Entry #059: Monday, February 10, 2014 (Auckland, New Zealand)

Well, another chapter closing off in the book of my travels (and I almost mean that literally, because if you printed out all these blog entries into a book, it would come out to at least 250,000 words, and most likely much more; I'll check before it's all done). Heading out from New Zealand, where I spent a little under two months, to South America, where I'll spend a little more than two months. Reflections on that later. But let's talk about the last couple days in New Zealand before I get on my 41-hour flight. Whoop whoop!

Well, I should start off by noting that pretty much right after I finished the last blog entry, I was burning the post-midnight oil and uploaded another photo album onto Facebook. That one covered my time in Phnom Penh, so if you want to see that, you can go here:
Southeast Asia Cycling 04 - Phnom Penh (11/6-7)

Anyway, on Thursday, I actually woke up at about 10am, relatively late; later than I've woken up for the last month or so, at least. I had previously booked myself a bit of an "Auckland City Highlights" tour, so I needed to get to town before 2pm. I wanted to get there even earlier, so to explore on my own, so I got ready straightaway. I went to the kitchen and had my morning cereal. While eating, I could hear Jessica and her boyfriend (I want to say it's James, but I think I may just be confusing them with the villains in the old Pokemon cartoon) speaking with each other in their bedroom. Basically, they were having issues with someone who was renting from them on AirBnB, or that person was having issues with the room they were staying in. Either way, it sounded a bit tense. I knew it wasn't about me, because I had no issues to bring up with them. I think it might have been with regards to the other person staying in the room next to mine, but I can't be sure. I hurried up and ate my breakfast so to make sure that they didn't walk out on my eavesdropping. I went back to my room, did a little housekeeping, and then got my stuff ready to go out for the day. I was considering packing myself a sandwich for lunch, but the two owners seemed to be in financial discussions with a contractor who wanted to redo their floors. Basically, not the kind of time you want to be standing around slathering jam on bread. So, I quietly gave them a "Good morning," and headed out.

I got to the bus station, and after a scant couple-minute wait, I was on a bus across the bridge. It not being rush hour, we made good time, and I got into the Auckland CBD just a hair after 11am. I started my day by walking along the harbor. I then took out my phone and looked to see if I could find some sort of good Auckland touring app. As it turns out, there was one called "Auckland Walking Tours", which gave a number of paths around different parts of the city and gave information on each of the spots you walked by. Seemed perfect. However, it turned out to be way too much reading. Like, each entry for each place took about five minutes to skim through. Some of the routes (including the one I was on) had little earphone symbols, seemingly suggesting that I could listen to an audio version (and an audio-based walking tour app would be absolutely amazing), but I couldn't find out how to use it. So I just put my phone away and walked around town without following any set path. Mainly, I was just looking for interesting stuff, either visually or, I dunno, intellectually. I seemed hard-pressed to find either.

Looking at my map, I decided to head out to Victoria Park. My logic was basically that, if the place is named after the almighty Queen Victoria, it must be pretty interesting or extravagant. Unfortunately, it was neither. For the most part, it was just a large, open grassy field, not unlike the kind of practical-but-dull parks you'd find in your local suburbs. There were a number of people playing cricket in there, though, so I figured this could at least be a learning experience. I sat and watched for a good ten minutes, trying to get some understanding of how the game is played. No dice; it is just as mysterious now as it ever was. So I got up and looked on TripAdvisor for good local attractions. One item that caught my eye was the art museum, only a mile away. So, I walked there, and found myself incredibly lost. Then I remembered that TripAdvisor's maps are absolute garbage, so opened up Google Maps and found the place, no problem. It was free entry, which was nice, but by the time I got there, I could only afford to spend about 45 minutes wandering around. Still, it was 45 minutes well, spent, as the museum, while a bit thinner in content than some other art museums I've been to, was still very nice. There was a nice variety of exhibitions, though I have to say that their appetizingly-named "Sculpture Terrace" was a huge disappointment; I was hoping for marble sculptures, and instead got information boards on sticks, talking about sculptures in Auckland.

