Poll Star's Wonderings

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Greetings Pop Pickers

I blame Nick Hornby, or the Y chromosone for our obsession with lists and top 10s. I've known for about a month I'd end up doing my top 10 on the flights back to the UK.

Oh my, this is going to be a long, long flight. I have failed to blag an upgrade, even with my offered frequent flyer miles-they needed Air Canada ones, Star Alliance was insufficient; I've saved till last probably the most stupid thing I've done-I didn't lock my iPod and I didn't check the battery today, it was fully charged before my flight from Rapa, it's flat now; Air Canada appears to have the worst in flight entertainment in history; there is just the one main screen, none of the seat back screens and choice everyone else has; they don't provide eye masks or socks; the announcements are coming thick and fast, I think they're trying to outdo BA-no mean feat, in 3 sodding languages; seriously, just shut up and fly the plane; the cabin crew are exhibiting all the charm of people running a school trip; I'm not feeling any positive vibes about getting a veggie meal. This is shit. That fat bloke from Who's Line is it Anyway should be ashamed for promoting them. Been going 25 mins and already I think the worst airline competition has a comfortable winner.

I have deliberately not re-read my blog in writing this list. I'll be stunned if there's not at least one unforgivable omission. When Mill MSN'ed me in Taupo I'd forgotten Sussuvlei, which I still can't spell. As I'm running off memory, I think the list is more general than if I'd re-read everything. I'll have to do it one day, but it's a bit daunting.

Before we get there, there's the last bit of Chile to cover.

I got a phone call to tell me the flight was four hours delayed (turns out I was the delayed flight curse, not Mr Adams). I was the only one to get a call as I was the business class customer. I really hate that, it's the same when they extend a special welcome to their frequent flyers. It's unnecessary discrimination, and I am a frequent flyer.

Anyway, this meant getting to the hotel in Santiago at midnight rather than 8. I never sleep when I arrive somewhere and this was no different. By the time I got myself together in the morning and did my backpacker best at the breakfast buffet, I was checking out at midday. With a 4 o'clock airport shuttle and 2 hours of Rapa photos to upload, I only managed another brief, directionless walk around Santiago. I'm sure my third visit will be more successful. Still, there was time enough time as I walked back to the hotel for two Chilean girls to run up to me and tell me they loved me in English and Spanish. Always nice when someone tells you they love you and this was the first time this year. I checked my pockets, they hadn't taken anything-so it must be true love. Maybe I'll see them next time.

So. The List.

11. The Sozz
Known to some as Swiss Toni. He's been my only regular source of comments, for which I am very grateful. It's been great to know there's someone out there, even if it has occasionally led to me writing something just to try and get the reaction I expect. Justin Rose?

The night before I left I sent him a top 10 earworms , into which I shamelessly squeezed an eleventh. It's nice to bookend the journey with the same trick.

In less than 2 weeks I'm meant to be speaking at his wedding-I really should be writing that instead.

10. Conyagi {Africa}
From one cheat to another-this is a marker for the nights out. Since Oz, they've all but dried up, but there were some blinders. None more so than demolishing a bottle of Conyagi with Mill in Zanzibar, while Didi acted as Karen's pimp and then heading to the student disco.

Yup; they screwed up my 'special meal' (it's not like I have to eat through a straw); no they don't carry spares; no there isn't anything spare in business; yes, it is odd how often they don't have enough special meals.

9. Wineglass Bay {Australia}
Really a marker for Tasmania, which was an unplanned destination and unexpected joy.

8. Diving {Tanzania and Australia}
I raved so much on Zanzibar and the reef that it had to be here.

Besides, Mill would never have forgiven me for leaving it out.

7. Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater {Tanzania}
Neither of which I can still spell-Lonely Planet returned to England months ago. I went to a lot of national parks in Africa. This was the best.


Frankly, the above are a little arbitrary. The Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, the Otago peninsula, the penguins, Sussuvlei, the Bay of Islands, Boats, Cradle Mountain, Gordon River, Cape Point, Fraser Island, Swags, the Okonvongo Delta, Cape Tribulation, the cassowaries and the stars in the Southern sky all put in top performances and should count themselves unlucky to have missed out on selection.

All of the top 6 that follows gave me the immediate feeling of 'I'll remember this as long as I remember my name'. Interestingly, they all made me feel small and insignificant as well as being the moments I should have referred to as touching the soul. The gap between no 7 and no 25 isn't much. The gap between 6 and 7 is huge. There are some serious contenders for the new Seven Wonders in here.


6. Milford Sound {New Zealand}
Some words like genius are overused and lose their power and resonance through repetition. So for the moment, try to forget a thousand and one inane interviews and savour Milford Sound. The word?

Awesome.

5. Roger Federer {Switzerland, seen in Australia}
I heard he beat Nadal on clay last week; I'm tempted to go to Paris and blow a month's budget seeing if he can complete the set and do a Roger Slam. He was that good.

4. Sydney Opera House {Australia}
Arguably my favourite place just to be.

3. Uluru {Australia}
I've been doing missionary work preaching the message of the rock to everyone I meet who's off to Australia, so many of whom only have plans for the East Coast. I think I persuaded a few.

The best place to wake up.

Don't climb on it.

2. Hermanus {South Africa}
Has justice been served? I'm not sure. I spent my second Sunday and Monday at Hermanus whale watching. Ever since, when chatting about my travels, I've always said it was my top highlight .

