About Jan Bohlmann

I like Jeeps and motorcycles and beer and a wide variety of literature. Retired from community college teaching. I like to travel--no tours or cruises, thank you. Like to smoke dope occasionally.

Springtime in the Rockies

Last Thursday we decided to take a break from our usual activities and get out of town for the day. The sky was a mixture of white, gray and stunning blue, the lower parts of the mountains were losing the snow cover and a shy bit of green was beginning to show on the lawns of Missoula.  We would spend the day with first a visit to the National Bison Reserve, below the Mission Mountains northwest of Arlee, and then go for a soak in the pools of Quinn Hot Springs, north of St. Regis.

At the Black Cat Bakery, on our way out of town, we picked up a huge cheese and bacon biscuit and a German pretzel containing the same healthy ingredients that was just as gigantic. By the time we were on the highway my hands and steering wheel were covered with grease, and it seemed as if all was right with the world.

Just about the time we turned west off of US93 and continued on MT200 we could see the snowy tops of the Mission as the rest of the clouds started to dissolve. The Clark Fork River was swollen with rushing water from snow melt. Ducks struggled to maintain some sort of dignity as the stream swept them rapidly down the river.

After about ten miles we turned north, off the highway on a smaller road that would bring us to the reserve. We passed a ranch where a large herd of domesticated bison were feeding on a long line of alfalfa hay. These buffalo were getting first class service while those in the reserve would be digging up grass still covered by a layer of snow. Of course, what the tame critters did not know was that they would end up on someone’s table while the wild bunch would be still capering around on their piece of dedicated wilderness.

The visitors’ center was still closed for the season and a padlocked gate barred the way against anyone trying to drive up the still snow covered drive, but there was a wet and muddy road that continued into the interior of the reserve. At the entrance there was a sign tacked up to a post that had a large heading that said, “WARNING,” but the words below were too small for us to read. It was probably left over from last summer, maybe warning about fire danger.

Most of the reserve is rolling hills with a few wooded streams. Apart from the narrow roads and the tall fences that keep the buffalo from roaming into places where they might get into trouble, the land appears to be wild and untouched. The bison have to share the space with a couple of species of dear, black and grizzly bears, coyotes and wolves. Maybe a moose or two.

We made our way slowly, eyes peeled for bison, frequently mistaking large boulders sticking up out of the bushes for sleeping buffalo. Sheila spotted deer on the horizon, and we also spied meadow larks, magpies and starlings. There was plenty of evidence of bison in the form of pile of buffalo poop, but no sight of the animals themselves.

Crossing into another fenced area of the reserve we saw another of the white signs, and this time we could read what the warning was about. Black bears and grizzlies had been seen in the area last fall and visitors were warned to stay in their vehicles. We were in early spring and there were likely to be very few bears emerging from hibernation during our visit.

We drove to the end of the visitor road in the reserve where we stopped to talk to a man who told us that he was a frequent visitor, as often as once a week, to the reserve. He turned out to be a retired wildlife biologist, and he volunteered his observations about the area. He also shared a few of the photos on his phone that he’d taken over the last year. He had photographs of bears, deer, bison and birds as well as flowers and plants but admitted that he’d not seen any mammals other than the occasional white tale deer.

We drove even slower going back toward the entrance to the reserve, hoping that at least one bison might emerge from the hills. There were a couple of more permanent signs that warned people not to wander far from their vehicle as well as signs that forbade bicycles, motorcycles and hiking in the reserve.

Sheila asked me to stop so that she could focus the binoculars on a colorful duck floating in a small stream some distance from the road. After she pointed it out, I wanted a better look and asked for the glasses, but the duck had disappeared behind some trees. I got out of the Jeep for a better view.

I initially left the door open, but closed it because of the alarm sounding with the motor still running. Walking over to the side of the road and peering down among the trees with the binoculars I was able to focus on the brilliant feathers of the wood duck. But then I was distracted by the Jeep’s horn making a racket as if the anti theft alarm had been triggered.

Looking back at the Jeep I saw that Sheila was causing the disturbance, honking the horn to get my attention and pointing behind me. I turned around and saw what the fuss was about: a giant bison bull was standing ten feet from me. I stood still, frozen, wondering: if you aren’t supposed to run from a bear and try to look big for a mountain lion, what do you do when a bison is balefully staring at you?

The bull tossed its head while snot flew right and left. And it stunk, a most rancid odor. When it huffed and pawed the gravel I know that things were going south in a hurry. I was maybe five feet from the Jeep and I could hear Sheila popping the driver’s door. The bison started to move and I turned and ran.

Up to that moment time had crawled, as in a slow motion movie, frame by frame, but then everything turned into a blur. The next thing I knew was something slamming into my back, just under my shoulders and my face hit the dirt. Then something picked me up by my belt and I was flying. Then nothing.

Sheila said that I was tossed up on to the roof of the Jeep and then slid off to the other side and landed on my right side. While the bull was still flinging snot on the drivers side, Sheila got out and somehow picked me up and shoved me into the back. Then after getting back into the passenger front seat, she slipped over the gearshift and got into the driver’s seat.

