Monthly Archives: July 2015

Aotearoa – North Island, Part 2

New Zealand

After the Bay of Islands, we drove back down to Auckland to pick up 5 more people and to switch tour guides. The rest of the North Island was led by a guy named Boom Boom. We were now 8 from the UK (6 English, 1 Irish, 1 Scottish), 5 Americans, one being a student in Australia, 2 Chinese who were also studying in Australia, 2 Germans, 2 Aussies, and 1 Swiss. In an attempt to stop cursing, Boom Boom would yelp “Holy catfish!” whenever the situation called for it. Will became thoroughly amused by this and the saying became a staple in the group. It worked until we starting saying “Fucking catfish!”

Now riding in the packed Boom Boom Bus, we headed towards Raglan with a brief stop at a sustainable farm run by a guy known as Charlie #2 and his wife Jan. Charlie #2 is a marine biologist who used to work for the government and is now running this farm after retirement. He charmed us with his stories as he led us to the alpacas, sheep, local birds, donkeys and his eel farm. Then, he gave us pieces of raw beef on skewers to feed the eels. Just a little swish of the raw beef in water drew the eels to the surface in a mad dash.

Photo Jul 26, Sustainable farm

His dog, Minty, ran around in several psychotic circles then planted himself in front of everyone with his belly up. This wasn’t a volunteering event. It was a command to rub his tummy. Cutest, friendliest dog ever.

Charlie #2 then taught us how to spin and weave wool on contraptions that I’ve only seen in museums and Amish country. It was actually much harder than I thought but, with a really nice music playlist and a groove, I can see myself pounding out a whole wardrobe of wool sweaters in no time.

We then met another couple who ran a surfing school, the husband’s name being Charlie which was how Charlie #2 became deemed, well, number two.

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We knew Stephen (the Irish guy) was a bit of a ladies’ man. We even witnessed him talking it up to an alpaca who had just sneezed.

Stephen: “Oh, bless you! I know how you’re feeling. One moment, we’re in warmer weather. The next, it’s colder. I understand.”
Alpaca: “…”
Stephen: “I had to buy throat lozenges. Would you like some?”
Alpaca: “…”

The rest of us looked on in amusement.

Raglan

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Later in the day, we went kayaking along the shore lined with stacks of pancake rocks, both in the water and out. There was a tiny opening in one of them which Lauren suggested paddling through. After thinking “uh, we ain’t fittin’ through that!” I said, “Sure, why the hell not?” We laid so far back on the kayak that we became one with it, and as we made it through while laughing maniacally, my nose nearly grazed the rock. We high fived each other in ultimate glory and everyone else, now intrigued, followed us and did the same.

(My photos from this day became corrupt on my camera. First photo above: taken with Lauren’s GoPro; the photo below was taken from a Google search)

We camped out the next couple of nights at the Lava Lounge which had an amazing hot tub. As a few of us girls stewed in the tub, a morepork (native owl) perched itself on an outdoor lamp and watched us judgmentally as we guzzled down bottles of beer and cider. Back indoors, the night started out with a separation between those of us born in the 80s and those in the 90s but, with an increasing amount of alcohol and an extremely TMI round of Never Have I Ever later, all of us quickly assimilated. You might say that mentioning “TMI” is a bit redundant but, if you’ve witnessed the game yourself, you also would’ve dubbed it TMI. Stephen, in an attempt to scope out which of the girls found his Irish accent hot, proceeded with “Never have I ever been turned on by an Irish accent.” Sorry, dude.

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In the morning, we had a training session with the Raglan Surfing School to learn how to paddle with the incoming wave and stand up on the surfboard in one full swoop. The motions were broken down into 4 components – 1) while laying flat on the board with your toes touching the tail, place your hands on the board next to your chest, just below your shoulders; 2) lift your chest up while looking straight ahead; 3) pull one knee through, depending on if you’re goofy or regular, with your fingertips on the board; 4) stand up with your knees bent and your arms up by your chest. Yea, sweet as. Enter: actual water.

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The sun was actually peeking through as we approached Ngarunui Beach. With thicker wetsuits on, the water didn’t feel as cold. The day was looking golden. Now, as a snowboarder, I thought surfing wouldn’t be as difficult. But, I only managed to get up once in the timespan of about an hour, with the help of the instructors pushing us into the incoming waves. By the end of it, I was so famished that I began dreaming of a ribeye steak or a really loaded burger. Heck, I just wanted a whole damn cow. Instead, we headed into town and bombarded a very tiny sushi place, Aloha Sushi Takeaways. Fresh NZ salmon don. Yea, I’ll devour that. Thanks. Flat white at Raglan Roast? Hell yea.

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Not a complete group photo but, this one includes the 5 new people – Mani, Marlow, Anna, Alex and Jason.

Paddle boarding was canceled due to inclement weather and so, we chilled out at our lodge with a few of us tending to our neglected scrapbooks and journals. For some reason, Stephen became adamant on reading mine, thinking I had written about my many supposed sexcapades. After my numerous refusals, he wanted to reach a compromise that involved me summarizing my entries out loud using high quality adjectives and adverbs. This was key for him, being an English teacher. Upon hearing this, Boom Boom began to recite a mock version of my journal:

“Day 1. Arrived in Auckland. Had a coffee. Met a guy. Had a passionate night.

Day 2. Had a great breakfast. Could’ve used a bit more milk in my cereal. Met another guy. Another passionate night.”

Later on in the trip, I found my journal being sold in a stationery store and contemplated buying it and somehow placing it into Stephen’s luggage at the end of the trip, with the pages filled with fake entries and one page at the end saying “SIKE!” But, the journal cost a bit of money and the effort really wasn’t worth it.

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To prepare for our next day’s visit to a Maori village in Rotorua, Boom Boom came up with the idea of doing a Chief Factor where the guys would compete to become the chief of our group. The chief is responsible for protecting their people, especially in time of battle. Since Maori women are so well-respected, only men can be chiefs to protect them. In our case, we didn’t really have such a great selection to choose from. (Script taken from a video clip.)

Will: “I…don’t even know what I’m doing…Yea…I think I’m out of this one. I’m really confused.” (To give you some background, he usually didn’t know what he was doing or what was going on.)

Lee (not pictured): “I don’t even want to be chief. I do my own thing and wander off aimlessly and I come back at the wrong time.”
Boom Boom: “So, he may not even be there for the battle.”
Kira: “No, he’d be off on a stroll. I feel not protected.”

So far, a poor showing.

Stephan: “I know Chinese Kung fu.” This one invoked very loud cheering, haha!

Alex: “I’m from Scotland and come from a long line of battle-fighting ancestors.”

Stephen, who had his shorts rolled up to boxer brief status to show off his runner legs: “Um, hello. Guten tag. Ahnyoung. Ni hao. G’day. I’m an 80s kid which means I’m experienced. Some people think I’m going bald. That’s actually not the case. This is a choice. I’ll protect all of you, which is a good thing. So, yes, I’m not bald. Also, I’m a bilinguist. I’m Irish so I love to fight. So, if there’s any problems, I’ll happily put my body on the line. We’re also great at hugging in Ireland so, I’m just going to open the floor if anyone wants a hug […] So, uh, that is why I want to be chief.”

Jason: “How’s it going, everybody? So, I’m usually quiet but, that could work towards my advantage. If you’re in danger, I could help you. If you’re scared, I could help you. If you’re lucky enough, maybe you could take off this belt (a belt made earlier that day from local palm leaves). So, I use the surroundings to my advantage. It is a nice belt. If any of you girls are lucky enough, I’ll be your chief.”

Julius: “I want to be your chief because…I’m the only one who can play the piano. AND, I’m brave. PLUS, I did the skydive. AND…eh, that’s it.”

Immediately, the girls shouted “I vote Lee!” just to annoy him but, guess who ended up being the chief? Yea, Stephen. We then ended the night with a flexibility contest where we all took turns bending down and picking up an empty cereal box with our mouths, our arms behind our back. With each round, Boom Boom cut the box smaller and smaller until it was just a flat cardboard flap on the ground. Did I pass all rounds? You bet I did!

Waitomo

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We started the day at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Five of us did the Haggas Honking Holes which was supposed to be the high energy abseiling adventure, complete with rock climbing and squeezing through extremely small crevices with ice cold water flowing all around you. This is not for the obese or the claustrophobic.

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After a briefing on how to abseil, we headed for the caves. You’re not allowed to bring cameras with you so, the guides took some shots for us during the adventure. This photo doesn’t accurately depict the 80-100m drop. SO COOL.

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The stalagmites (g – ground) and stalactites (c – ceiling) were incredible. We ducked extra low to avoid hitting them with our helmets. If you knocked one down, you pretty much destroyed hundreds and thousands of years worth of growth. With that in mind, I ducked so low that I gave myself a few neck cramps. My favorite part was, obviously, turning off our head torches and seeing the glowworms…well, glow…like stars in the sky. Sticky glowing threads hung off each one to attract prey; seeing a whole bunch created a chandelier look. Hitting these threads would destroy their chances of capturing food and, therefore, surviving. So, I ducked even lower. There weren’t as many as I would’ve liked but, the experience was still great. The only dimmer to my experience was to hear that glowworms aren’t really worms but insect larvae. Insert tingle down spine.

Rotorua

You could tell that you were in Rotorua, a geothermal city, just by the steam and the smell of sulfur emanating from everywhere. A few people in the past made the mistake of diving into a nearby body of water, only to be burned to death by the waters boiling from the volcanic heat. Only go into thermal baths designated for human use! And, never dunk your entire head in as people were known to get severe ear infections from the water.

