super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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10 random facts about my trip to Las Vegas

mandatory "welcome to fabulous las vegas" sign photo

It’s been a week since I returned from Las Vegas and I’m still not sure what to tell people when they ask me how it was. I don’t want to sound whiny and ungrateful and it’s also not true to say I hated it. But it’s fair to say I won’t be heartbroken if I never return. I guess it didn’t help that I was there for work and it is winter so days are short and I hardly saw any sunshine during that week. That said, with a good amount of money and super low expectations, I can see myself having fun there again. So anyway, here are 10 random facts about my week in Vegas and some random photos from the trip as well.

1. Flying business class is the shit. I know it makes me sound like Karl Pilkington (the one who didn’t want to fly to China and eat toad in case he liked it and couldn’t get it back in the UK) but the problem with being flown long-haul in business class (on someone else’s dime) is that economy class is now forever ruined for me. Seriously, having your own bed on the plane is amazing. Also, unlimited wine. Enough said.

Not a bad sunset on my first day there. Shame it was at about 4pm.

2. When I landed in Vegas and got out of the plane and into the terminal, I saw at least 100 slot machines before I could spot the sign for the bathrooms. Priorities there are just a little bit screwed up.

3. I have apparently become too used to the small scale of things in New Zealand. Everything in Vegas seems built for giants, from the size of the buildings to the size of their drink glasses.

Oh, America...

4. It is way safer than I imagined. Having watched about 34,560 episodes of Cops, I was expecting to have guns pointed at me. Missed out on that American experience, clearly, and met some really nice people instead.

5. The noise of the slot machines can get really annoying really quickly.

Someone get me a "I went for a walk along the Vegas strip and didn't get murdered" tshirt stat!

6. I’m now pretty used to getting electric shocks every time I touch my mousepad or call an elevator. Static electricity also meant I couldn’t wear my hair down without looking like I’d been sticking my fingers into power plugs.

7. I am terrible at packing for a trip on my own and will forget the most basic of items.

Fake Eiffel Tower. Not far from the fake Venice gondolas and the fake Statue of Liberty.

8. Some people’s stomachs can handle getting drunk early in the morning. Not mine.

9. I get why people talk about the fountains at the Bellagio so much. I’ve got no photographic evidence of having seen them at night but it’s okay because I remember it well and it was pretty damn cool.

A curry or a wedding? Decisions, decisions...

10. It is possible to function with only a very limited amount of sleep for days in a row. But then you’ll fly back home and crash and want to sleep for two weeks straight. With that in mind, nap time!


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Visiting a kastom tribe on Tanna, Vanuatu

When I got on that small propeller plane from Port Vila to Tanna, my only purpose for the 26 hours I would be spending on that island was to go up to the top of Mt Yasur on New Years Eve. In fact, going up to the top of that volcano on New Years Eve was pretty much the main purpose of my entire trip to Vanuatu. Anything else, I thought, would be bonus. Standing on top of that volcano is still one of the best experiences I have ever had and certainly a highlight of my trip to Vanuatu. And then, on the morning of the first day of 2012, we asked Tom, the Ni-Vanuatu that built the bungalow we were staying at on Tanna, if he would help us get to a kastom village.

I had done a fair bit of reading on kastom villages in Vanuatu and on the previous day, taking the long way round to the volcano, we had stopped at the main John Frum village for a few brief minutes. We wanted to find out more about these tribes and their fascinating way of living. Tom got his 4wd truck and drove us to the highlands of Tanna. We went as far as the 4wd could go and then hiked a little over 1km into the jungle to get to this tribe, completely isolated in the highlands.

To say we were amazed by what we experienced with that tribe would be an understatement .As the only two white people visiting them at the time, we felt like we had made a great group of friends (who, apart from two girls, didn’t even speak our language).

