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Entries about backpacking

The saga of Regina and Cory and the night train

Barbra Streisand

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first, to set the scene:

characters - Regina and Cory
goal - 12:47am train from Rome (where we celebrated NYE with our friend Adam) to Milan
scene - all over the city of Rome, Italy (background: old stuff)

we left Adam at Hostel Lido (the site of our magical NYE celebrations) feeling like we were sitting pretty. it was only about 11pm and we had almost 2 hours to make it to Tiburtina. we walked fairly quickly to the Lido station, but naturally had to wait until 11:30 until our train left -- Hostel Lido's one downfall is that, being not really Rome but a major suburb of Rome, it's a bit of a trek from Rome proper. well, that's okay, we still had an hour and fifteen minutes. we get off at the EUR MaglaakldgaklfdgnuItalianItalian stop shortly before midnight and saunter up to the metra stop to wait for the subway. two train station security guards wave to us from the other side of the platform. we smile and wave back.

they wave back more aggressively. "chiuso. chiuso. la treno, chiuso." (or whatever's Italian for "the train is not running anymore.")

if you have ever seen two balloons deflating...

we run down from the platform. the security guards repeat "the train is closed!" to us. of course NOW we remember the signs we'd all been seeing for the past 3 days: about how the metra stops running at 11:30pm on weekdays...when we tell them we're trying to get to Tiburtina, the one who seems to speak no English makes a very pitying and exasperated face at us. i think he says something like "can't be done," in Italian.

the other guy is more positive. "night bus n2. take this train." he shoves us toward the train going in the opposite direction, which has just arrived on the platform. "you go. you take. last train. take one stop. get off. one stop. bus n2. Viale Beethoven. you go. take last train. go! go!" and he ushers us on. Regina makes it. the door closes on me and my backpack gets stuck, and the helpful guard pries the door open to pop me through. did i mention this was the last train?

shell-shocked, we get off one stop later. we aren't sure that he said "Beethoven," can't find it on the map, and it's now shortly after midnight...we have 45 minutes to make it to Tiburtina on the other side of the city. Regina runs to look at the nearest bus stop to see if the n2 stops there while i sprint into a still-open cafe. neither of the guys at the counter speak English but i manage to tell them we are looking for bus n2. after some rapid Italian exchanges the younger one tells me, with appropriate hand gestures, but all in Italian, to walk to the left, make the first right, go 4 streets, and make another right.

Regina and i sprint off, following his directions, which do happen to lead us to Viale Beethoven and an n2 bus stop. the bus comes at 12:11am. we have 36 minutes to get to Tiburtina. we do not talk to each other during the ride, other than to make pseudo-cheerful comments like "we'll make it," "we're morons," "maybe we'll sleep in the train station," and "hey, we can always hang out at the Trevi Fountain at 3am!"

12:39am: we pull up to Termini. the bus pulls into its stall and chills. it is not going anywhere. we wait two minutes before evacuating the waiting bus. with six minutes to make it to Tiburtina before our train's scheduled to leave, we run frantically around the construction-littered parking lot until we find the taxi stands. "how long from here to Tiburtina?" i ask one of the drivers.

"how much?"

"no, how long, how many minutes!"

he considers. "seven...ten minutes."

Regina and i exchange desperate glances. "that's too long," we say. but then Regina says, "should we risk it? maybe the train will be late?" we both remember how sketchy Tiburtina was and consider how terrible it would be to spend the night there. it's the dumbest possible choice, but we say, "yes, take us."

after ridiculing us lightly with his fellow taxiers in Italian, the driver books it to Tiburtina. it's 12:51am when we pull in, yank our luggage out of the back, and sprint -- without hope -- into the deserted station. up on the board we see our train number, 830, to Milan. still listed. with a 15 minute delay.

we arrive on the platform panting like idiots and laughing hysterically (/practically crying) from relief to be greeted by the stares of fifty pissed-off Italians who are less than happy about that 15 minute delay. "i could KISS this train for being late," Regina gasps. here we are, being thrilled:


9 hours later we pulled back into Milan, on a train we had no right to be on, after having walked, ridden a train, ridden the metra, ridden a night bus, hailed a taxi, sprinted, and faked a lot of Italian to get there. i will never complain about a late train again.

and now, to share the great musical discovery of our trip:

thank you, Italian Döner and Pizza shop...for saving us from our NYE famine and for bringing us Barbra Streisand.

