Monday, February 6, 2017

Southland Romp

This past autumn, Murphy and I leave the house one day without a specific destination in mind. We pile some stuff into the van and just, well, start driving. Fortunately, New Zealand isn't that big, so we'd eventually have had to stop, but we also aren't intending to go on a huge mission.

Before too terribly long, we find ourselves down in Southland, which is the state to the south of Otago, and it's also the state that encompasses most of the southern coast of the island as well as all of the massive fjords.


We end up in the little town of Colac Bay, which is normally pretty quiet, but this weekend happens to be hosting a surfing competition, so it's super busy, which of course is a relative term. There's a perfectly adequate campground, and since "super busy" is, remember, relative, there's plenty of space left for us to park the van and pitch the tent.

Accommodation sorted and with the rest of the more-meager-by-the-day daylight hours to burn, we venture out from the campground for an exploratory run and get a pretty fair tour of the place. The battered trees and bush we find suggest that the weather deteriorates quite frequently, so we consider ourselves lucky that it's only blustery and showery.


Tour complete and bellies rumbling, we walk a few minutes over to The Pavilion, where we are served a fantastic feast. I think it's since changed ownership, so hopefully it's still as good... Our waitress tells us she was surfing with the little local dolphins earlier in the day; I believe this is called the good life.

After a worthy meal and a bottle of wine, we walk it off and burn some time with the camera, and we're rather ready to retire. What we haven't counted on is that the surf comp after party is being held at the tavern attached to the campground, and this is the biggest party of the year. Were it not for the belly full of food and red wine, I like to think we'd have wandered over for a pint, but we instead play the Old Card and opt for earplugs.

Colac Bay dusk

However, before turning in, Ethel takes a few minutes to commandeer the mini-horse that's in a pen in the campground and looking awfully neglected. He's thrilled to be out and about and makes short work of every patch of grass he can find. Good deed done, we turn in.

Murphy's new friend

Breakfast options in Colac Bay are approximately zero, so we head down the road and find a cafe in Orepuki that has just opened and features a super friendly owner. Fixed by coffee and pastries, we continue on, making a lap through Tuatapere and Nightcaps (where we visit our landlords) before Ethel realizes that she's left her purse at the restaurant in Colac Bay the night before. Oops.

Orepuki breakfast

Being less interested in the Big Backtrack than Murphy is, I let her chuck me out of the car in my running clothes to bash out 16k towards an intersection by which she'll pass after she's reunited with her purse. The only downside to this is that we're currently in a "less-inspiring" section of Southland than many others, where "less-inspiring" is a euphemism for "boring as shit." As unexciting as that sounds, I'm able to pretend that it's an episode of Top Gear wherein they're racing each other across some godforsaken landscape using different forms of transportation, and that makes the kilometers go by with more enthusiasm.

Finally, with people and payment methods reunited, we cruise back to Queenstown and call it a successful mission.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Crepuscular Rays

...aka god rays...

Back in now-ancient history when we lived in Queenstown, we got treated to this display one evening.

Thanks, low-angle sun plus stratocumulus clouds plus atmospheric particulate plus Rayleigh scattering!

Also, crepuscular is a cool word.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Crown Range Road

I've got an interesting relationship with the carpark at the summit of the Crown Range Road. It's a popular tourist stop, which is just fine, but it's interesting to me because it falls into a special category of roadside attractions.

These are attractions it so happens I've visited far more frequently on a bike than in a car. There are only a handful of these points of interest scattered across the meager portions of the globe I've traversed, and this one is extra special.

You see, of this particular class of places I've seen more of via bike, the Crown Range lookout gets extra points because the road itself, when ridden, has brought nothing to my life but unmitigated agony and regret.

I cannot think of a time that I've arrived at the summit, climbed off my bike, and thought "golly, that was nice." My typical visit involves staring blankly at my feet, spittle half-dried on my chin, and contemplating all the ways in which I'd relinquish my soul in exchange for never having to climb that fucking road again.

That negotiation is usually followed by wondering if I've done permanent damage to my heart this time, shaking violently while unwrapping some awful sporty snack, and then pointing my 8kg steed of plastic, rubber, and aluminum downhill towards corners that lie in wait with a thousand and one ways to die, among other secrets.


In other news, I'd highly recommend coming to visit New Zealand on a cycling holiday!


I've written the above because these two photos were taken from the aforementioned carpark on one of the rare occasions that I've stopped there in a car. I wasn't quite sure how to contextualize them, and then I just started typing, and I'm pretty happy with what came out, so we'll roll with it.

South (incl. Magellanic Clouds)


Anyhow, these photos are worth sharing because it's not at all guaranteed to be good stargazing up there, and these were from a night that featured a neat mix of clear air, light pollution, moonlight, clouds, and even a bit of airglow.

