(Where I am now: The Mousetrap, one of the coolest hostels you’ve ever seen in the little town of Pahia, pop 1,836) Date: Monday24Nov- What time is it: 15:25pm. What am I listening to: Depeche Mode – Condemnation/live)
Random people – interesting stories
After the Tongariro crossing and Taupo, I made my way north to Rotorua. I took the bus, full of envy of all the people that have either rental cars or their own vans/little caravans and really missing Argentina and it’s incredibly better bus system. But that’s for later. I left the Rainbow Lodge in Taupo to get a bus, for the first time, at a reasonable time – 10:30am – to be joined at the same trip, by a Swiss-German, Tobias (ya gennau) from some obscure village outside Zurich.
Life is good for the Swiss, he is travelling for 6 months as well – much younger than me, a telecommunications technician. Very pleasant and always fun to talk to especially when you are joking about the differences in Switzerland between the 3 different parts. Can’t remember the topic but he made a comment at some point: “In the real Switzerland, you know, the German part, we do…” Never ceases to amaze me how this country is kept together, although I have to admit he was one of the more moderate Swiss-Germans I’ve meet: I speak French, 4 weeks a year when I have to go to “them” for the army (he meant the French-speaking side)
And then there’s Dror, from Tel Aviv, a 19 year-old Israeli, already 3 months in NZ with his own newly bought (second-hand) Honda Accord touring both islands… Jealous I am. (as Yoda would say) Did you know that «(Αγαπώ μια) πιτσιρίκα» is currently the #1 hit in Israel – of course with the necessary remix and additional Hebrew verses, we ended up bugging everybody in the hostel singing it out loud. The Germans just looked over their shoulders, clearly annoyed. We just kept singing louder...
I took the bus for Rotorua with Tobi or we thought we did. As we all got on the bus the driver turns on the engine (it took 3 tries) and as he’s about to put in first gear, we hear a big “CRACK” and he ends up holding the whole gear stick in his hand. “I wonder what would have happened if we were in the middle of the highway…”, I thought to myself as we got off the bus and waited for a replacement bus.
We got to Rotorua and checked in the Funky Green Traveler, an adorable little hostel, very calm, green and with a wonderful garden – I am sorry I have no pictures of it. There was a gas/lava rock barbecue in the garden, a bit bigger than the one we have in our summer house in Anavissos. “It’s BBQ tonight” Tobi said and we went to get some steaks. It was one of the few times I was in a hostel with other people, eating out of a common “pool” of food. Yes, you do eat with other people, they are everywhere, but it’s more about eating next to them than eating with them.
I had missed that part. Last time I did it was in Cairns with James, the tall English guy. The whole process was nice, from loading a trolley with stuff (salads, beers, steaks, sausages, garlic bread) to preparing the meal, first the sausages with some beer, until the huge steaks were ready. Sweet weather, green garden, I felt relaxed and happy. I also realized how much more different this trip would be if I wasn’t alone. It has good and bad sides but eating alone is not one I cherish the most – especially if you are alone in a place for 2-3days, what can you really buy to cook? Pasta, rice, sandwiches and the occasional stake… Cooking & eating with friends is a heavily underestimated process. Now I remember why I invited people over to my place in Geneva to cook and eat on Sundays – I miss that and will definitely get back to doing it when I return. Invite your friends for dinner and cook with them. You don’t need to be away from home for 2 months like me to appreciate it.
Too tired, too drunk, too bored to go anywhere we stayed in that Saturday night – no need to see Rotorua night life, it’s the same everywhere: pubs, bars, the occasional club and a lot of English & Germans in their early twenties. I’ve given up on that part of entertainment.
Rotorua is famous for 2 things. First of all the volcanic/sulfur earth and heated springs it has, that make the whole town smell like someone is permanently on a bean diet. Second for its very strong Maori (local) culture. I did go to the spa with the other 2 guys – was very nice being in warm water of up to 43 degrees, it was just what I needed after the 20km trek with Frodo & Gandalf the day before. You always meet people in these places. 3 English girls from Brighton that work at EasyJet and Air New Zealand –and as quickly as you get to meet them, off they go to their next stop. The “dragon with the wagon” is what I remember her saying (among other ones that I can’t), a cordial way of referring to female cabin crew. We had a really good talk on the “interesting” aspects of the airline industry. Mom, at the end it was ok that I didn’t try that cabin crew training program for Qatar Airways.
