It’s been a lovely day in seaside New Zealand. We enjoyed breakfast by the sea (a perfectly ripe mango and a peanut butter/creamed honey sandwich), hiked up a very steep hill, harvested some citrus, did somehttps://wordpress.com/settings/general/theblankenshipworldtour.wordpress.com yardwork, went for a swim and had a lovely family dinner (fresh caught snapper, new potatoes, coleslaw, and ham). The entire day was spent with friends and completely unplugged. The only source of internet is at Pacific Coast Macadamias, which is a 5 minute walk (uphill) across the street. There is absolutely no connection to the outside world at our bach, and I am totally loving it. I have yet to pull out the charger for my phone and it is still going strong with 46% battery. It’s amazing long your phone can last when you’re not glued to it. In honor of limiting my screen time and remaining unplugged, I’ll let the photos tell a short story of our day here in Whanarua Bay.
Fresh oranges and grapefruit from the orchard at Pacific Coast Macadamias. I ate 3 prior to this photo and they were the sweetest and juiciest oranges I’ve ever eaten.
Ended our day with family dinner at Paddy’s parent’s house. This is the only photo I thought to take. Enjoy the sight of a perfectly cooked snapper caught by Paddy, Liz and Paddy’s dad the day before.
Thomas’s Thoughts: Winner Gets Nothing.
We ate some fresh snapper With Lemons and limes and salt and black papper It was a good feed With all that we need Only at night am I a good ________.
Last night was the first time I’ve slept through the night since we started traveling. All of those nights I was wide awake at 3am in Taipei were in preparation for functioning in New Zealand, which is 5 hours ahead of Taipei. Michael and Caitlyn’s flight was supposed to land at 530am, but they were delayed by an hour so we got some bonus sleep before we had to leave. The alarm rang again at 6:00am and I woke up feeling the best I’ve felt since we left the US. We had a quick breakfast cereal snack and headed out the door. Our cellular data was being finicky and we had some challenges communicating with Michael and Caitlyn via FB messenger, but eventually we connected at the international terminal.
We all piled into our Nissan hatchback and started driving toward East Cape catching up on the past 2 years since we left Australia. After we put some distance between us and the airport, we stopped in a small town outside of Hobbitown (yes, that is the land of the Hobbits and where one of the movie set tours is located) and ate breakfast at Griddle Earth (cute, right?). Another fantastic meal in NZ. I had my first meat pie in 2 years and it was just as good as I remember. Everyone else got breakfast plates that were full of eggs, sausage, hash browns. mushrooms and toast. As Paddy would say, it was a good feed.
Armed with a classic New Zealand soft drink, L&P, we were ready to hit the road again. we enjoyed some beautiful scenery along the way with rolling hills as far as the eye can see and steep cliff drop offs to the ocean. We stopped along the way for some groceries and masterfully packed the hatchback of our Nissan. We rolled up to Paddy’s family’s macadamia orchard, Pacific Coast Macadamias (PCM), at 3pm and from the minute we approached the PCM sign, I knew we were in paradise. Paddy, Liz and their parents were in the driveway as her parents had also just arrived. We all jumped out of the car and excitedly hugged our friends. We met their parents and we all headed down to the bach (aka beach house) we would be staying at.
We had to drive down a narrow windy road and parked in a grassy lot. The baches are only accessible via footpath so we rolled some wheelbarrows to the car to transport our luggage and groceries. A short walk led us to our bach which is a 30-60 feet away from the water (depending on the tide). There’s a rope swing that hands from a magnificent tree behind the house. The shore line is pebbly with big rocks close by which are home to all kinds of creatures. In short, this place is amazing and makes me never want to leave.
Dinner ended with a warm lemon ricotta cake served with yogurt. It was a delightful end of a perfect day. We headed back to our bach after dessert, played a couple games of backgammon and turned in to fall asleep to the lapping waves of the sea. Life is just so sweet.