She tried dialing 911, but being up in the wilderness among mountains, there was no connection. She had to drive to get help.

By this time the bison had lost interest in its game and had wondered up the road, but stood in the middle as if wondering what had just occurred. Sheila put the Jeep in gear and moved forward, approaching the animal, but it just stood there. It wasn’t menacing, shaking its head, pawing the ground or even seeming to notice the Jeep. But it was blocking the road.

Sheila crept closer, getting within feet of the bull, but it did not move. She honked the horn repeatedly. Finally she got mad and slowly drove into the buffalo. It, at last, seemed to realize that there was a mass larger than itself, and it slowly lurched its way into the snow and brown grass on the side of the road.

My nose hurt like hell, and I wondered why I was in the back seat lying down and curled up. When I tried to sit up my right shoulder and arm exploded in pain. I must have yelped as Sheila asked if was hurt bad. For some reason I said no and closed my eyes.

By the time that Sheila had cell phone service, she had driven almost all the way back to Missoula, and it made more sense to go to the emergency room at St. Patricks than to wait for an ambulance. In spite of the pain, I wasn’t that badly injured: a deep cut on my head (gonna have a great scar), a broken nose (I’ve had several of those before), a dislocated shoulder (shoved back into place in the ER) and a sprained wrist. Maybe a concussion and a definite black eye. I didn’t even stay over night.

As I came home through the back yard our neighbor, William Sanders, asked what happened. Without an instance of hesitation Sheila replied, “It was a buffalo, Bill.”

Winter Still

This morning as I stepped out the front door to get the paper, which was not there (no big surprise, as delivery seems to be run on some sort of lottery), the air was so cold that it shocked my nose. It was the kind of cold that stings the face and brings tears to the eyes. Nevertheless, it had that deep winter freshness to it as if it was too far below freezing that it could contain no impurities. Not that I lingered in my bare feet and thin clothing. Someone once proclaimed that a beautiful winter scene is best enjoyed looking out of a window from a room with blazing logs in a fireplace.

We’ve just returned from the other side of the world, New Zealand, where it is late autumn and the air is balmy and the temperature is mild. In fact, we came home with some dread after looking at the weather predictions. At LAX there were a couple of hours to spare, a short layover where I took advantage of the confusion of jet lag to have an American IPA, something I’d been missing. The Kiwi beer is better than the Australian, but it still isn’t up to what we brew here in the US. And, while I was enjoying my 20 ounce glass, I checked the weather for Missoula. It had not improved and still looked like it was going to be a nasty, cold arrival home.

There was no time for beer at the Portland airport, but I did chance to check to see, once more, if Missoula would be as cold as predicted. The answer, of course, was “No” as it would be colder than expected.

I’d prepared myself as best as I could, not having a parka or insulated boots to don, but I did have some long johns as well as a flannel shirt. I also had an insulated raincoat with gloves in its pockets. After landing in Missoula, I was fairly protected from the blowing snow on the walk from the plane to the terminal. I grumbled to myself, but I really wasn’t cold. I was merely anticipating the deep cold during the days ahead.

Something changed inside of me after Mignon picked us up and we were riding in her car, looking out at the deep snow along the road. Part of my internal transformation was inspired by the late afternoon, winter light that turned everything into a dreamy soft color that seemed to be a muted pink. Also, time seemed to stretch out as the road was slick and drivers took their time, and the traffic seemed to flow along in slow motion. It was almost like being high.

Contrary to what many people will think, I had not indulged.

The next day, after a twelve-hour sleep, I got up rather excited about what the day might bring, and I had a purpose. Even though our walk had been cleared the day before we returned, there was another four inches of snow to deal with, and the city actually will fine people who don’t get the snow off their sidewalks (not that I’ve actually heard of anyone getting fined). I put on my cold weather gear, grabbed the pretty blue plastic shovel and went to work.

The work felt good, and it was fun building the mountain of snow from the back yard. It’s huge now, almost as tall as I am. And, hopefully, next week there will be more snow to add.

It has been almost a week since we’ve returned home, and we still are enjoying the novelty of winter. The bitter cold has caused a collection of hoar frost on the trees, and the river has nearly frozen over. Most days have been cloudless and the sky has that incredible blue quality that appears only when the land is covered with snow. It is good that we didn’t miss winter.

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Leaving New Zealand

It is February 26 here, and the high will be in the lower seventies, mostly sunny. At home, in Montana, it is February 25, bitterly cold and there is a blizzard warning for Missoula. Our flight home leaves tomorrow afternoon. Yes, we are a bit reluctant to leave.

My sun burned scalp is healed, and it doesn’t feel as if my head is being boiled every time I take a shower. Nor does it feel like my head is on fire each time I go outside without a hat. I’ve stopped peeling. I’ve acclimatized to the New Zealand weather.
This is our last morning in Auckland, and our flight home is scheduled to leave at 2:50 this afternoon.

The word “last” has a special meaning for us as we are not likely to come this way again.  For us “last” has more of a terminal meaning.

