Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's been too long

I know it has been so long since writing. I feel terrible about it. I often sit on the train or walk around saying to myself "I need to write about this". But, when I get home... I don't. However, I have been up since 4:45 this morning talking to family and friends. My Dad called me this morning and got me out of bed after a night out in Tokyo. (That is another story) I crawled out of bed and put on the smile and BING! I was ready to Skype.
It was so great to see my family together. I have not been that happy in so long. Seeing my Grandmother, Father, Brothers with the kids and family all around was the best Christmas gift I could ask for. I almost felt like I was there in the room. I was taking pictures of my computer of all the family. It truly is amazing how Skype can bring us together. It was hard for me to hang up. I didn't want the call to end. I feel like calling back now and just watching everyone as they watch the new television my Dad bought. I wouldn't even need to talk. Just watch.I think to myself that I need to get the new iPhone 4 so I can use video on my mobile phone as well. It would be so great to show you all Tokyo as I walk around the city and explore the fun world of Japanese Life. Thank you Eva for reminding me how much I enjoy writing. I am so glad we talked this morning.

Well that is enough for now. I am starting to get a little bit sleepy and ramble too much. I see I am making a lot of mistakes and having to go back and korrect them. See! I did it again. I will leave that one.

Here is a little bit of what my morning was like. So enjoy the slideshow. I am going to call some more people since I am awake now. Maybe I will call you. Do you have Skype? If not, get it at and then call me.

Missing you all so much. Merry Christmas and I hope to talk soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The African Experience Part 2

“Coming down the mountain!” as Perry Farrell says of Jane’s Addiction. We make our way back to the Kia and set out on another long drive to Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Park {pronounced ShlooShloowee Umfolozi}. As we get closer and closer to Durban we begin to see the Indian Ocean. It is a must stop for us. I had not seen the Indian Ocean before and I know mSqwearl had not either. Our minds were made up an we drove on looking for a small village to turn off into. We miss one turn off and decide on Zinkwazi. A small little beach community that looked perfect for a quick 10 minute stop. We park and walk out onto the beach. We stand looking at the 2meter high waves crash on the beach as the tide is rushing in at our feet. While standing to capture the moment with me compact Olympus waterproof camera the waves rush over my feet. Still wearing my Gortex shoes I get soaked as a father and his children capture it on his video camera. We laugh and move up the beach. Standing in the water knee high, mSqwearl is relaxing in the cool rushing water of the Indian Ocean. Ken and I are talking about something as we hear a scream and yell from the distance. With is back turned to the water Ken makes a run for higher ground thinking the waves are going to crash into him. I bolt the opposite direction and run toward the water. I see a bobbing head being pulled along the beach. The head belongs to one of the young children who was with his father down the beach. A large swell came in to the beach too fast and was too powerful for the child to run from. The water grabbed the small boy as if it wanted to take the child to the great blue. However, fate had something else planned. As with us missing our turn a few miles back forcing us to choose Zinkwazi for our stop. The young boy would not be taken by the great waves. As I was running to the water to grab the boy, he was brought to the waiting arms of mSqwearl. He had been standing in the water relaxing as the same giant wave rushed into him chest high. All mSqwearl had to do was reach out and grab the frightened, yet calm boy, by the shoulder. As the father came running to make sure his son was safe, mSqwearl passed the child back to his father. And he thanks him as a caring father would do after watching his child be swept away.

Jasper, the father’s name, would invite us back to his home for coffee and to allow mSqwearl to shower and put on clean clothes. Soaking from the neck down after racing to save the boy , who for certain would have been swept over jagged rocks, mSqwearl, Ken and I all drive to the house up the beach. There we meet the whole family. Jasper introduced us to his wife, mother and father. His father, Jasper Sr., was a retired sugarcane farmer. In the recent years Jasper Sr. has been making trips to schools to talk about nature and wildlife. He felt that many children now a days don’t spend enough time outdoors. So, he brings the outdoors to the children. Doing so takes place in many forms. It could be live animals, plants, flowers or even animal bones and skulls. David, the young boy who was saved at the beach asked his father to get some of the animals out to show us.
Jasper kindly abides and leaves to room and comes back with a large box of treats. He first pulls out a massive skull of a warthog. He talks about how the large tusks are used for digging and foraging and the smaller tusks are used to defend itself.

