The Quiet Traveller: Day 23 – Wellington (via Cook Strait)

I want to be a seal. No limbs, no responsibility. Kaikoura coastline seals know how to live.

Seal Schedule: (Sealdule)

Wake up, roll into sea.

Roll out of sea, go to sleep.

Repeat.

Departing Kaikoura for the second time, today we were bound for Wellington via the Cook Strait crossing, which meant switching from a four wheeled vehicle to a sea-going vessel. The Cook Strait is the gap of briny deep between the North and South Island, and is notorious for its unpredictability and often rough conditions. The Bluebridge ferry company would be given the honour of shuttling myself and others, vehicles, and cows across the strait on a fine grey day down under.

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Looking out for pirates. Spoilers – there were no pirates. 

Leaving the South Island, the vessel crept through the sea inlet, passing through lush green land on either side. Upon reaching the open ocean, I could see and feel why the Strait had earned its notorious reputation – the wind kicked up, and I clung a little more tightly to the railing. It was a refreshing way to travel though, having spent many hours on buses and planes in the past few weeks. I spent most of the voyage up on the helicopter landing deck, as it provided some shelter from the wind but still had great views.

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Departing the South Island. Feat. cows.

I didn’t have much time to look round the city upon arrival, so I hit up the supermarket opposite my hostel and found my room. Being in Wellington for a week and not being on the move every meant I could save some money by making use of a fridge and freezer – something which I was very excited about as it meant I could have a proper brewski, especially after the debacle at Rangitata.

My room was for six people and to be fair, was fairly roomy. But it was hot. It might have been too hot. I could feel the moisture in the air. This was gonna get sticky. Despite the immediate temperature issue, I was looking forward to exploring a new major city tomorrow. And to have a lie in – lie ins are actually a rare thing if one is moving everyday on the Stray bus.

This time roommates consisted of a couple of northern lads from Derby and Newcastle who were off to the pub, and Eden, a hippy Canadian girl who had with her a skateboard and a copy of ‘Big Magic’, a self-discovery book written by the author of ‘Eat Pray Love’. You shouldn’t judge people, and I myself was on a self-discovery expedition of sorts, but this person was a walking, talking, cliche.

I appreciated the AESTHETICS of carrying a skateboard around whilst travelling, but the impractical nature of it irritated me beyond belief. Firstly, hostels rarely have half-pipe facilities. Secondly, they’re fairly heavy. And finally, practicality > edginess. Maybe I’m just getting old.

I was being slowly roasted like a chicken in the room. Imagine those slowly roasting rotisserie chickens you see at the Tesco’s that do hot food, except the Tesco’s is in geostationary orbit around the Sun. That was me and my roommates enduring the sweatbox of a dormitory.

No amount of twisting and turning would provide relief from the crushing humidity. I turned my thoughts to icebergs, closed my eyes, and attempted to sleep. Tomorrow I would seek out a fresh oasis, one liquid version from the corner shop, and one quiet introvert one, within the bustle of the new city.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 22 – Kaikoura (2)

Due the circular nature of my route around the Southern Island, I was now re-entering previously explored territory on my way back up to the ferry terminal in Picton. This wasn’t such a bad thing though- it meant traversing through Kaikoura once again; a fate I was more than happy to accept.

It was a horrifically early start leaving Rangitata. So early that it was still dark outside. So early that it was 6:15am. No-one should be awake at such a time. This early arising put me in a miserable mood, and combined with the lack of a shower, multiple insect bites, an overly warm room, and a general fed-upness with being around people, it put me in the foulest of foul moods.

So I thought to myself, ‘you know what you need Simon? You need a cup of tea. That’ll sort you out.’ And my internal monologue version of Simon was right. I did indeed need a cup of tea. So I queued up with a cup and waited for my turn at the hot water boiler. To clarify, the tea was free and provided by the lodge.

I was just dropping my bag in the tea, when I noticed the woman next me draining the last of the milk into her own tea. ‘There might be some more in the fridge’ she half-heartedly muttered.

Picture the scene. I’m standing there with my milkless tea, after being told by a fellower traveller that I should go find some more milk. This traveller in question was another Brit. So naturally, I go and check the fridge.

