Friday, 29 May 2009

The book(shop) thief

I'm going to try and keep this short as the last few entries have been quite ridiculously long. Sorry for that and thanks for sticking with me.

The dismal Vegas experience very much over shadowed much of the trip in San Francisco. I was grumpy and disappointed with Sin City and also a little strange from watching all those Law and Order reruns. Whenever one has too much time to ones self, one finds one can get a little peculiar and also a bit introspective and feeling a tad homesick. So as I descended upon San Fran, I was grumpy, strange and had high expectations that I would feel better soon. The problem with high expectations is that you often are left disappointed as you've set them too high to meet.

This I feel was the case with my first few days in San Fran. It didn't help that it was really cold and foggy so I couldn't recooperate by sitting in a park reading a book (my usual mood lifting cure all). Also, when I feel a bit low, I need to be left alone until the mood lifts and a German girl in my dorm persisted on trying to befriend me. "what are you doing' 'what are you planning on doing' 'what are your plans' and so on. Now I'm sure (in retrospect) she was just being kind, but I all wanted to do was leap from my chair/bunk bed (wherever she had cornered me) and scream at the top of my lungs "Get out of my FACE!"

Now, this is obviously an over reaction to a German attempted befriending. I'm aware. But as Winston Churchill said 'you cannot dodge the blackk dog of despair' or something similar. So I sullenly sulked and slunk and all together tried to avoid her for, oh 3 days. However, after this time (during which I had been doing my best to be a good tourist, did a tour, saw the Golden Gate Bridge, the gays and the hippies- buy a book if you want to hear about the sights) mooching around avoiding Germans I suddenly and inexplicably whilst having an late shower to warm myself after a long day of walking in the cold, started feeling better. Oh it was a fantastic feeling. I felt energised and ready to be socialable again.
Unfortunately, it was about 10 at night and the German was asleep, bless her and the next day she left before I could apologise and show her I actually was a nice person, not a weird recluse.

After my sudden epiheny or whatever it was, I truely began to enjoy San Francisco (the sun deciding to descend probably helped this) and I spent my last day there feeling far more myself. And I bought a book. Maybe two.

However, it was now time to move on to my next destination, a place called Portland. You may or may not have heard of this little city (I had not), but main reason for going there was 1. it broke up a tedious rail journey to Seattle and 2. I was told it had a very large bookshop. For once my expectations were met. What a bookshop. 4 floors of well laid out, alphabeticalised joy. And it was a mix of new and secondhand. If I could have moved in, I would have. If I could have actually picked the building up and transplanted it to Edinburgh and employed myself there, I would have. Actually, if I get a genie wish that would be it (stuff world peace).

Portland also has a wonderful array of arthouse cinemas pouring out of every little cubby hole and a very large clean park with a massive rose garden. I have basically been in hogs heaven for about 3 days. If I hadn't of already prebooked my journey onward to Seattle today I would have stayed. Forever. Well, may be two days.

Friday, 22 May 2009

I'm the Kid in America

Well all my dark nightmares of being wrestled to the ground at the immigration desk and then probe searched by customs turned out to be unfounded. I arrived safely in Los Angeles after an uneventful journey in which I did not sleep. This is curious to me as I fall asleep on any other form of transport, just not planes as (Aimie will testify after being on several trains with me on mini breaks) I fall asleep on public transport at the drop of a hat. However, planes do not lull me into that good night.

Anyway, I pensively approached the desk, greasy face and hair, clutching my little book with my information about where I was staying and my ticket leaving Canada etc etc, full of nervous anticipation. IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME IN THE US? OH MY HAVE A NICE TRIP! I was stunned and moved quickly onwards to the customs queue. The customs man looked me up and down, OH MY GOD DO YOU ONLY HAVE ONE BAG? For some reason, despite only having one bag, my trusty rucksack for the last 6 months without change, I turned and checked my back, "yes" I said. OH COME ALONG THEN!

