Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Economy getting you down?

Economy, Economy, Economy. Did anyone know that we are in the midst of an economic meltdown? It’s official the economy has just taken over top conversation spot over weather and gas prices. In hard times such as these spending must be limited to essential items only. So here is my guide to savings that will surely get you through this historic economic meltdown.

Start using empty bread bags and a large elastics for birth control. Condoms are expensive and if the bread bag happens to be permeable then a kid will only stimulate economic growth.

Buy a one hitter or a pipe. Joints are hands down the most expensive and inefficient way to get stoned. With a pipe you can afford to keep spending the same amount of your disposable income on pot and stretch it out longer.

Use your neighbor’s power. Just before the 1st big snowfall run an extension chord from a low lying external outlet on your neighbors house. Let the snow cover the power grab, turn the furnace down and use several inefficient space heaters. If you don’t have space heaters go to Wal-Mart and buy them. Come spring, bring them back and say you aren’t satisfied, full refund.

Forget expensive booze; use Lysol. Take a glass and give a quick pssssht with the pressurized goodness, coating the interior. Fill the glass with water and enjoy. One can of antibacterial Lysol will sustain a large party all night. If you’re not that hardcore a quick huff from a gas can will also aid you in achieving a pleasant buzz.

With substance abuse, sex, and warm shelter taken care of, if you can siphon gasoline then the economy should be the least of your worries.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"If it aint broken don't fix it"

Apples Apples Apples Apples. I do not care if I ever see another apple in my life. Who would have thought that apples would have occupied the majority of our time as backpackers? I think I need one of those “no fear” shirts – eat sleep pick apples.

The next chapter of Pacific wandering has been written for you from the rustic hills of Red wood valley. A place that is twenty years behind the progressive world; where people still burn garbage, recycling doesn’t exist, tractors are more common to see on the road then cars, working class men wear blundstones and short shorts, destruction derbies occur nightly and if you can pick 10 bins of apples in a day you’re a national celebrity. This passage highlights life as prized apple pickers and includes summaries of our latest tramps.

Apple picking is a battle against time, the tree and will. The concept of apple picking is similar to tree planting. Anyone can pick or plant at leisure but when taken seriously a simple job can become as technical as a match of tennis. You have to pace yourself, plan movements efficiently and maintain a rhythm while picking only the highest quality fruit. Every hour QC personal inspect your bins and if 5% of your fruit is either bruised or does not conform to the grade parameters of size and color….no money for you. When in prime picking conditions it’s possible to pick 8 to 9 bins in 9 hours. A bin consists of a 4’x4’x3’ wooden crate that holds roughly 3250 apples so on a good day our hands pick roughly 29,250 apples. This is the highest paying orchard in the region therefore money is good but not nearly as good as Paul McCartney’s former wife Linda who earned 700 pounds per hour of marriage.

You may be wondering how the apples get from the tree into the bin? This is done by means of a bag that hangs from our shoulders in the front of our body. When the bag is filled with apples (roughly 250) it weighs up to 50lbs. Many times throughout the day we catch ourselves stretching for a single apple while standing 10ft high on a ladder with a full bag wondering……is this apple really worth it? Neither of us has fallen but there have been many other casualties among the picking community.

The picking community consists of illegal immigrants (classifying both plane and boat jumpers), refugees, locals and backpackers. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph there are celebrity pickers among the community. Fortunately Nick has been blessed with the presence of two of them this season due to his high pay rates and flat orchard. I am surprised that these dark horses are not endorsed with sponsored picking bags and clothing because they certainly work harder than any other person I’ve seen.

Marquee picker number 1 named Lao. He is in his early 40’s and has been picking apples since his plane jump the late 80’s. He still has not managed to learn English but he has changed the world of apple picking. Apples are generally picked with both hands but Lao only picks with one….which is something Chuck Norris would do. His famous one handed picking method - which has now been adopted by many - allows him to hover from tree to tree, picking apples at mind-blowing speeds with low bruising rates.