The second animal he pulled out a small bag came with lots of items in it. First he brought out a tiny skull and placed it on the table in front of us. We tried to guess and determine what it was. To help us out he brought some long quills out and we immediately knew it is a porcupine.
He talked about the different quills and told us which ones are the most dangerous and how the porcupine defends itself. He told us that when a porcupine in cornered by a lion or other predator it will charge them in hopes to jab the hard quills into the animal’s face. Lions can’t resist the taste of porcupine, Jasper said , because porcupine is one of the lion’s favorite meats to eat. But, porcupines are no push over and have been know to kill lions with their quills.
As the quills get jabbed into the face of the lion by the porcupine, the lion will force the quills in deeper as it tries to dig them out. I had no idea that porcupines protected themselves that way. I love learning something new. And that day I was going to learn even more.

The third thing he took out of his massive box was a large lioness skull. He showed us how lions grab onto the face of is prey or the next. To prove his point he too his massive hands and placed them on the neck of Ken, who was sitting next to him. He grabbed and shook Ken then grabbed his own face to show how and where a lion would grab a man.

The fourth animal he showed us was a baboon skull. It was white and shiny with large fangs. Jasper said the getting into a fight with a baboon would be a bad thing. The have large front fangs but they are used for puncturing the meat. the teeth you have to worry about are the bottom ones. As they rub against the top long fangs they get sharpened. Almost to a razor sharpness. I touched them and could feel the edge, much like a knife.
We were amazed by the animals and knowledge of the grandfather. Yet, we were not finished. The children and parents all were not satisfied with impressing the Americans. They asked their grandfather to “bring out the fun stuff”. So, once again Jasper the retired sugarcane farmer now turned naturalist leaves the room. This time he returns with a plastic bag. We could see it had been in the freezer as cold air permeated through the air. He opened the bag and pulled out a whole baboon head. Still containing the hair, eyes, tongue and teeth. Ken and mSqwearl leaned back away from the beast. .

I reached forward and asked if I could hold it. He kindly passed it along to me and I admired its powerful and strong features. This baboon had come into the village and was tormenting people and killing animals. It was threatening the lives of many people and need to be killed. Jasper was asked to come to the village and dispose of it. He did, but decided to keep the head for his teachings. I am glad he kept it otherwise I would have never been able to hold it.

Out plan to stop for 10 minutes soon turned into almost 2 hours. We were asked to join them for fish curry and stew. But, we kindly denied as it was getting late and we needed to check into out huts at the game park. We did however enjoy some birthday cake leftover from the afternoon. We kindly said our thanks for hospitality and moved out the door. Once again, we are shown that people are the greatest keys to vacation and travel. Meeting this family was a pure pleasure and one I will never forget. This day has been one of the most amazing days of my life. I began the morning atop a mountain plateau in the small country of Lesotho and I finished it in the sitting room of a South African family looking at animal skulls and holding a baboon head while hearing the Indian Ocean pound it’s powerful waves on the beach of Zinkwazi.
What kind of life am I living? I ask myself this question many times. I guess I am living my dream.

Part 3 of the African Experience will show you the animals you have been waiting to see. The BIG FIVE!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The African Experience Part 1

It has been a long time coming for the next installment of the Wayfaring Writer. I am halfway around the world on my Around The World Flight. I am sitting here in Warsaw, Missouri at the Cosmic Coffee chatting with the locals. It is time to fill you on on the African Experience.
Stepping off the plane and going through customs you could see that the World Cup had hit South Africa in full swing. June 11th was the beginning of the World Cup and I arrived on the 13th after a 26hr travel schedule taking me from Tokyo to Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong and finally to Johanesburg. Walking through the madness of World Cup Mania you could see the excitement and anticipation of the tournament in everybody's eyes. I walked out of customs to see a mass of people holding signs with names from all over the world. I had hopes of seeing my sign with the name "Schwartz's Sweet-Ass Ride" on it but no luck. I sat around for an hour then stood on my bag to get noticed better and then heard "MURF"! It was time to begin an epic trip my with Ken and Squirrel, who would later earn his new South African name mSqwearl.(Decked out in our World Cup Gear)