From this I surmised two things. All Americans shout at all times and most people coming to the states must have multiple pieces of luggage. In my by then exhausted and slightly confused state I began to search for a door to door shuttle bus- there was no way I was going to try and naviagate public transport with major jet lag. What was so confusing was that I actually gone back in time having left Auckland at 5pm on Sunday, I had arrived at 11am on the same day. I had gone back in time. I truely am a God. Anyway, I got my shuttle and was driven to downtown LA. Now the only reason I picked this particular hotel (yes a hotel, I decided hostelling with jetlag would be unfun) was it was near the bus station so I could walk to the bus stop to get my bus to Las Vegas the next morning. The guide books aren't too kind about downtown LA and after driving through it, I could see why. It was just dirty long streets with dirty people. However, prehaps in my exhausted state I was being unkind. I got to my hotel and when staright to bed for a few hours.

On awakening I realised I was hungry and I would have to venue into the big bad world to get some food. Now despite my anxiety about getting into the country having disappeared, this was replaced by a fear that I would be accosted and robbed by gang members who all had guns and would rob me of my virtue. So in my jet lagged state I stepped into the world. I had not unfairly judged it before. As I wandered the sweaty streets desparately looking for any kind of food shop, all I found where discount diamond stores (?!) and lots of random old men who didn't yell at me at me per se, but every one I walked past would make a funny noise. It was most disconcerting. I saw a MacDonalds and I say with no shame, I got some chicken nuggets and I high tailed it back to the hotel before I was killed by a crazy man.

I ate said chicken nuggets or 'McNuggets' (ho ho so clever) and promptly fell asleep again. I was awoken my the bed shaking and the remote for the TV falling from the bed to the floor. I thought to myself "oh a big truck must have driven by' and thought no more of it until about half an hour later I was channel surfing and came across this headline "LA rocked by biggest earthquake in years!!!" Ah, my first night in California and I had experienced an earthquake. The cliche! This also worried me slightly. No, not the brush with death (it was a very mild earthquake, two shop windows fell out and some stuff fell off some shelves in a petrol station), but the fact the first one in ages had occured on the day of my arrival.

Cast your minds back to my Australia trip. During my time there I was in Melbourne for the devasting fires, left Tasmania the day 30+ whales beached and went to Cairns the day after a cyclone had hit. I was concerned that my bad ecological luck had skipped New Zealand and was now about to strike the States. So keep your eyes posted on the news.

The next morning I awoke unrefreshed, but raring to go. I had decided I did not like LA and was not regretting my decision not to spend anytime there (thank-you Esme for some sound advice). I asked the hotel receptionist if it was far to the bus stop- NO NO! So I began to walk. And walk. And walk. Half an hour later through urine soaked streets and a brush with a fire engine (I keep forgetting that they drive on the right) I arrived at the bus station. Ew. Smelly and dirty. The bus was no better. It was full and I had to sit next to a Mexican chap. I think he must have known a tourist was going to be sitting next to him because he'd obviously gone out and bought the outfit. He had a white stetson, snake skin boots and was chewing a matchstick. I mean really, c'mon, can you fill the stereotype any more than that?!

The bus journey to Las Vegas was unpleasant, but uneventful apart from one thing. I had managed to fall asleep, it not being a plane and suddenly the bus screeched to a halt and I was woken up. Now as I said the bus wasn't great and there was something wrong with my seat so whenever the bus slightly sped up or slowed down it rocked back and forth. With this sudden stop I was flung forward. I looked aorund and all I could see was sand. Of course driving through Nevada meant lots of sand, but a gust of wind had caused a mini-cyclone of sand to swirl around and by chance had hit our bus. It wasn't a strong wind, but the bus had to wait til it passed and the driver could see again. I t was a bit alarming and excited the two old ladies wearing matching wigs, green and orange linen suits in front of me to no end. You just know that'll be the story at the knitting circle next week.

I finally got to Vegas and caught a taxi to my hotel. It was very expensive and I think I was had, but I was so grateful the taxi driver didn't kidnap me and sell me into white slavery that I paid it gladly and scampered. Now those of you would know anything about Vegas or if you are like myself and get all your information from CSI, you will have heard of Caeser's Palace, the largest casino and hotel complex on 'the Strip'. Well, I wasn't staying there, it was too expensive, I was staying at the Imperial across the road. It was immently cheaper and immently obvious why. The hotel rooms were very basic and didn't appear to have any light switches. However, it was cheap and private and had a TV channel that only appeared to show Law and Order so I was happy.

