super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand

We layered up just as we had been told to and set on our walk pretty early in the morning (from memory, I think it was about 7AM when we started).

We had 19.4km of a World Heritage Site ahead of us and we’d been told to be prepared for a tough walk. I don’t want to say it was easy because, well, it wasn’t and I also don’t want anyone to read this, get the wrong idea and go completely under-prepared. If you’re reasonably fit and you’ve done a few long hikes before and you’re used to uneven and sometimes difficult terrain, then you’re probably ready.

The first 3km are flat and maybe even a little bit boring, compared to what’s ahead. Around 5km into it (distances may be slightly off because I suck at judging distances), we got to what people call “the devil’s staircase”, a steep uphill climb during which I wanted to die about 23 times. But I didn’t die and we made it to the top and it wasn’t long (relatively speaking) before we reached the Red Crater and I got all excited about life again.

We walked and walked and walked, much slower than I’d hoped we would (because super idiotic girl had injured her foot the day before – and yes, I’m talking about myself in third person). Then we got to the Emerald Lakes and the way I verbalised it may have even included some swear words but it was something along the lines of “oh dear, those are some very pretty lakes”.

The lakes are about halfway along the hike and we decided to stop there to have our lunch. Not a wise decision, unless you don’t mind eating with the smell of sulphur that comes from the lakes. For lunch that day, I had ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches with a side of sulphur fragrance. Yum. Still, it was pretty much the most amazing place to have lunch.

The second half of the hike is much, much easier. It’s pretty much all downhill and, even though it seems to go on and on forever, it gets really pleasant past the Ketetahi Hut, once you get into the bush.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (the “alpine” was added to its official name in 2007 to point out to people it’s not just a stroll in the park) is the best day hike I’ve ever done. It’s wild enough but not too wild, hard enough but not too challenging, long enough but not too strenuous. And boy is it gorgeous! It’s no wonder it is rated as the best day-hike in New Zealand and constantly ranked in the world’s top 10.

We’ve done it one more time since this first time (which happened a couple of years ago) and battled some really nasty weather on the second time. So terrible I don’t even like remembering that day because I don’t want it clouding the memory of the first one. The weather wasn’t perfect on our first visit (as you can see from a couple of these photos) but it was certainly not as life-threatening as on the second time. Now I have to go back when it’s sunny so I can get some proper photos.

Remember that, even though it’s only day-hike, it is a hike through quite challenging terrain in a mountainous area. If you’re going:

  • Layer up! No matter what time of the year you visit, you’ll experience a wide range of temperatures while you’re there. Wear waterproof clothing but also don’t forget your hat and sunglasses. It gets freezing up there… and then it gets stinking hot.
  • Take plenty of water and food. You’ll be walking for anything between 6 and 8 hours so stuff those snack bars in your backpack. And yes, that Mars bar can go too.
  • Dust off the sturdy hiking boots and maybe throw in a walking pole for extra comfort (I find that my walking pole really helps on the uphills)
  • Wear gloves. My hands were freezing both times even though I was wearing gloves. I don’t want to think what I would have felt like if I didn’t have them.
  • If you possible, stay the night in the area after the walk. Your legs will thank you for not cramming them inside a car for hours right afterwards.
  • Remember that you’ll be walking through exposed volcanic terrain and that the weather can change quite quickly and unexpectedly. Winds can get really, really strong up there and visibility can be reduced to pretty much zero (flashbacks to my second time on the track). Don’t underestimate it.


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Hiking up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s tomb

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
 

We only had one day in Apia (the capital of Samoa, on Upolu island) before catching the ferry across to Savai’i so the list of things we could see there had to be very limited. On top of that list was seeing the house where Robert Louis Stevenson had lived, as well as the place where he was buried, on top of Mount Vaea.

With no time to waste, we landed in Samoa, picked up our rental car, dropped our bags at the hotel (which we chose partially due to its proximity to this particular attraction) and headed straight there. We didn’t make it into the house (now a museum) but accessed the bush track that leads up to his tomb through the museum grounds anyway.

It was an incredibly hot and humid day and our bodies, still very much used to winter, weren’t coping very well with it. The hike is not long but it is fairly steep so we were glad we had taken plenty of fluids to keep us going. You can choose the short and steep track or the long and supposedly easier one. We chose short and steep because, really, we just wanted to get up there and be done with the hiking part of it.

