Rotorua to Lake Taupo

As I have previously mentioned, it’s frustratingly difficult to get around here without a car. My fun German companions from yesterday have all checked out of the hostel, which means I’ve also lost my wheels. I do some mapping to figure out what activities I can get to today, and realize I literally require a car if I want to do anything cool. I’ve never driven on this side of the road, but there’s no time like the present, so I say let’s dooooo this, and rent a car. When I tell my Texan dorm mates about my plan, they decide to tag along which is great because now we can split the cost.

We pick up a rental from the Hertz literally next door to our hostel for $47, and head towards Kerosene Creek. This is an area with a naturally heated creek (obviously) that’s a suitable temperature for swimming.

I’m a little uneasy getting into the car for the first time, and the weirdest part about it is probably that the turn signal switch is on the opposite side, but staying in the left lane is just fine. Within 15 minutes I’m cruising stress-free.

We follow a little trail down along the water until we find a good spot to take a dip. I channel a little Kiwi and go shoeless for the walk. No one here is ever wearing shoes, I swear.
Some parts of the sand in the creek are insanely hot. If you dig down a little it’s unbearable, but the water temperature itself is perfect. Of course, there’s that yucky sulphur smell that comes along with any Geothermal pool, and call me crazy, but I’ve come to like it. It reminds me of beautiful places. Places like this, like Iceland. It’s grown on me.

As have the Texans. They’re tons of fun to be around and we’ve discovered there are millions of other topics besides gun laws!

Next up on our docket is the Lady Knox Geyser. We’re just blindly choosing places to go based on what we can see on Google Maps. There’s so much cool stuff in this area we can’t go wrong.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some stuff you have to pay for, like this Geyser. Before seeing a price we decide to cap it at $5. Anything more and we’ll find something else to do. Well, it’s a whopping $32.50 for entry to this “Thermal Park”, and thats straight up not even close to within budget, so we move on. Byeeeee!

We decide to take the long drive down to Lake Taupo. We get 200 free kilometres on the car, and Taupo is pushing it a little, but we should still make it there and back under the limit.

We stop at a view point above Huka Falls on the way. It’s got some of the brightest blue water I’ve ever seen un-glaciated. I don’t understand.

Finally we reach Taupo, which is a MUCH more lively town than Rotorua. Rotorua actually has a really weird ghost town vibe. I’m not a fan. Most things are closed on Sundays, which is when I’d expect most people to be visiting? The weekends, no? It’s somehow acquired the nickname “RotoVegas” and while I’ve never been to Vegas…I can promise you it’s nothing like this. Anyway. Taupo makes more sense and is cooler.

We get out for a walk along the path surrounding the lake, and encounter a funny little driving range…aimed out into the water. I’m not much of a golfer (or a golfer at all) but one of the Texans is. He buys a basket of 25 balls for $20 and starts driving ’em out towards this floating dock. There’s a “hole in 1” target, but the staff say it’s only ever reached about once every two weeks. The best part is the scuba diver out there, retrieving balls in his bright yellow helmet. Imagine having that job? Hilarious.

Please note the gator boots!!

The boys are set on buying some Jade jewelry so we find a cute little shop selling everything from necklaces to table ornaments in the shape of kiwi birds. I’m trying to stick to as low a daily budget as I can manage, but I find this really cute Paua shell necklace for $19 so I buy it. Paua can only be found around New Zealand which makes it unique to me, and it’s a super pretty iridescent blue so I can’t help myself.

On the drive back to Rotorua I want to stop at some mud baths, which Google tells me are free. Turns out I totally confused the mud baths with bubbling mud pools, which are not the same. I pictured a mud spa tub where I could relax and slather myself in clay. But no, the bubbling mud pools are way too hot to touch, so we get to admire from behind a fence. It’s a fun stop to make anyway because they’re pretty rad looking.

After the pools we’re getting close to our kilometre limit so we head back to the hostel. We use the car to go pick up groceries from the “Pak n Save”, which I can equate to Costco without the membership fee. It’s hella cheap. We pick up some veg, shrimp, and chicken for dinner and cook two different epic stir frys.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to Auckland for a night, before catching a flight down to Wellington. I love a good city, but it’s clear that the best thing New Zealand has to offer is its incredible nature. I plan to settle in a city but now that I’m an expert left-side driver, I’m thinking I might invest in a car for weekend getaways.

Daily Costs

$47 car rental

$8 breakfast

$20 hostel

$10 for a third’s share of a 24 pack of beers

Free tea/coffee at the hostel

Free entry to Kerosene Creek, Huka Lookout, wandering around Lake Taupo, and Mud Pools.