So, after a Bryan Adams like 31 weeks on top, I've dumped it at the very last. When I stop travelling and everything sinks in, it may regain top spot.

No photos, but vivid memories.

1. Rapa Nui {Chile}
I've just written reams on this.

Perhaps all I can add is that it's a spiritual place and not a gimmicky one trick pony, which I thought might just possibly be the case, as I knew very little when I added it to the itinerary. Who knows, without Statue John I might never have gone there.


There you have it. 7 and half months reduced to a highly questionable list. And no mention of the England cricket team.

The flight's been rather bumpy for an extended period. I never like that-this is certainly one just to get over and done with. Hope I can charge my iPod in Toronto.

This blog was always intended as a travel diary. In theory I should shut up now till I fly to Quito on July 4. But am I now addicted to blogging like certain others? And does going to weddings in Pisa and Vienna via Rome count as wandering? What about Glasto, where I'm meeting up with John and Shirley, who I met at Rapa?

Only time will tell. Ciao.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hola

When I started this trip and believed I had all the time in the world, I was going to learn Spanish. That hasn't happened in the slightest. Hopefully I'll be able to blag this for the next week and a bit. Gonna have to do something before heading back in July.

When I grew up I thought there were 5 continents. I guess this was down to the number of Olympic rings and presumably counting a single American continent. 7 now appears to be the agreed number, which is still confusing. Australia is frequently called a continent, so add on Europe, Asia, Antarctica, Africa, North and South America and there's still a lot of oddities just in places I've been. What do New Zealand, Easter Island and Cuba count as? Central America too. Does Oceania exist? Is that 8? Tricky, innit? Anyway, if we go with 7, reaching South America yesterday got me to 6 (at well as 42 Stanford countries-first new one in nearly 6 months making 50 pretty close. I look forward to raising my bat.) that just leaves Antarctica. Here's another good one-is Antarctica the only continent without a country? Is it the only land without national affiliations? (There are some, but they're limited.

Funny in a way that the luxury has been saved here for the end of my trip's first leg. I spent 70 quid for 2 nights in hotels in Santiago-that's an absolute fortune, about 8 or 9 days usual accomodation. Easter Island is the business class flight, which feels very odd. Will my fellow backpackers shun me after seeing me up front? It's also odd being in this departure lounge-it's the first time I've ever looked round at my fellow travellers thinking I'll be seeing a lot of these guys, as there's nowhere else for them to go when we arrive.

I'd had a slightly crazy notion that the flight from Auckland might develop mechanical difficulties forcing us into an emergency landing at Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Assuming we didn't die that would have been quite convenient since it was nearly 11 hours to Santiago and it's over FIVE back to Rapa today. It's phenomenonally remote. Yesterday's flight was almost entirely over vast oceans nowhere near land. Any turbulence makes you regret watching those early episodes of Lost. I looked at the sky map a few times, as we were flying in the dark all you could see was a screen of black blue. There weren't any places to label and I used to think they were struggling to find towns to mark when you cross the Atlantic.

I'll put my pre-flight reservations about LAN Chile down to pre-programmed European (colonial?) prejudice. I have to say they were very good. First time I've flown and they've had that funky entertainment system where you start films and stuff when you want-like having your own DVD player without having to muck about with the disks. You can even pause it when you go to the toilet, where there's no queue since the entire flight is no longer on the same timetable. As I'd already read the Rapa section in the Lonely Planet, the flight turned into a 4 movie fest. And I have a nice new eye mask.

Essentially Friday was a 40 hour day, since it was 30 hours old when I reached my hotel room and the main bed was huge, any plans of doing stuff were limited. By a long way, this is the closest I've come to dropping out for a day. Since Santiago doesn't sound like a highlight of Chile and I'll be back next week and in August or September, it doesn't seem too criminal.

Still I had to have a bit of a look round. Ambitiously I just wandered off without a map, so had no idea what I was looking at. There were plenty of nice, large colonial/classical style buildings. It also looked as if some 60s/70s Soviet architects of concrete had been employed for quite some time. These were freely interspersed and brought the contrasting ages and styles of buildings in London to mind-of course that was a result of the blitz, I'm not sure what caused it in Santiago. Plenty of nice stuff to investigate on my return.

There were lots of military about, but they seemed very friendly and pleasant, so I didn't find that as sinister as I usually would. Maybe they're on the streets as there's plenty to see on Santiago's streets. In my brief tour I joined crowds watching a hoist moving around 12 storeys up (for no discernable reason) and the group of old boys-the tap dancer with the boater and the band with brass instruments. It was very agreeable to walk round: it didn't bother me that there didn't appear to be any other tourists about and I was very conspicuously not from Chile. My looks were one thing, but my purple shirt was a marked contrast to the sober colours of Chilean fashion.

Still, I should have spent more time in bed-feeling this morning's 6 a.m. pick up. I think 3 time zones in 2 days is a record (excluding in transit stops).


Statue Heaven

I felt so self-conscious going through the priority boarding queue that I almost stood in the long queue. Of course, putting on my plane socks, I felt even more self-conscious when my middle aged neighbour stared at my big toes poking out of my regular socks. Seats seem to have a lot more buttons than the last time I flew business, but the best thing was that they had 24 on demand. Can't beat a bit of Jack Bauer.