We then met with a Maori chief and his nephew in Ohinemutu who talked about their culture and showed us the Tamatekapua meeting house. When greeting people, they touch forehead to nose with the person, and breathe in deeply while still in contact. This is called the hongi (not hangi, the method of cooking from which our dinner was made). After they sung a few traditional songs for us, we all stood up, with Stephen as our chief, and sang for them a song which Boom Boom had us rehearse.

Te aro-ha (Love)
Te Whaka-pono (Faith)
Me te rangi-marie (And peace)
Ta-tou ta-tou e (Be amongst us all)

Sometimes I sing this song even now without realizing, while I’m doing chores or just walking in the city. During a Q&A, I asked them, “Is there ever a divide between those who are of full Maori blood and those who are mixed?” This question seemed surprising to him. He answered, “No matter what the percentage, if you’re Maori, you’re Maori.” Love that.

Tongariro National Park

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The past few days were completely rainy and so miserable that the hikes along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing were canceled. Still, we all woke up at 4:30am in hopes of a sunny day. We were so damn lucky.

If you come unprepared, especially during the winter months, you can rent pretty much everything – hiking shoes, waterproof/warm clothing, a daypack, crampons, ice axes, gaiters, helmets, etc. I believe our tour came with crampons, ice axes, gaiters and helmets included.

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Our group was joined by another 15 or so random people and we ended up splitting into 2 main groups – the fast hikers and the slow trotters. The guides up front had to periodically stop us so that the remaining people could catch up to us. We would be sweating and stripping off layers one minute, then putting back on the layers once we stopped, as our bodies would quickly cool down in the cold winds. As a result of all the stop-and-going, we couldn’t hike past the Red Crater summit to the Emerald Lakes as there wasn’t enough time for them to do an avalanche check and then for us to hike it and back before sunset. I now feel extremely determined to go back one day and hike the entire thing. Perhaps when it’s summertime.

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Mount Doom is to the left. That would be Mount Doom of The Lord of The Rings. Insert glee here. Regardless of the slow trotters, the entire hike was all things amazing. All 20km of it. There were times when the wind was so fierce (wind chill was -10 C), any exposed skin would become extremely irritated. There would also be phases of clear sky and total fog.

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I couldn’t even tell if I was walking in a straight line anymore. The snow was also going past my ankles, making the hike that much more thigh-burning. That is Mount Doom, still to the left. One guide went ahead of us to shovel out a path in the mountainside. Total props to you!

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Before proceeding towards the Red Crater summit (and our eventual lunch spot), we were given a tutorial on how to put on our crampons and how to hold our ice axes. Because I’ve been to Iceland before, I was all like, “been there, done that, bitchessss.” Well, that’s what I was thinking inside my head. On the outside, I was helping people around me put theirs on. Come on, guys. I’m thoughtful! Right?

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I could stare at this ALL DAY.

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We tried to take a group photo. However, in typical Asian fashion, Sherry and Stephan were having a photo shoot here as they did at every tourist attraction. Pose with left arm on hip. Pose with right arm on hip. Pose with both hands on hip. Pose as if I just happened to turn my head as you were “candidly” capturing a shot of my backside. Pose with both arms up in the air. Okay, that was just the standing portion. Now, repeat while I sit, kneel, and lie on each side. Okay, now the wind is blowing in my favor. Capture that long black hair waving in the sunshine.

We all watched in complete amusement and maybe a bit of confusion. We also grew tired of waiting for them to come take a group shot with us. And, so, I had this genius idea of leaving a gap in the middle to “include” them in the photo. They had no idea what was going on and they kept posing on. Sherry (in the middle red jacket) was blocking Stephan though. Hey, we tried. By the way, I’m the 3rd from the left, squeezed in between 2 people with my helmet blending into the next person’s jacket. I swear I’m there.

In addition to bothering me about my journal, Stephen also questioned any girl who would be caught texting on their phones. “Are you sexting?” he would ask excitedly. That was usually answered with a dull no. Here, we caught him texting. “Well, are YOU sexting?” “I’m mountain sexting. And, later on when we mountain bike, I’ll be mountain bexting.”

Ohakune / Taihape / Wellington

On our way to our final North Island destination, we stopped at Ohakune and took photos with…a giant carrot. Apparently, this town is “where adventures begin.” Hm.

Photo Jul 30, Ohakune

One thing I noticed about New Zealand was that several towns had very large statues of select fruit and vegetables. #veggiepride. If I had encountered this carrot early on in life, perhaps my vision wouldn’t be so bad. Yea, I know that was a total dad joke.

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Moving on with our day of randomness, we stopped in Taihape for a gumboot throwing contest. Yea, there was an actual area dedicated to this. Boom Boom came prepared with a nice leopard print gumboot but, once we reached the throwing field, we noticed that gumboots were already supplied. The guys outperformed most of the girls and so, by the time it was Lauren’s turn, we cheered her on extra hard. She swung so hard that the gumboot, instead of going forward, went straight up into the air and landed in the tree behind us. In laughter, we then threw gumboots into the tree to finally knock the stuck one down. Luckily, none other got stuck. No gumboots left behind. (Photo credit: Lauren)

Finally in Wellington, we had a night out to bid farewell to Boom Boom and half of our group, and meet 3 new people who were joining us for the South Island. As people proceeded to have shots, Gen, Caroline, Julius and I rushed off to catch the funicular up to the Carter Observatory. The funicular was of the psychedelic kind and it passed through a rave-like neon light tunnel which Gen and I danced in to an ntz ntz ntz beat. No one else was in the funicular but us. We were all space nerds, Gen in particular, and this just added to our excitement to check out the moon and Saturn through the Thomas Cooke telescope and then the space show in the adjacent theater. We came back to the bar to everyone else dancing on the tables.

Aotearoa – North Island, Part 1

My original plan was to quit my job and travel for 7 weeks. After a tiny nudge from a friend who lives in Sydney and a mention of Hobbiton and snowboarding, those 7 weeks extended into 15 weeks and now included the southern hemisphere. I always pushed Australia and New Zealand to the side because it involved a huge time commitment. It never seemed possible with only 2 weeks of paid vacation per year. Well, I finally got the time. Fastest decision I’ve ever made.

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New Zealand

I met with my G Adventures group in Auckland and we headed north the next morning towards the Bay of Islands. We started off with 15 people and our tour leader Flea. The trip was labeled as a Yolo trip, meaning “18 to 30 somethings,” and I was afraid I’d be stuck with a bunch of college kids or fresh graduates. I was the second oldest as a 30 (brink of 31) year old and after a brief shock horror of having to explain who Marvin Gaye was in Charlie Puth’s song “Marvin Gaye” featuring Meghan Trainor (after they had already sung it with the radio), I calmed down to realize that I was in a good mix of pEepZ. That’s me trying to be young again, in the context of the late 90s and early 2000s apparently.

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We first stopped at Parry Kauri Park with its enormous kauri trees that are native to New Zealand. Tree hug provided for perspective.

Conservation is a priority these days as many of these trees were cut down to build ships in the past. With the top portion of the tree cut off in this photo, however, it only looks incredibly phallic and, as such, something that doesn’t need to be conserved…or hugged.

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Whangarei Falls, an alliteration by sound and not appearance. The “wh”in Maori words is pronounced as if it was an “f.” Why, you ask? I don’t know. Why do we pronounce “ph” in the same way? Who thinks of these things?? How do they get the ink in these things?? (Dilbert comic reference)

Further on, we stopped in the town of Kawakawa to visit the supposedly most beautiful public toilets to ever exist anywhere. It was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived in town until his eventual death. I guess I can agree that I hadn’t ever before seen such artistic public toilets but, I felt weird going inside just to take a photo. It would’ve been even more embarrassing had I gone into a stall, taken a photo using my iPhone with the volume on, and later explained why I took a photo to people who heard the camera click. “Oh, you know, just having friendly texting banter with my gyno. She says I’m looking healthy, by the way.”

Paihia, Bay of Islands

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It was wintertime and yet, still pretty warm up north during midday. So, we all got cocktails and sat in the sun by the water. There was a public piano situated nearby and Julius, the youngest in our group at 19, began playing random songs on it. It made me miss playing it. After 12-13 years of hating it. I stopped when I was 15 or 16. It became a chore after my mom scolded me to practice about an hour a day, after I had done my school homework and gone to after school/SAT prep school and completed that homework, too. There were times I enjoyed it though. I could play a sonata without even looking at the keys. My arms and hands had muscle memory and I just knew how the distances between the keys felt. Now, it’s all but a distant memory.

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We took a zodiac to The Rock where we were to stay for the night. It’s basically a hostel on a boat with bunk bed rooms on the upper level and a bar/lounge in the lower level, complete with board games, snacks and a furnace. The furnace came especially in handy after Lauren and I dunked in for a midnight swim later that night which probably wasn’t a good idea. In addition to the 15 of us, there was another tour group with another 10 or so people, half of them obnoxious 20-21 year old (sorry to say) Aussies.

Our activities on the boat included sunset fishing, night kayaking in the phosphorescent algae-filled water, snorkeling and/or diving for kina (sea urchin) the next morning, eating freshly picked kina and mussels (steamed) caught from the surrounding waters, spotting dolphins swimming alongside, and hiking on Motuarohia Island. Fishing was a complete failure as the fish were clever little bitches who snatched the bait off the hook. I guess, technically, I’m really the bitch in this situation as I clearly got owned. Insert contemplating emoji here.

Nighttime kayaking was definitely the highlight. The surrounding area was pitch black but for the light from the boat and the water’s phosphorescence illuminated with each disturbance from the paddle’s strokes. We then coasted for a bit and lay back flat on the kayaks to face the starry night sky. Everything was peaceful…until one of the Aussie guys tipped his friend over into the water. That incident cut our time on the water short.

