Monthly Archives: November 2014

Seven Great Days in New Zealand

After a great visit in Hawaii, we headed off to New Zealand. As soon as we landed we were feeling the Kiwi love.  There’s just something about this country that draws us right in. We checked in for a couple nights in Queenstown at the Larchhill B&B.

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu


The view from our room


Queenstown in the sunshine


We freshened up, went for a quick run, and then headed out to “See if this place has a pub!” We had couple drinks on the waterfront (Steinlagers!) and then dinner at the Irish Pub next door. We were feeling super stoked to be back in New Zealand where everyone is so friendly, everything is so easy and well-organized, and we were getting ready to meet up with all the Coast-to-Coasters!


The next day we took the Gondola up to the Skyline and from there hiked up the Ben Lomond track.  The plan was to run it (six miles) but it was too steep and the footing too slippery.  We made the saddle but turned around before the peak because of the mud.  I have to say I was probably most excited about the Jelly Belly store at the end of our run, and bought a box to get me through the next week.

The Rail Trail started the next day. At 10am we arrived in Arrowtown and got a look at the crew.  We had met a few of these crazy Kiwis two and a half years ago thanks to reconnecting with Erica, one of my best friends on the track team at UCSD.  She and her partner Rob were kind enough to indoctrinate us into the group during their annual trek to Tuapo, a beachside getaway for a week, and we loved the fun, athletic group right away. We also enjoyed their especially Kiwi peculiarities.  Anyway, fast-forward a couple years later and here they were gathering again together, this time in large quantities! 47 of them signed up for the three-day Rail Trail bike trek, in which we all rode on mountain bikes for about 100 miles along the old railroad track though Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand.

So that morning we pull up to the Arrowtown Apartments where the motley crew was gathering.  We spotted Grubby right away, maybe because he was wearing a cow suit?  He gave us a warm welcome, repeating, “Good effort, guys, getting here.”   I was just looking around soaking in the group, made up of a collection of Kiwis from all over New Zealand, a good amount of South Africans, and the Hong Kong contingent (plus us, the only two Americans).


Ok, let me first try to describe the South Africans.  Now I have to admit that I’ve had a personal prejudice against South Africans for a long time because the ones I know are a bit arrogant, selfish, and to be honest, a bit racist.  But right away I discovered (alas!) there are some really great South Africans, too!  Tanj and Jill were really friendly right off the bat, and then we met Jane, my new idol.  Ok, so this woman is maybe 52 and in killer shape. Once I touched her arm to hand her a beer and I was stunned at how rock hard she was.  She was an animal on the bike and often rode the track twice because she would go back to “Check on the girls,” or “See how Howard is coming along.”  She was also so sweet and welcoming to us. Finally, she partied like a rock star. She outlasted me every night (ok, not that hard to do, but still, I was impressed!).

Go, Janie, go!

Go, Janie, go!

Then there are the Hong Kongers.  Martin is Grubby’s friend and the two of them were celebrating their 50th (the reason, in fact, for this event).  Martin is South African but lived for many years in Hong Kong and made lots of friends there with the British ex-pats who live there, who, by the way, call themselves FILTH (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong).   So about 10 of them made the trek to Queenstown just for this event.  They were all great, but our favorite was Tim. On the first day we sat together in the van for a three hours and had very proper conversation about travel and culture, and I thought he was just a very stoic British guy, until a few beers got into him.  We soon realized he was a wild one.  Just as an example, one morning they all went for a run around a lake in the middle of Arrowtown and he decided to do it “sans” clothes.  Not sure why.


Way to clench, Tim!

We also enjoyed meeting a lovely couple from Zimbabwe who had moved to Auckland after the civil war in their country.  They were so sweet and Ash told me lovely stories of growing up on the farm where her mother would take in injured wild animals including a lion, and monkey, and a mongoose (in their house!).  She said the monkey and the mongoose grew up together and were inseparable, and the monkey would ride the mongoose around the house!  Wow!

Ok, they don't always look like this!

Well, they don’t always look like this!


We also met a lot of Kiwis who had travelled from all over to come to this Queenstown event.  Like Howard, Grubby’s accountant who freakishly knew everything about American sports. Dunfey was another character and a half, and Mark tried to keep up with him by closing down the party every night (though Dunfey always managed to outlast him).

From left to right: Dunfey, Tim, Mark, Mel, Badger and me in front

Clockwise: Dunfey, Tim, Mark, Badger, me and Mel in the middle


As an aside, many of the crew were fascinated by Mark’s job as a poker player.  By Day 2 most were referring to him, simply as The Gambler. At one of the inns Mark found a piano and began playing, and I heard someone saying, “Who is playing the piano?” and the other said, “It’s the Gambler.”  I had to laugh.

