Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Green Rocks and Beans

After a trip of 35 hours we’re on Big Island, Hawaii. Stepping back in time is possible, but you don’t get to relive the old day, you live a new one. Flying on the 20th from Christchurch to Sydney and from there to Honolulu we crossed the International Date Line and arrived on the 20th in the morning, we got a new day. A day for new decisions, different situations. But before you get too excited about possibilities, there is a price:  later, you will lose a day, you don’t get to live it to the full extent.
We rented a condominium for 4 nights and we stayed for the first two days without doing anything. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We Missed Everything

For several reasons, we missed everything that was to see in New Zealand. At times it was bad luck, at times our parsimony, occasionally bad planning or just not enough time. Of course, we first missed the North Island, the bigger, more crowded part of the country. This happened some time ago, when we shortened our stay here by two weeks. Everything here is very expensive, so by missing things we "saved" a lot of money. The New Zealand Dollar (NZD) is between 0.82 and 0.84 American dollars.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Touring the South Island

Sunrise in Kaikorua
They pronounce Kaikorua as Calcutta. We are on a whale watching trip, they talk about the region and quite often they say Calcutta. And I wonder what are the whales doing in India. Eventually I get it and start enjoying our experience. It was a complete success, it almost seemed scripted, like the whales would know where to wait, the dolphins would play when it was their turn, the albatrosses would fly when there wasn't much else going on. And in the intermission we approached the shore to see some other birds and some New Zealand sea lions. We saw four whales, pretty close, and they all did their perfect move with the tail, the iconic image that is so hard to catch on camera. We only have a hundred pictures now.

New Beginnings End


We have to take a decision: are we going South, to Stewart Island, a birds’ haven, or East, to Dunedin, more Scottish than the original? You see, the weather here is wonderful if you see the blue sky, but if it rains, is cold, and humid, and the wind can move your whole van, not a pleasant experience. After ten days of continuous spectacular views we’re getting tired. And the roads, and the driving, and we didn’t see our children in ages, because they’re in the back.  
Dunedin Wins!

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Zealand, Camper Van


They call it Big Bear. It's an old, old RV and you can tell because unlike the newer models, which have bright wood and bright metal insides. This one is plastic and velvet.

It looks very large when just one person is standing in it, but if all five of us are standing in the back, it suddenly becomes extraordinarily crowded.

There is room for six people to sleep here. I wonder how they survive. When all five of us are in the van at the same time, trying to move around and get ready for bed, there is a serious chance that all five of us will lose our tempers. One of us often has to sit down in some out-of-the-way spot just so everyone else can move around. Because one person is sitting while everyone else is working, this means that everyone else feels that the person sitting down is an inconsiderate slacker. Since it's semi-true, the inconsiderate slacker feels attacked.

New Beginnings Four


We had to go to the place where bunjy jumping started! Not that we were going to do it, just for looks. We talked about doing it, but when Mihai told me that one of the cords broke, and showed us the footage , it was the end of discussion. 
On the right down corner you can see the road cutting the mountain and a little bit above, covered by clouds, the lake Wakatipu.

Getting there it was another half day of driving on steep and winding roads, arriving at the Crown Range Road, a pass over the Alps, from where we had wonderful views. Getting down from that pass into the valley was another experience, that I don’t wish to repeat, turning almost 340 degrees on each serpentine, and being passed by cyclists!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Beginnings Three

Franz Josef Glacier
We slowly make our way down the West Coast. We pick up Ben (19) and Leslie (18) from Canada, who travel for 6 months before going to college, and met here. Part of a bigger group, they make their way toward destinations by hitchhiking, legal in this part of the world. Our children are happy to have someone to talk with. They tell jokes and replies from movies, read fun facts. We leave them in the village of Franz Josef and make our way to the glacier.
Southern Alps are young and still growing mountains. They are tall enough to stop the clouds on going on the eastern side and obligate them to release their moisture here. In the last 20 years Franz Josef and Fox Glacier grew, and that is a good news, because they are the only ones of their kind in the world: their lowest altitude is at 345 m/ 1400 ft above sea level. 
You can see them from different distances, but if you take a walk you can come close enough: 200 m/ 600 ft for Franz and 80 m/ 250 ft for Fox. We followed the green metal marks with a yellow stripe on top through the valley of the glacier. It use to be longer than what it is now, much longer. There is a small river that jumps above and around some flat rocks. 
Those tiny dots are people.

Thank you, George

Adrenaline Junkies: I hear this expression quite often, especially preparing to travel to New Zealand, and I don't really know what it means. I guess, it refers to people with an insatiable craving for fun, risky, pulse raising experiences. That we are not. Ileana (my daughter) wants for some unclear reason to try bunjy jumping, she thinks that I promised her that she can do it in Queenstown, but she is wrong. Ileana (my wife) would always choose a merry-go-round instead of something faster and she would never climb in a roller coaster. Ioan is more interested, but is careful and cautious and doesn't get much kick out of hair raising experiences. Maria might do something, if anybody could get her off her books. As far as I am concerned, I rode three cabs in Kathmandu. It was much cheaper, it was unplanned and uncontrolled and much more dangerous than anything they could offer in New Zealand.
It all starts with being locked in a small box and carried away

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Beginnings Two


Hanmer Springs
We arrived on a rainy night, we were hungry, because we skipped lunch, so we chose to  stay “home” and not go to the warm geothermal pools in a beautiful surrounding. Children change beds, trying to find out which one is better. It is cold over night so we turn on the portable heater (the one that comes with the RV is inefficient and noisy). We can’t wake up in the morning and leave early enough. 
We drive through Lewis Pass a nice, but cold, forested area. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Zealand, Christchurch


One of the first things we realize when we reach Christchurch is that there is no Kindle. It has been lost, possibly in the seat pocket in front of Dad on the airplane. For the next couple of weeks, Mom and Dad, who rely on the Kindle most for reading, will be stuck without it.