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Keep in mind that it’s wintertime and, although it was warmer up north, it was still pretty damn cold in the morning and night. Even with wetsuits, the water was freezing ass cold. Well, the wetsuits were basic and not exactly fitted which allowed water to seep in between your body and suit. We did a penguin dance before jumping in to warm up. But, after that bit, I saw one of the crew change into a really heavy duty wetsuit that covered every inch of her body and then heard her say, “I’m not letting that water touch my body.” That was really comforting.

Then, I jumped in. Holy Arctic, Batman! After about 5-10 min, my movements eventually warmed me up a bit until about the 30 min mark when my teeth began to chatter. I don’t mind swimming around in open waters but, something about diving in scares me. So, I just swam around, spotting kina that I could easily pick and feeling disappointed in myself. I vow to, one day, get my scuba diving license and face my fears. This will likely occur before I learn how to drive. (Above photo credit: Lauren with her GoPro; pictured: Caroline, Gen and me.)

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We docked near Motuarohia (Roberton) Island and while everyone else took a short zodiac ride to shore, Stephen, Will and I each took a kayak out. A short hike up rewarded us with this view (click photo to enlarge).

Back on land and now situated at the Bay Adventurer Hostel, some rushed to the hot showers while a few of us took a small hike to a lookout point before coming back to soak in the hot tub. It sure is a hard knock life.

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The next morning, we split off to either skydive, paraglide, take a dolphin cruise or, hike from Haruru Falls through the mangroves to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. I opted for the hike with a few others. Will meant to join the hike but never appeared at the scheduled meeting time and, so, we figured he meant to sleep in.

Us: “Where’s Will?”
Lee, one of his roommates: “In the room. He’s making noises so I know he’s alive.”

We later found out that Will never changed his watch out of Aussie time and was running 2 hours behind.

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The Carved Meeting House, or Te Whare Rūnanga, faces the Treaty House on the grounds of which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in February 1840. The treaty marked the partnership between the Maori chiefs and the British Crown, although what was believed to be agreed upon seemed to have differed between the two parties. Lost in Translation, the non-Sofia Coppola version.

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The interior and exterior are carved with images of the tribe’s ancestors and are beautifully intricate.

Nearby, Stephen spotted some lemon trees and me, being unable to decipher his Irish accent…

Me: “Lavatories?”
Stephen: “Uh, noo…I said lemon trees. Who even uses that word anymore?”
Me: “I don’t know. British people?”

I apologize to all people past and present if I have trouble with your accent. I also struggle with some thick accents within the U.S. so, I’m really just an idiot.

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The grounds also houses the world’s largest war canoe which is named probably the world’s longest name ever – Ngātokimatawhaorua (I totally cheated and copy/pasted this from their website). It is 35m long and requires at least 76 paddlers to manage it through the water. Pretty damn cool!

(Because some of my photos became corrupt on my camera, the above photo is borrowed from Lauren. Thanks, Lauren!)

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And, a group photo plug. Top row: Obnoxious guy who tipped over during night kayaking, Stephan, Catherine, Stephen, Norwegian girl, Will, Gen, Emma, Caroline. Bottom row: me, Sherry, Lauren, Claire, Robyn, Kira, Julius, Lee. Just a side note: me sitting next to the one other Asian girl was pure coincidence. We barely chatted, especially since she was glued to her boyfriend, Stephan.

July 22 – August 14, 2015: New Zealand Encompassed

Travel Thoughts

Often, I feel stuck between two worlds in multiple variations and combinations. There is the obvious one between being Asian and being American, and it’s not the face value of it that makes me feel stuck. It’s being raised in the bubble of outdated conservative Korean values inside a larger bubble of American culture. It’s so outdated that even in South Korea itself, it’s considered stuck in the past. I suppose being different within a country that wasn’t your origin makes you grip ever more tightly to the ways of life you grew up with. I get it. Change isn’t welcomed with open arms by everybody. But, what makes it that much more difficult is finding your place between the two. I’ve found myself a way out of it for the most part but, I can’t seem to fully shake myself off the “Asian guilt.” People on the outside would just tell me to let it go and do my own thing. What they don’t understand is that it’s hard to shake off something you’ve been conditioned into doing/feeling for 26 years of your 31 year life. On top of that, I was conditioned intensely during the years I was the most impressionable – my childhood. The longer you get used to an idea, thought or feeling, the harder it is to dig yourself out of it.

So, what other worlds do I feel stuck in between? Being liberal vs conservative. Following the societal path vs doing my own thing. Being an atypical girl vs a typical one. Being conscious of how others perceive me vs being true to myself. All of this isn’t new. It’s been discussed before and everyone can relate in one way or another. But, if it’s something everyone can relate to, why does it become such a shortened conversation topic once I bring it up? If I bring up something liberal, a conservative would just shrug and say that they will pray for me. If I bring up how I’m veering off the societal path, I immediately get reassured that I will get there “somehow” or “eventually.” If I bring up being an atypical girl, I will get told that being unique is why they like being my friend but, then the way I get treated is not reflective of that. And, why do people always resort to saying reassuring words? What if all I want to hear is “yea, that sucks” or “I hear ya?” Most of the time, I express my feelings to get them outside of my physical. I rarely want a comforting hand to rub my back and say that it’s all okay. Because, sometimes, it’s just present participle expletive not.

That’s when I realize that you are your greatest supporter and shouldn’t be dependent on anyone else but yourself. “Enjoy everything, need nothing and choose what shows up.” – Neale Donald Walsch

You got the NPP? Yea, you know me!

According to reviews on Tripadvisor, the train ride between Bergen and Oslo is worth spending half of your day doing. And, I totally agree. I loved the scenery during the entire 6.5 hour ride.

Oslo, Norway

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Britta (from the hiking trip) was also in town so, we decided to explore the city on bikes, which I registered for at the tourist office by the central train station. A 24 hour bike card cost kr 100 and needs to be returned to the office at the end for your kr 250 deposit to be credited back. Unlike the Citi Bikes in NYC, you can take out a bike for 3 hours at a time. I must say though, the Oslo bikes are way shittier than the Citi Bikes.

We set off towards our first stop, the Norsk Folkemuseum. The bike paths were clearly marked and nicely paved until we made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up merging onto the highway with cars furiously honking behind us. We carefully turned our bikes around and rode back on the sliver of curb until we realized where we went wrong. I would say that this was an interesting experience. Yea.

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The museum had a cool exhibit featuring Anders Beer Wilse, a Norwegian photographer whose photographs of the country helped bring attention to its beautiful landscapes. Even in black & white and sepia, Norway is unbelievably gorgeous.

The rest of the museum was “open air,” including a replica of a past Norwegian village, complete with houses, a pharmacy, a gas station and an old stave church.

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Since we didn’t get to visit the old stave church on our hiking trip, this one satisfied our touristy needs.

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Next stop: The Fram Museum, as if I didn’t get educated enough about polar explorations, particularly those of Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. The exhibit is built around the Fram, a ship designed according to Nansen’s specifications and the inside of which you can explore.

Separate from the ship was a simulation room “not for pregnant women.” It was supposed to simulate what it was like being a passenger on the ship while it was in sub-zero temperatures and navigating through icebergs. What it really was…was a heavily air-conditioned room which vibrated slightly as it “hit an iceberg,” with mannequins plastered with terrified facial expressions. I laughed during the entire thing.

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Britta had to go meet up with other friends for dinner before we were all to meet up for drinks later that night. I was happy to end our museum tour because after the Fram Museum, I was all knowledged out and needed some scenery. After we parted ways, I got lost another 2-3 times, almost got hit by a BMW and detoured to find another bike rack with a space to dock but, luckily, I made it to Frogner Park in one piece.

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The park itself is filled with Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures which, at first, seem erotic but are really meant to portray the stages of life, from angry babies to children developing friendships, to love relationships that either end well or badly, to growing families and old age. It’s an awesome place to people watch, both in real and sculpted forms. Ha, ha.

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I got lost a few more times on my way back. By then, I was yelling expletives in my head for not getting a SIM card for my Verizon phone or switching to T-Mobile earlier. But hey, at least I found my way back to the train station with a quick visit to the Oslo Opera House using paper maps and ended the night with fantastic beers at the microbrewery Kråka Bryggeri. Win.

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I skipped the Royal Palace and other museums and quickly went for City Hall and the National Museum of Art, all so that I could have enough time to grab a burger at a recommended place before flying out. When I got to the burger joint after salivating the entire walk there, I found that it was closed, either for renovation or permanently. Disappointment does not accurately describe what I felt at that moment.

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The Oslo City Hall doesn’t look like much on the outside but, once inside, you’re surrounded by vibrantly colored murals. People get awarded the Nobel Peace Prize here annually. And then, there’s me.

Focking Odda, Part 2 (Beers?)

Odda, Norway

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Our second day of hiking in the Fossasete Valley was a rainy, puddly, slippery mess. But, regardless of the weather, Norway is always beautiful. A part of me wanted to go into that red cottage, start a little fire and huddle around it with a flannel blanket and cup of hot chocolate. The blanket has to be flannel or it wouldn’t be complete.

We passed by a pulley system or, I guess more like a mini chair lift system that is used to transport sheep easily up and down the mountain. The sheep are tied to the cable wire by their legs and, therefore, hung upside down which sounds really inhumane but, apparently, this freezes them up and helps to keep them calm during the transport. After this particular hike, I’m sure a few of us would’ve tried this out if we could’ve.

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Phil, having done this particular hike several times with different groups, placed a troll in a random spot towards the beginning of the trail in hopes that the next person would pick it up and place it somewhere else further along. I remember when these trolls were the “in” thing back in the 90s. I practically had to beg my mom, get a few 100’s on math/spelling exams and practice piano for hours to finally convince her to buy one for me. In retrospect, I should’ve begged her for a Power Wheels convertible instead.