Luckily there was another carton of milk in the fridge, so I opened it up and poure- THERE WAS NO MILK LEFT AND THIS PERSON CLEARLY KNEW AND DIDN’T CARE THAT I WAS GOING TO BE LEFT MILKLESS.

What sort of animal uses the last of the milk when it’s clearly in short supply. And it’s 5:45am. And the person in question is fellow Breton, from a country where tea is known to have magical healing properties that go beyond the known dimensions of the space-time continuum

This is why we have lost our humanity.

To add to my misery, when we got on the coach an absolute gogglemoose in front of me was on their phone with full brightness on. This meant it reflected off the window next to me, blinding me and preventing me from seeing the stars unhindered by light pollution. Some days people are just too much. Luckily I knew that at Kaikoura I could get away and do introvert stuff by myself. That kept me going that hideously early morning.

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Kaikoura looking lush. Look at that sea fog. Love a good sea fog. And a bit of bush.

I was pretty desperate for a recharge. My mind wandered whilst on the coach, and I thought about castles for a bit. Don’t ask me why, they just popped into my head. Partly because of the lack of them. When I think about it, we actually take our castles in Europe for granted. The UK is chock full of em.

But in Australia, NZ, and the USA, castles are in short supply. And old stuff in general. The minster in my town is from the 1200s or something. And it’s strange to think that places like NZ are whole countries but they don’t have anything that we would really consider a castle.

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Here’s me looking awkward. What’s awkwarder? The couple sitting on the beach ruining my photo.

Occasionally whilst walking through Kaikoura, you will hear what can only be described as an impending nuclear apocalypse.

Upon hearing the siren the first time, my mind panicked, first assuming a nuclear attack (despite Kaikoura being of zero strategic importance), followed by a tsunami (much more likely), followed by a hasty google to find out the source of the screeching.

The googling revealed that the fire brigade broadcast a warning klaxon whenever its fire fighters are needed on duty. This means they can rush to the station, but it also means traffic (of which there is little) is aware that a large red rectangle may soon be appearing in their rear view mirror.

I think this klaxon could have a number of applications in England, and after much thought I have come up with a top five:

  1.  Klaxon for when it’s warm enough to go outside in shorts and t-shirt.
  2.  Klaxon for when schools finish, nightclubs kick out, and when old people emerge to collect their pensions. (Ok that’s 3in1).
  3. Klaxon for when McDonald’s Monopoly season begins.
  4. Klaxon for when a truly fresh and truly zesty meme has been created.
  5. Klaxon for when Vincent Janssen scores from open play.

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 21 – Rangitata

At Mount Cook, there was nothing there, and it was therefore glorious. At the next stop, Rangitata Rafting Lodge, there was nothing there, but it wasn’t exactly glorious.

This single night stop was so those who had signed up for the white water rafting could throw themselves down a furious stream of H2O. For everyone else however, this meant a lot of waiting around. The location was pleasant enough and isolated away from the nearest town – we were instructed to buy provisions on the way in.

In a certain twist of irony, I found myself missing the hustle and bustle of the city. At least in the city there are restorative niches and escape routes from people; out in the sticks I was stuck with strangers I had only just met. Which is fine, but not when you’re starting to get tired of people.

What surprised me the most about the accommodation was the triple decker beds. That’s right, TRIPLE bunk beds. Unfortunately being one of the last ones in, I ended up in a corner on the top bunk, with my face engaging in pleasantries with the ceiling. However, I soon discovered that this was actually quite a nice experience, as I was so high up it was like my own private area away from the street level below me. It’s always nice when something unexpectedly lends itself to your introvert tendencies.

I spent most of the day reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in anything. But then I always recommend all Bill Bryson’s books, so then who am I to say?

Whilst reading on the Lodge veranda, I noticed some new Brits who had recently joined the bus sitting on a bench further down the entrance path. How did I know they were Brits? Shirts off. Bucket hats. Stella. Fags. The traditional exports of Her Maj’s islands. In general the people on this bus were not quite as fun or interesting as the last. But hey, I wasn’t going to see them again so I decided to just get on with it.

