While I was in New Zealand many people told me that I had to go to the Whitsundays in Australia. Every person I talked to said it was their favorite place in all of Oz. So after much contemplation, re-working my trip, chucking an already bought plane ticket, cutting off days in Cairns and Sydney and paying big bucks I was heading on a 10 hour grey-hound bus to the Whitsundays. The launch pad for the Whitsundays is a town called Airlie Beach. I planned to spend one night in Airlie Beach, take a 2-night boat cruise to the Whitsundays and then spend one more night upon my return in Airlie beach before I flew out to Sydney.
I arrived to Airlie Beach and was contacted by the boat company saying that my tour had been cancelled due to cyclones. I never grew up on water so I had no idea what that meant and found out that it basically means a tornado on the water. They told me that all boat trips were cancelled by the marine authority for the next week! I am sooooo bummed. Airlie Beach is a little beach town with one main street full of travel agencies, beach shops and bars and I am stuck here for 4 days as it rains. I walked up and down the main road a dozen times yesterday and am officially bored out of my mind. The city is in the middle of nowhere and the closest movie theater is 2 hours away. I googled, “what to do in Airlie Beach when it rains” and I kid you not the list consisted of; write a postcard, make plans to leave…..WTF!! While the owners of my hostel are really sweet, lets be honest, it’s a dump and I’ve been hanging out in the communal lounge for the past 48 hours sitting on a dirty couch that is probably older than me.
I”m really trying to be positive since I have no control over the weather but as the hours slowly tick by it’s becoming difficult. I have to keep in mind that I never even knew about the Whitsundays and had no intention of ever going here over a month ago so it’s not something that was in my original travel plans. Hopefully the beaches in Bali, the Philippines and Thailand will make me forget about what I missed here. Some things you can do in Airlie Beach when it rains? Surf the web, blog, drink tea to make you feel better, stare out a window and sulk, read and go for a run. At least I’m taking off a few pounds I put on in New Zealand!
here’s what i’m missing…….c’est la vie!
So I’ve been told over the past month that I am not a backpacker but something else known as a flashpacker which is a term for a fancy backpacker. I eat out every meal instead of cooking in the grubby hostel kitchens, I shower daily and blow dry my hair at least 6 days a week, I choose expensive hostels over the cheap ones since they are cleaner, I use tons of skincare products, I take cabs to and from the airport instead of city buses, I do laundry every few days since I can’t stand dirty clothes in my bags, I have VIP lounge status in airports when I travel and workout when I can. I’ve even made a hair appointment for a cut and color in expensive Melbourne in a few days since I am over these roots! Some of the people I’ve met along the way just laugh at me and tell me that I am way too fancy for this whole backpack and hosteling thing. I”m trying but it is just a big change from staying in 5-star hotels the past 2 years from my old job. Who knows maybe I am a flashpacker but it still feels like rough’n it to me!
Once we arrived to the Great Barrier Reef they allowed us to snorkle for a bit. The water was so choppy and I’m already horrible at snorkling and the high waves didn’t help. So I chucked the snorkle and just put my goggles on and enjoyed the view, albeit at 10-12 second intervals.
It was finally my turn to do the scuba dive and I made my way back to the boat. They went over signals that we were to use while underwater since we can’t talk. The most important thing we were told to remember is that, the “thumbs-up” sign is NOT a good thing and actually means that you need to go up to the surface because something isn’t right. The “ok-symbol” meant, all is good!! They suited me up with my oxygen tank, mouth piece and heavy weights around my waist to make me sink. They told me to get in and grab on to the ladder below the boat and stay there to get used to breathing underwater. As soon as I went under my breathing went hay-wire, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath and the waves were so strong I was having problems grabbing on to the ladder. I swam back up, removed my mouthpeice and was gasping for breath. The guide came over to me slightly annoyed and said are you gonna do this or not? I was startled at his impatience and I inserted my mouthpiece again and went back under. My breathing was frantic and I was taking huge breaths and bubbles were flying everywhere. It’s such a weird feeling to only breath from the mouth and not through the nose. We stayed down for about 2 minutes as our guide did safety checks and signals to make sure we understood, I used the “ok-symbol” to let him know everything was good and then we were off! As we swam we passed by beautifully shaped corals and hundreds and hundreds of brightly colored fish. I tried to enjoy it but really had to focused on getting my breathing under control. We went deeper into the reef and as soon as I was starting to feel comfortable he signaled that we were going back up. The dive only lasted 20 minutes. We had lunch on the boat and then we were given the option to do an additional 40-minute dive (for more money of course) that afternoon. I felt like I needed to take advantage since I didn’t enjoy the first one that much, so I signed up. The second dive was awesome!! I had a new instructor who was really patient and we went to another part of the reef that was 100 times more beautiful than the first. I saw rainbow colored (yes actually rainbow colored) fish, blue fish, orange fish, purple, pink, yellow and green coral. This was really a whole new world down here and I felt like the little mermaid! We saw clams that were 3 feet big and when we waved our hand over them they would open and close their mouths.