After a brief moment of panic, when we had to stop for me to regain my dignity and stop crying because I’d seen a big black lizard staring right at me (remembering it now still makes me a little shaky, if I’m honest), we started the steep climb.

Having what felt like a hundred mosquitoes choosing me as their dinner for the day on top of the hill meant that we were only there long enough to take a few photos and admire how lucky RLS is to be forever resting facing those views from the top of the hill (and he didn’t even have to climb it himself!). He loved Samoa and Samoa loved him back – and still does. The name Stevenson is everywhere, proving he’s still a very important part of Samoa’s life.

The day was cloudy and we even got some much welcome rain on our hike back down so I can only imagine how much more spectacular those views must be on a clear day. Not a bad resting spot, Robert Louis. Not bad at all.


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Throwing coconuts into blowholes

 

The Alofa’aga Blowholes in Savai’i are one of the coolest things to see in Samoa. The whole visit takes only a few minutes but the blowholes are pretty impressive, even on a calm day like the one when we visited, last Saturday.

I’m no expert on these things but the internet says these blowholes are among the most impressive in the world and who am I to doubt the internet, right? We didn’t have much time and had to make a short list of the shortlisted things to see in Samoa but I’m glad we included a visit to this place.

We visited the blowholes during my Saturday of doom – I was sick the entire day (and by sick I mean I felt like I had gone to Savai’i to spend my final day). It’s surprising I even remember seeing these, since I don’t actually remember everything from that day.

Still, I marveled at how high the water goes when it roars through the lava tubes and, most of all, I marveled at John’s braveness as the old Samoan villager threw coconuts into the blowhole, only to have them spat out in his direction just a second or two later. His timing was impeccable and he always moved to the right place, which makes me think he’s quite experienced at it.

The blowholes can be accessed through the village of Taga, in South Savai’i. You will pay a small access fee to one of the villagers and can then park very close to the blowholes.

We had the company of some village kids who no doubt see this phenomenon all the time but still stood near us while we watched it.


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a tropical island getaway got in the middle of everything else…

…and it was equal parts terrifying and divine. But mostly divine.

In any case, normal blogging should resume now. I’ve got a handful of posts I want to write about the three and a half days I spent exploring Samoa but, for now, I’ve got to save my words for NaNoWriMo, which I desperately need to catch up on. I haven’t written a single word for it in over a week (which, yes, is making me rethink the whole thing). I logged onto the website for the first time in days today and the little dashboard thing told me that, at this rate, I’ll be finishing my novel on January 13, 2012. Boy, do I have a crap load of writing to get done in the next few days!

I also didn’t run at all while I was in Samoa and had a pretty pathetic excuse for a run today – the final run before the half-marathon this saturday. I had the best intentions and took all my running gear with me to Samoa but sunday was the only day when I actually had free time to go for a run (after feeling sick as a dog on friday and saturday) and I was told jogging/running was not recommended on sundays as it is a rest day in Samoa. I’m not one to offend anyone’s costumes and beliefs (at least not intentionally) so the running clothes came back to Auckland untouched.

Stress levels? Pretty much back to really freaking high. I’m a lot less fit and a lot more unprepared for this half-marathon compared to the last one (and this is a very objective statement) so I can only count on the track and the weather and the running gods to help me out on the day.

And to think that it was just yesterday that I was taking the photo above…


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I went whale watching and all I got was a full sick bag

a little bit of a whale, a cloudy day and a boat that rocked a lot


I’ve met so many people who have whale-watching as an item on their bucket list so I feel like I’m doing a bit of public service here by announcing that it’s really not all that it’s cracked up to be. This, I believe, is my first travel-related post where I write about an experience I wouldn’t repeat.

But maybe you’ll do it/ you’ve done it and you’ll love it/ you’ve loved it. If you have a strong stomach, which I don’t. And if you enjoy being out at sea, which I don’t. Come to think of it, why did I go whale-watching anyway? Why was it something I wanted to do? I’m not sure. A whole afternoon I will never get back.