After a shower I ventured out into the big bad world of Vegas. Celebrities, fashion, money, sophistocation! Well, they must all have been on holiday somewhere else because all I saw was fat, ugly, poor people sweating. It was bloody hot and not in a nice Australia way, in a dirty smoggy London way, but three times as hot. I resolved to the see the sights so I dutifully walked to the south end of the strip, took pictures of the fake Effial Tower, the fake statue of Liberty, the 4 floor M&M shop, dodged past the hundred guys trying to give me little porn cards with prostitutes phone numbers on (these guys literally lined the streets) and tried to be a good tourist. I wasn't really feeling the love, but I was trying when suddenly a tall chap started walking next to me and began talking to me. He was young, American and of course shouted. I found it was rather odd that he would suddenly start talking to me as I was just walking along, I wasn't stopped anywhere looking at something and I felt the random talking to stranger etiquette had been broken. However, my inability to be rude led me to chat back (but I kept my steady pace). This guy seemed perfectly reasonable, but was obviously angling for me to have a drink with him and I was thinking how I would politely say no and leave (remember most serial killers are American white men between 20-40, trust no one) when he did something I would like some feed back about.

Now to recap, he had started talking to me randomly and we had just started talking. As we walked along the pavement, the way became narrow and we had to go single file. Now I know I'm not the most graceful of people, but I have been walking and standing independently for most of my life, I can manage it. Well, this chap put his hand low down on the small of my back and 'directed' me to where I should walk. I felt this was A. Insulting and B. invading my personal bubble. Now I take my personal bubble VERY seriously, just like my hostel etiquette and he has broken it severely. All pretences were gone. Shortly after this incident we pasted a dancing fountain, he slowed and stopped and I said "oh I'm tired, enjoy the fountain" and ran away. Bravely ran away, away, like a true hero. Was I over reacting? Or do you think he was a creep?

I returned to myhotel room(it was getting on- at least 8pm!) and hid there for the rest of the night. The next morning I resolved to try and enjoy myslef more. I mean come on it was Vegas! Sin City!!!! Money!!! Lights!! Glamour!!! So with this new enthusiasm I was walked out with my head held high to go the north end of the strip. I lasted about 3 hours of street porn card abuse, scary looking old women wearing inappropriate clothes and the blistering heat before I bought a sandwich and went back to my hotel again. I realised then the truth of the matter. I hate Vegas. It's dirty and hot and full of desperate horrible people who all want something from you. So I cut my losses and stayed in my hotel room until the next morning when I checked out and went to the airport to fly to San Francisco.

Now, as I sat on the plane (not sleeping) I looked back at my time in Vegas, realising that I had spent most of my time in my hotel room hiding from the celebrity look alike black jack dealers and the like, and thought 'do I regret that?'

The answer is no.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Bodily Functions 2 and goodbye to NZ

I think I have done something to upset the gods and goddesses of good fortune. After the snore-fest and my subsequent escape to my hotel haven, more unfortunate bodily functions awaited me back in Auckland.

Of my last last few days in my fab hotel in Christchurch, I do not have much to report. So overwhelmed was I at having a flat screen with a movie channel and an ensuite that I took full avantage of both features. Basically meaning I ate crisps in bed while watching Narnia and peed with the door open (its just so liberating!). I also cut my hair. Yep, myself. Well, I standing in front of the mirror bemoaning the unhealthy state of my hair and the complete lack of enthusiasm about hairdressers causing the multiple spilt ends. And then I decided, I have scissors, I have cut open people so why not cut my hair (I may have had a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir at this stage). So I did and took off about 5 inches. It's now lying just off my shoulders and it looks alright if I do say so myself. Saved myself a bit of money on a hair cut and shampoo. Maybe I shoud become a hair dresser on my return. Apparently they are the happiest profession, social workers being the least- big shock there.

That's bascially my news from the end of Christchurch. I did visit the cathedral and I have to say I was disappointed. After all the fabulous decorative and majestic Catholic Cathedrals of Itlay and Spain, this Protestant one was a bit drab. I know the old cathedrals of Europe were built with the blood, sweat, money and tears of peasants, but my word they do have lovely buttresses.

