New Zealand


Ladies and gents, we’ve surpassed our 100th blog post. Meaningless threshold, yes, but I thought it worth noting as Life’s A Trip is my first venture into the world of blogging. (Erin is more of a pro – it’s her second). What started out as more of a novelty has turned into quite an enjoyable hobby for me. And hopefully enjoyable for you, too. We appreciate your clicks and comments and willingness to share in our adventures more than you realize.

A good portion of our wonderful readers are friends and family. But some of our newer readers stumble into our community via some eclectic internet searches. That’s one of the perks of seeing a website work from behind the curtain. In personal celebration of our 100th, here are a few of my favorites searches:

Search: “thousand year old eggs horse urine”
The thousand year old eggs are quite a regular draw for us on search engines, and apparently, it’s tough to find pictures. Glad we could oblige. (Just click on the China tag and scroll if you want to see them again.) This search stuck out because it reminded me how unappetizing the eggstravagance really is. (Couldn’t resist) It was the only thing at Yung Kee worth talking about, as the goose was underrated. You can barely see the remaining half egg in the upper corner.
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Search: “guy with backpack at water park pissing”
Was hard to figure out how this one triggered our little humble site at first. Sure, the backpack was a big part of our adventures. Indeed, we’ve written about some water, but no water parks ring a bell. I sure don’t recall specifically writing about any of the latter part of this search phrase, though we did see some kids relieve themselves on the street… and in the water. Split pants are convenient, as illustrated here in Yangshuo, China.
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However, the search actually links to our kayak adventure thanks to a funny comment using foreign lingo (click on the New Zealand, Travel tag to see it)
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Search: “Life’s a trip TV show”

What a great idea!  Perhaps that’s next in our quest.  One day showing on a big screen like this one in Sydney during the Australian Open. We have instead updated our travel videos and will attempt to keep them fresh. Check them out!
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Search: “life’s a trip you know”

If I didn’t know before, I know now. Just seeing skits at the Sichuan Opera is enough to pinch yourself and say “is this for real?”
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Every step of the way, we saw some incredible stuff – and we’re trying to keep that same curious approach to everyday events back home. Life’s a trip doesn’t stop when vacation ends, you know?

Search: “dalla time zoon”
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Perhaps I planned this with a purposeful typo when discussing the Taronga “Zoon” instead of zoo. Anticipating internet typos is apparently big business according to this Dallas Morning News article. However, while it steered someone here, I must admit the accident… and wonder what actual question was left unanswered. (Dallas Time Zone?)

Search: “erin finds michael in philly”

… and they lived happily ever after.
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Again, not sure how this search drove the visit. We’ve never ventured to Philly, but we’ll get there eventually. There’s so much to see and so much to share. Every day is an adventure waiting to happen. Stay tuned.

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Finally, the review you’ve been waiting for: apparel. Flexibility is the key. That means thinking in terms of layers and multiple use. Imagine your most extreme temperatures and activities, and pack for those. Hopefully, you just need a few more neutral items to fill in the spectrum gap. One-time use makes for unnecessary extra weight. Also keep in mind, many tour groups and local shops often rent the more specialized gear (like rain parkas and rain pants) for your more specific adventures (like overnight hiking tours), which is probably a better investment and use of packing space.

Delights:
Sunglasses – This is a no brainer, but delightful nonetheless. The polarized sunglasses Erin purchased us from REI were great, and only about $25.

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Down sweater – this lightweight, flexible jacket is expensive, but worth every penny. They provide valuable insulation without the bulk on your body or in your bag. It’s amazing to see them wad up into a package smaller than a shoe. Erin went for the Patagonia version (down); I trekked in the Mountain Hardwear style (synthetic). Note, synthetic supposedly dries faster than down, and they both seemed to keep us warm well. Erin’s jacket lost many a feather – it was comical, really.

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Surprisingly useless:
Waterproof jacket – My “waterproof” jacket from Patagonia was anything but. It keeps the first few minutes of rain off you, but leaks right through when you need it most. I guess breathable and water proof don’t go hand-in-hand. Worked better as a windbreaker for those breezy, chilly nights. A light jacket is essential.

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Wicking T-shirts – I purchased some warm-weather sweat-wicking T-shirts knowing we were going to one of the hottest areas of the planet. I sweat easily. So I wanted some shirts that would be quick-drying and cool. Instead, these shirts not only looked bad, but performed poorly. Instead, invest in better quick-drying pants – with zipper pockets of course, for added security against evil-doer pick-pocket types.

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Surprisingly useful:
Sun hat – I had heard, but I really had no idea how strong the sun really is in New Zealand and Australia. This simple Auckland acquisition from Kathmandu saved my neck, literally. Lightweight and flexible, it went from pocket to head to bag and back. I ended up wearing it daily until our last week in Sydney, when I upgraded to an Aussie reed sun hat. Very nice indeed. Note: baseball caps won’t get it done – you need the full surround brim or you’ll pay.