Marquee picker number 2 named Ken. Ken (Age unknown) earned his celebrity status for his due diligence. He is always the first on the orchard and the last to leave. He does not leave until he has the high bin output of the day which is usually 10. Ken has also adopted the one arm picking method and this method coupled with due diligence makes him the most famous picker in the region.

Simon and I each picked tens bins on the first day of our last week – stimulating a buzz within the community - but guess what……Ken picked 11.

Being a tree scientist I feel much guilt about my daily occupation. The tree stands there defenseless while I rape and pillage it, disrespecting its purpose of existence while I make money off the fruits that took a year of continuous work to produce. Hopefully my karma will not be affected.

Our living conditions have improved immensely from the previous working stint. Rather than being shacked up in the no door, bug infested, chemical ridden old tomato packing barn, Nick gave us the keys to the apartment next door - in appreciation of our return. The move has made leisure life much more comfortable and enjoyable. We now have different rooms for sleeping, eating and TV watching but we still have to walk outside to the kitchen and washroom. It will be a special day when I can cook a meal, watch TV, use the washroom and not have to walk outside. Shane is no longer our flat mate. He has solved problems with his Misses and has moved back to her van, opening up one of the rooms to a few orchard bunnies to keep us on our toes. Like all other backpackers in NZ they were germens. Simon has such fluent English that when we introduced ourselves to the girls we said were all from Canada. Now whenever “googanheiming” paralleled an English conversation, Simon could report to us as to what they were gossiping about. Pretty sly eh? The plan backfired a few days after initiation when they were having a conversation with Nick where he implied that things must be going well because Simon is a Germen. Their resentment soon dissipated due to the pheromone emissions of us hard working boys.

Within three weeks (working 6 days a week) the red apples had all been picked and there was a 6 day break to allow the green varieties to mature. It was during this break that we decided to tackle the infamous Able Tasman track around the north eastern peninsula of the south Island. The Able Tasman is the most popular tramp in NZ. Normally we try to avoid the more poplar tramps because they are less challenging, more developed and of course full of people. Our bodies were exhausted from the backbreaking labor so an easier tramp was more realistic and also the Able Tasman is said to have one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The track is classified as an easy 5 day 51km trek but we minimized it to a 3 day tramp. Our experience is beginning to show as it only took a few hours (during the morning of the tramp) to prepare our packs. Since our route was altered to three days and tides had to be taken into consideration it made for a more fluent hike to begin the tramp at the ending point and work our way back to the beginning. It was a wonderful boat ride in the water taxi to our starting point. It was more of a tour than a shuttle. The driver explained the history of the national park and took us to black seal and indigenous bird breeding grounds. Upon first impression the idea of a water taxi was great but as the guide progressed, fellow passengers were being dropped off and picked up from at all the popular points of the track to picnic, kayak, or catch rays. Now we knew for sure the track was going to be congested.

Overall the trek was quite anticlimactic. Each day we tramped along a wide, hard packed path, passing beautiful sandy beeches along the way. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous but it didn’t fluctuate much from the first five minutes of the tramp. Each morning an evening – when we had the beech to ourselves - we would swim in the luke warm turquoise waters of the pacific. It sure was a remarkable way to start and end a day of tramping. The most challenging part of the trek was our second day where we covered 26km – our furthest distance in one day. It’s not something to be too proud of considering tiny Asian woman were walking the same track equipped with thong sandals carrying there supplies in save-easy bags. I really didn’t want to mention this…….but there were even flush toilets.

In between hikes, during the Easter holiday picking break Stephen and I stumbled across a destruction derby track during an attempt to find a short cut into town. The sign read ‘race tonight at 7pm’. It was ten past and without hesitation we entered the gates. Just with our luck it was the south island championships and the place was packed. The air smelt of deep fryers and high octane full. Stephen and I realized after the first couple races that we were not there to watch the cars spin around the track, smashing into one another; we were there to people watch. This was much more entertaining. Toddlers were dressed in beer shirts carrying soft sided coolers packed with their parents piss. Teenage daughters were strutting around showing maximum cleavage and ass cheekage, bearing printed words on their shirts reading “place hands here”. Truthfully I thought places like this only existed in the outskirts of Victoria County. It was well worth the $20 dollars.

