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Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

Since Kim and I were in the area, we decided to hit up the notorious Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, an island off the east coast of Thailand.   It’s one of those things you just have to see.   Because of the influx of tourists to the area, around this time each month  the price of everything doubles or triples and it can be very hard to find a room.   And even if you do, they require you to stay at least 5-10 nights!   Reluctantly, we booked 5 nights well in advance at Coral Bungalows on the west side of the island.   We weren’t too happy about spending that long on a party island, however, we would be meeting up with the Jeff’s once again and have a few extra days to relax.  We had heard that Coral was known for it’s party hardy atmosphere and huge, all night pool parties — not to mention the billion signs on the drive there advirtising the “Biggest, Craziest Pool Party in the World 700, 500, 200 meters Ahead!!   Kim wasn’t too pumped about this but to our surprise, our room was gigantic with super power A/C, private balcony, and far enough from all the action to turn in early if needed.   It was fantastic! The pool, restaruant and bar were right on the beach and sold everything from gatorade (gotta get in those electrolites) to toilet paper…they made it very easy not to leave this place.   

Beach view from Coral

 
We spent the days leading up to the FMP walking around town, shopping, and hanging with the Jeff’s and our new friends Chelsea, Chris and Katie.  We thought about heading to the beach on the east side for some tanning and swimming, but once we caught a glipmse of it, we quickly changed our minds.   The scenery itself, the cliffs, the color of the water, the blue sky was all wonderful, but the beach itself was pretty gross.  Trash everywhere!!  People don’t just party on the beach the night of a full moon, it happens just about every night here.   The sand is filled with straws (from all the buckets being consumed), wrappers, paper, broken glass…it’s horrible.  And we know that the water is just a big urinal when the sun goes down.  So, needless to say, we didn’t do much actual beach time in Koh Phangan. 
One day while Jeff and I hung by the pool, Kim did a day trip to Ang Thong National Park to visit some of the surrounding islands.  Despite the nausea-inducing boat ride, the scenery was gorgeous:
 
At night, we would meet up with everyone at Coral and then head to the beach.  The nights leading up to the FMP are just as good, if not better than the actual party.  It’s crazy!  The beach is lined with “bucket bars” competing for your business, yelling and dancing, waving various patriotic flags to attract certain tourists, offering gifts with purchase, etc.  Chris and Katie had been living in the area a month, so we stuck with them and got “the hookup” at their favorite place.   This was also during the final days of the Olympic Games and Canada was playing the U.S. in the championship hockey game at 3am.   Since we were with ALL Canadians, and they are FREAKS about hockey, Kim and I had to tag along to represent:)   We didn’t quite make it to the end of the game, but heard we put up a good fight in overtime.  The Canadians were quite happy with the outcome (and quite drunk walking home at 7:30am).

Buckets at Coral with the Jeffs

Bucket bar stalls along the beach

Partaking

 
The night of the Full Moon Party, we all went to an authentic Thai BBQ at this quaint little restaurant, Bull Of the Moon.  Chris and Katie ate there just about every night for the last month.   The owner was quite generous and provided us with a great experience.   Basically, they place this metal bowl with sort of dome in the middle with slits over a pot of burning coals.   He fills the outer area with broth to cook noodles and vegetables and then gave us a plate of raw shrimp, squid, pork, beef and chicken to grill ourselves with chopsticks.   Good fun, but super hot!   We would have enjoyed this activity much more in the winter:) 

Traditional Thai BBQ

 Then it was back to Coral to get painted up for the party.  It’s pretty much against the law to not cover yourself in neon paint for this event.  Plus, it’s just fun to paint stupid stuff all over each other!  We had a great time drinking and dancing the night away.  It was very interesting as well to see all the random people passed out all over the beach, falling off stages and spranging something, carrying their barefoot buddy off the beach with cut up feet, and the list goes on.   I’m sorry, but that shit was out of control! Good times though!

Gettin' painted up!