This was all experienced in pure silence with just the sound of my breathing and bubbles. Every minute or so the pressure in the ears would get really bad so as instructed, I’d plug my nose and blow out to even out the pressure. I was doing this so much that water somehow started to leak into my goggles and I was having problems seeing. I swam to my instructor and pointed to my goggles and gave him the thumbs-up signal to let him know I needed to go to the surface to empty my goggles. He pushed a button that inflated my suit and we zoomed to the surface as my ears were snap, crackling and popping due to the different water pressure levels. We got to the top, emptied my goggles and then he deflated my suit, clamped on an additional weight to my waist and we swam back down to the 3 others.
We were told that a storm was coming in and that the reef wasn’t half as beautiful as it usual is but to me, it was pretty as a picture!
Woops, used the wrong hand signal! Bad habit I guess!
I arrived to hot, humid Cairns and couldn’t have been happier. The last week in New Zealand was quite cold and this was the first time I felt warm. I checked into my hostel and immediately put on a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, I was finally in full-blown summer weather!!
The next morning I woke up and got ready for my 7:25 AM pickup to go to the Great Barrier Reef. It was raining when I got up and I was concerned that my trip would be cancelled but the rain soon stopped and the sun tried to peak its way through the clouds.
I arrived to the boat and when it was my turn the check-in the girl asked me if I get seasick easily. I said, “no, why?” She said, because it is going to be very choppy on the water today due to the weather and if you have the slightest doubt that you will get seasick, we strongly suggest you take something, we are informing everyone today. I gave her a blank stare for a good 5 seconds as my mind raced and then said, “so do you mean to tell me that people will be throwing up on this boat today?” Oh definitely, she responded.
My close friends know that I have a severe phobia when it comes to puke. It’s so bad that I have considered not having children because I know that they will throw-up-haha! I should really probably see a shrink about it, thats how serious it is. I contemplated if I should even get on the boat and finally she said, it will be fine don’t worry, so I nervously boarded.
I got on and there were about 40 passengers on the boat and I looked like a deer in headlights as horrible scenarios about throw-up were going through my head. The girl I had talked to came up to me with another crew member and said, this is the girl I was telling you about that is scared of throw-up. He shook my hand and asked me my name. Then in the sweetest voice possible and a smile on my face (as if that would help), I said, “do you really think people will get sick today?” He looked me in the eyes, put his hand on my shoulder and said, Amanda, it is inevitable people will get sick and probably more than one!
We sat down to go through safety protocols with another crew member and he went over our plans for the day, rules of the boat (not wearing shoes was one of them due to safety issues) and where and how to puke in a bio-degradable bag! They actually had this as part of their opening presentation- this was really happening, I was on a boat that people would 100% get sick on and I was being forced to walk barefoot for the day!!!!