The next day we were pondering as to what we could do over the remainder of the Easter holiday. Spontaneously we decided that it would be suiting to climb the highest peak in the region. After an afternoon of research at a local information centre, we had our sites set on climbing Mt Arthur (1800m) in the morning. Coincidentally this was a mountain that I gazed at many times while on pursuit to the Sunday market with Steve. The Mt Arthur track was a two day 35km trek including two climbs above 1500m - more of our cup of tea.

Up with the sun, we packed our packs and hit the road. Not a soul was on the trial. The beginning moments of the trek lead us along a hard packed track of leaves and various decomposing matter with beech trees on either side glistening in the wind. The sights and smells brought me back to forests of New Brunswick. After all it was Easter Sunday and the familiar setting catalyzed a Stewart Mclean narration in my head.

It was a Sunday morning……..the air was cool and smelt of fall. It was Easter and the revelations brought me back to a familiar place in an unfamiliar setting. This moment reminded me of being a boy, walking though Northern New Brunswick forests bearing my grandfathers gun, hutting partridge with my father. It didn’t matter if we got a bird because mother would have a dinner of turkey, roasted vegetables and her famous blueberry crumble prepared for us when we got home. Oh I can taste the crumble now…………
After hours of steady ascends we rose above the bush line where the vegetation was like nothing I have seen. I had read in the information centre that during the ice ages much of the North West South Island escaped the severe climate which destroyed plant life elsewhere. And in many places especially on warmer north-facing slopes, plants took refuge from snow and ice and survived. Therefore there are many plants and grasses found in this area that are not found in any other places in New Zealand or around the world.

We spent the evening in a hut above the bush line. I love being in high altitudes because the temperature is cool, water boils quicker and sunrises and sunsets are always more nostalgic. For the first time we brought the Settlers of Catan board game with us and I was crowned with the first high altitude victory. Around dusk a few younger guys rolled in with strong Canadian accents and believe it or not they were from NB. Both of them attended UNB and had mutual friends with Stephen. My god it is a small world.

The tramp the following day was remarkable. As always the sun was shining and the terrain was like a camels’ back. Six hours from hut departure we reached the peak of Mt Arthur. The orchards of Red wood appeared like the contrasted squares of a checker board. It was as though I climbed a mountain 10 times the size of Chamcook because we could view the stomping grounds of our NZ home.

Currently we are finishing the last few days of picking before we continue traveling the south island. It has taken many apples to get to the most anticipated point in our travels thus far. I must say I have seen so many consecutive sun rises and sunsets than at this point in my life. Last night we conducted a formal meeting and decided on our final itinerary. We have four demanding multi-day tramps in all the hot spots of the south island, leaving us two days to sell our car and get organized before our flight to Saint John on May 2nd.


Yesterday evening we finished the first hike of our voyage south in Mt. Aspiring national park. It was a very demanding 3 day tramp that had some of the best alpine views we have seen. When at high elevations (around 1800m) glaciers were around every corner and avalanches on neighboring peaks would send bone chilling vibrations every ten minutes. A detailed log of the hike should be posted soon. Tomorrow we are going to begin a two day tramp up a sister peak of Mt Cook (the highest peak in the south). Today is a day of rest and communication in the small town of Wanaka. Stephen and I are cooking a big stew and discussing potential outcomes of the NHL playoffs.

Thank you for reading


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Arthur's Pass

Nights turn into days and days turn into glorious nights filled with zero responsibility, hard work, excellent company, and great music as our journey in New Zealand continues.

For this installment of Pacific Wandering I will briefly highlight the days after returning from the Australian Open. Rock and Roll.