On Tuesday I flew back to Auckland for my last few days in New Zealand and to get the last bits of organisation done for flying to the states. Much like the last few days in Australia, I was feeling ready to go. There is still much to do and see in NZ, but my passion has waned some what and I'm hoping a change of country will re-ignite it. As such, these last few days have quite solitary, reading books and having lots of cups of tea. The effort of making (as Edward Norton calls it in the cult film Fight Club) 'single service friends' was a bit beyond me this week.

Oops, I'm forgetting my sequence of events in my deep reflectiveness. Yes, so I arrived in Auckland and returned to the YHA that I stayed at before. To my surprise (and the receptionist) for some reason I was given a free upgrade to a 3 bed dorm. I wasn't going to complain, that was until I entered the room. There were 3 single beds in this small room, 2 occupied by at this stage absent travellers and there was a very curious smell (and by curious I mean stinky). I opened the window and thought no more of it and went for a walk. I couldn't help notice that both beds were adorned with French travel guides so I assumed (correctly) that my roomates were 2 French girls travelling together.

I was out quite late that night, being the cheap evening at the cinema, I of course when and on my return to the room the lights were off and my two roomates were in bed sleeping. This was not the first thing I noticed. The first thing that hit me was the pungent smell that burst from the room on the opening of the door. I actually gasped. I had to sleep that night with my head under a sheet to protect me from the stench. Why have the gods abandoned me so! What made me all the more curious about these two girls is that they never seemed to speak to me (not even a hello despite my efforts) or each other or get out of bed. The next morning I arose and showered and faffed about at bit and on my return to the room about 12, they were still sleeping. That in itself wasn't too extraordinary, but that eveing about 8pm, I returned to the room and they were in bed again with the lights off (and smell on). I then assumed, prehaps they are getting up early for a flight. No. And then again they weren't out of bed by 11 the next day.

Now, I'm not trying to be xenophobic here, but these two girls really did fulfil the lazy, smelly and unfriendly French stereotype. Not good ambassadors for their country. Fortunately after the third night they then left and I aired the room. I think one of them must have had some sort of bowel complaint, it really was an extrardinary odour.

However, in between inhabiting my smelly room, it has been a nice week. I feel refreshed and ready for a change of scene and I needed to get a travel guide for the states to help me plan my next adventure. Travel guides as with most books here in NZ are quite expensive and I was bemoaning this fact when I stumbled across a fabulous little second hand bookshop (I have a nose for them). One whole wall of this tiny shop was populated by very new, yet half price lonely planets and got very carried away. So carried away I failed to notice what inhabited the other shelves of the bookshop. A lot of Agatha Christie, some DVDs and an entire back section wall to wall with porn and erotica. I bought my lonely planets and scampered away from the porn shop and bought myself a cake to get over the trauma (any excuse).

Now a bit of background about me and porn in bookshops. I have an uncanny ability to walk into erotica sections of bookshops quite without noticing. In fact my internal compass seems to lead me to it first and then suddenly I'll look more closely at the titles and realise my error. All this started back in my school days when as an innocent teenager I got lost in Borders bookshop in Glasgow. I had just been for my medical school interview and had some time to kill before getting my train. I was nervous about being in the 'big city' so I sought sanctuary in a familiar place. However, what happened was I got lost in a labyrinth of shelves and staircases in which every path seemed to lead back to the Gay, Lesbian and Erotic section. I eventually had to ask someone how to escape. And now to this day I seem drawn there like a moth to a flame. The irony is I depise erotic fiction, I think it's all terribly silly.

Anyway, that has been the main excitement of my week apart from meeting up with Eilidh Nicol, an old friend, yesterday. By sheer serendipity she has only just arrived back from Scotland after being home for a few months so I was lucky to catch her before I headed off again. It was so nice to see her and it was lovely to chat about familiar things for a change. She also took me out to the infamous One Tree Hill. A hill that used to tree on it, but now doesn't (a mad activist cut it down, for more details go to wikipedia). It has been mentioned in a U2 song and there's now an American teen drama of the same name.

