Thursday, December 29, 2016

Melting Pot?

Is New York really a melting pot of immigrants? If you had the opportunity to visit Auckland, New Zealand or Melbourne, Australia you’d disagree. Why?

New York is great in it’s own right. Yes, you can find any type of food, a host of religions being practiced, various pockets of culture, and some ethnicities intertwined with each other. But what New York lacks to call itself a melting pot is the true melting, melding, fusing of the people.

I mentioned it earlier. There are pockets. Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, Chelsea, Murray Hill, Upper East Side, Greenwich Village. These are locales where cliques have been formed; communities of the same ethnic background or financial status or religious beliefs all congregated to form their neighborhoods. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But isn’t there better bond or camaraderie in the fusion and/or joining of the different peoples?

I feel like Auckland and Melbourne are more truly melting pots, where any given street (at least in the downtown area) has the diversity of New York but more integrated in common society. The Indians are next door to the Vietnamese, who share a wall with the Chinese or Malaysian who have the same customers as a typical white Australian. They all get along well together. And everyone speaks English (with a cool accent I may add). Whereas in New York, it’s highly possible that if you picked someone at random in say Chinatown, that person would not speak English. It seems like the immigrant Aussies are better adapted (at least in language) than their American immigrant counterparts.

I think this little feature of society in these two Australasian nations makes them much more attractive as a tourist and certainly as a resident. I know it would make me happy if I lived here. Just my opinion. Anyone else agree with me?


Just a few observations of Melbourne:
- There are a lot of homeless people. And a lot of them congregate near the train station (kind of like NY). The government should probably try to figure out how to combat this issue. (I haven't done any research if they have or not.)
- Malls, covered arcades, shopping centers are large, filled with people, and connected. Many stores repeat. Eating establishments are incorporated around the malls instead of just in a central food court. And they are immaculately clean. 
- The Victoria Market is unbelievably clean for the amount of locals and tourists that venture through the numerous stalls, meat and fish markets, produce aisles, and other goods for sale. Any other city's market would have been terribly dirty or unorganized given the size of this market. 
- Trams are the way to travel around downtown. They are $FREE99. And you can get anywhere because trams literally travel down each street. 
- Alleyways are AWESOME! You can find the cutest cafes, food stalls, or boutique shops in any given alleyway.
- Street art is everywhere! If you don't appreciate it, this city is not for you. 

We only spent 3 nights in this awesome city but it's definitely high on my list of cool cities we've traveled to in our lives. Some photos to recap our stay: 

Vietnamese Food is popular here

So is Malaysian

Durian Dessert - if you don't know what it is... #smellslikehell #tasteslikeheaven

Coffin Bay Oysters (Product of Australia) from Queen Victoria Market are $15AUD per dozen. Well worth it!

Flinders Street Station

Bourke Street at sunset

Hosier Lane

The sentiment is strong here. 

Not surprised that anyone here thinks this. 

St. Kilda's Beach

St. Kilda's Beach

Monday, December 26, 2016

South Island - A Natural Wonder

Over the past few days, we’ve driven nearly 1000km around the South island of New Zealand. This includes stops in Queenstown, Te Anau, Franz Josef Glacier, and Greymouth. The natural beauty of this country is unbelievable. Throughout the drive, the scenery is ever changing. You can be in the valley one hour and back in the mountains the next after the twists and turns of the ridgeline highway. From the lush green forestry of the national parks to the crystal clear blue water of the Milford Sound, every color is vibrant. And all the wildlife, including cattle, sheep, birds, flora and fauna are alive and well in their respective habitats. The different types of trees and rocks or land formations are stunning in their grandeur yet delicate in their embrace of the land around it. New Zealand is best left in this state so that mankind can appreciate the wonder of nature intact and unharmed.

Our journey around the South island allowed us to explore the mountain towns, glacial fjords, hot springs, and scenic coastline. I constantly marveled at the landscapes that swallowed our tiny vehicle rolling along the roads as if a tram car in Jurassic Park. And the air you breathe is so crisp and cool in the morning and late evenings, while comfortable and clean during the daylight waking hours. The feeling you get is of good health. Take a deep breath.

And just like that our time here is over. Our immersion in true nature is paused for now.  But one day, I hope to return. And I pray that the situation I leave is similar to what I come back to.

The valley floor in Fiordland National Park

Wild flowers

The dense forestry of New Zealand's South Island

Our tour boat with Southern Discoveries, the Lady Bowen

Traveling through the fjords. Milford Sound is a misnomer. 