Luckily, Dad has his Jodi Picoult novel, Plain Truth, and the rest of us each have a book bought last-minute in Penang. Books are one of those things you should never be without on a trip. Ever.

The apartment is just two rooms, but there are two couches, and we each have a separate bed. It is, compared to a lot of other things, quite a luxurious apartment. And it's cold.

We've just come from what might be considered a tropical paradise, and now we're freezing our toes off in a small motel room.

Kiwi Country, as the New Zealanders call it, is expensive. It's very expensive compared to Thailand, where we could all eat a huge meal for about $5. Here… it's much more expensive. Mom and Dad head off to go shopping. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Beginnings One


Hello Mate! Welcome underground!
We’re in Christchurch. We’re not in Asia anymore! Yay! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We Are in New Zealand

Ioan's iTouch flew off Ileana's hand in a restaurant in Surat Thani and the life that we knew has changed. The glass shattered, it was still working, but we instantly decided to get him a new one. It was on the top of our things to do when we arrived in Christchurch 60 hours later. I looked online, I found some service stores and learned that we can get a new one for a reduced fee.
The flight from Kuala Lumpur was uneventful, 10 hours, we got some sleep, we saw the ocean, and at some point we saw the West coast of the South Island. Amazing landscape and just a few minutes later, the ocean again, the East coast, the plane would make a loop and land in Christchurch.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Antarctica For Plebeians

Ileana had her 15th birthday in Christchurch. If everything goes as planned she would be the only child with only one birthday on the road. She inquired about where her birthday would be long ago. As we got close, she started to make plans, when we finally got here, we asked what she wants: "your computer all day". Just to be left alone in the hotel room with an Internet connection. She got that for a good part of her day.
We had other plans, swimming with dolphins was the kind of experience that she would love. It was raining, windy and cold, we had to adjust to that. So we went to Antarctica.
This is a big continent at the top/bottom of our planet (depending how you hold the map). It could be number 6 or number 7, depending how you count them. It has 3000 people in the summer, 1200 in the winter. There is even a Lonely Planet guide about it. I looked into choices for getting there and here is the breakdown:
1. Cruise from Ushuaia, $3000-10000 per person. Since we will not go to South America this time around, not an option.
2. Charter flight from somewhere in Australia, $1000 per person, eight hour flight, not landing, just looking over. 6-7 times per year.
3. Russian retired icebreaker, from Christchurch, $25000 per person, two weeks. I learned about this several years ago, but I think they moved the vessel, it doesn't happen anymore.
4. International Antarctic Center, 5 minutes from Christchurch Airport, a cool modern research center and sort of science center museum focused exclusively on Antarctica. Cost $23 per person.

The Antarctic Center with our red rented car

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Asia Wrap

We finished the first big part of our trip. We spent 137 days in Asia, visiting Japan, China (twice), Nepal, India, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. If I would be set to collect records I could count 10 countries, adding Tibet, Macau and Hong Kong. We crossed several borders, going through immigration 24 times. A big number, but it pales in comparison to the number of times we had our passports checked in Tibet. We passed through Malaysia three times, but mostly in transit. The last visit was longer, 24 hours in George Town, Penang.



The first idea in coming here was spending a week. Most people seem to like it in Penang.

But really, for us, there was nothing to see. We checked into what I think was a Star hotel type thing, I grabbed a book from the book exchange downstairs, and started reading. We leave tomorrow, early, but that's enough time to finish the Nora Roberts book.

We rest a while and then head out to see Penang. For a moment it's fantastic to be actually walking, without having to look at a beach. We're actually walking in the same formation we've been walking in for four months, and it's fantastic to get to something somewhat normal. I'm actually skipping down the street as I carry the Nora Roberts book.

This might sound strange until you consider that we have to stop every once in a while— to take pictures, to decide where we're going next, to look around… by the time we reach home I've located a book store and I've read 90 pages.

Penang is an amalgamation of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysians. You can walk down a street listening to Bollywood music, seeing just Indian faces, and then you can turn into another street and suddenly be confronted with Chinese. We manage to locate the restaurant mentioned as 'the best in Penang.'

It's a sort of self-serve one-time-only buffet. It's not Chinese food, exactly, because there is much more seafood than in the traditional Chinese cuisine. It's a bit like a mix of Indian and Chinese— there's curried chicken and a great deal of other foods which we eat because we need to eat something.

We head back to the hotel, shower, pack what we can into our bags so that we have that much less to worry about tomorrow. I stay up late to make a bit more headway into the Nora Roberts book, fall asleep at about midnight, set the alarm for six (because naturally I want to be able to finish another book before we leave so that we can exchange it at the Book Exchange store… full of shelves of books). I wake up at ten, finish the Nora Roberts novel, and we eat very quickly at a Chinese-style buffet in the opposite direction from the book exchange.

With only ten minutes to spare before we have to walk to the bus station, Ileana, Ioan and I head toward the book exchange, spend as little time as possible finding books, and neglect to haggle over the price we should receive for Ice Station, the only book we're actually exchanging.

The reapings?

The Language of Stones, Ioan's choice
Getting Rid of Matthew, Ileana's and my choice, because it's a hilarious title. Not such a good book, though, as Matthew was quite possibly more infuriating than anyone should ever be.

But already, we're on the bus, and we're reading, and life feels much better now that we're leaving Penang behind.