« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

March 2006 Archives

March 2, 2006

somewhere in the air

just woke up after sleeping for 8 or 9 hours, and am listening to william shatner's cover of "common people" on my iPod (finally got that beast working about 45 minutes before we left for our flight). departure was a blur -- last-minute packing and gear acqusition, stocking up on medicine for my cold, disconnecting all my services and subscriptions, and lots of emotional turmoil.

and now we're an hour out from fiji and eating tiny pancakes with syrup.

(i backdated this one since i wrote it in my notebook on the plane. i'll continue to do so for entries written offline, so don't be surprised when you see several posts appear at once from past days.)

foreign flags and ukuleles

when travelling, someitmes you encounter people that will tell you all kinds of things to try and get you to part with your tourist dollars in all kinds of new and interesting ways.

however, sometimes they're telling the truth too.

case in point: we arrived at nadi int'l airport here in fiji a little after 5 in the morning, where we were greeted by several ukulele players (note: the art of the ukulele is alive and well here in fiji), the usual customs clearance, and then into a horde of friendly, smiling, fijian touts (with high-pressure sales tactics at the ready) to redirect us to any number of places to stay at.

fueled by our guidebooks and the usual independent travel paranoia, we dodged all the touts and headed to the second floor of the building, where our guidebook assured us that in office #20 we would find the Fijian Visitors Bureau, offering pure and unabiased advice about the many places we could stay at. one particular tout followed us persistently, assuring us over and over that the FVB office was closed and gone. we turned the corner, arrived at office #20, and found... an empty office with a radiator that had been ripped out of the wall sitting in the midle of the room. oops -- guess we should have believed the total stranger for once.

we then proceeded to get a taxi to the "nadi bay motel" our friends had advised us on and which we read about in our guidebook as a good place to start, and our taxi driver took us to the "nadi bay resort hotel", which he told us was the same one, as did the staff. of course, the name had changed twice since the guidebook, as had the phone number, but by process of elimination (only place on an nearly-empty road), we concluded we'd reached the right place and settled in. it's a good spot to spend a day at.

today is our day to "acclimatize". this means pondering the 4 hour time change that also involves losing a day, adjusting to the normal (ie. not-enormous-hungry-giant-sized) portions, tasting the local brew (straightforward and strong), and poking around town.

we had a great indian meal in town (there is a large population of people originally from india here, see fiji's history for more details), and watched as a fancy black mercedes car pulled up in the street opposite, with a miniature chinese flag flying proudly from its hood, whose driver then let three very opulent-looking chinese folks up into a restaurant.

not sure whether we'd just witnessed ambassadors or tour group members disembarking from the car, we spoke with the taxi driver and it turns out that foreigners are big on displaying their own flags (along with the fijian one, of course) in fiji. or something like that. as proof, he pointed out the german and fijian flags flying proudly over "HAMBURG HOUSE", a place which i can only imagine is full of perfectly-roasted bratwurst and enormous, frosty mugs of excellent pilsner.

in other news -- my cold is getting better, and i'm rapidly reading my way through james michener's "tales of the south pacific". we're headed out to a beach resort at the south part of the island in the morning, which means my first dose of actual fijian beach.

photos note: bandwidth here is realllly slow, so don't expect any photos online for a few more days at least.

March 3, 2006

bus ride

recently we've arrived at a "backpackers resort" right on the beach called The Beachouse, on the south side of fiji. great stuff... beautiful beach, a bamboo raft anchored in the water that you can swim out to, palm trees providing shade, genuinely friendly staff, and a good bunch of guests. we're here for a few days while we plan the island we'll head to for the next week or so (probably somewhere in the yasawa group).

today we headed into suva to get some supplies, and had our first Bus Ride of the trip as a result. for me, Bus Rides are those unique experiences riding a charter/non-scheduled bus anywhere in the world. each country, city, and driver has their own form of Bus Ride.