I'm going with Rapa being the most isolated place on earth. Pitcairn is the nearest place (1500 miles away) and there's not much there; you leave by boat, or fly to Santiago (3,720 kms) or Tahiti (4,050 kms). The people who found it were smart-reckon I'd struggle to get it with GoogleEarth.


Saturday

I had half a day after arriving, so ran round getting the lay of the land, some food and seeing my first Moai.






Sunday

Having now been on an excellent day trip with Christopher, I am overflowing with information and could write reams on the Moai. As this handheld PC gives me hand cramp, I'll stick to an over simplified summary of the human history and Moai construction and installation.

1. About 400 A.D. the island is colonised by Polynesian settlers.
2. The population increases and society develops so that there is the desire to produce massive statues to recognise deceased chiefs, as well as the economy to support this effort.
3. The population increases further so that the Island can no longer support its inhabitants. Moai production ceases, war starts.
4. Victors in war pull down the Moai of the conquered. Moai look over the chief's village (not the sea) and are believed to channel the magic of the dead chief onto the village.
5. Peruvian slave traders take large numbers of the natives-many die in transit and in the mines they are taken to. When the Peruvians are compelled to return them, many more die in transit. The few that make it back to Rapa bring smallpox with them, killing many of those who'd been left on the island all along. Thus is lost Rapa's written language, history and knowledge of Moai carving, transport and installation.
6. 1888 Chile annexes the island.
7. But they rent it to the British for commercial exploitation. The locals are rounded up and confined to Hanga Roa. 50,000 sheep are put on the island for about 50 years. Honestly. Oh and we 'bought' a Moai for the British Museum. And some petroglyphs. Look lovely next to the Elgin marbles, I'm sure.

Sadly this history seems a microcosm of the human condition. Many of man's better qualities and achievements are on show-exploration, determination, civilisation, community, creation and ingenuity. Ultimately the negative wins out-over population, environmental exploitation (every tree was cut down), war, fanaticism, envy and above all destruction. By the mid-nineteenth century, no Moai was left standing. The 30 plus that are erect today are all the product of archaeological restoration.

Different stages in the construction are the work of different tribes.
1. The Moai is carved in the quarry at Rano Raraku: the carving begins and reaches a fairly advanced stage before the statue is separated from the main body of rock.
2. Later Moai have Pukao, or top knots. These are from a red stone and come from a separate quarry at Puna Pau.



3. When complete a 'small' Moai weighs about 30 tonnes. This needs to be moved to its resting place which may be 10+ km away. There are a number of theories, many of which have been tested, but no one knows how this was done.
4. An Ahu needs to be built on which the Moai will stand. The chief's body is buried under or behind the Ahu.
5. The Moai is placed on the Ahu. No one knows how (the Ahu is raised up, like a platform, to make installing a heavy statue several metres high a bit more challenging.)
6. The Pukao may be placed on top now, or may have been tethered to the Moai during its installation. You guessed it, no one knows.

This is no casual undertaking. Only Easter Island has Moai of this kind. Culturally, statue building and funerary monuments to chief are common in Polynesian tribes. The difference here appears to be that they had the stone and economy to allow them to go gargantuan.

At it's height estimates reckon there were 12-20,000 people on the island. 1,000 were supposed to be in the quarry-separate tribes transported and erected the stones. Then it all had to be paid for. I'm struggling to see how the economy managed to feed everyone and support the Moai industry. There is a theory about extra-terrestrials being involved-I'm not totally convinced there's not something in that.

Everything about Rapa is so unlikely, often due to its remoteness: finding it, colonising it, surviving on it, staying on it, flourishing on it, building transporting and installing Moai on it. Even today, the remoteness prompts a barrage of questions-where's the power come from, how often does the supply ship come, how do you buy a new car, when was the telephone hooked up, is there a long cable across the sea to Chile.

Christopher's tour was excellent, we started at Ahu Vaihu, where the Moai remain where they toppled.



A similar scene greeted us (me and the Aussie girl from my hostel) at Ahu Akahanga.



Then it was onto Rano Raraku and Tongariki-either one of which is an obvious world heritage site and contender for membership of the 7 wonders of the world. Juxtaposed, they're mind blowing.

Raraku is the quarry, this is what you see on the approach.



And that's something of a close up, due to the limitations of photography. Here are over 300 of the island's 900 or so Moai-some are still being worked on,



some seem to await transportation



and some genuinely have the feel of shop window



get your Moai here. Still open mouthed at this Moai nursery, you round a corner and get your first glimpse of Tongariki for which I was totally (and joyously) unprepared.



Raraku carries on



and we climbed to the top for the views of the area. I don't remember much of that-my head was spinning. One of the under construction statues was to be 21m high. Experts say it would have been impossible to transport-a bold call when you don't know how they moved them.

After lunch we drove the short distance to Tongariki, the biggest and most spectacular restoration.





More than ever, you don't need me to say anything.

On the other side of the Poike Peninsula, how's this for freaky?



To me that's a Moai sleeping in a hill. Ahu Te Pito Kura has the largest Moai ever installed at just under 10m.



Then for a big finish, the beach at Anakena



This was for royalty only: it's one of only 2 natural beaches on the island-the other is so small it might struggle to host a meeting of the Gary Glitter fan club. Anakena is also the site of the Moai erected by Thor Heyerdahl and friends-13 men, 20 days, some damage to Moai.