I am now preparing for the off. I have packed my bag myself, binned any consumable goods and ensured all my sharps are in my stowed luggage. I've got my visa waiver form filled out and printed, my passport primed and ready. So fingers crossed people they let me in the country and it being a 12 hour flight, have some films I haven't seen on the aircraft. About both these pressing matters, I am concerned.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Bodily Functions

Christchurch is a nice enough small city, nicer than Wellington in my opinion and completely different to Auckland. After another duck and hiding bus journey I arrived late afternoon in the city and soon discovered my hostel and 3 enormous supermarkets all in a row. The supermarkets in a row phenomenon is something I first noticed in Nelson- the town of the prison hostel and wine tours- but seems to be a common occurrence in New Zealand. I can't decided what the reason for it is. Is it that one company bought some land and then their competitors, just to annoy them, bought the adjacent land to build their giant supermarket? Or is there a law saying giant supermarkets must all be built in spitting distance of each other? It is a curious oddity that as you can tell has had me thinking.

Anyway, after doing some food shopping in one of the giant supermarkets (I won't tell you which one in case the others get jealous) I had a brief orientation wander around the city centre and was pleased to discover 3 arthouse cinema in direct vincity. This immediately made me feel more at home. The next day it rained and rained thwarting any real efforts to be a tourist, but to my delight I found 3 second hand bookshops all in a row (sensing a pattern in the layout of Christchurch's facilities...) so I bought some reasonably priced books and decided to spend the afternoon eating cakes and drinking hot chocolate whilst reading my purchases (one of which was a true story of a 2nd world war POW who tried to escape 10 times. It was a great read made all the more amusing by the old fashioned polite turns of phrases, now sadly lost to the modern day slang).

That evening I fulfilled a promise to my Grandfather and went to see a friend of his Betty whom had moved to New Zealand a year ago with her son (who was also present for the visit). Betty was a charming lady who very generously had make me about a thousand ham sandwiches and supplied me with lots of biscuits and tea (from proper china teacups). It was a most delightful evening and I felt quite fat afterwards.

The next morning I had a bus tour to do which was a purely indulgent affair. As many of you know, one of my favourite films is the Lord of the Rings and New Zealand is where it was filmed. There are literally dozens of tours you can do that can show you various places where things were shot, but I had resisted them all as I didn't want to ruin the 'magic' (I couldn't bear to see an abandoned Hobbiton). However, there was a tour to the Southern Alps, which took you to the valley where Edoras was filmed and an option to climb the hill where the Golden Hall was situated (if you've lost me, don't worry about it). This all sounded like pleasant scenery if nothing else plus it has a champagne lunch included. This I couldn't resist. It was actually a very enjoyable tour mainly consisting of a pleasant guide telling stories about the films and the stars followed by the hill climb and lunch. I was incredibly fortunate as it was a beautiful day and everything looked so pretty. However, what struck me as most odd was that there was this Malaysian family on the tour and none of them had seen the films. Not one film and not one of them. I'm sorry, but what on earth pocessed them to come on the tour? To sit for 3hours hearing stories about a film they had ever seen to climb a hill of a set they had never seen and then get driven back? It doesn't sound like much fun to me. However they all seemed to have a great time so who am I to judge (but I do).

Anyway, enough of that. Now to discuss what happened next. Back to hostel etiquette. Now I know I bang on about this a lot, but when you are travelling, the hostel is your home, your sanctuary. Your comfort zone if the dizzying site seeing world becomes overwhelming and you need a place to hide. So its important that if nothing else that you feel at ease in your dorm. Unfortunately, I was in a mixed dorm again (not a name error for once) and the first 2 nights were alright. But then on the 3rd night the Americans invaded. 2 older (ie in there 50s) chaps that pounced on me as I entered the door- 'OH MY GOD. HELLO THERE HOW ARE YOU? WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING TODAY (no pause for answer) OH MY GOD WE HAVE JUST GOT HERE AND WE ARE SOOOOO JET LAGGED BUT SO EXCITED....' and you get the picture.

After about 10 minutes of this barrage, as I edged toward the door desperate to leave ( I genuinely was needing to make a phone call) I'd already got a tirade about Californian wines and invited to stay at their house when I was in San Franciso. AS IF! Why would a single female traveller take 2 older men up on such an offer? Do these men think when they say such things?! There are 50 times more serial killers in the US than anywhere else in the world (*statistics from the Florence museum of serial murderers 2008*), I would never do such a thing even if they pinkie promised they were not going to murder me. So I made my escape and on my return much later that evening as I got to the door of the dorm all I could hear were strange and terrifying noises. I paused unsure what to do, but being the brave international woman of the world I am, I ventured forth. I boldly pushed the door open and in incredulous horror realised the source of the noises. Both the men were snoring like a marching band being chased by a train. As I climbed ino the bunk (unfortunately above the worst of the snorers) I lay in hopeful anticipation that the snoring would stop. It didn't. I tiried all my usual tricks- shaking the bunk so much it wakes the person below up. Dropping things on the floor, But all these just made it worse and worse.

