Friday, December 16
As we suggested on this blog back in October, Jonny Wilkinson has played his final match for the England rugby team.
Wilkinson announced his retirement from international rugby on December 14, bringing a long and successful career as one of his nation's most respected rugby players to a close.
'Jonny' famously secured England the 2003 Rugby World Cup with his last gasp drop-kick against Australia. Wilkinson played a total of 91 caps for England and had it not been for a series of injuries would have played dozens more internationals. He scored a total of 1,179 points during his England career before playing his last match in the 2011 Quarter Final between England and France.
Monday, November 7 (Day 69)
Lano - Manase, Savai’i, Samoa
I didn’t sleep a wink last night. My head was buzzing when I went to bed and then a lizard the size of a cat was trawling around in my hut and initially scared the hell out of me. After that, I was just dozing off when an almighty storm blew in off the ocean, buffeting my open-to-the-elements hut with wind and rain, and I had a paranoid turn that it was some typhoon that the laid-back locals were somehow unaware of. And then there was the pack of dogs on the beach, scurrying around looking for any trouble they could find like the chavy-psychopathic characters in a Clockwork Orange (a brilliant read, by the way) that I’m now reading. From my safe vantage point up above them I was taken by the unexplained urge to attack them with all manner of coconut husks, sticks and stones just for the hell of it. In the end, I resisted the temptation.
Aside from a nice friendly old school gentleman, the locals don’t seem that impressed – maybe even a tad resentful - I’m travelling on the local bus with them. We pass blackened lava fields that intersect the main road and countless tiny communities. At one main bure I spot what appears to be a gathering of all the village elders. A black pig, squealing its heart out, is lead in their direction, its front and hind legs tied vertically to a long pole. As the poor pig is dropped to the ground I can only wonder what is going through its head as it contemplates its final moments on this earth.
Manase comes as a bit of a surprise. I’ve only seen a handful of fales and hotels in Samoa, but that number doubles as you pull into this sizeable community. They’ve even introduced an ATM machine here. The bus drops me outside Tanu’s, probably the most commercial of the backpacking places here. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this place so I’m not entirely sure whether I’m allocating my remaining time wisely by staying here for a few days. Frida, the head lady, greets me with a smile and gives me a coconut to drink while I wait for my fale to be made up. And then various female palagis start appearing from out of the woodwork, most of them appearing the worse for wear after last night. An English girl with an arse the size of the SS Mauritania, and her two associates from Denmark and Canada stroll over and join Freda and me. During the first exchanges the three girls manage to tell me twice that they like the local Samoan boys. (I think they mean males above the age of 16.) I don’t really get why that would be the first thing they would want to tell me about themselves. Pretty much: Hey, we might only be in our late twenties, but we are already female sex tourists.
Female sex tourism is rarely if ever discussed, but you see it all over the world. Indeed, while the stereotype is that men are often regarded as being sex tourists, female sex tourism is far more prevalent on a global scale. The top destinations for female sex tourists are southern Europe, the Caribbean, south east Asia, Cuba, Senegal, Gambia, Kenya, Indonesia, Morocco, Costa Rica and Fiji. So, I guess if your girlfriend suddenly takes an interest in holidaying in any of the above you might have cause for concern.
As Frida leads me to my bure she tells me – and I really can’t tell if she’s joking or not – be careful of those three, they like the Samoan boys. I spend the rest of the day hiding in my bure, catching up with my blog and novel and trying to avoidthe sex floozies. I’m not sure whether I’m going to fit in here. All will be revealed at tonight’s going away party for Robin, one of the said birds, I guess.
At dinner I am literally cringing. The level of conversation between SS Mauritania, the Danske bird and the fit-but-stupid Canadian is shocking. They are all just short of 30 and they are behaving and talking like they are 15 or something. What the hell is it that happens to some women when they are approaching 30? The only decent company going (although the floozies are friendly enough) is a nice couple from Argentina. Vamos los pumas. Myself and the two Argies stare at our plates, then look up at each other and can’t contain our laughter as we are served up the bizarre combo of bread fruit, rice, taro and tinned spaghetti.