Summing up the three week long travel experience in one post is impossible. Luckily, I have lots of time to fill you in between working on my new house and sitting in the Cosmic Coffee shop. It will take some time so be patient. We gathered ourselves and headed to the Meewes household in Boksburg. My good friend Michele was nice enough to set us up with a place to stay at her parents house. Mike and June's hospitality and home were at a 5 star level. If they were to open a bed & breakfast I would suggest not choosing any other place. Michele's daughter, Amy was in my Kindergarten class four years ago when I was teaching in Poland. Michele and I continued our friendship after she moved back to South Africa. Arriving at her parent's house we were immediately welcomed to the family. They remembered me as Mr. Murphy and soon adjusted the name to Neal. Michele and the girls came over for some fun and playtime. We all caught up and informed them of our travel plans and when we would return. It was so good to see Michele and her girls Chloe, Amy and Leah.

With Ken and mSqwearl sleeping in the new Kia Senata I was on the road to Giant's Castle for our first adventure in South Africa. The road was flat and straight with not much to look at. Actually, it looked a lot like Kansas until a table top mountain appeared in the distance. At that point we knew we were getting to the highlands. The roads were nice and the drivers even better. It was not what I expected.

From what I had been told by people who visited I was expected a rough and dangerous environment with threats of theft and murder. WRONG! South Africa is much more than I expected. Throughout the traveling we met countless numbers of people who went out of their way to make us feel welcome. At no point in the entire 3 week trip did we feel threatened or unsafe, even though many people had told us to be careful. Being smart is all you need to do. Don't put yourself in situation that might cause you problems is what I always say. More stories of generosity and hospitality are in the next installments.

Back to the driving. As we climb slowly through the hills of the Drakensburg we find our way through some small villages on a black dirt roads covered with potholes. We drive amongst the local children waving and smiling as we go by. Some reaching with hands out asking for money. These people make their living off of farming and raising livestock in the hills. We stop for a break and a stretch, as well as to admire the surroundings. This country is beautiful, whether it is the landscape or the people. The Drakensburgs region of South Africa proved to be the beginning of the best trip of my life.

Arriving at Giant's Castle we walked into an amazing chalet with two bedrooms, fireplace, kitchen and a view to die for. We played cards and watched some World Cup matches and enjoyed some nice cold glasses of Castle Beer. This beer would soon become our favorite beer of choice. In the morning I wake up to the sound of a Gurney's Sugarbird chatting on a bush in front of the window with a breath-taking sunrise behind it. I yell at Ken to get up and he is reluctant but I force him out of bed to see the Sugarbird. He can barely see out of his binoculars but is soon awaken by the beauty of the amazing creature. "I am finally on vacation", I thought to myself and made my way to the kitchen for some fruit and coffee.

Our plan that day was to walk through the mountains and make our way to the caves. The landscape and views on our walk were some of the best I had ever seen. The one hour walk ended up taking us about 2 hours and we barely made it to the tour for the ancient cave drawings. These drawings were thousands of years old and were done by the Bushmen of South Africa.
I have never seen ancient drawings like this before. I have seen them in museums but never in naturally preserved environments like that one. They were kept in brilliant condition, even after the English had set up camp in the caves and used the drawings and walls for target practice in the 1800's.

After Giant's Castle we started off on a seven hour drive around Giant's Castle mountain range to find our next stop in Underburg to prepare of our drive up Sani Pass to Lesotho.
Lesotho is a small country in the middle of South Africa with a population a little over 2,000,000. This part of the trip would be the first of many experiences with people living off the land. The people of Lesotho had been living the same way for the past 300 years. Homes are made out of animal dung and mud.
The funnel shaped roofs covered in straw and grass allow the home to stay warm on top the the mountain ranges of Lesotho. Most people raise livestock or harvest grain on the plateaus atop the mountain peaks. Life is simple there. Men and women are considered to be equal and 70% of the female population are literate. Families usually consist of a mother and father with only two children about 2 to 3 years apart.

Women do most of the work as men often try to find work elsewhere outside of Lesotho in South Africa. The problem with this is after leaving Lesotho they find themselves in a new world that exposes them to new experiences and new vices. Often with money in hand, men find themselves searching for women and alcohol. Beginning a new life with alcohol and unsafe sex. With that comes the possibility of contraction of STDs, most common HIV and AIDS. After living a life in South Africa for sometime, they return to Lesotho with money and STDs. Spreading the diseases to their wives. 23% of the population has AIDS or HIV, according to UNISEF statistics. This information was passed on to us by Crispian, our guide and driver. Crispian has traveled and lived amongst the people of Lesotho since 1960. He was a horseman and guided tourist for many years. Now, he conducts his tours by off-road vehicle. His knowledge and experience with the people of Lesotho proved to be a valuable component in acquiring knowledge about Lesotho and its people.