To add insult to injury at 6 in the morning when I actually finally got to sleep, they got up and oput the light on for 35 minutes (I timed it) and talked in normal voices. ETIQUETTE!!!!!!!!!!! It is 6 in th f**king morning and both of your interminable train like snoring has meant the rest fo us have only slept for 14 minutes combined the whole night! I was angry, but happy in the fact that they were gone.

That day in my weakened state and the weather being uncooperative again, I did very little. Some feeble attempts at sight seeing followed by some cake eating. I went to see a very sad film about the female French resistence fighters during the war and felt thoroughly depressed. However, I thought, tonight I will sleep well. But karma was not finished with me yet. When I got back to the room, the Americans had returned. They had just gone on a day trip. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I prayed and crossed my fngers, snore less, snore less, snore less! But the gods who had listened to me and given me good weather for my glacier hike had turned their back so on me. It was worse.

The following morning I decided I could not make another night of it. It was like the M&S advert "this isn't ordinary annoying snoring, this is unrelenting, super sonic, painful 8 hour long M&S snoring" so when the Americans didn't pack their bags and leave, I did. Some of you may have remember that I made a travel agent friend in Tasmania. Well , she had given me the name of a cool budget hotel in Christchurch and I had been toying with the idea of splashing out on it. The snoring men gave me all the persuasion required and I tooks my rucksack and food bag and went there.

It was fabulous. Cheap, shiney, mini-fridge, flat screen TV, en suite and the best feature of all was the one it didn't have- snorers!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

American Idiot

(Just to warn you this a long entry. It is about 90% rant so I wouldn't be offended if you skip to end.)

Before I could do the heli-hike on Franz Joseph glacier, I first had to get to Franz Joseph by the bus. I don't think I mentioned before, but on my journey from Nelson to Greymouth there was a rather odd American girl on the bus. I was sitting behind her and she was regailing the bus driver with a tales of her new Irish boyfriend she was to meet up with and get a room with in Greymouth. I thought that prehaps she shouldn't devulge such intimate information to a complete stranger especially one who is driving a large vechicle at high speeds, but I assumed she was just excited. As we stepped off the bus together she began to ramble to me about this 'dreamy Irish boy' with 'eyes so deep you could swim in them' and I near vomited- you must remember she said all this with an extremely annoying American acent as well. I made my good byes and secretly wished the boyfriend luck.

The next day I arrived at the bus station for the 4 hour journey to Franz Joseph and the American girl was there looking somewhat forelorn. She saw me and immediately launched into a monologue of her heartbreak. She had booked the hotel room and met up with him later, but then he dumped her in front of a bunch of his friends and went to the pub. Oh dear I said and tried to be of some comfort, but the words never reached my lips as her constant loud grating voice continued to spew out more and more. And we weren't even on the bus yet.

This diatribe continued and eventually after getting more and more intimate details that I in no way encouraged her to divulge (I didn't get the opportunity!) I was saved by the bus driver giving a very enthusiastic commentary and she was forced to shut up. The only problem was the driver was much like the one in Nelson and he gave a constant 4 hour narration about everything under the sun. There are times you just want to sit back and look out of the window. Play some music and have a little peace. But between the narration on the bus and the American talking at me during breaks, I got no relaxation on that journey.

Fortunately on arrival at Franz Joseph, she was staying somewhere else so I made my escape and found myself walking to the hostel with another infinitely more pleasant girl from Barcelona. She had one of those fabulous Spanish accents when speaking English that I just wanted to give her words to say and listen. We enjoyed the free soup at the hostel together and then I indulged in a bar of chocolate and a fine pinot noir (my new favourite type of red wine- please take note for future birthday gifts) I had purchased in desperation during a bus stop on the way.