After leaving the museum, I walked down Queen Street (the main street in Auckland), until I was just about where I was supposed to be picked up. I then realized I didn't have lunch, so I quickly stopped in, bafflingly, a Burger King, whose disappointing food reminded me that I really don't care for Burger King. (I think I went there because I was exposed to it so much; I counted later in the day, but there were seven - seven - BK's on this single street, some within a block of each other.) I then got to the pickup point literally right at the same time the bus did. The driver, Wes, came out, pointed at me, and asked in a jolly tone, "Mr. Schnorr?" When I confirmed that I was, in fact, me, he brought me on board, and after a couple minutes, we were ready to go. Despite being on a full-fledged bus (excuse me, coach), there were only about eight people total, and it seemed like only three (including myself) were native English speakers. Still, it didn't make too much of a difference, because for the most part, we were just driving around and listening to what Wes had to say about the town. He talked about a bit of the history of the place, talked about what was where, and other such things (also, he noted the absurd fact that one in four Auckland residents owns a boat). My big takeaway: Auckland really isn't that interesting of a city. It's perfectly functional, and there are more cafes than you can shake a stick at, but there was little that made me think, I need to go back and see THAT!

The trip had a couple of little stops for photos and such, but we took a longer stop when we got to the Auckland Domain, which contained, among other things, the Auckland National Museum and the Wintergarden. Since we only had about 50 minutes, I wasn't too keen on paying to only visit a tiny portion of the museum (I figured that could be an option for when I came back on Saturday), so I instead went to the Wintergarden, which seemed like an attractive option in it's own right. I dunno, people told me before I left on this trip that I would be a "different person" by the end of it. I'll tell you one thing that's definitely different - I love flower photography now. That...that may be about it, but it's certainly a change. So yeah, I walked around this garden, looking at all the different sorts of flowers, both native and exotic. They had a hot house and the "Cool House" (which I think would be a good to-the-point fraternity name), as well as a fernery, where I encountered a friendly (and positively spastic) fantail. And they had classical marble statues! Oh, it was like the perfect place for me and my camera! I then got back to the bus, where I saw Wes having a smoke, would explain why it sometimes sounded like he was going to die coughing while giving his talks. Anyway, we all got on the bus, and kept driving through some more of the districts and suburbs around Auckland (and apparently, greater Auckland stretches out for something like 65 miles). And then the tour was pretty much concluded. I was actually quite happy I did it, because it kind of vindicated me in my decision not to really spend too much time in the city proper. Cape Town, this ain't. But I gave it a fair shake, so I can't say I wasted any opportunities.

After getting dropped back off at the CBD, I walked into the shopping center that I checked out upon first arriving in Auckland on my way up to Paihia. I specifically went into the Mountain Hardware store, which was having a major sale on shoes, particularly Columbia brand (60% off). As I've mentioned a couple times now, I need a new pair, as my increased walking has basically worn down my old pair to a point where they can hardly grip anything. (Additionally, I think they might have bacteria festering in them from the times I've stepped in swampy water, which can't be good for my feet, methinks.) It's a bit funny, I have one criteria for shoes that trumps all others: they have to be brown. No brown, no buy. I don't know why, I just like my earth tones, and brown is the color for shoes. Thankfully, there were plenty of brown shoes to choose from, and I quickly honed in on a pair that seemed to have good ankle support, were water resistant, and had extra traction. A quick walk around with them - and a quick check for online reviews, which turned out surprisingly positive - and I figured I had a winner. This relieved the shopkeeps, as apparently I had walked in about a minute before they were planning to close down, and I was just keeping them at this point. So I bought the shoes (at a price that is actually equivalent to the lowest price you could buy the same pair on Amazon for), resisted the temptation to buy some new socks (that resistance was bolstered by the $30 price point), and then headed out.

I decided to head up the road a couple miles to an old cemetery we passed by on the tour. Wes noted that the cemetery was the oldest in town, with some graves dating back to the late 1700s. When walking up there, I internally began questioning the accuracy of that statement, as European settlers - and this was very much a European-style cemetery) only began coming to New Zealand in the 1800s. And, coming as no surprise, I found no 18th century graves in there. It didn't take me long to go through there, so I walked back downtown. I only then realized that I had spent seven hours going around this place. So, I grabbed myself a quick sandwich at Subway, and brought it home with me, just narrowly catching the bus before it took off. I got back to the North Shore, walked to the house, ate my dinner in peace, and then, surprise, surprise, uploaded some more photos! This time it was of my time in Kirirom, the Ream National Park, and Sihanouk Ville. Here's the link:
Southeast Asia Cycling 05 - Kirirom & Sihanouk Ville (11/8-11)
I then did some writing, and wondered how there will ever be enough time in the world to get everything done, before going to bed.