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Other items of note:
Socks – Don’t invest in extra nice socks. For some reason, the better quality socks consistently disappeared in our laundry batches throughout China. Instead, they’d be switched with standard socks. Sneaky. Another trick I’ll try next time – bring extra loud, they-can-only-be-yours style socks. That way you can see them walk out the door. In the end, standard wool hiking socks worked great in cold weather; cotton was fine in warmer.

Digital watch with alarm – Time isn’t always that easy to come by, and wake-up calls aren’t common.

Shoes – your standard shoes are one item you’ll likely wear everyday, so you’d better love them. And they better perform in a variety of terrains. We purchased Vasque from REI, and they held up pretty well. They are water resistant, but not water proof as the Tongariro proved. (Not sure anything would have withstood the Tongariro incident.) I also really like our Chaco sandals – surprisingly, they worked well for both hiking hills and walking the beach.

References for gear purchases:
Froogle – brand name stuff at pretty good discounts.
eBay – set up your auto searches well in advance of your trip, and you may get lucky.
Outside Magazine – good source for gear reviews and new technology.
REI – what a great store.

I just love going to a neighborhood market for a quick cultural glimpse and some good deals on local stuff. Sure, some of them cater to the tourists and offer items no more unique to the area than Miller Beer is to Milwaukee. But sometimes, you’ll run across a market that’s made for locals. Either way, the people are always interesting and watching them is great way to spend an afternoon, getting a feel for the community

Today, Erin and I visited the annual Addison Art Fest. Erin was on location for her radio segment.

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I was optimistic, in spite of the rainy weather, that we’d have a local cultural experience in this northern urban neighborhood in Dallas. Peruse lots of regional and national artists and their crafts; hear a little live music; munch on some festival food. Good times right?

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But, the never-ending rain dampened everything, but it did put me in a market state of mind. Got me thinking about the variety of festivals and markets I’ve seen, and got me hungry to visit more.

Summer in Chicago means street festivals galore. I swear, there’s one or more every weekend! And if you’re heading to the windy city, look one up. I went to the Oyster Fest several times in Old Town. Rock n’ roll set to Guiness and raw shellfish – it’s always like 100 degrees too. A combustible but fun mix.

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Also festive, the Paddington market in Sydney. We found all sorts of unique artisans and surveyed their crafts. It felt more like a local thing than part of the tourist itinerary, as plenty of Sydney folks not only suggested this market, but also joined us on the bus from downtown.

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Speaking of markets made for locals, Erin and I spent many a Saturday morning trolling the Union Square green market in New York City. Surrounded by the towering buildings and bustling city, it’s a chance for city folk to sip the apple cider and stop and smell the fresh cut flowers. Lots of cheeses and jams, too. My favorite: the wheat grass.

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Then there’s the farmers market at Matakana, which is serves the surrounding small towns and the weekend warriors from Auckland, New Zealand. It hammered home the point that fresh and local go hand in hand. Tasty goodness.

In Huanglongxi, China, a town near Chengdu and famous for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, we experienced a market that is vital to the farmers in the communities. This is, in many cases, the only place farmers conduct commerce: buying, selling and trading for all daily essentials. I attempted to buy a roll of toilet paper and spent 5 yuan. That was apparently worth about 5 rolls, and they felt bad for taking my money – language barriers make markets even crazier.

Hong Kong is known for all types of markets. Kowloon feels like one sprawling market, block by block. Burned in my memory are the bird market and women’s market. The island is no slouch either. For example, strolling this market district in central Hong Kong, near Happy Valley, after picking up a batch of laundry. Yeah, lots of live creatures waiting their turn to be fresh dinner for locals.

Are you in the market for a good cultural exchange?

Check out this cool site, world wide panarama, and this 3-D group of famous markets around the world – starting in Huanglongxi.

Again, as posted earlier, here are some learnings I had on my long adventure abroad. Perhaps it’ll give you a leg up as you head out on your vacation. (Wherever you’re going, I’m jealous). Be sure to let us know if you have any gear tips from your travel experiences too – we’d love to know for our next trip!

Delights:
Headlamp: I will never use another flashlight by choice again. Headlamps are the only way to go. Saves a hand, and the light automatically points where your eyes are going. Brilliant!

Surprisingly useless:
Guide books: Now I’m not saying I would do without, but I was disappointed in our guide books for China and Australia. They were wrong more times than not. We finally got smart and started calling ahead before venturing too far out of the way. Frommer’s and Rough Guide are not on my good side.