I chatted with Cookie (the driver) for a bit, and discovered that he joined Stray as a driver simply because it was offered as an opportunity to him and he thought ‘why not?’. Apart from the fact that NZ is a lot sunnier than Donegal, I believed him. The opportunity arose and he took it. Being a driver seems like a stressful job at times, given that you have to shepherd an ever-changing flock of often smelly and sweaty tourists who never seem to be on time. But on the other hand, the view out the office window is unbeatable. And sometimes you get to join in the activities. And the beverages.

There wasn’t really a lot going on at Rangitata. But I had noticed that my note-taking was getting much better. It was becoming a habit, and I was learning to memorise useful observations in a much more effective manner than the first few weeks. And much like cocaine, the habit was rather addictive. First I did a line. And then another. And then before I knew it, I had a full notebook. Don’t do sentences kids.

(The featured image is from the journey to Mount Cook – that’s how boring Rangitata was – I didn’t take any pictures)

The Quiet Traveller: Liebster Award

Firstly, thanks for the nomination from the It Takes Two blog run by Jamie and Brogan – do check out their blog for their experiences of travelling as a couple and for location specific travel tips!

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What is the Liebster Award?

The Liebster Award is an award that exists only on the internet, and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. It’s a great way to discover great blogs by new bloggers and support one and another in the blogging community. 

What are the rules?

  1. Thank the person who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blogs.
  2. Answer the questions sent by the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate other bloggers to receive the award and write them several new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Liebster Award logo in your post and/or your blog!

My nominees:

A Hearty Nomad – See what happens when the hamster takes over!

Explore Adventure Discover – Jenny does some really cool traveller interviews over here.

The Age of the Introvert – The piece about solo travel as an introvert rings a lot of bells…

My answers to Jamie and Brogan’s questions:

What inspired you to travel?

Travelling was something that I had wanted to do for a long time. I remembering reading my Mum’s copy of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, and I think I’ve always liked the idea of some kind of grand adventure. I think I also wanted to prove to myself that I could go around the world alone and return to tell the tale. Furthermore, I’m going to be dead in a matter of decades. This is fine by me – death is certain in life, as are taxes and the bottom bunk always being taken first.

What is your favourite and least favourite travel destination, and why?

On the trip I’m currently writing about, Iceland just pips New Zealand for me. New Zealand is without a doubt beautiful, but something about Iceland just feels other-worldly. From the moment you arrive at Keflavik to when you fly out over deserted landscapes, it feels like a completely different planet.

On the other hand, my least favourite place was Seattle. I’ll write more about this when I eventually reach that week of notes, but let’s just say I had high expectations and was rather disappointed. Mainly because of the Subway incident.

What are your Top 5 survival items for backpackers?

iPod Classic  – Incredibly useful for blocking out snoring roommates. Also great for staring out windows on buses or planes with a wistful look as if one is contemplating the deepest truths of man , when in reality you just really need a poo. No need for internet, and with a freshly changed battery (did this last week, wish I had done it before travelling) will last about a week. Sturdy. Durable. Full of bangers.

Eyemask –  This standard airline extra is very useful for when people come into dorm rooms late at night and turn on the lights. There’s a special place in hell for these people. Some masks are more comfortable than others – experiment to find your best option. You get used to the panic of waking up and trying to open your eyes only to see blackness.

Insect Repellent – Never 100% effective, but when you’re amongst a sandfly swarm you’ll be glad you packed it. Also doubles as mace. Make sure the bottle is kept in a plastic bag as they often leak and will stink out your bag if they do. 

Flip-flops – Hostel showers and bathrooms can often be slightly to horrifically grim. Nevertheless, they do the job. Wear flip-flops to avoid the worst of it. Be sure to keep them in a partitioned section of your bag however.

Google Maps Offline – I don’t know how I would have survived without out this. I was unable to use mobile data abroad with my contract, but if you download the map area that you want on Wifi before setting out, you can use your phone GPS (doesn’t use data) combined with the map area to find your exact location. Not very traditionalist adventurer I know, but could save you from wandering into dodgy areas. Or just getting lost in general.