Thomas’s Thoughts: Wait and See
There can be some comfort in discomfort. When an ordinary cycle is disrupted, it can cause confusion, which may be too quickly judged as discomfort. A most basic of natural cycles for many is day into night into day again. However, artificial lighting (of all types) can help us ignore this cycle to where it’s almost like the augmented cycle can be taken as day into artificial day into day again. Remove the artificial interruption, and it’s striking how dark true dark really is. I see no crayon in the box that properly illustrates light’s absence. Dark that is indistinguishable between eyes closed to eyes open. Darkness where blinks become long pauses, and sight is, for a period of time, not the dominant sense. This is where the discomfort begins…but rational reasons may come to hold convincing points of view. Listen for just short of too long, and see that it’s all still there. Same as it’s always been, but the literal point of “view” is more special and important than its ever been. Perspective can make completeness, and it all starts with being a good listener.
We’ve arrived in Auckland, New Zealand and it feels damn good to be back in the southern hemisphere! I’m going to keep this one brief because there’s a special surprise for you at the end of the post.
We flew Air New Zealand from Taipei and we enjoyed our experience thoroughly. Shockingly, we were able to sleep for most of the flight so the time flew by (both literally and figuratively). Towards the end of Air New Zealand flights, flight attendants will pass out lollies (hard candies) to the passengers. Apparently there was an Asian celebrity on our flight from Taipei who surprised everyone by being the one who would pass our the lollies. The entire non-english speaking half of the plane went nuts and were taking photos and smiling. Thomas and I snapped a photo with hopes of identifying this person on google images later…no such luck, but it was cool to have a celebrity on board.
After getting our rental car and dropping off our bags at the airbnb, we decided to go out for a run to stretch our legs and get some much needed physical activity. We ended up at a nearby park which took us on a seemingly tropical path full of birds we’ve never seen before. After our run, we decided to head to the downtown Auckland area for some lunch and sightseeing. By the time we showered and got in the car, we were famished. Thomas was investigating every compartment of the car (like he does…) when I heard him say “oohhh my”. I looked down and in the center console was a half full bag of bite size snickers. JACKPOT. We were hungry, so we grabbed some snickers.
It took us about 40 minutes to get into the city and we started searching for lunch on the wharf. We stopped at the first place that we saw advertising a $15 fish and chip lunch special. I ordered a soda to ease my hanger that was building and as soon as those two fried fish filets arrived in front of me, all was right in the world again. After our first lunch, Thomas and I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon walking up and down the wharf, stopping in at bars and restaurants that were running happy hour specials. Local New Zealand oysters for $2 (normally $4.5) and $0.25 chicken wings were just a few of the many snacks we grazed on throughout our time in Auckland.
Around 7pm we had our fill and decided to head back in the direction of the airbnb. We made a stop at a very familiar grocery store (Countdown, or Woolworths in Australia) to begin to stockpile our snacks and provisions for the week at our beach house (aka bach) in East Cape. Going up and down the aisles of Countdown brought back a flood of memories from 2017 when we were in Australia. When I was loading up my cart full of my favorite Australian peanut butter, a woman approached me with a confused look on her face. She held a phone up to me and I read some Chinese translated text asking for help picking out the best oatmeal flavor. I felt very empathetic to her situation as Thomas and I were literally in her shoes hours before. I was more than happy to spend the time talking with her through google translate until she felt like she understood what she was buying. I thought about the countless patient people in Taiwan who helped us as we fumbled through shops and restaurants with zero ability to communicate in their native language. It was nice to have the opportunity to help someone else.
I’m now back in our airbnb close to the airport. Tomorrow we are picking up Michael and Caitlyn from the airport and the four of us will cram into our rental car to meet Paddy, Liz and their families in East Cape for wedding week!
Now, I mentioned that I had a special surprise for you. Today, we are launching Thomas’s Thoughts. This will be a paragraph at the end of each blog post where Thomas will get to share his thoughts. These thoughts may be related to what I wrote or may be completely off the wall. I have no say over what he chooses to include. Enjoy!