That is not to say that we feel bad about it, and it doesn’t mean that we are necessarily going to stop traveling. But, a journey of such a long distance as the other side of the world doesn’t have the appeal that it used to. It is more difficult and takes more of a toll on our bodies.

Part of the hardship is, of course, that airline travel has changed. True, the prices are more reasonable, but the passengers pay the price by being crowded into uncomfortable seats that are best suited for those who are the size of children. Overhead bins do not accommodate enough carry on bags, and the space below the forward seats are barely large enough for feet, let alone a small bag as well.
Traveling is also less likely to call us to foreign parts since we aren’t interested in the same things as when we were younger. We don’t feel like staying up to party with the locals, nor are we likely to get up early to beat the crowd to any particular attraction. We certainly don’t really want to put on heavy hiking boot and carry a pack as we trek up a mountain trail or into thick jungle.

So, even though we will miss the mild climate of New Zealand’s early autumn, we are not likely to seek a long journey to find a comfortable alternative to a cold winter.

I hope I don’t freeze my ass off.

 

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Auckland Redux

The late summer here on the north island has turned into early fall, and there is a chill in the air, especially in the morning and evening that makes us pleased to have some of our Montana clothing along.

A chilly breeze chased some of the early fallen, dry leaves ahead of us as we headed down Anzac Street from our nifty studio flat toward Central Auckland. We were looking forward to Sheila’s Flat White (New Zealand’s version of a latté) and my Long Black (an Americano) which may come with a small pitcher of hot water. The amount of espresso in a Long Black varies as well. It was a hard choice what to have with our coffees, but I eventually decided on a sausage roll and Sheila had a brioche baked with cheese and bacon. [We’ve found that the Kiwi bakeries approach French quality and variety.]

In two days we will be leaving New Zealand and we are having a bit of a problem deciding what we want to do and see while we are in Auckland. We turned in our rental car yesterday afternoon, and, quite honestly, I am pleased that I don’t have to face driving here in the city. Contrary to what I reported about drivers in this country recently, it became of a nerve wracking experience the closer we came to Auckland from the rural north.

Last week found us staying in a charming little cottage just outside the village of Waimauku where we looked across a small pasture that contained five friendly Herefords and a view of the bumpy hills and thick woods with sub tropical vegetation. [I can identify the palms, and know some of the trees are evergreen. There are many large ferns, but I never learned what those tall, lanky trees with branches that hold bunches of leaves that sort of form umbrellas. Google is no help when I supply that description as it refers me to Dr. Seuss.]

Our cottage contained a little radio, which delighted us even though the car radio seemed to play only crappy stations that disappeared after five minutes. Sheila was able to find a classical music station that, in spite of some of the long-winded commentary, we played almost constantly while we were in Waimauku. The personalities on the station sounded quite cultured, as they reported the weather information, and sounded as if they were reading a menu from a trendy restaurant.

Despite the pastoral setting of our cottage, other than looking at our bovine friends and the stunning beauty of the countryside, there was absolutely nothing to do other than listen to the radio. It wasn’t even possible to go for a walk or jog as there is no shoulder to step away from traffic. It was always necessary to get in the car and drive if we wanted to do something besides sit.

We learned about the traffic around Waimauku as we attempted to find our rental cottage as directed by our message from Airbnb. It was located on Taylor Road, a distance of only a mile out of town. When we slowed to look for the number on the mail box, I noticed that cars were bunching up behind us, so I picked up my speed. It wasn’t long before we saw the drive, but I was going too fast to make the turn. It seemed as if I was suddenly in the Grand Prix as I sped down the curvy road looking for a place to turn around. Finally, seeing what seemed a suitably wide drive I turned on the windshield wiper to indicate my turn.

After hearing horns blaring when I was stopped in the driveway, I once again was reminded the the turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel in New Zealand. After being chased up and down Taylor road a couple more times, I was finally able to enter the right drive, sort of. It turned out that our host shared a drive with another home.

The neighbor of the stylish home came out to greet us with only a trace of a smile and informed us that our lodging was not where we were sitting. It was pretty obvious that this error had happened too many times for him to respond with a bare minimum of courtesy.

Each time we left our comfortable cottage to explore the area, we seemed to be chased by little racing cars. For example, when we drove to a beach, there was a black VW with a surfboard on top that followed our little blue Toyota as if the two cars had a ten foot tether. Perhaps the surf was up and the driver was anxious to get to the waves before the crowd.

The beach had a different feel than that of Baylys Beach. The sand was dark and oily and there were more people hanging about as might be expected this close to a large city. The beach was softer, and our feet sunk into the sand as we walked.

We were looking for birds as the guide book suggested, but there wasn’t a even a gull around, much less anything we’d not seen. Spying a trail that appeared to lead inland, we followed it on to the other side of tall dunes where there was more vegetation, where birds might nest or at least roost.
So we trudged over to a road less traveled, so to speak.
There was much less wind, and there were actually some bird songs that could be head coming from the brush and bushes not far from the path. A few sparrows flirted with us as we continued, but nothing out of the ordinary came to our attention. We followed the trail for half a mile or so before deciding that the beach would be more interesting and took a path that seemed as if it would bring us to the ocean.