The boat started moving and within 1 minute we were bobbing up and down and back and forth, people were slipping and falling all over the place and 5 minutes later I saw a few people run to the back of the boat to get sick. Holy $HIT, my worst nightmare! I know all of my friends are laughing as they read this because this is truly my biggest fear, I basically crawl into the fetal position and plug my ears and hum. Another crew member whom I hadn’t met yet saw me from across the boat and came over to me and said, Miss you are pale, are you going to get sick? “No” I said !! I”m not going to get sick, I”m just nervous about everyone else getting sick.” He asked me my name and said that if I needed anything that day I should come and get him. After waiting for about 30 minutes, I decided to make my way to the top deck……the only problem……I had to go to the back of the boat to get there. I took a deep breath and headed that way and as soon as I stepped foot out there, I turned around, I couldn’t do it. There were about 10 people out there with their heads in bags. I walked back in and the guy who I recently talk to spotted me and said, “amanda, do you need me to take you up?” “Yes!!!!!”, I exclaimed! So he took my hand as I closed my eyes and he lead me to the top deck, barefoot! Ugh i’m still squealing about it.
The ride out to the reef was the longest hour and a half of my life!! During this time a half dozen crew members were coming up to me every 15 minutes addressing me by name (know idea how they knew my name) asking if I was ok. They actually paid more attention to me than the people getting sick- ha!
I have arrived to Australia also known as Oz to the natives. My first stop was to the tropical city of Cairns (pronounced Cannes) to swim at the almighty Great Barrier Reef. I flew from Christchurch, New Zealand with Virgin Australia and it turns out they are partners with Delta meaning all my airline perks transferred! I headed straight to the VIP lounge during my layover for free food, drinks and fast wifi. It was amazing to be treated like a first class citizen again instead of a dirty backpacker (even though I still looked like one). My connecting flight was delayed 3 hours that day and I couldn’t have cared less! Each time it was delayed more I was almost giddy that I got to continue my stay in that lounge, hey it was either there or a hostel upon my arrival!
A month has come and gone and now it’s time to say goodbye to this beautiful country that has exceeded my expectations in all ways possible. I covered 2,516 miles in the past 30 days by boat, bus, swimming and jumping! Topping the list of my favorite memories were skydiving, hiking the 13-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing, learning about the Maori people, seeing Cathedral Cove at Hahei Beach, sailing in Abel Tasman and I hate to admit it, but my hotel in Queenstown! However, the thing that really stands out above all the rest, is the sheer beauty and scenery that is everywhere you look. New Zealand has it all; oceans, mountains, glaciers, rainforests, rolling hills and gigantic lakes where one can go surf, hike, ski, swim or do nothing at all and just take it in. Sure other countries also have these things but the beauty in New Zealand is to the extreme. High snow-cap mountains tower into the air, with a deep contrast of green forests below them, the ocean is like a kaleidoscope of different hues of blue, rolling hills look like a green blanket was thrown over them and the color of the lakes shines in the sunlight like the color of a blue popsicle. Every sight I saw was more beautiful than the last; even the clouds look pretty in New Zealand! It’s amazing to think that this tiny island-country half-way across the world with a population of 4 million has all of this at their finger tips. Even though it’s far away, this tiny jewel with welcoming and friendly inhabitants will not disappoint! So long beautiful New Zealand, heading further on to the land down under!
All the cities I went to in New Zealand
I can’t believe it but another month has passed and my trip to New Zealand is just wrapping up. I remembered when I first arrived and couldn’t fathom spending the next 30 days in a hostel. The first friend I met, Hanne told me that this would be good for me and that I would grow as a person and grown I have, in many many different ways.
When traveling alone it’s always comforting to be with a tour group that does all the navigating for you but it’s also intimidating to make new friends when you don’t know a single soul on a 45 person bus. The past month I have met people that I probably wouldn’t have given the time a day to had I met them on the streets of New York City. I hate to say it but I did a lot of pre-judging on my first few days and as I look back I feel horrible about it.
As I boarded my bus on day one, I looked around and immediately wondered how I could possibly be around these people for the next 30 days. Without even getting to know them I immediately made up my mind that some were snobby, dorky, arrogant, mean, had annoying voices, talked too much while others not enough and just downright odd! It seemed like I would never click with any of them. As the days went on I was forced to get to know these people since we spent every waking moment together and I now realize how wrong I was. A benefit of coming alone to New Zealand is that I got to know many different groups within the pack, I was a floater and that was a good thing because it forced me to be more open. I’d spend days with one group and then would have dinner with another group. I got to know people from Poland, Ireland, France Germany, Holland, Canada, Finland,Denmark and England and shared some of the funniest laughs that I will never forget. It turns out these people were not snobby, rude or annoying; they were just new to a big group like myself and were a little shy, especially since English was their second language for most of them. Each of the people that I did end up clicking with in the end were kind, caring, trustworthy, understanding, funny and sympathetic. They would be the first to comfort me when I was upset about something or being drama queen about the hostels and for that I am infinitely grateful and proud to call them true friends.
