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Southern Exposure

Back from the abyss!!  Nearly three weeks later, I’ve thoroughly experienced Wellington, bid adieu to the North Island, and am currently writing from Lake Tekapo, in about the middle of the South Island.  Internet is extremely dear, so I’ll jump right in and fill you all in, starting with my ferry journey between the islands on Feb. 28th…

Early morning – I’m clinging to the railing of the Interislander Ferry, staggering crazily from side to side, buffeted by powerful blasts of wind, kept off balance by the pitching of the deck underfoot.  Despite having donned my winter jacket, I’m still drenched with sea spray and encrusted with salt.  The wind yanks pieces of hair out of my knotted bun and whips them across my face.  Enormous swells curl around and over the prow of the ship with a smash and a shudder, sending water back over the decks in horizontal deluges.  I’m standing in three inches of seawater, and I am grinning like a madman.  This.  Is.  Fantastic.  It’s a four hour crossing, and for 2 1/2 of those hours, I am mesmerized, gleefully anticipating each reverberating collision while around me ferry crew members hurry to provide sick-bags to the less seaworthy crowd.  Not a choice day to cross the Cook Strait from Wellington (NI) to Picton (SI), but I’d take this over mild conditions any day.  When we enter the Marlborough Sounds at the tip of the South Island, the water calms and everyone’s out on the decks, watching as we pass the green fingers of land where they dangle in the aquamarine water.  The landscape is pristine, magnificent.  Sunny, sparkling, and clean, except for the dark smoke issuing from the ferry’s engine compartment.  With Elliott Smith and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club crooning softly through my headphones into my ears, I am excited anew.  I’m in New Zealand!!!

The climate change is almost immediately noticeable.  The air is cooler, and there’s an almost constant wind.  The Doc’s almost pushed off the road countless times, and I have to keep both hands on the steering wheel.  I begin driving right away, eager to make my way south and begin working (ah, did I mention I got a job?  The Godley Resort Hotel in Lake Tekapo…but more about that later).  The landscape is different from the North Island too.  FLAT.  Instead of a road that is forever climbing, winding, and falling along the mountains and hills, I see nothing for miles but flat, straight country.  There are some hills, but they’re quite gradual and understated.  For the first two hours – GRAPES.  The Marlborough region (the northeast corner of the South Island) is the largest wine growing region in NZ.  We’re talking miles of vines.  I’m quite sad to be driving past, on my way to working indoors with tourists and other backpackers and not to be stopping off here to spend more hours in the sunshine, working with kiwis to nurture, to grow, to cultivate.  As I continue south, the road finds the coastline and I drive next to impressive rocks and crashing waves.  And sealsBaby seals!  So cute that I almost can’t stand it.

Some time after the seals, I’m cruising along, nearly on autopilot, zoned out from driving, lack of sleep, and hunger.  Since I’m on my way to a job where I will be fed for (almost) free, I refuse to spend money on groceries or restaurants.  This leg of the trip has become somewhat of an endurance test.  I’m currently rereading The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the LOTR saga.  I reckon that if the Hobbits can go without full meals and fight the Dark Lord, then I can certainly live for two days on tuna, apples, and crackers.  By four in the afternoon, though, I was fading.  Just as I was about to cave in  and buy a sandwich, a big white sign flashed by: “DRIVER REVIVER – FREE.”  I squealed to a stop in the carpark of this little garage in the middle of nowhere.  Free coffee and delightfully down-home conversation with the white-haired, bright-eyed little old lady behind the counter and the crusty, bearded mechanic sitting at the table in the window.  Lifesaver!  Spent the night in Oxford, a quiet little town that wins the prize for the town most accommodating to the homeless (read: me).  Clean, bright public toilet with flowers and other country illustrations painted on the walls.  Soap!  A hot air hand dryer!  A normal sized sink!  A bench for me to use while I washed and dried my dishes!  NZ has no shortage of public toilets.  Public anything, really.  It’s a country of travelers who understand the needs of other travelers.  Because it’s such a young country, its towns have been remarkably well-planned, and are a breeze to navigate.  Everything’s small, neat, and logical.  And you can count on an info center, public toilets, and a dairy (convenience/general store) at the minimum in every town with a population over 200 people.  The toilets, however, are rarely more than a tin basin, with an equally tiny sink, crammed into a dark, dingy cement square block.  Additionally, some are locked after dark, or  business hours – not helpful for travelers who are sleeping in their cars and need running water for face washing and dish-washing, etc.  So good on ya, Oxford (one of my favorite NZ expressions – means the same as “good for you!”)!