Friday...Friday was one of those days that I would classify as utterly productive and utterly uninteresting. Weird how those two concepts don't mesh as well as I'd like. But hey, it makes for a short read. So, I woke up, had breakfast, and then sat down and uploaded another album onto Facebook. This one covered the last few stops in the Cambodia portion of my cycling trip. Then, I uploaded another album, which was of the last leg of the cycling trip, in Cambodia. Then, I had a PB&J sandwich for lunch. Then I uploaded a third album, this one being my time in Ho Chi Minh city. If you're interested, you can find the three albums here:
Southeast Asia Cycling 06 - Kampot, Kep, & Takeo (11/12-14)
Southeast Asia Cycling 07 - In Vietnam (11/15-18)
Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City (11/18-22)

Having done this, I have uploaded all of my photos leading up to Asia. All I had left to upload were the photos from Australia and New Zealand. Not that that "all" is insignificant; between the two countries, there are twenty albums. Who knows how much I could have gone through if I had good Internet this whole time? Anyway, even before I could do that, I still had to filter through all of my New Zealand photos, going back to Nelson. So that's what I did for the rest of the day. This was basically a month's worth of photos, and I filtered it down to only a smidgen over 700 to cover everything. This sounds like a lot - and admittedly, it is - but when you consider that it's filtered down from over 2,500, it seems a bit more reasonable. This filtering process, along with the touch-ups needed here and there, took several hours in its own right.

When I finished everything but Auckland-so-far, I decided to go to the Chinese takeaway place for dinner. I probably should have stuck with Chinese food, both because it had veggies and because it was their specialty, but I had to be careful about how much cash I spent, and so got a cheaper burger. It came with bacon on it, which was a) the kind of New Zealand bacon that is not what we consider bacon, and b) 3/4 fat. I was flabbergasted at how they could serve so much fat, but then I realized that they came from a culture that loved fat. Anyway, while eating my dinner (and for two hours after eating my dinner), I was finally able to make a Skype call with an old RA friend of mine who is planning on doing a year-plus of travel. I gave him as much of my practical knowledge as possible - websites to research, useful phone apps, tricks to avoid - and tried to keep the philosophical advice to a minimum. It was fun; maybe I should give some sort of No-BS travel seminar when I get home (though the extent of the seminar will probably only reach dinner table conversation).

Once finished with that, I went through and cut down all my Auckland photos (not counting any of the ones I hadn't taken yet). Somewhat-interesting fact: My camera has a 32gb SD card. I formatted/cleared it on the flight over from Australia. As of the last photo I took on Thursday, it had only 850mb left. Basically, my trip in New Zealand pretty took up one SD card. While I was considering holding out until my flight out before reformatting the card, I didn't know if I'd find something super interesting the next time I went into the city, and didn't want to run out of space. So I swallowed my pride and reformatted it then and there. Another, perhaps-more-interesting note: my camera has taken 21,150 photos (and this isn't counting photos taken on my phone, GoPro's, etc). I know because the numbering system (up to 10,000) has rolled over twice. That's a lot of photos, lemme tell ya. So it's a good thing I've been able to filter them down to about one in four or so.

I'm gonna level with ya, I'm just trying to fill space because that's pretty much the end of the day. I played about a half-hour of games and did some writing, but there's nothing else much to talk about. Like I said, I got a lot of stuff done, but it was super dull.

Anyway, doing all that productive stuff must have tuckered me out quite a bit, as I didn't wake up the next day until about 10:45. Not sure how that happened, but it was okay, because I didn't have any plans until the afternoon. I honestly did nothing of much note, but a while after lunch, I decided to prepare myself to leave. I was excited, as this would be the first time that I used my new shoes. But I needed to figure out what I was going to do with my very used, and very muddy old pair. Hard to believe I only received those in October. Anyway, I put them in the big brown paper bag that the new shoes were put in, and asked Jessica if there was a place nearby that I could donate them to. She said there was; I could bring them to a Salvation Army in the Glenfield shopping center. No problem, I thought, that's around the Pak'n'Save I did my grocery shopping at; a fifteen minute walk at most. So, when I was ready to go, I walked down to that area, but didn't see a Salvation Army. When I looked at the map on my phone, I realized I was completely wrong in my judgement, and I would have to walk an additional half-hour each way to get to the place. In most other circumstances, I would be willing to do that but I had to be downtown by 3pm, which I would be quite late for if I had to add an extra hour onto this side trip. So, I walked to the bus station, contemplating what to do with the shoes. When I got to the platform, the bus pulled right up, about 100 feet ahead of me. I had to run to catch it. And in that moment, I made the split-second decision to leave the bag of shoes next to one of the benches.

