Sunday, June 29, 2008

More than One Way to Have fun


I think I found something in Bali that I didn't know was here. Not only have I found adventure and amazing waves, but I have found something I really didn't know I'd love so much. I thought about it but only in the way that I view having a car, riding a bike or getting on an airplane. It was just supposed to be transportation while I was here. At $3 a day, I am finding incredible thrills and excitement in my daily journeys on my motorbike. It was just supposed to be a means to get me around to the waves and travel through Bali. I really didn't expect to love it this much. I really had no idea that riding a motorbike in Indonesia could be so much fun. It stimulates all the senses at the same time. I can ride for hours on the busy streets and highways and still find that I'm wanting more. I've checked surf spots even when I know there are better waves somewhere elsewhere, just cause I want to drive the road again. I've never seen people drive like this. Motorbikes 5 wide on one lane, horns honking, trucks spewing rocks and black exhaust on every turn and hill. Closed roads, corrupt police trying to pull me over (and succeeding at times), passing motorbikes with a family of 5 on the back. Driving on the sidewalk! It's all too much. My heart throbs when I park my bike and all I can think of is getting a cold beer and sitting down, feeling like I actually just accomplished something great, like riding a giant wave or taking a picture I love. I really didn't expect this. But Indonesia is full of the unexpected, and in two weeks, it has not yet to let me down.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bingin


Wrote: June 23rd, 2008
How can waves be this perfect? Despite the jagged reef touching my feet while I sit on my board waiting out the lull, I wonder this. Every wave, perfection. Small big. It breaks like a machine perfectly over the coral. Crystal clear turquoise water. Sunshine. Offshore breeze. This is why I’m here. I knew it was here. But I’ve been surfing for 9 years now and have never seen perfection on this scale.
I woke this morning before sunrise. The heaving rains kept me up most of the night. Birds began chirping as soon as it stopped. The power went out and the lack of the wind flowing from the fan in my room made the air sticky and stagnant. It was time.

I paddled out into shoulder to head high waves. Six guys out. The sets were few and far between. The reef as about half exposed on the flooding tide. Reef booties are not only necessary they are required. You can walk almost the whole wave to the break. If you time it right, you can be sitting on your board in the lineup with your hair still dry.

I saw it coming from back. Everyone starting paddling out to meet it. I didn’t move. Half frozen is awe of its rolling beauty. Just watching the swell begin the feel the coral just like my feet do, it went from a rolling hill of water to a wall of explosion. Everyone underestimated it’s size and paddled too far. Not thinking I’d make the wave, I ended up in the perfect position. I could already tell that it was going to be difficult to make the drop. I dared not to look right as I could already hear the wave slamming against the reef with awesome force. I paddled hard, kicking with my feet. I’ve learned that once you decide to paddle for waves with this much power, you cannot hesitate. In fact it is the most dangerous thing you could do. If you want the wave, you paddle as hard as you can. I felt a small free fall and then my feet hit the board. The lip of the wave was thick. The water in front of my was too shallow to jump into, the wave too thick to jump over or push through. I was in. I grabbed my rail and held on hoping for the best. The wave was fast. It was chasing me and catching up quickly. I crouched down to avoid my head from getting hit by the massive lip pitching itself against the shallow bottom. It completely covered me. It let me inside it’s beautiful green room and all I could think about was making it back out. I could see the opening. It was fast, but I had enough speed to keep up with it. It’s like the wave was giving me a chance. Teasing me to play with her until the end. I came out. Looked up, the wave was still going. She was walling up again. This was my chance to get out. Had I rode it enough? There is still more wave to be had. I probably won’t make it if I stay on. But I did. I grabbed my rail once more and tucked in for the second barrel on the same wave. This time it was faster and breaking harder in shallower water. The barrel was beautiful. To be inside an ocean wave and still breathing air is something that I’ve spent a good chunk of my life searching for. I had a moment of complete tranquility. Everything I’d gone through to get here all now made so much sense. The wave caught me. Too fast to keep up with. Inside the barrel and the whole bottom of the wave took me and my board over the falls. Holding me down. Bumping the reef. Whitewater was everywhere. I gasped for air. My heart was throbbing in my neck. The adrenaline was almost too much to handle. I looked back at the shore, contemplating going in for breakfast as I’d been surfing for almost 2 hours but I turned and started paddling back to the lineup.

http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/Bingin

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Organized Chaos

Kuta. Craziest place I’ve ever been. Organized chaos is the first thing I thing I can think of when it comes to this beach town madness that people from all over the world flock to. Yes, it is an oxymoron, but there are not words in any language to describe it’s feel and energy. I’ve never seen anything like it. Walking down the street, you see roads as wide as a car crammed with people walking, motorbikes flying all out and cars going in both directions. Horns. People begging, trying to sell. Constant bartering. “Hey my friend, where you go?”, “Where you stay?” “Like Bali girl?”, “Want to touch?” , “Special massage?” ,“Lady boy?“ are the broken English phrases I hear everywhere. You can have anything here. There are no rules. Shear chaos. Yet, somehow, this place functions. Organized.
Two bombings in less than half a decade and people still arrive in groves. Corruption is everywhere. Yet, it’s honest. “You pay more because you’re tourist. You need to pay to drive this road.” is what one police officer told me as I handed him a $10,000 rupiah note. Driving off and watching him put it in his pocket made me angry. But this is how Bali functions. Honest corruption is yet another oxymoron. But again, it’s all I can come up with.
I spent a whole day in the police station trying to get a license for a motorbike. If you’re caught without one, you’ll pay however much is in your wallet or whatever price they want from you. The most intense experience of my travels to-date. I kept getting shoved into rooms full of people and yelled at cause I didn’t know my height in centimeters. After a few hours or madness, and $30 poorer, I walked out with a Bali drivers license. Just getting to the police station was more of an adventure I could have asked for. It was a 30 minute ride on the back of a motorbike on the most insane roads I’ve ever seen. How there are not accidents all the time baffles me. I’m thinking that NASCAR needs to look to Bali for their next driving champions. Jumping sidewalks, passing on blind corners and with on coming traffic. I’ve never sweat more in my life.
I finally got a motorbike today. After a few days of exploring this area and trying to figure out how it works. I found a pretty good price at $4 per day for a decent scooter with surf racks on the side. I rented it for the next two weeks. I just got back from my first adventure on my own. My hands are literally shaking as I write. Aggression is essential. I’m finding that the skills I learned in my years of riding dirt bikes while growing up are now being put to use. I will get used to it. It’ll just take some time. It seems easy to get lost here. No street signs and really there doesn’t appear to be any traffic rules. Everyone for themselves. Tomorrow I will pack my bags, load up my scooter and head to the Bukit Peninsula to look for surf. Given the events that have took place in the last week, I’m happily-scared for what lies ahead. Another oxymoron.