today's Bus Ride was in a minibus. the return minibus back from suva to the resort was the best one. this bus had started its life out as a white toyota minivan. the stock back seats had been ripped out and replaced with high-density seating the van to accomodate up to 11 passengers, plus the driver and his sidekick. the ceiling covering had been removed and replaced with tropical print fabric, which was then covered with plastic sheeting to avoid stains. the dashboard had tribal-print carpeting literally nailed into it, and the steering wheel was covered in a massive, soft cover that the driver's hands barely wrapped around. the gearshift was similarly decorated. hanging from the rearview mirror were two shell necklaces, and an extra suction cup on the widow had an air freshener in the shape of a pineapple, and a small stuffed-animal mouse pointed out towards the highway. above both the driver-side and passenger-side doors were a series of small fish stickers from the movie "finding nemo". to complete the cramped vibe, a kenwood car stereo with cd changer was playing a mix of fijian pop music and american r&b.

the windows had large guards over them to stop insects or rain from entering the car. when the sky was clear, the windows were down the entire time to ventilate the car, and during any sort of downpour, the windows were rolled up all the way, and the AC was cranked to full blast. i was in the front, crammed in next to the driver's sidekick guy (the sidekick was absolutely nonplussed about this seating arrangement), watching us honk and blaze past other cars and minivan-buses on the 2-late highway. as the pepsi-sponsored highway sign urging drivers to "arrive alive!" whipped past, i was beginning to wonder what the accident rate was on fijian highways, and if any minibus drivers ever allow their passengers access to the seatbelts.

after the first hour of the drive back, i promptly fell asleep for the rest of the journey. (one of the best survival methods for Bus Rides).

fun fact: it takes as much time to drive each way from "the beach house" to suva as it does to drive from los angeles to palm springs. just in case you're thinking about heading into town from here to run a few errands too. HONK!

March 6, 2006

life at the beach house

i probably won't find a good place to upload photos until i reach NZ in about a week and a half, so i'm using one of jean's photos from flickr instead! this is the backyard of the beach house, which we just left this morning.

many afternoons were spent in hammocks in this yard (which transitions right into the beach, more photos to come later), drinking fiji beer, playing card games, or making coconut jewelery. i know the last activity kind of sounds like we're in therapy, but in a way, i think we are.

March 9, 2006

enroute to the octopus

(Now reading: Peridio Street Station by China Mieville. August gave it to me just before i left, and it's proven to be a great 900+ page book. It's innovative steampunk, basically, and recommended to anyone with some time to spend reading.)

I'm currently making my way through the Yasawa Islands in Fiji, heading gradually south until we end back up in Nadi where our Fiji trip began. We've just left the Coconut Bay resort on Naviti Island, and were staying at Otto and Fanny's resort on Tavewa before that.

Our next stop, the Octopus Resort, is the resort that's been referred to as "a bit posh" by some other backpackers we've run into, but considering that it costs the same (or less) as some of the no-fan-in-the-dorm sweathouse wonders we've been to so far, i think we'd welcome that.

By the way, you may wonder how i'm staying at so many "resorts" on a budget trip. here's the secret: in fiji, "resort" does not mean acres of pristine beaches, 4-star hotel rooms, etc. instead, here's how it works:

big main building + bures (fijian houses) + meals + alcohol + activities + fan = fiji resort.

so with that in mind, next stop, Octopus Resort!

March 13, 2006

a card game called shithead

As any good backpacker knows, one of the best ways to pass the time while travelling, or while relaxing at your destination, is to play card games. The best card games for travellers are simple, easy to learn, based on a healthy mixture of luck and skill.

While I've learned many card games across my different trips (most recently, the game "Seven" from the Swedes I've been hanging out with here at the Octopus Resort), the all-time classic card game for backpackers is Shithead. I am particularly fond of this game, and have no shame in quickly roping people into playing this game ad nauseum, even if the only person around is the same person that i've been travelling with for the last month.

Game of Shithead in progress.

The rules of Shithead, as we have pieced them together from other backpackers, go like this:

Each player is dealt three cards face-down, then three cards face-up, and then a hand of three cards face-down. The remaining cards are left in a stack in the middle of the table. Whichever player has at least one 4 in their hand and plays their 4(s) first, gets to go first. The rest of the players go in clockwise order, playing cards that are either equal to in value or higher than the card that was played just before them. Once they play their cards (if they have multiples of the same card value, they can play those at he same time), they draw that number of cards from the stack of remaining cards in the middle of the table. If a player cannot play any of their 3 cards, they have to pickup all the cards played so far, and take those into their hand.