Thomas’s Thoughts: Crossing Two Tropics
Could the ocean perhaps be a perfect place to live?It’s the hot and humid uncomfortable days that create such wandering thoughts(and equally as such cold and bitter ones too).With its massive size, a fish must enjoy near constant comfort.Or should it become too hot or or cold, a quick flick of a fin can adjust its depth, and thus sun exposure and, back to near perfect comfort.I consider humans to operate in a relatively planar environment with the ability to easily move great distances in elevation a very recent addition to our repertoire.Fish on the other hand, like birds and flying insects, can endlessly move about their three-dimensional environment just as they have since pre-history, and not think twice about it.Then again, nearly all fish are doomed to freely operate in their 3D world alongside swarms of cannobalistic cousins.A literal infinite feeding frenzy of life, with each choice (?) of motion potentially fatal and/or inadvertently steering the evolutionary bus further down the forked path which it travels.Perhaps not an environment I wish to live in.To go an unidentifiable amount of time without questioning your place in the food chain, is quite comfortable enough for me.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! This year we are celebrating with noodle soups and dumplings, a bit unconventional, but that’s just how we roll. We woke up before the sunrise this morning and thought we’d take the opportunity to watch the sunrise over the ocean. It wasn’t until after we finished getting dressed and were ready to walk out the door that I looked out the window to find heavy rains. We opted for dry conditions and stayed in our apartment to play some backgammon over a cup of coffee and tea.
The rain eventually subsided so we ventured out again for breakfast. We changed our routine up a bit today and went to a Western-Taiwanese fusion restaurant. I had very low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised. The woman working the counter was incredibly friendly and they had an easy picture menu we were able to order off of. The early morning rain put me in the mood for soup, so I chose a noodle bowl with dumplings and an egg. Thomas went with a noodle plate served with grilled ham (we think) and a fried egg. Solid start to the day.
We walked back to the apartment, gathered our things and got ready to head to the train station. Since the scooter rental shop was close to the train station, we ended up hanging on to our scooter overnight so that we could take a short 10-minute ride over to the train station. Thomas wedged his pack in between his legs in the front of the scooter and I wore my pack on my back and both of our carryon luggage around my side (#packmule). Thomas expertly zipped around the city streets of Hualien. It was a heavy ride for me, but I think it ended up being the preferred option over the 35-minute walk from the train station.
Because we didn’t buy any mochi last night, my usual first breakfast was missing the mochi element. On our walk to the train station we passed by several mochi shops so obviously we stopped in and bout copious amounts of mochi (in hindsight it was probably too much, but when are we going to be able to get fresh mochi again!?). We made sure to fill half of our box with my personal favorite, peanut (n=6).
The train station was a quick 2-minute walk from the mochi shop. Purchasing the tickets and finding the platform were both very easy to do. We got onto the crowded train and apparently the shoes that were clipped to my pack were knocking every person I passed in the face (doh!). Between my backpack, small carryon handbag and shopping bags full of mochi, I was a hot mess. Thomas calmly took the bags one by one from me and put them in the overhead space, but I was completely mortified. For the first time on this trip, I felt like THOSE tourists. Oh well…
Aside from the embarrassment of boarding, the train ride was uneventful. We disembarked from the train, found a locker to store our luggage in, and headed out in search of the ramen noodle shop I had found on Google. As we approached the shop, we saw a line outside of the door. This seemed like a really good sign. We waited in line for a little bit and noticed a fellow westerner a few people behind us. We chatted for a while which made the time pass quickly. All of a sudden we were in the front of the line and we stepped into the restaurant. The inside was a pretty quiet space with a single bar surrounding the kitchen area. It had an instant cool vibe to it all. We grabbed a couple of stools that had opened up at the bar and sat down. The guy next to us pointed at a vending machine where we were supposed to place our order. “How trendy and cool” I thought. It wasn’t until I looked at the vending machine when I realized everything was in Chinese. Thomas and I looked at each other and were instantly overwhelmed. Luckily there was an English menu that we were able to use to try and match the English translation of menu items with the Chinese characters on the buttons. It took us a few minutes but eventually we ordered a miso ramen (spicy) and a tonakatsu ramen for lunch. Since the bar surrounded the kitchen area we able to watch everything happen from the making of the broth, to the boiling of the noodles. It was mesmerizing to watch. Our soups arrived and after one slurp of the noodles and a sip of the broth, I was in heaven. It was one of the best soups I’ve had (maybe in my life?) and was certainly on par with the red soup we had earlier this week. Thomas’s soup on the other hand was nearly inedible. The spice left your mouth feeling like salt had singed every last tastebud in your mouth. Thomas had some of my soup and for the first time in the history of traveling, he didn’t finish his meal. It was that bad. You may ask, why didn’t you just send it back and ask for another. Well, because Chinese. We could barely figure out how to communicate we wanted extra baby corn in the soup. How do you say, “hey this doesn’t taste quite right, you think you could make me a different one?” While Thomas’s soup was a bust, we had one last great soup in Taiwan and a fantastic restaurant experience.