The path became ever more difficult as it seemed to continue over some steep dunes, and, indeed, it petered out almost altogether. We had to help each other up and down some soft spots that looked only suitable for animals to follow. At last we came to an area that was well cared for and absolutely flat. In fact, it was too well groomed as it was a golf course, and we were standing on a putting green. In the distance, next to a cart we could see two men getting ready to tee off in our direction.
We made a hasty retreat and with remarkable agility we tumbled back over the dunes and followed our trail back to the beach.

Walking along, admiring the surf we noticed a mob of people in the distance who were in the water despite a sign that indicated that swimming was not permitted. With our binoculars we observed that the crowd was not exactly swimming but standing in a line, bobbing up and down as the waves came through. The scene made us wonder if this was some esoteric activity that was peculiar to New Zealand or perhaps a movie set for another remake of JAWs.

As we came closer, we could see that there was not a haphazard arrangement of people standing in the surf, but a line (or “queue” as they say here) of males and females and a man standing at the deepest end who looked as if he was directing traffic. Each time a wave came crashing in, he would jump up and the people would follow suit making the scene look like a vertical conga line.

 

I could stand it no more. I had to find out what was going on.
There was a couple who were lying on a blanket, taking in the sun nearby, so I strolled over to find out what those folks in the water were doing. Trying to keep my eyes on the young woman in the bikini, I asked the fellow if he could explain what we were seeing.

It was his opinion that the group was a high school class, and the guy in front of the line was a surfing instructor who was teaching a safety class. The teacher would wait for the proper wave with a surfboard and at the right instant he would hand a kid a board. After a boost, the kid would try to ride the wave in as long as possible.

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Is that not cool?

Baylys Beach

It was after eight o’clock last night when we went for a final stroll on that miracle of nature called Baylys Beach, in time to watch the brilliant red ball slowly appear from below the lavender/gray clouds and slowly sink into the empty waters of the Tasman Sea. During this event we walked between the gently breaking surf and the steep banks of sandstone at the bottom, a thick layer of black, carbonaceous matter that was wood just as it was turning into coal, and a topping of more sandstone carved into fanciful shapes that resembled fairy tale castles by the constant wind and seasonal rain.


The moisture was slowly leeching some of the black material while the wind mixed it with the brown sand and then spread it all on the beach in patterns that changed daily. No artist could have imagined the hatches and crosshatches that were formed on the slight undulating ripples of the beach.


Sheila had mentioned that sunset was to be at eight thirty, and the sun was beginning to disappear, right on time. That boiling, red hot copper was spreading its last light across the tops of the waves as the breaking surf became lavender and the wet sand blushed a ravishing pink. The gulls, dressed in formal, black dinner jackets, strutted back and forth, like rich old men in the fading light. Evening fog softened the glare of headlights as darkness slowly settled in.


A bit of sun was still reflected in on the clouds and the light was filtered through Sheila’s hair. This last light of day, on this beach, this evening was important. This scene would last in our minds. This was a forever moment, and we would not return.

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From Sheila, not Jan

I know, I know, Jan’s the storyteller and the writer, but I’m itchin’ to report some of the “funness” of being with him in New Zealand. This essay will be more like headlines, without thesis sentence and composition elements. You”ll be takin’ your chances.

When we arrived in Auckland, Jan didn’t rent our little, bright blue tin can to include me as a driver, so I get to laugh when he intends to signal a turn and instead switches on the windscreen washer. I get excited when I see a roundabout coming up to hear the “goddammit!!” Unfortunately, he’s adjusting.

Riding only inches above the sealed road and on the wrong side at 100km/hr with no control feels similar to the time I volunteered to being strapped into a “modified” Mustang with a hairy faced race car driver at the Portland Raceway. Mostly terror without the thrill. The roads are curvy, hill, and narrow. Turning right is scary–for both of us. I’m thinking that maybe Jan had some misgivings about being the passenger so paid to be the one and only driver.

The mostly Japanese cars are imported new and used; hence no manufacturers or assembly plants remain in NZ (except a very few specialty and kit businesses). Subarus are called “sooBAHroos.” And auto colors are brilliant.

We’re in a village (one of NZ’s “sweet words”) of Baylys Beach on the Kauri Coast. When it’s not high tide, one can drive 107 km along the beach with no police patrols; however, a prominent sign at the entrance displays a towing company’s mobile number. Lovely breeze and no coats needed. Drive down in the evening in your Ute (utility truck), unpack a table, chairs, and your barbie to have an evening meal while watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea.

For breakfast out, we most often order a long black (cup of black coffee) and a flat white (cafe au lait). Bakeries open in the morning in every village–the “pies” are dangerously yummy as are the sausage rolls. In the Rose Cottage we had French batard, Camembert, avocados, tomatoes, smoked marlin, boiled eggs, and mandarins most days.

The “original” Maori seem to have assimilated with the later “immigrants.” They first killed a few Dutchmen in 1642, but then they butchered and ate lots of the English intruders. And the European in trade gave them venereal infections, measles, influenza, typhoid fever, dysentery and tuberculosis Aren’t we lucky the Donald has yet to suggest cannibalism or germ warfare? Or has he since we left?