When the stack of remaining cards is exhausted, and a player's hand is empty, they can then play cards from the three face-up cards in front of them. Once those cards are gone, they can then choose one card from the face-down cards in front of them when it's their turn to play. Once all those cards are gone, then the player has used up all of their cards and they have won the game.

Now, there are some cards that are special and have specific effects in the game. These are:

2: Can be played at any time. Playing this card means the next player can play any card.

3: "Transparent", and can be played at any time. Playing this card means that the next player has to play a card that is higher than or equal in value to the card played before you played the 3.

7: The next card that is played after the 7 must be lower than or equal to 7.

8: Playing this card means that the next player loses their turn, and the game moves on to the next player after that.

10: Playing this card clears the pile of cards played so far -- they are swept off of the table, and the player who put down the 10 can play another card as well. (Note that the pile of cards is also cleared when 4 cards of the same value are played sequentially, either by one player or different players. Whoever cleared the pile gets to play again.)

Ace: Because it's the highest-value card, it can be played at any time (except after a 7, as per the rules above.

So that's our version of Shithead. Have any of the rest of you played this game on your trips? If so, what are YOUR rules for it? (And if you have any other travel card games, pass 'em along, i definitely could use them...)


There are a lot of thoughts that go through someone's mind when getting their PADI Open Water Diver certification (in other words, your required license to scuba dive in most parts of the world). In my case, it was a series of thoughts about "oh, THAT'S how the fish from my childhood tropical aquarium were supposed to exist in the real world!", and the other, more unlikely thought: "NOW I understand the Infocom game Cutthroats."

Cutthroats box cover image

The game itself, which I'd first played at around 12 years old and never really considered a very good Infocom game (all the diving references in the game like tank air measurement just seemed confusing and awkward to me), suddenly flashed through my mind and i realized that Cutthroats was more of a loving tribute to scuba diving and putting some intrigue and mystery around diving, rather than an stand-alone amazing adventure game.

Anyways, learning how to scuba dive has been fantastic. After the awkward first few dives in the pool and the ocean off our island (with water so warm that a wetsuit is optional), things picked up quickly. The fourth dive we went deeper than on our previous dives, and after swimming past a school of giant double-headed parrotfish, we floated over the reef "cliff" and swam over a drop going down hundreds of feet. To be able to feel like i'm flying over a drop like that, without any sense of vertigo, was just... like nothing else.

PADI certification came a few days later, so now i'm all set to dive in the many future dive destinations on this trip. Now I just need to get ahold of a computer so I can replay Cutthroats one more time...

March 14, 2006

octopus love

Much love to our friends at the octopus resort in fiji!

Jean and I had an amazing week there... we came for a day, but ended up spending seven there, learning to scuba dive, sunning ourselves on the beach, playing card games with our friendly posse of swedes, and doubtfully watching the pool turn from blue to green. (the last one will be fixed by now)

this place is an undiscovered gem, and we were lucky to be there. mad props to ross, polly, and the rest of the octopus team. and of course, thanks to allyson and bryan for tipping us off to the land of the octopus.

and to our friends on the octopus staff -- keep on with the scuba lessons, music every night, naps in the afternoon, and basket weaving lessons.

March 19, 2006

i'm in auckland!

after a week and a half offline while in Fiji's Yasawa islands, i'm now in Auckland, New Zealand!

i'll be backfilling in the Fiji blog posts in a day or two, but in the meantime, just wanted to let you know the latest. i've uploaded the latest photos to my flickr account from fiji and new zealand as well.

gotta run, off on a bus to Rotorua in 5 minutes!