Now it is important to mention at this point that the heavy rain was still continuing and my hopes for the heli-hike were diminished. But lo and behold the next morning, the sun was shining brightly in the sky, the clouds a mere whisper of what they once were. Joy! The gods were smiling down on me this day (where were they yesterday on the bus journey? They are fickle cruel masters). The ride was on. And what a nice trip it was too. Apart from feeling a little uneasy getting off and on the helicopter (that episode of ER still haunts me to this very day) it wasn't particularly scary and the views of the glacier were fantastic. I even took a little video of the ride on my camera which I felt was an achievement in itself. If I ever work outhow to post it on facebook then you can watch it and be very bored for 2 minutes. The glacier was surprisingly blue and looked like squashed candy floss. I got to put on crampons and carry an ice axe whilst walking over it and I felt like an explorer about to find treasure (unfortunately, I did not).

Afterwards I felt so exhilarated as soon I got back to the hostel I decided to go on a 4 hour walk in the woods, over a gorge (a bridge in situ) and on to the base of the mountain where the glacier was situated. I felt I was going quite a pace with my appropriate attire of hiking shoes and walking trousers when a tall blonde boy wearing a long sleeved white t-shirt and inappropriate shoes stormed past me at a terrfic speed. I continued on across the gorge and noticed that due to the rain, it did seem quite high. A few minutes later I saw the afore-mentioned boy except this time his glowing white shirt was covered in mud as was the rest of him. He told me the path was blocked by the high waters and despite his best efforts (evident by the state of his clothing) he could not get across. So we turned around and started a nice conversation. He was Swedish and was an ex-Kindergarden worker who had quit his job and gone travelling to 'find himself' (sound familiar?). He was touring around NZ in car and also sleeping in it. I expressed my concerns about this as it was now dropping below zero during the night and he said it was a little cold. I then enquired how he washed etc and he said every morning he drove to a lake and had a swim. I must point out again how bloody cold it was. This thought had me aghast and I offered to sneak him into my hostel so he could have a hot shower. But the gentleman that he was, he declined. We then arrived at the vechicle and I memorized its number plate incase in a few days it was found with a frozen body inside and they needed someone to identify the body.

I then then returned to the hostel still concerned about the welfare of my new friend, but I was soon distracted by the surprise of seeing the jail boy from the Abel Tasman walk in my dorm. He was travelling on a different bus service than me, a more organise-y, touristy type affair and had 2 awful days stuck on board with (in his words) 'a bunch of total arseholes'. He had decided to come to a different hostel than the rest of the bus and stay an extra day just to avoid them. Travelling can be such a small world.

As I learned the next day. The lovely Spanish girl and I both discovered we were going on the same bus to Queenstown on the 9 hour journey and this made me ponder somewhat.

My fears were realised as I waited for the bus and who turned up, but the American. As she walked toward me I resolved to try and be nice to her. She was young, had her heart broken and clearly wasn't really enjoying travelling alone. This resolve lasted approximately 14 seconds. She opened her mouth and let loose a complaining whinging whine that I can only describe as painful at best. She complained about the weather, the hostel, the bus and we'd not even got on the damn thing yet. The main problem (apart from her incredible annoying accent adn mis-pronounciation of words) was the fact she seemed incapable of listening and having a two way conversation. She would say something and if you managed to squeeze out a brief comment or answer, she wasn't able to pick up the thread of what you had said. Instead the soliloquy would continue as if your presence was not required (how I wish it wasn't).

As we boarded the bus this monologue continued, the Spanish girl wisely ran to the back of the bus and hid. Unfortunately, the American let me board first then sat next to me. She then asked where I was staying in Queenstown. Every part of me said 'LIE!' but I could not and I told her. "oh that sounds nice, I'll go there too'. NO NO NO. It got worse. She then asked when I was going to Milford Sound (a 12 hour bus trip to pretty fiordland). "Tomorrow" I whispered. "Oh, maybe I'll do it then too!'. Oh where were the gods now!

At the next meal break, I was enjoying my soup having a pleasant conversation with the Spaniard telling her about my previous time in New Zealand. I was discussing my visits to a local prison with a psychologist when the American girl screeched "OH MY GOD! Tell me you are not a psychotherapist! OH MY GOD! If you are I will just have to leave this table right now!'. Firstly, what I should have said was yes and got rid of her. However I was so taken aback by the shear volume of this statement and I couldn't actually gage her sincerity so I told her the truth- no. 'OH MY GOD! THANK GOD! BOTH MY PARENTS ARE THERAPISTS!