Post-dinner, I’d love to escape the sex floozies but I’ve kind of been cornered and talked into going for a drink up the road with them. But little did I realise when I set off with the (now) five of them that we’d be stopping off on the way to pick up their young lovers. The lads in question all have a bit of Manu Tuilagi about them, they are brown-skinned, all in good shape, all aged around 18-20, and they are all lying around dressed only in their surrongs, with their bananas occasionally hanging out. I’m cringing inside so much that I can hardly keep it in.
After a short stroll up the pitch dark road, fruit bats swooping overhead, it turns out the bar is closed and so we return to one of the sex tourist bird’s fales to play Uno and drink Vailima. The lads are not allowed to enter through the main gate so they have to go all the way along the beach and enter from there. And talk about ‘entering’ is the main topic of conversation here, masked by whispers and giggles, between the extremely affable but very immature local lads and the absurdly immature foreign birds. One of the sex tourist birds is a mess upon a mess of a female, aged around 25, who has got about as much sex appeal as a Butcher’s counter at 5pm on a Friday. Lying in her fale she suddenly exclaims:
Send him in. I’m ready.
FFS. FFS. You really have got to laugh. I guess it is all about knowing your markets in this life. You know, I’ve thought of an obvious joke here but I’m going to tell it anyway:
The chief of Manase decided that one of the ways this community could prosper was if the village banned dogs (true story). By doing this, he surmised, lots of foreign females would not feel intimidated by the packs of canines foaming at the mouth and roaming the streets, as they are in many of the other Samoan villages, and they would consequently make Manase their Samoan destination of choice. And so it came to pass. Manase is now thriving as a Samoan destination and is packing in the low end backpacker clientele. I wonder though whether the local chief realises that all he’s managed to do is ban Samoan dogs and replace them with a load of fat, weather-beaten dogs from Europe and North America. They might not bark much and run around the streets late at night but I bet they’re riddled with fleas.
Thursday, November 3
Now, I’m not sure how to properly explain this or, indeed, to get the point across as to quite how absurd and bizarre this all feels. But I will try…
Shortly after leaving Fiji at 8pm on Friday, November 4 our aircraft crosses the International Date Line and I find that I have travelled backwards in time. As our flight to Apia only lasts 90 minutes, the time and date when we arrive in Samoa is, wait for this…11pm on Thursday, November 3. Try as I will, I just can’t get my head around this. It is Thursday again. Ok, there might only be one hour of the day left, but I’ve already done Thursday and most of Friday for that matter. So, I’m one day older and one day younger. I’m going to spend a night in a hotel room in Samoa at exactly the same time as I spent a night in a hotel room in Fiji. I find myself withdrawing cash in Samoa several hours before I last withdrew money in Fiji…today…yesterday. Three hours ago I was living twelve hours ahead of my family and friends in the UK, now I’m 11 hours behind them. It is all very, very confusing.
As if all this isn’t a head spin, I wasn’t quite prepared for the wonderful new delights of Samoa.It’s now midnight and it is 28 degrees. Apia International is about the size as a basketball court. In fact, I’d describe it as Kaliningrad international airport with palm trees and emotionless blokes wearing surrongs. I’ve turned up blind here. The Lonely Planet is thin on the ground about the logistics of this place. I’ve got nothing booked and I don’t have any idea how to sort the 35 kilometre journey from here to the capital. Fortunately Jade, one of the top people at the Samoan National Tourism Board, has still got her tourism desk open at midnight, kindly books me a room in town, arranges a meeting between the two of us for tomorrow and points me in the direction of the special 25 Tala (7 pathetic pounds) airport shuttle. On board there are six lone blokes. A couple of them are US military types (always worth swerving in my opinion if only to avoid their warped world views), while the only other bloke, aside from myself, who doesn’t seem to have much clue, has the persona and the creepiness of an Austrian paedophile. In fact, I’m pretty sure he is one.