What has been your most creative meal whilst travelling?

I’m not the most creative cook at home, let alone whilst travelling. Although one time I had these ‘baked beans’, which come in a tin. The tins have rings in the lid – you pull the ring to access the beans. You can also buy dough based slices in the shops, although I believe the technical term is ‘bread’. Most hostels have mechanical furnaces called toasters, which you use to cook the bread and turn it into ‘toast’. The penultimate step is to then heat the beans in what is labelled ‘microwave’, although in all the hostels none of the microwaves were particularly small and did not feature any visible tsunami-style action. Finally you pour the beans onto the toast. I haven’t thought of a name yet.

If money, visas and commitment were no object where would you live, and why?

Probably in the Scottish Highlands somewhere. I’d own an Aberdeen Angus called Kenneth, and I’d take him on walks with a large doggo. When the time came, I would eventually eat Kenneth through the medium of the burger, but he would have had a happy and fulfilling life.

My questions to the nominees:

What’s your favourite mode of transportation to travel on/in and why?

Who is the most interesting person you have met on your travels?

What is your favourite travel book and why?

Do you have any specific travel goals for the next 12 months?

What single photo best sums up your travels?

To nominees:

Give me a message once you’ve answered the questions – I would love to hear your answers!

Simon, The Quiet Traveller

https://www.facebook.com/thequiettraveller/

https://twitter.com/QuietTravel

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 20 – Mount Cook

Today I was supposed to be leaving Queenstown for a more relaxed place. But it wouldn’t let me go without one last adrenaline rush. Although this one was definitely not wanted.

The night was spent at an Irish pub, a given due to the small gaggle of Irish within the group. After a number of beverages, we decided to get a change of scenery, attempting and failing to get into several packed bars before encountering what seemed to be a fairly acceptable drinking establishment. Alas, this venture was not to be.

I was refused entry without a single reason being given. Now to be clear, I had consumed beverages. But I was also possibly the most sober person of the whole group. This development of events did not make me angry, but gave me a severe case of the baffles. ‘But why?’ ran through my head. To be fair I had attempted to enter with a much more drunk member of the group, and this may have alarmed the security guards.

But still. Maybe it was just my face. Yeah, that was it. My violent, troublemaking, come and have go at me face, which says nothing but ‘fight me bitch’.

So that was the night’s events. Come morning, I had a massive panic when I realised I had lost my passport.

This resulted in me checking with reception, then them telling me to see if the police station had it. I hastily scribbled a note to my sleeping roommates to tell them to contact me if they found it, and then sprinted off, backpack in tow towards where I thought the police station was.

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Bottom of note I left to roommates – observe very appropriate QOTD.

Huffing and puffing, I reached the police station. And my heart dropped. The police station was closed for this weekend specifically. Typical, I thought, absolutely bloody typical. Dejected, yet waddling rapidly like a two legged camel, I made it back to the bus just in time before departure and took a seat. I was really rather angry with myself.

About 20 mins later, I decided to check my bag one last time in desperation. I had been googling lost passport procedures whilst the bus was in wifi range, and the reading didn’t make for good thoughts. I had flights to catch and new lands to explore. But this could not be done without a passport. Running my hand through the back panel in the main compartment one last time, I encountered a small purple rectangle, and a wave of relief hit me like a tsunami made of trains.

I had a feeling that I had taken the passport home with me, because I’m surprisingly good at not losing things (until Day 68, naturally, the last day). It turned out that I had stuffed the passport into my backpack, not really paying attention, and had inadvertently stuffed it into a secret compartment that I didn’t even know about, hence why I couldn’t locate it.

Nice one Simon, you’ve played yourself.

Returning to non-panic based events, today we were headed to Mount Cook, NZ’s highest mountain. The bus was a fresh mix of people, having said goodbye for now to a number of new friends (they would pop up again later), but the same driver. It was slightly strange starting again with new people, but I had done it before so I could do it again.

