Home At Last!

waipukurau fog

I’m happy to announce that we finally found a house and have officially moved in after a few months of looking! Not being able to find a suitable home in Hastings or Napier due to the outrageous prices, we looked to the country instead. We found a more modern (80’s) home with a view as opposed to a 40’s or 50’s home with a view of fences and neighbours on each and every side. A majority of homes here and in Australia are built on large sections that are split up in odd shapes that share a driveway. The largest one I saw had 19 houses in one section. This means that you will be VERY close to one another which was not something we wanted.

waipukurau fog

That being said, we actually ARE living on a subdivided section now, attached to one other home and 2 others down the way, which I haven’t even seen yet. However, we have incredible views and are at the front of the section with very quiet neighbours and we have one garage space. The views really sold us, with the master and my office having the best and the patio also looks onto the rolling hills. The town of Waipukurau (I still have no idea how to correctly pronounce this) has about 4000 people. Now that’s small. Thankfully, Hastings is only a 35 minute drive from here when I need to get out of the Wop Wop, as they refer to it here.

waipukurau long white cloud
Land of the long white (or pink) cloud

The fog is thick in the morning usually and the scenery changes constantly. I’ve seen a few huge rainbows, usually ending near the cows.

waipukurau view

One funny side note was after we got the house, I saw a listing on the local trading site for this doll house:

There’s the blonde me, up on my balcony. We even have those bay windows and a small patio area that wraps around two sides of the house. Kinda strange! It was nice living in Napier for a little while but the traffic and sometimes rude people were getting to me. I’m pretty sure I would go into shock if I moved back to the U.S. Having lived in the slow lane for so long, I can’t imagine road rage, crawling traffic and scowling faces. This is home #32 since 2013 and thankfully, it looks like I’ll be here a while!

Moving Mayhem

It had already been a long morning when the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Everything in the house had been packed up in the moving truck the day before,  so all that was left were a few items in the kitchen and the uncomfortable air mattress we struggled to sleep on during the night. And struggle, we did. We estimate we got 4 hours at best of “decent” sleep.

It was going to be one of those journeys you don’t want to repeat anytime soon. We were moving out of the place I called home for the past two and a half years and for him, it had been eight. He had been living in Blenheim for eleven years total. For me, it was the most stable place I’d lived in a while. I was used to packing up every few weeks or months and living out of a suitcase. It was an emotional time for both of us, going through the fixing up and TLC over the years to the actual selling and having to find the dog a new home.

We didn’t have a place to live, per se, once we left that driveway we knew so well. I held back the tears as we drove to the ferry…the same emotions I had many times over the years when I left a place. I said to myself, “Just keep it together…this isn’t over yet. Carry on one step at a time. You can cry later.”

Our day was going to consist of taking the ferry across to the North Island (something I dread doing as I usually always get sick) for at least 3 ½ hours, then driving up to Napier which would take a minimum of four hours in separate cars. The moving truck was on the same boat and I saw the driver on there who said it would take them at least six hours. He was going a different way than we were…a longer route according to Google. Fine by us, we would have time to stop for lunch and have another hour to kill before having to meet them at the storage place. The plan was for me to go straight to our AirBnB house we’d be renting indefinitely and Andy would meet the guys at the storage facility. Sometimes plans work and sometimes they don’t.

It had been raining for the past three days in Blenheim, which didn’t make loading the moving truck much fun for anyone and rain was forecast for the next few days on the North Island as well. What I didn’t realize was that this was the leftovers of the cyclone that hit Australia’s east coast a few days prior and it was huge. They were still reeling from mudslides and flooding.

The crossing was actually the most pleasant one I’d been on. Leaving first thing in the morning usually helps, but I didn’t get sick or even feel the need to. The time dragged on endlessly, akin to being on a treadmill. The rain even let up when we approached the shoreline of Wellington, where it always seems to rain no matter what day it is.

The GPS was set and we started the drive North. Once we got out of the city, it had started drizzling slightly, but that was ok. However, when we started approaching the wide open fields with no trees to break the wind, things got weird. A wind shear hit the side of the car and I almost ran off the road as we were doing 90/kmh (the speed limit was 100). I had to keep pulling the wheel to the right in order to drive straight. The wipers were coming off of the windshield and I thought they may just fly right off. I looked ahead thinking there had to be some sort of wind barrier but there was none, just bright green fields. I hoped that once we got around a bend that the wind would be to the back of us but it wasn’t. My hands were getting stiff holding onto the steering wheel in a death grip. This continued for at least 25 minutes. I thought of our moving truck and had a vision of it being tipped over along a similar stretch of road, which is not unheard of around here. I was hoping that their alternate route wasn’t as bad as ours.

