With my brother gone and five days left one our world tour we decided to make our way to Rotorua, New Zealand's Maori cultural heartland and home of Zorb. To get there we decided to try our hand, or shall I say thumb, at hitch-hiking. It was very easy get rides and we never waited for more than 20 minutes. Everyone who picked us up was so nice and the last driver into Rotorua drove to us to doorstep of our couchsurfing hosts.
Kylie and Maureen, our amazing hosts showed us a great time. Firstly, these girls have a fully functioning "pub" in their garage! They showed us around town and took us on road trips to lakes and beaches but the best part was when we went to "Hot and Cold". This is a magical place where two rivers, one naturally hot and one cold meet. You have to swim around to find the ideal temperature between the two rivers. It was very cool!...and hot. The best time to swim is at night, apparently as not to see the sliminess of the water. People bring candles which give this natural wonder a romantic touch. We loved it so much that we went there a second time!
We never made it to the Zorb but we did have one last chance to go white water rafting. We went down the Kaituna River and its class 5 rapids. The craziest part was when we went over Tutea Falls, the world's highest commercially rafted waterfall, a whopping seven meters. It doesn't sound like much until you go over the edge!
Considering Rotorua is Maori country, we had to get a little but of Maori culture in. We visited the Mitai Village where we experienced a full night of Maori culture. We were greeted by Maori warriors who performed their various haka, a Maori traditional dance and yes, they use a lot of tongue. We were provided with explanations of traditions, rituals and the meaning behind the tattoos. We then got to partake in a traditional hangi meal that is cooked in the ground. At the end of the night we saw our first glow worms in their natural habitat, although I probably wouldn't have noticed them if they weren't pointed out to me.
With one day left of our fantasy life, we hitched back to Auckland. That's it, January 11th we sat on the plane and made our way back to reality. We flew Auckland to Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Minneapolis and finally Winnipeg. The return was bitterweet. On one hand I was so sad that our travels were ending (and I was coming back to Winnipeg in the dead of winter). On the other hand, we get to start our real life and live out life's wondrous adventures. I have to admit, the tears were falling as the luggage came off the carousel but as soon as I saw our friends and family greeting us, the biggest grin spread across my face.
It actually felt good to be back!
I am sitting down in front of the computer and I don't really know what to write about our stay in Hong Kong. We really didn't do much sightseeing.
So what did we do there for 4 days? We window shopped! Yes, we are looking for a new camera; to be more specific a Nikon D90 Kit with the 18-105mm lens. I think we visited every single store looking for the best price. As we found out from doing some research is that buying a camera in Hong Kong is not a simple task. There are lots of scammers out there that you have to be careful.
So did we buy the camera? Nope. We didn't make up our minds yet. One of the first places that we went is called "Happy Rich Audio and Video" and it had the lowest price from all of them. The problem is that their price was about CAD$300 cheaper! Now, if I was in Canada, I would not think twice about buying the camera. But we just heard too many stories about cameras either being refurbished or getting some of the parts changed for fakes.
We decided to wait a bit. As we are going back to Hong Kong on our return from China, we have time to think about it. I still think that if we go to another store that was more expensive it is still cheaper than buying it back in Canada. I still don't trust that store with the lower price.
To change subjects, we did do some sightseeing. We went to Victoria's Peak. To get there you can either walk (not recommended) take a vehicle or as we did take the Tram. It is a nice experience going up as you get to see the whole city. It is also pretty incredible when the tram gets to a pretty steep angle.
One of the neat things about Hong Kong is that the Government offers some free activities. And we love FREE activities. So we signed up for a morning class of Tai Chi. It was great. I have seen it before but never tried it. I might pick it up once I get back to Winnipeg. Other classes include: Tea Appreciation, Feng shui and a Chinese Cake Making class. On topic of FREE things, six museums are free on Wednesdays. We checked out the Hong Kong History Museum which was nice to get our facts about this territory.
One of the most touristic things that we did is take a Harbor tour on the last remaining Junk in Hong Kong. You read that right, it is called Junk and it is a type of boat. You get great views of the coast line but pray that it doesn't start pouring rain like it did to us.
On our last day we took a 30 minute ferry ride to the island of Lamma. There were nice fisher villages but not exactly what we expected. We thought it would be a little less urbanized. The beach is nice and the water was warm but the view is ruined by the huge coal power plant on the side. Oh well, it was a nice break from the big city. Rebecca will remember her time in this island for a while. We were hiking down a path when she started screaming. Apparently a hand-size spider was in front of her face. She did not appreciated that. A local later told us that does spiders are and I quote "not good". I am assuming that they are poisonous.
Mmm, I thought I didn't have anything to say but at the end I think I wrote down a lot. Until next time.
What is CouchSurfing?
For the people that are unfamiliar with Couchsurfing, we will go into explaining the essence of it. Couchsurfing is a online network for the purpose of exchanging/providing accommodations or to meet people in a new city.