Chelsea, Kim, Chris, and Jeff getting crazy

Katie and Jeff actin' like fools

The beach looks exactly how you feel at the end of the night

We of course spent the next day recovering and getting ready to head back up north.   We had a short stop back in Bangkok before we took a long bus ride from hell up to Chiang Mai.  I will say though, we had so much fun in the Islands!!   It’s gorgeous here and everyone should see this place.  Southern Thailand, you will be missed.

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Kelly and I were fortunate  to meet up with Doug again and have him as our tour guide for the rest of our time in the city.  He grew up in Hong Kong and was in town visiting his parents for a few weeks…we love having a local to show us around!  He and his friend Joseph (randomly, a former Austinite) showed us a great time.  Some of our favorite adventures include:

 -Dim Sum at Luk Yu Teahouse, one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. 

-A Spanish wine tasting with Doug’s parents at a swanky hotel. His dad accidentally knocked a whole tray of wine glasses onto the floor, which was awesome.

 

-One of the most amazing sushi meals of our lives (Kelly will fill you in later), followed by karaoke, a popular activity here in Hong Kong. We had a private karaoke room and spent the night getting sloshed and butchering Neil Diamond, Madonna, and Michael Jackson tunes. Disappointingly, there were no Rolling Stones songs available, but it was still a kick-ass time. See if this little ditty doesn’t get stuck in your head after about 2 seconds:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4sZ5_ocsgs 

-The Horse Races! Horse racing is a huge spectator sport in Hong Kong, and Doug’s folks scored us some free tickets to the Wednesday night races in Happy Valley. Kelly and I gambled and lost, Doug’s horse actually placed and he won a whopping $45.

The Race Track

The Track

Crossing the Finish Line

-A day trip to Lantau Island where we sort of got to see the Big Buddha statue through a bunch of clouds and stupidly attempted a hike to the summit of Lantau Peak in crap weather. This was not the best idea since the ascent is pretty steep and the rock stairs were wet and slippery…coming down was going to be a problem. It was so cloudy that you couldn’t see anything anyway, so we turned around before reaching the summit and tried not to slip and break our skulls open.

 

The Big Buddah

-Strolling around Tai O, a small fishing village on Lantau, to check out the dried fish market and catch whiffs of fermenting shrimp paste. Yum!

 

Tai O

Dried Fish Anyone?

-A day trip to Macau Island, a former Portuguese colony known for it’s Vegas-style casinos. We didn’t do any gambling, but did cheer on Doug as he weighed in for the highest bungy jump in the world (233 meters) off of the Macau tower. It looked terrifying…even Kelly wouldn’t consider doing the jump. Doug took it like a man though and earned some bragging rights and a ‘free’ t-shirt.

 

Doug v.s. The Macau Tower

View of Macau from the tower

-Going back to the insane seafood restaurant for an incredible dinner and pounding beer bowls with the owner. Pretty convenient that he and Joseph happen to be drinking buddies outside of work.

 -A night ferry ride at the harbor and drinks with city views at the Sheraton Sky Lounge.

Hong Kong at Night

Some things that Kelly and I did without Doug, but wished he could have been there:

-Drinking bloody mary’s and watching the last few minutes of the Superbowl at an Irish bar with 100 or so other Americans.

-A shopping trip to the Wan Chai computer center so that I could purchase a new point and shoot camera. My expensive waterproof, sand-proof, shockproof camera quit working after the Whitsunday sail in OZ. I think some sand got stuck in the lens. ‘Sand-proof’ MY ASS, Olympus!

-Watching Avatar at the IMAX theatre. Totally blah story line, but pretty cool to look at (sort of like The Matrix, Andy).

-A trip up to The Peak for coffee and some cloudy, yet incredible views of Hong Kong.

View of Central from The Peak

Us and Doug on our last night in HK

Now about the FOOD…

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Even though we had visited several big cities along the way, I was a little intimidated to arrive in Hong Kong. It was the first country where neither Kelly nor I spoke the language and I was worried we might have trouble making our way around the city if we couldn’t understand anyone or read any signs.