It is pitch dark along the main road. Despite the odd very dim street lamp, I can still see the glorious splendour of the Milky Way from the bus window. I’m impressed that the first pot holes are a mere couple hundred metres from the airport car park exit. We pass tiny villages with huge churches which look like Lithuanian Catholic cathedrals. The local blokes are strolling around naked above their surrongs (certainly a no-no in Fiji). And dogs, oh my God, there are wild dogs everywhere roaming the streets. When we do arrive in Apia, which resembles a ghost town during a ghost town holiday, the only punter I see is a half-naked elderly homeless bloke. As I peer out at him I see him get attacked by three dogs. I turn my head and look out of the rear window of the van and it looks like the dogs are eating him.
When I’m dropped off at Tatiana’s – the Samoan Motel with a very Russian sounding name - the 130kg poker-faced security bloke tells me I’m at the wrong Tatiana’s and then kindly drives me all the way back into town, not engaging(in a polite way) in any small talk I try to make. 50 tala (15 quid) gets me a room and some kind of breakfast.
It is now 2am and the only person that has smiled thus far was Jade at the airport, although I think I detected a half smile from the transfer driver when he realised I was his last drop off and he could go home. In Fiji it was bula! and omnipresent broad smiles, whereas the Samoans do this sort of delayed turn up of the mouth, wink and then whisper where you from?
They have this floaty weird silent thing going on that I can only liken to the good people of Iceland and Estonia (when they are sober that is). Here you have these gargantuan blokes who whisper on their mobiles. I reckon they’d make good contract killers. I sit outside the motel, shortly after checking in, where you could hear a pin drop when the dogs are not barking. Sensing something I turn around and spot that one bloke of around 110 kilos is stood behind me. I didn’t hear him come, not the slightest sound.
Wednesday, November 2 (Day 63)
Mango Bay, Fiji
This website isn’t achieving what I wanted it to do. Yes, I have good numbers - on average more than 100 unique viewers a day, peaking at 400, and that’s without currently using Facebook, email or link exchanges to drive traffic. In Africa the project was a great success although had Bjorn and his missus not gone all my precious at the end of it in South Africa, it would have and (should have) achieved a lot, lot more. I never really spoke about that at the time. I just didn’t want to rock the boat. The Shirt 2010 was Bjorn’s project, after all, so it didn’t seem right for me to kick up a fuss at the time about some of the bad decisions and personal conflicts that occurred right at the very end of our time in Africa. If I do manage to put a book together about these past 18 months’ adventures, as I hope I will, then I will go into all that then. Furthermore, in Argentina I struggled to find the projects that I’d wanted so much to champion and, when I finally did track two down, it was during my last two days, with an unsuccessful visit to the slums and an eye opening and humbling night on the streets with the homeless in Buenos Aires. More info will follow about the Buenos Aires street project after I get home.
In NZ I didn’t see any projects and I feel bad for that, but the truth is since my personal life took a turn in July I’ve had to concentrate on fixing myself before I can start worrying about others again. I realise today that the healing process is kicking in. I feel happy; very happy in fact. Sorry for not championing the grass roots projects as I’d intended but for the moment at least I feel very good about myself for the first time in four months. If you do get the chance, please take a look at the Projects We Like page, where you can click on the pictures and be redirected to the relevant websites. More projects will be added to this page when I get back to Europe and I am extremely keen that this website develops further to help promote the work of grass roots organisations which do wonderful work helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. I’m still here. In Mango Bay. It’s like the Hotel California – you can check in but you can never leave. I sort of feel bad that I didn’t leave with Ruby, the British Iranian girl who is off to Caqalai Island to hook up with some National Geographic people who are making a film about venomous sea snakes. I was encouraging her to go on a two day road trip with me to see the snakes and to spend a night at the former colonial capital, Levuka. She was umming and erring - understandably with jet lag and enjoying the Mango Bay vibe - but today she suddenly said let’s go and I just felt too much in bits from last night’s back-of-the-net evening to pack my stuff and leave here in the space of half an hour. I should have gone. Sorry Ruby. Not that my day is bad: Kayaking on the lagoon with my French friend, reading A Clockwork Orange under the shade of a coconut tree, another kava ceremony, sunbathing factor 40 stylee, and falling asleep in a hammock under a palm tree.
