Monday, November 28, 2005

Photo Album: Scenic New Zealand

New Zealand = Purty.

Photo Album: Los Angeles

Between New Zealand and Peru, we spent a free day in Los Angeles.

Photo Album: Sailing

Whilst in Auckland, the OC added one rank in a previously untrained skill.

Too Machu

2 Hours South of Cuzco, Peru

We've spent the last 28 hours trapped in a surreal little room, slowly making our way from Lima to Cuzco to see the famed ruins of Machu Picchu. Somehow, we got stuck in the tiny 6-seat section in the belly of the Royale bus, separated from the other forty-odd passengers on the trip. On occasion, another passenger has joined us, and our bus-steward comes by every once in a while to give us sandwiches or watch Shaolin Soccer (dubbed in spanish) with us. But, for the most part, Mike and I have ben stuck in this poorly-lit piece of reality all by our lonesome. It's been kind of strange watching Peru pass us by wrapped in our hermetically-sealed prison. I, for one, am ready to get off.

Our original plan had us swinging by Cuzco a week or so from now, and then hiking the four-day Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu. For me, this was the real draw of coming up this way. Spending four days roughing it through the Peruvian jungles, passing by crumbling ruins, culminating in a sunset view of the ultimate in ancient cities. Pretty frickin' sweet.
But, alas, it is not to be.
Apparently, due increasing regulations by the Peruvian government, getting permission to hike the Inca Trail is both expensive and time-consuming. One person I was talking to said that we really should have started the process two weeks ago. But, because we were trying to do it so late, it was severely limiting our choices and forcing us to run around like idiots and jump through some possibly scam-laden hoops in order to secure our spot. Sufficiently soured on the process, we decided to give the hike a pass. For a while, I was considering giving Machu Picchu the pass altogether, but Mike convinced me otherwise. Coming to Peru ain't exactly cheap, so missing out on it's crown jewel while I'm here would be a shame.

Anyway, to sum up. Peru. No hikie. 30 hour bus. Prisoner. Almost in Cuzco. Go Machu Picchu! Damn.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Guinea Pig and Stuffing

Lima, Peru

Deep-fried guinea pig (cuy) is one of Peru's more famous traditional dishes. I am yet to sample it. As keen as I am to try new things, I was glad that the Marriott's Thanksgiving buffet was completely free of guinea pig - or any other specifically Peruvian food for that matter. Thanksgiving is not a time for new things. It is a time for piles familiar old things swimming in pools of familiar old gravy.

On the flight to Lima, I had promised Lehra that the American embassy would surely allow us to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. It turns out that they are closed that day. We would have had to storm the gates to get in on any action that might be going down therein. A few disappointing searches on Yahoo drove me into the arms of the enemy. In this case, Google's spytech gave me exactly what I wanted on the first try. I feel so dirty, but it had to be done. A promise of a turkey dinner is still a promise (even when made to a vegetarian).

The buffet spread was pretty damn sweet. Perfectly cooked turkey with some sort of mustard rosemary gravy was the main event and was nicely complemented by sweet potatoes, mash, an acceptably posh salad bar, stuffing, and a selection of desserts including the de ri·gueur pumpkin and pecan pies. The only thing missing that is always on the Astle Thanksgiving table was little onions in a cream sauce. I may ask my Mom to ship me some. I love those onions.

Not only did we get a phat meal, we also got to send Lehra off with a big feast and a not inconsequential number of pisco sours (mine's a double, mate). We dropped her off at the airport about an hour after dinner. One more OC companion becomes OC alumni. Good memories and sad departures abound.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Quickie: Made It to Peru

Hotel Porta - Lima, Peru

We landed safely late on Friday night. This is continent #5 (NA, Europe, Asia, Australia, SA) for the OC. Only two left to cross off the list. Sometimes I wish the world was even bigger than it is.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Los Angeles, CA

Our short stop in LA made up for in intensity what it lacked in duration. Super Lehra was waiting for us when we hit the ground. It is good to have a friend that does not have a nine-to-five job. We headed straight for the In-And-Out in Pasadena to score a life-giving batch of burgers, fries and shakes then over to Juan's to enjoy the meal. We also helped ourselves to a few beers. Thanks, Juan.