My fears were put to rest as soon as we stepped off the plane…everything in Hong Kong is in Cantonese AND English. Not only that, but the public transportation here is amazingly efficient. The subway system (called the MTR) is spotlessly clean with trains arriving every couple of minutes, travelling to just about everywhere in the city. There are electronic signs in the subway cars that not only tell you the upcoming stop in two languages, but which side of the train you need to exit. To make things even more convenient, you pay for your MTR or ferry ride with an ‘Octopus Card’, a re-chargeable credit card that can also be used at convenience stores and fast food restaurants all over town. Wanna take a taxi? A ride all the way from the central part of the island across the harbour to Kowloon is around $10.

Kelly and I stayed in the cheap shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui (TST)  in a huge building called Chungking Mansions. There are a ton of Indian dudes standing around out front trying to sell you a bunch of crap. Kelly and I played a game to see how many times in a day we were were asked if we wanted a ‘copy watch, copy handbag, or tailor-suit’. Twenty-seven was the big winner. The sixteen story building itself was a little ghetto and scary, but our guesthouse was nice and the rooms were clean.

Our first couple of days we spent wandering around TST and Mong Kok, another bargain shopping area. The amount of shopping malls and high fashion brand name stores here is mind-blowing. Gucci, Prada, Dolce and Gabana, Burberry…it’s a shopoholic’s paradise. Fortunately, Kelly and I don’t really care much about brand names OR shopping because we would have blown our whole load in Hong Kong.

We spent some time taking in the city views along the harbor, visiting the flower, bird, and fish markets, walking down the ‘Avenue of Stars’ and I bought at $5 watch at the Temple Street night market. Since Chinese New Year was a few days away, the entire city was adorned with red and gold lanterns, lights, and decorations, which really created a festive atmosphere. Kelly and I were also delighted to discover that there are information signs on every other corner pointing to areas of interest around the city. It is so easy to get around here, even with my horrible sense of direction. I love Hong Kong!

View of Hong Kong Island skyline from Kowloon

Cages at the bird market

Flower Market

Chinese New Year Decorations

Our first weekend in town, we met up with June, an old friend from Texas that moved to Shanghai six years ago. When she heard Kelly and I were going to be in Hong Kong, she took a flight down for a couple of days to see us and celebrate her birthday. She and her fiancee, Alex, took us to an insane seafood restaurant for dinner and then out to the Soho district for chocolate strawberry daiquiris at The Feather Boa Bar.

 

The girls at dinner

Kelly and Alex at Feather Boa

We did notice something strange about this part of the city though….there were no Asians anywhere. Everyone was white! Apparently there is a huge expatriate community here due to the fact that Hong Kong is a major financial and business hub…tons of of Europeans and Americans move here for work.

 We had a fantastic time hanging out with June and Alex over the course of the weekend and celebrated June’s birthday at a delicious Italian restaurant before she headed back to Shanghai. Hopefully we’ll see them back in Texas in the near future.

Happy Birthday June!

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Both Kim and I could have stayed in Sydney for a few more days, but were excited to head to Byron Bay since we had heard so much about it from the Aussie boys we met in Chile. We couldn’t wait to check it out and get some more beach time. Marianne had been there before as well and was able to show us around and point us in the right direction for nightlife (to say the least).

 Byron Bay is a great little beach town, filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and night clubs. We spent our days relaxing on the beach, shopping for some items we had lost along the way and sipping cold beverages. To get some exercise, we did a really nice hike up to the lighthouse, where we passed the most eastern point in Australia!! So cool. It also gives you an incredible view of the entire coast.

 

Byron Bay Main Beach

Yaaaaay!

