A Little Taste of Home

We had the opportunity to take a short trip over to Hastings and finally experience some American BBQ along with a chili and chili dog eating contest. Bareknuckle BBQ was serving up some food as well which I’ve been looking forward to trying. We grabbed a fried chicken burger, a pulled pork sandwich, some waffle fries and a couple of Corona’s. $53 later, lunch was served!

Unfortunately, the pork missed the mark with me. Had it not been for the flavour of anise in it for some odd reason, it would’ve been great. Hefty American servings left me far too full and unable to finish everything.

As we waited for it to be served, a chili eating contest was going on. First the jalapenos (which I missed) and then on to the habaneros. Wow…I can’t believe anyone, much less the sole woman, would even participate in that. I’m sure they’re feelin’ the burn tonight!

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you who won the contest, but here were the baskets of prizes!

Samples from the chili contest were being handed out, nice and cold…New Zealand style. Something about cold chili that doesn’t quite feel like home. First rule: chili should not be chilly.

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Some of them weren’t that bad though. We didn’t stay long enough to find out who won.

Then began the chili dog eating contest. Ughhhhh…I’m still full after watching it. The dogs were way larger than American hot dogs, no doubt about it. They set about 5 in front of them, giving them 3 minutes to see who would eat the most. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Getting ready
That’s a lotta dog
May the best man win
This poor kid was having issues with the first one

I’m feelin their pain at this point

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This was about the time the MC extended the contest by one minute
Still plenty to eat!
My man Matthew keeping control of the situation
After another couple of one minute extensions, time was coming to a close. The crowd was very sympathetic.

Comparing what’s left on the trays
The winner is announced!

Apparently, they were overly optimistic about how many dogs would be eaten. A few more trays were brought out and the vultures swooped in!

This was the first American event I’ve been to here and it was fun hearing so many familiar accents again. We had a good time and will be back for the next one!

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California….FINALLY

When I think of California, this is what I picture
When I think of California, this is what I picture

I took a little trip back to the states for a month and finally got to see California for the first time. I stayed with my BFF in Pebble Beach so I was living the good life! They recently purchased a home off of the famous 17 Mile Drive and close to the ocean, so I’m glad I got to see it and help around the yard.

The "Gingerbread House" in Pebble Beach for rent
The “Gingerbread House” in Pebble Beach for rent

Like New Zealand, California is also known for its wine production and we visited MANY tasting rooms and a few vineyards. I couldn’t help but notice a some similarities in the coastlines and the flora. There were a lot of those creepy trees I love so much as well as the same types of flowers and bushes.

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I was also lucky enough to go to the Monterey aquarium a couple of times and got in plenty of shopping (my downfall). We also hit up Big Sur and ate lots of great food in the time I was there. I’m happy to say I fulfilled my requirements for seafood, Mexican and BBQ and some stuff I had forgotten about like this cheese steak sandwich!

Mmmm Philly cheese steak!
Mmmm Philly cheese steak!

Some of the first places they took me were to the wharf and Cannery Row. I was overwhelmed with all of the free clam chowder being sampled along the walk and took advantage of just about all of them. THAT was something I hadn’t had in a while. The gigantic crab legs were hard to miss as well.

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We saw these great little squid air plants and I made a friend in the gift shop.

Squid air plants you soak in water once a week
Squid air plants you soak in water once a week

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There were sea lions and otters galore, like this one who found an urchin to munch on (very carefully).

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I was really impressed with the aquarium, so much that I went back a second time. The jellyfish and cephalopod exhibits were outstanding. I spent a lot of time staring at the flamboyant cuttlefish. There was a touch pool for skates and rays and a beautiful shallow pool with anemones.

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Skate – totally looks like a scary alien face

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Pharaoh cuttlefish

The jellyfish were so mesmerizing, it was hard to get out of the exhibit! They had quite a few octopi as well.

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Big Sur is a must do if you’re in the area, so they kindly took me on the drive and we stopped in at a nice place to eat overlooking the ocean.

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Closer to home, we went to Carmel Beach for some sunset shots and pictures of the infamous cypress tree. This is allegedly one of the most photographed trees in the U.S.

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Another trip took us to a sunset while drinking wine and having some appetizers.

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Carmel Beach had this one spot where the sand was pink. When mixed with the black and white sand then dried, it became purple. Of course I had to bring some home with me!

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While I still have food on my mind, there was some great fruit at this farmer’s market and I saw some odd cauliflower at a market outside of town. I’m also constantly amazed by the cereal aisles that I miss so much. Ours here is about 1/4 of that size and 50% more expensive!

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Thanks again, Dahnelle and Remo for making my first visit memorable and I look forward to coming back!