A host offers accommodation or the chance to meet up for drinks or a tour around the city, if possible. Surfers, a.k.a guest, request accommodations at his or her destination. The exchange is consensual between the host and surfer. How many people, how long you stay and other conditions are worked out before you come.
The whole exchange is supposed to be free. However, we always like to show our appreciation by bringing a little something for our hosts or at least try to do things around the house like cooking and washing dishes.
As we read different sources on the net, we find that most people are advertising Couchsurfing simply as a free accommodation. Yes, Couchsurfing helps with the budget but it is so much more than that. Couchsurfing is a true cultural exchange opportunity!
We signed up on the Couchsurfing website in January of 2008. At first we thought that no one comes to Winnipeg...but we were so excited when we started getting our first surfers that summer (I guess Winnipeg at -40° C is not very appealing to travellers). We hosted so many amazing people from around the world. One of our surfers was on his round-the-world trip and was our final inspiration to start our adventure.
Since we started our travels, we found that some countries are easier to surf than others. For example, Peru was very difficult to couchsurf, particularly in Cusco. Seems that people in Cusco are using the website for their our personal/business gain. Every person we requested a place to stay replied with an offer to stay at their hostel or so sign up for the tour that they are the guide for. This was very frustrating because this goes against what Couchsurfing stands for.
Apart from our bad luck in Peru (so far), we did find excellent hosts even with last minute requests. The people that have hosted us greeted us with their open arms. We had some people inviting us to parties, sharing their friends with us, cooking for us, giving us full day tours and so many other little but precious things.
As a couple, it has been quite easy to Couchsurf. Firstly, single women are more willing to host a couple (perhaps for safety reasons?). As hosts, we had many single females requesting to stay with us because of the fact that we are a couple. Next, as a couple, we can manage to sleep in close quarters (i.e. single bed) so we can get away with requesting couches for single people.
1) Get involved with couchsurfing BEFORE you leave on your trip. This means host people or at least go to some events and meet people who are involved. Couchsurfing is rapidly growing and is being abused by some individuals. They see it simply as a free place to stay and like to surf but have no intention of hosting. For this reason, many people say that they will not host a person if they have never hosted.
2) Request couches in advance, particularly in the popular cities. We learned the hard...some couches are already booked for the entire summer!
3) Try to surf with the newest members to Couchsurfing. They don't get as many requests and are usually very eager to get involved.
4) Become friends with your host. Go out together or at least get their take on their city...after all, this is what Couchsurfing is all about!
5) This comes as an obvious, but be courteous and respectful. Try to help around the house. Cook for your host, buy groceries or things you use up and wash dishes.
Hope this helps! Write to us if you have any more questions.
It´s been over two weeks since we´ve written so there is a lot to catch up on!
We returned to Buenos Aires to do all the things we missed out on the first time. We walked around Recoleta neighborhood, went to see Evita's tomb in the famous Recoleta cementery and went to the National Museum where the highlight was an original Freida. We went to the MALBA, the modern art museum. Gadi showed me places of his childhood, such as his old homes and parks he went to as a child.
Just want to say a special thanks to our close friend Pablo. The best night was when Pablito took us out on the town...we started with a house party then made it to our first bar at 1am. We made our way to the second club where we danced all night to Latino music and finally made our way towards the third bar at 6am (but it was closing). The next day, we had to spend all day in bed, recuperating.
We are also so grateful to Tia Susy (the aunt of Gadi´s mom) who trusted us enough with her apartment while she went on vacation. She is the sweetest lady who stoked her fridge full of food for us to enjoy.
Enough thank-you´s for now. We ended the South America portion of our trip and moved on to Europe! Madrid is a beautiful city and lovely palaces and parks.
We arrived in Madrid just in time for the first night of Pesach (Passover). We had arraged to go to a community seder (dinner for pesach) at the Sefaradi orthodox centre. When we arrived we were told that we did not reserve our seats so we won´t have a place to stay. While waiting to see if they can accommodate us a very nice Argentinean approached us and offer us free tickets! They were worth 35 Euros so it was really nice. Gadi noticed a girl which looked very familiar. It turned out that she was Yannina a friend of our friend Judith from Winnipeg. Yannina came to Winnipeg in 2007 to visit her. She was a sweety and invited us to stay at her house. This came very handy because it was Semana Santa (Easter week) and all the beds seem to be booked for the whole week in Madrid.
Yannina invited us with her friends to play T.E.G. (also known at R.I.S.K.) and also to do some trekking in La Pedriza. Yanih also included me in her "girl's night out". We went to a friend's house where we made daiquiris after daiquiris after daiquiris. The night ended with a nightclub where we danced till the morning. So much fun! Poor Gadi had to stay home alone...
We found a cheap flight to Marrakech, Morocco which was less than taking the bus and ferry. Marrakech is really exotic but we'll fill you in later.