Speaking of that, as an aside, one of the things that fascinated me the most about Tanna, being a bit of a linguistics nerd and all, was the fact that the whole island is only about 45km long (so, really, quite small) and yet there are apparently five different languages spoken by the different tribes. Languages so different that different tribes cannot understand each other. Our drivers on the previous day had to stop to ask for directions and had to use Bislama (the Pidgin English from Vanuatu) to communicate with the guy they were talking to (the guy was holding a machete but thankfully communication was successful and no one got hurt). It is quite amazing to think that some of those tribes, living so close to each other by our standards, never even cross paths, never communicate. That’s how isolated they are. Isolated from the western world, isolated from neighbouring tribes. That isolation leads to truly special things like the survival of those different languages – how amazing is that? But anyway, enough with the linguistics nerdgasm.

We were welcomed to their common area and, among other things, one of the women tied a grass skirt around my waist – I should have remembered that I’d read that above the knee shorts were not appropriate attire for a woman visting a kastom tribe. Oops.

We only spent a couple of hours with them but they were filled with special moments. They showed us their traditional dances, hitting their feet so hard on the ground it almost shook beneath us again like we were still on top of the volcano, they showed us how they attack other people with bow and arrows and darts(and I showed them I’m a total loser when it comes to handling all of those), we planted kava and taro with/for them…

At one point, C. was invited to drink Kava with the tribe chief and went away while I stayed with the women. Women aren’t allowed to drink kava with men. I thought I wouldn’t be allowed to try it at all (and I can’t say the thought of not trying a drink made from roots of a plant that a group of boys chewed and then spat out was bothering me). But a few minutes later, while one of the two girls of the tribe who could speak English was explaining me that she had to walk a full day each time she went to English lessons on another part of the island, a little boy came and handed me half a coconut shell full of kava. I took a sip, my mouth went numb to the point when I couldn’t tell whether it was open or closed, I remembered that I was drinking what the kids had been chewing and handed him back the shell. C. later told me that the kid took my shell back to the men group and the tribe chief drank the rest of it as well as the rest of C.’s shell in one go. Respect. To minimise the effects of the kava, the chief then offered us taro and coconut he had cooked on the fire. I committed another faux-pas by looking at the chief in the eye as he handed me the food. He didn’t seem to mind too much, which was lucky because I saw how good those guys are with the bows and arrows.

One of my favourite moments was when, probably influenced by Kava (I’m kind of a lightweight when it comes to that sort of stuff), I decided to join them for some of the dances. The kids immediately held my hands and guided me through the different moves. They looked up at me every now and then and smiled and I smiled back and the fact that we couldn’t communicate with each other verbally was not a problem. In the end, every single person in the tribe shook our hands. A couple of the girls decided to hug me and touch my face with theirs so I got some of their traditional pain on my face. It was a gesture of friendship, I didn’t need to speak their language to understand that. I replied with the only Bislama I knew and just said “tangkyu tumas”.

What we got in those two hours was a unique glimpse into a way of living so different than ours, it is hard for me to get my little western brain around it. It is a way of life that has not changed in centuries and, judging from how happy these people are, is not likely to change anytime soon. In fact, from what I read and could gather in Vanuatu, it’s not like these tribes are unaware of western civilisation or alternative ways of living. They know other ways of life exist, they know about TV and other western inventions. They want nothing to do with it. And when you look at the size of their smiles, you realise they don’t need any of that to be happy. And you leave wondering why you do.


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halfway point

This year, I’m trying to up my training by convincing myself to go for double digit runs even during the week. I need to get used to the idea that a 10km run is a short run or else I’ll get stuck with the idea that the half-marathon is the longest distance I can run. So let’s practice: yesterday I went for a short 11km run. Except it didn’t feel short at all. It felt long and horrible and I didn’t actually enjoy myself one bit. The throat infection that prevented me from running for three weeks is still not 100% gone and even though I’ve started easing my way back into running after that short hiatus, I definitely feel a lot less fit than I was prior to getting sick. It actually amazes me how quickly your fitness levels drop when you are forced to take a break.

But anyway, I decided to run along the cycleway that goes parallel to the motorway near home. Choosing that route forces me to run a few kms each time because, once you get on the cycleway, you either run at least until the next motorway offramp or you have to turn around and go back the same way you came (which pretty much breaks the lame-o-meter for that run). I chose to head west for the first time and the image above is a blurry cell phone photo I took when I reach the halfway point on my run. I thought it was a good place to turn around and go back because: a) I was exhausted, b) it was starting to rain and c) it’s a road with my name on it.