The different Maori tribes are gaining ground in repatriation of their original rites. The day we arrived the nation was celebrating the Treaty of Waitangi, with good news of continuing negotiations for the hoodwinking the Maori took in 1840. Colonialism looks so different with hundreds of years of history, eh?

I intended to get a Maori design tattoo, but have changed my mind for a few reasons. A young woman corrected me when I asked about hers. It’s properly and respectfully called a “moko” in Maori. Here’s one reason.

https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/24-05-2018/moko-kauae-is-the-right-of-all-maori-women-it-is-not-a-right-for-anyone-else/

The many logging trucks on the highways surprised us. Their planted pine forests are vast, and the logs look like giant toys–short, thick, and similar. The natural forest protect the giant kauris with thick green bushes and palms growing right up to the road.

It’s early fall here, but the variety and colors of flowers don’t seem to be fading. NZ has charm in so many ways, and “It’s not America–yet.”

 

 

KittyKitty

Our cottage is in the midst of a citrus grove that also has a few avocado trees, and there were fresh oranges on the kitchen table upon our arrival. Audrey, our host also brought some tree-ripened mandarins over later in the week. Our surroundings remind me of where my father lived for a period in Florida, and there was an abandoned citrus orchard in back of his house. It often makes me wonder why it was left untended as the oranges, grapefruit and lemons were plentiful and perfect.

It is late summer here and most of the fruit is gone from the trees, and even though there are some huge tangerines on the trees close to our cottage, the fruit is pretty dry. The mandarins that our host gave us are winter fruit, ripening later in the season.

The weather is unusually dry here in Kerikeri, the small town were we have stayed for over a week. Nevertheless, it is humid as we are close to the Pacific Ocean on the east side of the North Island of New Zealand. The air is filled with a complicated mixture of scents: floral, grass, fruit and the sea. At night the temperature usually drops into the sixties while the daytime highs are in the high seventies to low eighties. It makes it even nicer to know that at home, in Missoula, the weather has been really shitty.

A week ago yesterday we left Auckland after picking up our delayed luggage that had our summer clothing and my drugs. So, it was with some relief that we threw are bags into our rented Toyota Yaris, a little car that drives like a go cart, and took off for the countryside of Northland. It was a bit nerve racking at first, driving on the left side of the road and having the cars coming toward us on what seemed the wrong side of the road. But, after getting to the outskirts of Auckland, the traffic thinned out and there weren’t so many highways from which to choose.

The landscape of the North Island is very unique to us, certainly unlike any that we’ve seen in the US, as there are innumerable stubby hills that make for many steep grades and sharp corners on the roads. Having cruise control on a car seems superfluous when the longest stretch of a straight road is half a mile. At the same time, the speed limit on even the curviest, gravel roads in the rural parts is 100 km/hr. Granted, that is just a little over 60 mph, but it is hard to imagine anyone ripping around some of these small roads at that speed.

Still, we found that the Kiwis are very conscientious drivers. No one seemed to crowd up behind us as they do in the States where if you drive five miles an hour above the speed limit someone in a pickup will be pushing you along with the front bumper. Even on the limited straight stretches very few drivers drove over the speed limit even when there were passing lanes. The only vehicle that we saw stopped by the traffic police was an old stock truck carrying two horses and a couple of cows. The driver was ticketed for embarrassing the horses.

The scenery consisted of thick forests and pastoral farmland and, while we did pass through some showers, most of the trip was in sunlight. But, in spite of the light traffic, beautiful landscapes and leisurely pace of the trip, it took almost five hours to get to Kerikeri (pronounced kitty-kitty), and that was after a rather stressful morning waiting at the airport.

Our cottage is in the midst of a citrus grove that also has a few avocado trees, and there were fresh oranges on the kitchen table upon our arrival. Audrey, our host also brought some tree-ripened mandarins over later in the week. Our surroundings remind me of where my father lived for a period in Florida, and there was an abandoned citrus orchard in back of his house. It often makes me wonder why it was left untended as the oranges, grapefruit and lemons were plentiful and perfect.

It is late summer here and most of the fruit is gone from the trees, and even though there are some huge tangerines on the trees close to our cottage, the fruit is pretty dry. The mandarins that our host gave us are winter fruit, ripening later in the season.

The weather is unusually dry here in Kerikeri, the small town were we have stayed for over a week. Nevertheless, it is humid as we are close to the Pacific Ocean on the east side of the North Island of New Zealand. The air is filled with a complicated mixture of scents: floral, grass, fruit and the sea. At night the temperature usually drops into the sixties while the daytime highs are in the high seventies to low eighties. It makes it even nicer to know that at home, in Missoula, the weather has been really shitty.

A week ago yesterday we left Auckland after picking up our delayed luggage that had our summer clothing and my drugs. So, it was with some relief that we threw are bags into our rented Toyota Yaris, a little car that drives like a go cart, and took off for the countryside of Northland. It was a bit nerve racking at first, driving on the left side of the road and having the cars coming toward us on what seemed the wrong side of the road. But, after getting to the outskirts of Auckland, the traffic thinned out and there weren’t so many highways from which to choose.