The bike part was really fun. It wasn’t as challenging as Mark had expected (just flat wide trail riding) but the second day wore me out (I probably shouldn’t have stopped at that pub midway and had two honey beers).


As usual, Mark was such a stud that on one of the legs he opted to run instead of bike.  So all 46 of us rode bikes while Mark ran and beat most of us!


I did have a few “moments” riding by myself in the middle of New Zealand, going by millions of lovely fluffy sheep and riding through some tunnels that were completely pitch black.  What a great way to meet and bond with so many new friends.


me and Pinche (that’s really his name!)

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I had a mini-melt down on Day 2 when we arrived at our hotel, which was actually a little guest house, where ten of us where supposed to share one bathroom.  Mark tucked me into bed early and I powered up the wifi, turned on the electric blanket, and recharged my batteries (yes, this means Facebook time).


The last day was another 30K and then we were done!  Felt fantastic and what a feeling to arrive back in “civilization.” Grubby and Martin arranged for us all to have a lunch at a winery in Central Otago (Bannockburn). Now we’re talking.  We walked into a beautiful place with huge windows overlooking a lovely vista, delicious antipasti, and endless bottles of wine.


Turns out Central Otago is known for their Pinot Noirs.  My favorite wine. Perfect. This is when Tim from Hong Kong came in handy. He was good at making sure we never ran out!


After a delicious lunch and a great buzz we drove back to Arrowtown and checked into the Millbrook Resort.  We couldn’t have planned this trip better because each leg kept getting more and more luxurious.  Millbrook is absolutely gorgeous.  It is surrounded by mountains, creeks, and a lush golf course, and our room was awesome with all the little luxuries like a big tub and heated tile floors.   There we finally meet up with Rob and Erica and Markos, who all just flew in from Auckland.


So what’s next? Fancy Dress Night of course.  Grubby and Martin decide for no particular reason that we will all dress up in costumes and hit the pubs in Queenstown. You know you don’t have to tell Mark and I twice!  So I whip out my Black Swan costume (yes, I chose to use precious space in my suitcase to bring the costume instead of my dive gear!)  and Mark goes as a character from The Fifth Element and we show up in a taxi wondering if we’ll be the only ones dressed up.  Luckily, no.

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Super fun crazy night that of course led to Mark asking to wear my bra. Not sure why? But I was happy to lend it to him.


Around 1am I was fading at the bar so I told Mark I would  find my way home and gave him the “hall pass” to go big, which he gladly accepted.  As I was leaving one of Grubby’s cousins offered me a ride, which was great.   However, by the time we got to the Millbrook I could tell he was tired and he pulled up to the gate saying,  “Here you are…” I knew it was a ways down the road to the hotel, but I didn’t want to be rude and ask him to drive me all the way there, so he dropped me off and there I was in the pitch black night about a mile away from the hotel reception.   And remember, I’m wearing a tutu and tights—that’s it!  And still a bit drunk. It’s so dark (and I’m wobbly). I can’t see the road and keep stumbling onto the grass.  Luckily it’s easy to feel it through my ballet slippers, so I managed to stay on the road the whole way there.  When I finally got to Reception I stuck my head in the window looking for someone to let me in and I think the poor night clerk had a heart attack when he saw my eyes staring in on him.


The good part was, that night on the long walk I finally spotted the southern cross, a constellation shaped like a cross only visible in the southern hemisphere. I have been trying to spot that thing for years. That long, cold, dark but beautiful walk is one I will never forget.

Meanwhile, Mark made a solid effort with the late-night crew and crashed on a couch at Grubby’s place with a few of the other guys.  The next morning the guy dressed at Elvis woke up on the couch next to Mark and remembered he had to go pick up his wife at the airport.  Since all he had was his Elvis costume, he put it back on (wig and all), dropped Mark back at off at our hotel, and drove straight to the airport. I bet his wife just loved getting picked up by a hung over, unshowered Elvis!


Elvis sandwiched between Rothy and Dunfey. No good can come of this!

The final day was the main event, a formal dinner and dancing party at the Mount Soho Winery with the whole group (which by now had turned into 150 people).  It was terrific.  Amazing venue, amazing food, ridiculous amounts of delicious wine.

And did I mention, full on debauchery? It made the fancy dress night look like a warm-up (and I suppose it was).  I danced with every man there and even got carried around on the shoulder of Grubby for a dance (this apparently is his signature move).  Speaking of Grubby, I have to give him props for inviting not just one but FIVE of his exes to the party.  This guy likes to keep in touch!

So we danced and partied til midnight until the bus picked up all our drunk asses. On the way to the hotel the bus stopped at a pub, and it took all my coaxing to keep Mark on the bus, reminding him that the next morning we would begin the 24 hour trip to Indonesia. Luckily he listened to me but that didn’t mean we weren’t majorly hung over the next day!