Haven't got any pictures from Kuts yet, but here are a few from other places I've been in Bali:

Tulamben


Bali Tour

Friday, June 20, 2008

Asia

Wrote: June 19th, 2008

Bali. What is this place? Been here for 4 days and I see two completely different worlds right in front of me. Where do I fit in? In one world you have the local people. They sit around and wait for a job or duty to do. Totally dependant on foreigners. The other world you have the “Westerners”. They come to Bali for the cheap services and tourist activities. The town I’m in is completely dependant on Ecotourism. In 1942 a Japanese submarine torpedoed the US Liberty off the Indonesian Island of Lombok. As the ship took on water they had to think quick as to where they wanted to sink the ship. They choose a place that was out of the way from major shipping channels and in a shallow enough place that the military divers could salvage whatever they needed from the ship to repair other ships. They chose a small fishing village called Tulamben off the island of Bali. After the war ended and a few years of growth on the ship, the place became abundant with fish and other marine life. The town flourished and soon people were coming from all over with their hand crafted boats to fish the waters here. It didn’t take long for the industry to completely collapse. As Bali began to emerge from the economic boom of the 1980’s they began looking at other avenues to boost their economy. After Jaques Custeau’s (however you spell it) invention of the S.C.U.B.A apparatus, diving became accessible to not just hardcore scientists and salvage divers. Soon, westerners from all over the world were picking up diving as a recreational activity. The cold waters where most westernized countries sit did not become as appealing to most recreational diving and soon people were traveling all over the world to dive reefs, and old wrecks. A 3 hour flight from Perth, Australia and you’ll find yourself in Bali, Indonesia. A 3 hour drive from the airport and you find yourself in the small, former fishing village, known as Tulamben. Right where the US Liberty sits only feet from the beach. Known as one of the best dive sites in the world.

People here, once dependant on the fish that flocked to the wreck for solitude and protection are now dependant on the people that flock here to the wreck for solitude and a vacation. All the fishermen are now dive guides or porters that carry the gear to the beach. It’s quite an odd site to see women smaller than myself carrying two tanks to the beach, one on their back and one balanced perfectly on their head. The hotel managers and restaurants depend on re-creating a westernized feel so people feel comfortable. The massage ladies sit on the steps of the hotels and wait for the divers to come back from a long day of diving only to offer a one hours massage for less than $10. The whole town relies on tips and kickbacks from the diving industry, needless to say they seem pretty well off. Also, I’m not finding it as cheap as I thought it’d be. I return to my question. Where do I fit in? Am I just a “westerner” that provides this town with the economic foundation they rely on. Or can I penetrate into their society and find out what their lives are really like. All I can see is a westernized re-creation that they built to make me feel at home. But I’m not. I’m half way around the world in a place I’ve never been. What is this place?

OZ has come and gone

Wrote: June 15th, 2008
I’m sitting in the airport awaiting my flight to Bali and I’m trying to think of what to write about my impressions of Australia. This is really the only thing I can come up with: It’s freaking huge! I only spent two weeks in Australia, but the longer I was there the more I realized how big it really was. I’m not sure if it is bigger than the US or not, but it sure does compare with shear size. Unlike New Zealand where everything seems so close, you only have time to start thinking that you’ve been driving your car for a while before another town shows up. In Australia, you just keep driving.

From about two hundred miles south of Sydney to about two hundred miles north of Brisbane is the entire area I covered on this trip. It felt like I’d gone across an entire country or the equivalent of driving from Canada to Mexico along the West Coast. There was a lot to see. This place is big. I realized that in 6 months I didn’t even see all of New Zealand. I don’t think you could really see Australia in 6 times that amount of time.
Besides it’s shear beauty and awesome weather, which I think most of us already know about OZ, but there were two things that really struck me about this place. First. It’s weird. Everything in it is like nothing I’ve ever seen. My first day in the country, I went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens and saw the weirdest, most unusual plants and animals I’ve ever seen. All the birds looked really weird and made funny sounds. They had crazy, long, curved beaks or wore a odd almost masked like face. The plants were surprisingly different than anything I’d seen before either with funky looking branches and peculiar shaped leaves. I made a visit to the aquarium in Sydney and was blown away by everything in there. All the animals were native to Australia which I thought was pretty cool. My first encounter in OZ’s replication of their aquatic world was the platypus. Can you just stop for a moment and google-search this animal? Please. It will only take a minute I promise. Done? Ok, what the &%#$ is it? A duck? A Beaver? A rodent? A mammal? It was so different from anything the world has ever seen that they had to give it it’s own classification, a monotreme. They then found one other creature that fit into this category and it too is found only in Australia. I really mean , what a weird place. Just learning a little bit about the natural environment of this place really helps to explain a lot as to how and why it is what it is today.