I suppose I could have just written that, but I think the bike bit makes for better reading.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Bali Finale

Right, so I've dragged this out as long as possible, but it's finally time to button up this Bali trip and get on to other stuff.



What I've got for you today is a collection of photos that, for better or worse, make up my lasting impression of Bali. Some of these show the nice things, and others show the not-so-nice things, but it's all real.

Over the wall

Dusk on Batur

Most places I've visited are ones that I've felt eager to return to, but Bali...not so much. Dunno; just think it's not quite my flavor. I will concede that with a little experience under my belt, I would approach a return visit to Bali or somewhere like it far differently than I approached the maiden visit. I'd certainly have a better idea of what to expect.

Shading the departed

The fleet sleeps

I guess a thread that runs through my thoughts about the place is that the Balinese have an indomitable spirit. There are a lot of people with few resources packed into a relatively small area, and they continue to thrive, which is awesome. On the flip side, I feel like an awful lot of tourists there kinda run rampant and take advantage of the country, and that's not really something I want to participate in.

Stormy reflecto

Roadside supermarket

Sadly, I never snagged a photo that adequately represents burning plastic, so that's missing from this collection. Can't say my lungs are missing it, though.

More sunrise

Awaiting departure

And if I had to do it with a single image...

Scooter is life



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Island Life

Life for the Balinese largely revolves around the sea. In my more cynical days, I'd have suggested that it's difficult for islands to avoid this, but I'd never think of such a thing now.

Minimum wage in Bali is ~150USD/month, and word on the street is that most people get by on about 200USD/month. With an overall budget of seven dollars a day, it should be no surprise that ingenuity and the ocean play pivotal and equal roles in their lives.

At the ready

Good catch

Boat driver + owl

Good as new

Kelp beds I

Kelp beds II

Last tasks

And while not sea-related, a bonus:

Here kitty kitty

It turns out that I do have another post to share from Bali - it's a small collection of photos that don't share a unified theme other than best representing my lasting impressions of the place; suppose it's a highlight reel of sorts.


Lembongan Touristing

With our remaining couple of days in Bali, and in the relative sanctuary of Nusa Lembongan, we strive to do as little as possible while doing as much as possible. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it mostly makes sense.

Our routine is beyond bland in its simplicity: wake, jog, shower, breakfast, swim, scooter, coffee, scooter, lunch, scooter, coconut, scooter, coffee, nap, scooter, dinner, beer, bed. Here are a few photos that hopefully do some justice to this tortuous routine.

Mirror pool


Inverse Guinness

Nice kitty, mascot of Poh Manis

Beach shacks

As an aside, I get served a meal with metal shavings in it at the place with the cool beach shacks. Staff seems unconcerned. Whatever.

Mini temple at Paddy's little resort

View from Two Peaks

About as fancy as we get; roughly $12 for dinner

Last light

I've got a few more photos to share depicting more daily life and less touristy stuff, and that'll about do it for this hyper-delayed trip report.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Traffic, Bali-style

This post makes unapologetic use of bullet points. If this somehow offends you, stop reading now.

I've hinted before at the madness that is traffic in Bali, and I think it's finally time to give it the attention it deserves. All of this blather will be interspersed with some scooter photos, because scooters, and also because you vampires will only click if you get some sort of visual stimulus in return. And of course I mean that in the nicest possible way. Also, I'm saving my favorite scooter photo for another post.

So pimp

The first few minutes after leaving DPS (Denpasar airport) count as the second-scariest experience I've ever had in a car.

The first was a, shall we say, memorable pass made by a friend of mine on a two-lane highway outside Susanville, CA on our way back from a snowboarding trip; so memorable, in fact, that it literally scared the backseat passenger from the left side of the car to the right side of the car, as if that would have somehow saved him from grievous bodily harm had we collided with the oncoming traffic.

But I digress.

Driving Miss Ruby

However, to digress again...

Before I run you through the first few minutes of this portentous car ride, I'd like to provide some context in the form of my own lifetime driving experiences. I've:

  • been a licensed driver for 20 years
  • driven in about a dozen countries, LHD and RHD
  • driven something around a third of a million miles (>500000km)
  • been involved in one accident (while stationary at a red light)
  • piloted a car in excess of 190mph (>305kmh)
  • had many passenger and driver laps on the Nürburgring
  • done track days in spectacular sports cars, driven open-wheel race cars, and raced go-karts
  • gotten one well-deserved speeding ticket
  • never had any other moving violations of any sort
  • been hit twice by cars while cycling
  • observed thousands of hours of insane driver behavior from close quarters while cycling
  • learned to be hyper-aware
  • become fascinated by the subtleties of traffic, especially as an American, where the car is king

I think my point in presenting this laundry list is to demonstrate that:
  • I've seen a lot, like, A LOT a lot
  • I'm exceptionally safe behind the wheel
  • I know the difference between being safe and being timid
  • I'm qualified to spend an entire blog post yammering about traffic in Bali

In other words, I'm above average, just like 98% of drivers believe they are...LOL. In any case, hopefully you'll be able to view what I'm about to share through the same lens through which I see it.

