Yeah, it's been a while.
I've been living in the little Wellington suburb of Kilbirnie for about four months. For much of that time, I've thought of my living arrangements as "good enough" - a bit shabby, and not as close to the attractive downtown area as I'd like, but reasonably comfortable and very cheap, which was the important thing.
Then one day, I hopped on my bike and rode along the coast, and discovered the gorgeous wild hills and secluded little beaches that unfold past Lyall Bay, ten minutes away from my house. Now I ride out there almost every day, and I'm starting to think that I wouldn't live anywhere else. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, and it's all in my back yard. On clear days, I can even see the mountains of the South Island. While I understand that views of the South Island are pretty commonplace for most Wellingtonians, I can't stop going all little-girl gleeful every time I see it. I'm from Nebraska. Mountains are astonishing to me, and the ocean is beyond wonderful, so mountains AND ocean at the same time - well, it gets me a bit drunk.
Wellington is marvelous. I ride my bike all over town, I take ferry rides across the harbour on weekends, and I go to the occasional party with my friends, most of whom are from Chile, of all places. (I met these friends when the B.E. Esmeralda docked at Queen's Wharf for five crazy days in June, more on that later.) I'm getting pretty good at my job at the French cafe, but it's getting too stressful, and I've had a job offer at an adorable little seaside restaurant in Island Bay - we'll see how that goes.
I'm still taking guitar lessons on Cuba Street every two weeks. How it works is, I find a song I want to work up, I slack off practicing it, I finally mess around on the guitar for a day or two, and then I show up at the guitar shop on a Tuesday afternoon and spend most of the hour laughing at instructor Matthew's crazy philosophy discussions. I'm not as good at playing the guitar as I should be by now - my barre chords are feeble at best - but it's fun.
My writing project is still moving forward, if rather slowly. I'm reading a lot, taking notes, putting together historical timelines and chapter synopses. Really, I'm studying almost as much as when I was in school, and it's all very interesting stuff - Japanese and Japanese-American culture, the counter-cultures of San Francisco and New York City, WWII and the atom bomb, the Cold War, liberal politics, feminism, literature and poetry. But with the actual writing of the novel, I'm a bit stuck. I know who my characters are and what happens to them, but now I don't know how to tell the story. I think my problem is that I'm trying too hard to be clever and non-linear with the chapters before I have the plot fleshed out properly. I need to get it all out in boring chronological order from beginning to end, and then pull it all apart and rewrite it. This could take some time.
So, this is interesting.
"Let me 'splain ... no, there is too much. Let me sum up." I got the job at the French cafe. If you're ever in Wellington and fancy a nice lunch on Cuba Street, you might consider swinging by the Simply Paris Tea and Coffeehouse, where I'd be happy to serve you a nice croque monsieur, a latte, and perhaps a tarte citron for dessert. The people I work with are nice, though most of them are in fact French and can seem prickly sometimes. As usual, they're friendly, even fun, when you get to know them better.
I also found a place to live. I've rented a cheap room in a house in Kilbirnie, which is close to Wellington Airport. I can look out my window and see the end of the runway. It's also close to Lyall Bay, where I take my runs in the evenings. I have four housemates, who are pretty cool. Sometimes while we're cooking our individual dinners, we hang out in the kitchen and chat for a while. It's a comfortable place.
I have bought a good new bicycle, and ride to and from work every day. So far, the infamous wind hasn't prevented me from cycling, though it's come close. I may be forced to take the bus a few times this winter, from what I'm told.
I've been living quietly so far, which is nice after all the moving around of the last two months. Sometimes after work I'll cross the street to one of Cuba Street's bohemian coffeeshops, and relax with a book for a while. I'm still greatly enjoying the library, and doing a lot of reading. At the moment, I'm doing my best to get through a 1000+ page book of Walt Whitman's poetry and prose.
My main goal for this year is to complete the first draft of a novel I'm trying to put together. I've been a software developer for years, but I've always wanted to try taking time off and writing a book, so here's my chance. The novel is slow going, though, more of a collection of notes than a draft at the moment.
Also, I bought a new guitar from a music shop near the cafe, and I've signed up for lessons every Tuesday afternoon. The instructor is a funny, slightly weird guy from Portland, Oregon. Should be interesting.