Even before stepping onto the bus - but well after having the opportunity to run back and grab the bag - I regretted this decision. My thinking was that I didn't want to carry these shoes around me in Auckland's downtown, and that hopefully someone would find them in the bus station and give them a good home. But what I realized in my moment of clarity was that there are homeless people just sitting on Queen Street, and that giving them a pair of shoes, used and dirty though they may be, would be an immediate and (I think) kind gesture that could really help them out. If I had even two minutes to wait at the bus station before the bus came, I probably would have come to this conclusion, but the rush clouded my judgement. I was wondering if I'd see homeless people on this trip who were in desperate need of shoes (and, to close that loop, there were). So yeah, I felt more regret about that decision than of most decisions I've made on this trip, though I managed to push it out of my head and into the past. (As a spoiler, when I got back that night, the shoes were gone. I can only hope they found a good home that wasn't a dumpster.)

Anyway, after getting into town, I went through a series of text messages back-and-forth, as well as some walking back-and-forth up the hill of Queen Street, before I got to my rendezvous with Steph, who you might remember was one of the Canadian sisters that I met in Te Anau and did some traveling with. We were hoping to meet up in Auckland, so we were lucky to have a day when we could. There wasn't much of a plan, since I've been to most of the big "attractions" - if you want to call them that - of the city, so after I gave her my peace offering (the flax flower I got in Waitangi, which I really liked but didn't want to have to deal with Argentine customs), we just walked and talked. We initially walked up to the Auckland Domain to see the Wintergarden, as she remembered that I liked flower photography, but after I noted I'd been there, we instead walked down some of the cafe streets. We got some much-needed gelato (or watermelon sorbet, as the case was) for a hot day, and then walked through some back alleys to see if we could find any interesting secret paths to unknown parts of town (we couldn't). So we just kept walking for a while, down to the coast and around, until we decided to head to her apartment. I had brought my laptop, so I showed her a couple - like, literally, less than ten - photos while she was getting her photos off her camera, and we had a look at the adventures she had with Lee Ann (her sister, if you remember). Then her housemate, a Lebanese guy named Haman, came in. Very friendly guy, though a bit ribald at times. The conversation veered wildly off-course when I brought up clothes prices, and then one of us (I'm not sure if it was me or him), mentioned the store Ross, which led into a fifteen minute conversation praising the virtues of Ross and other price-saving stores. (Like, apparently this guy would travel to the US with a handbag, buy a ton of clothes and three suitcases to put those clothes in, all at Ross, and then take it back to Auckland with him.)

Anyway, while this penny-pinching talk was happening, Steph got a message from a friend of hers who was having drinks at a bar with an old boyfriend, and we should come, but keep it secret, and all that kind of wacky drama type stuff. I had nothing else to do, so I went along. We took a short walk to this outdoor bar, where we met the two, Sarah and Dean. On first glance, they seemed nice enough, but even from the get-go, you could see that this could only go downhill. First of all, I was warned beforehand that both of these people were known for not being sensible drinkers. Second, cigarettes everywhere. Man, the ashtray at our table by the end of the night looked like a diorama for a city. I had also noticed early on that some of the cigarette butts changed from being, how shall I put it, clean, to being covered in a ghastly pink. The source of this was an equally ghastly lipstick job (both in color and application accuracy) on Sarah that she must have put on in the bathroom. And Dean was even worse, and got drunk in the most stereotypical way possible. He started off with jovial conversation with me, which quickly developed - and I really mean quickly, because this seemed to be after only a couple glasses of wine, which I don't even think would get me drunk - into a kind of clinginess where I just had to watch some video, and that we're like brothers and all that; and then, when he tried to get up to get a new drink, he fell backwards until his back was on the next door table. He tried to make himself seem smooth by talking to the girl there, but then got up and, after winking at me, went to get some more drinks. I think it may have been then (or maybe a time later) that he came back and said that they wouldn't serve him anymore, as NZ law prohibits bars from serving intoxicated individuals. So, anyone could see coming a mile away, he turned to the sober guy to get the drinks. I did feel a bit like an enabler (not to mention I thought it'd be suspicious if I made literally the exact same order that a drunk guy did two minutes prior), but I ended up getting them, because it wasn't just for him. And hey, now I know his credit card PIN. But thankfully, he was pulled aside by the bouncer, who I guess told him he couldn't drink at the bar anymore.