The second thing that really struck me about this place was the people. I was surprised to see how different they were from New Zealanders. You can’t even put them in the same category as anyone else I’ve met. I actually think they need a name like the monotreme…Maybe Australian is enough. My first encounter with the Ozzie people was also in the Botanical Gardens. Walking through these pleasant gardens trying to grasp my mind on all the weird creatures and plants surrounding me, I was constantly being blazed by, almost run over by hundreds, maybe thousands of Ozzies running on their lunch breaks. I’ve never seen so many people running at one time like that before, other than a marathon. Soon, I found myself constantly surrounded by runners everywhere I went in Australia. This entire country runs… or swims…or surfs for that matter. Probably all of the above. There were buff, bronzed and beautiful people everywhere. I came here in the dead of winter and I still found myself laying on the beaches in the sun even as far south as Sydney. I mean I’m less than a week from the shortest day of the year and people are still on the beach. It became apparent to me that image plays a huge role in people’s lives in Australia. They do have a reputation to uphold I guess as they pride themselves in their Rugby, Women and Beer. Although I do think they could do better with their beer. I don’t know. I guess I would be a little cocky too if I was the direct decent of an exiled convict and my ancestors settled, what is arguably the most deadly, poisonous, dangerous and harshest environment the world has ever known.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to demise the integrity of the Australian people in any way shape or form. They are so incredibly nice. Every time I found myself lost or in need of some kind of direction, there was always someone there to help me. Actually there were usually multiple people there to help. Always eager. In more than one instance, I had two people arguing about what the best route for me to take or fastest bus to get on. It was a little scary, but their genuine kindness always left me with a smile. They really are an interesting people. I wish I could have had more time to really get to know them. I am fascinated by them. I found a lot of similarities between them and Americans, but at the same time I found so many more differences.

The aboriginals, who are the native people of Australia, definitely have got me even more curious to learn more about this fascinating country. I saw very few in the 1500 miles of Australian coastline that I explored. But everywhere I went, there was evidence of them. If anything, they are respected for living for thousands of years in one of the worlds most harsh environments with more venomous and poisonous species found anywhere else on the planet. They are truly a fascinating people. Their history, like many native people’s whose lands were settled by Europeans, is tragic. However, the Aboriginals are among the most horrific story I’ve ever heard. They were totally wiped clean. I really don’t know enough of their history to be properly telling you about them, but I haven’t met many people that will deny the fact that they were legally hunted up until the 1960’s. That alone makes me sick. But I think it does for most of Australia as well. I know that part of their history is not something they are proud of. From what I’ve seen, they are putting efforts into helping restore the aboriginals culture and people. Massive social programs have been developed to get them help and a huge education movement has been put forth in schools and museums to educate people and help revive their culture and traditions.

In reality, I was only here for two weeks. I learned a bit and saw some pretty sites. I actually scored some great waves while I was at it too. It was an amazing experience I will not soon forget. I came to hang out with my friends Hamish, Kunaal, Damien and Tom from New Zealand and I got a trip of a lifetime…..while on the trip of a lifetime. I did some exploring on my own in Sydney for a few days, met a super cool guy from Santa Barbara, Joel, who I went on a two-day surf trip down south with. Then met up with the Kiwi boys and totally took Australia over. We had the most amazing time. This place is definitely worth coming back to.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hallo From Indo

This is my first post without pictures. But I have some. I just can't get them online right now. I'm staying on the North side of the Island of Bali in Indonesia. I have to wait for certain times of the day for them to turn on the generators for me to use the computers and they only have dial-up with is super slow in case any of us remember what that was like.
So I have a full conclusion to OZ all written up and some more pictures, ones of Koala Bears and me chillin with Kangaroos in the grass. But I'll have to wait to get to better internet until I can post them. I leave for Rome on July 5th, so maybe then, but hopefully it won't be that long.
Bali is probably the most exotic place I've ever been. People everywhere. I haven't taken any pictures but I've only been here two days. The reason being I don't like busting out a piece of equipment that is worth more than their years salary.
After 7 months of Camping, and staying in hostels with 8 other people in one room, I've decided to treat myself a bit. I'm in a 4-star resort with my own room, hot water showers, AC, pool and mini-bar. It's a dive resort so I get 6 dives, 3 nights lodging, and transfers from the airport. Oh yeah and I'm paying $225. I'm not kidding. The diving is some of the best I've ever seen too. There's an old US navy boat that they got and sunk right off the beach. I've already done 2 dives today and am so amazed by how much live coral and huge the fish are. The place is called Tulamben and I guess years ago this was a small fishing village, but over-harvesting made it collapse, so they sunk a huge boat given to them by the US and now all the fishermen are diving guides or porters that carry your gear to the beach. It's a little more of a sustainable industry than fishing. Which I think it pretty cool.
Anyways, I'll be taking off to the Bukit Peninsula in a few days for a few weeks of sampling some of the best waves the world's ocean can produce. Hopefully I'll find some better internet connections so I can post you some pictures soon.
Taria Mikasi (means thank you in indonesian and sounds like "Tear up my carseat")
PS- The food is pretty amazing too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Road Trippin


Finally met up with the Kiwi guys. Hamish, Kunnal, Damien and Tom or Wombat as they like to call him. We’ve rented a car and have been hauling up the coast. We’re currently in the Ozzies version of Miami called Surfers Paradise. It’s a bit overwhelming having just come from New Zealand, but it has a striking resemblance to Waikiki which I’m more than familiar with. Miles of beautiful beaches backed by massive skyscrapers. Can’t say I’d want to spend a lot of time here, but it was nice to hang out for a day. I’m am now surfing without a wetsuit which is more than awesome.