It is time to leave this place now. This particular party and my personal Fijian rehab are over. My new year began yesterday. It’s time to get back on the road.
Monday, October 31 (Day 61)
Mango Bay, Fiji
The Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Wallis & Futuna, Tokelau, American Samoa, Niue, Tonga, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Easter Island…last night’s conversation with Scunny Mark has got me thinking and projecting ideas on to the infinite possibilities white board of life. The South Pacific has always been the most far away, unlikely-to-ever visit place on my personal world map of travel but, now I am here in Fiji, the world, as I visualise it, has shrunk once again. Why not do a trip that starts in say Papua New Guinea or the eastern islands of Indonesia or the Philippines and then moves eastwards, taking in all of the Pacific island states listed above? I have never in my entire life heard of anybody who has set out on a full tour of the Pacific, but now I am here I realise it is well doable. Where the flights don’t really connect up there are twice monthly container ship routes and you could always jump on a yacht and offer your services (God knows what services I could offer) in return for passage to the next island state. You could do it in three or four months, I reckon. Surely this could rate as one of the world’s lesser travelled great adventure routes? A 2013 South Pacific extravaganza anybody?
Funny I should be building castles in the sky when I am struggling to move my arse from Mango Bay, two hours up the road to Suva. A hangover and a free overnight stay were my excuse yesterday. God knows what my excuse is today. Feeling far too chilled to put a rucksack on my shoulder maybe. Actually, the main reason I was planning to stay in Suva was so I could catch what I assumed would be an early morning bus from there to my next port-of-call, Levuka. It turns out I can leave here after breakfast tomorrow and catch a connecting bus from the big smoke (Suva is the biggest city in the Pacific) to Levuka at 1.30, so I’m laughing.
“So, you got lucky last night! Did you bang her in the dorm?” Tashkent asks me.
I knew it. I knew they were all going to think we’d hooked up. I’m not sure what Jenna would think if she knew that half of the punters at Mango Bay think she had banana flambé for dessert last night.
There’s a new arrival. A British-Iranian girl has just flown in from LA on her way back to Australia. She’s got real class. This place seems to be sucking in some nice women. Maybe that’s another of my excuses for not leaving gorgeous Mango Bay.
You know that you truly have too much time on your hands and life is easy when the highlight of your day is international crab racing. Yes, I celebrate this Halloween by buying the temporary rights to a Fijian crab (going by the name of ‘Rose’) and racing it against nine other crabs. The race is at 9pm local time so that’s 9am in the UK. I am thinking, as a crowd of us are gathered in a circle with beer bottles and cocktails in hand, cheering and shouting at the crabs, that some of my mates have just arrived at the office in London, Leicester and Birmingham. What would they think if they knew that at the same time I’m on the other side of the planet, half cut, racing and betting on crabs, which have got numbers painted on their shells? Or have they all long since given up on my ability to live what might be considered a normal, balanced life?
I’m happy to announce that my luck is obviously changing as Rose romps home and I win the contents of the kitty, thus making this another free night at Mango Bay. You’ve got to feel sorry for the Australian crab, Skippy, though. As the master of ceremonies picks up the winning crab and takes her to the winners rostrum, he manages to step on the Australian crab and send him to an untimely death. RIP Skippy.
Friday, October 28 (Day 58)
Nadi Bay – Nadi – Mango Bay
I catch the local bus to Nadi and from there it’s another local express service to the Coral Coast. The coast line is pretty damn spectacular with a coral reef and waves crashing a kilometre or so out to sea from the beach. To the sounds of Fijian reggae, Sangatoka is the biggest town we encounter and has bags of character, a superb market and a gorgeous spot next to a slow flowing river. There’s a laid back equatorial vibe to the place.
Finally I got dropped off at Mango Bay, a ‘flashpackers resort’ on the Coral Coast. The crew staying here seem very cool with a mixed bunch of punters from Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Switzerland, Finland, the US and Estonia. We end up boozing by the beach, downing copious amounts of kava until 2.30am.