The landscape of the North Island is very unique to us, certainly unlike any that we’ve seen in the US, as there are innumerable stubby hills that make for many steep grades and sharp corners on the roads. Having cruise control on a car seems superfluous when the longest stretch of a straight road is half a mile. At the same time, the speed limit on even the curviest, gravel roads in the rural parts is 100 km/hr. Granted, that is just a little over 60 mph, but it is hard to imagine anyone ripping around some of these small roads at that speed.

Still, we found that the Kiwis are very conscientious drivers. No one seemed to crowd up behind us as they do in the States where if you drive five miles an hour above the speed limit someone in a pickup will be pushing you along with the front bumper. Even on the limited straight stretches very few drivers drove over the speed limit even when there were passing lanes. The only vehicle that we saw stopped by the traffic police was an old stock truck carrying two horses and a couple of cows. The driver was ticketed for embarrassing the horses.

The scenery consisted of thick forests and pastoral farmland and, while we did pass through some showers, most of the trip was in sunlight. But, in spite of the light traffic, beautiful landscapes and leisurely pace of the trip, it took almost five hours to get to Kerikeri (pronounced kitty-kitty), and that was after a rather stressful morning waiting at the airport.

I was tired, and I realized at the time, I should have taken a couple of breaks from the wheel, but I wanted to arrive before dark. It was difficult enough to find the cottage in the late afternoon, but it would have been worse looking around for the address after the light was gone.

We had the address, but even driving at a slow 80 km/hr, I managed to drive by the driveway at least twice. In order to turn around it was necessary to drive to the next roundabout that was a quarter mile down the road, remembering to give way to vehicles already inside, and then reckoning when to leave the roundabout. But, eventually I managed to leave the road and drive down the gravel driveway to the Wisteria Cottage where we were booked.

I had the combination for the door, 4801, the number that I’d received from Audrey a few days ago. I was already convinced that it would not work as I have a history with combinations that start with my high school days. And, I was right. The door did not open.

As I mentioned above, I was tired, and now I was getting pissed and expressed myself to Sheila. “This pisses me off,” I said, eloquently.

Looking in a nearby window, I saw clothing lying on a bed. “Jesus Christ,” I said, again eloquently. “There’s someone staying here.”

Then I realized that I was looking in a different, adjoining cottage.

I spotted a window slightly ajar. I suggested to Sheila that I could probably climb in and open the door from the inside. She looked doubtful and suggested that we call the host, Audrey.

I punched in the number listed in my booking communication and got a message reporting that the number was no longer in use, and to call the following number: (muffled words, blah blah blah). We had to listen several times to finally interpret the words only to realize that the new number was the same as the old.

The angry steam in my head was threatening to explode out my ears when I looked at another message that I’d received two weeks prior. It was an apology saying that Audrey had to give us an upgrade to the Rose Cottage just a couple of doors away from the Wisteria, the one I that I was trying to break into.

I gave Sheila a silly grin. She did not smile in return.

Instead, she walked up to the Rose Cottage and punched in the combination, opening the door.

Auckland, not Fiji

“Over half of the people in New Zealand live in Auckland,” an expat Brit living in New Zealand opined. “The others wonder why.”

Other than the fact that we had sat around naked in our apartment for hours, while the only clothes that we had rolled around in a locked washing machine, we found Auckland quite charming. Having arrived in New Zealand with the same clothes on our back that we’d worn when we left Missoula, over 48 hours, plus being stuck in airline economy seats for another 14 hours, it seemed reasonable that we would want to wash our stinking, crusty underwear, socks, pants and shirts. What we did not expect was a washer/dryer combination with instructions that had been obviously translated from Chinese to Russian to a sort of English in the manual. Every time that we tried to switch to the drying cycle it started all over again in the wash cycle. After twelve hours of laundering, the fucking door finally opened. However, the clothes inside were really clean.

Because of a sudden winter storm, our flight from Seattle to Los Angeles had been delayed and we missed the Fiji Airline flight. The Alaska Air folks thought that our two bags went on to Fiji and then to Auckland, but, of course, life is much more complicated.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed the city. After checking in to our AirB&B, we were pleased to learn that we were located conveniently close to the major visitor destinations. [Notice how I avoid the word “tourist?” I hate that word. I want to be a traveler or a visitor, anything but a tourist, even a communist. When I take tours, and I am not putting down tours, I will be a tourist.]

So, we started wandering around downtown Auckland in the lovely eighty degree weather wearing our cozy, Montana, winter clothing including thick socks and hiking boots (as well as my trusty wool beret). Everyone else was wearing shorts, flip flops and tee shirts as they starred at us, wondering what strict religious culture we represented. Actually, we were looking for a bar and a stiff drink to settle our nerves and forget about our bags for a while. It wasn’t long before we were lost and had no idea where we were going, but a young man took pity on us and lead us to Amano, a restaurant that was listed in our host book.