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With the sound of one wrapper crinkling, this horse was suddenly next to us with its face all up in our business. We fed it a couple of apples, a banana and a carrot which was a mistake because, instead of being satisfied, the horse kept expecting us to pull out a feast from our bags. When we would attempt to hide our food, the horse would continue chewing on the grass “nonchalantly” while maintaining its peripheral vision and heightened senses. With one hand movement into a bag, the horse’s face would be back up in our business within seconds. So, with half-eaten lunches, we decided to just complete the remainder of our 5 hr hike.

Later that night, Katie, Jo, Phil and I were, per usual, the last ones standing after dinner. We got onto the topic of flexibility and double-jointedness and Jo, who was on her way to becoming a doctor, listed out several indicators of being double-jointed:

1) Placing hands flat on the floor while keeping your legs straight. Check.
2) Bending knees and elbows backwards. Sort of check.
3) Touching thumbs to forearms. Nope.

At this point, I joked, “Imagine the waitress walked in on us doing all of this weird shit?” and we all chuckled.

4) Bending pinky fingers backwards past 90 degrees. I feel like we got it into our heads to prove that we’re at least somewhat double-jointed and struggled to bend our pinkies backwards with looks of intensity.

Defeated, we all looked up. The waitress was standing there, as if deciding whether to continue walking in or turn back around, only to have been caught on the brink of deciding to turn back around. We all looked at each other in awkwardness until one of us managed to start explaining what was going on.

“You don’t have to explain,” she quickly replied.

Skjeggedal

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Our third day of hiking was the most brutal and the most rewarding. We took a bus to Skjeggedal and began our hike to Trolltunga (the Troll’s Tongue), about 1,200m uphill and 1,200m back down for a total roundtrip of 22km. The estimated time for the hike was said to be about 8-10 hours, averaging around 9 hours for most groups.

The hike began with 1,000 stone steps of hell, all of which had been laid down by Sherpas from Nepal. How they managed to construct this is still amazing to me but, what sucked was that, after climbing the thousand steps and experiencing the utmost butt burn, we had only covered about 1-2km of the 11km. Yep.

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Due to rain and warming temperatures, anyone hiking here was advised not to stray off the path. One hiker had recently ventured near a boulder and fallen through the snow bordering the rock into an icy river deep in the crevice, underneath the snowy ground. The expanse of uninterrupted snow is really deceiving as there are patches that are made weak by the layers of melted snow underneath that you are completely unaware of, layers that have become strong currents of glacial water. Nature, as usual, is no joke. Respect it!

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Phil’s previous group completed this hike in about 8+ hours and our goal was to beat that. With that in mind, we powered through.

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This view over the Ringedalsvatnet lake and surrounding fjord made the long hike worthwhile. After a quick lunch, we all ran to stand on the growing line of people waiting to take a photo on the “tongue.”

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This isn’t as scary as it looks. On the other hand, there were 2 girls doing precarious yoga poses at the edge for that “perfect” photo opportunity which made everyone else feel nervous. So, my advice is just don’t be stupid.

If the camera lens was moved slightly more to the left, the photo would’ve included the long line of people impatiently waiting for their chance on the edge. This may look like a peaceful place to sit and contemplate (well, it can be if you get there early enough) but, it’s also very much a tourist attraction. After our individual shots, the 10 of us waited in the increasingly cold winds to get a group shot. And, group shot we did take, on a GoPro that inadvertently deleted it after it was taken.

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On the way back, I really had to pee and being in nature, well, I had to get creative with obscurity. I found the perfect spot in front of luckily napping hikers and stood up only to hear, “Hey, Christine! Over here!” as this picture was taken. I’m not sure if the hikers budged an eyelid.

Finally, we began making our way down and due to the snow melt and previous day’s rain, we literally grabbed onto rope railings to avoid slipping down the entire way and ending with muddy butts. After that jungle gym adventure came the 1,000 steps of hell. For some reason, the way down felt like double the amount of steps and there’s a running joke that a Sherpa comes out of hiding and adds more steps while we’re not looking. But, we finished the entire 22km hike in 7.5 hours, beating the previous group’s time. Aw, hell yea! This called for some beers. Trolltunga beers.

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Literally, Trolltunga-branded beers. The best tasting beer to have ever graced my taste buds, said the July 7, 2015 version of Christine. Oh, and bags of Sørlands Chips which we progressively became obsessed with. This day, for whatever reason, became etched in our memories as Trolltunga Tuesday.

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And, to continue our apparent dinnertime tradition of proving random physical feats, we competed to see who can plank the longest. The drizzle cut our competition short but, as clearly seen from the rain-spattered outline of a body above, Jo did not win.

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For our last full day, we had the option of visiting Røldal and the old stave church, doing another small hike or, kayaking. Most of us wanted to be active but, the thought of hiking after Trolltunga made us literally weak in the knees. It was time to work out our other set of limbs. (That would be our arms in case you were still wondering.)

We took a bus ride toward Eidfjord where we were going to kayak and passed by a magical layer of mist hovering above the water. I was seriously mesmerized by it and couldn’t stop staring. You could’ve whispered subliminal messages into my ear during this time and had me act upon them without realizing why.

Then, we passed through tunnels in the mountainside all lit up in neon lights. We circled a roundabout inside the tunnel which further made it feel like a rave. We were just missing some electronic beats. I think all of us were too confused to even think about taking a photo.

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I was paired up with a well-built guy.

“You’re lucky that you’re paired up with him! You won’t have to do much work.”
“Yessss!” I thought.

Yea, well, I don’t know what he was doing back there but, I was paddling my heart out to the point of veins popping out of my forehead. It didn’t help to realize that our kayak was named “Atlantis.” As we were falling way behind the rest of the group, someone exclaimed to him,

“Hey! You need to follow what Christine’s doing! Since she’s in the front, she’s the navigator.”

He didn’t improve much after that. I cursed like a maniac inside my head but, put on a smile and continued to paddle, using my growing anger as motivation. In this case, size did not matter.

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Phil had been dropping hints for the past couple of days that he was planning a surprise for our last night. Nearby Trolltunga Hotel is a cute little red cabin, a really cute arts & crafts shop run by the couple (Keitel and Britta) living in the adjacent house. They had refurbished the basement to welcome guests and as a surprise, they had invited us in to talk about the history of Norway, the town and their family. They lit the entire place up with candles and set up a table full of snacks, then served us a locally made cider – Hardanger Sider, 9.0% alcoholic volume. I was drunk by dinnertime. We were so touched by their hospitality that we gave them multiple hugs before leaving.

The next day was departure day (sad face). And, replaying for the millionth time in the dining room’s speakers was the same playlist that’s been blasting since we arrived, a collection which included Sam Smith’s current hits and the very appropriate (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing, which I made sure to sing as we all parted ways from the bus station in Bergen.

Travel tip: To get back to Bergen, we walked to the main bus station in Odda’s city center (right by the Smeltehuset) and caught the 9:40am (on a Thursday) bus to Bergen. I believe we took bus #760 and had to switch buses around 10:30am to #740, eventually arriving in Bergen at 1:05pm. Note: These buses boarded ferries, in case you get surprised by it. When in doubt, just ask the bus driver. Total cost was kr 302.

Focking Odda, Part 1

You might be thinking, “So, you went from Scotland to Norway, then back to Scotland, then back to Norway…only to end up back in Scotland?”

Yes, yes I did. That’s just the way the tour group dates worked. Bite me.

ENFH

Bergen, Norway

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Before meeting my G Adventures group, I headed for the Ulriken cable car with the intention of hiking back down or possibly doing one of the trails towards Mount Fløyen. This was the visibility.

Travel tip: There’s a great tourist information office in the city center. To get to the Ulriken cable car, take bus #2 or 3 (kr 50 each way; ticket machines at bus stop) and get off at the Haukeland Sjukehus stop. From there, cross the street and look for the signs to the cable car. If you’re walking uphill on a winding road, then you’re likely going in the right direction (the signs weren’t too clear).

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So, instead, I came back into town and walked around Bryggen…

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…with its awesome alleyways stuffed with more small shops and restaurants.

After the group introductory meeting, we headed towards Håkon’s Hall, a king’s banqueting hall from the 1200s, to check it out before dinner. But, on approach, there were huge lines blocking the sidewalks and all of us looked on in confusion. It was an Elton John concert. I had no idea this man had such a following in Norway…or that he still put on concerts.

So, we went off to eat dinner in one of these alleyways and bumped into a group of drunk Norwegian men, native to Bergen.

Drunk Norwegian: “So, what are you planning on doing here in Bergen?”
Phil, the CEO*: “We’re actually heading out to Odda tomorrow.”
Drunk Norwegian: “WHAT?! Why the fock do you want to go to Oh-dah??!!”
Phil: “Oh, we’re going to be doing some hikes from there.”
Drunk Norwegian: “You should just stay in Bergen and hike from here! No one goes to focking Oh-dah! They have many stoats. When you see one, you just (makes stomping motions with his leg) smash them like this!”

(turns to his less drunk friends)

“Beers???” he asked enthusiastically, while shrugging his shoulders upwards, arms and hands out.

I thought, “Oh, great. We’re probably going to a shitty remote town in the middle of nowhere.”

*CEO stands for Chief Experience Officer, which is the title given to G Adventures tour group leaders.

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The day was golden the next morning, and with 2 of the girls from the group, I hiked up Mount Fløyen (about 45 min) and took the cable car (kr 43 one way) back down into the city center in time to grab breakfast and head out on a ferry towards Odda with the rest of the group.

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We bid farewell to Bergen and boarded the ferry for a 2-3 hour journey in Hardangerfjord. Even after 2 weeks of being on a ship and seeing fjords pretty much everyday, I was still amazed by the views. It’s just that gorgeous.