So, Dean and Sarah decided to go back to Dean's place, where they flat-out admitted they were going to get completely wasted...more-so. They invited us to come along, which I nearly laughed at because, really, this isn't college; it's not cool to drink for the sake of drinking. Like, I didn't even like people getting wasted in college, but at least there I could understand where it was coming from. When you're past thirty, it just makes you look pathetic. It makes me glad that when my friends/coworkers went to bars on Fridays, they were always classy bars where I could have nice glass of water and the alcohol was secondary to everyone else. So yeah, I politely declined, as did Steph, who was able to give better justify her decision with the fact that she had to work early the next day. The two of us then stayed at the bar a little while longer. I considered dancing, except that there were these women there, dressed in the weirdest costumes imaginable, for what I can only assume was a bachelorette party (I had heard them complaining that there were families with kids in the general vicinity). While I might have been able to dance without having to deal with them, I didn't want to risk it. Meanwhile, Steph was dealing with a big half-drunk guy who was knocking over glasses and bottles with his rump and trying his damnedest to hit on her. I was about to pull the whole "She's-with-me" routine for him to back off, but I asked her first if she wanted assistance and she declined.

Before too long, we had had enough of the guy, and so decided to get something to eat. So, we walked out to a burger truck, where we got a couple of sandwiches and waited for a friend names Tim. Steph let me know that there may be something between her and him, and do I have any advice. I gave her all the cumulative knowledge of my experience on the subject, but somehow the conversation turned to my tattoo, which then turned into a very lofty conversation about the nature of God, which is where Tim walked in on, I'm sure much to his bafflement. We went back to Steph's apartment, where I showed some more of my photos, and then we just talked for an hour or so. Later on, the housemates came back in, and the conversation continued with them. All the while, I kept my eye on the clock. I decided to go home at about 11:20, as Steph had to get up early for work, and I would hate to be the cause of an unpleasantly small amount of sleep. So, I said my nice-meeting-you's to everyone, said goodbye to Steph, and then headed out.

It was a fairly short walk from her apartment to the bus station, but I passed by a number of hoppin' bars and clubs on the way (I also passed by that bachelorette party group again on the street, who gave me some manner of holler, which I responded to with a salute and "Sweet dreams, ladies"). I was considering trying to get into some of the bars/clubs, not really because I wanted to be in any of them, but rather that I wanted to see if I'd get the "You're not on the list" treatment from the bouncers. That'd be a kick, I figured. But since the bus back home only came by every half-hour, I decided to see how much time I was working with. Not much, apparently, as the bus arrived at the stop at the same time I did. Recognizing my good luck, I hopped on, and made my way back home. Randomly, I saw an albino rabbit near the bus stop, but otherwise got back to the house without incident, did some work, and went to bed.

On Sunday, my last full day, I didn't really have any plans, so I just wanted to make sure I was prepared for my trip to Buenos Aires (and unfortunately, I've somewhat failed on the Spanish front, as I haven't practiced in nearly a week now. ¡Qué lástima! Anyway, after breakfast, I looked around to figure out what I needed to do. It was then that I remembered my laundry, which seriously needed to be done, especially while I could do so for free and with proper washers. Unfortunately, since there was construction being done to the house, I had to hang the clothes, but at least it was a really hot and fairly windy day for that (and it really was warm, like in the mid-80's). While getting the laundry done, I spoke with Brian, the new guy living in the other guest bedroom. He's apparently a PhD student from the UK who's spending five weeks studying in Auckland. I asked him if he had any way of traveling to other parts of the country, and he told me no. I remembered that I still had seven trips left on my NakedBus NakedPassport, so I gave him my account details. He asked if he could pay me for this. Honestly, I hadn't even considered that option (and looking into it, buying a seven-trip pass on its own would cost something like $125), but I just told him that while he could pay me if he really wants to, it doesn't make a difference, as I will never use them regardless. So he seemed really grateful for that. And while it's not the same as giving shoes to a homeless person, it did make me feel quite a bit better about that whole fiasco.