New Registration, Insurance, front right tire, oil change and our pale green 1990 Nissan Sentra “Midnight Special” was purring like a kitten. She was dog gone ready to take us Pacific Wandering through the central south island of New Zealand. I tell you one thing, we never shag the foot feed or lay rubber with her. When you rely on an 18 year old piece of shit it, by gum it gets babied. We took a few days in Christchurch to complete the tasks mentioned above, get caught up on sleep and plan a multi day tramp. The highlight from our brief stay in the city was maybe our enthusiastic day which included a seven hour afternoon nap, a foot long at Subway and then promptly back to bed. A day which to me was a major throw back to first and second year university life. After browsing through our trusty “Tramping in New Zealand” guide Pat, Simon, and I came to an agreement on a 3 night, 4 day, advanced track in Arthur’s Pass National Park. Our sprits were high. We had five days until we started working on a vineyard so no better way to spend time than pounding a trail. The trail was our first ‘demanding’ track which required a significant amount of orienteering and serious river fording action.

About a two hour drive North West of Christchurch or EzekielSynagogue as I like to call it was Arthur’s Pass National Park. We stayed in a great hostel for the night to pack our backpacks and get some rest. The trail began as we headed upstream in inclement weather along a 200 meter wide river basin. Mostly baron rocks but water flowed in multiple channels which we seemed to be crossing every half an hour. We had already succumbed the fact we were going to be walking with wet feet, believe it or not, it felt OK. The day was relatively short and the scenery didn’t change much as we followed the river bed for six hours in a deep ravine. Snow capped mountain ranges loomed on either side of us as rain periodically poured from the impressive low lying clouds stewing atop the peaks of the Southern Alps. We arrived at a back country hut where a few people we already settled in. The nostalgic smell of gas cookers mixed in the air as we happily removed our waterlogged boots amidst an unpleasant swarm of hungry sand flies chewing our legs. The usual drill commenced, food, books, light conversation, and sleep dictated by the sun.

We woke the next morning to find everyone else but us and Kasparov already on the trail. Kasparov is a fictional name we gave to our Czech-Republic acquaintance that drove us to the track. He was a very bitter, solitary man, with negativity most appropriately describing his lexicon. The sun was shining as we began the day with semi dry feet thanks to the wood stove in the hut. This was the day we would cross the tropical Harman Pass. We knew it was going to be demanding because it allowed 7-9 hours with a small 500m ascend and a 711m descend over only 7 kms. Semi dry feet lasted a meager twenty minutes as we had to ford a fast moving water right away. Then we began boulder hopping up the White river. It was exhilarating terrain for several hours as we ascended toward Harman pass via the river. Many waterfalls spewed over the steep banks creating intense wind tunnels and refreshing mist baths. The track required a significant amount of athleticism and quick decision making as we jumped from rock to rock successfully climbing in and around the river. As we reached the tropical pass it had surprisingly began to rain. The terrain changed momentarily and we spotted the first trail marker after a day and a half of tramping. Sweet. On another note, this was the point where we lost Kasparov, never to be seen again. Cloudly, spitting skies gave us little to admire while making the pass so we routinely began the descend on very similar terrain. After six hours of jumping, ass sliding, and stagger stepping my legs were jelly and I was hoping the hut would come soon. We reached the point where the river took on a normal gradient and I thought the hard shit was over. It was then we entered a trail cut out of the side of the bank. It smelled of pungent decomposition, there were vines everywhere and the ups and downs were killer. I shut my mind off and simply put one foot in front of the other until we reached our hut ninety minutes later. Our reward for the roughest day of tramping yet were natural hot springs that lines the edge of the White river. After a carbohydrate enriched meal we went down searching for the springs. It was as easy as following your nose toward the smell of sulfur. We found one which was literally inches from the river. It was a pool of clear, stinky water that intermittently bubbled from below. The water was scalding hot so we reverted to skills learned as young boys on the beach and diverted a small trench of water from the river to lower the temperate and raise the water level. Perfect. As I lay in hot, steaming water inches from a hypothermic river rapidly rushing by me in a deep ravine of lush forest surrounded by mountains, I was having a moment. One of those precious moments that will never escape a healthy mind. Something that you will look back on and smile inside knowing that there are places on our earth with natural beauty that don’t get justice from a picture. Places that need to be explored and embraced if for just a moment in time. Moments that define you. We waited for Kasparov but when darkness fell we assumed he must have changed his intent to our hut. We hope he did because we never saw him again. The night sleep or lack there of was partially brought on by mice running all night. Our new tramping mate, Ian Brodie from Glasgow, Scotland initiated a midnight rafter food hanging mission. Pat lay in bed and muttered “If they can get to my food through my bag they deserve it” and he rolled over ignoring the preventative measures.