Once we docked at our destination, we then boarded a privately booked van and headed towards our home base for the remainder of the trip, Trolltunga Hotel.

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You know, just passing by an extremely massive waterfall by the side of the road. No big deal. Just carry on. I can’t imagine what it’s like on a stormy day. Probably torrential and definitely hazardous.

Odda

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When learning that Odda was a town built around smelters and had only a handful of restaurants and shops that all closed early, I pictured it to look like a dismal place colored only with different shades of gray, isolated from the rest of the country. Then, I saw this and was surprised.

We dropped off our things at the hotel and trekked into town (maybe around a 20 min walk) to go buy some snacks for our hikes in the coming days and packs of beer since the hotel charged several limbs for their drinks. Phil convinced us to eat dinner in town at the Smeltehuset, since it was likely that we’d eat dinner at the hotel for the remaining nights and he’d eaten their 4-5 dishes on rotation for the past few weeks and needed change.

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The hotel had a strict no-outside-alcohol policy due to the liquor license laws so, we scrambled outside with our cans and situated ourselves at this one random picnic table by the lake. By then, our beers had lost its chill and in collective group geniusness, we gathered our cans into a large plastic bag, which we tied up with one end of a travel clothesline, then tied the other end of the clothesline to a large rock on the ground before lowering the bag into the cold lake. Refrigeration achieved. And, with that, we had our first real group bonding experience. Verdict? I had lucked out once again with an awesome group of people.

I had bought a 4-pack of Guinness, expecting it to last me for the next 2 days. It didn’t make it past the first night.

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Breakfast was provided at the hotel and it was simple and delicious. Every morning, they put out freshly baked loaves of bread and left out a waffle maker and a bowl of batter for anyone to make fresh. There were boiled eggs, selected meats and cheeses, veggies, yogurt and cereal. I usually don’t describe my meals but, for some reason, I just really liked it here. We also packed our own sandwiches (using the above ingredients) for lunch during our hikes. We didn’t find out until later that we were supposed to pay for the lunch bags that they left out on the table. And, we didn’t find out until the very last day, after all our sandwiches had been made and devoured. Heh. heh.

Each day’s hike was at Phil’s discretion since Norway’s weather, particularly in this area, tends to be whatever the hell it wants and usually involves rain. So, we hiked to Buarbreen (a glacier) for our first hike and, due to a large degree of ice melt, we couldn’t hike towards it in the valley below. Instead, we took a longer route up into the hill of Reinanuten for a panoramic view of the glacier, led by Phil and Bruno, a Dutch guy who served as our main guide for the day.

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We began our ascent on dirt paths, passing through forestry. At some point, the paths became covered in deep snow and we had to put on our crampons to continue the ascent safely. We could see the glacial lakes nestled into the hills and mountains from above. We decided to stop here for lunch and with this amazing view ahead of us, a few of us began to sing…Baby Got Back. I’m not quite sure why.

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Our lovely group photo: Britta, Casey, Will, me, Jo, Laura, Phil (maturely giving me the horns), Robbie, Katie, Veronica and Steph. In a nutshell, a German, 4 Australians, 5 Americans and a Canadian. I had heard of Katie through my friend Flo (who I had traveled with on 2 occasions) since they had both hiked together in Iceland with G Adventures. Small world! On top of that, we later found out that Casey, Steph and I all shared the same birthday. I could say that fate brought us all together but I’m not a cheesy person. For the most part.

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It was Will’s birthday and Phil managed to carry a flan cake all the way up to the glacier still intact. We lay the cake down on a large rock with a birthday card proudly showing “William” and gathered in front of it while Will became preoccupied with taking photos. We loudly began to sing Happy Birthday and it took a few seconds for Will to finally register what was going on, turn around and display a very big smile on his face.

Will: “I love you guys!”
Me: “Dude, it’s only been 2 days.”

Sorry, I had to.

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We already got a glimpse of the glacier but hiked a bit further to get an even better view. Some of the paths became snowy again and even steeper. Calves were burning for everyone.

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Buarbreen. Holy. Freakin. Shmoly.

We took a break, sat down on the rocks and just stared at this beauty. Life contemplation? Check.

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Some of the girls were uncomfortable with the idea of climbing down the steep snowy hills and so, a bunch of us decided to have some fun and slide down the hillside on our butts. SO. MUCH. FUN. And, a real time saver. The guys, on the other hand, decided to just run down. I ended with a run/slide combo, the best of both worlds.

Towards the end of our hike, we were back on dirt paths and Jo kept slipping in front of me which only increased her frustration. On her last slip, I watched her fall in slow motion as she stopped trying to break her fall and just let gravity slowly roll her into a cozy nook in the ground. She didn’t even react except to just further curl into a fetal position in the nook. She clearly had just given up. We couldn’t stop laughing because it was the slowest motion we’ve ever seen anyone fall into the coziest spot to ever exist in the soft ground with no resulting attempt to even get up. About 7 hours of total hiking on slippery ground can do that to you.

July 3 – 9, 2015: Norwegian Fjord Hiking

Edin-BRA

Edinburgh, Scotland

Regarding the title of this entry, wouldn’t it be a great company name for intimates made with Scottish plaid? If someone steals this idea, I demand royalties.

Anyway, during one of my stays, I opted for a hostel, Code Hostel, to save some dough. But, since I arrived late (past reception hours), they gave me the security codes in advance. So, I quietly entered the room as I realized people were already asleep at 10pm, quickly grabbed my toiletries and went to the showers. It then dawned on me that with the reception closed, I had no way of renting a towel. Grunt.

I was standing by the showers, scratching my head, thinking that my only option would be to mummify myself with a roll of toilet paper. Then, my eyes laid upon the fully-stocked paper towel dispenser by the sinks. I could at least dry myself without tissue pieces falling apart and getting stuck on random parts of my body. Problem solved.

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In the span of 2 days, I decided to go museum crazy but, what really drove me crazy were the names of the museums. After visiting the Scottish National Gallery, I flipped the page in my compact Lonely Planet book to see the Scottish National Portrait Gallery also listed. “Wait, isn’t that the museum I JUST went to?” And, after flipping back and forth between the 2 pages a few more times, I finally realized that this museum had the word “portrait” in it. Repeat process for the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. In New York, you have the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Guggenheim Museum et al. In Edinburgh, all the major museums are named with the country’s name in some form. I can only imagine what went on during the naming process for the Museum Naming Committee.

Person 1: “So, we have several days and a nice budget to come up with the names of the following museums. How about we name all of them Scottish National something and call it a day? And, then, let’s head to the pub for a pint.”

Everyone else: “Done.”

These museums are all free admission, except for special exhibitions, so I really shouldn’t be judging anything. In summary:

1. National Museum of Scotland – Fun mix of science, art and culture. Very kid-friendly.
2. Royal Scottish Academy – The art was way too modern, I left feeling confused about myself and life in general.
3. Scottish National Gallery – Nice variety of artwork.
4. Scottish National Portrait Gallery – Not really my cup of tea (pun alert) but, their “Lee Miller & Picasso” special exhibit was totally worth paying for admission.
5. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art – Decent variety of artwork. I loved their “The Amazing World of M.C. Escher” exhibit.

General tip: If you actually want to enjoy your time in Edinburgh, don’t do what I did. Don’t overload yourself on museums. There comes a point where it just becomes forced and the state of your brain becomes worse than it was the night before your college finals.

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There are several spots where you can get a panoramic view of the city – The Scott Monument, Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill. The Scott Monument and Calton Hill are nice but, Arthur’s Seat was the most rewarding experience because 1) A map doesn’t really help too much so, you use your logic to make your way up and find immense satisfaction in your navigation skills; 2) You get a view of green hills and the entire city after suffering a wee bit of exercise; and 3) It’s free.

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Above is a partial view from The Scott Monument. It’s worth it in the sense that you get to see everything up close but, in addition to sharing a very tight space with other tourists, there are pillars and rails in the way of getting a decent panoramic photo. I considered holding out my iPhone out a little further but it’s pretty windy up there and I was sure that it would blow the phone out of my hands and potentially injure an innocent pedestrian below.

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This is the view from Arthur’s Seat. You get the entire city in one shot AND there is plenty of space to sit, hang out and ponder. I relied on a tiny map in an abridged Lonely Planet book but, it only got me so far. There are no real signs pointing to Arthur’s Seat so, I looked up, pointed out where most people were standing and headed in that direction. I managed to find some steps once I ventured in further. Try to wear proper sneakers or hiking shoes. I wore my Toms canvas shoes and almost slipped to my death.

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Above is a view of Edinburgh Castle from the Princes Street Gardens. I spent around 4 hours at the castle but, you could easily spend an entire day there if your brain can handle it. The National War Museum was my favorite part of the entire grounds since it highlighted a time when war was a legitimate concern for everyone. It’s sad to say but, I feel like too many people detach themselves from the wars occurring these days so long as someone else is fighting it. I partially attribute it to the fact that people are bombarded with so much news everyday that they’ve become desensitized. That, and the fact that people have become more concerned with themselves than the community as a whole.

(I also stayed for the One o’clock Gun, a canon that gets fired everyday, except Sunday, at (no way?!) 1pm. This was done back in the 1800s to help ships synchronize their maritime clocks needed for navigation. COOL.)

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Afterwards, I strolled down the Royal Mile, past St. Giles’ Cathedral (pictured above, worth a visit) and through the Old Town until I reached the Holyrood Palace. Closed. For Royal Week (with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in residence). Boo.

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So, in true tourist fashion, I squeezed my camera through the gates and took this photo.