Finished the drive on Wednesday (March 1).  After Oxford, I turned west.  This is where the fun started.  MOUNTAINS.  Yee-hah!  Small to start, gradually growing, until Lake Tekapo (pop.250), the gateway to the Southern Alps, the true big boys.  The lake is stunning – glacial, a cloudy pale blue (like a swimming pool), surrounded by open brown tussocky land, and in the (not so very distant) distance, the ALPS.  Huge rocky teeth that make me feel all giddy.  The lake’s at 1200 meters above sea level, and the weather is very much like home in mid October – windy, 40 degrees in the morning, 50-60 degrees during the day, maybe 67 if it’s sunny.  Dry.  My skin, nose and throat are quite chapped and sore, shocked by the sudden transition to the thin, cold air.  The Godley resort, where I’ve committed to two months work (I use the word ‘committed’ very loosely) sits on the shore of the lake, next to the “town center.”  The “town” is little more than a tourist strip mall – info center, post shop, five souvenir shops, five restaurants, two adventure tour operators, a tiny grocery store, and two petrol stations.  All this is crammed into an area smaller than a football field.  Blink and  you’ll miss it.  I knew it was going to be a small town, but I had no idea.  There’s no library.  No.  Library.  I realize this a half hour after arriving, panic, and drive 40km back up the road to the closest library where I take out a membership and four gigantic novels, like a bear stocking up on food for the winter.

That was nearly two weeks ago.  Since then…ugh.  The Godley is a shabby, ancient hotel that’s seen better days.  Better days that can’t have been any less than forty years ago.  Threadbare carpeting, stained, patched, and mismatched comforters, foggy mirrors, toilets that won’t stop running, cracked porcelain, faucets that come off in your hands… But it’s not dirty.  How do I know?  ‘Cause I’m the one doing the cleaning.  Oh yeah, baby.

::knock knock::
“Who is it?”
“Housekeeping!  You want me fluff pillow?”

Yup.  Susan the maid, here to change your sheets, clean your toilet, and pull your hairs out of the bathtub.  Oh, I don’t like cleaning.  The work’s physical, and not boring, and there’s always plenty to be done, so I should be thankful for that, at least.  But blaaauuughghahahghahahah.  Don’t.  Like.  Cleaning.  Don’t like this hotel.  Don’t like being treated like a second class citizen (eating the reheated leavings from the restaurant buffet in the disgustingly ancient and dirty staff room, behind the kitchen, in the cold, well out of sight of the paying guests – living in an unheated house with a non-functional, filthy kitchen, broken couches in the lounge and a faucet in the bathroom that can’t be turned off).  I’m also working in the restaurant, which I do enjoy (as much as one can enjoy crap work, anyway).  It’s much nicer to be able to interact with the guests, plus when they don’t finish their bottles of wine or eat the last creme caramel from the buffet, the waitstaff get to do it for them.  Still, the management here is quite rude and condescending to us seasonal workers.  We’re treated as if we’re less than human, and oh, it grates grates grates on me.  At least once a day, I seriously consider throwing in the toilet brush and saying, y’know what, that’s it, I quit.  Siyonara!  But then I remember that I need the money.  And the other people I work with are quite nice.  I do like them.  I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with this one German girl, Anja, and I adore my immediate supervisor, Graham.  He’s this funny little man who loves wine and will stand in a room where I’m cleaning for fifteen minutes at a time, just chatting and absently helping me clean.  But the whole working indoors thing is depressing.  The town is a dead end – people rarely stay more than a night.  They pass through, take a picture of the lake, and then go.  The general vibe is so negative and lethargic, I feel like I’ve fallen into a black hole, just serving time until I can move on and continue the NZ adventure.  Not cool.

That’s life at the moment.  My address is the same, as always, and I would welcome (now more than ever) any little notes or other bits of snail mail you’d like to send my way to make the cleaning and cold bearable.  Speaking of sending things, I have a bone to pick with some of you.  Here I am, pouring out my heart, giving you all the details of my adventures here, and what do I get?  Nada.  A comment here or there (which are fantastic, and I love them, and I love you all), but no substance!  It’s all well and good for you to check this site every day and get the full update, but where is my update?  I miss you!  I want to know what’s happening in your lives!  No matter how boring or mundane – school, work, family, friends, gossip, stories – these are the details that I am missing out on!  It’s all well and good to have an adventure half way across the world, but a girl cannot survive on adventure alone.  She needs to know what her friends are up to; she needs to hear the silly little details like what you had for lunch and whether you had to call the cops on your downstairs neighbors last weekend and about new developments in the Target Brand Communism takeover.  Please, please, please.  Some of you are quite good at this.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Others…please, friends, send me an email.  I’m craving a good helping of you all.  Love!

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