A funny moment from the night is when two cool American girls I’m hanging out with tell me they’ve been married (to each other) for two years. As I did with Wendy at Blue Lagoon, I pull out my best poker face to disguise my otherwise obvious surprise.
Monday, October 24 (Day 54)
Coral View Resort, Tavewa Island
The crowd are going nuts. The melodic tunes fill the air with a sense of euphoria. Each time I drop a tune the atmosphere lifts another notch. This feels unbelievable.
I wake up to see the skinny girl from Bournemouth trying her best to negotiate her way to the floor from her bunk bed above me without waking me. That dream felt so damn real. It’s been like that every night since I came to Fiji. Maybe it’s the Kava. Maybe it’s the climate. God knows, but I’m enjoying the intensity of these nightly visions.
I spend the morning with the lad from London. He is genuinely cool but not up his own arse unlike most girls of his age (26) from London. (No I haven’t become a woman hater. I’m just telling it how I see it.) In fact, we hit it off so well that a Swiss girl, overhearing one of our colourful conversations, enquires as to whether we have been travelling together for a lot of months.
“No, we met yesterday. We are just mavericks.” He replies.
I like that. Mavericks. Definitely my word of the day. Yes, we are both mavericks in some senses. And, strangely enough, there are two more mavericks staying on this island, who we are also knocking about with. Sarah, the lady from Pompey, definitely falls into that category as does Ingrid from Frankfurt, a force of nature, around the same age as Sarah, I guess, who seems to inhabit her own autonomous republic of herself. She still goes to raves, occasionally drops tablets in her mouth that she shouldn’t at parties, and hangs around a lot in Thailand, discovering the kinds of parties the country was once legendary for before Tom, Dick and Hans ruined Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui and made them mainstream events. Four mavericks, all with very different tales, coming together on one island in the Pacific. Maverick Island.
The remainder of the day follows a now familiar pattern of sunbathing and eating, which is only interrupted by such troubling questions as Where to next? Rum and coke or beer? Trance or dub step? How many hours till dinner? Black or red t-shirt tonight? Can I be bothered to have a shower? Why do young English girls have such flabby arses? How many slices of pineapple for dessert?
To be fair though, I’ve overdone the sun and underdone the water. In the evening I’m suffering from dehydration and have to pull out one of those emergency rehydration sachets that the army use, to get myself back together.
With Maverick departed for Nanuya Lailai, I spend the evening with Sarah, 43, who was married for 15 years and is now largeing it around the world. We are both damaged goods and consequently spend the whole night picking through each other’s failed relationships. Why did it go wrong? Where did it go wrong? How did we meet that person? What were the best things about them? How long did it take to get over them? In the interim, Sarah Maverick has been with men much younger and much older than her and now she’s concluded in the future it will ideally have to be plus or minus five years. She still wants a kid. She’s definitely leaving it a bit late in the day. She tells me a few home truths about dating women who are approaching thirty and the crazy decisions they end up making in their late twenties. Half a bottle of Jack Daniels can ruin your life if it is in the hands of the wrong woman.
(Day 28) Thursday, September 29
Wellington – Auckland
I cannot believe my alarm is going off. I only feel like I have been in bed ten minutes. And how come none of my 19 roommates managed to wake me during the night with their banging, crashing and howling?
My Auckland bus leaves from outside the Wellington McDonalds, adjacent to my hostel. It is only 7.30, but suits are frantically pacing by me in their dozens, all around me, on their way to their office cages. I sit on my rucksack, balanced up against a wall, with a coffee in hand, taking it all in. It’s a gorgeous morning, but the sight of them all striding past me with their brief cases, Blackberry cell phones and takeaway breakfasts scares the hell out of me. It’s like that graffiti on the bunk bed in Kaikoura:
Even your worst day travelling is better than your best day at work
Well, that doesn’t always stand true, of course, but perched on my backpack with the morning sun occasionally blinding my eyes, watching them all scurry past, I have to say the coffee tastes especially good this morning.