Total Day Costs $85

(Plus my $20 necklace but that was unnecessary…)

Paid by the Texan boys:

$35 petrol (for half a tank)

$50 dinner groceries

Take me there!

Donation Spending

I just want to say a huge thank you again to everyone who donated to this cause! Our organization, Refugia’l, managed to raise a total of 6,600€ for the residents, with 1,300€ of that coming directly from my friends, family, and generous acquaintances back home. An extra big thank you to the people at ECOH Inc., who together accounted for a significant portion of the funds raised. You’re all beautiful humans.  Continue reading “Donation Spending”

Last Day/Beach Day

3 weeks have never flown by so fast. I feel like I just arrived in Athens, but somehow today is my last day. If I had the money to survive here longer, I would love to stay and keep working at the refugee residence. Continue reading “Last Day/Beach Day”

Cold Waterfalls and Highway Driving

We survive the night without any demonic activity from the creepy candle lit church.
It’s out by morning.

We get an extremely early start for our hike. We don’t have time to summit so we’re just doing a 2 hour climb instead, before getting on our way back to Athens.  Continue reading “Cold Waterfalls and Highway Driving”

Meteora

We’ve been working hard, and since arriving, the school has gained 20+ volunteers, so we’re taking the weekend off. I’ve been dreaming of Meteora ever since I saw some fantastic photos a couple years ago. Probably on Instagram, if we’re being honest, but I don’t remember for sure. Continue reading “Meteora”

Shipwreck Beach

Alright. Round 2 of trying to make it to this Shipwreck Beach tour. Today it’s at noon instead of 9am. Bless.

I get picked up hitching and make it early to the pick up spot. This is conveniently located in front of a super market, where I go in quickly to buy some fruit for breakfast/lunch. Continue reading “Shipwreck Beach”

White Party

Yo. While I think this island is crazy and might as well belong to the UK, I’m here. So I might as well immerse myself and get into the nightlife, right?! DJ MK is playing tonight at some “white only” party (attire, not people) and Abi got us tickets. Continue reading “White Party”

2 months later…

Oh hey! I know it’s been two months. My day to day life doesn’t seem worth blogging about. Though I should do it anyway, for myself if no one else. You don’t have to read it if you don’t like it! …But you know you do.
Anyway, here, I’ll try to catch you up.

My seemingly friendly and helpful roommate Gary has become insane, so I’ve moved out. He’s doing everything in his power to keep my 400€ deposit, which I really can’t afford to lose. He’s also kicking Max out, even though they’re supposed to be besties. According to Max, Gary hasn’t been paying the rent to the owner, and just pocketing the money we’ve paid him. Poor little Max is on the lease too, but thank the heavens I’m not. I have escaped mostly unscathed. Though, Gary is now claiming I was the messy roommate, never cleaned the apartment, and now needs to “pay” someone to clean it, so instead I’m going over to clean it myself. Pathetic, I know, especially considering I was certainly NOT the messy one, but I’m determined not to lose that 400€.

On the bright side, I’ve found an absolutely beautiful apartment right in the heart of Barcelona. I’m on a classic vintage European fourth floor walk up, that has a view of a historic church from my living room, and am a mere 2 minute walk from Las Ramblas.

My brother, checking out my sick view
I also live much closer to Lindzee, John and Adam, who are still basically my only friends, so I guess not THAT much has changed. The new roommates in my flat are great though so that’s positive. I’m still settling in because I moved just before the holidays when my family came to visit and we did a little road trip to Madrid and Valencia.

Oh yah! My fam came to visit. I lived a temporary luxury lifestyle, staying in hotels and dining at real restaurants. I finally went to see Montserrat, and the inside of the Sagrada Familia. I saw some famous art work at the Prado in Madrid, and visited an epic “Oceanographic Museum” (glorified aquarium) in Valencia.

Here are some pics.

Sagrada Familia – Under construction since the 1800s

View from Montserrat

Walking up to the basilica

My brother and I, entertaining ourselves at the Prado
I didn’t say anything about being overly mature or culture-absorbing at the Prado.

Valencia has some insane architecture

We had paella at an underwater restaurant

Photo next to a garbage can because we are trash
Oh, and I’ve also started some Spanish lessons and am doing a 4 day mini-intensive course to really get a jump start. I’ve been here almost 4 months now and I still have a very limited vocabulary. Time to up my I’m-a-local game.
Alright, I think that about sums it up. Which brings us to the present day, as I try to get comfortable in my new flat.

