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

 

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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?

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 17 – Wanaka

If I’ve got my days right in my journal, today was St Patrick’s Day, which meant the innards of the bus were voraciously decked out in green and all things Ireland related. That’s what happens when the driver is Irish. What also happened was a lengthy playlist of Irish artists booming through the bus speakers, including but not limited to Snow Patrol, The Corrs, and Ronan Keating. Try as I may, I could never explain.

Wanaka was today’s destination, a small town on route to the major destination of Queenstown. But before we even got there, New Zealand’s scenery hit pengest fleekness or whatever the kids say now. It was a stark contrast to the cloudy views in Franz Josef.

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Lake Matheson – someone hit the Inception klaxon.

The lake is famous for its near-perfect reflection of Mount Cook. If you look at the image upside down or sideways, it’s very hard to tell which way is up. It was about a 35 minute walk to this location, but it was worth it. No man made water-feature can beat feature au natural. A quiet place to reflect indeed.

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Generic NZ lake #2237

Every stop along the way was like this.

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The Stray bus at a watering hole.

These sights accompanied by a banging Irish soundtrack resulted in one of the best days of travel on the bus so far. Also on the bus was the signup sheet for activities in Queenstown, including activities such as hang gliding, skydiving, power boating, and bungy jumping.  In a rather rare impulsive move, I signed myself up to throw myself off a high ledge while attached to a piece of elastic band. I decided not to tell my parents I had done this.

I felt surprisingly calm after signing up, but I have always wanted to jump off something tall to see what it feels like, so I guess I felt like this was progression towards fulfilling a lifelong ambition. Of falling rapidly towards the earth. And isn’t that strange, how things like making smalltalk and talking to strangers and interacting with people for long periods can be difficult and draining, yet you give me an elastic band and a cliff and I’ll happily jump off it. Fears are strange things. Which I suppose makes them less scary in a way. Weirdos.

Upon arrival at Wanaka, I was sad that we were only spending the one night here. It was gorgeous. Sitting lakeside amongst the mountains, it’s a bit of a hidden gem when it comes to the NZ backpacking route. Nearly everyone I spoke to shared my desire to spend more time there, and I heard tales of people returning to the town after seeing the rest of NZ.

Naturally, as the day was St Patrick’s day, the evening would be a big green party. I hung around for a bit to witness a beverage fuelled limbo competition, and then decided to head to bed. I was enjoying myself greatly, but being around people all the time was starting to take its toll. Luckily no-one else had to signed up to the particular bungy I was doing, so tomorrow I would be able to venture off on a solo quest to dangle from a ledge.

In a weird coincidence, the quote at the bottom of my journal page of the day read ‘Abroad is the place where we…follow impulse’. Eloquent indeed.

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 16 – Franz Josef

After a night of multiple beverages (beveragi?), I wasn’t feeling the greatest, but my plans consisted of nothing anyway, so that was ok. Today my plan was to shower, eat, do washing and just chill. And have a decent cup of tea, if that was at all possible. Coffee made outside the house tastes good. But tea rarely does. Tea must be made inside the walls of this Englishman’s castle.

Part of my plan was also to find some wifi, as the hostel wifi was as weak as my knees after hearing a biscuit packet rustle. I decided the best bet was a cafe named The Aviator, as it charmingly advertised free wifi on an outside A-frame. I sat down, having ordered a coffee and what I think was a lasagne, and logged onto the interwebs. It had been a while since I had used the internet, having been busy surfing and being in remote areas. I chatted with friends, which given the location I was currently in, was such a cool feeling. Here I was at the foot of a glacier on an island on the other side of the world, talking to people from home. That’s globalisation for you.

Having wolfed down my food, I slowly slurped my coffee as I still wanted to use the internet, mostly to check up on the Premier League. Honestly, the one time in my life I go to the other side of the world for two months, Leicester decide to cause a ruckus and I’m not around to watch it unfold. This was a disappointment indeed. Such is the life of a Spurs fan.

The cafe was slowly filling up, which meant a chance to kick back and people watch. Americans are always good fun to watch. I witnessed a portly man complain that there was not enough hollandaise sauce on his food. It wasn’t the taste, the temperature, or the presentation. It was the quantity. Classic.

However, I perhaps was just a little jealous, as I saw another group of wealthy Americans sign up for pretty much every glacier tour. Maybe I could use my British accent to get adopted by them. Does that work? Hello Mr and Mrs American, I’m British. Will you fund my adventures in exchange for me saying words that sound funny to you?