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Surprisingly useful:
Hiking Poles: I was skeptical about purchasing hiking poles, but Erin insisted before our Tongariro disaster. These telescoping sticks, resembling ski poles, were probably the one bright spot of that experience. They saved my knees and back for another day, while keeping me balanced trudging through the flooded trails. 6’4″, and a little clumbsy – I need all the help I can get. Most hiking companies rent them. Unless you are going on a series of hikes or can transfer them easily, it may not make sense to buy them.

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Other items of note:

Compass – really handy, especially when hiking or traveling streets with no identifiable marks.

Plastic Ziploc bags – you can’t bring enough. Always carry two with you in case the weather changes: one for your passport; the other for your camera. I could have used this advice on the Tongariro, which soaked us and our passports to the core.

Digital camera (duh!) with video camera option (ahh) – I wish ours had better resolution. The little 30 second videos are priceless to us. Wish we had recorded more like the one above.

Extra camera battery – essential, so you’ll never run out of juice just as a crazy sheep head-butts a child at Sheep World! Uploading pictures to your trusty website is a battery drain in itself. Always have one battery charging.

USB camera cord – don’t risk losing the memory card (and your pictures) in suspect internet cafe readers. Also related: If traveling for a long period of time, upload your photos to an online site like Flickr. That way you can share them so people know you’re alive, and they’re safe from suspect CDs and camera thieves.

Camera case with belt loop – ready to fire and always where you need it. The first case ripped after Xiamen, so we bought the one pictured here in the Hong Kong women’s market. Took us home.

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International SIM card for your cell phone – made everything in New Zealand and Australia so much easier. Simply walk in the one of many vodaphone phone stores, even stationed in major airports, and grab a SIM card kit. You can buy rechargeable minutes at almost any gas station or grocery store! Obviously, we didn’t use it in China, where we wouldn’t understand the voice on the other end. NOTE: You have to unlock your phone with your carrier – takes a super-secret special code, and once entered, you can never go back. Erin swears it ruined her phone’s effectiveness upon returning, but I think all cell phones stink anyway.

iPod – I never regretted my decision to leave it at home for this trek. On foreign excursions, I feel my eyes and ears should be absorbing as much as possible. Save the white ear buds for your normal life back home. If you must have music, bring a walkman (portable tape player) with radio and absorb some local tunes from the places you travel.

Journal and pen – other than blogging, it’s the best way to recollect what you’re brain will inevitably omit with time. It always seems a pain at the time, but it’s a great thing to have later.




Silly Goat

Originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Texas Mike here. That’s the exclamation that made me turn around the car. Erin and I were in route to Lake K in North Texas for my family’s mother’s day celebration. Rolling past a farm at 60 mph, we caught a glimpse of a goat hanging by its head – feet off the ground, neck through the top of a wire fence. No doubt, it was going for that tempting green shrub just outside the property.

I’m ashamed to say, I was likely to keep driving. It didn’t look hurt to me. But Erin, my better moral half and surrogate mother to farm animals everywhere, came to the rescue. We turned around, and went door to door trying to find the farmers. (We didn’t have wire cutters). Erin found the right farmers and pointed out the goat in distress. Good to know even now that Erin is a big radio star, she’s still grounded. I’m proud of her, and I’m sure Jackie and Norman from the New Zealand farmstay are too. Happy mother’s day.

(Texas Mike)

Matt Lauer is off on his annual Today Show travel adventure this week. Hearing the promos and interviews leading up to his departure has jogged my memory about planning for our eastern sojourn. In short – it wasn’t easy. A better question than “Where in the world” is “How in the world” does one pack for such a thing.

As Matt knows, preparing for the entire spectrum of climate, terrain and activity presents a challenge. And I’m not the lightest methodical packer to begin with. So, when laying out our gear, I started thinking in terms of extremes. Weather: Dangerously hot desert in the Red Centre, Australia, to the blustery winter in northern China. Terrain: Hiking the peaks of the Routeburn Trail, New Zealand, to street hiking the big city of Hong Kong. Activities: Prepare for anything and everything, knowing we’d find ourselves kayaking the Tasman Sea to hitting the Beijing night life. Then, you look at all your stuff and start settling for common denomenators. Sure, we knew we couldn’t prepare for everything, which made Chinese street markets and the Auckland Kathmandu retail outlets as much necessary as fun.

The big thing Matt doesn’t have worry about: fitting all your gear in a couple of bags and strapping them to your back. The single most important factor for narrowing down gear or buying items along the way is “am I willing to carry that?” Things like size 13 running shoes took on new meaning and stayed in the closet. A ceramic scuplture of our heads from Chengdu? Cool, but my shoulders answered for me there. We left some great souvenirs in their countries of origin, and for those we couldn’t pass up, thank goodness for overseas shipping.

Good times and safe travels, Mr. Lauer. I’m jealous.

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Japanese Routeburn Pics 013, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

(Texas Mike)

Or so it’s called. Still don’t see it. Do they even have Hershey’s in New Zealand??

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