Eventually we hit a town and our break came. As we approached the signs to Palmerston North and then drove east from there, a flashing sign on the side of the road said that it was closed ahead due to a wreck and to take an alternate route. Not far along, we came to a guy holding up a stop sign. Ahead of him around a bend were some guys working on the side of the road, which isn’t out of the ordinary. However, when a small tree came crashing down blocking both lanes, we realized this wasn’t just roadworks going on. A man took his chainsaw and cut through the top branches and they cleared the tree away, leaving us with no more than a ten minute delay. What next!?

It was about this time (2pm) when my stomach would not stop reminding me that it needed to be fed. We stopped in a small town and got lunch, realizing we weren’t even half way to Napier yet. All I could do was sigh. I was so tired at this point that I could barely stand the thought of more driving. It had to be done, so on we went.

The rain started picking up and as we passed by fields full of animals; you could tell they were just completely over it. I saw a cow standing right up against a tall metal fence just looking defeated. I really felt badly for the cows and the horses. The sheep don’t seem to care, but it just seems miserable for the others. I’m sure they had been in the rain for at least three or four days already. And I thought I had it bad! Fields were flooded, making ponds where there were none previously. The ditches along the roads were filled to the top with muddy water.

The windshield wipers were lulling me into a hypnotic trance and I felt like I had left my body and was just looking down at myself, wide-eyed and zombiefied. I had Foo Fighters and Fugazi to keep me pumped up the first few hours but it was wearing off like a bad Jamaican Blue Mountain caffeine crash. It could not possibly get any worse. Until it did.

Out of nowhere we entered into a new territory that I was not expecting to see. A permanent sign was posted upon the entrance stating: DANGER: HIGH ACCIDENT RATE AREA. I came to find out later that this was the Manawatu Gorge. To my left all I could see was this huge gorge with a raging muddy river, obviously way higher than it would normally be. To my right, a sheer cliff so tall, I couldn’t see the top. Wire netting lined areas to keep rocks from falling on the cars. It was a windy road with huge trucks passing only feet from us.

Driving through the gorge

We weren’t going over 50/kmh at any point. Up high above the water is what probably would have been a lovely little waterfall but had now turned into an angry blast of raging water hitting the side of the mountain. I simply couldn’t believe the amount of water running through here.

I had to try and keep my eyes on Andy’s car in front of me, realizing the severity of the potential situation at hand. Thankfully, we made it through unscathed. For many people on this road though, they have not been so lucky.

Manawatu gorge wreck NOT from my trip. Just showing the difference in water level.

 

Flooding of the gorge

Once we reached a town, we pulled into a gas station and I peeled my fingers from the steering wheel. My body was stiff from the drive and the stress…and we still weren’t near Napier. The alleged four hour drive was turning into a lot longer than that. I felt like I had been awake for days at this point and envisioned myself pulling over under a tree and sleeping in the car until morning. The look on my face was that of sheer exhaustion.  I paid for the gas, leaning with both elbows on the counter, wanting to just take a nap right there. But noooooo…we must move on.

The clocks were set back just a few days prior which meant darkness descended around 6pm now and totally dark by 6:30. It was only about 5:00 when it started seeming TOO dark due to the cloud cover and rain. We still had to meet the guys at the storage unit to unpack everything.  The place closed at 6pm and we didn’t have a code to get in or had even paid for the unit yet. Andy told me he had called them so I assumed all was well.

It was now completely dark and nearing the 6pm mark when the driver called me saying he was sitting in front of the facility. We weren’t far but Andy had taken the route to the place we were staying instead of going straight to the unit. I flashed my lights and we pulled over. It was only then that he said nobody had answered the phone when he tried to call them. I rang the driver back asking if they could find anybody inside while Andy called again. Thankfully, two minutes to 6, the guy answered and waited for us to arrive. In good Kiwi spirit, he had empathy for us having come from Blenheim and didn’t seem too put out to fix us up.  However, the unit was on the 2nd floor. Thankfully there was a lift though and I hoped it was a large one.

In order to get “home” at a decent hour, we ended up helping the guys move our stuff into the unit. They had been at it just as long as we had, albeit with a better night’s sleep behind them and a safer route to follow than us (thanks, Google). We finally finished around 8:30 and then had to find our accommodation in the dark while rain poured down.

We couldn’t have picked a worse time to move, but I feel fortunate that we got here in one piece and that we will never have to do this again. Thankfully, the place we will live until we can find a house is quite nice and comfy and our hostess is lovely. Over the next few days, this nightmare will fade from memory and the sun will shine once again.

