Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Iron Chef New Zealand

Dining in NZ has been a fun and varied experience. Regardless of where we go, it seems that there are countless restaurants to chose from, each beckoning us with open doors.* The highest quality meal so far was probably the leg of lamb on roasted vegetables and potato mash that was prepared by a five star chef at Cafe #6 in Paihia. He had relocated to this small, remote seaside restaurant when his wife's doctor told her she needed to move out of the city in order to reduce her stress. The food was amazing. We were one of two couples in the place that night, and the boisterous chef kept coming out to make sure our meals were okay. (He also encouraged me to eat more, stating that he felt a woman should have something you could hold onto.)

Here's a picture from one of my other favorite dining experiences here:

You've probably already read about it on Keith's blog. What really made it a great experience wasn't the food so much (semi-raw chicken can never really be great), but the live music performed by the owner was supremely entertaining.

Last night we ate Mexican food. Sort of. This was actually the first Mexican restaurant we had seen. The menu included a glossary of terms such as "taco" and "enchilada". Very exotic. The menu also included seviche and sangria and there was a picture of a matador on the wall. I ordered a lemonade to go with my meal. The waitress/owner/Indian lady politely brought me a Sprite. "Oh, I ordered lemonade" I said. "Uh huh", she replied and walked away. The delicious "lemonade" complemented my not-very-Mexican chicken nicely.

Today we happened upon a Korean place. From the outside it looked like it was a quick, cheap eat, but once we got inside we realized the place was actually quite big, crowded for being 2 o'clock, and there was a giant projection screen t.v. showing Asian pop videos. We ordered two simple stir fries, which turned out to include like ten separate dishes of mysterious food-like items. Even after we were finished eating I could only identify two of the objects from the tiny bowls.

Thrice sweetened mystery beverage, bonus!

The ordering process in restaurants is as varied as the type of cuisine available. Sometimes a waitress does all the things you expect a waitress to do, but other times you're expected to get up and order at the bar. You may pay as you order or you may pay at the end. Maybe you get sat with menus, but you still have to go and place your order. Or maybe the food is sitting there in a glass case and you just go and grab it for yourself. One thing that doesn't vary is that you always have to get up to pay your tab, and you never need to tip.

*This is a notable drawback of dining in NZ in the winter time. Everybody has to have their damn door open. I know it's a temperate climate and all, but I would argue that if it's cold enough to have your log fire burning, then it's clearly too cold to have the doors agape.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sleeping in a van is making me smarter

I am the furthest thing from a history scholar. I would definitely lose to any fifth grader in a battle of American or any other history. In fact I have always dreaded history so much that in college, in order to fulfill my history requirements, I took a class called Philosophy of Religion. The class basically focused on various philosophers arguments for or against the existence of god. It was my favorite college course, but I still have no idea why it counted as a history credit. The upside to being ignorant, however, is that now when I read history I am constantly surprised, sometimes shocked and always entertained.

Today I finished Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Keith refuses to read anything by Stephen Ambrose because of some plagiarism claims. I don't know anything about that. I do know that the author's writings tend to drip with American patriotism and are from a traditional white, male perspective. Nevertheless I find his writing well organized and entertaining. The book focuses on the life of Meriwether Lewis including the expedition he and Wiliam Clark's led across the American west in 1804.

One thing I found interesting is both Lewis and Clark's complete inability to spell. This is something I struggle with as well, but their spelling is so poor that after a while I started to wonder if looking at all those misspelled words would somehow confuse me further and cause my spelling to become even worse (alas, I have spell check, so I'm alright). Here's an example of a passage from Clark's journal:

"The men has to haul with all their Strength wate & art, maney times every man all catching the grass & knobes & Stones with their hands to give them more force in drawing on the Canoes & Loads, and notwithstanding the Coolness of the air in high presperation and every halt [the men] are asleep in a moment, maney limping from the Soreness of their feet Some become fant for a fiew moments, but no man Complains all go Chearfully on -- to State the fatigues of this party would take up more of the journal than other notes which I find Scercely time to Set down."