After a martini followed by a glass of Cabernet with my lamb (covered with goat cheese, caponata and rosemary), I felt quite calm. Warm, but calm. Sheila, remembering our friend Sarah Alley, ordered an iced Negroni but abstained from wine with her pasta.

We couldn’t leave Auckland without going to the art museum. Its works are housed in a modern looking building that belies its construction date of 1938. Inside, it has some fascinating modern sculpture and print by current Maori artists as well as a charming room where children and adults can express themselves by building miniature houses out of cardboard. There are hundreds, if not thousands of little structures on display. The fanciful creations vary from tiny houses, to space ships to a giraffe with windows and doors. [The one that I was particularly fond of had a little sign in front that said “Andre’s Toilet.” Through the open door, a little cardboard, white dumper was on display.]

Forty-eight hours after we got to New Zealand, Sheila got a call from the airport baggage desk reporting that our bags would be arriving from Fiji. As we had to get out of our rental flat by ten o’clock, we went to the airport and waited for Flight F11. While Sheila calmly read her book, I paced and chewed my nails up to my shoulder.

The small pack I carried with me had one more day of my prescription meds, but I could probably stretch them out for a couple more. This was the first time that I ever put my drugs in a checked bag, always having made sure that I had them within reach. But, in all the years of

travel, even going some places where I expected my checked luggage to disappear, never have my bags been lost. As the old saw goes, “There is always a first time.”

The plane landed on time at 1320 and the arrival/departure board indicated that the flight was “In Process,” whatever that means, but there was still no call from the baggage office. Finally, over an hour after all the passengers on that flight were in shuttles, taxis or busses on their way to Auckland, Sheila got a message saying that we could pick up our bags at Gate 11, just past the McDonalds Cafe on first floor.

And yes, the bags were really there.

U

Stuck in LA

Best laid plan——

It has been a pretty mild winter in Missoula with temperatures rarely getting into the teens at night, and, in the last week, having the proverbial January thaw. There hasn’t been a lot of snow at one dumping, and the walk and back patio have only needed shoveling two or three times. In fact, my nose was even fooled into thinking of Spring a couple of days ago.

To be truthful, I’ve been feeling pretty smug about the mid-west and the “polar vortex” with subzero thermometer readings in the Dakotas and even in Illinois while melting snow was dripping down from our roof. But, recently I was hoping for some real winter weather to make me feel glad to get away to New Zealand. I’ve been keeping track of the weather in Auckland where I was confident that we’d be arriving this morning. It would be nice to have that change from an uncomfortable winter to a late summer in New Zealand.

Last Friday there was a sudden change in our local weather outlook, and it caused me just a slight bit of concern. A front was expected to slowly move into the Missoula area bringing a bit of rain by Saturday evening followed by some dropping temperatures with ice and snow by late Sunday afternoon. It brought a small worry, but our flight was to leave at 11:40 in the morning on Sunday.

Early, about six on Sunday I heard a noise outside our bedroom window, sort of a scraping sound, and I asked Sheila, as I was too lazy to put in my hearing aids, if there was someone shoveling snow. She advised me that it was the wind causing branches to rub across the neighbor’s roof. Half an hour later I looked out and saw that, not only was the wind howling down the street, it was pushing freezing rain across an icy glaze. The winter weather that I’d thought would be a nice send off arrived early.

Our plane boarded on time in Missoula, but was delayed in taking off for purposes of de-icing, but the late departure really didn’t make much difference in that we had almost a five-hour layover in Seattle before our flight to Los Angeles. We took that time to ride the light rail to downtown Seattle and leisurely tour the art museum. During that period, we looked out the window of the museum and noticed that it had started to snow, a rather unusual event in Seattle. On the train back to the airport we remarked on how pretty the city looked in a “winter wonderland” sort of way as the lawns and roofs began to turn white.

What a couple of dips.

There was no problem getting through security at the airport. TSA has changed from what that a lot was ten years ago when they were trying to emulate the Gestapo as they routinely took people behind curtains and told them to disrobe. In Missoula they chatted with us and wished us a happy journey. In Seattle the TSA folks even joked with me, and we were at our gate for our flight to Los Angeles with time to spare. But then things started to move slowly.

The gate agents were optimistic and assured the folks waiting to board that, even though the jet would need to be de-iced before take off, it would be done at the gate adding a mere fifteen minutes to departure time. That would mean that we would leave at six-thirty pm, and we would be at LAX in plenty of time to catch our flight to Fiji that would take off at ten-thirty.

Needless to say, but those happy little gate agents where lying through their fucking teeth. Our flight landed in Los Angeles about ten minutes before our gate closed that would have permitted us to fly to Fiji. In spite of the sprint of at least a mile through the bowels of LAX we arrived at the Fiji gate ten minutes after our flight left. No one was around to advise us what to do next, not at the Fiji gate, not at any of the international gates in the area.

Oddly enough, in all this emptiness, we spotted an information booth that actually had someone behind the desk. We rushed over and explained our situation to this air line expert and asked what we should do. When could we catch the next flight to Fiji and catch up with our luggage?