Aside from Americans, there was a herd of old people bumbling about. There needs to be an appropriate word for a large group of old people. For such a common occurrence, especially on the South Coast of England, it’s surprising there is not one. The offenders had stickers with their names on and the name of their tour operator, which I quite frankly, found hilarious. We start our lives as babies in the hospital with name tags, and end them as named-tagged troops of the blue-rinse brigade.

Before the staff of the Aviator cottoned on to my raccoon-like use of their wifi, I trotted off to see if I could find any parts of Franz Josef that I hadn’t already explored. Heading towards the edge of town, full of lasagne, I soon found myself needing to publish a lengthy title. Luckily, Franz Josef has public toilets, so no issues there.

However, these toilets were unlike any I had ever encountered in my life. I walked in and discovered you had to press a button to close the door, which would then automatically lock. I did so and a disembodied voice echoed ‘door locked’. Weird.

As I made myself comfortable, music started playing. The kind you usually find in an elevator. If I’m honest, this was most off-putting. But what was put me off the most in this bizarre contraption was the writing on the door-locking device. ‘This door will open after 10 minutes’ it said. So it hit me that I had 10 minutes in get the job done, or else the door would open directly onto the main street in Franz Josef. What kind of 1984 toilet was this?

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The Big Brother toilet cubicle.

Now, don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned previously, toilets can be a handy restorative niche if you need a few minutes away from people. But this was just ridiculous.

To be fair though, this toilet was probably the most interesting thing about Franz Josef after the glacier itself. Sure, the scenery was good, but it was obscured by thick clouds (see awful featured image) for both days – which was both annoying visually and for those trying to get up the glacier by helicopter, as recent accidents have tightened the flying conditions that can be flown in. It will be interesting to see what happens to the town after the glacier one day disappears. Thanks to global warming, it is vanishing at a rate of knots, and that rate of knots will only increase thanks to Donny Johnny Trumpington.

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 15 – Franz Josef

Setting off from Westport, we continued along the coast in the direction of the Franz Josef Glacier. I was not booked on to do anything at the glacier, so I decided I had to make the most out of the stops on the way.

The main point of interest on route was Hari Hari, where in 1931 an aviator named Guy Menzies landed the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea. The Tasman is the lengthy wet area between Australia and New Zealand, although the flight is not far by today’s modern aviation standards. But in 1931, such a trip took some industrial sized military-grade balls. Menzies landed not on what he thought was a field, but was actually a swamp. This unfortunate turn of events, and the fact that Shrek had negated to install any kind of runaway that could accommodate an Avro Avian, meant Guy’s plane ended up with its wheels pointing at the sky.

Luckily Guy survived, and there is now a memorial garden dedicated to him at the site of the ‘landing’. This consists of a mosaic with a lot of inspirational messages from people around the world, and a sundial. I looked at the sundial and appreciated the ultimate analogue form of telling the time; a stick and the sun. Upon closer inspection, the dial had an inscription, which read ‘Be true to others as the dial is to the sun’. I boarded my mental submarine, locked the hatches, and hit the dive lever.

Whilst deep, I reached out to touch the sundial itself. Pulling my hand back, the middle part came back with it a little way. I reached back again and shook it. The bolts connecting the dial to the base were loose, and I could freely shake it around. I no longer appreciated the dial, but instead the irony of the situation. The dial was as true to the sun as a promise not to invade Poland.

Arriving at Franz Josef, I soon realised that the town itself only existed to serve the purpose of a base for those hiking or helicoptering up onto the glacier itself. There’s not a lot going on if you’re not going up, and much like Picton, it is merely a transit hub.

I also soon realised that this meant there was not much to do except go to the pub. We were greeted at our accommodation an owner who seemed to think he was some kind of beverage based demi-god, who gave out free drinks to a few travellers upon arrival. He attempted to make his place sound like Ibiza, which to be fair to him, he did good job of. The place had a university halls kind of vibe, and after dinner at the onsite restaurant (very hallsy), people came together for drinks.

As an introvert, I do find socialising isn’t as draining after a beer or two. Alcohol can be a verbal lubricant, a phrase which sounds disgusting but is oddly accurate. However, it’s not recommended because you’re fundamentally altering your personality. And this book is about adapting and thriving with your personality, not changing it with substances.

Having said that, I was intrigued to try the local beverage of NZ, Tui. I bought myself one, and then a Swiss guy bought me one, so naturally I had to buy him one back, whilst getting myself one and so on. You get the idea.

Tomorrow would be for recharging, both of the social energy variety and beer variety.