It's not just the spelling. I mean, what's with all those random capital letters? Despite this peculiarity, the book is undeniably interesting as a look into the thoughts and character of Meriwether Lewis. The title is appropriate. Lewis and Clark have an extraordinary amount of courage, and I would say sometimes stupidly so. They were so confident in their mission and in their men that they managed all sorts of seemingly impossible feats, such as taking heavy canoes down class V rapids, confidently parading through hostile native American territories, and surviving wild (usually provoked) Grizzly bear attacks. Also, for those of us who only know of the story at an elementary level, the book has a "surprise ending" which was tragic, but also one that provided insight into Meriwether Lewis that I would not have otherwise surmised.

I guess an unintended positive side effect of renting a van to tour New Zealand is that, sans internet and television, you may learn some history.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blowing the Travel Wad

Anybody ever wonder how much it costs to travel in NZ? I'm not even talking about the astronomical airfare costs, I'm strictly talking food, entertainment and lodging. Having been poor all my life I have only been to poor countries while on vacation thus taking advantage of the strong US dollar. Thanks to poor Mexicans, South Americans, and Europeans, I have really had some kick ass vacations. Thanks guys! The NZ dollar is another thing however. Our Lonely Planet guide said to expect to pay around $100 per day, per person on food and entertainment alone -- that wasn't even including lodging and travel mind you. One of the reasons for the exorbitant figure is that every tourist attraction comes with an astronomical price tag. You can't even really hike for free. Also they have all these crazy adventure sports the kiwis have dreamt up in order to strip us of hard earned dollars. So far Keith and I have not really been at all tempted by Zorbing, bungy jumping, canyoning, and we're simply too cheap for any of the heli-variation activities. This has left us room to shop. Today I blew the wad on these.


I can further justify the purchase because my permanent residence is currently in a place where shoe shops are next to non-existent, and internet shopping for boots is all but impossible. I mean, even if you figure out your size in a certain brand, what are the chances that the boots will fit you right in the arch, ankle and calf? Not only that, but you really have to feel the leather and inspect the seams up close to make sure you've got yourself a quality product.

What this all means, is that Keith and I have to eat day old muffins and cook Top Ramen in the rain in order to get back on budget, but it's totally worth it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

X-TREME Mountain Biking!

Keith obviously has the official NZ blog complete with daily activities, beautiful pics etc. I'm generally happy to just let him do the blogging and save the $$ on internet time, but today was inspiring.

We're in Rotarua now, and for the past couple of days we've been exploring the Whakarewarewa national forest single track. I knew NZ was world famous for mtn biking, and I think now I know why. First of all everywhere you go it's totally beautiful, even a day like today which was basically overcast and drizzly, was still sort of mystically beautiful. But really I think the great thing is that places like Rotarura cater to mtn bikers. There are tons of trails designated for mtn bikers only. That means no slowing down for hikers and no negotiating horsie doo doo and hoof prints. Also the trails are well managed with signage and directionality. This translates to safer, faster riding. We happen to be here in the winter time, and in Seattle that would mean closed trails. Here nobody seems to care how deeply rutted and muddy the trail gets -- it never closes. Finally, the mountain biking opportunities are ubiquitous as are the mountain bikers. That is why the past two days have constituted the most X-TREME mountain biking.

Today's ride consisted of about an hour of grueling uphill road climb (on legs dead from yesterday) to get to the top where we could cruise down a mix of trails. The first was a class 4 meaning tough but just short of the crazy suicide jumps and stuff that would make it class 5 (the most X-TREME class). This trail was loaded with deep mud that had seen enough fat tires that some of the ruts were so deep and narrow that you really didn't have enough clearance to pedal. It reminded me of high school softball practice where a rainy day meant dedicated sliding practice and head to toe mud from sliding into home plate. In other worlds it was a slip-slidy, verging on out of control fun-fest. The remainder of the trails got more dangerous and less fun as my skinny little legs ran out of steam to power the bike, and my arms and hands turned to jello making the down hill trek all the more unsteady. Still, it was a great time and any mountain biking adventure that ends with no permanent damage to either of our reproductive organs is a success in my book.