Rain, Rain, Rain. Early to rise Simon paced in the hut wanting to hit the trail. Pat and I happily lay in bed. I lay there converting time then realizing that my beloved New York Giants were playing in the Super Bowl. I felt a little disconnected but then smiled thinking about a football Sunday in my basement on Pine street in St. Stephen.

Nev, Pat, Dave McCormick and I sank American Hickweiser after Hickweiser watching a game in High Def. My vindictive girlfriend, disgusted at us as we became comfortably sedated via beer, wings, and football stormed out of the house. The next afternoon after a rough Monday at work I remember coming home and the house was in the same condition as I left it. Pizza getting rigor mortis on the stove, cats gnawing on festering chicken wing bones in and around the couches. There was my unemployed girlfriend taking pictures for some sort of demented collateral and screaming up a storm. That is why I smiled in my bed, in New Zealand. A free man.

The relentless nature of the rain made it dangerous to tramp not to mention the river levels would be significantly rising making fording that much more difficult and dangerous. The skies somewhat let up at around ten so we hit the trail. No climbing today, just a lot of river crossings and flat walking beside the Taipo river. Day three highlight came from an old school cable car which we needed to cross the river. A hand crank brought the aluminum box to our side of the river. You then sat inside the box and secured by a large braided cable you fired across the river propelled by gravity. The final meters of the passage were hand cranked. It was awesome! The sun started shining in the last hour of the short five hours fifteen kilometer walk which refueled my body and mind after a surprising taxing day on the trail. We ran into a three hunters which was a downer, but when they told me it took an hour drive to get there from the main road it made me feel better. The sun prematurely set over the western mountain ranges as we experienced dusk like conditions for a few relaxing hours. Our healthy appetites were calmed by some enriched white flour and salt. Pat read us some fluffy article in a tabloid magazine left from a previous tramper. Even the secluded people of New Zealand are interested in the trials and tribulations of Hollywood. Who would have ever thought Jake and Ryan would be squabbling over Reese and the toddlers?

Day four. The profile of the day was intimidating. We were to climb from nearly sea level to 1350M and then back again in nine kilometers. I was happy as a clam because my feet were dry. Bring on the climb. We figured that we climb around 350 meters an hour or more when tramping on steep terrain. We shook hands with Ian and said our farewells before the climb as he could see the sheer size of Pat’s calves.
That put us at infinite meadows of alpine grass in 3 ½ - 4 hours of powering the trail. It was cold and breeze atop Kelly Range. The euphoria of looking out on the vast Southern Alps was well worth the days of hiking. I looked smugly down at the river we followed snake out of prehipial range. We sat down near an alpine pond admiring the green water a giddy as school boys.

“Oh man, I can’t wait to have a pizza!” Simon said.
“I can’t wait to have a shower!” Pat said.
I was speechless. Once again the visual power of the scenery gripped me in a tender silence.

We ducked into an alpine hut to sign the guest book and began the rapid descend toward civilization. Pat and Simon sped ahead as I manned the back as usual not taking the un-necessary risks as them. Or maybe I’m just slower? We go at least three times as fast on the way down so we reached the end of the tramp after about ninety minutes of side hill gauging. The satisfaction of finishing our first “Demanding” hike quickly diminished as Simon and I lay nervously in a baron parking lot looming due to the absence of Pat. An hour crept by and no Pat. A day hiker offered me a ride to town, 15kms away to see if he had already hitched into town. I took it. No Pat. If you know me, as paranoid as I am, I was still calm. He was the lead man so I got in the car and drove back to the end of the trail. There was Simon but no Pat. We rationalized the situation, and wrote a note.