My memories of that afternoon are now a bit blurry (thankfully!) but then so was my vision on the day. Seasickness is a real bitch and one that accompanies me every time I step onto a boat. That afternoon was no exception. And the longer we stayed afloat, with the boat rocking like crazy, the more I thought that I was not going to make it back to dry land.

All that could even have been worth it if I’d seen some whales but, in those four or five or 345 hours I spent on that godforsaken boat (it’s hard to judge time when you’re having the worst time of your life, really), all I could do was keep my head between my knees or inside the barf bag, taking the occasional quick peek every time someone on the boat went ‘oooooh’ or ‘aaaaah’ or ‘look!!!’ – and still, the best I saw was what you see in the photo above.

Am I the only one who hated a bucket list experience? Have you ever done something you were really looking forward to do only to be massively disappointed by it?


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Kiwi letterboxes

You’ve probably heard all about New Zealand’s many fences (the jandal fence, the bra fence, the toothbrush fence, even the bicycle fence), but there are plenty of other excuses for “emergency” stops on the side of the roads around here. These are some of the examples of the quirky letterboxes I’ve came across during roadtrips around New Zealand. Using microwaves as letterboxes, for example, seems to be pretty common, as soon as you leave a big city,  but I can’t help smiling every time we drive past one.


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lomo love ❤

It’s Friday evening and my brain has turned into mush. I haven’t made any sense in hours, keep misspelling words and getting confused about stuff I should know off by heart. It’s just been one of those days.

Instead of boring you with how lame today was or try to come up with something clever to say (and probably fail), I’ll just share some old photos. I came across these the other day and got thinking about how much fun it was to use up that roll of film with friends during a lomo competition. The photos even got me a first prize (who would have thought, eh?) and I scored a much loved Diana fisheye camera and – coolness of coolnesses – a fisheye submarine!

I brought the underwater case to New Zealand with me when I visited home last month. Now that I’ve sorta maybe kinda learnt how to swim, it’s time to head up to the islands and get this underwater thing where it’s meant to be. Roll on summer!


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Fado (and other weird expat behaviour)

What’s the weirdest thing about being an expat, other than the word expat? (I know you didn’t ask but just go along with it). Well, for me it’s finding myself feeling nostalgic for things I didn’t even realise I liked.

Growing up in Lisbon, it was sort of uncool to like fado. It was old people’s stuff, you know. In fact, you kind of had to go out of your way to find it, it seemed. And so I never did. Instead, I hummed along to whatever was fashionable back then (and okay, some less-than-fashionable stuff but lets not get into that).

As I was heading out of my teens, Mariza exploded and Fado slowly started making its way back (?) into the mainstream music circuit. Or maybe it was just that I went to the Faculty of Letters and started hanging out with intellectual folk and so higher culture became more common around me (whoa, that sounded snotty, didn’t it? Don’t worry, I was still licking my bowls after ice cream back then. Okay, I still do). It was the height of my hipster-like life and liking fado was kind of cool precisely because fado was uncool. Or something. But even then, I never made it past more than a couple of fado songs in a row.

Fast forward a few years and I’m inside JB Hi-Fi in New Zealand looking for a CD of Kiwi music to take to my auntie in Portugal for her birthday. Chris was happily browsing the CDs in another aisle when my eyes fell on The Rough Guide to Fado. And I had to have it. Because I loved the songs in it? Hell, I didn’t even recognise their names! But it was something from Portugal in New Zealand and I go all silly when I see Portuguese stuff in NZ (like the time I bought a disgusting tin of tuna because it said “Portuguese tuna” or the time I paid about $5 for a Portuguese tart in Sydney and it tasted like poop. But I love you, motherland!).

Fast forward again to about a month or so ago. A friend emailed me saying he was doing some research on Fado music and asked for some pointers. I put off writing him a reply because I knew it would be a long one (I tend to babble a lot when foreigners ask about my country because, well, my country rocks) and I was feeling particularly homesick at the time so I wasn’t looking forward to mess with those feelings like that.

Today, I finally replied to his email. Yes, I babbled. And I added a lot of YouTube links. And then I hit the ‘send’ button and spent pretty much the rest of the day at work with my earphones on listening to Fado. It took me coming to New Zealand to realise how much I love it.

