Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dispatch 52 More New Zealand

January, 2010

Here’s the latest from New Zealand. We took a road trip in our van to Cape Reinga, one of the northernmost points in the country. It is where the Tasman and Pacific oceans meet which we, of course, assumed was a symbolic description. Actually, we were there on a very calm day and, standing on the headland where the lighthouse is, we could look down and see separate wave trains from the 2 oceans which met and clashed below us in a whitewater frenzy. Fascinating! The Cape is gorgeous and a very spiritual place for the Maori—they believe that the souls of the dead depart to the underworld here. We had beautiful weather and some great camping.

We outfitted the van minimally to be able to sleep inside and prepare food. We arrived at a campsite in the midst of the busiest season of the year, the week between Christmas and New Years. Kiwis are great campers and they don’t seem to go in for the tiny pup tent approach. No, they set up camp for a week, with a large group of friends or family in their tents in whole communities. The tents have multiple rooms, and, judging from the peeks we took inside, are complete with folding cots and furniture. The temporary patio is equipped with large awnings, tables, chairs, BBQ and some of the camps had shower tents. They are amazing!
We had 2 chairs and a cooler for a table outside our van. Talk about minimalist camping! Starting one evening at around 5:30 PM, we were SWARMED with mosquitoes. We were maddened despite being fully dressed and having repellant on any exposed skin. As the rangers came by to collect from us, we asked about the mosquitoes and they told us we were in the “bush” where it was worse, but it was nearly the last site available now we knew why. They said to use repellant. A few minutes later we were visited by 2 friendly kids, perhaps age 9 and 11, brother and sister, who were fundraising for their trip to the South Island to go to ski camp. They were carrying the box we have come to associate with “World’s Finest” chocolate bars and we were momentarily distracted from our mosquito issue, eyes aglitter at the thought of helping out these nice kids while having a dessert of chocolate. (If you think we weren’t already carrying chocolate for dessert, all I can say is, you don’t know us very well… but you never turn down the opportunity to maintain your supplies.) They finished their spiel about ski camp with, “So we’re selling…sun screen or insect repellent to raise the money.” What, no chocolate? Well, naturally, we had to buy insect repellent, but we did ask the rangers if they had put the kids up to it or if they were their kids. Welcome to NZ! Next, we met the woman in the camp next to ours when I asked her if the mosquitoes were bothering them. She said, “Don’t you have fly spray? Oh you must get some, here let me have you borrow mine.” Fly spray is a product by Raid that the campers here spray inside their tent an hour or so before bedtime to rid the place of mosquitoes. Well, we were just desperate enough to spritz a little, really a lot, into our van to see if it would help. The mosquitoes were really not bad that night in our little van bedroom, but Richard wheezed all night (not a good thought about what he inhaled). By morning, we found the dashboard was covered with hundreds of dead mosquitoes. In truth, it was very satisfying.
I had learned how to make flowers from flax leaves, a Maori craft, and used the technique to mark our trail so we wouldn't get lost.

On the road back from our travels to our boat, we climbed one of many long windy hills. As we pulled off at the scenic overlook at the top, we noticed water pouring out of our van—not good we thought. Then we noticed the water was mixed with black oil. Much worse, we thought. Well, to make a long, very sad saga, very short, the car probably blew a head gasket on that climb. In our research about repairing it, we learned that this style vehicle with a diesel engine has this problem quite often and we couldn’t find anyone very enthused about repairing it or even taking it off our hands for parts. We tried to sell it “as is, where is,” with no takers and finally found a diesel mechanic who wanted to buy it to work on himself. Needless to say, we took a big loss on the thing but have emerged sadder but wiser about buying our next vehicle.

Meanwhile, since bad things happen in threes, we’ve had issues with our 30 year old diesel engine on the boat. We arrived and made the mistake of talking to other cruisers who were replacing their engine (same vintage) with a rebuilt one. Their symptoms sounded much like ours, sort of. (You’d think someone who lived through medical school where everyone gets every disease because the symptoms are fairly general and you have to understand the degree of the symptoms to understand the disease would have known better!). So we decided to do a little maintenance on it. After having the compression checked, the injectors leaked for the first time in their lives. Well, about 5 years ago, our good friend Harold said we ought to have them rebuilt, so, since they were leaking, we went ahead and had them rebuilt along with the fuel pump and, just when we thought all was good, we find that they still leak. Damn frustrating.

And lastly but not leastly, on one visit out to these very beautiful islands by boat, we returned to hear we had picked up a stowaway. That is, a rat came aboard at some point in our travels and took up residence. In 6 short nights (they are nocturnal so, other than the morning-after mess, we didn’t notice our “crew” except at night), this animal managed to reduce us to cranky, frantic, blood-thirsty crazed human beings. We could hear it chewing various parts of the boat, ripping at things deep in compartments where we couldn’t find it and generally disrupting our sleep. It got into everything—tore up foam, toilet paper and pipe insulation for nest material, chewed on fruit that was in hanging nets in the cabin, ate our CHOCOLATE, nuts, cranberries and we’re pretty sure we haven’t found the last of the destruction. Despite 5 loaded traps, rat poison and a bowl of anti-freeze (covering all the bases of the various bits of advice we got on how to do this creature in), it lived with us for 4 more nights, evading all our desperate measures. At last, one final night of no sleep, we found the thing in our galley, Betsy put a trap right by the last place she had seen it. Twenty minutes later, we heard the most satisfying sound of a trap being sprung and, upon investigation, found the critter fading into oblivion. YES!!! We gave it a burial at sea. Never have two caring, life-sustaining healer types of people been reduced to such blood thirst! “Bring it on”!

Now, having been here a while, we hear announcements on VHF about checking your boat for rodents before venturing out in the islands so the islands can remain rat-free. I know where I stand between a rat-free boat and a rat-free island! I’d put that sucker back on the island in no time!!
But to offset the series of unfortunate events, I have negotiated a job on the South Island of New Zealand in a small town called Oamaru at a rural hospital. This town is known for its Victorian history and for the colony of blue penguins who live offshore and come ashore each evening. The uniform response we get when we tell Kiwis where we will be living is, “Oooh, it’s cold there, BUT it’s really beautiful.” So we look forward to the next chapter of life and work in New Zealand. We intend to leave our boat in Auckland, where, if we find the time, we should be able to fly in and enjoy some sailing in the Hauraki Gulf. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, we should be in the US for some family events this spring before work starts.