And with that statement it all fell into place.

After some more screeching from her, she went to the loo and I finally snapped and let my head fall into my hands and bemoaned the thought of spending yet another bus journey with her and a hostel. The Spaniard immediately gave me lots of sympathy and told me I should just tell her straight - go away. How I wished I was an empassioned Spaniard and had the courage. But I am a self-depreciating Scot and it just isn't in me. Instead I did the mature thing. For the rest of the journey I solidly ignored her, putting on my head phones at every opportunity and keeping my head buried in a book.

Amazingly, she must have got the message as on arrival at Queenstown she didn't follow me to the hostel I was staying at. I didn't exactly run away per say, I just didn't look back. But there was still the next day on the Milford Sound bus trip to face. I actually contemplated cancelling the trip, but then I realised how silly of me that would be and if I had to I would just have to find some Spanish courage somewhere in my Celtic bones.

The next morning I was relieved and delighted on my arrival at the bus stop, that the girl was not there. Joy, joy, joy! However, this was short lived when a taxi pulled up and an aged granny got out. She immediately began to talk to no one in particular and then turned her sights on me. I should have learned my lesson. I should have stayed quiet. I should have run. But I did not, instead I answered her questions and attempted to make polite chat. And attempted is the right word. Now I know I have a reputation for being a bit incomprehensible at times, but when speaking to aged grannies whilst standing by a bus stop in a foreign country, I do attempt to slow down and speak clearly. Obviously not clearly enough. She didn't understand a word I was saying and as such I was getting some very peculailar responses to the conversation we were attempting to have. She then make a incredible racist comment that really threw me - I mean it was only 7am, it was a bit early for that sort of thing. Fortunately, the bus then arrived and we began to board. I was then faced with a choice. Sit near the racist granny and endure a day of garbled conversation or let her get on first and run to the back of the bus and hide.

I'm not proud of what I did, but I did the latter. I just could not endure another 12 hour bus journey in hell. I was temporarily racked with guilt about this decision. As I walked past her, I saw her expectant face fall as I kept moving on toward the back. Guilt, guilty, nasty girl. But as I said, temporarily, as shortly afterwards a Japanese girl tried to sit next to her (the bus was almost full) and she wouldn't let her. Racist granny. My guilt was gone.

Anyway the reason for the bus trip was go and see Milford Sound, a legendary fiord of beauty featured in such films as Lord of the Rings and more recently, the new X-men film (the bit were Hugh Jackman jumps naked into a waterfall). The problem with popular places is 1. they are popular, many other people are there and 2. hype. Hype is a terrible thing. It can make the extra-ordinary disappointing or at least expected. And I have to be honest this was the case with Milford. Beautiful without doubt. A lake with mountains arising from it, waterfalls cascading from everywhere etc etc. So as beautiful as it was I couldn't help but think back to one of my days spent in Napier on the North Island. A place not particularly renound for it's beauty, I walked down from the backpackers (the prison one if you recall) and stumbed upon a black pebble beach with sea stretching out like infinity and mountains on each sides like bookends. It was such an unexpected beauty, I sat down on the pebbles just looking out to the sea for some time, struck by the tranquility. So Milford Sound, as lovely as it was didn't quite have the same inpact as Napier in its surprising glory. And I wasn't hiding from a racist granny there either.

After my seemingly endless days of bus journeying, I spent my final day in Queenstown doing nothing in particular. Queenstown is known for being a gateway for adventure activites, but I wasn't feeling particularly adventurous plus I'd actually been to Queenstown on my previous visit to New Zealand so didn't feel as compelled so explore every knook and cranny of the place. However, I did manage to find a second hand bookshop. If that was a talent that recieved payment, I would be a millionaire.

And then the next day I left (on a day long bus journey of course) to go to Christchurch my final South Island destination. And, yes, you guessed it I wasn't alone on this journey. As I stood waiting in the freezing cold thinking (rather naively of me by this stage) that I would enjoy a quiet journey reading my book, who turns up......... No not the American fortunately, but the racist granny.

Karma is a bitch.