Year Four

March 27 marks my fourth year of being a U.S. expat. Once again, I’m still amazed that I’ve been away this long. Lucky number four finds me in the midst of moving on once again to what will be my 31st home since I’ve been gone. My boyfriend accepted a job up on the North Island in the Hastings area, a spot we happened to visit last year on a mini-vacation. Napier is nearby which was the Art Deco town located on the Pacific that I loved so much.

To recap the past year: it was an interesting one! 

I always get out to the vineyards when fall comes to capture the beauty of the changing leaves. We found a spot that was hilly for once so I could get up above it all and capture the (almost) whole picture of this interesting section.

In May, we took a trip down to Kaikoura to visit the seal colony tucked in the woods near a waterfall. Pups are birthed here across the road from the ocean, giving them a safe haven to play and learn all about seal life. Sadly, this area was destroyed by the massive November earthquake. News is that the colony has relocated close by and is doing well.

I still struggle to grasp the months vs. the seasons here when looking back at photos. We went to a small event at a French vineyard in July which is the dead of winter here. People helplessly looked on as this sow dug up a good section of the land and little girls were mesmerized by busy bees.

Meanwhile, our friend’s vineyard was filled with lambs and mothers tending to the “mowing” of the grass and fertilizing the grapevines.

We drove up to Nelson a few times and my life would not be complete without stopping to take amazing photos of low lying clouds.

Out of pure desperation, I was forced to start making my own flour tortillas. I’ve gotten much better at making them round, but it still takes a solid two hours to make and cook just 20 of them. I make sure to savour each and every one.

For Halloween, I tried my hand at some decorative pumpkins which I tried to sell and that went over like flannel sheets on a hot night.

My fascination with lemons continues, having a warm glass of lemon juice to start my mornings off right. The lemons from my neighbour’s 100 year old tree never ceases to amaze me.

And then….it happened:

We were violently shaken awake at 12:02 am feeling like the house was about to come crashing down by what was later categorized as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Thankfully, this turn of the century house swayed and rattled with the movement which probably saved a lot of damage. The only major thing that broke was the chimney. It even stayed intact luckily, as we were standing quite near it when we left the house not thinking it could have potentially fallen on us.

The road to Christchurch is still blocked off to this day with no indication of when it may open again. We haven’t felt many quakes in the past couple of months but the thousands of aftershocks following the big one made me feel helpless and vulnerable.

Then, three days later, I received my temporary residency. Glad that worrying is over with. I’m now allowed to stay in New Zealand indefinitely although my travel is restricted after two years so I would have to either never travel or apply to become a permanent resident.

On a happier note, I was introduced to our local “pest” by Kiwi standards, the hedgehog. The dog started finding one in our yard which alerted us to her presence and then she had babies! It was a very dry stretch of summer for a while after they were born and the dog would find them wandering out in the daylight. They were small and seemed either hungry or thirsty so I would take them in for a feed and water then put them back under the house.

When I started not seeing the mom around anymore, I felt I had to interfere with nature to make sure these kids survived. I ended up marking them with nail polish so I could keep track of their weight and they were named accordingly. One came back to us with mites so I had to take him/her to the vet for treatment and hang onto that one about a week longer than the other two.

Adorable little creatures, they were. I became pretty attached to them and hated to see them go. I set them free at a reserve near the house which has a creek running through it and other hedgehogs present so I know they will have plenty to eat and good places to hide. I expect they are still alive and well.

With a new job on the horizon and the prospect of selling the house, we had our work cut out for us. We learned how to refinish a timber countertop in the kitchen that was badly in need of refurbishment. Not to mention cleaning up the two front bedrooms which were never used by us. 

Many gallons of paint later and hundreds for new carpet netted us two gorgeous, livable rooms that anyone would be happy to have.

The house sold after only five days on the market which had us scrambling to find somewhere to live up north. Unfortunately after three solid days of looking and one offer put in, we ended up with nothing. So I put my old comfortable shoes on and delve into being homeless again after having finally become used to staying in one place for the past couple of years.

A new chapter once again is upon me but it will be a welcomed change (I think). We’re moving out of the rural lifestyle and knowing your neighbours and clerks at the local corner store to the “big city” with traffic lights and unfamiliar faces. We won’t be immune to earthquakes but at least the gas prices are cheaper and there are more choices as far as buying “things” goes. We will even have a great sandy beach nearby (although the water will still be stupid cold). On to a new adventure!