On the walk to the lighthouse

 

Another view

The eastern most point of Australia

Our hostel was quite large but also very accommodating for the amount of people staying there. We spent many a night just drinking on the patio after cooking and then heading out to one of the bars to do some dancing. One night I almost won a $20 bar tab by winning a game of flip cup (which I’m phenomenal at by the way), but I was screwed. Missed out by one game!! Later that night we went out with a group of Irish boys to a couple clubs and then tried to go to the infamous Cheeky Monkey’s. Marianne had been telling us about the $8 “jugs” (pitchers from where we come from) and dancing on the tables for months. She said it was a MUST in Byron Bay. Well, too bad that Marianne was kicked out before she or any of us even got in because the bouncer said we were all too intoxicated. What?? Nah….not us:)

 Soon the Jeff’s arrived and the debauchery continued. More beach time, more deliciously prepared backpacker dinners at the hostel, and of course more beer and wine. Gotta love that cheap box wine, which tastes awful and is known here as “goon”. ‘Goon’ is the aboriginal word for “pillow” so it includes any wine in a bag that is then put in a box, including our slightly more expensive and better tasting wine. But hey, when you are on a budget….

Hostel dinners and boxed wine...can't beat it!

 On Marianne’s last night in town, we decided to try our luck again at Cheeky Monkey. I just had to shake my booty on the tables with her before she left! We headed over early since they only served the cheap ‘jugs’ until 9pm. It was ladies night, so we all got a free, huge glass of champagne to start, and then proceeded to take back a good 12 or so pitchers within the hour! After a couple of hours of dancing on the tables (covered in sheet metal, obviously dancing on them is encouraged) we sent Marianne off in style by shouting “We love Marianne!!” in our horrible Norwegian accents for a good 5-10 minutes before her bus departed. I’m sure the other passengers loved us. We will be meeting up with her again in Montenegro this summer. I can’t wait!

 

Us at Cheeky Monkey's

Marianne and Jeff L. gettin' tipsy

Going to miss you...see you this summer!

The following morning, the rest of us booked a day trip to the hippie town of Nimbin. Not much to see there other than a bunch of head shops, druggies, and a quirky museum. However, we did stop at some cool markets along the way and a few scenic spots on the drive back.

 

The Nimbin Museum

Our last night in Byron Bay, the Jeff’s and I camped out on the beach so we could catch the sunrise the next morning. It was breathtaking. Though quite uncomfortable, it was totally worth it. Check out these pictures.

 

It was time to work our way north up to Brisbane for our one day tour of Fraser Island and then it was up to the Whitsunday Island for our sailing trip!! We said our good-byes to the Jeff’s and promised to see them again in Thailand. Byron Bay was definitely one of my favorite spots on this trip. I WILL make it back here one day.

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Sisters in Sydney

With almost 4 months of travelling under our belts, Kim and I said goodbye to New Zealand and moved on to the east coast of Australia. First stop, Sydney. We’ve all seen images of the infamous Syndey Opera House and Harbor Bridge, the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbor, etc. Well, it’s all just as amazing as we imagined it to be. It was so great to finally see all of these things in person! With only a week in Sydney, we planned to make the most of it.

 We ended up staying at the Blue Parrot, a small, family-owned hostel filled with all sorts of travellers, long term residents, all looking for a good time. Our friend Doug that we met in Argentina was landing in Sydney the same day and we were excited to reunite with him after our time we spent together in the wine country of South America. Our friend Marianne we met there as well would join us 2 days later from Norway. The Mendoza clan together again! The hostel was located in the Kings Cross area, great for it’s nightlife and also known as the “Red Light District” of Sydney. Luckily, the hostel was around the corner from all the madness, so we didn’t really get that vibe at all.

Together again!

 We spent the first few days wandering around the city – a walk through the Botanical Gardens along the harbor, took plenty of pictures of the Opera House, had champagne in Darling Harbor and checked out the street markets in the Rocks, the oldest neighborhood in Sydney. We made a couple of new friends at the hostel, The Jeff’s, both from Canada, that joined us on our trip to Bondi Beach where locals and tourists alike flock to surf and soak up the rays. Marianne and I laid on the beach and relaxed, while Kim and the others did the 5 kilometer coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach, passing other small surfing beaches along the way. 

Syndey Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Darling Harbour

Bondi Beach

On the coastal walk

Another day, we all did a day trip to the Blue Mountains, located a couple hours outside of the city. They are called the blue mountains because of the blueish shade they take on from the sky and surrounding landscape. We had this crazy old tour guide that really liked to hear himself talk so we decided to take the trail instead of the cable car up to the viewing point just to get away from him. We hiked down (and then back up) the 1000 steps to take advantage of the amazing views. It was a great work out too!