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If you have no time commitments and want to go for a nice leisurely stroll, I recommend the Water of Leith Walkway. The entire walk is apparently about 16+ km but, I started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and stopped at the Stockbridge Market (open on Sundays) for 1-2 hours total. The walk goes through leafy parks and an awesome mix of architecture. Stop for a flat white at Steampunk Coffee if you’re able to make it to the Stockbridge Market. It’s run out of a really cool campervan.

I ended up doing The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour one night since it had really amazing reviews from Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. An excuse to drink and learn some history? Why not. What really ended up happening? I hung out with a bunch of loud Americans and struggled to decipher the tour guides’ heavy Scottish accent which only proved useless after the first 2 Guinnesses. It didn’t help that I “pre-gamed” at BrewDog with some delicious IPA’s (Punk IPA and IPA is Dead). The more tipsy I got, the more gibberish I heard. I essentially paid for a pub crawl. I guess it was fun.

At the last pub, I saw a tap for Guinness and another for Guinness Extra Cold.

Me: “So, is the “Extra Cold” a Scottish thing? I’ve never seen it before.”
Bartender: “No, it’s usually for the Americans. We like it warmer so that we could actually taste the beer.”

Oh yea? Well, I love the taste of Guinness and ordered an extra cold one. I really showed him.

Glasgow

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I took a day trip to Glasgow (about 1.5 hr and £13.50 each way) and was met with heavy rain. Hours of it. So, with an extremely heavy heart, I did something I vowed never to do. I purchased a ticket and rode…A RED DOUBLE-DECKER BUS. FAINT. The rain was so heavy, it wasn’t even worth looking out the window at the sites. I ended up getting off at the Glasgow Science Center and watching Jurassic World. When the movie ended, so did the rain. Literally minutes before. SCORE!

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Now, with the sun out, I put in my earphones and walked my heart out. It turned out to be a truly beautiful day. (Above: Clyde Arc)

I passed Glasgow University, skipped the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (heard it was just alright) and walked through the park instead, headed towards Clyde Arc and walked along the river towards People’s Palace where I ended up at West Brewery Bar & Restaurant (which Hayden had recommended to me – thanks!). A burger and a beer sure did nurse my double-decker damaged ego.

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Finally, I walked back towards the train station and passed by the Glasgow Cathedral.

A question that I usually get from my friends is, “Don’t you get lonely when you travel by yourself?” And, the answer is no and yes. No, because I think traveling by yourself helps you to love yourself more. Cheesy but, true. It forces you to open up to strangers and pay more attention to the surroundings. You realize that you’re more independent than you originally had thought. You can navigate cities and figure out maps. The day’s schedule is subject only to your opinion. But, most important of all, you learn to be alone with your thoughts. Scary? Oh, hell yea. But, completely necessary. You realize how much of what you think is complete bullshit and gradually learn to let go of it piece by piece (nice shit imagery there). On the other hand, you let your daydreams go wild which is great for someone who enjoys writing. If you can learn to be happy on your own, then the rest is golden. Alcohol also helps. I guess your biggest struggle then narrows down to eating on your own in a restaurant and resisting the urge to be glued to your phone. Alcohol also helps there. You just end up looking like this:

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Travel tip: For the train tickets, I purchased the “Anytime Day Single” to be safe because I realized that not all trains going to Glasgow accept the same kind of ticket. It was only 1 pound more than the cheapest ticket. Also, I arrived in Glasgow Central station but, when I took a late night train back to Edinburgh Waverley, I realized at the last minute that most trains were departing from the Glasgow Queen St. station. I had to run to catch it or else I had to wait another hour. There is no train connecting the 2 stations.

Team Bog

A flight from Longyearbyen to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Oslo, Oslo to Edinburgh, a train ride to Inverness, jetpacking, broomsticking, paddleboarding and an eagle ride later…

Day 1:

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I was waiting in the Inverness train station waiting area for my REI Adventures group. After hearing a bunch of American accents around me, I looked up to see 7 other people sporting REI t-shirts – one family of 5 and another family of 2. I thought to myself, “Great. I’m the lone cheese.” I was also the only one without a t-shirt since I began my travels before it arrived in the mail.

Enter: John, our tour guide and a local whose appearance reminded me of Rick Steves. At first, he seemed just like a typical nice guy but, as time went on, his calm delivery of sarcasm had us second-guessing whether or not he was being serious. He also made us laugh with his random life adages and, by the end of the trip, he had successfully incorporated “wee bit” into our vocabulary.

We then piled into a van and went about our merry way towards Ullapool, a fishing village on the shores of Loch Broom.

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We stopped at a waterfall somewhere along the way and walked through this cool forest. I know they’re not bamboo trees but I feel like I should’ve been able to find some pandas somewhere up in here.

Ullapool, Scotland

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On arrival at our first B&B, Ladysmith House, I began to realize why this REI trip seemed a bit pricier than other tour companies. The accommodations were way better than I expected and all the meals were included in the cost. For half the trip, I ended up with my own room. This is so…illogical (Spock).

We had some time to wash up and rest and, upon hearing that tonight’s dinner would be BYOB, a bunch of us headed straight to the nearby supermarket to stock up on beer, wine and scotch. The plan afterwards was to do a quick hike up a hillside, then gorge on food and alcohol at dinnertime, except that John was running late due to an incident and we ended up waiting for him at a local pub. By the time he had picked us up for the hike, I had quite the buzz going. Not sure if this attracted more or less midges. Either way, for such a tiny insect, they are the biggest assholes. I fumigated myself with Smidge That Midge, an insect repellant with an oddly cute cartoon midge displayed on the can.

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I stood here and marveled at nature’s beauty but, only for a few minutes. Midges are really no joke.

When we got here, we parked the van at an entrance that was gated to prevent the sheep from wandering off too far. But, further down along the gated boundary was a burrow underneath, with scraps of wool stuck on the fencing. It seems that a few lambies managed to escape. Lambshank Redemption? Anyone?

Day 2:

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The next morning, we stopped in Knockan Crag, a line of cliffs where geologists discovered that older layers of rock were on top of younger layers, a phenomenon which was argued to be a false discovery. It was later discovered by Benjamin Peach and John Horne that the structure of these layers was made possible by tectonic movements which shifted the older layers to the top. It’s pretty crazy that these movements happened slowly over thousands or millions of years. It sounds like my movement from my bed to the couch on a hangover recovery day.

Afterwards, we began our 6-7 mile hike up Cùl Mòr, a mountain in Inverpolly. Throughout each hike, John would show us the map and compass to teach us some basic navigation skills, explaining what the contour lines indicated and the direction we should be going. Great stuff to know. Easy to forget. (Booo.)

As we were approaching the area in the photo above, John asked, “Are you guys okay with ‘rocky bits’?” I just said “yea” but, I had no idea what “rocky bits” really meant. And then, I saw this. The photo doesn’t quite capture the steepness of this rocky cliff. Only one of us had a fear of heights (not me, phew!).

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We reached the top for a view of…nothing. The clouds had rolled in and formed a dense fog. Clouds are cool though, until they pee on you.

Day 3:

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The landscape in the Scottish Highlands is so quaint. I remembered thinking, “Wow, these look like those paintings in the museum!” which I found ironic since it should be the other way around – the paintings should look like these landscapes.

Cove

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After a brief stop at the Corrieshalloch Gorge, we headed towards Cove where we hiked an easy 1-2 hours to a cliff with a view of Loch Ewe. John decided to give us an easy day today since the next day would later prove to be hell…of an adventure.

I always had a concept of what the word “bog” was but, you never really know until you’ve hiked in Scotland. Its texture is that of an oversaturated sponge, a whole clusterfuck of them. Now that I think about it, it’s what I would imagine stomping on brains to feel like, with squishes so loud, you can almost picture the word “SQUISH!” coming out at each step in a Roy Lichtenstein manner. Eventually, I began to appreciate the bogs because it would help wipe off the mud from my hiking shoes.

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We sat here for lunch (a sandwich, granola bar, piece of fruit and usually a bag of chips and/or a chocolate bar), which was made daily by a local caterer or the B&B’s where we were staying.

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Loch Ewe, which I think is an unfortunate sounding name for this view.

After lunch, we headed back to our van, with me and Kerry (one of the guys) leading the way. We thought we knew where we were going and were so overly confident to lead the pack. We spotted the pond pictured 3 photos above and began to hike towards there only to later realize that we were approaching a completely different pond. We looked back at the rest of the group who was then heading more to the left of us and we started heading the same way in slight shame. And, that is why we paid someone to be the guide.

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Our new home base for the next 2 nights was Loch Maree Hotel, in a remote area with satellite wifi. Again, I lucked out with my own room. Score!

Day 4:

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And, so beginneth the helleth of an adventureth. I specialize in Shakespearian language.

We parked our van in mud and began our hike up Beinn Eighe in relatively pleasant weather. But, then, it started to rain. And then, it really rained. Then it lightened up. Then it downpoured. Then it seemed like it stopped but, I realized that the previous heavy raindrops numbed my senses to the drizzle. Then, guess what?? It rained some more. A whole 8 hours. In the 9 hour total hike.

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I wish I could convey the steepness and the harshness of the weather with this photo but, there were moments during the climb where the wind became so strong, I thought I would be blown off the ridge into oblivion. At this point, my waterproof gear stopped serving its purpose and my socks created its own boggy ecosystem inside my hiking shoes.

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We began our descent with something called “scree running.” Since the ground is completely made of loose rocks, there is really no way to gingerly make your way down the mountain. So, basically, all you need to do is go ape shit running on your heels down the steep slope. The faster you go, the less tiring and the less chances for your feet to get buried, causing you to trip, slip and 2 smoking barrels. Ape noises: optional. Thighs of steel: no doubt.