Just before I met up with the guys I took off on a mini road trip with this guy I met from Santa Barbra named Joel. He had a car and wanted to go get waves, so I was in. We ended up in this small town a few hours south of Sydney called Uladulla. We camped out in a holiday park and walked to town to grab some food. We ended up at a pub and had one of the most hilarious nights meeting small town Ozzies. Among the many highlights from the evening, one local bought me a beer and gave joel the shirt off his back. Another point in the evening one of the locals decided that he wanted to ride his BMX bike thought out the pub greeting all the newcomers. He was not kicked out

We headed back to Sydney where I met up with the guys. They had rented a car and we started making our way north. We stayed the night in a nice little town called Port Maquarie. Then moved on to Byron Bay. Been surfing a ton and having a great time being entertained by Kiwi’s in the land of OZ. The differences between the country’s are even more apparent since I’ve been with them. Sunday I leave for Bali and couldn’t be more excited.

Byron Picts:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/ByronBay

The Rush

Wrote: June 7th, 2008

There is nothing quite like the feeling of arriving at a place you’ve never been before. It’s a rush that is indescribable. Flying into a foreign airport, the first thing you see of a place is everything surrounding the runway just before you land. First you hear the wheels screech at first contact with the ground. The massive roar of the engine when the pilot puts the throttle into reverse to slow the plane. Then the anticipation while the plane taxi’s down to its selected terminal. The noise of the seatbelts when everyone seems to simultaneously unclick the buckles and then open the overhead bins to gather their belongings. Upon stepping off the plane, walking through the ramp and into the terminal my stomach almost quivers at the excitement of the unknown. It’s the beginning of an adventure. It always is. You never really know what will happen next.

Arriving in Sydney, I felt the same rush I got 6 months ago when I landed in New Zealand. I missed it. It’s a feeling I can only get when going to a new place. It’s the fear, the dreams, the freedom and the reality of it all happening at that moment that fuels this un-replicable high. I thrive on it. Everything that follows, no matter what really happens, you cannot take away that feeling.
Sydney has been one of the most pleasant experiences of my travels thus far. I’m in travel groove. It took a while but I find that I am very stimulated and relaxed at being in an incredible new place. I’ve met travelers who have just arrived from Europe and are starting their year-long holiday and really don’t know what to do with themselves. They can’t sit still, they pace about the hostel going from the kitchen to the to the TV room to their room, the lay down, go for a walk and act so anxious. I feel like I’m a pro at this now. I can totally kill a day doing nothing and feel good about it. I focus each day on things that I find important like surfing, writing and taking pictures. It’s really amazing to have time to focus on the things you are passionate about in life. I feel very fortunate.

I just got some good news from New Zealand. My car sold! It went at the auction for the same price as I bought it for 20,000 kilometers ago. I was a bit shocked actually. But it really feels good to not have the burden over my head anymore. I just realized that this is the first time in my life in the last 10 years that I have not been responsible for a car. To me, I find this feeling a bit ironic because a car is the symbol of freedom as you can go anywhere you want at anytime. But not having a car now, I have never felt more free.

I’m really enjoying the constant stimulation of always being surrounded by people. It’s a bit like being back in college in the dorms. Except now I’m 26. I am officially the old dude. Everyone staying at the hostel are all around 20 years old. The more I talk to these people the older I feel. My motives of travel seem far different than theirs. Makes me really glad I didn’t travel any younger. Every night seems like there is usually one goal in mind. Get pissed. I have found that one of the fastest ways to deplete precious travel funds is to go out drinking. Knowing I have 2.5 months left on this epic voyage to mother Shington, my evenings usually consist of a good book and a cup of herbal tea. The more I find myself enjoying it, the older I feel.
Picts from Bondi:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/BondiBeach02

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Once upon a time...

Good day boys and girls. I’ve never tried writing with a children’s audience before, but it appears that I might have one. If this is the case, I have a story for you. (Parents and teachers, please screen everything that follows before sharing with your kids. )



I have a magical tale that starts off in a far distant land called Auzz. This tale tells of one foolish little boys desire to explore this distant land without doing any research before beginning his journey.
This foolish little boy is called Ryan. Now, Ryan was previously living in the fairy tale land full of friendly nice people and beautiful rolling hills of green pastures. This is the Hobbit land of Zealandia. One day Ryan decided to leave Zealandia for the far away enchanted urban jungle known as Sydney. Now this enchanted jungle is home to the most brave of knights and the most fierce of dragons. Within this land also holds a magic flower that can take people to far away distant lands of lollie pops and fluffy clouds.

After the long voyage across the great ocean to the land of Sydney, Ryan booked himself in a special little cottage on a beach just outside the enchanted urban jungle of Sydney. Little Ryan was unaware of all the magical forces happening within this special cottage. For what Ryan didn’t know was this cottage housed both knights and dragons under one roof. There were battles to be fought every night.
Tired and exhausted, Ryan went into his room to meet his first of 2 very special roommates. This roommate was called Gohan. Gohan is from the land of Zealandia who came to the enchanted jungle many years ago and has been living in this special cottage for almost one whole year. You see, Gohan is a very powerful sorcerer who has been helping the knights fight the evil dragon for many months. Among the many of Gohan’s powers, his most powerful is the treasure locked away in a box under his bed. Within this box lays a special flower. Actually there are about 4 pounds of this special flower in Gohans magical box. It’s a green flower with purple hairs interwoven into its fragrant buds. This flower is sought after by all the brave knights in the land. This keeps Gohan very busy. Part of Gohans sorcerer duties is to provide this magical flower to these brave knights. Every time a brave knight contacts Gohan, he has to package up these special flowers into little bags and then meet the brave knights in secrete while avoiding the evil blue trolls that roam the enchanted jungle on 4-wheeled carriages capped with red and blue lights. Gohan has to come back to the special cottage for more flowers every time he meets a brave knight because if the evil blue trolls catch Gohan with a lot of the magical flowers then Gohan will be locked away into cold, dark dungeon for many lifetimes.