Thanksgiving in New Zealand

Turkey sticker shock
Turkey sticker shock

I was looking forward to having an actual turkey this Thanksgiving after two years without one. It’s usually been Chinese food (sort of like ‘A Christmas Story’ movie) or pizza. But this year, it would be different. Weeks ahead of time, I searched the frozen section of the stores. The big store here had quite a selection. And then I saw the prices. Keep in mind this is in New Zealand dollars, so it’s not quite as bad as it may look. That $108 turkey is $78 USD for 14 lbs. I settled for the $43 one at a different store which came out to $28 for a 7.7 pounder. I feel like more of a Butterball than this thing.

Who's the REAL turkey here?
Who’s the REAL turkey here?

Yep, looks kinda like a chicken, doesn’t it? Once it cooks down it may become a ‘cornish’ turkey. I was able to find jellied cranberry sauce (my favorite) in a jar(!?) which ended up oozing instead of slipping out. Bought some potatoes, corn, rolls and made a rhubarb/strawberry/blueberry tart for dessert. The Pepperidge Farm stuffing I ordered from the American grocery store in Wellington even showed up today!

It’s odd feeling this connection to a holiday back home being over here. I have such fond memories of Thanksgiving with my family with all the chaos and decibel levels nearing heavy metal proportions. It was always a good time to be around everyone enjoying themselves. I miss it and it’s just not quite the same this year.

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A Rhublustrawberry tart
A Rhublustrawberry tart

On to my favorite current subject, THE EELS! Last you may have read, we went to Nelson to feed the tame eels. Just up the street from us is a caravan park with a huge sign talking about ‘Home of Eddie the Eel’. That would indicate that there are indeed eels in this creek, so we went looking one day. We never did see any (saw a trout though) and I decided to come back with food next time. Doesn’t it always do the trick? Sure enough, within minutes the eels started appearing and a new past time was created for me. Here’s quite a long video showing some of the eels. There are usually around 8 that appear, all different sizes. I’ve even started naming them (yes, I can tell them apart). Of course I can’t resist naming the big one Lucille (heh heh…get it?).

Well, here’s the cool part. I had a really long branch of bamboo which I was using to skewer the pieces of meat onto. The eels have bad eyesight but their sense of smell is pretty good. Most of the time it could be right in front of them and they wouldn’t even notice. My tactic was to softly brush the bamboo against their bodies and they’d follow their way up to the food. It worked really well! I used the bamboo stick on three separate visits.

So the one day we went back, it was just for a quick feeding and I didn’t use the bamboo. I just threw the pieces into the water and within minutes, they all showed up. Then I saw two different eels run into small branches stuck on the creek bed and they bit at them! One followed the branch to the top and opened his little mouth! What smart eels! They learned!! What’s even more impressive is that they remembered. Well, they were disappointed of course because it wasn’t my bamboo stick and there was no treat at the end of it.

Being that there are hardly any animals in New Zealand, this is about as good as it gets for me. So please forgive my enthusiasm over the eels…this is life in the slow lane!

I did take a nice trip out to Kaipupu Point which is a nature reserve that was created to give native wildlife a chance to flourish. In 2008, they constructed a fence around the 42 hectare section of this peninsula ‘island’ to keep out rats, mice, possum, stoats, etc. It was quite an undertaking and you really have to give it to these folks for wanting to save the natives. They may introduce kiwi here eventually and they’re hoping the little blue penguins show up one day as well.

Kaipupu point
Kaipupu point

Our group, who got to go out here for free and attended a two hour lecture beforehand, climbed up to a lookout of the Sounds and took a lovely stroll through the forest.

Lookout on Kaipupu Point
Lookout on Kaipupu Point

Here are a couple of photos of the predator free fence, one which leads down to the water.

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Trapping box

IMG_2174_1 We heard birds singing and I was able to spot a couple of quail but they were pretty elusive and I got a bad shot of one. It was a really lovely day here and I was grateful to have had the opportunity to get out there and see what this place was all about. The admission is free (donations suggested) and you must take a boat to get there which can cost around $30 round trip. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a more affordable way of getting there, but maybe in the future they will figure out a way.

Tree ferns
Tree ferns

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In other news, my little veggie gardens are finally starting to produce some PRODUCE. I have three beds with tomato, lettuce, celery, bell pepper, (soon to plant jalepeno’s), rhubarb, strawberry, spring onion, parsley and broccoli. Plus a few little weeds in there that are relentless.

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My rock garden out front is taking shape and the colors are popping!

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The mandarin tree has started making tiny fruits and the lime tree has even bloomed! You can barely get limes here for love nor money so hopefully they come out good…this could be a revenue stream for me!

Tiny mandarins
Tiny mandarins

Summer is less than a week away and I’ve never been so ready for it in my LIFE. At least I don’t have to light the fire in the mornings lately and I don’t sleep in layers anymore. So, bring it on, New Zealand!!

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.

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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