This is my longest coach journey in New Zealand; almost twelve hours in total from the capital to the country’s most important city. Initially, there is plenty of attractive coast line, but after this it all looks a bit like Teletubby Land. After the South Island this is all rather boring and uninspiring, but it is still more beautiful than the most stunning parts of many countries around the world.
Once we hit the central plateau of the North Island, however, the countryside turns from pleasant but uninspiring to otherworldly. A snow-capped volcanic cone soars out of the flat countryside, not unlike Japan’s Mount Fuji, while the omnipresent forests and hills have been replaced by a rather surreal desert landscape. This incredible scene is further complimented by a second volcanic cone, this more dramatic and far more pronounced than the first. This is the Tongariro National Park, home to the mountain peaks Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. NZ’s largest lake, Taupo, itself the caldera of a gigantic volcano, can be found just beyond these. This whole area is one giant super volcano. If it ever blows again, like it did 26,000 years ago, much of New Zealand will be no more.
We pick up a load of stranded passengers from a Kiwi Experience bus that has broken down on the desert road. Amongst their number is Jeff, an English lad I had a pint with in Dunedin before the first match. Jeff was due to travel to NZ with his long-term girlfriend who he planned to propose to on the trip. He had apparently been planning the trip for 18 months but shortly before he was due to leave she paid a visit home to the Czech Republic and when she came back, a week later, she dumped him! Good on Jeff though, he says he is coping with it all and doesn’t think about it much. I am pleased for the lad but I don’t know how some people deal so easily with stuff sometimes.
Beyond Lake Taupo the countryside ‘returns to normal’ with ever increasing signs of urbanisation as we approach Hamilton, and Auckland beyond that. Once we hit the motorway leading into Auckland it is rather depressing to see the sea of concrete, soulless shopping malls and retail parks that greet you as they generally do when you approach big towns and cities in the western world.
Dropped off in the centre of Auckland I leg it to the nearest hostel I can find. With South Africa, England and Scotland in town, accommodation is tight. Without realising it as I book in, I am staying at Nomads. That is Nomads as in ‘CRAZY’ Nomads in Queenstown. I have managed to grab one of the last dorm beds but this place along with all the nearby hostels and hotels are completely full over the weekend. I will start worrying about that tomorrow though.
I go for a wander of night time Auckland and choose to avoid the hostel bar crawl, which numbers 40 blokes and 5 girls, all of them far too enthusiastic about life for my liking. Due to the large immigrant population here, Auckland boasts by far the cheapest food I have seen so far in New Zealand. Not so the pubs though where it is 9 dollars for less than a pint. I feel out of sorts again wandering around by myself. Aside from a chat with two Scottish girls in a pub near the wharf I spend the rest of my evening either staring at the bottom of a beer glass or strolling aimlessly around the Auckland streets, people watching outside takeaway restaurants and massage parlours. I think I better get myself home to bed.
Monday, September 26 (Day 25)
“We got in at four. It all went a bit random. The only place we could find to drink was a strip club where drinks were cheaper than most of the pubs. We met a load of other people in the street looking for somewhere to drink and the manager let us all go in for free. The same girl was dancing for four hours.”
And there was me saying Jim and Sarah were on a hiding to nothing.
I give myself the lie in I didn’t have in Punakaiki and set off to explore Nelson. This is a decent town with lots of character by NZ standards. Don’t get me wrong, most towns and villages I have so far encountered here would make lovely places to live, it is just that most of them feel very ‘new world’ and lack charm and attractive architecture. As well as having both of these in some measure, Nelson is also a community influenced by artists. You occasionally find quirky little things here like colourful blankets wrapped around park benches, and psychedelically painted lamp posts. I take the long stroll up ‘to the centre of New Zealand’, which has commanding, uninterrupted views of the coast, town and mountains. Following on from my poor attempt at a jog in Wanaka, I find myself struggling a bit up the steep inclines. Not looking good for the football season when I get back to Europe.