 

The Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters

 

Our group

 Most of our nights were spent hanging out at the hostel with our new friends. We had some fantastic grilling sessions, a night of Marianne’s stellar caiparinas and caipiroskas ( a drink we became a fan of in South America), drunken walks to the nearby Elizabeth Harbor, a never-ending poker game, plenty of drinking games and late night parties on the stairs across the street. Um, yeah, we weren’t allowed to drink or make noise in the hostel after 11:30pm…so that’s where we ended up.

 We both absolutely loved Sydney!! Once again, I could totally live there. Now it was time to move further up the coast to the laid back beach town of Byron Bay. We even talked Marianne into joining us for a few days before she headed off to Newcastle for her semester of med school. The Jeff’s would join us as well a couple of days later. We were just too much fun to not see again:)

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Day 6 – Franz Josef +Lots of Rain + Cancelled Glacier Hike = Many Drinks Consumed

We awoke to POURING rain the next morning that would continue throughout the day. Due to the bad weather, our hike on the Franz Josef glacier was cancelled. There’s not much to do in this town other than hike the glacier, so we spent the day lazing around, uploading photos, making big sandwiches, and drinking a ton of champagne and beer. It was disappointing not to get to see the glacier, but it actually gave us a day to take a break, slow down, and relax. 

Rain Blows

Day 7 – More Driving and More Rain

The sky was still dumping rain the next morning when we hit the road early to make the drive to Te Anau. The drive down New Zealand’s west coast is stunning, although the crappy weather didn’t allow for the greatest views. After making a stop in the town of Wanaka for some shopping and chillin’ by the lake, we arrived in Te Anau, showered up and went out to dinner. We had an early night to prepare for our Milford Sound cruise the next day.

 Day 8 – Milford Sound (Or What We Could See Of It)

One of my favorite things I did when I was previously in New Zealand was a boat trip around Milford Sound. Even in the rain, the scenery is incredible with loads of waterfalls cascading down the surrounding mountains. I wasn’t too concerned when it started to sprinkle as we started the drive to the national park. Unfortunately, by the time we actually got on the boat, the rain had picked up and we were surrounded in fog. We basically floated around in a white cloud for two hours. It was still pretty, but not nearly the experience I had hoped for everyone. Luckily, the clouds did part for a bit on our way home and we were able to stop in the park and snap some good photos.

Milford Sound. Stupid Fog.

 

Driving through the park

Days 9, 10, and 11 – Queenstown!

The next day, it continued to rain on and off while we made the short drive to the adventure activity destination of Queenstown. Our first night we had a yummy Indian dinner and hit up a couple of bars to let loose. Andy and Nicole woke up early the next morning to do a jet-boat trip in Skippers Canyon before we made the drive over to the Kawarau Bridge for Kelly to do her bungy jump. She was pretty freaked out, but after some liquid courage and watching a few of the other jumpers, she was totally pumped up about it. I had made the 43 meter jump myself eight years ago and I knew Kelly would love it.

 After getting weighed in and waiting her turn in line, she dove off with no problems. We’ll post the video on our flickr page soon (it’s already on her facebook), but needless to say, she thought it was a blast. Next on her list is skydiving!

Kelly on the platform

 We all took a ride on the Queenstown gondola and we celebrated Andy and Nicole’s last night in town with an amazing seafood dinner and drinks. I was sad to drop them off at the airport the next morning, but was happy to have Mary around for another couple of days.

 

View of Queenstown from the gondola

Andy and Nicole's Last Night

After a few persuasive speeches from Kelly, Mary decided to take the plunge and do a bungy jump. The three of us headed back to the bridge, got her signed and weighed in, watched her freak out on the platform (which was pretty hilarious), and cheered her on as she dove off.

Mary's bungy!!