The following photographs are a series of shots taken by myself and by Emmanual,the 2year old child present in the first photo. He saw my silvery, mirror-like camera and wanted to touch grab it. After looking through Ken's binoculars he reached for my camera and started pushing buttons and captured photos of another boy named David. The people who live in this village survive on the bare minimum. Fire baked bread is the main source of nutrition along with goat's milk and other vegetables. Money is earned by making a variety of products for tourist. Relying on tourists to purchase these woven hats, rugs and other artwork helps them to survive. With the beginning of Winter at hand we felt a hard wind blow and a snowstorm set in. Shoeless and wearing only one layer of clothing the boys run inside as a flash blizzard hits the peaceful village. On top of the Sani Pass you can also find Africa's Highest Pub. It is located in a small building that serves it own beer call Maluti, hot or cold wine and a variety of other bar drinks. We choose to have a hot glass of tea spiked with rum. Perfect for the cold morning that has set in. With a blanket of snow piling up outside we sit by the fire warming up before our decent down the snow and ice covered switchbacks to South Africa.

The Lesotho experience opened my eyes to Africa and I will be forever changed by it.

More to come. Part 2 will take you from the top of the mountains of Lesotho to the beaches of the Indian Ocean in Zinkwazi, South Africa.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tokyo Marathon 2010

It was a cold and terrible day to begin the 2010 Tokyo Marathon but that did not stop thousands of runners and walkers from competing and performing at their very best. This year marks the 5th Tokyo Marathon. Both winners of the Tokyo Marathon take home 8,000,000 ¥en = $88,000 (men & women's 1st place). If the winner of either division sets a new World Record in Tokyo then he or she will receive 30,000,000 ¥en Bonus!!! Yeah! That is $330,000. But, it would not happen today. The men's winner Masakazu Fujiwara of Japan pulled away from the pack 2 kilometers before the finish and was never really challenged to finish with a time 2:12:19 and captured his first victory at the Tokyo marathon. The women's winner was Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia. After finishing 4th last year she surged ahead of all women and ran with the men to finish at personal best of 2:34:39. But these great winners were not the only racers in the crowd. Many of my friends were pushing themselves to personal bests and fighting the tough weather today.
I am very proud of my good friend Mary for working so hard the past months to prepare for the Tokyo Marathon. She performed well today in this cold cold rain. Many other friends ran today and I want to tell you all congratulations on finishing and doing your best. Great job Jason, Steve, Satoi, Susan, Barbara and Matt. I know many more were out there as well.
On the course today I saw many runners enjoying themselves and dressing up for the occasion. Many had costumes and others messages of peace and love. People were dressed as Santa Clause, Superman, Spiderman and even Jesus was there carrying his cross. But, the runners I feel deserve a great applause are the men and women with disabilities who are running the race. Some in wheelchairs others who are visual impaired. These blind runners have a special guide with them to help through the course and they wear bright pink to be seen clearly by other racers. I had never witnessed runners who are blind before or ever heard of someone running without sight. I find those people to be very motivating and possess a true demonstration of the love for running and sport. Keep Running!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Introducing the Tokyo Cheap Food Critics

Just wanted to let all you faithful readers and new readers out there I have started another blog. Click here for my new blog Tokyo Cheap Food Critics. It is my good buddy AJ and I who are doing the critiques of local Tokyo establishments. With our combined 88 years of eating experience and AJ's expert knowledge of the city, and the fact that he is Japanese, we will guarantee you that we will provide you with the YUMMIEST food for your ¥EN. Now, go check it out if you havn't already done so and jump on the favorites list. Be back soon with more stories of traveling and life from the Wayfaring Writer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Zealand part two

I left you off with Christmas morning after the Kiwi trip. We went on down the road cruising and relaxing to the sounds of the wind blowing through the windows and the tires beating the highway. While driving or riding along these roads I cant help to think how much better it would be with a pack on my back and walking. Sure I would not have covered the ground we did in the vans but I think I would have felt the true feeling of the New Zealand life. Free and easy down the road is all I wanted and I got it. But, I just couldn't help thinking it could be more.