Our accommodation for the night was near the base of the mountain, situated on a glorious mountain plain in the middle of nowhere. I was placed in a room with a Dutch guy named Ezra, who claimed his brother was a famous Dutch athlete, and a Swiss guy named Elias. Both were friendly enough, and I was saddened to hear Ezra had had his hiking equipment nicked at a previous hostel (by a Belgian apparently). You’ve got to be the filthiest of vermin to steal from a fellow traveller. (Disclaimer: not all Belgians are tent grabbing psychopaths).

Seeing as Ezra fancied himself as a bit of a pro hiker, I decided to whack out my walking shoes and announced I was going on a ‘hike’. By the term ‘hike’, I mean I managed to walk 500m or so and stop at a well positioned bench for some note-taking and biscuit consumption. A little while later Ezra and an unknown girl passed me by on a hike, and when they greeted me I pointed vaguely to a hillside bush where I had stumbled around aimlessly for a bit, as to prove my hiking expertise. I was in the Scouts I’ll have you know.

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This is what I was looking for.

Hiking-game repping aside, the location was truly beautiful. It was almost like a savannah, with the long grass rustling in the light wind and the vast expanse of nothingness stretching out for miles. All that existed was the accommodation buildings, the single road, and the grasslands. Mount Cook loomed in the distance, cloaked mysteriously in mist. Unfortunately, this was only a one night stop, so exploration opportunities were limited. I would to love return one day.

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Why is the colour brown always used for tourist signs?

Climbing into bed that night, I thought about the panic-stricken morning that had taken place. I realised that it wasn’t the burden of the problem itself that was digging at me – it was the anger at myself for having got into the situation . But then I thought some more, realised that was a stupid thought to have, decided to forgive myself for a change, and then wrote it all down because it’s actually a pretty funny story looking back.

I was indeed finding myself on this trip. And my passport.

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 19 – Queenstown

Queenstown has a drug problem. Luckily, for the authorities and visitors, that drug is adrenaline.

Today a group of us from the bus had signed up to go luging, which is essentially like real life Mario Kart. You sit on what is simply a loose combination of bits of metal and plastic, and then bomb down a concrete circuit built into the hillside, and then head back to the top on a sit down ski-lift while the kart is hauled up on a conveyor.

Compared to yesterday’s ledge activities, this may seem a bit tame. But in reality the speeds reached felt pretty nippy indeed. I highly recommend this youtube clip to get a sense of what I’m ranting about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8HTgHnrdVY

You may notice a number of small, fast dips on the track. As a long-term owner of testicles, they proved to provide a bizarre sensation.

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Luge track. I think the guy in the red on the right has got lost.

For what I remember to be a surprisingly reasonable price, Me, Veronika, Charlie, Dave, Ciara, Joe, Steph, and Hannah had five goes down the track over the afternoon. It was pretty good to spend time in a small group rather than the huge number that made up the Stray bus. I was still off my tits on  yesterday’s adrenaline on the inside as well – that probably helped.

Following the hours of Rainbow Road simulator, Me, Dave, and Veronika took a walk up into the forest above the track, until we stumbled across a grassy hilltop, where two para-gliders were setting up to run off the hill and into the winds. It was strange sight, seeing two humans gently float away, and once they were airborne I took in what I can safely say was the one of best views of the whole trip. Although the picture doesn’t really do it justice.

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Mordor AF

On the way back down, I restrained myself from spending money on some ice cream, and instead headed to Fergburger.

The term legendary is thrown around a lot these days, but Fergburger is without a doubt derserving of that moniker. I had heard so much hype from friends and fellow travellers, so I was pleased to discover that the grapevine spoke the truth.

Fergburger serves burgers from 8:30am to 5am every day of the week, with a consistent queue at all hours. Why? Because the burgers are the best you will ever experience anywhere. The holy trinity of ratio, quality, and structure were crafted in an artesian manner to rival the greatest sculptors in all of history. If Michaelangelo was still alive, he would smash up his David in despair that no artwork could ever come close to the splendour and glory of a succulent and tender Fergburger.

So yeah, go to Fergburger.