The rest of the day was centered around the University of Texas vs. Alabama national championship game. We found a bar that put it on for us and we spent the afternoon rooting for the Longhorns, taking back pitchers and making new friends. Kelly managed to befriend an entire rugby team that was in town and tried to beat them at their own drinking games. Even though our boys didn’t win the championship, we couldn’t be upset…we’re having a blast in New Zealand!

Hook 'em

Day 12 – Reuniting with Becky in Wanaka

Mary decided to do a day kayaking trip and take a bus to meet Kelly and I in later that evening. Becky, her mom and sisters were vacationing in Wanaka at a friends house and invited us to stay. Becky took us on a lovely hike and that evening we made dinner and watched movies. It was really nice to spend more time with Becky and her family (and to play with Caitlen again!)

Hiking in Wanaka

Day 13 – Back to Christchurch…in the Fricken Rain

I was crossing my fingers for good weather, as we planned to hit up Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo on the drive back to Christchurch. No such luck…it poured the entire time. We did get a quick look at the lake, but that was about it. Damn the crazy weather! On the plus side, we did have a yummy Thai dinner once we got back into the city.

Lake Tekapo

Day 14 – Mary Goes Home

On Mary’s last day, Kelly and I drove her out to Sumner Beach for brunch and some strolling along the shore before taking her to the airport. Our last night in town, Becky made us roast lamb for dinner and we kicked back with some vino to enjoy our final night staying in their home. Kelly and I were not looking forward to getting back into hostel life.

It was a crazy two weeks and we feel so lucky to have such wonderful friends that would spend their hard earned money (and vacation time) to come visit us on this adventure. We love you Mary, Andy, and Nicole!

 

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After four days of holiday gluttony with the Brinches, Mary, Nicole, and Andy (a few of my awesome friends from home) flew into Christchurch to join Kelly and me on a whirlwind tour of the south island. With only twelve or so days to see the sights, we all piled into a rental car and and started to make our way north. Figuring out how to drive on the other side of the road AND the car is always interesting…

Day 1 – Kaikora
Kaikora is a small backpacker town on the east coast and is known mainly for its whale-watching tours. Kelly and I are ruined on whale-watching after Argentina, so we all decided to have a fancy seafood meal instead. We splurged on curried mussels, scallops, steak, and New Zealand crayfish. The rest of the evening was spent drinking and dancing at a reggae club across the street from the hostel. Before heading out the next morning, we hung out on the extremely windy (yet lovely) beach and checked out the nearby seal colony.

On the beach

Day 2 – More Wine Tasting (We Missed You, Leticia)
Driving through the Marlborough wine country on our way to Nelson, we would be stupid not to stop at the local wineries along the way for some tastings. Alan Scott and Cloudy Bay Wineries were not only recommended to us, but were located right next to each other. Score! We sampled some nice bubbly, a few reds, and sauvignon blancs for which New Zealand wineries are well known for.

Me, Nicole, and Mary at the Alan Scott Vineyard

We arrived in Nelson during the late afternoon, had a quick nap and then headed into town to meet my friend Julia for drinks. Julia is another Kiwi I met when I previously lived here…I hadn’t seen her in eight years and it was so great to catch up.

Days 3 and 4 – Abel Tasman National Park
The girls did some shopping around Nelson the following morning and after stocking up on booze and food at the grocery store, we made the short drive to Abel Tasman National Park, popular for its golden beaches. Our hostel was an awesome place called ‘The Barn’ where we had a couple of private cabins and lots of outdoor common areas with fire pits…it sort of felt like we were camping.

Chillin at the campground

For New Year’s Eve, Andy whipped up a batch of his glorious marinara sauce and we basically got sloshed on champagne and laughed all night at god-knows-what before the obligatory countdown to midnight. It was so amazing to have three of my best friends there with us to celebrate. Since we’re all getting old, we were in bed before 1 a.m….we had to get up at seven to catch our water taxi into the park to do part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Andy and Nicole ready to celebrate NYE in Abel Tasman

New Year's Eve is hilarious

I hiked in Abel Tasman years before and it was still as beautiful as I remembered it. After our informative and scenic boat ride, our water taxi dropped us off at Tonga Bay where we would start our hike along the coastline and through rainforest down to Torrent Bay. Parts of the trail were tough, but the views and beaches were spectacular. The hike took about 5 hours (including our stop for lunch) and we arrived at the beach to relax in the sun until our water taxi home arrived. What a fantastic way to spend the first day of a new year!

