalms," as if I were a Buddhist nun with a well-stamped passport instead of an alms bowl?

The other part of me moonlights as "The Packtress."  Ever since I was a kid, I've always enjoyed packing for trips.  I love fitting items together in a container like a life-sized, somewhat compressible Tetris game.  I reflexively take charge of packing the trunk for a car trip.  I'm the freak that re-loads the dishwasher, just so everything fits like it "should."

In the end, The Packtress won over the passport-toting Buddhist nun, and I wrote this series of posts.  But first, a few notes before we open the drawstrings and peer inside.
  • First, this packing list is greatly informed by my experience backpacking in Peru in 2009.  It's great to have a "trial run" to see what you really need, versus what you think you need. 
  • Second, I am thoroughly convinced that you don't need special travel gear to travel comfortably.  (One thing I noticed was that many Yankees I encountered in Peru were decked out in "travel gear," while most Europeans and South American tourists were wearing their usual (trendy, nice) clothing.)  I will reference items I already had and items I found in dollar stores as frequently as I mention the Peru trip.
  • Third, if you can sew, you can make or modify anything made of a sewable material.  This skill takes up no space in a backpack, but I wouldn't leave home without it.
On to Part I...

The Obligatory Packing List: Part I

This is Part I of a four-part series detailing the the list of crap I'm carting to the other side of the world.  Don't know what I'm talking about?  Read the intro.

Let's start with with clothing.

The Obligatory Packing List: Part II

In this installment of "What's In The Backpack," we'll cover drugs, gadgets, and other crap.

If you missed the intro or the first installment, clicky the linky.

So, let's talk about drugs.

The Obligatory Packing List: Part III

This is the final post in a four-part series on The Obligatory Packing List.

Check out the intro, part I, and part II.

Paring my possessions down to the contents of one backpack, there are a multitude of items that don't make the cut.  I considered taking the following items:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One Moon, Six Red-Tailed Hawks, and My Mother's Pictures

On Friday evening, I drove to New Jersey to spend time with my family before I leave.  As I was driving, I was amazed by the size and brightness of the full moon.  I talked to Dave on the phone for a while as I was driving, and it was nice to think that we both sleep under the same celestial bodies, even if we're on opposite sides of Earth.

Photo credit:  Mummers!

I found out later that the full moon on January 29 appeared 30% brighter and 14% larger than any other full moon will appear for the rest of 2010.  This is because the moon was at "perigee," or the closest point to the Earth in its orbit.  January 2010 was special because the moon was both full and at perigee, making it particularly bright and large.  To top it off, Mars was clearly visible and close to the moon.  My mother took that beautiful picture of the moonlight shining through the trees.

On the drive home on Tuesday, I saw six red-tailed hawk (four perched in trees, two in flight).  I wasn't looking for them at first, but after the first two I started paying more attention.  One of them had the most fabulous rust-colored tail I've ever seen; it was striking against the white, overcast sky.

Photo credit:  Mummers!

This is a photograph by my mother of the hawk that lives in their neighborhood.  She no longer lets her cat go outside (a large hawk could likely pick off a house cat, especially one that is old and slow like my mother's).

I've been waiting for an excuse to post some of my mother's photos.  This weekend gave me two!  Thanks for sharing, Mummers!

Monday, February 1, 2010

What Makes New Zealand So Special?

I've been excited about visiting New Zealand since I was in high school and the first Lord of the Rings movies were released.  I was captivated by the amazing scenery, and I enjoyed watching the documentaries about filming the movie in NZ as much as I enjoyed the movies themselves.

Mt. Ngauruhoe, inspiration for film version of Mt. Doom, photo by Don Swanson, 1984

Since I made the decision to go to New Zealand, I've tried to learn a little about the land and its native species.  I've lived my entire life in New York and New Jersey in the United States.  My frame of reference, my concept of "outside," is a forest of oak and pine or maple and beech, or a gorge lined with hemlock.  I expect to see grey squirrels in the oak trees, white-tailed deer wandering through the pines, and blue jays zooming through the canopy (or terrorizing the chickadees).

New Zealand is completely different (not surprisingly--it is on the other side of the globe).  What is surprising are the extent to which and the reasons why it is unique.

Coromandel rainforest, photo by James Shook, 2005

Click the link below for more about New Zealand's otherworldly ecology!