Be assured that sheep in New Zealand are free ranging.
In our daily activities and rhythms we often forget that where we are is a foreign place to others. It looks and smells different and there are very different things that punctuate our day. After dropping my son off at day care, I wanted to go out for a run before settling down to work for the day and so pointed the car in the direction of a place I knew I could don my headphones and listen to some travel podcasts and forget that my legs were annoyed with me for making them move at this hour.
I’d slowed my car to a halt and was waiting to get through when it suddenly struck me that my windscreen framed what some might call “a New Zealand scene”. I was in Corwall Park at the base of One Tree Hill, one of Auckland’s 50 odd volcanic cones. It was fully my intention to run around the cone if only I could get to the car park and set off. But I was stuck, waiting for three sheep to decide which way they wanted to go. One was halfway up a hill and already tucking in to a fresh patch of grass doused in morning dew. I’m thinking this is like a power breakfast for sheep, greens and hydration in one. I had a lot of time to think. Another of the sheep was just looking at me and chewing , like they do. “What are you doing here?”, he seemed to be thinking. The last one was contemplating the cattle stop but finally decided that what lay beyond the stone gate was not something worth treading over narrow metal strips for, at least not today. When they finally inched over a bit I slowly rolled forward enough that they got the idea a flitted up the hillside.
Much of a travel writer’s job is to take up the challenge of describing a place without the dreaded “commodification”. Like salt has pepper, Japan has geishas, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, England has Beefeaters (I never understood that one), and California has the flashy cheesiness of Rodeo Drive (never understood that either). Places get stuck with images, often not actually very representative, and then they are copied and pasted ad infinitum. This is how we package things up to sell the story and sell the place. Perhaps some people actually still want this kind of writing. Perhaps they want to have critical mass of a particular image in their mind so they can tick it off on their list when they arrive at the destination, you know, for reassurance that all is as we believe it to be in the world. Indeed, I’ve had clients request this kind of writing. If that’s what they need, who am I to refuse? But I can say that it is difficult to spin that story in a new direction for the ten millionth time and it still be interesting. Very difficult.
As much as I hate reading the same bloody exclamations of “There are more sheep than people in New Zealand” and “They even have sheep in the middle of the cities” over and over, I have to admit that, in this case, it is absolutely true. There ARE sheep in the middle of Auckland. I’m sitting in my car, the rainy mist is hanging low, the stone walls are grey and the grass is green and covered in sheep. This doesn’t happen in London or Beijing. There may be some people who might want to know. Sheep in cities is sort of interesting… I guess. I suppose I should write about this. Oh, I just did.
Bus to the high Himalayas by Felipe Skroski on Flickr
I am perched on the metal bar that has been revealed from worn away vinyl long gone. I’m not really sitting. I’m on the balls of my feet, ready to spring up and jump off this bus if I feel any wheels leave the ground. How many buses have I sat on while the driver has had to finally back down to someone bigger and reverse over a drop that seems a kilometre deep to let the winner pass? Why would I keep getting on these damn buses, I ask myself. This is it. This is the last one. I’m done with this. My heart can’t take it. My partner points out that we also have to get back down off the mountain, and since there aren’t many car hire companies in small Himalayan villages, we’ll have to entrust our lives again into the hands of a bus driver whose vehicle has brakes that are cooled only by a pipe of water leading from a tank on the roof. I always watch the bubbles in the tube behind the driver get bigger and bigger until I know there is no more water in there and hope for a water station to appear around the next sickening bend. I often wish I’d grown up in a more fatalistic culture so I wouldn’t be so fine tuned to imagining what could happen.
No more bubbles. Thank god, a stop. A small chai stand saves my nerves because holding a hot cuppa is the closest I’m going to get to a shot of vodka up here. The scent of the tea masala helps me forget that I have to get back on the bus in a minute, but only until the driver starts shouting and everyone starts running to secure their coveted seats on cold, uncovered bars. OK, I can do this.
“When we get there, let’s stay an extra day or two”, I suggest, “We could tramp to the next village”.
I really don’t want to get on another bus for a while. Mountains have always been calming to me and sitting in thin, crisp air, wrapped in down and wool, helps me remember why I have this never ending goal to get up high.
“Samosa?”, he asks me holding out a couple of triangles splotched in chutney.
Hmm, maybe some food would settle my stomach. In the very least, I can certainly lose myself in a sharp mouthful of chillies. A nice distraction. I think of the young woman I saw him buy these from and wonder about her. What time did she get up to make this dough? What did she roll it out on? Is she sick of eating samosas herself? Did she grow these potatoes?
The edge of the village. Is this it, I wonder hopefully without trying to get too excited. I ask the woman next to me who has only recently stopped vomiting in red plastic bags and tossing them out the window.
“Yes, yes, here!”, she smiles. She’s obviously as relieved as I am .
By the time we climb up to get our bags off the roof, the driver is already filling the water tank for the trip back down and inside the bus, a young boy is punching fresh red plastic bags into the backs of each seat. My blood pressure starts to go down as I enjoy standing in my boots.