Pat we have headed back toward Kelly Range. It you come to the car, stay here!

We gathered what water we had left and headed toward the trail. Then Pat sauntered from the woods. “Holy fuck boys” were his concerned words. Long story short involving Pat’s mp3 player a wrong turn and the thought we made the same mistake it was all rectified and he drove back to the National Park village.

Needless to say we had a tasty, expensive meal in the Village. We all ate entrees and the insatiable hunger we possessed made us order two large pizzas for desert. We also ran into Leigh Eagles for the second time in New Zealand. I was great to see her.

Thanks for reading and I hope signs of spring start to tantalize the New Brunswick air. We are back at the barn Apple picking. Details of this work and our time here will be detailed by Pat in the next installment of Pacific Wandering. All I can say is that money does grow on trees, in the form of apples. We did rough calculations and Pat and Simon are making the equivalent of 60 000 per year. I am making slightly less but nonetheless great cash. Best of all the hard work is honing our bodies into fine working machines.


Stephen Rex

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The land down under

Well we are finally out of the barn. It was a timely departure as summer has set in and the insects were beginning to infest our living space. There was a cyclic exchange of insects throughout the day. From the early morning to late afternoon copious amounts of horny house flies would openly show their affection for one another; sometimes three or four mounting at once. Later in the evening the house flies would mysteriously disappear and the moths and bark beetles would move in. These bark beetles are the June bugs of the southern hemisphere and they are horrific. Some trophy Juners exceeded 5’’ in length, with cephalothoraxes of an inch in diameter. They had jaws of a clam worm and when in mid flight their buzz would exceed the decibel reading of a large humming bird. Nothing is more unpleasant then being woken by five or six snapping the walls and steel ceiling.

Returning from a luxurious holiday of great food, rest and relaxation - at the Shambala - we had a week to find other work until our second term of apple thinning began. This was not a very difficult task because the Nelson region is littered with various farms that are always looking for temps. So we decided to walk next door to the neighboring vegetable and berry farm to ask for a weeks work. Sure enough he needed 3: Two to pick raspberries and one to help him prepare and package produce for the weekend markets. Luckily I ended up not picking berries. Stephen and Simon slaved for hours in the hot sun, filling punnets (500g dish) of raspberries valued at 50c/punnet. I don’t think either of them broke $80 in an 8 hour shift. On the other hand, my job entailed weighing, packaging and pricing every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable. Not only did I make a hefty hourly wage, but I got to eat fresh produce and learn about one of the most famous agriculture industries in the world through lengthy conversations with the farm owner and operator named Steve. Steve is a short wrinkly man in his early forties who has a figure and facial profile of a leprechaun. He smoked easily two packs of cigs a day and drank shit juice as though it were water, so you can only imagine the potency of his breath. He is known throughout the south island for his tomato and bean varieties.
I worked very hard for the first few days, not taking any breaks and cleaning in between tasks. My hard work was recognized with a promotion to shop keep. Now my days consisted of chatting with locals and selling to them. I memorized all the prices per kg and could easily provide solutions to consumer requests such as “do you have any scarlet runners or Dutch flats in the back?” One day after my promotion to shop keep, Steve asked me if I would like to travel with him to the weekend markets. I was moving up the corporate ladder quite quickly. Now my Saturdays and Sundays began at 430am where we would load crates into the truck and make hourly commutes to surrounding towns. Not only was working for Steve a great learning experience but I made many friends.