March 21, 2006

raw steaks and hot stones

we arrived in the town of rotorua yesterday via the "magic bus", one of the several backpacker-oriented bus lines that run through the country of new zealand.

very few countries are attuned to the needs of backpackers in the way that new zealand is. it's good stuff here.

jean and i ate out at a restaurant called stonegrill and cooked our own raw food (400 grams of steak in my case, la-a-a-a-mb in jean's), on hot stones. it was actually really tasty and good fun all around.

then we went drinking with a mix of locals, italians, and irishmen. needless to say, we barely made it to the bus then next day. but we did, with 5 minutes to spare.

so here we are in taupo, with off-and-on rain and the tonganairo crossing closed for the forseeable future, so we're pressing on in the morning to wellington, and then christchurch, where another array of hiking, extreme sports, and llama farming awaits us.

vive new zealand!
PS: i just finished posting a bunch of older blog posts to the fiji section written on paper when I was offline and had no internet access. check them out at http://www.goneliving.com/fiji/

March 25, 2006

new photos feed!

greetings from kaikoura, new zealand... quick blog update for all of you:

in order to make it easier for people who like photos to subscribe to just photos, and for people who like just the blog entries to subscribe to only the those, i've broken out Gone Living into two separate RSS feeds. (this means that i've removed the photos from the current Gone Living feed, so be sure to subscribe to the new feed if you liked the photos!)

both feeds are now linked from the front of http://www.goneliving.com, and from there you can subscribe to them via FeedBurner or via email.

hope you like the new feeds!

March 26, 2006

gone living: now with multimedianess!

while spending time fixing up gone living lately, i've changd things around so that instead of photos and text jumbled together into a single feed, i've broken out the text, photos, and (and now videos) into separate feeds. if you're interested in that sort of thing, here are the links to subscribe either via email or your favorite feedreader. subscribe to all three if you'd like the full multimedia experience!

these feeds are all listed on the homepage at http://www.goneliving.com, but i'm also including links below for your reference:

gone living text
XML Feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/GoneLiving
Email Subscription: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/?Sub=25824

gone living photos
XML Feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/GoneLivingPhotos
Email Subscription: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/?Sub=42691

gone living videos
XML Feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/GoneLivingVideos
Email Subscription: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/?Sub=42905

phantom buses and netball

after spending the night in christchurch, jean and i ended up missing the 3pm bus to queenstown, which (depending on which person we asked) was either:

1.) sold-out but on schedule
2.) 45 minutes late and *might* have room
3.) not running at all that day

we ended up waiting a while for the bus (which never appeared), and just bought tickets for the queenstown bus tomorrow bright 'n early at 7:30am. with any luck, we've have done type of hike or "extreme" activity by day's end tomorrow.

so after missing our bus, we headed off to the pub to try and comprehend netball (go kiwis for winning the gold medal in the commonwealth games tonight). Tonight has ended up being a quiet night of dining on korean bbq, doing much-needed blog maintenance, and spending some time reflecting on the events of the last week and a half.

look for more photos of foolish activities and amazing hikes in the next few days!

March 27, 2006

morning in christchurch

woke up at 6:40am to the jostling of my co-traveller jean trying to get us out the door to the bus on time, followed a few minutes later by the insistent beeping of my Casio watch alarm.

time to get up, listening to rain on the corrugated translucent plastic skylight, then ducking under the mysterious metal strips running across the ceiling a foot over my head, down off the bunkbed, and quickly packing up while trying to not wake up everyone else in the dorm. one last look at this attic/loft/dorm with beds shoehorned into its awkward architecture, then checkout by leaving my room key and pillowcase at the front desk, and then out in the early morning rain to catch the 7:30am atomic shuttles bus to queenstown.

March 29, 2006

queenstown days

i've been in queenstown for a few days now, and what was a 2-day stopover has become a full week, after which we return to christchurch and fly to australia.

queenstown is in flux. one street is bursting with bungee jumping/skydiving/rafting/river surfing/canyon swing/anything adrenalin stores and snowboard gear shops and everything else in that vein. then one street over there are signs in kanji for fine new zealand wines and wool clothing, boutique clothing stores, and whispers about the house that johnny depp bought out here. brand-new ultra hotels are almost side-by-side with NZ$26/night backpacker hostels. maybe this place is becoming (or is) the new Aspen, i don't know, but there is an awful lot of construction going on here. whatever this place is turning into, it isn't done transforming yet.

of the five million "activities" you can do here (as long as you can foot the bill, of course), we went "river surfing" yesterday with serious fun, and ended up surfing on boogie boards through class 2 and 3 rapids clad only in wetsuits and crash helmets. we survived with only a few scratches, and had a generally great time. this was followed by surpisingly expensive thai food and surpisingly cheap drinks, and finally cocktails at the Minus 5 ice bar, when we got a bunch of random pictures.

more stuff to come: hiking, kayaking, and maybe some things a little more pulse-pounding than that. we'll see...

