It’s been a little over a month since my arrival to this side of the Pacific, and the homesickness is starting to kick in ever so slightly. I miss the sound of mariachi static and tamale vendors, the taste of horchata with carne asada mixed with a splash of smog. I miss my adopted city of Los Angeles and all the people, trials and tribulations that come with it.
That’s not to say that I’m not loving my extended study-vacation in Aotearoa. I was able to find a slice of Latin America last Thursday night at Circolombia: Urban. This incredible 21st-century circus infused Colombian street life with reggaeton, hip hop and dance. The performers, all of whom hailed from the deepest barrios of Colombia, brought their life stories to the stage and bled with emotion. A truly spectacular performance, in terms of physical ability and cultural beauty.
Friday morning, four of us took a 7:50 a.m. bus ride to Tauranga, four hours (by bus) southeast of Auckland . The ride was grueling, not even motion sickness pills could get past those winding roads and the shithead of a bus driver. Not that he was particularly rude to me, but the way he treated three Asian women who didn’t understand that they had to get off to connect to another bus was appalling. Instead of assisting them, he berated them for not listening and chose the route of public humiliation. I’ve noticed this somewhat frequently in New Zealand, the lack of patience and hospitality for those unfamiliar with the cultural norms of the white/Kiwi society. There are, however, much like in any country, an equal amount of do-gooders for every asshole out there.
Anyway, we trekked to our hostel after arriving in Tauranga, which was unfortunately on the opposite end of the city from where we wanted to be. We grabbed some lunch and headed out on a beautiful walk across the city, eventually ending up in a beautiful rural residential community that reminded me so much of North Carolina. The modest homes, beautiful views, rolling hills and acres of land made me yearn for Tobacco Road. Later that evening, to ensure we got a discount, we rented mountain bikes and had one of the best evenings I have had in an extremely long time ($15 for two hours, not a bad deal for this place). We biked from downtown Tauranga to Mount Maunganui, a roundtrip distance of about 14 km. The weather, just below 70 F with clouds stringed about, was perfect. Naturally, all four of us ate shit one time apiece during our ride. It wouldn’t be an adventure without physical damage, right? Mine was pretty brutal, I was trying to pass my buddy on the bridge connecting Tauranga and Maunganui when my handlebar got stuck in between two rungs on the bridge’s barrier. I was flattened by the force, but just got a few scrapes. After taking the bikes back and crying at my dwindling checking account balance, we made another journey to the grocery store, cooked some pasta at the hostel then capped the day with frozen margaritas at the town’s local Mexican bar: I have to note that, after speaking with the employees, there are no Mexicans employed there, just a lonely Argentinean stuck in Gringolandia.
The next morning we limped out of bed and caught a bus to Manganui, where we hiked up the mountain around which the town is centered. What an incredible view from the top, where a lone picnic table served as the setting for a well-earned lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It’s a humbling experience, looking into the Pacific like that. Humbling and therapeutic. You realize how small you truly are in the grand scheme of things, while recognizing that no matter how long you travel the world, there will still be corners left undiscovered. We took a steeper route back down the mount, after which we grabbed some milkshakes and I passed out for an hour or two on the beach. The clouds and wind became menacing so we bussed back to Tauranga, where we ate some of the best fried fish I’ve had in New Zealand. A little seaside shack, Bobby’s Fresh Fish Market, had more than 50 people in and out in the course of an hour, which is how long we waited for our food. Locals go crazy over this stuff. God forbid if they ever make it to the South and try real fried chicken. The rest of the night was rather uneventful, bought a few more frozen margaritas and got denied from a few bars because we didn’t bring our passports. We jetted back to Auckland the next morning, fighting a steady downpour the entire way. So it goes.