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We reached a loch within the valley with random plane debris lying around. In March 1951, a Lancaster had met with horrible weather conditions, causing it to crash into the summit. A rescue team, however, wasn’t able to reach the crash site until about 2-3 weeks later due to the harsh winter weather.

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A lot of the wreckage was left as is.

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Then, God saw that we were on lower, flatter grounds and nearing the end of our 9 hour hike, and thought, “Now’s a good time for some sun.” Gee, thanks.

For some reason, the hike back down seemed way longer than the way up. In an attempt to motivate us and to keep the group morale up, John would periodically say, “Just a wee bit more. A weeee bit.” At some point, one of us yelled out, “Just what does ‘wee bit’ really mean, huh?!?” And, in my head, I was thinking “Fucking ‘wee bit,’ fucking shit ‘wee bit.'” and almost had a reaction equivalent to the one towards Ross’ “PIVOT!”

We then found a massive slab of dry rock to take a break on. I wisely took that time to take off my shoes and wring the water out of my socks. The amount of water stored in there could’ve solved California’s drought problem.

Day 5:

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This Highland cow clearly became annoyed that we prompted him to turn his head to check us out. It turned its head back the moment it knew we were about to capture a perfect photo, and I could’ve sworn it perked up its ass a little higher at us. I don’t blame him.

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We hiked through more bogs to reach Fairy Lochs, a place where an American WWII bomber crashed on its way back home to the states back in 1945. The original flight plan involved a route that flew over Iceland but, a detour was taken over Scotland for unknown reasons.

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The crash site is now classified as a war grave and the wreckage still remains in memoriam of the lives lost.

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Our last stop of the day was the Eilean Donan Castle before heading to the Isle of Skye. Home for our last 3 nights: Sconser Lodge Hotel.

Day 6:

Isle of Skye

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Ominous clouds? Rain? Yea, let’s take a hike up the Black Cuillin mountain range. For 5 hours.

Halfway up, the conditions worsened and John decided it wasn’t safe anymore to climb to the very top. A very wise decision. All I could picture at that point was the scene in Forrest Gump when he’s in Vietnam and describing all the different kinds of rain. And, then, I kept hearing “Lt. Dan, ice cream” and the whole menu of Bubba Gump shrimp in my head.

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Don’t let this photo deceive you. The sun came out as we were heading down but, when we looked back up at the peak, it still looked treacherous and the rain was still pouring down.

Now with free time after the hike, we decided to make a pitstop at the Talisker distillery. It was a long wait until the next tour so John convinced them to give us free samples of their scotch before leaving. I imagined that a heavily Band-Aided person got too close to the crater of an active volcano (as if there are any nearby), ran to the distillery to call for help and had his melting smoked Band-Aids leak into the vats unbeknownst to the distillery workers. This concoction was then bottled and served in mini shotglasses to those of us skipping the distillery tour. Or, I could’ve just easily said that it tasted like smoked Band-Aids. We all split a Kit Kat bar to mask the aftertaste.

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The rooms at the Neist Point Lighthouse, now under private ownership, can be rented out. If you look through the windows, however, they look abandoned and just damn creepy. You also need to bring your own food and supplies, although I’d imagine that after you realized you used the last square of toilet paper, the thought of walking a good 20-30 minutes up a steep hill just to get to your car will have you MacGyvering some nearby grass and leaves.

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Creag an Fheilidh, or Kilt Rock since the patterns in the rock formations resemble the folds of a kilt. You can’t get anymore Scottish than that. Well, maybe a scotch waterfall…

Day 7:

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Yet another cloudy day here in Scotland, and we hiked at Cuith-Raing (or Quiraing), a landslip on the northernmost summit of the Trotternish, to reach The Table, a plateau with views of the surrounding Cuillin range and beyond. One part was so steep, I felt like I was face-to-face with the ground above me and my calves were on serious FIYAH. I was taking a break to cool my calves on my way up when a dog zoomed past me with ease and his tongue dangling out in sheer happiness. I felt sheer envy.

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There was a glimmer of hope of having some kind of view…

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Oh, nope! Nevermind! Carry on.

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We did, however, see this beauty later in the day at the Old Man of Storr. Who is this “old man” on this rocky hill of Storr?

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It’s this rock. That’s his face. Either you need some magic mushrooms to make out the face or, you need to start applying some anti-aging serum NOW to avoid looking like this in the future.

Portree

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With all the hiking behind us, we stopped in Portree to get our tourist on (aka buy souvenirs and milk the wifi (ha, pun) over a flat white in a cafe). As the largest town in Skye, Portree is really cute and quaint, and definitely deserves a meander around.

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Team Bog: Edith and her son Kerry behind her (family #1); Ruth, Craig, Andy, Emily and Chris (family #2); me, as the Korean foreign exchange student; John, our guide.

I never really feel “old” but, when I found out that not only were these kids born in the 90s, they were nearly a decade younger than me. Say what now.

Day 8:

Inverness

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On our drive back to Inverness, we stopped by Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness, both of which were underwhelming. Inverness, however, looked majestic in the sunlight.

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Things to do in Inverness: St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, Victorian Market, River Ness walk

June 23 – 30, 2015: Scotland Highlands & Islands Hiking

Arctic finale

Longyearbyen, Svalbard (Norway)

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“So, what are you doing next?” “I’m staying in Longyearbyen for 3 nights,” I replied. “What?! Why? There’s nothing to do here!”

He was wrong. There were 3 days’ worth of stuff to do, including catching up on social media like a sad individual. There was no wifi for the past week on the ship unless you paid for it but, even then, it was via satellite and we were so far off the grid most days, we couldn’t even get a signal. It was actually liberating in some ways but, still. Wifi.

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Since Norway is expensive, I wanted to book 3 nights at the cheapest accommodation but, most places had been booked up and I ended up in a nice hotel the first night and a hostel the next 2 nights. Sylvia and Roy were staying the night so, we agreed to meet for lunch at Kroa, a restaurant recommended by the ship’s crew. Everything was delicious there – the burgers, the smoked salmon sandwich and the gigantic soups.

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So, in an attempt to lose some ship weight and to finally do some really active stuff, I booked a mountain biking trip with FatBike Spitsbergen to ride along the coast during low tide. It was only me and the tour guide which always feels a bit awkward no matter how nice the guide is. The overall trip was fun but, there were times when we would ride over huge rocks (larger than the ones shown in the photo) and I was worried about my imminent death. I fell maybe 2 or 3 times and was sporting a nice black and blue on my knee but, thank you Diana Ross, I survived! One gross thing though was that the tour guide would ride in front of me and when the winds rendered our noses runny, the guide would blow his nose into the air by blocking one nostril and letting things go from the other. Well, after being spritzed in the face and trying not to freak out and swerve off the road, I quickly learned to ride slightly to the side of him. Vigorous face washing most definitely occurred that night.

Pyramiden

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I went to Pyramiden (via boat cruise) the next day which is an old abandoned Russian mining town. The eeriness was definitely magnified by the fact that everything was left as is – cards in the Dewey decimal box, dishes on tables, instruments leaning against the walls. It felt almost like a movie set for a horror film. (Note: Pyramiden is only accessible during the summer months when the surrounding waters have no sea ice.)

Our guide for the day was Sasha, an awesome Russian guy in full Soviet garb and one of Pyramiden’s very few residents. He lives and breathes Pyramiden and his passion clearly showed as he talked about the town’s history.

We passed by the only functioning hotel, with one first floor window boarded up with red wood. Apparently, a polar bear tried to break into the hotel on more than one occasion through this one window. Other than those few times, polar bears are usually a rare scene.

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The bust of Lenin, situated in front of the Cultural Palace (the town’s recreation center), looking over the ghost town.

Coal mining in Pyramiden wasn’t profitable but, it remains a bit of a mystery that this town was shut down while the nearby Barentsburg (another coal mining town) was left operational.

(back to…) Longyearbyen

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I woke up the next morning in the more basic lodging, Coal Miners’ Cabins. Part of the building was still being renovated, and the door that had been installed for my room was slightly too big for the doorframe. I was already a little annoyed that this accommodation was a 30 min walk from the center of town and basically in the middle of nowhere. I became even more frustrated when I literally had to run my body weight into the door to open and shut the door. My frustration met its limit when I got ready this morning and attempted to get breakfast before being picked up for a snowmobile trip an hour later.

As I yanked on the door knob with full body weight force, the entire knob detached from its socket, leaving the door completely un-budged. I momentarily stared at the door knob in my hand with some disbelief before declaring, “shit.” I quickly reattached the knob to the door but, with each subsequent yank, it became detached yet again. A few tries later, the “shit” declaration escalated to full-on “fuck” status. I then tried to look up a phone number using the wifi but, no contact information was listed for whatever reason. I went back to booking.com and tried emailing the lodging through its system, and after vigorous refreshing and seeing no response, I wiped the sweat off my forehead and started to reattach the knob at different angles to prevent it from falling back out.

A good 30-40 minutes later, I successfully yanked the door open. Despite the overall frustration, I had a brief proud moment when all the world seemed good and pure. That quickly dissipated.

Oh yea, and I finally got a response later that day. From a different lodging:

“I’m sorry to hear that you’re locked in! However, I think you have contacted the wrong accommodation as we do not have that room number. If you’d like, you can send us their phone number and we can call for you!”

I fail at life in many ways and this is just one example.

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On the positive side, I made it out in time to be picked up for my 4 hr summer snowmobiling trip with Better Moments AS. After picking up all the passengers, our guide drove us to their office where we were given snow boots, helmets and goggles to use. Sandwiches were also provided for lunch. Upon seeing the sandwiches, one Asian guy (I believe he’s a Chinese guy currently living in Japan) took his deluxe bowl of instant noodles out of his backpack so that he didn’t have to carry it. I had to laugh.