Moai-wise, these sites are the pick, but there's much more to explore. This is an extraordinary place. Quite literally.

I went out with the Aussie girl and Stephanie-Jersey girl who likes to think she's from New York. They were catching the evening flight to Tahiti. I was just settling down in the empty hostel to write about today's trip, when Steph returned. Turned out her e ticket didn't really exist. Should have some good company for the next 3 days.


Monday

I'd worked out a good walking tour for today that would take me round a lot of places I'd not seen. Rather than walk on the road, I plumped for a more cross country coastal route. This was tough going-the grass was long and covered the uneven rocky ground beneath. The map said it should take me an hour by road to reach Ahu Te Peu-my way took 3 hours.

I bumped into Steph on a horse as I was preparing my torch to investigate a cave I hoped was Ana Kakenga, my first planned stop. I'd managed to miss it. This coastal route could have worked out better.

I'd had one dog following me since I left Hanga Roa, then at the ruin of Ahu Te Peu 2 more joined me to give proceedings a pied piper feel. The number of strays is a feature of the island. Walking wasn't always easy-in places, the groundsman needs to work on the drainage



My next stop was Ana Te Pahu, a crazy and sprawling cave that offered substantial accommodation and a built in garden.



The dogs followed me in and around the cave. By now, two of them were chewing on horses' hooves. I wondered if they had plans for me.

The day's un doubted highlight was Ahu Akivi.




This is the only place where Moai look towards the sea-it's quite a way inland.

Then I made a final stop at Puna Pau, the red stone quarry where the topknots were made. Weary, I trekked back the final few kms to Hanga Roa-still with my trusty friends.



I'd barely got back and collapsed after 7 and a half hours almost constant walking, when Steph chivvied me out the door again as sunset was kicking off. Cracking day.


Tuesday

Well I've done some ridiculous things in my time, but this morning was right up there. Stephanie and I have hired Christopher's 4WD for the day and the initial plan was to go out for sunrise. Late night last night, but since Rapa isn't in its natural time zone (to make business and communication with mainland Chile easier), it wasn't too early a start.

May is the wettest month here and there's been rain everyday, with the heavier stuff overnight. It started later last night, but went at monsoon levels to make up for it. With it still raining when it was time to leave, Stephanie decided to skip it. Inevitably, I ploughed on, despite knowing it was idiotic and likely to be pointless. Perhaps because of those very things.

Parts of the road were now rivers, others just lakes. We'd discussed various options last night and I decided to try Vinapu, which was the closest although it wasn't clear if you could reach it by road. You couldn't. I ended up at what I think is the NASA bit (Rapa is an emergency space shuttle landing site).

I gingerly did a 5 point turn-no prizes for getting the car stuck on the verge and headed back. Visibility was appalling-aside from the rain it was utterly pitch black dark. That's my excuse for getting lost anyway. I later found the road has 2 branches at a very acute angle, I went straight on, only seeing one branch-the wrong one.

So I headed off down the coast road; after half an hour I could see the sea, but I was right on top of Tongariki before I saw it. I got my first decent pic with night mode



and although there wasn't really a sunrise to watch, the vegetation, mist and rain were very atmospheric as it got lighter.



The rain's getting harder as I eat breakfast-not sure what we'll do!

We'd planned to hike up Maunga Pukatikei-the high point of the far peninsula. We spent time at Anakena, Playa Ovahe, Te Pito Kura and Rano Raraku. Since the cloud lifted off Maunga Pukatikei for about 5 mins, we canned the hiking plan. This is definitely one of those places where a single visit to the sights is insufficient, so going back was something we both enjoyed.

We found the out of the way Vinapu site (not too far from where I'd been lost this morning). This was an unrestored site, but didn't feel a ruin like Ahu Te Peu. I find the fallen statues poignant



This was also where we found the lady Moai and a number of severed heads.



Steph wanted to show me Ana Kakenga, the 2 windows cave I'd walked past yesterday. We decided to go via Ahu Akivi, which turned out to be a mistake as the road between the two was so bad that we got stuck in liquid mud. After about 10 mins, a german guy came to 'see what the road was like'. Since we'd done that job for him, he got behind the wheel, we pushed and the car came free. We just had time to tear round the other side and join the sunset crowd.



We were delayed a touch by the dog that was weaving and running in front of the car trying to bite the tyres. This freaked me out. Steph just told me to drive faster: she thought he was smart enough to get out the way. I felt his actions indicated otherwise.

We also made a great new friend at the sunrise. It was hard to stifle our giggles as one local rode past on his horse. My hair wouldn´t be that long if I grew it for 10 years-he had the most arse wipingly long hair I have ever seen on a man. He first rode past with a guitar strapped to his back, but we weren´t at all surprised when he rode back hands free, playing his guitar. The surprise was that he didn´t have a rose clamped between his teeth. Hard to believe, but he wasn´t taking the piss or preparing for a role in the next Will Ferrell movie. We couldn´t help but stare and the moment I averted my eyes (to wipe away the tears), he stuck his tongue out at Steph. Mmm sexy.

And how I haven´t got a photo is a mystery. I described him to Christopher, who said he could be any one of 20 guys on the island. We found him again a few nights later with 3 ladies of a certain age, who hung on his every word, despite the absence of horse and guitar. Seriously ladies, he´ll only ever love one person-himself, the best they were looking at was coming third behind the horse.