Speaking of hostiles…..I did it! I made it through one month of hostels; 21 beds in 27 days minus one stay at a hotel. After living without roommates for the past 9 years in NYC this is a huge accomplishment!
In addition to that, in the past month, I have gone to bed in dirty clothes, taken showers in communal areas, lived in my yoga pants and sneakers, had worse wifi than in India, haven’t had a pedicure in weeks, have had “no-makeup” and messy hair days, have worn the same outfit 2 days in a row because it was easier, have used a wet towel when showering for all but 3 days, have slept in places without heat or electricity, had multiple roommates, have walked into bars and restaurants looking like a bum with my backpack and sweatshirt and I am still alive, it didn’t kill me! Now I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to the next 3 weeks of hostels in my future destination but at least I know I can do it!
My tour bus
Some of my faves! Sam from Montreal, Angelie from Paris and Jo Hann from Cologne!
Nice restaurant in our sweatshirts and hiking hair
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Queenstown at the Novotel hotel but it was back to the hostel trenches when I left….all good things eventually come to an end. Our next stop was the iconic Milford Sound known for it’s stunning views and millions and millions of sandflies. This is probably the most famous and well known attraction in New Zealand and now I know why. We took a boat and sailed our way through the sound taking in the rugged earth that towered above us. It was foggy and misty that day but it still didn’t take away from Milford’s beauty. That night we went somewhere really remote and stayed at a place called Gunn’s Camp. It was, let me think of the word…..quaint? We were put up in little cabins but once you entered their resemblance was more like a tool shed. There was no heat and electricity was cut between 10pm-7AM. It was absolutely freezing that night despite my many layers and pants shoved into my socks to prevent sandfly bites, but thankfully there was a fireplace in our cabin and we immediately built a fire upon arrival. Mom and Dad, it’s fun to build a campfire in our backyard and roast marshmallows for fun in summer but not so much when your body heat depends on it- where was my uncle chris and his pinecones when I needed him! For those of you unfamiliar with starting fires- pinecones really work and they smell nice! The fire kept us warm oh until about 3:30AM when we woke up frozen to the bone because the fire had burnt out. I can’t complain though because the guys in the cabin next to us went to the owner to ask for firewood for their room and very non-chalantly the owner said, yeah sorry about that but your fireplace is broken, you’ll just have to bundle up tonight. Holy crap, so glad I wasn’t randomly put in that tool shed! What a difference from where I had just came from.
Our accommodations at Gunn’s Camp
We continued our way down south and I decided along with a few others from the bus to spend a night in Stewart Island. This is New Zealand’s third island that is super tiny and pretty remote. In fact most New Zealanders have never even been here because it’s so far south and about an hour away by boat. We got on to a 30 person glorified speed boat and as soon as we started to pull out the captain got on the speaker and said that it could get a little rocky and that we should hold on tight. My friend Lisa who was sitting next to me reached into the pouch of the seat-back in front of her and pulled out a stack of puke bags, “hope no one will get sick” she said. Within seconds we were in the most turbulent waters that I have ever experienced. The waves were massive and we were just plowing right through them as our tiny boat tipped side to side. At some points our boat would go flying over a wave suspending us in mid-air for a few seconds, just long enough for us to brace ourselves before the boat slammed back down into the water. It was unbelievable and so much fun! I couldn’t stop laughing, because I felt like I was on a roller coaster at cedar point! There was no way that it was safe to be driving through these rough waters. I was flying out of my seat and slipping and sliding all over the place. Everyone on the boat had a white knuckle grip on the seat in front of them and one girl even started to cry. No one was prepared for how bad it was going to be. The best way to describe it, to my fellow midwesterners is when you go tubing at a lake. If you are a dare devil you will have the boat driver make huge waves and then he takes you through them while you are whipped back and forth. This is what the ride felt like only we were on a decent sized boat going through a rainstorm on the ocean. I found out later, that the waters we drove through are some of the most dangerous in the world at certain times of the year and that a few fisherman boats have cap-sized and people have died from the massive waves. After seeing the height of these waves I can now see why. We got there safe and sound within an hour and fortunately no one got sick.