Here are 7 frantically typed, unedited, things that my travelling life has gifted to my mothering life.
It’s not often possible on an aeroplane or when living with a toddler, but do it when you can.
Functioning during jet lag is like functioning with a sleepless toddler (see above).
You can’t speak every language in the world but it is polite to learn a few phrases when travelling somewhere new. Likewise, toddlers do not speak my language, but I have learnt how my son says milk, “moo”, and please, “peesh”, and thank you, “krap!”. Well, OK, technically that last one is Thai, but it is toddler Thai all the same. He also tends to get what I’m saying most of the time. We are multilingual like that.
4) Eating and Drinking
Another “Do it when you can just in case you don’t get another opportunity soon”.
Carrying your gear is like carrying a toddler. You get muscles in places you’ve never had them before.
Travel teaches you that you really don’t need much stuff to live and when you have a child, the first thing you have to do is clear out all the stuff you don’t want used as a toy (until you can train them up, anyway). Through this process, you start to realise how much of your stuff is not needed anyway. Less is more.
When I lived in the Japanese countryside, it was a treat to have cheese. In New Zealand I took this for granted, but to sit down with a hunk of cheddar and a few crackers in Japan was pure indulgence. Likewise, a really good mango with sticky rice is a treat in New Zealand. Treats for mothers include having a shower longer than 3 minutes alone and indulging in a coffee in a cafe that provides toys.
P.S. I could write about a million of these, but nap times are short and I need a cup of tea.
Air New Zealand has said today that they will extend the $50 to/from Christchurch domestic fares to include all flights within New Zealand until midnight on the 27th of February. The also have some compassionate international fares.
They have put on a number of extra flights into and out of Christchurch equivalent in capacity to 19 additional 737 flights today.
I have a very good friend whom I knew for a few of the most exciting years of my life. He was just discovering who he was, as we all were in those days, and I love the fact that he is living his true life now. However, I lost touch with this friend quite a few years ago. Many years ago. I’ve always wondered what he was doing and what his life had become. And then about 6 or 7 years ago I managed to get in touch again through a mutual friend. I was so happy because I found out about quite a few nice things that had occurred in his life. Sadly, he was about to leave his job. The email address I had for him was through his work and so I knew he would no longer be using it. He said he would be in touch as soon as he got his own email address set up. This didn’t strike me as odd because I know plenty of people who lead their lives without using the internet on a daily basis. And back then, it wasn’t as common for everyone to have multiple email addresses, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. I just hoped for the best. I never heard from him again.
In our brief email exchange, one of the things he said to me was that the reason he hasn’t been in touch was because he was jealous. I should clarify that this is not an ex-boyfriend. He was apparently jealous of my life. I just think this is amazing. He has made up a scenario based on the few facts he still knows about me that has led him to believe that my life is a fairytale. Yes, I have travelled a lot, but that is not all that happens in my life. I feel a little bit angry, but mostly sad about this. He has no idea about the difficult things I’ve been through. He has just chosen some random ‘facts’ and gleaned the rest, and then used that non-reality as a basis for discontinuing the friendship.
But it makes me think. Do I do this? I must do. It seems quite common. There are certainly people I feel jealousy towards. And, I have to admit, there have been times when I’ve avoided those people because I didn’t feel I had anything more to offer than what they already have. But, eventually you see things. You start to see that the things you are jealous of are only on the very surface of their being. Over time, these things change or fade and you begin to see more of the real person. If you stick with these people, you find out that they are struggling in life just as you are and we all need allies. I wish my friend could see this, but if nothing else he has left me with the ability to weigh up my trivial jealousies before they cause me to lose something that could be really important. Well, at least I try.
The other teachers and I stuffing down some lunch in between building sessions on the Habitat house in Pak Chong, Thailand. The students are sitting at their own tables because, well, it would be uncool for them to sit with us now wouldn’t it? Yeah, whatever. We all know who the cool people REALLY are.
Reading Shantiwallah always makes me think how strange it is that Ireland (where I live now) and New Zealand are so far apart, so different historically but yet so similar in some ways.
We share a few great passions. Parties and sport probably head the list with rugby at the top. As I write the southern hemisphere teams are touring our little islands and once again showing us how it’s done. Sigh.
Unfortunately we don’t see as much of the women’s teams. The Women’s Rugby World Cup was played in August over in England. New Zealand won in a thrilling final against England, taking the cup by just three points in the end. They’re nicknamed the Black Ferns – a lovely name for an amazing team.
It’s amazing how quickly you can make friends through sport when you’re travelling. That common passion crosses barriers of language and culture in an instant. I’ve lived in many countries over the last 15 years and most of my friends are women I met through training or watching sport together.
Maybe it’s because there are fewer women than men around sports that we remember and watch out for each other? Whatever the reason I couldn’t imagine life without the passion sports brings or without the friends we make. And thanks to technology, we can all watch the same games from different continents and still gossip about the hot male players
Niamh Griffin is a freelance journalist living in Ireland. Her blog ‘Women with Balls’ is a celebration of women doing sport and loving it!