After my last peanut butter and jam sandwich lunch (and perfectly timed, too, since I had exactly enough peanut butter for one sandwich), I walked down to a local stationary store to get some things printed that really needed to be printed (the most urgent one being my Argentine receipt of Reciprocity Fee payment, which, if I didn't have, in paper, I would be held upon arrival in Argentina). Unfortunately, it being Sunday, this place was closed. So I went to a different stationary store. Cost of printing two black-and-white pages: $0.30. Cost of "handling": $2.00. Still, considering how important it was to have those papers - as well as the uncertainty of where I'd find printers in the future - I was willing to bite down on the harsh prices. So, I got back to the house, where Jessica mentioned that she and James were going to the beach, and invited me to come. While it was a sweet offer, I didn't really have the interest in it, and so declined. Instead, I did a little bit of housekeeping, and then uploaded yet another photo album, this one of Sydney, which you can find here:
Australia 1 - Sydney (11/25-30 & 12/3)

After finishing this, I went to get some dinner at the Subway I found near the first, closed stationary store. I still had $13 in cash which I didn't want to have to bother converting, so I decided to go for a "premium" sub, which was just a chicken breast sub (one which, I will note, used to be a $5 footlong). I also sexed it up by adding avocado, which would add an extra $2.50 to the price. I only realized after the smearing went on that this would make the sub roughly $14 total (which, as an aside, is absurd), and so I was going to be in for some awkward payment. Turns out, this wasn't the case, as the employee forgot that I had asked for avocado, and thus gave me the base price, leaving me with more coins to deal with. So, I brought the sub back and ate it - I won't lie, it was good - did a bit more housekeeping, and then just played some games while listening to a sudden, pounding rainstorm. After that, I showered and tried primping myself as best I could for a new continent, packed my bags, did some more writing, and went to bed pretty darn late.

So that brings me to today. (And, pulling back the curtains a bit here, one reason I was a bit hesitant to initially post this entry in the middle of the day, more or less, is that my Google account is still tied to Pacific Time, which is a full day behind the time I'm currently in, unless I post between 9pm and midnight. As such, the date I write for this entry will be different from the one automatically assigned to it, which bothers me for reasons I really can't rationalize.) Nothing particularly big or exciting. I just woke up, had breakfast, and tried to make sure everything was in place for me to go. I was considering leaving all of my food for folks to share, but decided to put all the more snack-y things (crackers, apples, leftover cereal, etc.) in Ziploc bags to take with me, in case I end up needing them. Still, that leaves them with half a loaf of bread, some jam, and some margarine. A smorgasbord, I tells ya! I also gave them my new shoebox (because, really, shoeboxes are never not useful) and the reusable shopping bag that has gotten a ton of (re)use since I got it in Christchurch. Finally, I was also going to take off all the blankets from my bed and fold them up in a nice pile, but I was beaten to the punch when Jessica knocked on my door - prompting me to throw on my shirt with an embarassed "just a moment" - and asked for them. Man, I wanted to look responsible for that. But I suppose it wasn't meant to be, as she needed to wash them for new guests who were apparently coming later in the afternoon.

After checking, double-checking, and triple-checking that everything was in place, I got my bags together and said my goodbyes to Jessica. I then headed out to the us stop and caught the Northern Express to the Auckland CBD. From there, I walked up the street until I got to the local BurgerFuel. I've seen BurgerFuel's in many of the city's around the country. I guess it's their kind of version of a In-n-Out, if only in the sense that it's more of a regional chain. I've been curious to try it out, if only to compare it to the other famous burger place, the Fergburger in Queenstown. (Though I've been told it actually doesn't compare.) I walked up Queen Street (much further up the hill than I remember it being, but maybe it's because I had my big backpack on) and got to the place. I ordered their "Fush 'n' Chups" meal, which is a fish burger, fries, and an L&P (a carbonated lemon drink native to NZ). I figured I was not going to have fish and chips of any variety for a long time, so I was willing to pay the absurd cost ($20) for the meal. Unfortunately, while perfectly edible, it was not all that great. Whoops! (Also, I will say that them calling it "fush 'n' chups", based on how they approximate Kiwis to say the words, is baloney. Like Australians and South Africans, Kiwi pronunciation of vowels shifts towards the I sound, and I've not once heard it shift towards U, especially in fish & chips.) Anyway, after that, I walked back the hill and got to the ferry terminal, where I was able to hop onto one of the Airport Express buses, driven by one of the most persnickety drivers I've seen (who also seemed confused by my NakedBus pass). After about a half-hour (wherein the driver snapped at other passengers and honked literally every three minutes), we arrived at the airport. Trying to take the high ground, I thanked the driver, who replied with nothing but a snort.