Many times I had the opportunity to go off and enjoy my time alone. I needed it. Times were tough during those three weeks. I mentioned in the first NZ post about the wish I made on the falling star. Did it come true or not. Keep reading. There was a chance that I could have been let go at work because of low numbers for next year. I was the last one in and would be the first one out if the numbers drop. This news came one day before the trip. What was I suppose to think about on my trip? Relax? Yeah, right!! But that is exactly what I did. Judy, my director, said just try to let it go and we will deal with it when you come back. She was right and that is exactly what I did. I enjoyed my time with my friends on the road and in the mountains.

I hadn't really stopped thinking about it. I just stopped talking about it and believed everything would be fine. Now, this is not what this blog is about so I will sum this up. I get back from NZ to chaos and more headache. Jobs are being offered to me and no news of what is happening in Tokyo is all I know. However, after a long three and half weeks of craziness and worrying about my future I have an answer. My wish had come true on that star. They will not be any teachers released. Made me happier than I was when I first got the job. Tokyo is back on my mind and I wasn't thinking about the new moves to new countries. I say thank you to the schools who made great offers. They were great schools and I hope one day to work with the directors, principals and possibly be at those schools. Still I must say Tokyo is my life now and I am happy with that decision.
Continuing our trip down the road from our camp we make our way to Fox Glacier. It was Christmas Day and we were happy to be near snow. Unfortunately, because it was xmas day we could not take the tour that allowed us to walk on the glacier. So, we did the next best thing. We walked up to it and watched it move and break into chunks as it slowly made its through the mountains cutting and gouging out a U-shaped valley along its path into greatness. I drank the fresh water from the glacier. Kneeling down to find a small pool that was free from floating sediment was easy. I filled bottles and drank as much as I could. I found myself being lost in the wilderness even though I was surrounded by people on all sides. I guess I just mentally blocked them out and enjoyed the quiet and clear space. Cole, Kat and Ken soon joined in a refreshing drink and realized I wasn't so crazy drinking from the pools. Cole liked it so much he ran to the van to get a bottle of water then ran the twenty minute walk back. He was back in 5 or 7 minutes. He was determined to fill that bottle and drink it while driving down the road. Rhonda waited so see more pieces of the glacier break off. Disappointed that she was not able to touch the glacier. So, being the good friend I am I waited for those pieces to float down the stream and I pick them up and place them is my Gortex jacket and bring them to her. She laughs and touches them. Coat full of glacier ice ready to cool down the beer and we are back on our way.
Driving down the road we stopped off at wonderful beach with protected dunes and wildlife. Boardwalks were set up for us to keep from damaging the dunes and the marshes ahead. We saw ferns, ferns and more ferms. Ken and I were facinated by the designs and the patterns of the growth. I stopped and admired the different stages of growth. It so amazing to see life in growing in front of me. I had seen ferns before but not like this. Everywhere I looked something new grabbed my attention. Black ones, furry ones, smooth, rough, short, tall and more. I walked with my hands out touching and feeling the forest at my fingertips. Every touch of the gentle leaves brought me deeper and deeper into what I needed. I closed my eyes knowing I was happy and where I needed to be. That place was peaceful, quiet and healed me as I walked with every step.

I woke up from my walk and saw fantails dancing and singing. They were all around me pushing me along the path. It was pure beauty. I soon realize the fantails are trying to push me along the path away from their nest to keep their chicks safe. I obliged and moved on my way and waved goodbye to the little creatures and kept smiling. Life was good and I was at peace with myself in that amazing place.

Merry Christmas 12/25/09

More to come...