All I’ve got in my kitchen is a bag of pasta, tomato sauce, rice, a block of cheese, and kraft dinner. Yes, kraft dinner. I had asked my parents to bring me a few boxes so I could show my students. They’d never heard of or seen it before, which surprised me. But guess what? I’m going to keep a box and make it for myself today.

Both of my roommates end up in the kitchen around the same time as me and we all cook our individual lunches. I am full of absolute horror and shame as my Egyptian roommate makes a wonderful and healthy looking octopus salad, and my Spanish roommate heats up her mothers home made soup… my neon noodles look offensive next to their real food.

I get ready and head over to my Spanish lessons, giving myself a little extra time because walking up Las Ramblas is a nightmare. Tourists. Everywhere. All of Barcelona is like this, but Las Ramblas is undoubtedly the most concentrated area. The only downside to such an otherwise fabulous location.
I think it goes without saying that Lindzee, John, and Adam are all taking these lessons with me. Our teacher for the mini-intensive is different from our normal once a week classes, and she seems a little nervous. She seems like she’s winging it a little, but I remind myself thats exactly what I do in my classes almost daily.

I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but I resolve to do a little more to organize and plan my lessons for each of my students.

…Do I Have a Pimp? 

Another day on the grind. Workin’ that hard 11 hour a week life here in sunny Barcelona. NOT so sunny today, actually. An epic thunder storm hit last night and woke me up. This place is just the worst, I tell ya. 
Today my first class starts at 4:15, about a 45 minute commute from my house. The metro system here is such a dream that I don’t even mind. In some ways, all these private lessons I’ll be teaching are a great way for me to see the whole city of Barcelona. So far, it’s been a lot of chi chi neighbourhoods. Yesterday I taught a lesson to two young boys, and was let into their home by a Filipino nanny. No parents were home. These kids also mentioned that they had a yacht, and have definitely been to more countries than I have. Pretty sure there English is better than mine, too. (I did that on purpose, don’t worry.) They’re living the life…and they’re just 7 and 9 years old. 

I also taught a group of adults yesterday; a family, actually. Two parents and their 25 year old daughter, who teaches English to primary schoolers. It’s the most chill vibe ever. They invite me in for tea and we just discuss politics, travel, Spanish culture, and other random stuff. I don’t even need to be paid for this, but I mean, please do. 

I don’t know anything about these people until I get there. I am only given a name, age, and address from Caroline. Then I show up to provide…my service…OMG. Do I have a pimp? I have a language pimp. I wonder how much her cut of this pie is.  These rich people are probably paying 50€ /lesson and I’m being tossed 17€…

meh, I’m still down. 

Today’s lessons are with sisters, each have one individual hour back to back. The first girl is easy as pie. She’s super outgoing, has 100 things to talk about, and a great level of English. Her sister is much quieter and I struggle a little bit to find topics of conversation, but we get through. I make a note to come up with some games or something to do next time. Just to have something in my back pocket if it gets awkward. 

I rush from these lessons to my last for the evening. My metro card is getting a work out. This is one of the classes that I’ve had to cancel in order to accommodate my new job, but I told them I’d complete this week. I feel bad explaining to my class that I won’t be there next week, but I do my best to make a ton of notes for the next teacher. Realistically, they’re probably getting an upgrade. 

I even get paid! I wasn’t sure this would happen, but I’m given 45€ cash in hand on my way out. That’s 22€ per lesson, which is super legit. It feels SO good to be paid for something!! Some income!! 

Paycheques in Spain (or at least for my job) are sent out monthly, not bi-weekly like at home, so that’ll be an adjustment for sure. I won’t see any more income until November. Pray for me. 

I go home and hit the grocery store on my way. Groceries are mad cheap here. I don’t pay more than 1-3€ for any item. Like a whole bag of spinach is 1€. That’s blessed. This will be a huge game changer in my quest to save money, assuming I actually decide to cook. I can’t cook for shit, but somehow survived Australia with what little skills I had. Granted, I also got pretty fat. So many Mr. Noodles. New goal: cook healthy meals at home, cut out Mr. Noodles. Save money. Save myself from obesity. 

Suddenly Everything Changed

Another last minute job interview! A mere 20 minute walk from my place, which is even more fantastic. I show up and it turns out it’s a house, not an office or school. Perhaps this is where I die? I’m so desperate for a job that I almost done care. Upstairs I go. Sorry Mom. 