Lehra took me over to REI to get some new shoes whilst Jason sorted the plan for the evening. We then regrouped at the Juan Cave for a much-needed nap. Come evening, it was time for the Mexican food that the OC has been craving since Siberia. Of course, Margaritas was the place. Jason's Dad, his lady-friend, an auntie, Juan, Leon, and Ben all made it for the refried feast. The food was excellent as usual. Hopefully it will keep the cravings away for at least a couple of months. It would be expensive to make an emergency side trip to LA from Africa just to score some burritos.

Juan drove Jason and I down to Yuu-Yuu's to meet Eileen and Dr. Lauren (and a few other kids whose names I can not remember) for an intense karaoke jammy-jam on the YY's newly expanded song list. I was very pleased to find that they now have REM's "It's The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". I have been looking for that track on karaoke boxes the world 'round. I could have just stayed put to find it. No matter. Nothing puts a smile on my face like belting out the oldies with some of my oldest and dearest,

It was back to Juan's around 04:00 and up again at 07:00 to shower, meet up with Lehra, and head out for the airport. Juan dropped off the newly enlarged OC crew. One security check, two coronas, and a breakfast burrito later we were leaving LA behind for the 2nd time in 6 months. It was a little easier this time, but not for the reasons I expected.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I Scream, Yuu-Yuu Scream

In addition to Margaritas, Eileen has been gracious enough to reserve us the prime howlin' room at Yuu-Yuu's at 10:30pm. Be there, or suffer only minor hearing loss.

2130 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

Edit (November 28, 2005 jason): Success!


The OC arrived in LA a few hours ago, and the party, it is a-brewin'. For those of you who are interested, we will be meeting at Margaritas (in Pasadena) at 8pm.

155 S. Rosemead Blvd
Pasadena, CA

The party should continue until the break-a-whenever-the-hell-our-flight-leaves-for-Peru.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Auckland, New Zealand

We've been in Auckland for a few days, and we are busy learning how to sail ourselves a keel boat. As if I weren't pretentious enough what with my college ejikayshun and my fancy sunglasses. Now, I get to add expensive leisure sport to my spoiled white guy list.
It's been pretty cool, though. I've never really been actively sailing before (well, there was once, in a tiny Hobie Cat in Cancun. Thanks, Steve.), and it's eye-opening to actually experience how complex of a hobby sailing can be. I'm not sure if I would consider it "relaxing", since we seem to be spending most of our time leaning at a deep angle in the water, inches away from capsizing and a messy death. But, it is a challenge, and it's always fun to learn a new skill. Soon enough, I will have all of the experience necessary to repel a monkey pirate attack and deal with other such maritime dangers. But, until that time, I will let Susan do all the hard work, and then yell at me for sleeping on the job.

In other news, in two days time we will be boarding a plane flying from Auckland to Los Angeles, arriving eight hours before it left by going through the political wormhole more commonly known as the international date line. I haven't stepped foot in the US in over five months, so I imagine it might feel a little bit strange. Or, maybe it will just feel uncannily familiar, like going back to your parents' house, and finding your old room left exactly the way it was when you were last there. Maybe it will be hard to leave again. But, we'll only be there a little more than twenty-four hours, many of which will be spent sleeping. So, hopefully, we'll be off and on our way to Peru before anyone has found enough reason to chicken out.