Take a break – you need it, but more interesting people to meet. I decided to stay only one night in Rotorua. I should have done the Maori experience, to see their culture and music and customs – I regret that but anyway, choices. I decided to head further north to Auckland (just as a stop) and end up at the famous Bay of Islands near a little town called Pahia. Biggest advantage: it’s by the sea. Lake Taupo was great but I still miss the ocean and given the fact that I have only a few days left here, seeing the sea again was the biggest appeal.
This is “post-card New Zealand”. It’s the place they put on their TV commercials to promote the country’s natural beauty. It was a long bus ride. Two hours to Auckland and a stopover of another 2 hours to get into another bus for 4.5 hours. Long trip. I thought of the Argentina part of my trip and how fantastic those buses seem now to me. First of all, the run during the night allowing you to save on day time (and accommodation) and they are so much more comfortable. And so much cheaper. It is amazing how much more you pay in the “advanced” countries for certain services despite the quality being similar or inferior.
I checked my L.Planet guide – Pahia is a great destination for seeing the beach, swimming with dolphins and it is also a great point to take a trip to the far North of New Zealand, the tip of the edge of the world: Cape Reinga. All this of course provided the weather is not “torrential horizontal rain”. But before this – let me tell you about another person I met.
When I got to Auckland I was practically stuck for two hours at the bus terminal – a place in the middle of nowhere, at least that’s what it looked like on a Sunday morning – it was completely dead, only a few poor travelers making their way back home for the new week and some backpackers. A couple of cute Swedish girls as well…
I used the lock Kostas P had bought me to secure my backpack on a bench. This is an ingenious lock that has saved my backpack a few times already. Think of a lock that secures a zip (like all normal locks do) but that you can also attach a wire below and tie it on to something. So, a lonely traveler like me can actually “secure” his backpack while in the toilet or wherever. It’s not theft-proof but you do need a tool to cut it anyway. The problem in “modern countries” is that this is considered “unattended luggage” and you know what that means for an airport or bus terminal. Anyway, I wanted to have a burger (try Denny’s Hawaiian burger near the Sky Terminal if you are ever in Auckland…) and got to the bathroom, so I decided to lock it. A rather chubby, grey haired man was sitting next to me while I stood up to get out of the terminal. I smiled, he smiled back.
“I looked after your bag, while you were gone” he said with a big smile, as I came back and sat next to him. “thanks so much” I said without telling him about the lock.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Greece”, I answered expecting the expected by now level of surprise for the traveler from far away or the same level of high regard for my country of origin.
“I am Kiwi (New Zealander), 4th generation now, we came from England in 1830” he said. I smiled politely, always interested in people who have a story to tell.
“Also, my father fought in Crete with the Greeks” he said as he stared back into me, beady small blue eyes, red nose and cheeks, not from drinking but more from age. Now this is interesting, I thought to myself.
No novel to write here based on the man’s story but it’s always amazing to think about these people, part of the “British Empire”, the ANZACs (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) as they were called, being shipped to the other side of the planet to fight in a war that was so far away from their home. “He went to England, and from there they shipped him to Cairo and from there he made his way to Crete” he said. “He even owned a sort of bar in Egypt when he went back there after the fighting.”
“Sounds like a cool guy” I said, while I adjusted the straps of my backpack. Off I went into the bus – “A pleasure to have met you” I said as he shook my hand. “Good luck on your travels!”
Bay of (rainy) Islands, trapped in the Mousetrap I finally got here just before 7 pm. Pouring rain, grey sky and a lot of wind surrounded by majestic lush green scenery. I can only imagine what this place looks like on a nice sunny day. It was still impressive, the sea down the road roaring all grey and mixed up, my first aim was to find a place to stay. I’ve become so less stressed about that now. Before I used to book accommodation before I even arrange the transport to the next place, now I’ve ended up just showing up at hostels and asking if they have a bed.