I meet with a woman named Caroline who is lovely and offers me an assistant teaching position at a school outside of the city. I love the idea of being an assistant teacher, so I can learn what the hell im supposed to do, but I don’t love the idea of a 2 hour daily commute and 600€/month. That’s like 9€ an hour with the hours it requires, and the standard here is between 15-20€. Huge difference. She says she can augment my work with private lessons on the side that pay 17€, so I walk away feeling alright about the job, but not totally stoked. It isn’t official yet anyway, she says she’ll be calling me later in the day. 

It’s also my first day at my first job today! This is the after school program with a “travel around the world” theme, which I clearly love. I’m excited, but of course a little nervous as well. 

I show up early, even though I know that is not the way in Spain. It’s funny, because at home I am almost NEVER on time, but here I’m consistently too early. Who would have thought? 

Just as I’m about to go in and get a run down of todays activities with the kids, I get a phone call from Caroline. I’ve thought it over and am pretty ready to tell her I can’t work full time for 600€, when instead she says she’d prefer to offer me strictly private lessons. She’s made up a schedule for me, with 11 hours a week, and says she will probably up it to 15 when more students enroll. 

And suddenly, everything changed. Now it’s looking like I’ll be able to make 1000€ a month, which is much more appealing. I agree to take it and ask her to send me the schedule. She asks me if I can do a lesson TONIGHT, directly after this class, but I’m like, lady, no. I literally wouldn’t be able to make it to a 5:30 class across the city when I’m out at 5:15. She seems fine with that and says she’ll call me later. I’m feeling great about this new, living wage job. 

Now for my first teaching gig! We walk from the office to a nearby public school. “We”, being the organizer and another teacher my age named Joe. He’s been teaching kids for a year, and assures me it’s really not that hard. I’m comforted a little, but not entirely. 

I enter a class room full of kids 9 and under. Joe jumps in and starts introducing himself and being a pro, I try to follow suit but am feeling awkward and terrified as hell. Kids can smell fear, so I try to pretend I’m confident. We split up into two groups, and thankfully I get the smaller, older group of just 5 kids. We start a fun little craft of making a passport. I teach them to say “I am from Spain” (or Bolivia, or Morocco…which I did not anticipate), and how to introduce themselves. We fill in the appropriate boxes on the passports, and they draw a picture of themselves as a passport photo. Then they cut them out (I was originally terrified of giving scissors to children) and glue them together. 

The four girls in my group are angels, ask lots of questions, and want to succeed. The boy is an animal. Do I know how to discipline another humans child? No. Later, however, when the organizer comes around to see how we’re doing, he disciplines him s little, and tells me not to be afraid to yell at them if I have to. Alright mate. 

The hour and fifteen minutes flies by. The next thing I know we’re leaving the school and I’m watching the kids run to their parents saying “My name is____” which is kinda fun. Overall decent class, I believe. I didn’t die, and no one impaled themselves with scissors. 

Joe and I go for a coffee (or tea, for me) after class. Everyone here smokes and drinks coffee. I am not a smoker but I can’t pretend there isn’t something undeniably cool looking about a European smoking and drinking a cappuccino on a patio. 

During this, I get another call from a Caroline. Now she’s asking me if I can get to the lesson if it’s later; now 6:30 instead of 5:30. I tell her I’ll do my best, ask for la cuenta, and get to the metro as fast as possible. I have to get across town and transfer to a line I’ve never been on before, which is fine but hard to gage how long it will take me. I get to the house at 6:50, and buzz up to the apartment, starting with an apology. They are kind about it, but tell me it’s too late and they’re now having dinner. I feel awful, and am worried Caroline will be pissed, but instead SHE apologizes to ME, and tells me I’ll be paid for the lesson anyway. Sick, homie. 

I go home and look over my new schedule. It conflicts with BOTH of my other jobs. What a nightmare. I e-mail her back and explain which classes I need to move, but she says she can’t do anything about it, and doesn’t want to hire me for only a few classes a week, she’d rather give me full time. While I totally agree, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to cancel on not just one, but two other jobs I’ve already commit to. I have a moral crisis. I call Ma. 

Honestly, at the end of the day I decide I have to look out for #1, and need to do whatever I need to do to make a living here. Caroline can offer me 11-15 hours, while these other jobs combined only offer me 5. 

I make an excel file of all my hours to start sorting out my life. Every lesson is at a different address, so I also pull up a subway map and start highlighting the stations I’ll need to get to. 

I’m going to have to invest in a monthly metro pass and a bike membership* STAT. 

* Barcelona has a sweet bike rental system similar to Bixi bikes or whatever they are in Toronto, but instead you pay 40€ for an annual membership, and get to use the bikes all over the city whenever you want. And they’re literally EVERYWHERE. Europe is so much cooler than we are.