Tired from his travels, Ryan tries to go to sleep despite the constant coming and going of the overworked sorcerer every 20 minutes. Finally, he drifts away into slumber after counting the millions of jumping sheep from his now distant land of Zealandia.
Around 2:30 in the morning Ryan meets his second of roommates. He was a brave Irishmen from a distant land who has come to the enchanted jungle to slay the mighty dragon. This Irishmen left the love of his life who now resides in another enchanted jungle called Melbourne. After a very tough battle, the Irishmen managed to rescue a damsel in distress and managed to bring her back to the layer to keep her out of the way of the evil dragon until the night was over. This damsel was so frightened by the dragon that she was in a constant state of hiccupping. Luckily, Ryan brought a magical black box with him call an “I-pod”. With little buds that go into Ryan’s ears so he could tune out any hiccupping or other sounds that were coming from the badly distressed damsel.
Suddenly! Ryan was startled awake by a great earthquake that echoed through all the land. Being dark, Ryan wasn’t sure where to run. But to Ryan’s surprise, the great echoing earthquake was not coming from an active fault, but that of the brave Irishmen trying to resuscitate his damsel in distress. Apparently during the night this poor damsel went into shock from the seeing the evil dragon. The only way the brave Irish knight knew how to save here was to shake her violently by laying directly over her. Fortunately, the brave Irish knight was able to save his damsel and she thanked him in numerous loud bursts of screaming, an ancient art of thanking known only in her distant land.
Just when Ryan thought the mighty battles of the night was over, he began to try to go back to sleep around 5am. Around 5:30 the rest of the brave knights came back to the special cottage from a long, arduous battle. Many of them were still fighting the battle, as battle cries echoes though all the cottage. Many of the knights also celebrated their victories by screaming chants from their home land just outside the door where little, tired Ryan was trying to sleep. Around 6am all the brave knights finally laid their heads from sheer exhaustion of a long and victorious battle.

Ryan, still tired and not able to sleep, went to the magical beach where he was able to find solitude and quite for a few moments. Ryan thought hard about the evening’s events and decided that it was time to move on to another special cottage where the battles being fought were not so violent. Upon returning to the magical cottage, Ryan confronted an angry troll behind the desk. Ryan at first tried to use friendliness and smiles (a cultural custom used by all in Zealandia when asking for something) to get money back for the next night he had already paid for. This tactic didn’t work and Ryan became very annoyed with the angry troll and asked again politely for his funny looking papers painted with a great queen of another distant land. The angry troll still would not give it back to him. Tried, annoyed and very angry, Ryan packed all his belongings and stormed out the door and left feeling robbed.
Ryan ended up in another magical cottage where all the brave knights and damsels were at peace in the cottage and great battles were not being fought. Ryan finally got sleep. The end.

The moral of the story boys and girls, is to properly do research and ask around before booking magical cottages on the internet when you travel to distant lands. You never know where great battles will be fought.

Here are some pictures from the great, magical urban jungle of Sydney. Enjoy!
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/LandOfSydney

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Conclusion to NZ

Note: this is a bit lengthy. But it is my honest conclusion to an incredible half a year in a place that has given me so much. I have also put together a collection of my favorite photos taken throughout New Zealand. You can find them here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/FavoriteNZPhotos

It still amazes me sometimes how when you make a plan for something to happen and how fast it happens. I came to New Zealand with no plans. Just the idea and desire to see the world and hopefully learn a little bit about myself. The goal was comprehension. To see the world by making myself venerable to it so that I could understand the way it works and hopefully find a bit of understanding in myself along the way.

Six months ago I arrived in a foreign land with no plans. I made the plan to get here and that was more of a plan than I wanted. Packing up, moving out, and saying goodbye was by no means easy. I got on the plane, and that was enough I thought.

When I arrived, the immigration officer checking me into the country asked where I was staying. I told him “I don’t know“. He gave me the look that either I was doing something very wrong or I was simply crazy. “So you just showed up on a one-way ticket with no plans in a place you‘ve never been?” he asked. “Um…Well…Yeah” I told him and gave him a semi-guilty grin after just realizing that this in fact was real and not just a dream anymore. I was so determined of just getting here, that I never really thought about what I would do when I actually got here. Getting here really was the only plan I wanted to make. Everything would just fall into place. After 4 immigration officers told me there was a problem with my visa and an hour in the waiting room, they eventually let me into the country.

Half a year in New Zealand and now, I’m about to embark on probably the longest journey home I could possibly take. I have no idea what the next couple of months will bring, but if they are anything like the past few months of traveling around the two islands of this British colony in the Southern Pacific, then it will be even more an experience I will not soon forget.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time now. This is my last post from New Zealand. It seems, through comments and emails, that people are actually reading this. Knowing that there really is someone on the other end of all my internet gibberish, I have begun to almost feel a bit responsible to articulate a real and honest conclusion to not only an experience of monumental proportion but also of a country full of monumental experiences. How do I summarize a nation? How do I begin to tell the world about a country that has taught me so much?

In describing New Zealand. It seems that most would probably want to start with a reference to Lord of the Rings. Then go on to describe all the amazing “post card” scenery that you seem to be constantly surrounded by. Maybe I could throw in a few livestock jokes and make comment on the 16 million sheep and 4 million people that the country houses between its two main islands. I’d probably tie it all together with a traveler tale or two of my own. Then make a conclusion saying that this country is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I’d also make many references to how I’ve never met a more friendly and open people in my 26 years on earth. But all those things that I could say, however, would be the obvious. Anyone who has ever heard of New Zealand knows these things. If you’ve ever read about New Zealand in a book or flipped on a travel program on the television and seen anything about New Zealand, you know it’s amazing. If you have any interest in seeing the world…at all…you probably have New Zealand somewhere on that list of “places to see before I die”. It’s no secrete, this country is beautiful, amazing, kind and generous. It has so much more to offer the world than just wool and dairy products. But then, I’m back to my original question. How do I, personally, summarize a country? Not just any country. How do I summarize half a year of living, working and traveling in New Zealand? I feel obligated to tell the world about this place. And properly tell the world. From a place that has given me more than I could imagine, I at least owe it that much. But where to begin?