Overall, traveling in Taiwan was really easy. Every city we visited was clean and felt very safe. Everyone we saw on a scooter/motorbike was wearing a helmet and obeyed traffic laws. Pedestrians crossed the street at crosswalks and actually waited for walk signs (even if there weren’t cars coming).
The Taiwanese people are all really friendly and despite a significant language barrier with most of the people we interacted with, everyone was totally willing to make it work with you. Google translate and user posted photos at restaurants were key tools we used frequently when interacting with non-English speakers that were surprising reliable. For the most part, there were Western style toilets everywhere we went, though the toilet paper was almost always on the outside of the bathroom stalls. This is really an issue if you forget to grab some toilet paper on your way in, a mistake I only made once. We’ve really enjoyed our time in Taiwan, but every trip must come to a close. For now, we continue our journey and are off to see our favorite Kiwis and Aussies!
Started the day with 12 hours of sleep and it felt pretty dang good! We had a leisurely start in our Airbnb with our first breakfast of dragonfruit and some mochi. Around 8am we left in search of breakfast. I was really in the mood for a coffee so we stopped in the cafe near our place on the way. The barista gave us a big smile when we entered and spoke very good English. I ordered a coffee and we ambled around the cafe looking at the little trinkets on the shelves. The pour over coffee was delicious and we enjoyed it on our walk to the breakfast joint.
We decided to return to the same place for breakfast this morning. Just like yesterday, everything was fantastic. I ordered 8 dumplings, a scallion bread, and 2 steamed buns (I only ate one and ended up saving the other to snack on later). I definitely ordered with my eyes and I was insanely full at the completion of breakfast. Throughout breakfast we talked about what we wanted to do for the day. We thought it’d be fun to rent a scooter and take a ride up to the national park, so that is exactly what we did. It took us about 30 minutes to walk to a scooter rental shop but the whole rental process was super fast. Within 5 minutes, we had a scooter and were on our way to the Taroko National Park.
It only took us 35 minutes to get to the park entrance from the city and we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was no fee to get into the park.
We checked out the visitors center and found a park map (in English!!) which outlined the trails, approximate distance/times, and geographical features along the way. We picked the longest trail, which was estimated to take 4-6 hours and got to stepping. Everything we saw was very beautiful, clean and organized. Some indigenous people actually live in parts of the National Park so occasionally throughout the day, motorbikes will travel along the hiking path to get supplies (this actually happened while we were hiking today). The scenery was gorgeous but the hike itself was only 8.2 km round trip, so we finished hiking well under the estimated time (it took us less than 2 hours all together). We wanted a bit more nature time, so we picked out a different hike to do a bit further into the national park.
The second walk we picked out took us on a 700 meter winding path through a deep gorge (The Tunnel of Nine Turns). Pictures just don’t do the place justice. It was truly impressive to see it in person.
By the time we finished with our second walk, we were ready to head home. We broke up our hour long trek home with a stop outside of the park for a stick of wild mountain pig sausage. The taste was pretty similar to a link of breakfast sausage but it hit the spot since we hadn’t eaten lunch all day (due to the enormous breakfast we had). Despite the fact that the chance of rain has been greater than 50% nearly every day since we’ve been here, we haven’t been rained on, that is, until today. Luckily, it was really only misting on our ride home and never amounted to a stronger rain than just that. It could have been a lot worse, but nonetheless, it was pretty uncomfortable so I was pretty excited to get under a blanket when we got home.