And to all my LA peeps... see you at Margaritas.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Photo Album: Taking It to the Forn

We have done many extreme things whilst in New Zealand because we are extreme people. We even created a completely radical collection of photographs to record our unsafe behavior. Be careful.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Video Gallery: Der Beach

On our way up the South Island, we stopped a few times to get a look at the Tasman Sea. On the last such stop, we found a totally sweet beach. Totally.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Maori Christmas

Rotorua, New Zealand

The Maoris are a polynesian people that colonized what is now New Zealand from around 1300 AD. Ever seen a picture of tribesmen with facial tattoos sticking out their tongues? That's them. The Maori are unusual among pre-colonial people in that they have retained high numbers (more than 10% of the population) and a strong place in the national identity. They have pursued a successful campaign of land reclamation in the courts and become something of the poster-people for NZ tourism.

Unfortunately, the "ancient people making good in the modern world" image is only the external face of things. Within New Zealand, Maoris (and other non-whites) are strongly associated with urban poverty and everything that comes with it. If the newspapers are to be believed, the only other sure way to get in touch with modern Maori culture is to join a gang or try to buy some P.

I digress. P is what they call speed (AKA crank, meth) in New Zealand. You hear things on the news like "an Auckland man was arrested in possession of 2 kilos of P" and "P addiction is a growing problem among the nation's youth". I am probably not the first to point out the P/pee duality, but that does not make it any less funny. Just say no to P. End digression.

All of the best parts of the national museum of New Zealand (including the name - Te Papa) have to do with Maori culture. You expect to see quite a bit of weapons, jewelry, and wood carving, and the exhibits do not disappoint. In addition to the normal "tribey" things there is also plenty of information about conflict with the Europeans that, although still PC, contained some surprisingly extreme viewpoints.

In Rotorua, we made an exception to the OC's "no tour groups" rule and signed up for a dinner-and-a-show sort of outing to a recreated Maori village. The examples of village life were lame, the musical performance was inspirational, and the dinner was unremarkable except for its method of preparation. Festive meals are cooked buried on rocks heated by a tea-tree fire. You know everything is done when steam escapes from the covering earth. I give the whole Maori village show a 6 of 10. It is not heart-stoppingly great, but it could easily be much, much worse,

There is no surprise why New Zealand has taken such a shine to their minority legacy. Compared to Maori tales of war and strange gods and traveling for hundreds of miles by canoe to find a land of prophecy, the history of the invading honkeys is uniformly yawn-inspiring. The colonists in NZ do not even have the small amount of cred afforded Australians by being minor criminals. They were largely middle-classed Brits that fancied a warm Christmas. I reckon that Kiwis cultivate the Maori image for the same reasons that suburban kids in the US (and elsewhere) wear gold chains and throw up gang signs. There is something hip about ethnicity. And I ain't talking about "Irish-American".

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New Sea Land

Wellington, New Zealand

The Baron flies, and the OC makes it's way across the Godzone.

After putting over 1500 km on our little black dune buggy, we've made it from Christchurch to Queenstown, and across the Cook Straight to Wellington. And soon, we will be moving again. Ever northwards, dear readers.

New Zealand has been kind of a sedate ride.
It is a beautiful country, by far the most beautiful we've been to. Somewhere along our trip, someone said that every picture you take in New Zealand is a postcard, and that is pretty close to the truth. We seem to be surrounded by pure, clean, forceful nature no matter where we go. And it's amazing.
At the same time, the country is somewhat unchallenging. They have a stable, highly westernized society here, with all of the familiar trappings of european dominance. Most of the towns that we've passed through remind me of any small town in the US, except a little bit cleaner. A little bit more polished. It almost feels like New Zealand, as an entity, goes out of its way to make sure that nobody is inconvenienced by anything. I can see how it can be a great place to live, but I don't think I'm really expanding my horizons here.
The only real excitement so far has been our few days in Queenstown, doing the skydiving thing and the bungee thing. (Ooh, and going to a drum'n'bass club in Christchurch. That was fucking awesome. It had been a while since I had had a good dance. My lower back was hurting for days after that.) But, all of these things are activities. Things that you do when you're on vacation, to enjoy yourself. As fun as they are, it's not really what this trip is about for me. I'm not in it for the year-long party. I'm in it to explore the vast majority of the world that I haven't experienced yet, and learn something about the five billion other people in this world that aren't like me.
As fun and as beautiful as the NZ is, it is starting to feel a bit too familiar. Perhaps, over the next week, as we get more into the local Maori culture, some of the challenge will come back. But, after that, it's a quick hop to LA (quite familiar), then back into Peru and the welcoming unknown.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Video Gallery: boing

I jumped off'a some stuff. (small) (large)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Video Gallery: Prep & Takeoff

Some people convinced us to jump out of a plane. We did it, but not without some preperation.