We were then driven to the start of our hike to the snowmobiles. The hike was great, although hiking through snow, especially slushy snow, can be a pain in the ass sometimes. The guide led us to a roaring river which was a stream just days before. In a moment of improvisation, she threw large rocks into the river to create a path. Lucky for her, there was a strong guy in our group of mostly females who lent his arm as we hopped across the river. More than an hour later, we finally made it to the snowmobiles!

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Snowmobiling is so much fun. Especially when you have very little obstacles in the way (yea, I don’t drive cars). My only complaint about the trip is that we probably only snowmobiled for 30-40 minutes. The trip probably consisted of about 2.5 hours total hiking, 30-40 min snowmobiling, 30 min eating lunch, and another 30 min or so looking for fossils.

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Fossils of plants past. Pretty damn cool, no?

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Last activity of my stay – dogsledding on wheels! The aforementioned Asian guy and I were the only ones booked for this at the specific time. We were given jumpsuits to wear to protect our clothes from the dirt and then helped out with strapping in the dogs to the sled. I had a legit fear of losing a dog. Even with a firm grip on their collars, the dogs had enough energy to almost knock me over several times. One dog jumped high enough to knock me in the eye with his snout. In a moment of pessimism, I automatically assumed that I had caught pink eye. Hey, if you saw where the dogs put their faces, you would have similar assumptions!

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After a briefing on how to operate the sled, we were on the road, the Asian guy and I taking turns driving and riding the sled. Every so often, we would stop to give the dogs some water. Riding the sled was incredible fun. Driving it was a bit tiring because the brake handles were way too large for my small hands to operate.

At the end, the guide drove us into town. The Asian guy, to save some money, checked out of his hotel a night earlier and planned on staying overnight in some 24 hour (or late closing) bar, then wheeling his luggage 40 min to the airport in the wee hours of the morning to catch the 4:40am flight (the same flight as mine). There was a time in my life when I probably would’ve done the same. That time had long gone.

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(Other things to see: Svalbard Museum; Svalbard Church)

Realm of the Polar Bear

Around 30 of the 130 people from the Norwegian Fjords trip stayed for the next trip which involved semi-circling around Svalbard in search of wildlife, particularly the polar bear. I had already read reviews that seeing a polar bear wasn’t guaranteed. They are wild animals after all. So, I came with no expectations and would’ve left happy with just seeing the bergy bits. Anyone who complains/ed should realize that the human impact on our planet is accelerating the melting of sea ice and reducing the polar bears’ hunting territory. So, quit your whining.

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Svalbard (Norway)

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Sylvia and I headed back to the ship, this time with her husband Roy joining the voyage. You know that feeling you had when you were a senior in high school and you felt like you owned the place? Well, I had exactly that feeling on the ship. The crew knew who I was and I knew how the ship was run. I even eyed the new people with complete judgment. YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US! Oh wait, you can. Sorry, momentary Mean Girls lapse.

I tried keeping an open mind with the 90 or so new passengers. But, towards the end of this trip, I compared notes with the other seasoned passengers and we all agreed that the new people weren’t as fun. Again, there were only 5 of us in the 20-35 age bracket and although they were nice, that’s all they were – nice. I tried cracking some jokes and I only got a laugh out of 2 of them and subsequent silence. No real conversation to follow. I gave myself a quota to try once per day to become friends with them. After each failed attempt, I just retreated back to the “high school seniors” because, yea, we owned the place. Duh.

Gravnesodden, Magdalenefjord

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Towards the end of the Norwegian Fjords trip, Rachel tried to get the crew to agree to a polar plunge for me, Hayden and Miles. We couldn’t get approval for one reason or another but, the opportunity came a few days later, here, off an island that now houses the burial grounds for various whalers. During one of the briefings, only I and a couple others rose our hands when asked who wanted to take the plunge. By the time of the actual plunge, the total increased to around 15 people.

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The second I stripped off my clothes, my toes were already ice cubes. Yea, I suppose it’s pretty damn cold in the Arctic. The 15 of us were supposed to dunk in together but, one of the Austrians became impatient, stripped to his barenaked skin and walked casually in and out of the water by himself. Sure enough, he freed Willy, although the polar plunge is said to be “the neutralizer”…

Sylvia, Alan and I ran in together. Sylvia only went in to her ankles. I ran in until I was almost waist deep and dunked myself in to my shoulders. I must say, the water wasn’t as cold as expected. I still ran back out screaming obscenities though. Polar plunge – COMPLETE!

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Sylvia had the idea of spelling out “G Expedition” on our stomachs for a group photo. Since we didn’t all go in together, we were missing some letters and even misspelled a bit. You can’t even see the letter on mine.

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I was nice and toasty in my bed when the announcement came on of a blue whale sighting. It was 6:30am. I almost didn’t get up but, the smarter side of me kicked my ass out of bed and got me dressed and running to the bow. Wow, A BLUE WHALE! It’s apparently rare to spot one and we actually had a few swimming about and one right next to the ship.

At some point, we also reached 80 degrees north which is the closest to the North Pole I’ll ever get. All that kept me from getting closer was massive acreage of ice. SO COOL.

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#assbag

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Most people went to bed shortly after dinner, leaving me, Sylvia and Roy standing at the bar late at night with the crew, specifically Scobie, Guy and Julia. Around 1:30 or 2am, Sylvia and I were about to retreat to bed when the announcement came on of a polar bear sighting. Guess who were one of the first ones at the bow? That’s right. US. It pays to drink heavily at night. I think.

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Ship shadow selfie. Alliteration – ACHIEVED!

Woodfjorden

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We had another polar bear sighting the next day. The ship garaged itself onto the fast ice (the ship basically runs into the fast ice until it gets wedged in to a full stop without anchoring) and we just stood there waiting for the polar bear to come closer. It never did. Can you spot the cute little speck?

We were given the challenge of determining whether the polar bear was a male or female, Paul A. Bear or Paula Bear. Earlier on, a presentation was given on the main differences between the two but, the only one I can remember is that the females have dirtier butts due to the way they urinate. With enough squinting through binoculars, it was determined that the bear was a girl. Just so you know, this difference does not apply to humans.

Lilliehöökbreen, Krossfjord

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We took a zodiac ride around one of the most massive glaciers I’ve ever seen. It was actually a group of glaciers lined up side by side in an expansive area. It was gorgeous.

On one of the nights, the crew put on a documentary film called Chasing Ice in which the photographer James Balog and his team set out to measure the impact climate change had on glaciers. They set up time-lapse cameras near various glaciers in different countries and were able to document the accelerating pace at which the glaciers were disappearing. Pretty alarming stuff.

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Biiiiiiiirds.

Ny-London

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This was an old marble mining site run by an English company led by Ernest Mansfield. Upon the discovering of marble here, a small community was built to prepare for its mass production. However, once these slabs of marble reached other countries, the warmer temperatures resulted in the crumbling of the material. The marble’s composition had mainly been permafrost. It was speculated that Mansfield knew of this beforehand but failed to stop production, leading some to label him as a swindler.

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The site was then dismantled and abandoned.

Nearby, there was a pair of red throated divers resting by a lake but, with our arrival, they became startled and flew away, occasionally coming back to circle around us before flying away again. This apparently disappointed a lot of the people on the ship.

Staff: “So, how did you like the area?”
Me: “It’s really nice! Apparently, we scared away the birds but, the area itself is beautiful.”
Staff: “Thank goodness, you’re normal! Everyone else was so disappointed about the birds, that’s all they were mumbling about. I was like, ‘what about everything else here?!'”

Do you smell what The Rock is cookin’? Yes, yes you do. A life metaphor! Stop concentrating on the small inconveniences and look at the beauty in the larger landscape of life!

Afterwards, we spotted a reindeer. One of the things we learned in one of the ship presentations was how to not startle an animal. Whether you just want to observe wildlife or take photos, never stare or point directly at them. Instead, act as if you’re distracted by something else. One method was the “dropped wallet” method. Pretend you dropped your wallet somewhere and are searching the ground for it, thereby tricking the animal into thinking you’re minding your own business.

So, upon spotting this reindeer, I accidentally said, “Look! Cool!” before slapping my hand over my mouth and mouthing “Sorry!” to everyone else. Immediately, a line of us began executing the dropped wallet method and the reindeer, after briefly looking at us, went back to grazing on lichen. We were able to get really close to it which was pretty damn cool. Crisis averted.

Prins Karls Forland

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On this trip, we had another Arctic BBQ and White Nights event which lost its novelty the second time around, although the winning costume was funnier this time – a woman wearing a white flat sheet over her entire body, also known as dense fog. Instead of Arctic Bingo, though, we played a round of Arctic Bluff through which 3 crew members (Scobie, Wayne and Sarah) each gave their own definition for certain phrases used in the field. The passengers were split up into several groups and each group had to guess which person was telling the truth. I can honestly say that each crew member can successfully bullshit their way through life with the way they delivered their bluffs.

Later that night, Sylvia and I were at the bar per usual and after I had pointed out a moth that was flying around, Kevin (one of the crew) claimed that it was an Arctic moth, which takes about 14 years to develop from a caterpillar. After the Arctic Bluff, there was no way that we were going to believe him. We weren’t that dumb. Right? Well, after calling out what seemed like his bluff, he proceeded to go downstairs to the library and find an excerpt on the lifecycle of an Arctic moth which he gladly brought up to the bar to read to us. Okay, so, it actually exists. Big whoop 😛

Towards the end of the trip, we made our way back to Prins Karls Forland to see the walruses back in action. This time, we were able to get even closer and also saw a few hanging out in the water, gyrating back and forth with the waves and making some serious grunting and farting noises. I still envy their lives.