We went to see Rapa Nui in the evening: this is a pretty terrible Hollywood film from the early 90s. It bombed on release, but packs them into one of the hotel's in Hanga Roa. It's not good and I suspect totally incomprehensible if you don't know the island's history; if you do, then it's just a mess of inaccuracy and ludicrous action and romance.


Wednesday

This seemed more like it. It was a glorious day and seemed reward from the gods for our discomfort the previous day. Tanya from Denmark joined Steph and me for a hike up Rano Kau to the volcano crater and ancient village of Orongo. Tanya was the only one to bring her waterproof out in the sunshine. I guess the alarm bells should have rung when the woman at the bakery laughed at our plan and said rain. We carried on.

Our first stop at Ana Kai Tangata we recognised as one of the film's key locations-you can see why they chose it, it has cave paintings and is spectacular.

Then it started to rain, but not too hard. We sheltered under some trees in the restored garden at the foot of the hill. Much food was cultivated

We were starting to get pretty wet passing through the bushes and plants on the way up the volcano. Then it threw it down; like Stewart Island I was as wet as when Radiohead played Oxford. The view from the crater edge



was quite something.

I was a little lucky to get this shot of the outlying islets.



The mist and cloud swallowed them minutes later. My camera was already broken-it's going straight to full zoom when turned on and won't be persuaded otherwise.

Here I am before someone threw a bucket of water on me.



We toured the village, planning on returning to Hanga Roa by taxi. Nice idea, shame there was no mobile signal and the ranger's office had no phone.

So with the water flowing round my feet inside my boots, we headed back down through the cloud and rain. When we reached the bottom we looked back up the volcano to see the blue sky and sun now bathing it. Bugger.

As we waited for Steph to go for her plane, it became abundantly clear we had spent way too much time together. Firstly, she said tomato: and shocked even herself by pronouncing it properly (you know the song). I was giddy with the glory of the old country. Unforgivably, I almost immediately handed back this great victory for the English language: I said pants when talking of trousers. I have no idea what possessed me, I am so ashamed I think I may be Catholic. Naturally, when I next have a free day, I shall hang myself. With a pair of trousers.


Thursday

It's been raining all day, so I've been writing this and putting off my speech for Tim's wedding. I can't see any way I'm going to see the northwest corner now-there's no car access at any time, bike access isn't happening in this weather and the available horses are a little wild for my skills. So the only option is an all day walk through rivers of mud in my sodden boots while the heavens empty on me. I can do that at Glastonbury.

Still, I'm not too disappointed. I wanted to make sure I had enough time and I have seen basically everything. When there's a little break in the weather I'll visit the church and museum and see if I can find some appealing tourist tat. If there's a good break in the weather, I'll haul arse back to Orongo for the view over Rano Kau. Basically, I'm satisfied.

I should also point out that although May is the wettest month, Lonely Planet's climate chart indicates it's only about 50% wetter than the dryest month. It depicts a fairly even year round rain and temperature situation. Yeah right, Lonely Planet.

The museum doesn't contain many artefacts, which shouldn't have surprised me as the whole island is one massive open air museum. It is overflowing with information, much of which was familiar. I essentially read for an hour and got a comprehensive picture of what is known of the island's history. I walked for a while, checked e-mail (house is almost rented, hurrah) and picked up supplies. Raining again.


Friday

It's my last afternoon in Easter Island and I'm feeling a touch melancholy, as in some ways this is the last afternoon of this leg of my trip. I left England 7 months and 11 days ago. I've not been in the Northern Hemisphere since (still not checked the water going down the plughole). Although I'm only back temporarily, I find the idea strange-it seems a long time and I've had so little contact with so many people. It must be a long time-the Zodiac closed,I hadn't realised they'd miss my cash that much. I fly to Santiago tomorrow, arriving in the evening. I do have most of Sunday in Santiago, but my heart's not in it-I'll be back and I'm so tired. Then it's Santiago-Toronto, Toronto-Heathrow. Luverly.

Anyway I'm finally doing what I thought I'd do a lot of-chilling by some Moai. I'm effectively still in Hanga Roa, but there's not a soul to be seen. I haven't even been adopted by a dog. There's something very reassuring about the Moai-I'm gonna miss these big guys.

At first light I cadged a lift with Tanya and the others in John's rented car. They were off to Ana Kakenga, the 2 windows cave, which I'd felt fated not to see. I instantly forgave myself for missing it first time round-it was a long way back from the cliff edge, wasn't signposted and the entrance was so tight I doubt I'd have gone in without someone to tell me it was the right place. You crawl through a dark nasty bit, then it opens out and forks to two large openings, which give out onto the sea.



It rained solidly for about 12 hours from 5 yesterday afternoon, but when we got back for breakfast it was starting to look like the sky was all cried out. It's been the most beautiful day. Tanya and I had already decided we'd revisit Orongo in the event of fine weather and John and Shirley joined us. Aside from going to the cave on the way bavk, we did the exact same route, chatting to the same ranger. It was well worth it. The views were superb in every direction: you could see across the entire island, which emphasised how small it is. This is the only place I've been where I've looked out to see and on the horizon noticed the curvature of the earth. I can thank Steph for pointing that out. When you think about, an Ocean the size of the Pacific has to curve, but I'd have thought of water finding its level and the sea being flat. Sorry Galileo. Accordingly, the pictures were brighter and clearer.