Stewart Island is miniature and there are only 420 people that live there. I took a one hour run on the main road and not one car passed by me the entire time! For a second night in a row I was still without heat because the hostel only believed in putting it on if it got to freezing. I didn’t mind though because the mattresses in the hostel were the “cats meow”! Big, thick and springy, when we arrived we were jumping for joy on TOP of our beds like teenagers because we were so impressed and happy about their thickness. It’s amazing how your standards change after living in hostels for a month. Stewart Island has one tiny grocery store and 2 restaurants with the best fish’n chips that I have tasted since arriving to New Zealand. For fun there are a myriad of beautiful hikes and the wildlife is authentic to New Zealand. Before people landed on New Zealand the only animals that existed were birds and they have preserved that on this island which is pretty amazing. It even has the famous Kiwi bird even though I still have yet to see one but I did see some other funky looking birds that I”m sure are in zoos in most other parts of the world.
The local grocery store on Stewart Island
Even though my living conditions went from luxury to primitive I still enjoyed my time during those 2 days. However, I think that coming from the Novotel definitely allowed me to enjoy them more than I would have!
One thing that I always planned on doing in Queenstown was the famous Nevis Bungy Jump. New Zealand is where bungy jumping originated and the Nevis is the biggest one in all of New Zealand and Australia and the 3rd biggest in the world!
Everyone on my tour that also planned on doing this has been freaking out about it over the past 2 weeks. I couldn’t understand why. Bungy jumping seemed like nothing compared to sky-diving. But everyday I would hear people say, “I don’t know if I can go through with this upcoming bungy jump”. In my head I was thinking, what is the big deal, all you do is jump? “Who cares if it’s 134 meters, I didn’t have a clue what 134 meters was so it meant nothing to me. At this point, I can hands down say, that it gave me more anxiety to think about who my roomate would be in a hostel then the bungy jump!
At 8:30 AM a bus picked us up in Queenstown and drove us 45 minutes out to the Nevis Bungy. Right before leaving I had the bright idea to convert 134 meters in to feet and realized that I was jumping from 440 feet. To make matters worse, the free-fall would be about 8 seconds. They showed a video on the bus of the Nevis jump and all of the sudden I had a small wave of nervousness but it soon passed.
What was explained to me soon thereafter is that the reason why bungy jumping is so much scarier than sky-diving is because you are doing it all alone. You are walking out to that ledge and you are the one that has to throw yourself over that edge, there is no guide to make the decision for you. Also, when you are in a plane you know you are high but you can’t tell exactly how high you are but on the ledge of the bungy you can clearly define how far the jump is.