In the park

 

Day 5 – Long Ass Day of Driving to Franz Josef Glacier
The next day was spent mainly in the car driving down the west coast with a stop at the Punakaki ‘Pancake’ Rocks and the ‘greenstone’ capital of Hokitika to do some shopping.

We arrived in Franz Josef just in time to check into our hostel, catch a view of the mountains, and grab some dinner and wine at a local restaurant.

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City of Sails

Wow.  South America was fantastic. Kim and I can’t wait to make it back there one day and see more.  We were sad to leave and I will definitely miss speaking Spanish all the time, but both of us were very excited to move on to New Zealand!  Familiar faces for Kim and new and amazing scenery and fun for me!

We knocked out our longest flight of the trip with ease and made it into Auckland bright and early.  One of Kim’s old flatmates, Ben, was there to pick us up and take us to his and his wife‘s Jo’s place for the next couple of nights.  It was so nice to be out of the hostels for a bit!  A nice comfy bed, cleanliness, privacy…awesome.

We rested up for a couple of hours and then Ben took us for a drive around town.  Our first stop was at the “biggest supermarket in the Southern Hemisphere”, Pak n’ Save, for Tim Tam’s, a local treat.  Kim has not shut up about these cookies since she returned from here in 2002, and I totally understand why!  They are phenomenal. T wo delicious cookies with cream in the middle then covered in chocolate.  Milk chocolate, dark, white, whatever you prefer. Wonderful.

Then we went to a beautiful lookout point near his house called the Te Atatu Pennisula, drove over the Harbour Bridge, and then headed into downtown. We went to Doug Robinson MeyerPark, drove down Paratai Drive, home to the most expensive real estate in the city because of the ocean views, and went to Mount Eden, which had a great view of Auckland.

Kim and Ben with city view in the background

Auckland

We then went to meet Jo for a drink after she got off work at a great little bar called Sales Street Bar and then checked out the biggest Les Mills gym in New Zealand.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with who/what that is, all of the programs Kim and I have been doing at Gold’s Gym in Austin for the past few years are choreographed and originated here. Afterwards, we took a drive down by the pier and then headed home for some Thai take away and TV.

Jo and me at the bar

Since Ben and Jo were both on holiday for Christmas, they took us around town again the next day.  We went to Soljans Winery for a quick drink and then to Muriwai Beach to check out the gannet nests and black sand.  After stopping for some ice cream, we headed over to Mission Beach for some beers and delicious green lipped mussels, one of the things New Zealand is known for.  Then they took us to the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial for an amazing view of the entire city. Auckland is definitely one of the most beautiful big cities I have ever seen.  It is known as the City of Sails because the it has the highest number of sailboats per capita than any other place in the world.  The water is the most incredible shades of blue.  It’s breathtaking.

The girls at the winery

Muriwai Beach

Gannets

 

Fooling around on the beach

Black Sand!

On the way to Mission Bay

After a nice day around town, we rested for a bit at the house and then went out for Indian food. Kim has bragged on the amount and quality of the Indian restaurants here due to the large number of immigrants in New Zealand.  I was finally getting my chance to see what she was talking about. Ben and Jo took us to their favorite place in town, Chapati. It was unbelievable.  The lamb korma literally melted in my mouth.  We finished the night off with a few bottles of wine and headed to bed.

We had a scenic 10 hour train ride to Wellington the next morning. Ben and Jo gave us a proper farewell and saw us off at the train station. The were so nice and hospitable.  Thanks so much guys!  We’ll see you again for a drink our last night in New Zealand!

Jo and Ben, our fabulous Auckland hosts!