Posted by ctamler 06:23 Archived in Italy Tagged night backpacking train_travel Comments (0)

south island trip, part 4

abel tasman ends

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yeah i know it is ridiculous that i have this many entries about my south island trip. way too much detail. blame it on the uselessness of trying to be an acceptable human being when you're transitioning. this past week has been a long one.

our last full day on the track we were starting to feel the burn. blisters. aching shoulders. we split up the tent between us, which made for much smarter carrying, though it also tripled my width. we crossed a long swing bridge (which i had to sidle down sideways, thanks tent) and took a side trip to cleopatra's pool, where we lunched and dozed on the sunny boulders that form the pool's bowl. luckily we didn't fall into any ditches because our provisions were running low -- perfect amount for the trip, if only that duck hadn't stolen a piece of bread.

less up-and-down than on the previous day, which was good, given our sore muscles. we camped in appletree bay, one of the small campsites not associated with the track's four huts. tried to pitch the tent right on the beach but the intense wind kept blowing it away, so we took shelter behind a big bush and even then had to zip the tarp into the tent to keep it from flying off. stakes and sand aren't friends. played boggle: zack beat me for once. early night and i found a little nook in the sand and the combination of exhaustion and sandy nook meant i slept quite well.

we woke at 5am. troopers. packed up the tent, ate. ate the entire apple. ritual by this point. from the track we saw the sun rising behind the clouds. an hour and a half and we were hiking across the last stretch, a long boardwalk across an estuary where messages nestled in the sand, spelled out with heavy rocks that the tide leaves untouched. names. love vows.

our little nissan was waiting in the aquataxi parking lot. i drove us to picton, kirstin and zack often dozing along the way. we got there with plenty of time to spare before the ferry, and it's a sleepy town, not much to do, wandered into some souvenir shops, ate at the third best bakery in nz. the ferry was easy and not at all exciting. big, slow, ponderous, not much view.

friendly familiar wellington welcomed us and we checked in to the same hostel we'd been at exactly two weeks before: this time, though, in time for free dinner. small portion of fish and chips that we decided to treat as appetizers. had a few beers and played in the short pub quiz and were ONE POINT away from winning and very angry, because:

- answered "83" to "how old is the queen of england?" and she's 82
- answered "160" to "how many liters in a barrel of oil?" and it's 159
- answered "mt. cook" to "what's the highest peak in nz?" and it was mt. cook before a recent earthquake but now it's ruapehu

we got prizes anyway, two shirts and a frisbee. then we ate delicious indian food. then we slept. next day, nine-hour drive, took a different route than last time and drove through beautiful tongariro and chatted about marxism and communism and passed dozens of wineries and ate the last of our salami on bread from the bakery and tried not to think about our exams and that was our trip, a good one to end on, no question.

Posted by ctamler 03:13 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

south island trip, part 3

more abel tasman

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days two and three of the abel tasman track boasted stunning weather. abel tasman gets the most sunshine in new zealand, and it didn't disappoint. after being unlucky with the weather on excursions nearly all semester, it was such a relief to finally have perfect, perfect weather. it was sunny, dotted with white cloud. there was a fresh breeze that kept us cool for hours and hours of tramping. the water was a blue that, as kirstin noted, you'd normally associate with the caribbean.

the second day on the track was a day on a deadline. we had to cross the awaroa and onetahuti estuaries, which can only be crossed close to low tide (10:26 that morning). the awaroa took about twenty minutes of picking our way across seas of small sharp shells, multitudinous, literally unavoidable -- and wading through water that at times rose past our knees. by the time we crossed it we were quite tired and hungry, but didn't have time to stop for lunch because we needed to make the next crossing within three hours past low tide. we cracked open the jerky and trekked on.

of course, after a couple of hours of worrying and hurrying and panting, it turned out that the onetahuti crossing was tiny, and not even worth being concerned about. we flopped down on the beach just past it, settling on a log for lunch. a duck sidled up to us to make friends. zack tossed it a crumb, and next thing we knew, it stole zack's sandwich while we weren't looking (making us ultimately one slice of bread short of having even sandwiches, stupid duck). we relaxed our sore muscles on that beach for a good long while.

