Roil Around the World
I love checking out exotic wildlife in foreign countries. I'm easily pleased - exotic to me is any creature that doesn't hang out in the New Zealand bush. Which is almost all of them, pretty birds aside.
But despite our visiting some of the most animal-saturated places on earth, most of the big names have eluded us. I was gutted I missed out on seeing sea turtles in Tulum, Mexico, despite our host's assurances the waters were swarming with them.
A three-hour mission to find toucans at some ruins near the Belize border was also fruitless.
I was so desperate to see something in Mexico that I paid a stupid amount of money to watch a manatee come up for air a few times in the Sian Ka'an nature reserve. But despite our guide's stories about the presence of crocodiles, jaguars and pythons in the area, we missed them all. At least the ubiquitous iguanas didn't let me down.
My fears in the states about bears and cougars were unfounded (I would've liked to see one from a distance at least). I didn't even see a raccoon, that North American pest equivalent in peskiness to our possum.
How good was the All Blacks' victory at the weekend? Even during the World Cup final last year I don't think I was as stressed about the result as I was about Sunday morning's (NZ time) game against South Africa. Because if we'd lost, I shudder to think how my friends and I would've survived the rabid (only a slight exaggeration) South African crowd.
I've been to only two All Blacks matches (both away games) and the atmospheres at each couldn't have been more dissimilar. The first was a Bledisloe Cup game in Melbourne a couple of years ago. The Kiwi to Aussie supporter ratio was about even (most Victorians don't care about rugby), there was a respectful silence for the haka and even though we lost, I didn't fear any hassling at work on Monday. Most people didn't know there was a game on, and if they did, they didn't care.
Contrast that with the level of rugby fanaticism in Soweto. From the swarms of green-and-gold-shirted fans wandering the city during the day, to the banter at traffic lights, it was a fun rivalry.
Until we got to the stadium, and the ribbing developed a mean-spirited edge. Most people kept up the friendly jibes. But there were enough fans who pulled the fingers at us, screamed at us during our national anthem and yelled abuse at us throughout the match to sour the atmosphere. And is it normal that you can't hear the haka at an away match? We didn't have a chance with all the yelling and singing aimed at drowning it out.
It wasn't only us native Kiwis who copped it either. Many South Africans have ditched their national team in favour of ours (the trend dates back to apartheid when rugby was a whites-only sport) and they're brave to do so publicly. I was shocked at the insults being hurled at them by their countrymen.
To the person developing teleporting technology: please hurry. I don't think I can take much more of this cattle class flying. If I was in that luxurious place we all dream of as we plebs are crammed like beasts in the back of the plane, then sure.
Do you think they purposely make us walk past business class to rub in our faces what we can't have? Here are beautiful, wide, comfortable seats with legroom and champagne. And here is yours. Your back will be upright and your legs jammed around your ears for the next 12 hours as your neighbour encroaches so far into your space you have visions of going all terrorist on their ass and stabbing them with your plastic fork.
I always look at the people in first class and think, "who are you?" I'm sorry if you're a first class traveller - but you're not normal! You look it though. There's little to distinguish the cool and collected gold members from the harangued cheap seats. I'm always on the lookout for expensive Chanel suits or caraty diamond rings. But they're not there. Perhaps they're hidden to prevent mutiny. One day I dream of being upgraded so I too can throw back smug looks as the masses hurl me death stares.
Meanwhile, I'll suffer in the back. First up - how much do we all hate the middle seat? I just got off a 10-hour flight from Zurich to Johannesburg (posts to come) in the middle and I swear: never again. If I have to throw a tantrum at the check-in counter (and it's been done before) to change seats I will.
Because I'm a fidgeter and I have a small bladder. Basically I'm that annoying person you pray you'll never be seated next to. I have to get up a lot to use the loo and I like to stroll the aisles. My seat of choice is always, always on the aisle. But there were none left on this flight. Which made me panicky, and if possible even more fidgety.
If you're like me and can speak only English, travelling around Europe makes you feel pretty dumb. I reckon almost every person on that continent is fluent in at least two languages. I suppose it's mandatory when so many different countries, each with its own tongue, have to interact so closely with one another.
But the level of linguistic ability here still astounds me. A shopkeeper in Venice the other day was talking to me in English, while simultaneously conversing in French and Italian with two other customers. I was awestruck. "How many languages do you speak?" I asked. She thought a bit, "Italian, English, Japanese, French, Spanish and German. But I don't speak English well," she replied. Yeah right.
That's why I feel stupid. Because it seems a bit rich to waltz into someone else's country, offer up a couple of pathetic attempts at the local lingo (and, if you're like me, butcher the pronunciation while you're at it) and from then on expect everyone to speak to you in your mother tongue.
I cringed in Barcelona, when a Portuguese waiter moaned to us about the arrogance of the Spanish (I don't need to keep reiterating that all my convos are in English, do I?) who, according to him, don't bother to learn Portuguese before they pop over the border, but expect their western neighbours to be fluent Spanish speakers. Ahem. That doesn't sound like me at all.
Big ups to Ted, who speaks passable Spanish (through osmosis I feel good about that too). But how annoying is it when you think you're smashing it and the locals cut you off with their impeccable English and a "nice try" grin? Burn.
I'm scared of birds. I know it's an irrational fear, that there's nothing a bird can do to me except peck out my eyes, or flap in my face until I die, but I'm terrified nonetheless.
I don't have a problem with birds that mind their own business from afar; who wing away at the hint someone could be walking by. We get each other. They're wary of me; I'm petrified of them. We have an implicit understanding that our paths shall never cross.
But some birds (sparrows, pigeons, magpies - I'm looking at you) just don't get it. Their level of comfort around humans is, frankly, sickening.
My phobia is problem enough at home, where I used to think the skyrocketing pigeon numbers were a plague on all our houses. Ah, the times I've made a fool of myself on Wellington streets ducking and flailing my arms to escape a rabid pigeon.
I bonded with another bird loather at the traffic lights on Cuba Street (where the worst of the pigeon gangs roam) as we both did this weird bobbing dance (not unlike a sped-up pigeon, actually) to escape a bird intent on flying into one of our heads.
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