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Having Fun

Sorry for the lack of posts…some of my kick ass friends are here in New Zealand visiting us from home and we’ve been having too much fun to sit in front of the computer (that and internet access is ‘expensive as’ here).  We promise to put some stuff out soon!

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Chillin In Chile

Kelly and I only had a week in Chile, so unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore much of the country and stuck mainly to Santiago and Valparaiso. We’d definitely like to make it back someday to visit the Atacama desert and see the Lakes District and Pucon.

After waiting two hours in immigrations and customs and then getting screwed on the price of the cab, we arrived at our hostel in the Bellavista barrio of Santiago, which is known for it’s numerous bars, cafes, and clubs. Kelly and I had heard mixed reviews about Santiago, mostly that it was ‘just another city’ and that there wasn’t much going on.   Aside from the thick layer of smog that hung over the place obscuring the Andes, we thought it was rather nice…clean, easy to get around, and plenty of parks and green space.

During our time in Santiago, we hung out in the park of Santa Lucia, climbing up to the top tower to take in the views of the city.   After snapping some photos, we made our way to a nearby craft market and encountered an Asian lady selling egg rolls out of a cardboard box.  Kelly and I stuffed our faces for less than $2 on some of the best egg rolls we ever had…cheap delicious street food cannot be beat.

Entrance to Santa Lucia

View from Santa Lucia

One morning I climbed to the top of Cerro San Cristobal to see the statue of the Virgin Mary, which also has a church and an outdoor theater amongst some nice gardens (you can take a cable car to the top, but I needed the exercise).   The views of the city were outstanding, but again, the mountains were hidden by the smog.   Another day, Kelly and I wondered around the center of town and the Plaza de Armas before having a typical Chilean lunch of roasted chicken and french fries, topped with a fried egg and grilled onions.  So simple, yet so yummy.

View from Cerro San Cristobal. Can you see the smog?

Virgin Mary statue

Cool statue in the Plaza de Armas

This brings me to the subject of Chilean food.   There is definitely more variety than in Argentina (a lot more seafood) and we found that Chileans use a bit more spice in their dishes.  They also put mashed avocado on everything, including on one of my favorite foods here — the Chilean hotdog (which are sold EVERYWHERE).  For less than $4, you can get a ‘completo’ or an ‘italiano’, which is a hotdog smothered with avocado, tomatoes and mayo on a crusty roll with fries and a drink.  Nice.

Italiano

Fried eggs make everything better

Our evenings we spent at the hostel drinking with new friends and hitting the neighborhood bars (well, Kelly did anyway).

Interesting story behind this one

Since the coastal city of Valparaiso and the resort town of Vina del Mar were only a couple ours west of Santiago, we decided to hop a bus over for a few days with a few Aussie friends.   National elections were taking place over the weekend, so most all businesses were closed and we figured lying on the beach would be a great way to pass the time.

The city of Valparaiso is situated on the coast amongst dozens of ‘cerros’ (hills).   There are elevator lifts located all over town to help people up amongst the winding streets and a lot of the buildings are covered in graffiti, which is actually quite beautiful.   We wandered down to the port, visited some craft markets, ate at Cinzano (a restaurant specializing in Chilean seafood) and spent a couple of days lazing on the beach in Vina del Mar.

Dinner at Cinzano

Renaca Beach

Valparaiso

Since most of the bars were closed during our time here, we hung out at our weird hostel and watched movies with the Aussie boys and some Brits.   We spent a couple of more hot days in Santiago before catching a 14 hour flight to New Zealand for the holidays.

Random thoughts on Chile:

 -Chile is much more expensive than Argentina.

 -The wine is delicious and you can get a good bottle for around $5 – $6.  We were going to try and hit up a couple of wineries while we were here, but it just didn’t happen.  We drove by a few vineyards though on our way to Valparaiso and they looked lovely.

 -Every family member makes it a point to see their loved ones off at the airport, which is nice for them, but makes the place crowded and annoying for me.

 -George Castanza’s and Mandy Patinkin’s twin brothers ran for office here. Not really, but…maybe?

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