To pass the time before the night market opened, we watched some Taiwanese TV which was a combination of American shows dubbed over in Chinese, Chinese shows aimed to teach kids English and sports broadcast in English (soccer) and Chinese (baseball). We headed out for the night market at 6:15pm and did a browse of the stalls.
Overall it was a pretty mediocre food experience (the first one we’ve had here). We tried taiwanese fried chicken (most similar to popcorn chicken in the US), a couple of sandwich/subs with pork belly, grilled corn on the cob glazed with a soy sauce/Chinese 5 spice powder, and some unidentifiable thing on a stick. We thought it was going to be beef or pork but it turned out to be much softer and more similar to a very thick sesame paste that we’ve eaten in mochi. It was glazed and coated in crushed peanut and cilantro. Yes, it was indeed as strange as it sounds.
After several laps around the night market we called it quits and headed home where we ended the night spending time together over our favorite board game (and Thomas’s carry on), backgammon. Tomorrow we fly to New Zealand and we’ll be reunited with our friends the day after that. We’ve got some exciting times coming and very few plans! Can’t wait to see what it all brings!!
BIG day yesterday. We started, as we always do, with breakfast. The night before we had gotten some dragonfruit at a stand and some mochi on our walk home. We saved our evening acquisitions to have in the morning for first breakfast. After a little breakfast snack we headed out for second breakfast at a popular spot in Hualien. We found a table in the crowded restaurant where steam filled the air from the hundreds of dumplings that were cooking. A neighboring patron pointed towards a stack of papers with a pen that we were supposed to use to write our order on. The only problem, it was exclusively in Chinese characters and there wasn’t a picture menu we could order from. We got creative and brought our phone to one of the staff members and pointed at photos of things that we wanted to order. It was actually really effective and everything that came indeed looked like that we had asked for. Dumplings, an egg sandwiched between a scallion pancake-like bread and a fried bread stick filled our bellies in the most satisfying way.
After breakfast, we checked the weather and there was a low enough chance for rain in the forecast that we decided it was a good day for biking. We had read in the lonely planet guidebook that Highway 11 is a particularly good cycling route so we rented some bikes and headed that way. We paid $10 for our day long bike rental and were pleasantly surprised that these bikes were basically brand new Giant bikes. Highway 11 took us along the coast where we had scenic vistas of waves crashing on rocks for the majority of our ride.
About an hour into the ride we approached a tunnel which took us through a mountain. The tunnel was broken up into 4 segments and stretched for a mile, uphill the entire time. After the tunnel we enjoyed a steep downhill which was quickly followed by a never ending uphill. We were no longer able to see the ocean and we consulted the map to see that Highway 11 indeed veered inland and for many miles was a series of switchbacks up and down the mountains. We kept riding and along the way we rode fellow local cyclists who smiled, clapped, and gave us thumbs up as we huffed along. The cycling culture seems to have a true presence here in Hualien. The roads (and tunnels) all have well marked bike lanes which make for a very bike friendly road. With no final destination in mind, we turned around when we were done biking uphill and enjoyed the wind in our hair as we zoomed back and forth downhill.
After about 26 miles (40 km) we were starving so stopped at a Thai restaurant on the side of the road for lunch. We walked in and it was instantly clear that not a single staff member spoke English. Our server, using google translate on his phone, asked if we were dining? We shook our heads yes, holding two fingers in the air indicating we wanted a table for two. We sat at a bar area overlooking the ocean– perfect scenery. I was fairly certain we’d have a similar situation to breakfast and quickly whipped our the google photos of menu offerings at the restaurant. The server approached us again and in his phone he typed “would you like some fried rice and noodles?”. We weren’t sure if that was all they were serving or if that was what he offered all the white people who didn’t speak the language. I typed back “seafood?” and he shook his head yes. Just as we had successfully done so at breakfast we pointed to a seafood stew and some kind of sliced pork/rice dish. The seafood stew was the first to arrive at the table and it was just divine. The broth was pleasantly spicy and the seafood was abundant. The pork dish arrived shortly after the stew: the thinly sliced, sweet glazed pork belly served with sticky rice turned out to be an excellent accompaniment to our seafood.