OK, so in the first few minutes after leaving the Denpasar airport, the friendly driver of our hired SUV:
  • not once wholly occupies a lane, except in brief moments transitioning from straddling one lane to straddling another
  • dives into countless closing gaps in traffic
  • goes to great lengths to avoid applying the brakes
  • displays a specific disregard for stoplights and posted signage
  • uses his horn every few seconds

Further, I witness the following array of (mind-bendingly uninjured) road users:
  • kamikaze SUVs
  • evil evil taxis
  • decrepit and polluting rustbucket cars
  • mosquito-like scooters, many carrying entire families and/or ludicrous amounts of unwieldy goods
  • pedestrians walking with and against traffic
  • food vendors pushing their carts
  • cyclists riding the wrong way
  • stray dogs
  • chickens
  • and, to demonstrate density, in any slice of an N-lane stretch of road,  roughly N+2 cars -and-  roughly 2N scooters. For realz.

It's mayhem. Sheer, unequivocal mayhem. Our driver single-handedly shatters every conception I've ever had of what it means to be a responsible road user, and all in the space of less than 10 minutes. And not only do I witness no deaths or dismemberments in the remaining 20 minutes it takes to get to the villa, but I see a decrepit infrastructure elegantly accommodate about four times as many road users (and a staggeringly more diverse collection of road users, at that) than any road I've ever seen in the first world.

In short, it just works. I apologize for not having photos of all these things, but I spent that ride clutching the door handle so tightly that it got a restraining order against me.

Paddy almost stuffs it

Over the remaining week and a half of our stay in assorted parts of Bali, I'll witness variation upon variation of that same terrifying first ride. But throughout it all, no still-steaming accidents, no body bags, no shattered glass or piles of car parts, no blood-stained pavement, no tow trucks, no junkyards of smashed and stripped cars, no roadside stands selling scavenged scooters, no amputee beggars, nothing. But after witnessing hundreds if not thousands of too-close calls, my pattern-recognition circuits start to realize that it can't just be coincidence that everyone lives. There has to be a reason.

What I come to realize is that all of the behavior I witness is merely the consequence of a different philosophy regarding the operation of motor vehicles. Sure, different first world countries all do things a little bit differently, and I'll take a German driver over a Californian driver any day of the week, but in general, the Western first world views driving as a regimented set of cause/effect pairs. Each vehicle is a particle whose position, velocity, and interaction with all other particles can be determined through the application of predictable driver inputs influenced by a legally-ordained set of rules and regulations, and this choreographed performance is played out upon an intricately-engineered canvas of infrastructure.

However, in Bali, we're going to take away the intricately-engineered canvas of infrastructure, and while I'm sure the rules and regulations might actually exist, enforcing them would be more elusive than a teenager's ability to unhook a bra with one hand, so let's just say that we're taking them away, too. What we're left with, then, is this collection of particles, and by removing all semblance of order by which they might govern their motion, we'd expect them to haphazardly clatter into each other like marbles in a clothes dryer, but somehow they don't. Why not?



While driving in the first world is all about rules and demonstrating rights of way, here, it's about maintaining flow. Each driver/rider/pedestrian/stray dog/chicken/food vendor constantly makes micro-adjustments to his or her trajectory and velocity, all aimed at giving others the opportunity to help maintain that flow. Forcing someone to stop at an intersection to exert one's right of way would cause a two-hour traffic jam, so instead, they breathe the throttle to let that person join. Horns are monosyllabic communication, perhaps demonstrating that what's said isn't important, but rather, how it's interpreted. Ignoring painted lines simply removes the chance of getting into trouble for defending territory that's not yours, not to mention turning an arbitrary measure of "6 lanes" into something far more functional like "big enough for everyone who needs it." There's nary a hint of righteousness, nor malice, towards other users, as this would certainly disrupt the all-important flow.

They are one consciousness, all entering and exiting the flow at different points, but all maintaining it, and with minimum effort. Namaste, bitches.

If anything, it makes me more confident that I'm less likely to lose my life in traffic in Bali than I am somewhere "safe" like Reno.

An interesting thing about it is that I've not really been able to apply much of this lesson to driving anywhere else, as it'd result in instant death. It is all about flow, after all, and it requires full buy-in and trust from all users. If you want a great read on getting buy-in from all users, revel in the awesomeness of when Sweden switched from driving on the left to driving on the right, OVERNIGHT, in 1967, and no one died. Sorry for using Wikipedia as a source, but whatever.

Proud whip

Certainly, one could extrapolate these tales of traffic to the non-Western-first-world way of life in general, but I think we're nearing the end of the time we've got today. Maybe re-read the line about the horns; I'm starting to feel lucky that that sprouted from my keyboard.


Past Detritus