I’m not sure I’ll be trying this route again. It was boring, scenery-wise,  and the cycleway to the west has some skinny parts that made me turn off the iPod to feel more confident I wouldn’t get hit by a cyclist trying to squeeze his way past me.  But it had a couple of hilly bits which were good because I was told the half-marathon I’m running next month (assuming no more bugs decide to rent real estate in my throat) has some fairly steep bits. Oh god. Another half-marathon next month. Oh god.

Because of the stupid sickness, this was only my second run of the year. By the end of January 2011, I had run over 100km in 30 days. This month will definitely be a much different story.  But that’s okay because I fully intend to kick ass in February. So there’s that.


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2012 started on top of an active volcano so it’s already officially an awesome year

Happy 2012, everyone! What you see above is Mt Yasur, an active volcano on Tanna Island (Vanuatu) violently spitting lava. We took this photo on the evening of the 31st of December, last week. This was how we said goodbye to 2011 and how we greeted 2012: standing on top of an active volcano, the ground beneath our feet shaking violently and the noises of a rumbling volcano echoing through the valley. It was pretty much the best new years eve ever. I didn’t see any fireworks, for the first time in my life on a new years eve, but I still had the best fireworks display one can ask for, courtesy of mother nature.

I have just returned from a wonderful trip to New Caledonia and Vanuatu and have about 6943 posts I want to write about the amazing time I had on those islands. But first, and you’ll understand my reasons for being a bit late to this, time to reflect on the 2011 resolutions and make some for 2012.

2011 was the very first year of my life when I made new years resolutions and actually carried them in my mind throughout the year, rather than forgetting them within the first week. Keeping those resolutions in mind made my year a truly spectacular one. It didn’t just end in a spectacular way, it was actually a really good year.

It’s not like anything particularly major happened. I’m still not a Lotto winner (possibly because I never remember to buy a ticket). But several little and not so little things made 2011 a really good one. I didn’t fullfil all my resolutions 100% but I worked on them throughout the year and having those goals made it feel like everything I did actually mattered somehow. To sum up:

2011 goals:

enter 12 running events – sort of check. I entered 11. Sickness led me to pull out of one in June and I thought I’d make up for it in December but sickness was, once again, to blame. Still, two of the eleven running events I entered were half-marathons – which is twice the number of half-marathons I was planning to run, so I’m pretty happy with that.

run a half-marathoncheck! And check!

start a savings account – check!

travel to a pacific island – totally managed to blow this one off the scale! Within the past 12 months, I went from zero Pacific Islands visited to four Pacific Islands visited and I didn’t even have plans for any of these trips when the year started. *pat on the back!*

write more (for fun) – I didn’t do quite as well on this one as I’d planned but I did start this blog so that should count!

visit my family back home – Yes! And it was as amazing as always!

learn to swim – I’m going to put a green tick on this one because I actually hardened up and took a course back in July. Call me weird but I don’t like swimming. But I did it.

join couchsurfing and host someone – done!

do a multi-day hike – another green tick! It was just a 20km hike with a night at a hut but it still counts.

give up soft drinks – ha! Not sure what I was thinking when I came up with this one.

See? Not too bad. There were some other things I had in mind when the year started like get more into crafts and have little projects going on but that really didn’t happen and I abandoned that idea pretty early on.

What about this year? My goals for 2012 are actually not all that different than my 2011 ones. This year, among other little things, I hope to:

reach all my running goals for the year – which I’ve already blogged about here

eat better - something I sort of started in 2011, probably due to all the running madness, but haven’t focused on enough

waste less daylight - Sleeping in is overrated (now this will be a challenge…)

spend less, own less stuff – just because it’s a bargain, it doesn’t mean I have to have it. Actually, if it’s a bargain, it probably means I don’t have to have it.

and a few other things that were already on last year’s list (like visiting family again). So there you go, not much but enough to keep me out of trouble.

Here’s to a wonderful year!

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