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Zealand

It has been way too long since I have updated the Wayfaring Writer. It's easy to say I have been extremely busy. But, I am going to give you the best glimpse into my fabulous, wonderful and amazing trip to the South Island of New Zealand.
It's hard to begin to tell you about one of the best trips I have ever been on but I will try. Maybe the best way to begin is to talk about what happened before I arrived in Christchurch, NZ. Yeah, that's it. So I am sitting in Hong Kong airport waiting for my late night flight to Auckland, NZ and then to my final destination, Christchurch. While ordering some scrumptious looking noodles and I reach into my wallet for my bank card. I panic, my heart begins to race, my breathing accelerates, I begin shaking and I try not to lose control. I stop and sit down and search my bags, my coat and my wallet saying to myself out loud with people watching, "It's here don't worry. Just stay calm." but it was not there. By now you must realize I lost my bank card. And so had I. I knew right where it was. Before I had jumped on a plane in Manila I had stopped to pick up a head lamp at a local outdoor shop for my good friend Dawn. I reached into my wallet and found the receipt and located the number and called. I asked for the manager and sure enough as the day is long, it's there. "Sir, I have your card. It is safe. I will keep it in our safe and you can get it when you return."

What would you do? Would you cancel it? Would you trust him? I trusted him and knew it would be fine and I just let it go and decided I will survive. Plus, it's only money right? Right! So, I thanked him and told him I'd be back January 6, 2010. And I began to relax with a nice glass of wine when I stepped onto the plane. Smooth sailing after that. Five glasses of wine later I was asleep and only woke to eat and then fall back to sleep. I dreamt that the plane was having technical problems and went down in the ocean. But, was awaken by the women next to asking to get by to have a toilet break. I looked around the plane and all was fine, cold as a witch's...well you know, but perfect. So, I waited for her to return and I was cutting logs again. I changed my flight in Auckland and continued sleeping on the domestic flight and arrived in Christchurch. Ready to get my van, meet Dawn and drive through to Arthur's pass. But, I did it again. I left something behind. I left my driver's license in Tokyo after switching to a waterproof wallet. I swear I was trying to sabotage this trip from the beginning. Then Dawn arrived and she saved the day. She had her driver's license with her and all was good. Let the good times roll in our Awesome Escape Van named Hairy Maclary. This van was covered with dogs chasing sausages. Hairy Maclary is a children's Story in New Zealand. Have a look if you get a chance. Quite good reading.

Ken and Rhonda had an Escape Rental Van as well. Their van was called Super Tui. If you plan to tour NZ then these are the guys to call. Ask for Crispy and tell him Murphy sent you. He won't know me but what the hell, right.Driving through the hills and mountains of New Zealand is like being in a movie. So many times I just could not believe it was real. The slow winding roads and switchbacks was the kind of driving I was waiting for. Life in Tokyo is great, fun and exciting but it is busy and fast. I needed slow and relaxed and I was there. Dawn and I enjoyed catching up and talking about what's been happening with our jobs. We finally got to a point in the drive and said "ENOUGH SHOP TALK". After that we enjoyed the scenery and the smell of clean fresh air. The views of snow tipped mountains and the warmth of the sun that slipping behind the towering peaks ahead of us on this snake of a road. Slowly bringing us to our first stop at Arthur's Pass and to the Schwartz family. Bringing together the Melurphzkis for another adventure. Much like the trips to Bali and Vietnam the previous two years.

That first night sitting out in the middle of a field with our vans parked side by side and just the four of us sitting together talking, drinking and counting shooting stars while the kids were sleeping was the beginning of what I needed. Peace and quiet. While sitting in the peaceful night we broke the silence when our faces lit up from the brightest meteor we all had ever seen. It was like someone had shot off a roman candle 5 feet from our faces. I was looking in the opposite direction and all of a sudden Ken and Dawn's faces lit up like the sun was out. I turned around to see a ball of fire like I had never seen before. I don't think I will ever seen anything like that for the rest of my life. And it carried across the sky and went behind the mountain still burning and lasted about 5 seconds. Now this photo is not the one we saw but this is pretty damn close to it. What a way to begin the trip. I made a big wish on that on that falling star and I hope it comes trues. I will let you know what happens.

We woke up to beautiful skies, more clean air and sand flies. What heck are sand flies? There wasn't any sand for miles. But, they were there. Biting my ankles and swarming my head. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I hadn't showered for three days. Nope! Everyone was having problems with these little guys not just the smelly guy. We sprayed ourselves down and did our morning business. Ya know... cooking oatmeal and making coffee. There is nothing like a good crap of coffee I mean cup with this view and I had 13 more days of it. Have a look at what I lived.