On a final note, whilst at Fergburger, I noticed an gentleman eating his burger with chopsticks. You sir, have excellent self-control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 18 – Queenstown

Today was the day I died. If the elastic snapped.

Before any elastic based activities, we actually had to reach the adventure paradise of Queenstown. Weirdly, I had a dream in which I was falling the previous night, which I took as an omen. Not sure if it was a good or bad one. But it referenced my activity of the day; that was the most I could deduce.

On the way into Queenstown, we drove past rivers which had cut deep into the Kiwi landscape to make huge chasms, similar to the Grand Canyon but on a much smaller scale. According to Cookie, our driver, the rivers which flowed through the canyons were named after prostitutes who provided their services to local gold miners. One of particular interest was ‘Roaring Meg’, and one wonders what circumstances led the to the woman acquiring the prefix of ‘Roaring’ to her name.

As well as an adventure capital, Queenstown is a beauty capital. The scenes were simply sensational, with the nearby mountain ranges evoking a Lord of the Rings feel. Called the Remarkables, they do indeed live up to their name.

Once checked in to the hostel, I said my goodbyes and began the trek up to the jumping ledge. Well it wasn’t a trek, more of a gondola ride, but it was still a big climb in altitude. I was starting feel the weight of what I had signed up for now, and I spend the the half hour I had before the jump surveying the view to relax.

Half an hour later, and I was out on the ledge preparing to get my nuts squashed into a harness. I know they have to be tight (the harness not the nuts), but someone needs to invent a system that minimises nut compression when carrying out harness-based activities.

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Carlsberg don’t do ledges, but if they did…

 

There was a guy in front of me taking his time to jump. It turned out that he had jumped before, but this time he was stubbornly refusing to go. Despite the best efforts of the bungy team, he ended up going back from the ledge having lost his money (no refunds). What a drongo.

I had been nervous yet still keen the whole build up, but as I stepped onto the actual platform where you jump, it hit me what I was about to do. Even as I write this, I can feel my heart beating faster as I recall the moment. My body was still functioning fine, albeit showing usual signs of nerves, but the feeling in my brain was something I had never experienced before. The brain realises what you intend to carry out, and does not approve one bit. It’s like a watertight door slamming shut inside a sinking ship.

Despite this, I knew of the phrases ‘mind over matter’ and ‘go hard or go home’. I certainly wasn’t going to bail after witnessing the previous contestant do so. I wasn’t going to throw my money away without throwing myself as well.

Having opted for the bungy that ties around the waist rather than ankles, I was able to run, and so took three large strides and leapt into the air. There was a brief pause in time as I went up towards the sky, and then the plummet began. The best way to describe this is that feeling when you fall backwards on a chair, except for a longer duration.

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Wings deployed. Wings not effective.

I made a strange noise, which I recall being a bit like a distressed goat. Then before I knew it, I felt the tug of the elastic pulling me back up. I bounced up and down multiple times, like a human yoyo. And then came the adrenaline buzz. Quite frankly, I was absolutely off my tits.

The bouncing stopped. I dangled in the air, admiring the view and the position that I was in. It’s a cliche, but I felt very alive. That was until a wannabe interviewer interrupted my serenity.

I heard a Kiwi voice shout ‘What does it feel like mate?’ from one of the gondola cars. ‘Amazing’ I replied, ‘Absolutely incredible.’ Until you ruined my moment you utter interrupting gondola-wombler.

After I was hauled back up to the ledge, I discovered that I was a babbling wreck, and that I was spouting incoherent shit. In a good way of course. I blabbered on to the bungy team about how good it was, and how I’d definitely be back to do the Nevis, the 134m drop monster jump.

I claimed my been there done that got the t-shirt t-shirt and stumbled back onto the gondola to make my way down the mountain. I chatted away to a friendly Belgian guy who had just finished his shift on the mountain restaurant. All introvert attributes seemed to have been suspended for the time being. My personality had gone on strike.

It took me a while to process what I had actually done once back at the hostel. Tucking into a 10NZD monster plate of fish and chips I did some thinking and realised there’s actually very little to be scared of in this world. It would seem if you can throw yourself off a ledge (with elastic attached), then what can’t you do?