We got to the station and they suited us up and then put us on a gondola and we rode out in the sky to the middle of the canyon into what looked like a spaceship suspended in mid-air. When we got in the music was jamming! The song Thrift Shop was just bumping from all corners; there were soon-to-be-jumpers dancing away their nerves, the workers were focused on looping and hooking people up and jumpers were dropping like flies over the edge every 2 minutes….literally! It was fun up there and definitely helped with my nerves until they called my name! They opened a gate, took one of my straps and hooked me to a chair since now I was now in the open jumping area. One of the employees started checking all my gear and looping hooks and bands around my ankles. He told me that after the second fall (since you have a big fall and then a second fall once the bungy jumpy snaps back), I should pull the cord out from around my ankles and that would rotate me so that I wouldn’t be upside down when they hauled me back up. He showed me how to do it and I told him I understood. Then he got me up and shuffled me to the ledge. All of this happened in a matter of seconds, there was no time to think about anything. I stood on that ledge, looked down once and then he said- GO!! As instructed I jumped head first like I was diving into a swimming pool and my world flashed before my eyes. I was traveling at the speed of light and did not think that I was ever going to stop. Finally the bungy caught and I let out this huge moan and finally caught my breath because I wasn’t breathing on the way down. As soon as I sprung up, I was shot back down again for the second fall, again at the speed of light (or so it feelt like). I still don’t really remember this entire fall but after thinking about it for the past 8 hours this is what is coming back to me. My first thought after that second fall was, “get me up and out of here”. It was absolutely terrifying!!!! From the shuffle to the edge, to the few seconds I had to think before I jumped, to looking down at the bottom of the valley, to the 8 seconds of free fall it was just too much. My mind was racing and then I remembered to pull the cord at my ankles so that I would be right-side up; however it wouldn’t work. I kept pulling and pulling (as you can see in the video) but there was some type of malfunction and it wouldn’t release me. So I was hauled up upside down for 20 extremely long seconds. The adrenaline was still pumping through my body and the blood was starting to gush to my head. I was scared out of my mind and in a state of shock. As they pulled me to the top, the cord was rocking back and forth and was panicking that I was going to smash my head against the outside of the base. They pulled me in safely and detached me from the bungy. I smiled for the camera and vaguely remember people congratulating me and patting me on the shoulder. My hands and legs were visibly trembling and I was white as a ghost. Tears were streaming out of my eyes and I didn’t even realize I was crying until someone pointed it out and then I made the connection that I was indeed crying from how scared I’d been. Another guide pulled me aside and started to released the weights around my ankles and told me that the shaking was due to the adrenaline rush and that it would soon subside. My Irish friend Adrienne, who was the most scared to jump, came over to me and tried to say something but I just stared back and could not formulate any words to respond, I was truly in a state of shock. The 3 other girls were looking at me but I turned away because I didn’t want to make them nervous especially since I was the strong one out of the group saying all along, “what is the big deal, all you do is jump?”. They hadn’t gone yet and I didn’t want to make them nervous so I faked it until I made it until after their jumps were over. We tooked the gondola back in the air and once we got off I was never so happy to have my feet on real ground. We went in and I bought the whole packaged deal; photos and DVDs since I really didn’t remember much and needed these things to jog my memory and to prove to myself that I really went through with it.
My camera broke right after I did my jump so I’m soooooo glad that I had bought the photos or else I wouldn’t have had anything. I’m bummed about my personal photos because my friends got some really good shots of me freaking out in the chair as they were prepping me and from the back when I jumped. Whats more upsetting is that I was having a really good hair day and those pictures showed it-ha. Oh well, I guess there are worse things in life. Anyways, yes I did the Nevis Bungy jump, the most famous one in all of New Zealand but, so long Nevis because I will NEVER do this again!
Here is a link to my photos and the last one is the video. It may take a few minutes for the video to upload but it’s quite entertaining!
My only picture from bungy jumping with my certificate once I got my camera fixed!
When the girls got home drunk on that saturday night in the horrific hostel they all went down to the kitchen to make themselves a “cup’o tea” before they went to bed. A cup of tea I thought? They were so drunk, why in the heck would they want a cup of tea at this hour? Fiona and Adrienne said that they always have tea when they come back after a big night out at the bars, “it just makes you feel better”, they said. I gave them this look like, WTF? In America when we come back from the bars we have pizza or fried food; guess that explains why we are chubby! They went on to say that, they have tea for all types of occasions; good or bad, sad or happy. If someone breaks-up with their boyfriend they’ll put a pot on, if someone gets a new boyfriend they’ll sip some tea, if someone comes for a visit they’ll serve them a cup’o tea, if something sad happens to a friend they are invited over for tea. Tea is for everything Fiona said because it’s comforting and makes you feel better when you drink it. Well good to know, maybe I should start doing this instead of eating chocolate!