My first impressions of New Zealand were not as dramatic as I thought they would be. I had entered a foreign country and a foreign land and flown half-way across the world to get here. Upon stepping off the plane, you see signs in English, people speaking a language that you can understand (for the most part). I saw familiar cars and roads and businesses. It was in fact, almost a mirror image of anywhere, USA where I had just left. Upon closer inspection, you begin to start seeing the differences. Subtle at first, until the frequency of these observed differences increase almost exponentially. Everything soon becomes foreign. Then you know, you are not in Anywhere, America.

Having drove a decent sized vehicle most my life, Gas prices were among the first things I noticed while driving on the wrong side of the road through the city on the bus after leaving the airport. $2.00nz/liter. Once I figured out how to convert the ever changing American Dollar and figure out liters to gallons, I calculated that gas is about $6.00 US per gallon. Obviously, this came as a bit of a shock because I was looking at buying a vehicle to travel in. Owning a car is probably the best option for really seeing New Zealand if you plan on spending more than a few weeks here.

Further inspection of other everyday costs in New Zealand you will find that the cost of living here makes it difficult to actually live here let alone travel. Just a walk through the grocery store and you will see what I’m talking about. An average block of cheese that might cost around $6-7 in the US will cost $13.00-16.00. A loaf of whole grain bread of the average quality will cost around $6.00. A liter of milk costs $4.00 (there are 3.8 liters to the gallon). With the prices at the grocery store so high, you soon start to realize why going out to eat at an average restaurant with average food will usually cost you an average of $20. Add $6-8 per beer. Also be prepared to pay for ketchup or other sauces you may want with your meal. The only thing that doesn’t molest the wallet is the fact that you don’t tip in this country. The downfall is that the service needs some work, which is probably the reason you don‘t tip in the first place.

How could it cost so much over here? Especially food? I’ve often wondered this as I drive by hundreds of thousands of sheep and cows that graze the countryside. I mean, NZ produces so much milk, butter, cheese, and meat. Why do they get the high prices? Their beef and lamb is of the finest quality in the world. New Zealand prides themselves in the fact that their animals are grass fed for their entire lives. Most other meat producing countries will grain feed their livestock weeks before the butcher which fattens them up allowing a higher price per pound. New Zealand meat is some of the finest I’ve ever tasted. The only problem is that other countries like Australia and the UK know this. Due to the higher demand and prices received, almost all their food and wool production gets shipped overseas. This leaves the kiwi’s with a giant hole in their pockets that only seems to get bigger. Large, steady increases in oil costs, have helped contribute to the rapidly inflating cost of living. In the 6 months of living here I’ve seen gas prices rise over a dollar per gallon. It’s true that this is the case almost with every country right now. It seems that many developed economies around the world are facing hard times and NZ is no exception by any means in seeing their dollar deflate like a hot air balloon trying to run on cold fusion.

I’ve seen both Islands. Top to bottom. I’ve put over 20,000 kilometers on my car since I’ve owned it. Pasture after beach after pasture after mountain. This country is empty and beautiful. It’s full of rolling hills, steep mountain sides and lots of pastures. I’m trying to emphasize pastures right now, not just because there are a lot of them, but because that really is what NZ is all about. With only a few cities of average sized populations, not much really leaves New Zealand other than what these pastures produce. Ultimately, that is, what I believe anyways, is what limits this country in terms of trying to stay competitive in a global market where free trade not necessarily benefit’s them. The small guys, like NZ, are forced to focus on the things they’re good at, like raising animals. They’re amazing at it. Among the best in the world. However, that’s pretty much all they got. Aside from some incredible wineries, there isn’t a lot else that they can be exporting to the global market to help boost their economy. In turn this puts NZ at the mercy of the prices they can get from the production of the labors put forth by their farmers. It’s a cycle that been happening and will continue to happen as the effects of globalization become more reality than just a word used by fancy old dudes on the television.

This ultimate conundrum continues to take hold in their labor force. I’ve noticed that as NZ becomes more expensive to live with limited diversity in job opportunities, many of the young, educated entering the work force leaves the country to seek higher paying jobs in places like Australia and the UK. So I guess another thing they export is skilled labor.

This then begs the question, why do people stay here? The famous slogan I see posted everywhere is “Buy NZ and you have it made.” I think it is more meant to motivate people to keep their money within the country but taken literally and you have another completely new meaning that I find equally valid. It’s true, if you do manage to find a good job and afford a home in this country you really do have it made. It seems to always surprise me at how chill of an existence it is here. The cities are small. The houses and communities are small, warm and friendly. Crime is hardily an issue on the scale it is elsewhere in the world. The police just spent most their time catching people speeding through the town. Just picking up a newspaper any old day of the week and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Warm, giggly chuckle #1 : “Tui birds are starting to annoy local residents” was the first headline I remember seeing on the front page when I first picked up the NZ Herald in Wellington sometime back in December. It appears that efforts to bring back native vegetation has also brought back native birds, and those birds are starting to squawk and annoy the residents living in these restored areas. It also appears that this was big enough news to make the headline on the front page.

Warm, giggly chuckle #2 : Another recent headline I remember being shocked by, was the front page story on a bunch of kids that went mountain biking with a big group. As a horrific turn in events happened, all the poor little children were disappointed that the trail was dry and there was no mud to go through! It seems that the mud was their lifeline in not just having a good day, but a median to continue their precious existence on earth. Oh The humanity! Why couldn’t it have rained for the poor little Kiwi children?! It was horrifically shocking to me in so many ways. I’m not kidding. It’s true. (If you question this headline at all please contact Craig Smith as he was the one who told me to stay quiet while I read the article to him in line at a grocery store and tried hard not to scream and fall over in disbelief.)