It was difficult motivating ourselves during the second tear of apple thinning. Afternoon temperatures were becoming unbearable and there were many distractions. We discovered a great swimming hole down the road, we rented a PS2, and the one channel that our TV picked up, broadcasted the first two tennis tournaments of the season. Even Simon who would consistently put in ten hour days was knocking off at lunch time. Mid way through the week we picked up another bunk mate named Shane. Shane is an ex-convict who has been thinning and picking apples for 18 years. He is your stereotypical jail bird, littered with tattoos and is having troubles with his Miss’. His Miss’ now refuses to drive him to work every morning and that is why he is living with us. Close your eyes and picture a blonde haired villain out of a Quentin Tarantino film. That is Shane. He has some interesting outlooks on life and woman and even though he has been behind bars for a quarter of his life, Shane grew close to us. While in Australia we receive daily text messages from him making sure were O.K.

It t’was the night before Australia and all threw the barn, kids dreaming of tennis balls while bark beetles snapped the walls. I swear it was like Christmas Eve as a young child all over again. Stephen, Simon and I were overwhelmed with the thought of attending the Australian Open.
Running off little sleep we still had to finish thinning a block of Brea-burn trees before departing to the Christchurch airport. It felt as though the trees were growing larger by the minute. Productivity was at an all time low and the block was not completed until late afternoon. After saying goodbye to Shane and our boss (Who invited us back for picking season) we hit the road around 5:00pm. Our flight did not depart until 6:15am the next morning so we took our time soaking in the views of 450km of undulant roads. Just outside of Christchurch our front right tire “cooked”. God knows why or how it didn’t but it just bubbled out and made the car jitter like a bat out of hell. Our fingers were crossed in hope that she could complete the final stretch. It felt as thought we were dragging a piece of metal for the last 10 minutes of the drive, but midnight -being the veteran that she is - brought us safely to our destination once again. The time was now 11:30pm and there was no way we could make it to a hostel so we grabbed our sleeping bags and crashed on the airport floor until boarding time.

It was a sleep deprived five hour flight with no source of entertainment, no complementary snacks and no free fluids. I thought Air Canada was bad but Jet star is worse. The sky was clear during take off and landing so Stephen and I saw breath taking views of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and eastern Australian coast line. Parched and famished we landed around 9:15am Melbourne time. During the commute to our hostel, it was a comforting feeling to see North American TV shows and brand names being advertised on passing billboards.

Upon settling in, Stephen and I called home to inform everyone of our arrival. I will never forget the excitement on both sides of the telephone line. It was at this point where mom and dad blessed Stephen and I with extra funds to purchase additional Australian open tickets, other than our five day ground pass. Mom and dad we cannot thank you enough for your support! At the end of our conversation we raced to the concession stand to pick up our ground passes and view other ticket prices. Reality finally set in. Here we were in Melbourne Park in front of Rod Laver arena deciding whether we wanted to watch semi finals or quarter finals. People must have thought we were either really immature or crazy as we were jumping around - overwhelmed with excitement - capturing the moment on video camera. The final decisions lead to holding tickets for two day sessions at Vodaphone arena and a quarter final night session at Rod Laver.

It was the first morning of the Australian Open and we were at the gates an hour before opening to beat the rush. It was one of the longer waits of my life but it was worth it. Being inside the tennis grounds was very overwhelming! There were over 20 matches to choose from and too much stuff going on to know where to begin. Finally we decided to support the only male Canadian singles participant named Frank Dancivic. He was playing against Jarko Nieminin from Finland who is ranked 21st in the world. Before the match we shook Franks hand, had a quick conversation and wished him luck. It was an exciting five set match but Jarko’s machine like consistency lead to Frank’s demise. At the end of the match Frank thanked us for the support throughout the five sets. It was at this point where we realized the intimacy of the event and the influence you have on matches taking place on outside courts. Not only did we just watch a professional tennis match, but we met our favored competitor and interacted with him throughout the match with our supporting cheers. This was like no other professional sporting event I’ve attended. For five days we watched the Best players in the world, practice and duke it out behind the scenes. We exchanged words with Andy Roddick and James Blake (to name a few) and were feet away from the stunning figures of Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters. Some of the best matches of the tournament took place on the outside courts in the qualifying rounds when an unseated youngster like Jo-Wilfred Tsonga would take out the games top seats. During our Vodaphone sessions we witnessed all the top ten men and woman (besides Federer) play their hearts out in the heat of the day and under the lights at night. The stadiums were much more comfortable to watch from; you didn’t have to worry about your seat getting stolen during a washroom break, but the intimacy and influence was minimal. It was here where you were able to see a caliber of play above the norm. How these humans were able to consistently hit the ball with extreme pace and get to a return so quickly will impress me forever.

