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a month later…

…I find my way out of the rain forest!  Has it really been a month?  Can I blame the delay in updates on my freezer-burned brain?  Apologies, faithful readers.  Writing, as of late, has felt more like work than play, and after six months as an Antarctic galley slave, I’m all about play.  This is probably the last time I’ll be able to use that excuse, though, as Antarctica’s icy grip seems to have eased, finally.  I’m tanner, fitter, and feeling more like myself every day.  What, you ask, was the remedy?  What restorative warmed my frozen soul and eased me back into reality?  It’s the West Coast cure: sunshine mixed with a healthy dose of rain, hail, and floods; good, hearty bush tucker; plenty of hard foot-slogging up rivers and through mountains; honest hard labor; with a rugby match thrown in for good measure, and the whole lot sprinkled with nuggets of gold.

A week of sunshine followed by two weeks of pouring rain saw me doing my best to help Susan out around the Dreamhouse.  Washing windows, edging gardens, cooking meals, vacuuming, dusting, mowing lawns, hauling wood, etc.  The rain cleared for a weekend, just long enough for the whole family to travel south to Hokitika for the world-famous Wildfoods Festival.  It’s an annual event on the Coast that draws up to 30,000 visitors from both NZ and around the world and celebrates the – ahem – wilder side of West Coast cuisine.  By way of example, I present a list of the delicacies that I, personally, consumed: venison, wild mushrooms, crickets (they were in peanut butter truffles, so they tasted okay, but when I was still picking legs out of my mouth a half hour later, I had to rate the crickets as the nastiest thing of the day), snails, homemade ice cream with organic strawberries, kava (a traditional beverage from Fiji), corn on the cob, kangaroo, crocodile (tastes like chicken), elderflower champagne, worms (chopped up and served in chocolate truffles), punga (native ferns), possum, horse (that one I could have done without), and huhu grubs (fat, white wood-boring critters that taste like nuts when roasted).  It was a day for daring and for strong stomachs.  I met up with Andre and Genevieve, two of my favorite Ice people, and spent the night with them out on the beach, relishing the opportunity to enjoy their company in the real world.  More rain…I visited Geoffrey’s gold mining claim and fell on my bum in the mud.  I also got to watch the whole mining process, do a bit of panning for myself, and actually hold raw nuggets of gold in my hand.  We escaped the rain for another weekend, this time across the Alps to Christchurch to watch the Crusaders (the local professional rugby team) bash the Bulls, a team from South Africa.

All in all, I spent a refreshing, fun (if a bit wet) three and a half weeks with Geoffrey, Susan and Navare.  It was longer than I’d planned to stay, but I’d mapped out a 9-day hike through the main divide of the Southern Alps, and couldn’t attempt it til the rains quit, as it involved numerous river crossings and fairly rugged, un-marked terrain.  Just as I was beginning to think I’d have to scrap the whole thing and move on, the rains cleared, and I was off.  Nine days… The idea for the trip originated with Lumir, and it was a doozie: gorgeous river valleys, tempting tall peaks, pristine lakes, natural hot springs, and two challenging mountain passes in the very heart of the Alps.  Definitely the road less traveled by.  For the first four days I was completely alone.  There wasn’t a soul living or breathing for miles…just me.  It was an incredible, empowering experience, having to use a map and compass to find a safe route, having to problem solve and navigate and take complete responsibility for every aspect of the trip.  The first night out, I slept next to the Waiheke River in a bivouac that I constructed out of a large blue tarp and a length of rope.  I woke during the night, rolled onto my back, and stared directly up into the clear, starry sky: wow.  I waded up one river, crested the first pass (the Amuri), and spent four days wandering the river valleys of the eastern Alps.  I camped next to Lake Sumner and was almost carried away, bivouac and all, by sandflies (wicked, demon biting insects that travel in gangs of millions) but was rescued by a kind, retired schoolteacher-turned-fisherman-and-violin-maker who loaned me an extra tent for the night.  He also shared his wife’s homemade cake with me and in the morning, wouldn’t let me leave until l’d sat and had a cup of tea with him.  Love, love, love this Kiwi generosity.  On the second to last day of the trip, I stood on top of the Harpers Pass (936 meters – approx 3,000 ft.) after a long, extremely difficult morning’s climb, and felt my soul absolutely fill to bursting with triumph – I had done it!!  Nine days in the back country, completely self-sufficient, learning, growing, and loving every minute.  It was a bit anti-climatic then, when I came down from the pass and had to stay put in a hut, a mere sixteen kilometers from the end of the trip and civilization, waiting for two whole extra days because of a wicked rainstorm and flooded rivers.  Two days, alone in a hut, reading, playing solitaire, watching the rain, doing jumping jacks, stoking the fire, and staving off the stir-crazies by working on the 1,000 piece jigsaw that some kind, blessed soul had left behind.  It was a relaxing way to end the trip, if a bit boring.  Eleven days later (nine days tramping, two days sitting), I strode out of the bush and made my way back to the Dreamhouse on the hill, stinking, filthy, but revived.

So now: freshly showered, clothing laundered and hiking boots dried, I’m off.   Last night Susan and Navare and I had a farewell marshmallow roast in the gia (a Mongolian dwelling, like a yurt…yes, they’ve got a yurt as well as a boat on their property.  They’re a pretty unique family.), and this morning Navare presented me with a piece of a possum jawbone for good luck.  It’s hanging from Dr. Gonzo’s rear view mirror, along with a piece of shell that Jenny gave me before I left Methven.  Ahhh, it’s good to be on the road again.  I’ve got three weeks before Kelli gets here, and way, way too many things to try and fit into that time.  Oh well.  A full life is a good life.  I’m back to the internet cafe scene, which means less time for emails and website updates.  With any luck I’ll be in the mountains most of the time anyway.  I’m a month and a half away from the Ice, and a month and a half away from home.  I’m at the balancing point, ready to make the most of the downward journey.  Let’s go have some fun!!

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