Thursday, December 6, 2007

New Zealand; Sciatica; Fat Camel

Qantas Flight to Auckland, NZ

My flight to New Zealand took about 3 hours and plus a 3-hour time difference. The plane was another Boeing 747 Jumbo jet, the giant plane with the world's most cramped seats.

On take off, there was a clear liquid leaking from the ceiling above the aisle next to me. Minutes later, there was a second leak over the people in front of me. Hopefully, the liquid was not from the fuel tank or from the toilet. The seatbelt sign was on. I rang the flight attendant call button. No response. I rang again. No response. No surprise. Fifteen minutes later, the seatbelt lights went off and a perturbed flight attendent went looking for the button pusher. (I was sitting in economy with the rest of the trouble makers and low-lifes.) The flight attendent said the fluid was just condensation. She gave me a look as if I had just pulled a fake fire alarm. Once the plane stopped climbing, the leaking stopped. As I've said before, the service on most airlines sucks.

Biohazard at the Airport

Like Australia, New Zealand has very strict laws to prevent the introduction of biological pests into the country. (Human pests are fine as long as they're loaded tourists.) This means you can't bring even a piece of fruit from another country, including Australia. The New Zealand airport even had a large display case with the exact bottle of cobra and scorpion wine that I wanted to bring back to the U.S. when I was in Vietnam. At the luggage carousel, a uniformed guy leading a beagle around asked us all to put our carry-on bags on the ground so the dog could sniff them. The dog made a beeline for a young couple next to me. He sniffed the girl's bag and sat down expecting a treat. Busted. The uniformed guy told the woman to empty her bag. Then he questioned her. Her bag was clean but she said she had an orange in there the day before. Then the dog stopped in front of her boyfriend's bag and sat down. The boyfriend said he also had an orange the day before. On the ball, these New Zealand sniffer dogs.

Over the last week in Australia, I developed a burning sensation going from my lower back and down the back of my leg. I get this periodically -- it's sciatica. Usually, I exercise through it and it clears up in two weeks. When I got off the plane, my back was in flames.

I took the local bus to my hostel, The Fat Camel ($56 a night, in Auckland's backpacker area.) It was exactly what my place in Melbourne wasn't: fun and social. I dumped my stuff in my room and went to their bar. It was hopping and the people were friendly. My drinking buddies for the evening were a 37-year old Scotsman who I could barely understand because of his accent and and 25-year-old local who worked for the bungy jumping company in Auckland. (He hooked people up in their harnesses and then tossed them off the bridge in the center of the city.)

After a few beers, the Scotsman disappeared. Then the 25-year-old asked me if I wanted to try a shot called a Yaeger Bomb. I said "sure." The bomb was a large shot glass filled with a dark liquid. In the center of the glass was a smaller shot glass filled with an even darker liquid. He said you have to drink it all it once. We clinked glasses and gulped the drinks. Not bad, kind of sweet. "So, what's in it?," I asked. Yaegermeister, a licorice-like liquer, and Red Bull, a beverage with so much caffeine it's outlawed in some places. Being that I never drink caffeine because a cup of coffee in the morning keeps me up all night, I figured I'd be up all night anyway, so I decided to make the most of it. So, I had a couple more beers with him and then went for a 1:00 am hamburger at a seedy mobile burger van. Note: New Zealanders like their hamburgers with a fried egg.

Eventually, I got to sleep, but the sciatica woke me up a couple of times. I took some ibuprofen. The next day I took ibuprofen every 6 hours. The day after, my symptoms were under control.

Prices in New Zealand:
- the New Zealand doller is worth 80 cents
- hostel was $56
- a beer is about $5 to $6
- dinner out is about $12

The hostel had a well-organized travel office in the lobby. They helped me reserve a seat an on again, off again tour called the Magic Bus, which stops at major spots along various routes in the North and South islands of New Zealand. I chose a 14 day trip that terminates in Christchurch with a flight back to Auckland on 12/19. These low-wage hostel employees could teach the airlines a little something about service.