When you couldn’t ignore your restless legs, a walk around the tennis grounds was always entertaining. Live bands would be playing, sponsors had booths full of information and activities where you could win prizes and learn about new products. The weather each day reached the high 20’s and early 30’s so the men were shirtless (us included) and beautiful woman were strutting in string bikinis. If the band and promotional activities failed to entertain you could always count on drunken aussies’ causing a disruption somewhere. The environment was so relaxed and comfortable that at times Melbourne Park was more like a community than an event.

While waiting for the tournament to progress to the quarterfinals we spent a few days exploring the city and lounging on surrounding beaches. In the city we played many roles in order to be taken seriously by sales reps at high end stores. Stephen would pretend to be the American asshole who is interested in a $100,000 Bang & Olufsen entertainment system, while Simon and I would have people trying to sell us their newest sporting equipment and clothing lines. It was great to re-sync with the consumer world.

The time had finally come and we were anxiously waiting to hear from Simon who had been anticipating the quarterfinal draw all morning. Simon raced to our room the moment the updated draw was posted. He yelled “Good ol Federer vs. Blake”. We laughed as that was the best possible outcome that could have happened and also at the fact that Sy is absorbing our NB slang. Federer was the only top seat we had not seen play so it was sure to be another unforgettable evening. To take the event seriously we dressed in our best cloths, ate chicken parmesan and had a bottle of wine at a fancy Italian restaurant. It was a victory walk under the glowing Melbourne skyline to Rod Laver arena. Goosebumps riddled my skin upon entrance of one of the sports most historic icons. Federer’s presence was felt by all. During play his feet caressed the court and his racquet controlled every ball. Our seats were only three rows up and when he was close to us you could feel an aura about him. There were a few great rallies but as expected he swept Blake in straight sets.

Being in Melbourne on a backpacker’s budget is quite frustrating. There are classy restaurants around every corner - nothing would be more satisfying than sitting down, ordering from the left side of the menu (not focusing on the price) and enjoying a nice bottle of wine – there are the best shopping centers I have ever seen and there is the largest casino in the southern Hemisphere only walking distance from our hostel. We attended the casino on a regular basis not to gamble but to capitalize on the cheap meals and comfortable lounges which broadcasted the tennis matches on days we didn’t have tickets. Melbourne did not have a national distinction; it is an integration of European, North American and South Pacific cities. If you were blind folded and dropped into the city, it would be difficult to figure out what country you’re in until you herd someone say “Mate”. The city represents beautiful people from all over the world. If you obsess over one nationality of men or woman, I would suggest coming here to find them. Not only is it a potpourri of beautiful people of every ethnicity but all are submersed into a cosmopolitan English speaking environment. Personally I find it very frustrating walking by super models every second because I know I cannot meet all of them. I swear Stephen and I fall in love over a hundred times a day.

The cost of living here is much cheaper than in New Zealand. Communication costs are still the same but the price of accommodation and food is less. When in NZ it is impossible to find a restaurant with healthy food and table service for under $15. Here you can eat any cuisine and receive exceptional service for under $10. One thing we are fortunate of is the cost of Alcohol. In NZ you can always buy beer for less than a dollar a bottle but here the cost is tripled. Therefore this leg of our travels has been very healthy; we are not exposed to any chemicals (fungicides or growth inhibitors), we eat exceptionally well (other than our barbeque diet), barely consume any alcohol and play tennis or workout at least once a day. Life is good!

Now we are watching the warm colored lion king sun set over the pacific on our flight back to NZ. At the moment we are all smiles. It’s a great feeling to know that we are entering the following three months of mystery, experienced and fully equipped. Words cannot express how much Stephen and I miss you all. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!

Thank you all for reading,