Fly Ass Fishing

Queenstown, New Zealand

I have been feeling a bit jumpy since the skydive. Rather than join Jason in bouncing about at the end of a rope, I decided to calm down and reconnect with nature through the ancient and mysterious medium of fly fishing.

My initial contact (Ian) put me into the capable hands of a fishing guide called Will. He was an affable local with an easy manner and the steady confidence of experience. Also along was Doug - a retired dentist from Canada. Doug was an experienced angler who gets out on the water "three or four times a week". His stomping grounds (the Miramichi River) are not far away from my family's summer home in New Brunswick. We had lots to talk about during the 30 minute boat trip across the lake to the mouth of the Lochy River (really more of a stream).

Will got Doug set up with a quickness and he headed off to do his thing. It was lucky that Doug needed so little supervision. As a rank beginner, I occupied almost all of Will's time. After a quick rundown of the equipment, we went over basic fly selection, and how to secure a fly to the line. That done, we slipped on our waders and strode into the water to start casting. This bit was not nearly as easy as it looks.

Unlike all my previous fishing experience, in fly fishing you do not reel back in between casts. You retrieve a small amount of line by hand, but the reel is just there for bringing in fish. To move your lure, you get the entire line airborne by whipping back the rod. Once it is entirely behind you >and< before it hits the ground, a person, or a tree, you whip the line back forward and let it settle down on the water - hopefully somewhere near your target. Getting this right takes practice and Will was a patient instructor. It was not a few times that I wrapped myself in the line or caught the hook on the back of a jacket.

Predictably, Doug got the first few fish, but they were just a small rainbow and an even smaller brown trout. Will and I worked down the river to the mouth, then switched from floating to sinking line to have a try beneath the surface. I stopped to have a cup of tea and Will almost immediately landed a smallish brown trout on my line. He was gracious enough to let me reel it in. It appears that experience definitely counts in this game.

Towards the end of the day, we moved further upstream to fast water. I was feeling more confident about casting and having a good time, but I could tell that Will was frustrated that I had not caught anything. He left me alone to check for betters spots and I almost immediately pulled in a rainbow trout. I took a few moments to impress my superiority upon the fish before dropping him back in the water. It is amazing how much pride you can get from outwitting something with a pez-sized brain.

We took a few more casts on the way back to the boat before calling it a day. Doug and I chatted some more on the way back in. I like Canadians. They are just the right combination of friendly, polite, and well-read to suit my tastes. Canuckophilia aside, we all parted company at the dock after settling up the bill. Our one-day licenses permitted taking one fish each, but nobody did. Will said it was rare for fly fishermen to take away a catch in New Zealand. Doug confirmed that it is much the same in his hood. Even if I had some use for a fish, I would have given in to peer pressure.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Photo Album: Great Barrier Reef

Last time I was in Australia (17 years ago?... sheeit), I took a snorkeling tour of the Great Barrier Reef. This time, I got to go a little bit deeper.

Fall on Me

Black Sheep Hostel - Queenstown, New Zealand

Two days ago, the OC fell out of an airplane.

We approached the booking desk at our hostel at 10:00 about booking some skydives for the next day. The weather report was not good, but there were openings for that afternoon. We agreed to jump at 16:00. In the interim, we set about finding some breakfast and running down a few errands.

I was glad to be jumping that day. Tom Petty got it right. The waiting is most certainly the hardest part. I tried to occupy the time by reading a very boring book, but my mind kept turning to the jump. The biggest fear (even bigger than going splat on a rock) was that I would panic and back out at the last minute. Nobody likes a coward.