With not a lot else going on in this country, it appears to me that the government likes to govern in ways that are creative and new, providing interesting avenues to use tax payers money. To a foreigner like myself, these creative, tactful methods may seem backwards, or against common logic. But to a kiwi, their government’s tactic have purpose and make perfect sense. I’ll try to articulate this with the example of what I know. What I know of New Zealand is the highway. I’ve been on almost all of them. All over NZ are numerous billboards with graphic highway car accident scenes that are almost so graphic that they cause accidents themselves. This is the governments method for cracking down on speeding. Every policeman I ever saw in this entire country would sit in their car waiting for speeders and pull them over right where the speed limit goes from 100kph to 50kph. The penalties are high apparently. However, outside of these towns, for 20,000 km’s I never saw a cop with a radar. This is what I, the foreigner, found odd. The speed limit on all highways in NZ is 100kpm. I think that’s about 62mph. It’s a great speed to travel at in nice, open, wide, straight roads. However, New Zealand is an island with numerous active volcanoes. The entire country is a mountain pass! The speed limit doesn’t change at all on the one lane madness they refer to as a road. Every road follows some valley, glacier moraine or river bed. The point is the roads here are crazy. The government also reminds you of the speed limit from time to time as you enter an insane set of turns and hairpin corners with a sign in the shape of a target saying “100kph is not a target”. To me that was like, what?! I can go 100 on this road? Its also like saying don’t push this button or you shouldn’t do this, but have fun trying. Along these stretches of roads is also where I saw the most flipped cars and guard rails with car shaped gaps in them. Why they don’t they crack down on speeding where most people seem to die is beyond me. But to Kiwi’s, it must make some kind of sense.

The only thing I can come up with, and this is just my own personal theory so take it or leave it. But I believe that New Zealand was actually settled by motorcycle enthusiasts. Sure motorcycles weren’t around when the first Europeans came in, but I think they knew something others did not. Maybe they were given some grand vision in an effort to create a perfect motorcycle utopia. A country full of paved, winding roads that go on for thousands of cop-less miles with a speed limit that will challenge even the finest of riders from around the world. Then, and this is where I think these first moto-fathers were beyond geniuses of their time, but they made towns far enough apart that after a crazy winding road, every time a town shows up, you are ready for a coffee or beer and a slower speed limit is welcomed. And since every country needs police, they just put them on the town borders where only the really oblivious can get caught. To those that dream of traveling on a 2 wheeled motorized vessel, I can think of no other place better than New Zealand. It is the ultimate in motorcycle touring. If I come back here, it will be on a motorbike. Oh yeah, did I mention it is stunningly beautiful here too?

Moving on. When I bought my car I learned of this test every car needs to go through every 6 months called the Warrant of Fitness (WOF). To every traveler vehicle, this is a nightmare. Buy your car with the most current WOF you can find. I did not. They are meticulous. It is more of a safety check, but the level of detail this test requires would probably take out half the cars on the road in the US. You really don’t see a lot of beater vehicles on the road here. This is the reason. Even if you have a spot of rust somewhere on your car, it will not pass and you cannot drive your car… legally anyways. After going though all this crazy WOF stuff and pumping even more money into my car to get it passed, I realized something about the legal system with vehicles here. They don’t test emissions. I was really scratching my head at this. They really go though all safety aspects of your car with a fine toothed comb. But not testing emissions? Apparently, they have recently passed something to start testing vehicle emissions soon. So that’s good. I guess I just found it odd because I thought that the Southern Hemisphere had the big hole in the Ozone layer. I would think the people down here would be the first to test whatever they were putting into the air. But again, there are only 4 million of them. How much damage can they really do?

On the environmental front, it appears that NZ is doing really well. It seems that resource consumption is something that many kiwi’s think about. Because it does cost so much here, I think that the conscious of conservation has become a way of life to the people that live here. Power is expensive. Most all power comes from dams. So when water levels go down or the summer’s are longer than normal, like the one they just had, power bills go up. I was a bit shocked to learn that most Kiwi house’s do not have any sort of central heating system let alone proper insulation. I know it gets cold here. But most rooms will have a space heater that you only turn on when you absolutely need it. Why heat a whole house when you spend most your time in one room? Another sort of a culture shock to me was not using dryers. For the first time in my life I hung clothes to dry. It appears that the “sun” is this free source of heat and energy used to dry clothes. Being from a fairly rainy region, I didn’t know this was possible. I kind of like it.

Water was another thing that I found to be a topic of resource conservation here. Shortages seem pretty common. I guess that makes sense being an island nation mostly comprised of farm land and surrounded by salt water. I really didn’t see a lot of major freshwater lakes or reservoirs. I found a lot of houses will actually collect their rain water for household uses. I didn’t think this sounded very sanitary. But why do I trust water from the ground out of some random well? Besides, rain water is free.

I do feel however, that water quality does need to be addressed a little more here. With so many farm and pastures that support thousands of animals, there is going to be waste. I’m not sure if I saw one stream on a farm that was fenced off from the animals. This means that all the animals can tramp through the water and leave little nutrient loading presents. This waste goes into the ground water and, more of my concern, right out into the ocean where I surf. It made for a beautiful sight, to be sitting out in the water looking at an endless beautiful beach and brilliant green rolling hills separated by valleys of streams going right into the sea. These little streams and river mouths are where the best sandbars are formed, making the best waves, hence where I spent most my time in the water. Having a little background in water quality made me think about all the biological processes going on in the water I was swimming in. I’m not entirely sure how much water gets tested out on the coast here in New Zealand, but I’m almost positive it wasn’t happening where I was surfing.