When I checked into the YHA hostel, it looked pretty nice and there were tons of old people! Is it odd that my heart skips a beat from joy when I see old people at hostels? I was absolutely delirious from fatigue since I had only slept for 3 hours the night before and all I wanted to do was lay down once I arrived. I merrily walked down the hallway after checking in and entered what I thought would be an all-girl room and found a couple lying in bed. They weren’t doing anything but I lost my $#iT!!! I took one look at them and turned around and walked out. I marched back to the desk and asked to be switched to another room and he told me that unfortunately they were fully booked and he was unable to change me. I took a deep breath as tears started to fill my eyes and I looked at him and begged and i mean begged him to give me another room. Since I was so tired, I now see that I was rambling; telling him that there was no way I could stay in that room with a couple, that I was up all night, that my hostel before was unbearable and asked to PLEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAASSSEEE switch me, I beg of you! Maybe the tears worked or maybe he just wanted me to shut up but he ended up “finding” a room for me. Now wouldn’t it have been easier if he could’ve done that from the beginning? Relieved that I had new arrangements, I went to my room and when I opened my door realized that I was in a 4 person room with 3 dudes. I just stared at that room and felt completely defeated. I placed my belongings down, knowing that I couldn’t switch and walked out. As I was coming out I was crying and ran into this guy from my bus, Sam, who had just joined the group 2 days before, whom I barely knew.
He asked what was wrong and I explained to him the whole long story about not wanting to be with a couple but now I was in a room with all boys, etc. He too, knew that I was deliriously tired because he was on the same floor as me the night before. Sam is from England and when he saw me crying, he gave me this comforting look and said, “Mandi, come on to the kitchen with me and I”m gonna make you a cup of tea and everything will be all right”. When I heard that I started laughing through my tears because had my Irish friends not told me about the tea ritual the day before, I would’ve been thinking, what the heck does a cup of tea have to do with this? That tea was one of the best cups I’ve had in a while, not sure if it’s because I was so upset and anything would’ve taste good, because a British person made it or because, as the saying goes, a cup of tea makes you feel better! And it really did! That and the fact that while I sat and sipped that hot cup of tea I booked myself into a 4 star-hotel for 3 days in Queenstown the next day. I just couldn’t do it anymore and I heard that Queenstown is like Mardi Gras 24/7. There was no way I could stay there for 3 nights in a hostel.
So it turns out that, yeah, Queenstown is the most expensive town in NZ, meaning I’m paying a pretty penny for the hotel that I am sitting in as I type this, while I sip a cup of tea :) But I have no roomates, fast wifi, no flip-flops needed for my morning shower, multiple plug outlets, no bug bites while I sleep, fresh linens, multiple clean DRY towels, and peace and quiet from 7pm- 11am. It is worth every penny of the $212 it costs per day and then some! I know that traveling for 6 months calls for one to live on a budget but it’s ok to splurge sometimes, this is vacation after all!
Just as I was starting to get the hang of this whole hostel thing, it took a turn for the worse when we arrived at Franz Joseph. I knew it wasn’t going to be ideal when I found that, one- it was Saturday (I tend to forget the days of the week since i’m jobless) and two- there was an actual bar on the premises with a hired DJ that night and a “super-heros” theme party. The kitchen was horrendous, with dirty dishes scattered everywhere and a smell that would make you want to dry-heave. We stayed there for 2 nights and I ate out breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.
On Saturday night, after having a nice quiet dinner of fish, white wine and sorbet and fruit for dessert, I returned to the trenches of the hostel. When I entered the hall it was dead silent because EVERYONE was at the bar. It was 11pm by the time I got to bed and it didn’t seem like anyone was coming back anytime soon. I left the light on so my Irish gals could see when they returned, put on a sleep mask and passed out. Around 1:30 I started to hear some rumblings in the hallway and people slamming doors…..”here we go I thought to myself”.