At 15:30 we phoned the skydive folks for a weather-check. Some part of me was hoping for a sudden storm that would postpone the jump. No dice - perfect weather. An enthusiastic gentleman named Richard picked us up in a van and we made the 40 minute drive to Glenorchy in good spirits. On arrival, we watched a DVD of somebody else's jump to get an idea of what was in store and signed some forms.

In a tandem jump, the passenger is strapped to the front of an experienced skydiver who is responsible for opening the parachute and steering you both back down to Earth. My "tandem master" was a grizzled lover of fun called Rob. He set me up with a jump suit and harness and cracked a few jokes about falling to our doom.

Fate offered one last possibility of reprieve. The wind had come up a bit and it is unsafe to jump in high winds because of the high chance of a rocky landing. Some of the crew went down to the field to check things out. The governor let us down again - no pardon forthcoming. We jumped in another van and headed down to the plane.

Before boarding, our tandem masters gave us a surprisingly short set of instructions. Our entire job was to hang out the plane, thumbs in harness, kick back heads and feet, and stick out our guts. The tandem masters would take care of the rest. I kept reviewing this in my head as the one-engine prop plane took off and climbed. The four of us sat on the floor next to the "door" - a clear plastic sheet held close with velcro. It looked easy to fall out of, but I guess that is kind of the point.

On the way up, Rob kept me busy by pointing out various local landmarks. I was grateful for the distraction. It kept my mind off the growing fear. It took about 20 minutes to get to 12,000 feet. The view was spectacular - a dark blue lake below, white-capped mountains all around, and light blue sky with a few white clouds above.

With 5 minutes to go, Rob strapped us together. With 2 minutes to go, we rolled open the door. I swung my legs out of the plane, pitched back as instructed, closed my eyes, and was flung out into the open air.

Just after leaving the plane, we rolled twice. I opened my eyes to see the plane receding fast, than the sky, than the ground, than the sky again, and finally a steady view of the ground. As disconcerting as is the rotating view, it is nothing compared to having your stomach bounce up and down from throat to feet. It takes about eight seconds to accelerate to terminal velocity. During that time, every system in my body started sending signals back to HQ that something unusual was afoot.

Once we hit cruising velocity, things settled down a bit. Rob tabbed me on the head and I spread out my arms into flying position. You only get 45 seconds of free-fall from 12,000 feet and I tried to make the most of all of them by looking up, down, and all around. Rob spun us about a few times to get the panorama. From our rapidly declining perch we could take in the Tasman Sea, Mount Cook, The Remarkables, and the lake below.

I had just stopped wetting myself when we hit 5,000 feet and Rob pulled our chute. After a terrifying good jerk upwards, we traded breakneck hurtling for gently floating. Without the wind whipping by at 120 kph, Rob and I could easily chat about what we were looking at and doing. Looking up, I saw Jason's chute open safely. Looking down, I could see more detail of the buildings and other landmarks around the lake. Our landing zone soon became clear.

Rob steered us down by pulling on either end of the chute. Turning swings you around quite a bit producing a new and scary kind of acceleration. We did a bit of a death spiral for a bit, but by then I had had enough new experiences and asked Rob to go easy on me. He grudgingly complied.

The landing is good fun. I picked up my feet so Rob could land on his and not on my legs. Just before hitting the ground, I thought we must be going way to fast, but a few pulls on some ropes and we slowed to a very gentle speed. Rob touched his bare feet onto the earth just before I put mine down and we ended the dive standing back in the field where we had taken off. We disconnected the tandem harness, traded a vigorous high-five, watched Jason land, then I collapsed in the grass to consider what had just happened.

All told, we were only in the air for a few minutes, but I figure they filled up my adventure sports quota for some time. Bungy jumping and the like seem a bit silly after you have thrown yourself out of a plane. I believe it is time to rest comfortably upon my laurels.