Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ready? Ready!? Jump!

I have been remiss in keeping up with some of my more exciting adventures here in New Zealand (I blame this on poor internet access, see previous blog post for a better explanation).

Back in January I was traveling around the South Island, which has some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Before I left on my year long OE (overseas experience) I had a few things I knew I wanted to do while I was here. Towards the top of the list was to skydive.

While in Franz Josef I went out to the local bar with a group I had been traveling with. A promotion was going on that night, buy a pitcher and enter to win a two for one sky dive with a local company. I thought this was great and had one of my new friends enter with me. We sat there enjoying the company, me anxiously waiting to hear the results and hoping to win, my friend praying our ticket wouldn’t be picked.

The end of the night came, they pulled the first ticket and disappointment rolled through me when my number wasn’t called. But, as luck would have it, you had to be present to win, and the first number wasn’t there. Again I had my ticket clutched in my hot little hand and waited to hear what the next number to be called would be. The next winning ticket was called out and I sat in silence for a split second before jumping up with a huge smile on my face to go collect my prize. I was ecstatic, my friend was not. It was a good thing the sky divers were there to talk her into it.

I'm really excited we won!
The next afternoon the company came and picked us up. I was surprisingly calm and quiet as we drove the half hour to the airport. On arriving we watched the crew set up and take another group up before we dressed and got ready to go up. My nerves started jumping around and I was having a hard time staying still. We were instructed on what was going to happen and before I knew it, we were strapped to experienced divers and climbing up into the sky.

We were dressed and ready to go.

The plane circled at 1200 feet and the man on my back started to make his way to the open door, careless of the sudden upheaval happening within my stomach. And before I knew it, we were out of the plane and falling towards the earth through the clouds. Some might think having your free fall through the clouds is not ideal, but I beg to differ. Having it so lets you concentrate more on the feeling and excitement of falling and not on the ground that you are quickly coming to meet.

Almost as soon as we were out of the clouds, and the ground came into view, I was told to pull the release and the parachute jerked us into a glide. The serenity that came over me from floating through the sky was so unexpected and breathtaking. Being able to see for miles and miles on end was an experience I will always remember, the quiet of just your heart beating after the excitement of your free fall. There is something very peaceful about seeing the world from above and slowly coming back to it.

You really can't help but smile :)

When we got back to the ground I was exhausted. It was such an adrenaline rush that I had nothing left for the ride home and fell asleep on the couch waiting for my ride back to the hostel. Once back, everyone asked how it was, and the only way I could describe it was that it was the most exhilarating and calming experience I have ever had. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

If you build it, they will use it.

As my time in New Zealand starts to wind down there are a few things I am excited to get back to in the States. Pizza, the rest of my wardrobe, my family and friends. But there is one thing that I have missed the more than I miss watching Jeopardy!

Wi-Fi. Or internet access in general.

It was cultural shock coming from the US, where I can go just about anywhere and get a wireless signal, to New Zealand where Wi-Fi is still a hotly treasured commodity. I found there was rarely a place I could go and get a free connection. If I bought a muffin at Starbucks I could get a half hour, but that would most likely be extremely slow due to everyone using their free thirty as well.

So how did I post my blog entries and keep up with email and Facebook? I, prepare yourself for a major shock, paid for internet access! And it wasn’t easy getting it. There are various internet providers and I found that when I went from one hostel to another they wouldn’t all have the same one. This had me opening accounts with at least three different companies.

The a la carte options for internet are great for travelers though. What isn’t great is the amount of money these options cost. Not having paid attention before to the amount of gigabytes I use on a regular base, I foolishly thought I would be able to get by with 560 megabytes a month. I went through that in a day uploading pictures. In the two months I was traveling around the country I tried to find the places I could get some free Wi-Fi, which turned out to mainly be McDonald’s. I’ve never eaten so many Big Macs in my life. When I couldn’t get to a Macca’s (as the Kiwi’s call it) I paid for the service at my hostel…I don’t know how much I spent for internet in just two months and I’m scared to think about it.

And you would think the situation would improve at a residence, but not if you live in certain areas. Where I have been living for the past 7 months we have yet to have Wi-Fi connection at the house. I was told they ran the lines, but for some unknown reason, have not yet offered the service to the locals living in the area.

So, New Zealand, what gives with this whole lack of access to the inter-webs? After a bit of research (a news segment) I learned there is only one under seas connection cable in which all of the countries internet access comes from. For a nation that wants to keep a breast with the change of times and keep with modern technology it has to improve their connection to the rest of the world and a second cable would help with this, create competition and hopefully bring the cost down to something people don’t have to take a second job to fund.

I hope, for all Kiwi’s and visitors sake and sanity, a second cable will soon be funded.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping up with the Maori

The Maori culture is alive and strong in New Zealand. The Maori are the native people who were the first to settle here in Aotearoa sometime in the 1200’s. Due to the extreme remoteness of the main two islands, the Maori were able to create their own distinct culture that was uninfluenced by another society until the Europeans came over three hundred years later, in the mid 1600’s. Even after another three hundred years it is obvious how the first people to live off this land still influence the culture of the nation.

In the past months I’ve been living in New Zealand I have seen the Maori influence in many ways, not just in the souvenir shops. They are very proud of their history and make a point in keeping their traditions strong in the community and the nation. In protection of their own interests there are two Maori parties in the political system, the Maori Party and the Mana Party.

It is a new concept for me, coming from the States, to see an indigenous population have so much weight within their native land. Back home I have learned about our Native Americans, what they ate, where they lived, and how they lived. But I cannot tell you my country has adapted certain aspects of their culture as our own; the Native Americans practice their traditional way of life on the reservations the government gave the tribes in compensation for taking their land without thought to whom might have been living off it first. In New Zealand I see the Maori continuing to fight to keep their customs from becoming tourist attractions.

In schools the language and customs are continued to be taught.  The children learn through songs and the national anthem, use the language when learning to count. Noodle necklaces are not made and popcorn not used for holiday decoration at Christmas time because the Maori do not believe in using food as a play object, this includes play dough because it is made from flour.

It is true New Zealand is the only place Maori is and ever was spoken and some wonder if the time should be spent on continuing to teach children a language no other nation speaks (I’ve seen the debates on the news). There are also those who argue the culture shouldn’t be taught in the schools, it is not every child’s heritage so why should they need to learn it? But I disagree with this, to an extent. It is part of the history of the country, and that the children should learn and take pride in that.

There are aspects of the Maori culture the country has whole heartily embraced. The most famous would be the Haka performed before each rugby match. The Haka is a challenge, used when tribes would meet a new tribe or group of people and they wanted to know if they were friend or foe. It was designed to be intimidating, which it fully excels at.

It is wonderful to see a country that still remembers and celebrates the traditions of a nationality that makes up about fifteen percent of the population; it would be a shame to see the extinction of the Maori’s rich and unique culture.