Back down the volcano, we spent some time in the cave just watching the waves crashing.

And so the sun sets on Easter Island

Friday, May 18, 2007

NZ Reflections

When I was in Pahia, I was waiting for the internet and Friends was on (is there a country where it's not?). It was the one where Rachel's mum says 'it's like you're a cave person'. There have been times where NZ has felt resolutely stuck in, if not cave times, then the 80s at least. I have to pay departure tax in cash, at the airport-India now manages to include it in the flight price; I overheard one conversation when 1 guy was telling another he'd booked flights on the net-guy 2 reacted as if he'd converted his house to run off DIY nuclear power; road signage is so adjacent to junctions it can only have bee erected when cars were preceded by a man with a flag; Qantas NZ were bafflingly unhelpful (others have said the same); in one shop the owner looked at me bewildered when I ordered potato wedges-'you can't order them here', so he moved to a till 4 feet to his left, where I could; and then there's the music. For the most part it's character, but on occasion when I've been tired and in a rush, I have wondered why it has to be so difficult. My patience with countries is Marxian like it is with people-each according to their ability. If I think you can do better, I expect you too. Probably why you shower only see the impatient side.

I'm not sure why, but it fails the 'could I live here' test-maybe I've been too long in English speaking former colonies with little human history. Maybe it's a touch bureaucratic.

I do like the fact they have no really small coins-10c is the smallest. In Australia they went down to 5c. It’s like us giving up on 1 and 2 p pieces. Some people moan as things are still priced $0.99 and $0.27 and so on, then it gets rounded, but at the supermarket I reckon it all works out as you buy a bunch of stuff and otherwise it makes no real difference.

It's been a very hard place to write about-for me it's been all about the scenery. I found little to grab me in the cities, was barely inspired to go out and was in a fairly introspective mindset. Scenery is something you need to see, rather than read me babbling about. But what scenery it is; I came here wandering how to spend 7 weeks. I leave exhausted-wishing I'd had an extra week to chill somewhere and another couple to travel.

This is a glorious country and I think almost anyone would enjoy it. For those feeling a little more social than me, apparently there are places to party and there are certainly a lot adrenalin loony things. If you come for less than a month, stick to the South Island-unless you fly into Auckland, in which case go to the Bay of Islands, then go to the South Island.

I feel I'm sounding a bit tough on kiwiland; while it may not rock, it's a majestic place to walk and gaze and reflect. I've made some wonderful new memories here and rekindled many lost ones-that makes NZ a winner for me.

Bishop Auckland

I've only written 2 words in 3 days. So this is likely to be a mess. Before getting to Auckland few people were gushing about it. Once here I've met a number of long termers who are working and a lot of folk who're just here to catch a flight. One girl arrived at 7 pm and left for the airport 8 hours later. I guess I've been a little disappointed in Auckland, as I haven't really spent that much time strictly in the city, but it's been good final few days.

I had half a day after my arrived from Paihia and decided to head straight over to Devonport. It’s one of those cute suburbs that gets recommended to tourists. The twist is that you take a ferry to cross over the bay to get there. I had a bit of a potter round, even looked in shop windows (which is pretty unlike me) as I looked for the second hand bookshop I’d read about. It was a blinder and had far too much for me as I had nothing particular in mind. After stumbling around aimlessly, I got some more literature as I seem to be into worthy (as opposed to sport) reading at the moment. The lady who owned the place was well fired up to hear about my trip, maybe they don’t get a lot of tourists-seemed hard to believe. After that I went up one of the volcanic craters for some panoramic views, including this sight of Rangitoto, Auckland’s most recent volcano (it came out of the sea 600 years ago) and Thursday’s destination.



Tuesday was the only day I really spent in Auckland and even that was a little broken up. I started the day by hiking across to the big car hire street to arrange something for tomorrow’s trip to the Coromandel peninsula. Needless to say I was delighted to give my money to Racing Ray Williams, who won a lot of things racing Porsches-he’d even been to Britain to win stuff. Top bloke Ray and he gave me lot of helpful info and let me pick up the car in the evening and drop it the following morning so I really got my day’s worth of hire.

I then walked to the Auckland Museum, thinking how flat and close this had all looked on the map. The museum is over 3 levels and each one has a focus-NZ, Natural History and War. It was all pretty well done; I found the war section, especially WW2 the most interesting. They had a room just on the holocaust, which made me think how wise Austria is to make holocaust denial a criminal offence. There are still survivors out there.

Then I had some more organisation to do before heading off to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater world. From the photos and all it is abundantly clear that Kelly Tarlton was a right old hippy, who loved diving. His place, completed just 7 weeks before his death aged 47, is an interesting mix of aquarium and Antarctic centre. I’ve seen a lot of fish, so was drawn by the latter complete with a mock up of Scott’s hut (he was the only not to sleep in a bunk) and penguins



which we saw from a snowmobile moving round a fake Antarctic. The feeding of the rays was impressive-they got out the water quite a lot. I was just about to leave when I saw that the ‘cinema’ at the end was playing the Blue Planet. Not wishing to miss a bit of the greatest living Englishman, I decided to head in and catch the next shuttle an hour later-time enough to watch the Open Ocean. The shuttle bus of course was the single biggest reason for going.