Another vessel dwarfed by the surrounding mountains and glaciers

A temporary waterfall due to the amount of rainfall we received the night prior

It looks tiny relative to its surroundings

But the water flow is powerful

Where the Tasman Sea meets the Milford Sound. The seas were rough at the mouth of the Sound so we were unable to venture any further. 

Queenstown is the jump-off for many adventure sports. Parasailing pictured here. 

Jet Boating (KJet)

The view of the valley leaving Queenstown towards Franz Josef and Greymouth

The long and winding road is (Route 6) is the roadway from Queenstown to the West Coast of the South Island

As we near the month’s end, we are looking forward to setting foot on our 7th Continent. We depart for Melbourne, Australia out of Christchurch, New Zealand on 27 December.

This writing takes places as we traverse New Zealand from West to East on the TranzAlpine route on one of KiwiRail’s scenic journeys from Greymouth to Christchurch on the South island. This 4 hour journey takes us through hills, valleys, and mountains with plenty of history. What an amazing ride so far!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

New Zealand: Reflection, Inspection, and Beauty

Reflection: Food Shopping

Grocery shopping in each city is interesting because it gives us a flavor for what the city has to offer and helps us understand the relative value of daily commodities / goods that locals often purchase.

Doing the groceries has really helped us save plenty of money along the way. Not only has it been a great cultural immersion but penny saver as well. We can choose the foods and combinations of meals at our discretion and spend more reasonably. Shopping has also forced us to plan ahead be it for a few days only, rather than the typical one or two weeks like back at home.

Inspection: Idiot-proof Country

New Zealand is good at reminding and assuring the safety of the people. And most tasks are idiot-proof. Here are a few examples:

- Upon arrival from Chile there were literally dozens of signs posted reminding passengers to discard or declare certain items that have been carried into NZ from overseas as we approached customs.

- We rented a car from Auckland and as we drove through the countryside there were plenty of warnings or caution signs for curves, speed, weather, direction, and other related safety precautions.

- The hotels and hostels we've stayed have plenty of signage to assist patrons and guests navigate their properties. Instructions for usage of various appliances, protocol for particular tasks, and directions for typical procedures are found from every viewpoint.

There is no way any sensible person could make a bumbling error in anything they need to do. All it takes is a few seconds or minutes and the ability to read to make it through life in New Zealand safely and effectively. Anyone who screws something up bad enough is either impatient or lacks the ability to read and comprehend.

New Zealanders are also adamant about checking identification. If your credit card is not signed, they ask for ID. If the signature on the ID doesn't match the credit card they make you sign in front of them. In America this is not taken as seriously, so we find it annoying to follow this protocol. But it's the right thing to do. It protects our identities and our finances. Is it as efficient? No. With the advent of the chipped credit cards, stealing the number makes it difficult to use without physically holding the card. If your photo ID signature doesn't match what you sign on the paper, match the face in front of you to the face on the ID. After all, people have multiple signatures, right?

Auckland & Waiheke Island

Although we didn't spend too much time in Auckland, we noticed a couple of things right away. The downtown area is small. You can walk most of it very quickly. The waterfront area is where most of the big businesses are. In fact, we spotted PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Citibank within a boomerang's throw of one another. And, there are a lot of Asian people here. I'm not just talking about the Polynesians that are almost native to this land but also the various Southeast Asian cultures (ie. Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Thai, etc.). Auckland is a melting pot of cultures much like New York City, except less segregated. There's no "Chinatown" or "Koreatown" as far as we could tell. Each cultural establishment could be found one next to the other.

Waiheke Island is beautiful! We took a day trip here and it was well worth the ferry and bus combination. There are beaches, vineyards, and fine dining all within walking distance of each other. And it's world-class. The beaches are calm with the water of the bay lapping at its shores softly. The vineyards are renowned for their variety of wines ('06, '08, '12 were good years). And the restaurants around the island each have their specialties. Safe to say, we sampled a little bit of every aspect of the island over the course of one day.

View from The Mudbrick Vineyard on Waiheke Island

Rotorua: Hot Spring Heaven

FREE! Find the free things. Don't pay for anything you can find in nature. We found some of the coolest natural things to do. Of course, you could join tours or pay for spas, but why? In the 2 days we spent here, 3 of the 4 activities we did cost us nothing. However, we did have a private car that allowed us the convenience of moving about the surrounding area. 