My time in the airport went as smoothly as can be hoped for. Considering the length of this flight, this was one of two times on the entirety of this trip that I will voluntarily check in my luggage (the other will be when I fly back to the States). I was very friendly to the guy at the desk, and asked if there were any upgrades available (because the thought of being in business or first class on Emirates seemed like a sweet dal, if I could get it). However, he told me that there were no operational - which is to say, free - upgrades available, because they only do those when the flight is overbooked, and this one wasn't even full. (This, I should mention, is a good thing to hear in its own right.) He then said I could ask their specialty desk about any other options. So I did just that. The lady was super friendly and honest, basically telling me that I shouldn't upgrade, because even if I could only upgrade one leg, I'd have to pay for the entire journey, and overall, this would cost me $7,500. I repeated my question about an operational upgrade, and to her credit, she double checked, but confirmed that the flight was not full, so they weren't able to do that. I shrugged, smiled, and thanked her. Hey, I gave it a shot. I continued through to the passport control, and again did not get my passport stamped, even though I got it on the way in. Seriously, this whole e-passport business is utter garbage! Still, I managed to get through the security with nary a hassle. In fact, they let me walk through with my half-full water bottle as long as I drank it afterward. I then looked up the gate information. I still had about three hours until my flight left, so the status I was given was a pleasant "Relax". So, I sat down in the lounge, and wrote up to this point, awaiting my flight out.

So, now to have a little bit of reflection on my time in New Zealand. I'm very glad I came here. That's because it was a good experience, but it wasn't the good experience I was expecting. Let me clarify. I've been wanting to visit New Zealand since I was a little babby, before going into high school even. I'd seen pictures, and thought it looked like some magical place (and this was even before LOTR). Then it became Middle Earth, and so became even cooler, and then I became more fit and liked to hike, so it became even cooler, albeit indirectly. I had basically set up NZ as an almost mythical place, and I think that no matter what, nothing it could be in reality - especially after seeing so much of the rest of the world - could satisfy the intrinsic expectations I had set up for it. So, in that regards, it was disappointing. Disappointing, not bad. And I only made things worse with a kind of mindset of, "Okay, maybe it's gonna get better. Maybe it's gonna get better." Because beyond any sort of logic in my mind, the inner child in me was waiting to see what was supposed to be my ideal place. The perfect place. And it never came. And hearing everyone talk around me about how wonderful everything was, while I was inwardly stewing over how it wasn't living up to my lofty preconceived notions, was driving me nuts. So I think it wasn't until Wellington, when I finally started really going over and just talking about these things openly, that I had the kind of catharsis I needed. After that point, after letting it all gush out, as it were, I began to see things differently. I didn't need New Zealand to be some magical place from my childhood visions anymore. I just saw it for what it was. It was simply New Zealand. And it was good. It hasn't been my favorite place, but it didn't need to be. I had fun, I met lots of wonderful people (and some not-so-wonderful people), saw a lot of cool things, did a lot of other cool things, hike a good several hundred miles, stayed for longer than most people can for vacation, and saw more of the two islands than many of the locals actually do. It was a good trip. And it helped me deal with that feeling of disappointment, which is a valuable lesson to have, both in terms of dealing with things, and just in terms of having proper expectations.

Having said all that, New Zealand is an amazing country. It's not cheap - in fact, I'd say that, on a general level, it's really expensive - but there's so much to see and do. I think it's probably one of the better one-stop-shop countries, by which I mean if you only have the time/interest to visit a single country, it's a pretty good one to do, simply because there's so much variety. I've said it before, but if I had gone straight from the US to NZ and back, without any of this round-the-world nonsense, it may have gotten closer to my earlier expectations, simply because I haven't seen that kind of stuff before. So yeah, it's a wonderful place to go to.

But enough of that reflection! It's time to move on! I now have a 41-hour flight to get to Buenos Aires (and if you don't rememeber me talking about this earlier, that's because it's going westward, via Dubai). That's gonna be a long one. But then I'm gonna be back in America...South America. This last segment, I feel, is gonna be a comparative whirlwind tour, which could go magnificently or disastrously (or neutrally, or a myriad of other ways). However it goes, I can just hope it'll be fun. And you can bet I'll write about it!

...Because, y'know, it would be pretty scummy of me to stop here.

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