Our next destination would be Okarito on the west coast of the south island. Here we have plans to go kayaking up into the lagoon and see some different species of birds and animals. Cole, who is 10 now, is my co-pilot and is heading up the stern of the kayak for me. We have a pretty tough headwind pushing us back toward the Tasman Sea but we are battling our way up stream to a good stopping point. It's a lot of work having a 10 yr old as your partner. But, I still wouldn't trade it in for a bus ticket or a metro pass in Tokyo. The views we have are still getting better and better. The weather is warm and the sun is bright in the sky. We catch up with the rest of the group to stop and take a break and look and some birds on the flats feeding.
It was time for Cole and I to turn around so the rest could get out of this little nook and continue on up stream. We went back out into the wind and the current and worked as hard as we could. I told Cole that he had to work harder than he ever had to or we were not going to make it. We cut across the current to the opposite bank so we could have a little wind block then move on up stream. We made it and joined the rest of the group just in time to relax and enjoy the beauty of a small forest running into the banks of the lagoon. We stopped for some photos and switched partners. I now had Kat who is 12 and she is much stronger than her brother. We headed back toward the shanty where the day began and we were so pleased to find out that the tide was coming in and the wind had shifted and was now blowing in from the Tasman and straight into our faces once again. Kat and I worked hard for about 2 hours and were rewarded with being the first ones back. Well, not really the first. Ken and Cole had to take a ride on the motor boat cause they were not going to make it. It was a real accomplishment for Kat to make it all the way back. When the boatman asked if we wanted a ride she would send him on his way and keep on working. She never bragged about it to her brother but just kept it inside knowing she worked hard.

That night after returning from the Kayak trip we had planned to go out on a search for the Kiwi. We had an early dinner to prepare for a night out in the forest searching for the elusive Kiwi. The kiwi is a nocturnal bird that is very shy and rarely seen. We had a group of 6 people setting out to find this night walking bird with feet that are 20% of its body weight. Those are some big ol' feet to be walking around at night in hopes of not being heard. Our guide, Iian, was quite the character. He did know his Kiwi though. I think I heard him say he had been studying these birds for about 15 years. He asked one of the other people in our group what her hopes were of seeing a Kiwi and she said, "pretty good". He then said that the chances are not always certain and we may not even come close. He asked again and she said the same. And without missing a breath he said "Erika, You Bitch" in an affectionate tone of course. Not meaning any disrespect but one of playfulness. She didn't seem to like it but to me and the rest of the group it was funny and all get out.

Anyhow, we set out looking for one of the most rare birds in the world. We walked out into the forest, still dusk, hoping to get to our location before the kiwis break from their dens. We walk as if we are stalking our prey. Not wanting to make a sound or snap a twig. No talking, no whispers, no swishing and swaying of clothing. Pure silence. With every step we creep closer to our destination. Only stopping to talk about the plan and locate our area. Then, out of nowhere a New Zealand Falcon comes swooping out of the sky only a meter or two above my head and finding a resting spot on a dead tree only 15 meters from the little kiwi's den. It waits perched on the branch for the kiwi to begin its nightly feeding. We wait standing in the path hoping to see this amazing night creature. The falcon may be fast and furious but with 6 people close to the den its plan for a midnight feast was spoiled by our presence. There would be no kiwi killing that night.

20 minutes pass, then 30, then 40. Still no movement from us. Only listening to the call of the kiwi. It's a boisterous call. Creee Creee Creee Blat Blat Blat Reeeee Reeeee Reeeee or something like that. (Feel free to listen here) It was coming from the bushes in front of us and we new we were in the right place. Next was the Female responding and the male was on the move to find her and get some lovin. We moved right behind him still in silence. We waited again and finally the sound of crushing sticks from their massive feet. Both getting closer to us. I clicked my tongue as quietly as possible to get Iian's attention and the group moved next to me. Finally, in the back of the brush I saw a glint of silver reflect of the eye of the kiwi from the moons glare and moments later it appeared. It was only a meter from me. Not many people in the world get a chance to see these birds in the wild. We watch it in complete darkness with the help of a red lamp so we don't harm the bird eyes or scare it away. The male ran away instantly knowing something was wrong. The female stayed and ate bugs and worms for about 3 to 4 minutes before it scurried off. By the end of the night we saw 3 Kiwi and heard 6. It was the beginning Christmas Day about Midnight when we returned to camp. Not too bad of a present from Santa I would say.

Time for bed and I will be back soon with more updates from New Zealand...