Hmm, what other news? Oh yeah - I recently added highlights to my hair. Magenta highlights. Funky!
I've been in Wellington for a week now, and I'm beginning to get settled. True, the most concrete step I've taken so far is to get a library card, but that's something! Ah, beloved books, how I've missed you.
I'm looking for work at the moment - hopefully waitress work for the time being. I had a couple of interviews and even a two-hour trial run, but they didn't come to anything. I have another trial run on Friday, at this adorable gourmet French cafe and bakery, right on Cuba Street. I really hope I get it, the location is ideal and it's just the sort of place I like hanging out in. You should see the desserts and pastries in the display window, they're gorgeous.
Cuba Street will probably be my favorite part of town, with its funky coffeeshops and bookstores and boutiques full of eccentric clothes and such. There's a place that looks good for guitar lessons later on, and a shop that will come in handy for decorating my room, as soon as I get a room.
Today was my last day of apple picking. I can't tell you how nice that is. Don't get me wrong, it was a great experience. I'm glad I did it, but I'm even gladder it's over. Particularly since the apples were bad quality today and it took forever to find the red ones.
The funny thing is, now every time I see a bin of apples at the supermarket, especially if they're Braeburn or Fuji or Pacific Queen apples, I automatically check them for coloration and size; and if I notice that they're bruised, or that the spurs haven't been properly removed from the stems, I get annoyed with the unknown far-away person who picked them.
I'll miss some things about life here. This morning was the last time I'll see the sun come up over the ocean for a while - that was always really cool. And I'll miss the countryside, and the sunny weather, and playing with Flinn at the orchard during my breaks. But I'm going back to Wellington tomorrow, and I'm really excited about it. I'm already pretty fond of that city, it feels like home to me. It'll be so nice to have my books again, and the big library, and the museums. And, y'know, no more apples, for, like, a long long long long time. You know the first thing I'm going to buy when I get to Wellington? BANANAS.
I wonder what kind of job I'll get?
There are some rather nice things about living in Napier. It would be more convenient for me if I was staying in Hastings, but Napier is definitely the nicer town. It's on the coast of Hawkes Bay; the beach is about two blocks from the backpacker hostel. The sea is lovely and it's nice to have it so close. I often go for walks along the shore to relax after work, and lately I've been getting up half an hour earlier to see the sun come up over the Pacific Ocean.
The hostel is a cozy place. A lot of fruit pickers live here, and they're from all over the place - Chile, Japan, Czech Republic, Germany. In the evenings we sometimes watch movies or play cards together. There's also a cat named Quizzer, who gets petted quite frequently. He pretends not to care, of course.
The owner of the hostel, Kathryn, owns a farm not far from Napier, and you can work there in exchange for accomodation. I went out there last weekend and cleaned the house for her, while a couple of German girls did some painting on the roof. We met her neighbor, an interesting elderly man named Buster, who built most of his house by himself at age 85. He made us lunch - pancakes with jam and cream. And when we were done with our work, Kathryn let us take the horses out for a short walk.
My boss's name is Dave, and Dave has a lean brown dog named Flinn, who comes with him to the orchard. Flinn likes me and comes over to say hi sometimes, but usually he's busy with other stuff. He runs around the orchard all day, and takes naps in the shade. He also hunts rabbits. A few days ago, he caught and ate three. I was very impressed.
I'm home early from the orchard today, so I have time to post really quick. I've been in Napier for about two weeks now. I have a job as an apple picker - a completely new working experience for me. It's certainly a change from office work.
It's funny, because I've read about field work in books before - like in The Grapes of Wrath when they're working in a peach orchard, or in On the Road when Sal Paradise is picking cotton. And they always manage to make it sound kind of romantic. You know, an honest day's work, tilling the earth, out in the wind and the sun and everything. But those books never seem to convey exactly how tired you get by the end of the day. I know that I might have guessed it earlier, but apple picking is really really hard work. I needed to experience it for myself before I would believe it.
The orchards are rather pretty, especially in the morning. There's one place that we go to a couple times a week, that has a little river winding through it, and tall poplar trees bordering the orchard blocks, and even a resident flock of peacocks (they're good for eating bugs, apparently). We were there today, and it looked as nice as ever, but the picking wasn't very good - almost all the good apples way up at the top, requiring going up and down ladders all day, and for all that we'd only get half a bucket per tree.
