I know I have fallen behind on my travel notes and wrote nothing instead of writing weekly. Mia culpa! I lost my pen and just didn't know what to do. Yet, it would be terribly wrong not to tell you about New Zealand: two little islands hanging over the edge of the Earth as I knew it, that kept me occupied for the best part of the hottest summer month of January (I just love years with 12 hottest summer months :)).
New Zealand is only slightly bigger than the British islands, yet big enough to contain the Middle Earth, Rohan, Mordor, Mt. Doom, Shire and the army of orcs and urukhais (which, as I learned, were accurately portrayed by NZ regular troops for having nothing better to do with their time) and the rest of the world as shown to us by Welliwood movie wizard Peter Jackson in The Lord of the Rings. In other words, it is really beautiful, and has pretty much everything one can think of in terms of natural variety. The same goes for the climate: in less than 4 weeks I spent in NZ, there were heat, wind, fog, rain, snow, ice and heat again.
Fact lovers will find it interesting that until European arrival NZ had no predators except the giant Haast´s eagle (the largest ever known), making the islands a paradise for cool little creatures, such as wingless kiwi bird (it really does look like a big kiwi fruit!), whose only worry was to hide from the eagle. As Europeans arrived in the 17th century the Haast eagle went extinct (how ironic!), but, to compensate, they brought all sorts of nasties: opossums and deers for fur and meat farming, rats, mice and bats (these came without asking), microbes, and, of course, firearms. Then, as it often happens, things went not quite as planned: opossums, rats and deers multiplied geometrically to tens of millions, eating all kiwi eggs and native vegetation they encountered. Microbes killed the local maori polynesians, who had no immunity against smallpox, influenza, etc.. And surviving maoris made great use of firearms: wariors by nature, they always loved to hate their neighbour tribes, intimidating each other with digging sticks and HAKA dance (that is what their rugby team is world-famous for: ). Now, the one tribe that the English first gave guns to could skip the haka and just shoot all the rest. And it did, too.
An inquisitive reader will find it noteworthy that the only newcomers that didn't make a dramatic impact were... sheep (now counting 40 million!) - the silent herbivores, whose only roles were and remain: eating grass, roaming in herds, getting shaved, and, ultimately, eaten. There should be a lesson there somewhere.
The Kiwis that now inhabit the islands (people, not birds) sport strange adrenaline gene unseen elsewhere. Somehow they managed to monopolise all thinkable pursuits that start with prefixes sky-, speed-, heli-, jet-, etc.. It was them, who invented the boungy in the 80´s, zorbing in the 90´s and they keep inventing. Here is one story:
One warm but very windy evening I was hiking down an extinct volcano, as I ran into two summit-bound guys with helmets and backpacks. The helmets didn't make sense: the guys didn't have ropes for climbing, and the backpacks were too small for paragliders.
-Guys, what are the helmets for? - I asked.
-Come and see! - they replied.
On the top they unpacked 2 tiny gliders, that looked like kites but with paraglider raisers (lines), hooked them to seatless skydiving-type harnesses (suspenders you put on yourself), self-launched and were virtually shot up into the sky by oncoming wind (check out http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1083276652197&saved). For 20 minutes they were soaring like sparrows up and down vertical wall, flying up to hang by my head to ask what I think (I was thinking: ``Holy shit!``). Then they said: ``Cheers, mate! We now fly to the beach!`` - and flew away. These were guys from OZONE, NZ kite company, who invented speedflying few years ago.
Even bus drivers in NZ were adrenaline nuts. As I traveled around the islands with Magic Bus (Greyhound for backpackers) I always tried to sit next to the driver for the best views, but I also got the best stories. One bus was driven by Collin, a guy who backpacked overland (!) from Portugal to Hong Kong (including transsiberian train in Russia) and Patagonia to Costa Rica. He is now saving money for his next leg: Costa Rica to Greenland. The next bus was driven by Jeff, the guy who drove all-terrain trucks into extreme expeditions from Gibraltar to Tanzania for 2 years. Not impressed? - Google up the itinerary!
It was Jeff, who produced the following line:
``A man is not made for a cubicle and electric light. He is made for wide open spaces, vast blue sky, sun, stars and rain.``
Have you heard anything like this from a bus driver elsewhere???
And as to myself, I am now saying goodbye to the Eastern hemisphere, where I leave my footprints on the trail from Nepal to New Zealand, passing every place in between, except Bangladesh and East Timor (good reasons to come back!), worn out two pairs of thongs, had clothes stolen by monkeys, ate countless kilos of fried rice and noodles, and spend billions of rupees, kiats, bahts, kips and dongs, but only a handful of dollars. I will now head further east, to either drop off from the edge of the Earth, or to cross datechange line to live the same day twice (I find both options equally fascinating). In the latter case I will reach South America, where I will try to beat Collin on Patagonia - Costa Rica route, adding some places below and above.
I will let you know how it goes.
5 NZ galleries are added to http://picasaweb.google.com/dmy2008
Ilha Grande, Brazil
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