Jim and Sarah’s parting gift to me was to tell me about a one-off Banksy exhibition being held in Nelson. It is a bit of a stroll out of town but what a piece of luck finding out about this! Many reading this will be well aware of the work of Banksy but, for those of you who haven’t heard of him, he is one of the world’s premier street artists, giving important social issues a real message and consciousness through his art.
The exhibition, entitled ‘Oi You!’, is donation-only and also includes the work of beautiful losers, David Choe, Faile, Antony Micallef, Adam Neate and Paul Insect, amongst others. I spend a good enjoyable hour at the exhibition. I will let the images do the talking:
Back at Accents on the Park, the Argies, Italians and Americans are arriving in town ahead of tomorrow evening’s match between Italy and the USA. Meanwhile, downstairs in our communal kitchen, another English blonde, working in Queenstown, is boasting to all and sundry about her having had it away with an England player last weekend. Like I mentioned before, if I were a tabloid journalist, I would have made myself very rich during my time here. It is OK though, I detest the tabloids and I would never spill the beans and potentially destroy a player’s career and/or marriage for the sake of a few coloured pieces of paper. I will talk in generalities though and, I am told by the other two Queenstown bar workers present, that fellow England players were downing treble Jack Daniels after their third match, a couple of days ago. One of the internationals in question also tried to take a girl back to Nomads, as I mentioned previously.
Not so much risk versus reward as just not caring as much as they probably should.
“You probably shouldn’t be telling these things to a journalist,” I tell the three of them.
The girl lets out an effected squeal, “Oh my God, oh my God, are you reeeeally a jour-na-list?”
Then, after a short pause, her eyes light up:
“Which newspaper do you write for?” asked in a strangely flirty, rather ugly way.
“None. Don’t worry.”
The Yeovil floozy looks bloody disappointed.
I watch 30 minutes of Wales v Namibia over a 6 dollar handle of beer (little more than a half pint) but it is one of those nights when I feel uncomfortable and downright lonely, sat in a bar, being Billy-no-mates, and beat a hasty retreat back to Accents on the Park, where I am very content instead to spend my beer money on a phone call to my lovely nan in England. Predictably, she tries to get me off the phone inside a minute, because she is worried about the cost for me. No matter that she gave me a hundred quid towards my trip a couple of days before I set off. I am sad that I won’t see her for another eight weeks.
Wales 81 Namibia 7
(Day 24) Sunday, September 25
Punikaiki – Nelson
Is there a more wonderful sound to hear upon waking, in those first few moments of consciousness in the morning, than that of the wild, untamed ocean crashing against the nearby shoreline? I guess if you have kids, then maybe the sound of their happy voices and laughter might beat it but, of all the myriad of sounds nature provides, this is surely one of the most special.
There are signs up in the showers and toilets reminding anyone staying here that in the early hours of this morning the clocks went forward one hour for daylight saving time. I thought my new-fangled phone would work that one out for me but, apparently not. It is therefore 11am, not 10am as I lazily get myself out of bed and make a pot of coffee to compliment the sea view on the veranda.
Another Californian, Jennie, was apparently staying here overnight, and she had also expected modern technology to automatically take an hour from her life at 2am. We are both consequently an hour late checking out but this isn’t the kind of hostel where they are going to get anal with you about such inconsequential details.
And so, winter in New Zealand turns to spring and, for me, three weeks on from England, summer (with a quick splash of winter in NZ) becomes spring. My body clock and hormones can’t know what has hit them. It will be rather depressing, I’d imagine, to return to Europe at the end of all this when it will be approaching mid-winter, in the same way as I never really adjusted to the depressingly grey winter of Argentina and Chile after leaving the almost white nights of northern Europe behind in late June.
I stick on some New Orleans old time jazz and enjoy this most chilled out of Sunday morning vibes. If I can change my bus ticket and postpone my journey to Nelson until tomorrow, I will do it. Sadly though I soon discover I can only alter my journey more than 24 hours in advance, and a new ticket will set me back around 60 dollars. Budgets dictate.
With time short, I stroll down the absolutely deserted black and grey sand beach to the narrow mouth of a river tributary, where a large sea stack is only twenty metres or so away from the shoreline, being pounded by surf. I love this place. The setting is a little like that in ‘The Beach’, except this is gritty, wild and ‘real’.