She was a young woman (of about sixty) with long silver hair tied back, and blinked at us through thick lenses of wire rimmed glasses. Her expression suggested that she was amazed, as if we had suddenly appeared from the air in front of her desk.

“Well,” she said as a beginning, looking around for something to prompt her answer. “Well, I think there are a couple of other people trying to get to Fiji.” As if that would be helpful to us. She appeared to be waiting for us to leave, and then, realizing that we expected more, she pointed to a couple of people in the distance standing in front of a Quantas gate. “Yes,” she said grinning. “They are over there.”

This whole scene seemed to be rapidly moving down the rabbit hole as we made our way to the “position closed” desk where a man with an Eastern Indian accent was expressing his thoughts on the situation to a man and woman who’d also missed the flight to Fiji. He repeated his ideas to us as the other two people seemed to stumble away in rejection. He said that the earliest we could expect to get to Fiji would be Tuesday (remember we are standing in front of him on late, Sunday night) as Fiji only flies out of LAX every other day. [By my reckoning, it would seem that Fiji Airlines has only one airplane.]

At this point, if Sheila and I were in a cartoon, a combined thought cloud would appear above our heads. Inside the thought cloud would be printed “FUCK!”

Sheila suggested that since we booked our trip through Alaska Airlines, it would be reasonable to try to make our way through this Wonderland and find their customer service office. After being misled by a Cheshire Cat and a mad hare we found the office, after midnight, to be, oddly enough, closed. But again, oddly enough, at lost luggage office, a clerk pointed us to a strangely placed cluster of Alaska agent desks where an amazing woman was able to sort things out for us. Sort of.

It took soooooooo long to find us a flight that would get us to New Zealand without having to go through Fiji, and it involved Fiddledum as well as Fiddledee. We eventually got our vouchers for a really decent hotel, but did not get to bed before 2:30 am.

So now, we are set to leave on the 11:20 pm American flight to Auckland. Who knows where our luggage might be: Seattle, Los Angeles, Fiji or New Zealand?

Going On Another Trip

We are leaving for New Zealand in less than two weeks, on February 3, one day after Ground Hog’s Day, which would make it February 4 in New Zealand, but we actually arrive in Auckland on the 5th. It boggles the mind, at least mine. Not only will we miss a day, but, the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere will hold a moon that will be upside down. It makes me wonder if the Aussies and Kiwis have ever seen the man in the moon.

I must admit, that I’ve never been able to make out a man, but I have seen on numerous occasions a face, a female countenance that has a sour, disapproving expression directed at me. Sort of if she caught me smoking a cigarette or drinking an off brand of wine. Or pornography.

I digress.

This will not be the first time we visit New Zealand. In 2006 we took six weeks to explore the country in a beat up old rental car that had a faulty rear strut that caused the vehicle to moan in distress with every left turn. As hearty young (60s) folk, we camped in a tent that we’d purchased in Australia and could yet sleep on a leaky air mattress. We spent most of the time in the southern island, and have fond memories of our trip. The last week was a quick trip through the northern isle, but I got sick with a high fever and don’t remember much of that part.

We were heading toward Auckland to spend some time in a big city when I had to stop at a rest area and had a slight burning sensation in my back when I peed. A few miles down the road I started feeling realty shitty, and the next thing I remember was lying in bed in a pretty decent hostel. I had no idea how I got there, but I had a pain in my lower abdomen that seared up to my right side and then into my chest. I was shaking with fever. I was alert enough to know that I had a urinary tract infection. The next morning I somehow found a doctor who grudgingly agreed with my self diagnosis and wrote a prescription for an antibiotic. But our flight to China left before I recovered some of my wits.

Over the last few years we’ve been asked why we travel. “Why are you going to New Zealand,” a friend asked. “It’s such a long flight. Can’t you go someplace closer?”

Well, revealing my shallow nature, it might be because it is warmer in New Zealand than in Montana in February.  I am ready for a landscape that doesn’t include a winter wonderland.  But the weather isn’t the only reason, and it isn’t even the main purpose, although I must admit that some balmy sunshine is a nice bonus.

It can be a little difficult to explain why we are drawn away to unfamiliar places. Many people are apt to shake their heads with a bemused smile when we admit that we are, once more on our way to a foreign destination. There are even a few folks that say we are brave to go out of the country. Well, that’s a bunch of crap. It’s not like we are going to Syria or the Golan Heights.  This time we are going to one of the safest countries in the world. The worst part of the trip will be the long flight in the economy class. They won’t probably even feed us. The rumor is that we will be given bowls to go up and beg in business class.

Actually, one of the reasons we like to travel is to get a different look at our country from a different point of view. We’ve found that we as citizens of the US can be quite egocentric, and that many folks of other countries hardly give us a thought. Of course, these days with our leadership, how can we be ignored?

Although we don’t go out of our way to ignore popular tourist destinations, it usually is not our purpose to see the sights. Frequently we don’t even move around much once we arrive at a given destination. We tend to look for stories, not even big moving tales of heroism or tragedy. Just something about how people view life and what it means to be human. Humble wisdom is what we are looking for.

That and decent beer.

We wii let you know what we find.

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