went on a mini-spelunk of a small cave at one end of the beach. it was a wide crack in the rock that narrowed quickly to a crawl space; i brought in my flashlight, and kirstin and i wriggled in. at the end of the crawl space was an even smaller hole that i decided to see if i could squeeze through. when i got close, i realized that a) i couldn't, and b) there was a living creature inside it: a white duck's head blinked at me in the flashlight's beam. fuck. would it attack if cornered? i backed out right quick. when we told zack about it, he stole the flashlight, went in, and threw things at the duck, but poor bugger didn't move. so i guess there was no danger.

we also scrambled around on the rough rocks to peer down into a water cave and to clamber up on a rock shelf above it.

there is one event that i have to mention, although i can't remember what day of the trip it happened on, or where, just that it was on one of the beaches. it involves this freaky motherfucker,


the toreapango, or variable oystercatcher, i am almost certain. one of them was standing on the beach, a striking sight with his blood-red beak and legs and his shining black feathers. he was perched on one leg, and zack came up close to take a picture. close -- closer -- closer -- always expecting that the bird would get scared and fly off.

instead, it was joined by another bird. the two stood shoulder to shoulder, lurking bullies on the sand. suddenly, they both flew at zack and kirstin, squawking. they are not small birds. now we were just trying to get past unscathed. they didn't like that. they didn't like our look. they didn't like our voices. they didn't like anything about us, basically, and they wanted us dead. we got off that beach right quick and couldn't shake the feeling that they were following us through the undergrowth.

zack: "those birds hate everything living and life itself."

we spent our second night at bark bay, where we met a girl named emily from philadelphia and her british friend whose great-uncle owns three pubs in harvard square. "how long have you guys known each other?" -- expecting the answer to number in the years. "oh, about four...four nights? days?" emily, stoned, had picked up the other girl, who was hitchhiking, and on the spur of the moment they decided to do the track. they'd each hauled a giant bottle of wine in with them and emily could no longer feel her right hand. they were hilarious to talk to but unfortunately we were too tired to be truly social.

instead, we made a sad fire that lived long enough to toast our sandwiches and melt some chocolate on our crackers (and infuse my shirts with a smoke-salami scent that still lingers). and then, ahh, slept.

Posted by ctamler 11:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

south island trip, part 2

abel tasman coastal track

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can you tell that studying is the LAST thing i am interested in doing right now?


the abel tasman's a one-way track, takes 3-4 days to tramp. you can turn it into a loop if you add the inland track, but we chose the one-way option with our limited time and resources, which meant we planned to take a water taxi to the north end of the track and hiked south.

in the morning we rushed from the barn to the aquataxi office, suddenly scared by our lack of bookings. before we could catch a breath we found ourselves being towed in the water taxi across a watery estuary by a big tractor, which pushed us backwards into the sea. kirstin, zack, and i sat in the back, because we're the cool kids. that meant we had to stand up as we were being backed in, to avoid getting drenched.

our taxi ride was a bit like a two-hour tour, pretty decent for fifty bucks. we swung by split apple rock, a halved granite fruit resting on a bed of rock marshmallows, before heading for mutton cove, the furthest stop along the track.

the sun was out, from time to time. the sky wasn't clear and it was chilly with the brisk wind on the boat. the taxi operator poked fun at our ridiculous aeroflot-colored tent in its giant, unwieldy bag. we ate muffins and apples, and saw seals on tonga island, and the lone bottlenose dolphin that's been haunting torrent bay came out to play with us. as we motored on and on -- and on -- i watched the shore hurry by. i couldn't imagine ever walking that far. it seemed endless, thick trees punctuated by bay after bay, a few vacation homes in torrent bay and a few campsites in other bays visible but other than that no signs of civilization. and us with our last-minute water purification tablet purchase and our stupid tent and our salami and our two broken lighters.

no time for second thoughts. down the ramp at mutton cove, where we undertook our first small side tramp, to separation point, where we got up close and personal with some new zealand fur seals. zack dubbed them "bear ducks," which i think is awfully appropriate. such large, fuzzy, clumsy things, hobbled by the shore, with their cherry cordial eyes and their irritable yelps. but in the water they are slender and graceful, and their strange rubbery webbed gloves make sudden sense. we got into an argument about whether seals are faster than michael phelps. (they are, if you were wondering.)

it was our shortest day save the last, maybe four hours total of tramping to totaranui, our first campsite. we endured little rain, but certainly some wind and chill. the track took us alternately across beaches and through forests. we encountered stoat traps: an egg inside a rectangular wooden box with wire mesh at either end. apparently they somehow incorporate cyanide as well. at totaranui's visitor center we discovered the reason: stoats kill wekas, a very rare, flightless new zealand bird that they're trying to repopulate abel tasman with.

we managed, that night, to find a way to stretch our stupid tent with yellow twine so that none of the walls were particularly collapsed. it was warmer, and i slept with two layers of socks, and in the morning the sun burned off the clouds and -- magic: beautiful day.