I think it’s easy for islands to have more environmental concerns than most continental nations. Their resources are really limited. I think because of market pressures, NZ was kind of forced in a way to focus all their efforts on the farms. Back when this was happening, the environment was looked at with short term value. Long term effects were not taken into consideration. In NZ, there was a double bonus. Clear the land and make money from the timber sales, then turn the cleared land into pastures to make money from farming. Almost all of New Zealand was thickly forested 150-200 years ago. This is a slightly similar story with the native Northwest forest of my home, but instead of turning the land into pastures, more trees were planted to harvest again. When you look at some of the native forest and bush-land that still covers parts of the West side of the South Island, it’s hard to fathom that both islands looked like that at one point in time.

As is true for most environments changed by man, the destruction of native habitat always seems to be followed by the introduction of invasive species. Here in New Zealand, there are many invasive species causing destruction to the native environment, but it’s the possum that gets people really riled up. Having come from somewhere in Australia, the possum threatens native vegetation and bird habitat. They really are everywhere. It’s hard to even drive a kilometer and not see one sleeping on the side or middle of the road. It’s difficult for me to really grasp this, but NZ has no native mammals. Before the first humans arrived, it was just birds and insects. There is a native lizard found here, but hardly ever seen. Birds had it so easy. It was a paradise for them. There was no predators and plenty of food. There wasn’t even any rodents. Some birds found their niche on their ground. They lost their ability to fly and ended up with beady eyes and hairy looking feathers. I am referring to the elusive kiwi bird. The national bird. The identity of a nation. One almost nobody has seen outside a zoo. It’s truly a sad story. With the introduction of rodents the kiwi bird found competition for habitat. With the introduction of cats, the kiwi became a felines version of “it’s like shooting ducks in a barrel.” There are numerous efforts to revive the kiwi bird’s population, and it appears that it is working. It is a slow progress, but there is hope for the Kiwi.

An even more sad story is that of the Moa. A large ostrich-like bird that was bigger than any bird the earth has seen. It’s eggs were the size of a human head. It could run fast but not fast enough apparently as it became an easy target and highly sought after meat by the native Maori people. On the south island in the Canterbury Plains, almost the entire region was cleared with fires set to the bush to chase the moa out. About 300 years ago, the Moa officially became extinct.

By now, I assume that most people know or at least heard of the native New Zealander’s, the Maori. If you never have, please go watch the movie “Whale Rider”. Even if you know of the Maori people, you should go watch this movie. I feel it does an amazing job at not only showing some incredible New Zealand scenery, but also sharing Maori culture. It won a bunch of awards and gained lots of respect throughout the world. Definitely worth watching.

The Maori culture is alive here in NZ. They make up something like 15% of the total population. (Although from my observations, it would appear that is a conservative figure. )The language is very much still alive as there is even a TV channel all in Maori. Most signs will have both English and Maori on them. Driving from North to South you will notice the changes in the distribution of the Maori and the Pakeha. Up North, there are so many more Maori as I felt like a minority in many places. Almost every location has some name I have trouble pronouncing. Try and mix an accent into that and I just got lots of laughs from people when asking directions. On the south island, apparently there wasn’t as big of a Maori influence and you end up with place names like Christchurch and Dunedin.

I’m not really sure what to say about the people I’ve met here in New Zealand. I’ve actually been avoiding writing this part because I am seriously at a loss of words. I had a family take me in when I needed it most... Twice! If it wasn’t for the McLaren family I would not have been able to see the New Zealand that I saw. Not only did they let me stay with them for almost a month at a time on 2 separate occasions, but they taught me about New Zealand. They shared with me their home, their culture, their history…their sailboat. They even gave me work when I couldn’t find any. I really feel forever thankful for them. The more I think about it, had it not been for them, I’m not sure I would have been able to afford to see and do everything that I did. Let alone how awesome of an experience it was to be welcomed into a home and treated like family. They were my first experience with Kiwi hospitality and they made a lasting impression.

I’m really not sure I can sum up how amazing the Kiwi people are. Kindness is an understatement, friendliness is an understatement, genuine is an understatement. There are no words I can really think of. In my experience, no matter where I went there was always nothing but smiles and people willing to help you out. Even in the surf world, where I’m accustomed to people trying to look mean and making animal noises to keep you out of the water. Here in NZ, they welcome you. With more miles of coastline than the US, and a population smaller than Washington State, there really is never a problem with overcrowding. They even made a surfing guide book that mapped out every surf spot on both islands. If this happened back home, the author would be tarred, feathered, covered in bread crumbs and left for the seagulls. But here, they welcome you. I find it so typical of the Kiwi condition to welcome people they don’t even know with open arms. I ran into it again with Judy and Mark Frasier in Raukaka. They never even met Craig and I, but when we showed up to say hi, we were offered a feast of a dinner, a place to stay and even an incredible breakfast in the morning. Just like that. Welcomed into a home and treated like family. I’m beginning to see a pattern form.

If New Zealand was the ugliest place on earth, I feel that the people alone are more than enough reason to visit. They are by far what makes New Zealand the place worth visiting. There are so many amazing places to see here. More environments to explore in 2 little concentrated islands than I know of anywhere else in the world. It’s almost overwhelming how much beauty is contained within this country. You could spend a lifetime here and never see it all. So many hidden gems waiting to be seen and shared with the world. But the real treasure of this breathtaking country lies in the people. I met so many travelers, especially on the South Island, that were so focused on seeing everything they could in a short allotted amount of time that they missed what was right in front of them. They were so overwhelmed by all the amazing beauty, solely focusing their time and money to the fjords, the glaciers, the mountains, the beaches, the valleys, the forests and the wildlife. To me I found this to be a tragic tale I saw over and over again. With over 6 billion people in this world, if you’ve ever met a kiwi, consider yourself lucky. They really are some of the most amazing people in this world. Besides, there are only 4 million of them.