 

 

Two Years and Counting

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I remember like it was yesterday. I sat on the front porch that night looking at the stars, knowing there was nothing inside of my house except the bags I packed to take on the plane. I had accomplished everything I had set out to do: sold the house, the cars and every single possession I owned. I had only 12 more hours in the United States before heading off to Costa Rica to begin my new life abroad. My 15 year dream was finally coming true and it felt so liberating, albeit uncertain at the same time.

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Casita in Cocles, Costa Rica

It doesn’t seem like it was two years ago that I stayed in that hot, buggy casita in Cocles. A lot happened during those three months. I learned how to take care of monkeys and sloths; I encountered wildlife beyond my wildest imagination; I lived without mod cons; I ate healthier but became ill due to the water; I got in shape by walking or riding my bike everywhere and I met people that I’m still friends with today.

Oh thank god....
Hot buggy room

There were days when I felt broken but swore to never give in. Then there were days of pure bliss, like riding my bike to a beautiful beach and having chocolate fondue for lunch. Without a care in the world and nothing to have to rush home for, I knew I had made a good decision to follow my heart to Costa Rica.

san antonio de turrialba
San Antonio de Turrialba

The long term house sit in Turrialba was magnificent with an abundance of wildlife in my own yard. I loved taking the machete through the pathways and slashing unruly vines and yellowing banana leaves. I chopped up the felled twisted branches of the rainbow eucalyptus tree to put in the fireplace during chilly nights. I would beam with happiness as I came across grapefruit trees in the village and carried home the heavy fruit in a plastic bag. I revived beautiful birds that slammed into the windows and ate bananas straight off the trees. Best of all, I think, was being the only expat and having to practice my Spanish almost everyday. The people there were genuine and kind.

el valle de anton panama
El Valle de Anton

Having always wanted to visit Panama, it was my next move. There, I lived in the beautiful little town of El Valle, nestled in a crater of an extinct volcano. I helped launch a tourist attraction and learned how to raise butterflies. I felt more than ever like a mother to all of those babies. From egg to caterpillar to butterfly, I had my hands full everyday. On my days off, I still couldn’t keep away from them and found myself, like a mother, constantly worried about their well being. I would personally care for butterflies that had malformed wings and couldn’t fly. The butterflies in the flight house always got breakfast before I did and I took great pleasure in making sure they were happy.

Middlemarch, New Zealand
Middlemarch, New Zealand

After leaving Panama, I made the decision to travel half way around the world to New Zealand. A beautiful country on many peoples’ bucket list, I was happy to finally see it for myself. My new found lack of planning didn’t prepare me for the harsh winter ahead near the bottom of the South Island. Not realizing I could practically blow a kiss to Antarctica, I had a hard time adjusting after coming from the tropics. Working outside most of the day on a sheep farm was a complete turnaround from what I had ever imagined doing. Living with a family after being on my own for so long took some adjustment, but it was good for me. It forced me out of my comfort zone and prepared me for future stays with complete strangers in their homes instead of opting for impersonal and expensive hotel rooms.

Nobby beach, Gold Coast, Queensland
Nobby Beach, Gold Coast, Queensland

When my visa was up, I went to Australia where the heat overwhelmed me. Everyone said it would be hot but I didn’t expect it would take so long to adjust to the new climate. People wouldn’t use their air con even though they had it and the convenience of a dishwasher was usually shunned as well. I was back to doing dishes by hand but living in nicer homes than Central America. I missed not having an open air house and tangible items were readily available at nearby shops. I found myself longing for challenges. I realized that it had been good for me to not always have what I wanted. I didn’t want life to be this easy. I had enjoyed not having a car and buying fruits and vegetables from roadside vendors. My heart belonged in Central America. I felt out of place on this side of the world.

Marlborough, New Zealand
Marlborough, New Zealand

I will be spending my two year anniversary in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. A beautiful grape growing area that reminds me of my life back in the tropics. There are fruit trees of all varieties in every yard it seems and the weather is typically pleasant and sunny. The rolling fields of grapevines imply a certain peacefulness that makes me smile every time I pass by them. The many rivers, mountains and beaches are all nearby and never crowded. You can let your dog run free and watch the ever changing sky over the endless sea.

I have been changed by the people I met on my travels, something which would’ve never happened had I not left my old life behind. I have affected the lives of others as well, sometimes not for the better. With every new encounter, I learn, I grow and I evolve. I am embracing the ebb and flow of change instead of being satisfied with the stagnation of habit and conformity. As Camille has said, I am forever changed and I look forward to more years of eye opening experiences and cultural exchanges around the world.

2nd Anniversary spent at Yealand's winery
2nd Anniversary spent at Yealand’s winery