I am in the Mousetrap now, a delightful small (30 beds) hostel on King Street, one of the 2 main streets of little Pahia. It’s surrounded by other bigger hostels like the YHA and Xbase, all catering to the needs of the “young backpacker” (yes ok S, I am NOT old!) this looked like a great alternative. It is. First of all the layout and décor is fascinating. It looks like an old ship inside. All walls are wooden panels, and the decoration is predominantly “navy”. Sea shells, anchors, ropes and little knickknacks from ships make this place more special than the average hostel. Also, the common areas are great, balconies and big windows make you think you are in some sort of lighthouse, just a few meters of the wild sea. I like it here, I have found peace despite it being a “German lighthouse” (Now EVERYBODY go to Youtube and search for Berlitz, german coastguard and laugh you ass off). I walked around rainy Pahia on a late Sunday afternoon, windy drizzle on my face and glasses, autumn/winter still standing strong on these northeast coasts of KiwiLand…
Monday/19:00. Rain hasn’t stopped. On the contrary it has become even more windy, preventing you from doing anything – I am trapped in the Mousetrap but I am not complaining. I had a couple of you calling me and talking today (or very late at night for you) thanks for this – it’s always good to hear familiar voices. Not too long to go on this island, I am realizing that the weather is not going to help me see all the things I wanted to (even if it was such short time). But I’ve stopped worrying about that and take everyday as it comes now. And in any case, there’s another wonderful reunion coming up just less than a week away. Tokyo with Kaori, and tow of my closest friends is going to be a blast. It couldn’t be anything else.
As the wind is blowing hard outside and the rain is hitting the windows, I leave you with this little music tune for all of you – wonderful…
Discover José Padilla!
Jose Padilla – Close to You.
A Friend from the past (a post long due)
Isn’t it great to meet people you know in the strangest places? It makes you think about how small the world is, especially if your meeting place is some random, far away country. It doesn’t matter if you’ve planned it, what is important is the moment you spend with a person that you have a connection with. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of “reunion”.
I remember the Dubai reunion with George and Ari, my two closest friends from Athens. We are a funny bunch, knowing each other from school and George & his family being friends for even longer – he was the first person I talked to in elementary school and we’ve remained friends since. And with Aris a bit later in high school but that doesn’t make the friendship smaller or less important. We’ve shared all 3 of us with our families, good and difficult moments, X-mases, legendary Easter Sundays and so many stories; they seem to be an integral part of my life. You take them out and I have no personal story to tell you. Even if we are far away, even if George spent years in England studying and in Dubai working and then all of us away doing the military service at different times, even if I’ve been in Geneva for more than 5 years – it just doesn’t matter sometimes.
Dubai was the coolest thing we’ve done – we went to see George, me on business, Aris as a tourist. We have a photo the 3 of us on a desert dune looking into the sunset – I made it into a frame for them and put a caption “Dubai Reunion” and have it as a souvenir from that time. We have yet another one coming up in less than a week. It will be called Tokyo reunion and it just makes you wonder – as at that time I remember for a moment, staring into the sunset over the sandy dunes, thinking to myself: “of all places, who could have ever imagined that we would be who we are & meet like this, here, after so many years of being together”
This posting is not about Ari & George: we’ll have time for that in Japan. This one is for another person in Dubai. Regi is a colleague that worked very closely with me when I first got my last job in P&G. He was part of the Fragrances Team in the Middle East, a team I had to work closely with as their finance guy. It was a difficult job in the beginning, being far away from it all and with a very new organization on the ground it was a challenge for me to understand also what was going on. I travelled a few times to Dubai, one of the greatest perks of my last assignment: I met so many nice people in the office and the team there treated me so well, you were bound to like them almost all. I have the fondest memories of Dubai and that team. Despite long hours, stressful work and a lot of pressure, all this now completely distant and unimportant – what really remain are the memories of interacting with the people and sharing time together. From the long phone calls trying to deal with issues to the daily lunch at the food court next to the office (Indian, Chinese, Lebanese or sandwich?) this is what I remember. Last time I saw Regi in Dubai was in June.
Fast forward a few months – think of me as a backpacker in Syndey, longer hair and a visible beard, entering the Sydney P&G office (are you crazy? – you are on your sabbatical) and meeting Regi. I used a day to visit the office – who cares? You see, Regi decided to move to Australia and took his whole family with him.
Have you ever had this feeling that everything is exactly the same but not really the same? Well think about this, having lunch at a food court (Indian yes), next to the P&G office and talking with the same person. Only difference, we were on the other side of the world, I was travelling and he was starting a new life. Everything is the same and nothing really is. You end up wondering how peoples’ lives change because they change locations (just like with my friends) and how ultimately some things really remain the same – just because the links you’ve built are strong, genuine and unselfish.
I guess I am just talking about having real friends. See you around.
Moustrap living room
Bad weather, it's the sea but I guess you can't see it...
Taupo pizza place - DAMN good pizza (check out the toll free number)
Even Ronald the clown skydives in Taupo (you can actully get in this DC3)
The pig is sleeping - remind me to show you the video where it's SNORING
Fidel cafe in Wellington
Te Papa museum: Kostas sitting on the south island, since he can't visit it