There is a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day, I have to admit. And dinner always tastes fantastic no matter what it is, and I'm certainly sleeping really well these days. It's a good experience and I'm glad I'm doing it. But I will be happy when I'm finished.
The bus tour has stopped in Rotorua for a couple of hours, and there are Internet cafes. I've been away from a computer for days and days - this is my first chance to post an update on the trip, and we're five days in.
There's so much to mention, I barely know where to start. Let's see - I'm touring with fifteen to twenty people (the number changes as passengers get on and off at different points). They're from all over the world. Currently, there are five people from Britain, one guy from Ireland, a girl from Belgium, a girl from Holland, three French people, two girls from Germany, two girls from Austria, and one other woman from America. The tour guides are both Americans, though one has lived here long enough to have a Kiwi accent. It's a pretty fun group.
We've been staying at holiday parks and campgrounds. We sleep in tents, and take turns cooking meals out of the converted trailer behind the bus. I've rented a bike, so I cycle when I can; it's a great way to see the countryside.
We left Auckland and went north, to the Northlands. It's pretty rural up there; it reminds me a bit of southern England, but rougher and wilder. The trees are more tangled and there are ferns everywhere. But the sky is very blue and the grass is very green, and gorgeous beaches keep appearing out of nowhere.
We've been so busy. We stop by the ocean often, for lunch or just to relax. We visited the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and attended a traditional Maori concert, which was just amazing. I went sailing on the Bay of Islands on a windy day, and I got very wet and very sunburned, but it was great anyway. We went sandboarding in Oponini - sledding on sand dunes, basically. I had some good runs but never got all the way into the water the way some guys were. On the way back down the coast, we stopped in a kauri forest to see Tane Mahuta, the biggest tree in New Zealand and one of the biggest in the world. He was splendid - a giant pillar separating Father Sky from Mother Earth, as the Maori say.
In the Coromandel Penninsula, several of us took a long bike ride into camp. We went up a mountain for five kilometers, which was agonizing, but the fast glide down the other side was worth it. We made a stop at Cathedral Cove, which is a gorgeous spot - a secluded beach hemmed in by trees and rock cliffs, with a vaulted tunnel opening onto the ocean.
We'll be visiting the geo-thermal pools of Rotorua sometime tomorrow; this evening, we're camping out in the bush with no running water or electricity. I'm having a lot of fun, despite getting sunburned and constantly having sand in my shoes. The activities are great, but I'd almost say that what I enjoy most is driving through the country, looking out at the scenery. New Zealand is a beautiful place.
Oh, and happy Valentine's Day, everybody.
Well, I'm here. The flight was long, but not too bad - Air New Zealand seems to be a pretty nice airline. Good movies, decent food, comfortable chairs. I may have even fallen asleep for a while (sleeping pills helped).
This is my last evening in Auckland - the bus tour begins tomorrow morning. In the end, I like this city all right, but it was kind of overwhelming at first. The backpacker hostel where I'm staying is right downtown; the Sky Tower is practically just down the street. There are always buses and trucks going by outside, so it's often noisy; and the city centre is crowded and a little gaudy. I've been dreaming of pristine countryside for months, so the commotion came as a bit of a shock.
But after a little exploration, I found the library and the museums and the parks, and I got some nice views of the harbor. Auckland probably won't be my favorite place, and I get the impression that Wellington or Christchurch will suit me better; but in the end, it's not too bad. The weather has been rather nice, anyway - it is summer, after all! I haven't sunburned yet, but there's plenty of time for that.
The hostel is an interesting place. There's a big communal kitchen, and every morning and evening a bunch of people come downstairs to fix meals, mostly from scratch. There are some surprisingly good cooks among them, too. I feel a bit of pressure to keep up. I heated up a can of soup one evening, and then felt silly when I saw the elderly British guy next to me making sauteed chicken and steamed vegetables, and a Malaysian woman fixing an elaborate stir-fry dish.
Oops - Internet time is running out. I have pictures, but no way to upload them. I'll have to post them later.