March 30, 2006

the little differences

after a few weeks in a new zealand, i'm starting to wish they had a "brochure for clueless americans" which is handed out on arriving flights along with the immigration cards and customs declarations.

sure, i expected the usual differences that you find in the course of international travel -- driving on the left side of the road, the way cars will painstakingly stop for you at zebra crossings (and not give too much of a damn about avoiding you when you're not in one), and removing the "0" when calling a NZ phone number from overseas.

the thing which threw me off at first, and then proved to be a source of fascination as i learned more about it, has been the postal system. new zealand has opened up their mail system to private competition, which evidently means that any company can start offering mail service, but the NZ government mail service (New Zealand Post, who owns a bank called Kiwibank and has them operate out of their post offices, which also double as bank branches) is still around as well. in practice this means that there are (at least) three main brands of mailboxes -- DX Mail, Universal Mail, and New Zealand Post. (and the actual list of authorized postal operators is far longer) all of these companies issue their own stamps, which are carried by different stores, so when buying postcard stamps it's always a bit of a surprise to see which brand of stamps you'll get.

none of these mailboxes indicate that they will do anything with mail stamped with another company's stamps besides chuckle, shake their heads at the futility of man, and then throw the mail into the roaring fire keeping them cold in through the oncoming kiwi winter. however, i've been informed that the mail put into the wrong company's mailboxes DOES eventually make it to its destination (my last round of postcards were proof of that), but that it usually adds about a week to the delivery time.

my favorite part about this is that the list of postal operators apparently includes some indivduals and very small companies who are a fully authorized postal serivce in themselves... now if i can just find someone from "New Zealand Farm Show Limited" to deliver my next postcard home!

activity time!

in the last few days, i've been hiking, river surfing in rapids, canyon jumping/swinging, zorbing, and whitewater rafting. i'm sore in many places, sleepy, and generally ready for a little break. this place (queenstown) is activity central -- there is a near-constant wave of paragliders over the city like seeds cast from some bright nylon tree high on the hill, and most people under 40 are either returning from or heading off to one activity or another.

the one activity that i simply did not get was the albatross encounter in kaikoura. if the ancient mariner's own albatross encounter didn't end well, how can i expect any better? (and check out how it stacks up against the dolphin encounter)

early tomorrow morning is my return to christchurch, which will mean the end of the new zealand portion of this trip. just a few days to say goodbye to friends and run some final errands, and then we're off to sydney.

March 31, 2006

what are you doing in my bathroom?

on our last night in queenstown, jean and i ran into allyson and bryan in the kitchen of bumbles backpackers. clutching my packet of peanut satay instant noodles in my hand, i was shocked to see brian sitting at the kitchen table.

since our last encounter in fiji, we had vague plans to meet up again in new zealand but we never did anything about it (aside from some not-quite-completed plans about possibly visiting/working at the llama farm. but nevertheless, there they were in the same city, at the same hostel, in the same room, at the same time as us.

after our initial chat, allyson excused herself to head back to her room for a few minutes. when i made a quick bathroom stop in my dorm room, i walked into the room only to find allyson a the sink of our shared bathroom. this meant that allyson had somehow ALSO ended up in the exact same section of bubmbles that we were in. my statistics class skills area a little rusty, so i don't know the exact odds of this, other than "ridiclously small".

we proceeded to celebrate our happy coincidence by going our drinking (where jean was also able to consume a mighty leg of lamb), and we proceeded to take random pictures of each other.

since we coincidentally had the same itinerary for our quit-work-and-go-travelling plans, we're all headed to australia next. my bet is that we'll run into them in broome while watching movies from deck chairs...

About March 2006

This page contains all entries posted to gone living in March 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2006 is the previous archive.

April 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.