Hot springs are the name of the game in this area in general. The first we visited was called Kerosene Creek. This small stream pools at a certain point with steaming hot water. It's only gets to about knee deep at the most, so it's easy to sit and relax and soak up the warmth. 

And on the second day, we visited a little known place (except to the locals) called Waterfall Spout Bath. We literally had to travel down the road less taken because it's actually closed to the public. After parking our car at the head of the street behind a gate, we walked about 10 minutes until we heard a faint waterfall sound. Once that occurred, we made for the bush on the right and trekked through the shrubs and trees until we came upon a pool with a single waterfall. Private, quiet, and secluded this pool gets very few visitors. Although a local mentioned that the few a day was much more than it used to be. 

Last on the free list was one of the many lakes. Blue Lake or as locals call it Lake Tikitapu was a great free time. The lake was cold, but seems like it was very refreshing for all the locals. The lake is surrounded by some hills and mountains which make for beautiful color and scenery. 

The one thing I highly recommend doing (and paying for) while in Rotorua is visiting The Living Maori Village. The experience is something unique. This is the actual living community of the now descendants of original Maori peoples. We learned so much here. The land is a geothermal field that provides plenty of functionality for the tribe. The natural habit of these people is something we've only heard about in stories or even thought to be fiction. The community is so closely knit. Literally everyone is family here. The educational value of this activity is high. And it's hard for me to describe anything because the history is so rich. It's better lived than explained. 

As I write this post, I am sitting in our hostel in a town called Te Anau. We are now on the South Island of New Zealand, and we will spend the next 6-7 days here circumnavigating the island. We will spend Christmas here, particularly in Greymouth, and that's when I will likely be able to post again. So until the next blog post...

Friday, December 16, 2016

Chileans, Remnants of the Desert, Easter Island, and Stray Dogs

There are so many things to say about our time in Chile. First of all, it's been so much fun. We traveled to some of the most unique locations on the planet in this country alone. Secondly, the people have all been warm and friendly. Our tour guides in particular have been excellent. And our self-guided days have been exhausting, but fulfilling. We've walked everywhere to see some beautiful sites. All together, Chile has been an enjoyable country full of natural wonders, including its diverse people. 

In particular, I wanted to make mention of the inhabitants of Easter Island, a Chilean island with Polynesian roots. The people of Easter Island are an interesting mix. Some of them look Polynesian and speak Spanish. Others look very Hispanic and not at all Polynesian. 

My observation on mainland Chile was similar. There was such a variety of color and complexion of the people. Some looked European white, many looked Hispanic, some had an indigenous tint to their skin and facial structure. In many cases it was difficult to tell who was Chilean or not. I had a similar experience in Nepal where Nepalese could look more Chinese / Tibetan or look more Indian and anywhere in between. Truly amazing to see the mix of each culture / race.

Anyway, I leave you with a recap in photos of our last few days in Chile of: 

Last looks at the Atacama Desert, including: 
  • Machuca village
Easter Island
  • seafood
  • Ana Kakenga - Cueva de las dos ventanas
  • Anakena Beach
  • stray dogs
Salt flats of the Atacama with volcano Licancabur in the Andes Mountains in the background
Panorama of the Salt Flats
Small lagoon near Laguna Cejar with salt content so high you float easily, similar to the Dead Sea.
Wide open roads through the desert
El Tatio Geysers are the 3rd largest geyser field in the world
At sunrise, the temperatures were around 19 degrees Fahrenheit
After seeing the geyser field, we took a dip in the pools heated by the geysers
The village of Machuca was a short stop to pick up some llama bbq
Pisco Sours to cap off a tour at sunset
Sunset in the middle of the desert
Fresh ceviche on Easter Island. Fresh seafood is the best thing to eat on the island. All other foods are imported. 
A carpaccio of fresh fish of the day with grated cheese, capers, and lime.
Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki
We rented an ATV to tour around Easter Island
This beautiful stray dog came to hang out with us under this canopy on Anakena Beach
Rano Kau is an extinct volcano. And this stray dog followed us for 8 hours throughout our day trek.
Ana Kakenga is a site of old lava tubes that lead out to the sea.  
Moai were carved from the site at Rano Raraku and transported around the island

As I write this post, we are already in Auckland, New Zealand. We had to take a flight back to Santiago, Chile from Easter Island just to get to Auckland, eastward just to go westward. Otherwise, our other option was to fly via Tahiti which would have cost nearly double. 

Today begins our 2nd country on this journey. We'll keep you posted, so stay tuned! We have plenty to learn about the Kiwis!