Posted by ctamler 01:27 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

south island trip, part 1

twisted cities and pancake rocks

all seasons in one day
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kirstin, zack and i hopped a plane tuesday evening. got into christchurch without mishap and checked into our hostel. wandering around looking for food that night was reminiscent of the wellington trip...the restaurants all looked delicious but closed. we played on the giant purple sperm in cathedral square, wandered into a little alley strung with red lights and sporting a huge fluorescent yellow cross, and finally gave up: burger king it was. they have these amazing late night specials which probably aren't actually as good of a deal as you think they are, but they are for multiple people and give you multiple burgers and fries and drinks, and we get them more than we probably should.

a quite different feel from wellington. less artsy-fartsy, less hip and new. lots of churchy and cathedral-esque buildings everywhere. an older scent. as old as nz gets, anyway.

we had a ten-bed room at base christchurch. zack and i both slept on bottom bunks, and the slats supporting the mattresses above us were thickly graffitied -- his was racist-themed, mine focused on sex sex sex. (one memorable quote from mine: "i would swim up a river of shit with my mouth wide open just to suck on the cock of the guy who last banged you." classy.) there were a bunch of israelis in the room, and one kept talking to us about how stupid americans are. also classy. and a texan named troy who's studying in aussie and failing all of his exams...which probably just fueled the israeli's fire.

in the morning, i picked up the car from the airport, which all went smoothly; then i drove back to the hostel, which didn't. driving in christchurch reminds me of driving in pittsburgh, especially the north side: a maze of one-way streets, confusing signs that point to nowhere and then leave you hanging. eventually i found it and off we jetted towards abel tasman via greymouth and punakaiki, stopping on the way to shop for our 3.5-day backpacking trip:

- jerky
- trail mix (an accidental 1.5kg bag...bulk can be dangerous)
- 3 salami rolls
- cheese
- 2 loaves of bread
- peanut m&ms
- peanuts
- chocolate-covered raisins
- peanut butter
- jelly
- round tea crackers
- apples
- 28 muesli bars (essentially granola)

now listen. i know that i have used "all seasons in one day" on this blog many times to describe the nz weather. but this drive, it actually, really, literally applied, in a way that make all the other times look like big fat lies.

when we left christchurch, it was raining.

driving through gorges, it was alternately overcast and sleeting.

later, around the time we stopped for lunch in greymouth -- on the sea-foamy beach where we had a seafoam battle -- the sun was out.

in punakaiki, it HAILED for ten minutes.

from there, we drove right under a huge rainbow (we could see where it ended, in the half-dry riverbed beside us). then we drove through thick snow that stuck to street signs, trees, grass. and, finally, stiff gusts of wind that blew our practically weightless nissan heartlessly about the road, poor butterfly.

punakaiki: the pancake rocks. super. better even than i expected. they are apparently a geological mystery. they're stacked in layers, and the softer layers are eroding quicker, so the effect is even more pronounced; and geologists don't know why they formed that way. lots of cool natural formations, like the surge pool that seems a perfect place for a pirate to hide myriad treasure chests. i got a free coffee from a nearby cafe because the owner forgot to charge me, and when i told him, he said "well, it's not often that i do something like that, so consider it your lucky day."

i LOVE free things.

we got to the barn (our campsite outside abel tasman, in marahau) after dark, and set up the tent in the black and rain. and let me just say that this tent, which was to be our home for the next four nights, was broken.

"kirstin, didn't you say you checked the tent and it was going to work?"

"well, i never set it up all the way..."

let me also just say that this tent was clearly designed by idiots who attempt to cater to human laziness by making it TOO easy to set up and as a result making it extremely difficult to carry (the poles stay in the tent permanently) and to fix when broken. ultimately, though, it worked fine, though that first night we had one collapsed wall, which made it a bit cramped. it was freezing and raining and none of us slept well, which was not an auspicious beginning for our tramp...but do not, friends, judge a book by its cover.

Posted by ctamler 11:34 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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