As it was getting dark and I was unable to walk much further I picked up my car from Ray and headed for Mount Eden, which I eventually found (signposting is not an art here). By now it was dark and I just some night views over the city. I was most taken by the cows living up the mountain, so may I present ‘Auckland and Cow, by night’




Coromandel

Everyone I met who’d been said it was lovely, so I made the early start as the Coromandel peninsula is a long drive. Staying up talking with Jill till 2 a.m. was obviously great preparation. I made good time as I was heading out of the city and against the traffic. Even so this became a day of near misses-I was meant to go on a weird train ride. I can’t tell you any more as I got stuck behind some old Percy on the road and missed it by a couple of minutes. I was a bit pissed to say the least, as I had put my foot down, missed a couple of scenic photos and didn’t even stop for Die Hard Creek. Similarly when I went to Hot Water Beach (dig a hole in beach, sit in hot thermal water), I was just too late for the tides. So it’s just as well I went bone carving. I stood outside the shop as I was unsure, but decided to give it a go. You get to choose what to carve and I went for one of the fish hook designs, due mostly to the meaning



Most appropriate. You start with a rough cut, which you then attack with a dentist’s drill taking out the centre and rounding the edges. This gives a genuine sense of the shape to come and when I’d done this I thought I was well on the way. Then I found that the real time is spent sanding. It’s a tough old bit of bone and you hold it in your hands and a vice and really give it some. Even so it’s fiddly and I needed a bit of help tidying up so that the shape was consistent. Finally it’s a wet sand, which was cool, and a polish. The whole thing took over 2 hours and I think I achieved quite a transformation.



I don’t think the bone carvers of the world need fear much from me, but I did get quite a lot of encouragement from my lovely teachers. One even enquired if I did a lot craft work-I bet she says that to all the boys. And no, I do not know what the Vegetarian Society’s stance on bone carving is.

I made a couple of swift stops at Cathedral cove and a Captain Cook memorial, then headed back to Auckland. 12 hours after leaving, having missed 2 of the main sights, I was back at Verandahs. If you do go, go for 2 days. 1 was silly.


Rangitoto

It’s a conspiracy, due a lack of maps I didn’t make the most of the trip Rangitoto. I was going to pick one up from the DOC, whose office is by the ferry. I dropped my car off before 8, bought lunch and had an hour before the ferry went at 9.15. Conveniently, the DOC opened at 9.30, so I was left to follow signs and hope I picked a good route. This led to me missing the larva caves, which sounded very exciting. Hopefully there are some on Easter Island. The development of flora on the island is fascinating as rock isn’t usually great for plants and in places just rock remains, next to trees and bushes.



There were even mangroves growing in rock (with a bit of mud). Here I am sat on top of a volcano.



And if I was planning to take over the world and needed a secret evil base, then this crater would be a winner.



I finished up the day packing, buying a few bits and reconfirming my flights. After a charm offensive in person at the Qantas office I can now fly back from Rio to the UK in October, saving me a few air miles.....to go somewhere else.


The Longest Day

My name is John van de Poll, and today is the longest day of my life.

I pity Jack Bauer when the international date line gets involved in 24. My flight to Santiago takes off just before dinner time, then lands just before lunchtime-11 and a half hours later ON THE SAME DAY. I know it's essentially arbitrary, but that messes with my brain.

I spent the morning at the Art Gallery, where I managed to go to the wrong building for the Passion and Politics show I wanted to see, paid to get in to see something much better. Then I went to the British stuff round the corner. Now I’m waiting to go to the airport.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Heading North

Well, it's happened. I've held out for a while, but I'm now officially old and useless. I was looking for seat R18 last night and struggling when the usherette came to help me: she laughed and told me I was in O 40. R18 meant no under 18s were allowed in. If I'd found the seat (and I was in Row R when I got helped), I'd have sat in it. Shoot me now.

I thought Dylan Moran would be disturbing-I once saw Jonny Vegas interviewed and although he was funny, you worried for his mental state. Dylan seems fine, intelligent, philosophical even, but not quite as funny as I expected.

I'm really worn out: 3 nights is the longest I've stayed anywhere since the end of January and I've stayed in a different place every night for the last week. Plus I've done a lot of travelling and organising. And I had a buzz saw sleeping in my dorm at Waitomo. So I'm thrilled that my new abode, Captain Bob's Beach house, is delightful (follow the legend of Bob Nelson, you won't go far wrong). I booked in for 2 nights in case it was another Cactus Jack's, but I'll definitely stay 3 nights, maybe 4!

Usual drill today-early start, bus, arrive, hostel, supermarket, plan and explore. I visited Waitangi this afternoon, which was very tranquil till the coach party arrived. Waitangi is where in 1840 the British and Maori signed the treaty that essentially made NZ British. I could go into a lot of history, but I'm fuc...., very tired. The Marae was stunning-the one thing I made a beeline for after seeing a pic in the Lonely Planet.



It was the equivalent of non-denominational-there was no affiliation to a particular tribe. The interior was decorated with many carved faces, about half with their tongue sticking out. This guy has the scariest tongue I've ever seen.




So long, and thanks for all the fish

Not been on a boat for a couple of weeks, so it was clearly time for an all dayer round the Bay of Islands, to the hole in the rock, the Pacific, lunchtime stop and stroll on an island,



with a load of dolphin spotting thrown in. Orcas were an outside chance, but didn't emerge.