We thanked the staff for a delicious meal, paid and got back on the bikes to ride back towards the bike shop. Close to the bike shop was a bakery who makes mochi fresh daily. Before returning the bikes, we stopped in to pick up some mochi (a couple ice cream varieties and an assortment of peanut, sesame, and red bean paste fresh mochis). We enjoyed the ice cream mochi outside of the shop and saved the rest for later. Fresh mochi is just the best. So far, my favorite flavor is peanut, with red bean following as a close second.
It was about 5pm by the time we returned the bikes. We had a 30 minute walk back to our airbnb which we broke up with a stop at the Wang Tea House for a couple of cold teas and some fried tofu.
Exhausted from riding, we took a few minutes to relax at our place. We intended to have a snack dinner at the night market, but that never happened. We passed out in bed at 6:45pm with the lights on. I woke up around 7:30pm and shut the lights off telling myself, “we’ll go to the night market tomorrow…I’m just too tired right now”. Mark my words everyone, we ARE going to the night market tonight.
Jet lag is just the worst. I fell asleep pretty much instantly last night but found myself wide awake at 5am (just 6 hours after having laid my head on my pillow. Damn you circadian rhythms! After nearly an hour of trying to fall back asleep, I decided to get up, take a shower and get myself ready to head out for breakfast. By 7:15am., we were out the door and on our way to a popular breakfast spot near the Museum of Contemporary Art. Like many of the restaurants around here, it was a tiny hole in the wall packed with people. As were were walking in to grab a table, a man wearing a New England Patriots jacket was walking out. So strange when things like that happen. We ordered a variety of breakfast options ranging from dumplings, steamed buns, an egg/sausage sandwich on a flaky sesame bread with a couple of cold drinks (soy milk and peanut drink). Needless to say, it was all amazing and delicious and cost us $3 USD.
When we booked this trip, we decided that we’d spend the majority of our time outside of Taipei in Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan. Getting to Hualien was easy (one short 2.5 hour train ride). The AirBnB was a 30-minute walk from the station and gave us the opportunity to see some of the city by foot.
After dropping our bags, we found a noodle shop that was serving up some piping hot bowls of deliciousness. The weather was pretty overcast today but it’s a welcomed change from the obnoxiously sunny weather we’re subjected to in Denver on a near daily basis. It’s actually pretty nice to feel some cooler humid winds for a change. After lunch we went on a walk to explore more the city and found ourselves at the ocean. The water was rough, and we saw some really impressive waves crashing up on the rocks as we sat and relaxed.
Around 4pm we were both feeling really worn down (as mentioned previously, jet lag is the worst), so we headed back to our room to recharge. After a 1 hour power nap, we woke up and felt moderately refreshed. I realized it had been a few hours since the last time we ate, so it was time to find a new restaurant. We couldn’t choose, so we settled on getting some pre-dinner dumplings at a dumpling house and then walking a bit further for a nicer sit-down soup dinner.
The dumpling house was set up so that you could watch the army of employees rolling, filling and wrapping the xiao long baos with great speed an ease. Steamer baskets are stacked 15-20 high, creating towers that contain hundreds of dumplings. Our appetizer left me feeling fuller than I was expecting, but I pressed on past my satiety signals to our next stop.
We walked down a side street to find a restaurant tucked away. Here’s the second thing we’ve learned, the frequency at which people speak English in Hualien is significantly lower than Taipei. Between the two people working the restaurant we gathered that they would be open until 8 pm and they were serving two different kinds of soup: white soup and red soup served with beef or sheep. They gave us a paper menu to mark what we wanted, though the menu was written completely in Chinese characters. We had a general idea of which side of the page referred to the red vs. white soup, but that’s about where our understanding ended. Not totally sure what was coming to the table we were delightfully surprised. The “white” soup was a clear broth that was reminiscent of chicken broth. It was very nice and had clean flavors. The red soup on the other hand was bold and had a full-bodied flavor (read: this was the superior soup at the restaurant). Stuffed to the brim we opted to skip the night market this evening in favor of an early bedtime. As long as the weather cooperates, we’re planning a bike ride for tomorrow. Here’s to hoping for a full night of sleep!