The half dozen or so houses that dot the sea shore have been swallowed up by the sheer limestone cliffs, rainforest and boundless ocean as I look back the kilometre or so I have strolled. You can hardly make them out at all. Nobody on earth can hear me here and I am not sure there is anybody who can see me either. The reason I say this is because I am suddenly taken by the idea of singing; of trying to make up a song. Sounds like I’ve really lost the plot this time, doesn’t it? But, this moment; place, is so inspiring and solitary that I genuinely feel inspired to try and create a tune and some words from absolutely nothing. It is not something I have ever done before or felt particularly inclined to. Almost instantly I find a tune and the words just fly out like they were always there, waiting. In fact, I am so taken by my little ditty that I am a little upset to lose those first initial lines and chorus to the crashing ocean. And so, I take out my digital camera, point it in the direction of the white-crested waves, and begin to sing again. Of course, now that I am in my own roofless recording studio, the tune and words don’t come nearly as easily to me. But, I do remember the original chorus, discovered ten minutes earlier. And, I will, at some point, try and put it all together and actually finish this song one day in the future, maybe on an equally deserted beach in the Pacific in October. The inspiration for this tune comes from my recent tumultuous life experiences, a song I recently heard for the first time by Avalanche City, and part of a stoned conversation I had with Californian Matt last night. It is called ‘Unconditional love’, and it will be released some time never.
Dare I say it, but I feel strangely emotional leaving the Beach Hostel, Californian Matt and Punakaiki behind. This kind of genuine peace is so hard to find in my personal world of 2011.
There is just time to explore the Punakaiki pancake rocks and sea stacks before the bus leaves. The full force of nature hits here with blowholes violently blasting the sea water high above the black cliffs into the heavens. It is kind of like Northern Ireland’s Giants’ Causeway gone vertical, instead of horizontal, and with thousands of wild flax and palm trees encroaching on the scene.
The coach departs the pancake rocks and passes the beachside community where I spent a happy 24 hours. Give it five years and this will either be a full-on hippie community or a regular stop on the Gap-year tour around New Zealand. Punakaiki is just too bloody special to be left alone and not spoiled eventually by the money-making potential of mass tourism.
One hour of stunning wild coast line and three additional hours of mountain roads and valleys later and we reach Nelson. I am going to base myself here for three nights so that I can watch the Italy v USA match on Tuesday evening, and to explore the Abel Tasman coastline, before catching the ferry to the North Island on Wednesday. After the serenity of the past few days, Nelson feels more like a huge city than the small town it actually is. In saying that though, its centre, where we get dropped off, feels like a ghost town; I’m almost expecting tumble weeds to put in an appearance as I search for an overnight backpackers with 20 year-old Sarah from England and young Jim from Galway, who were both working in Queenstown for several months and are now headed home via south east Asia.
‘Accents on the Park’ must be one of the world’s poshest backpackers. It is more like a decent hotel. My new friends, truthfully young enough to be my kids (!), very kindly sort me out with some spare beers and I go off in search of a local pub to watch Scotland v Argentina. ‘329’ is absurdly expensive, so I settle instead for the cosy ale house, just around the corner called ‘The Vic’. The quality of the rugby isn’t exactly top notch at times, but Scotland v Argentina is definitely the most exciting match of the tournament to date for the neutral. Scotland appear to have the five points in the bag until Gonzalez zig zags his way through their defence to score the try-of-the-tournament eight minutes from the end. It is hearts in the mouth stuff as Contepomi puts over the conversion and Argentina edge Scotland by one point. This sets it up very nicely for England v Scotland in Auckland next weekend.
I bump into my new Irish/English friends in the street on my way home, where it is blowing an icy gale. They are just on their way out at 11pm after drinking in the dorm to save cash before their trip to Indonesia next week, although I reckon they are on a hiding to nothing for their night out as Nelson seems absolutely dead.
Ireland 62 Russia 12
Argentina 13 Scotland 12
Fiji 7 Samoa 27