We spent about an hour morning with 3 pods of dolphins around us. Dolphins spend 75% of their time socialising-that's chatting, playing and mating. The other 25% is eating and resting.

Anyone still think we're the smartest creature on the planet? I've spent 75% of my week working before amd 25% shagged out-it's not quite the same.

They don't actually sleep they shut down half their brain (and 1 eye)-they'd drown if they slept. Gonna live while I'm alive, I'll sleep when I'm dead. Tell you, dolphins have the right idea. They can also 'see' a 3-d image from their 'clicking' sonar-with regular eyes as well, I guess they effectively do have eyes in the back of their heads. There are lots of babies about at the moment, we even watched one suckling: the babies meant there was no chance to swim with them (a protection law). Since I'm still unsure about the swimming thing, I wasn't perturbed. There was plenty of acrobatics and I managed a pic.



The bay is full of islands as you'd expect, which provided variable and restful panoramas. When we docked, the sight that greeted my eyes freaked me out a country music festival had started and was on for the weekend. I saw a 'country till I die' t-shirt. There were plenty of street performances over the weekend and I just don't get it: crap lyrics, badly sung to slow dull music-you might as well listen to Timberlake. I lost count of the number of cowboy hats, boots and RVs.


Fat is Fast

Today is a big all day coach trip-400km up to the top of NZ. We passed the oldest building in NZ-only about 1840, but stone and most attractive. Then onto the Kauri forest: Kauri are another monster tree that live for thousands of years. Naturally, this means most of them were cut down before being protected. Unlike in Oz, Kauri is a very dense wood. I knocked on one and nearly broke my frankie knuckles.



90 mile beach (it's 64 miles) is rather like Fraser Island-the coach was belting down it at over 100. This was a full size coach, despite there only being 11 of us. This buried yute is eloquent testament to not getting into trouble on the beach.



It's been there 2 weeks.

Just off the end of the beach, we stopped at some massive sand dunes for some sand boarding. Stylistically it was more sand skeleton-no standing up, just lie down and hurtle down the dune face first. I was glad of my shades, but could taste the sand in my mouth for the rest of the day. The police have been up here and clocked people at 80+ kms per hour. Clambering up the dune was hard work as ever.

As on snow, I generated great speed but had no way to control it. On my first run I hit a bump where it started to level out (stopped being sheer), took off, lost my grip on the board and wiped sufficently spectacularly for folk to enquire about my health. Drives set the benchmark for my second effort-he went down the steep bit of the dune, across the flattish bit where everyone else had stopped, down the last slight incline and across most of the creek nearly back to the bus. He took a run up and a dive to start his run. I all but matched his effort, getting plenty wet as I skidded across the creek, despite taking off again: this time only one hand came off and I managed to grab the side of the board so I at least stayed on. I did this from a stationary start, with my brakes (feet) on a bit and without lifting the front of the board for extra speed. Gravity and the gut really help acceleration! Apparently 'hauling arse' is the technical assessment of my zippy performance. Perhaps the Olympic dream isn't dead. Anyone got a phone number for Shelly Rudman or Alex Coomber?

Cape Reigna isn't the most northerly point, but effectively is due to accessibility.



They must get some storms here. Go West (life is peaceful there) and after 1500 km you'll hit land just South of Sydney; East-land's a touch further and 5,500 km gets you to Santiago; going North you'll need to change hemispheres and keep on a bit to reach Siberia. This is an exposed spot. The point marks the meeting of the oceans (Tasman and Pacific). Incredibly you can actually see them meet.



I thought the idea of separate oceans was a notional thing.

I found a kindred spirit in Austrian Katie-we were both drawn to the more interesting spots away from the crowds (although I'm sure there are many more punters in high season). The bus stopped at a beach round the corner from Cape Reigna: we went on a walk up the cliffs and really wanted to carry on back to Cape Reigna, but had to get back-even then we were 10 minutes late. It's the lack of flexibility that's a pain on these organised trips. Still, no other way to do it-hire companies won't let you take cars on the beach.

On the way back we stopped for legendary fush n chups (kiwi accented spelling); chups n chups for me.


Russell

I decided to stay another day as I was loving Paihia. There's wasn't much left to do, but I've not had a day off in 7 months and wasn't going to start now. I walked through the forest behind the village to get a view across the bay. I took the ferry across the bay to Russell, which was once known as the hellhole of the Pacific due to the drinking and general licentiousness. Sadly times change.

They have the oldest church in NZ



and a one fifth scale model of Cook's Endeavour.



How over 100 men lived on the full scale version is beyond my imagination.

I also climbed up Flagstaff hill for the view.



This is the site where Maori 4 times cut down a flagpole flying the Union Flag. The British didn't bother a fifth time.

Back at Captain Bob's I went on the internet to finally book a place on Easter Island-pricey at 15,000 Chilean Peso, or 15 quid a day. That's about double what I've been paying in Oz/NZ. The computer's in the TV room and I was surprised to find people watching The Two Towers-surprised as that was my plan for the evening. Hadn't missed too much, so I watched the rest; still didn't recognise anywhere. Just the Fellowship to go.

I head back to Auckland tomorrow. I'll miss Paihia-it's been the best of the North with one of the best hostels. Odd to think I'll be in Auckland tomorrow, Easter Island in a week, Pisa in 2, Vienna in 3, Oxford in 4 and Glasto in 5. Time to get those tour t-shirts printed.