Fiona, Laura and Adrienne (Addie) soon came up and they told me all about their evening. I love these girls so I didn’t mind getting woken up and hearing about all the bar gossip. It was like having real room-mates again. Laura went to call her boyfriend and a few minutes later Fiona went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. All of the sudden Fiona came running back to the room! She thought she heard Laura crying in the shower since she had just called her boyfriend and she yelled out to her saying, “Laura is that you? “It’s ok please don’t cry, everything will be ok”.The sniffling continued but Fiona got not response. Fiona called out again, “Laura is that you?” After waiting in front of the shower door she heard two people talking. It turns out it wasn’t Laura crying in the bathroom but a couple getting busy in there. When she came back in the room and told me I was disgusted and knew it was going to be a long evening. The girls all passed out quickly because they had the help of alcohol but that night, Mandi Macino was kept awake until 5AM because of loud music, people running down the halls, slamming doors, girls puking, drunks singing and pounding on tables and glass being thrown. It sounded like a war was going on outside. I had to go to the bathroom so bad but I couldn’t face getting up and walking down the hallway so I just waited until morning. And by morning I mean 6:45 when someone pulled the fire alarm and we all had to clear out in our PJ’s. It was some kind of sick joke but was enough to boil my blood. I slept less than 3 hours that night and I wondered if I could honestly handle 31 more days in hostels. Someone gave me a tip that whenever I can, I should stay in YHA hostels because they tend to attract an older crowd and are known for being quiet and less of a party hostel. Done! I had myself booked into a YHA that evening!
The past few weeks I have learned that I needed to start incorporating a few extra steps into my daily beauty routine. For those of you that know me, I am pretty much obsessed with skincare products. On this trip alone I have a day serum, a night serum, a day cream, a night cream, a facial oil, and multiple eye serums and creams. They are taking up the majority of space in my bag but they are essential (in my book). While I am totally inlove with New Zealand the one thing I could do without are the sand flies. I am getting eaten alive over here. I currently have about 50 bug bites all over my body from head to toe ( literally, they are on my face and inbetween my toes). These sneaky little sandflies are the worst because you don’t realize you are bit until after they fly away. It starts stinging at first and then turns into this giant welt that itches like crazy!!! Once you itch them a chemical is released and the itch intensifies. I have no tolerance for itchy bug-bites so I have a really bad habit of itching them until they bleed but it doesn’t work with these little buggers. Even when they bleed they are still itchy only now I really can’t touch them because they are open sores. One morning I woke up and saw that my feet and ankles weren’t covered by my bed sheet and were probably exposed for the whole evening. I looked down and I had about 15-20 bites all over my feet. Inbetween my toes, on my toes, on the soles of my feet, around my ankles, everywhere. Later that day I was on the bus and actually had to remove my shoes and socks to get to the intense itch. The itch of these bug bites will cause you to stop dead in your tracks and start itching to alleviate it. I feel like a little kid with chicken pox, I just can’t stop. I finally had enough and decided to go to a pharmacy because my guide said that I hadn’t seen anything yet and that it was going to get 10 times worse the more south we go. I walked out of that pharmacy $40 bucks later with the strongest anti-itch cream on the market and a bug spray with 40% deet. I also bought a fly-spray that I now dowse my room with each night. Now I can see spending money on a face cream but I have never spent that much money on insect repellent products. But for the record, that anti-itch cream is a dream!! It stops the itch within seconds and I’ve almost gone through an entire bottle, since I am using it 6 times a day!
Speaking of beauty routines, the past few nights I”ve been lucky enough to get in the same room as 3 Irish gals and we are really getting along great. I’ve even started to teach them a thing or two about skincare. When it came out that I used to work in the skincare industry I started telling them how important it was to take care of their skin. I explained the benefits of face creams, serums and eye creams with all my famous “anologies” from my old job. They were mesmerized! For a few nights they would crowd around my bed and we would talk about different skincare products and brands that they should start using. I have even prescribed new steps they should be doing on a regular basis based on each of their skin types. If someone looked into our room they would probably think we were talking about boys or telling ghost stories but it was all about skincare!! They tell me, “Mandi we could listen to you talk about this all day”- ha! My friends back home used to say the same thing. It’s starting to feel like a home away from home with these new friends.
One night the girls came back from a bar a tad tipsy and they were telling me about this girl in the bar who apparently was a lot younger than she looked. Then all of the sudden in their charming Irish accents one of them said, “yeah she looks so old she should really start using a serum” and then another one said, “and did you see the bags under those eyes, she needs an eye cream for gosh sakes”. I was hysterically laughing at them and felt proud that I taught them a few things about skincare!