And see, I’m babbling again. Don’t mind me. I just wanted you to listen to these and dare you not to be touched by them, whether you understand the lyrics or not.


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A small photo tour of Sintra’s many sintras

One of the many amazing things about Sintra is the number of “sintras” that there are in that one town, at any given time. Visit it on a sunny warm day and you have a happy town. Visit it when the weather’s not so nice and you have this sort of eerieness that is, at the same time, spooky and attractive. You have the old neighbourhoods with the stone houses and the majestic and ostentatious monuments, palaces and castles. The gorgeous wide gardens and the skinny cobblestone streets. The untouched Unesco patrimony (Sintra is a Unesco World Heritage Site and you can read why here) and the graffitied ruins.

It’s little wonder it has been the setting of so many novels. If you’re in Lisbon, Sintra is one of the best day-trips you can choose to do. Visit the castle, the palace, Quinta da Regaleira, eat Queijadas de Sintra… but don’t forget to also go off the beaten track and check out the stuff that exists beyond the monuments.


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Leitch’s Track, Whareorino Forest, New Zealand

It was about time we hit the bush again for some good hikes, after a way too long break caused by a mixture of New Zealand winter, busy times and a certain dislike of freezing temperatures.

On Friday, a group of nine people left Auckland and drove for three hours down to the Whareorino Forest for what was my first overnight hiking experience. In fact, there was more than just one “first” that night: first time hiking in the bush at night, first time sleeping in a hut, first time using a longdrop toilet… too much info? Okay then.

We set out into the bush when it was already dark and could only see as far as our head torches would let us (which really wasn’t more than a couple of meters in front of us). The hike into the hut took us about 3.5 hours and turned out to be 10.5km and not the 8.5km that the DOC sign at the start told us it was. The terrain was fairly easy but it was made slightly harder by the fact that we were hiking in the dark and carrying heavy backpacks.

Needless to say, we didn’t stop to take any photos. Those 3.5 hours were spent adjusting our eyes to darkness, fighting big patches of slippery mud (and losing most of those fights) and trying not to slide down the skinny parts of the track with huge drops on the side. We did see lots of glowworms, though, so if you need a reason to hike at night, there’s one right there.

We arrived at Leitch’s Hut just after midnight and, after a quick snack and a few laughs (that must have woken up the other two occupants of the hut – oops!), got into our sleeping bags. It wasn’t exactly the five-star accommodation I had been in just a couple of nights before in Singapore but I was so exhausted I slept like a rock.

I woke up the next morning feeling much better than I’d expected, with no sore muscles and loads of energy. I was pretty excited about not needing my head torch anymore and being able to finally look at all the waterfalls we could only hear the night before.

After quickly eating breakfast (a nut bar and an up&go liquid breakfast), I put on a clean top and a clean pair of socks (that turned into wet socks about 0.2 seconds after I put my hiking boots on) and we set on our way. My pants were still damp and dirty from the night before so I was glad I’d made the last-minute decision to wear my full-length running skins underneath.

Before leaving the hut, we signed the Intentions Book where we’re meant to inform DOC of our names and details of our tramp, in case we get lost or injured.

The path was still very wet and slippery but at least we could now see everything ahead of us.

The weather wasn’t as clear as I hoped it would be but the few rain drops we got on our way out were a very welcome way to cool down. For a lot of the way, what was ahead of us was actually giant patches of slippery ankle-deep mud. I discovered hiking is a lot more fun once you stop caring about how much water and mud gets into your shoes.

And yes, our ears hadn’t been lying to us. All those times hearing water right next to us as we hiked further into the darkness meant that we were walking past pretty waterfalls.

About 20km later (lesson learnt: don’t believe all DOC signs), we were heading out of the track and back in the car to drive another three hours back to Auckland and back to our happy places where not all shoes and socks are damp and cold and cell phones have reception. I’m still unsure whether my pants need to be washed or incinerated but at least I now know I can hike at night without dying of a heart attack anytime something moves or there is any noise coming from the bush and I can sleep in the most basic of huts because, after all that effort, my body is no longer equipped to tell the difference between my sleeping bag and a five-star hotel bed.

If you want more specific information about this track, New Zealand Tramper has the accurate details.