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Such a great week. Again, we are truly grateful for the warmth, laughter and fun that comes with everyone we have met in New Zealand. While I try to stay away from stereotypes (surely everyone  in one country can’t possibly all be this wonderful?) again and again I am struck by how much I enjoy the lifestyle, personality, culture and attitude of New Zealanders! If only it were tropical, we would be living there instead of Mexico for sure.  Thanks again to the Kiwis for welcoming us and sharing such an amazing week with us!

Thank you, Erica!!!

I will miss my buddy! When’s our next adventure, Erica?

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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


First stop, Makaha

The blog is back!  I have been meaning to add another post for, like, two years, and I really don’t have a good excuse why I haven’t. But alas, here I am finally writing a new one.

Since it had been a long time without any exotic adventures (mainly just Mexico and Mammoth with a bit of BVI sprinkled in between),  Mark and I decided to plan a big trip.  It covered a few different spots on the globe, but our first stop was Hawaii to visit my dad. So let me tell you a little bit about that.

A couple of years ago my dad fell and hit his head, and has never been the same since.  He suffers from brain damage and so his mind is fuzzy and he is confused. He’s been living in a nursing home on the remote west coast of Oahu and his wife visits him frequently, but I know he misses his kids and I was really excited to spend some time with him.

When Mark and I arrived at the Mahaka nursing home, all the staff was excited to see us. Dad is clearly one of their favorite residents. It might be because he is a lot more active and personable than some of the other patients.  It might also be because he flirts with all the nurses.  But it’s a good thing because they take really good care of him.  As always, right away he recognized me and seemed so happy to see me.


Dad and I at the Army Recreational Center (the only beachfront joint in Makaha).


He seemed in great shape and spirits, and we had a really nice three days together. We took him out to lunch a couple of times and also to our condo.  He had an amazing appetite and finished everyone’s plate plus extra ice cream.  I told him about our life in Mexico and showed him all the pictures.  He seemed to understand most things, and he kept saying, “I’m glad you’re happy.”


He still has a very wry sense of humor, and Mark and I were surprised by his wit.  Most of his jokes were self-deprecating, but he also told us stories about the other residents (some true, some invented).  As you can imagine, some of the people there were wandering around quite confused and sometimes ornery.  Like Gladys. She is a frail little lady with long gray hair that wheels herself around the halls, barking out in a scratchy “Red Rum” voice to the staff, “Iced tea! Iced tea! Can’t you hear me?”  She’s sort of frightening and one time she cornered me in the hall and grabbed my hand and I have to admit I ran to get her an iced tea!   Dad kept leaning over to me and whispering, “That one is nuts.”  It cracked me up.


Dad and Sunny


When Mark and I weren’t spending time with Dad, we did a little exploring around Makaha and we just loved this side of the island.  It is a world away from the craziness of Waikiki, where Dad used to live.  Makaha is all the way on the northwest coast, just before the road ends.  The community is known to be poor and “rough,” but we found the people so friendly and welcoming. Mark went on a run through the lush valley and every single person he passed called out to him to say, “Hello!” or “Good Morning!”  And the beaches are so quiet and beautiful. Definitely a wonderful place to visit.


Makaha Valley


View of Kaena Point, just a few miles from Dad’s place


On the second day I gave Dad a surprise. Before the accident, he had just finished writing a novel (his first).  He shared the draft with me, but it never made it to an editor.  I figured it was time to have it published.  I had it printed and brought him a couple paperback and hardback copies. He was shocked. He said, “I wrote all these pages? How many pages are there?” (134).  Then he asked, “Is it any good?”  I laughed and told him it wasn’t bad.  He signed a copy for his wife and gave it to her, and I think he was proud and pleased. We left the other copies in his room and told him we would see him in the morning.


When we arrived again the next day,  a couple of the nurses came up to me and said, “We saw your dad’s book! We want to read it! Where can we buy a copy?”  I said, “Seriously? Sure. I’ll get you one.”  But they said, “You don’t understand, everyone wants to read it. The whole staff is asking for one. We love your dad and we can’t wait to read his book.” I couldn’t believe it. He already had a reader base!  I told Dad the news and asked him how much we should sell his book for. He was sort of wavering between five and ten dollars, and he said I should get a cut, as his agent.  Before I left I ordered 20 more copies to be sent to the nursing home.  Hopefully Dad’s making lots of money!

It was hard to say goodbye, but the visit was so rewarding for me and I think for Dad, too.  We will be sure to be back again soon.

Here’s a sneak peek from the back page of Dad’s book.
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Another blog is coming soon! Next stop, New Zealand!


Posted by on November 16, 2014 in Uncategorized