Thursday, November 18, 2004

Waiting for Visas

The last couple of weeks in New Zealand passed in a blur. I drove a couple of thousand kilometers listening to nothing but homemade cassette tapes of the Black Eyed Peas and Coldplay. That's the downside of driving in a mountainous country with limited radio range. I did stop a couple of places along the way. The International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch was a good place to spend an afternoon watching videos about penguins and the poor souls left to overwinter at the research stations. Hamner Springs and it's thermal pools was a disappointment. I'm too spoiled by Japanese hot springs to appreciate hot water served up in a waterslide park.

One of the best experiences I had during the two months spent in New Zealand was swimming with dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura. After waiting half a day for the wind to die down enough to put boats out on the water, I boarded the ship that would carry a bunch of wet suited flipper wearing tourist out to where the dolphins had last been spotted. After an orientation where we were instructed on how to attract the wild dolphins to come over and check us out (dive down, swim in circles, make interesting noises) we were let loose into the ocean near a pod of dolphins. As soon as I was in the water and opened my eyes, there was a dolphin swimming under me. No time to be cold and no time to think about sharks. I sang my heart out to the dolphins and when I was in key and hitting high notes they would come over and swim in circles with me until I paused to catch my breath. Then they'd go off to look for something or someone more interesting.

Our group of swimmers was able to go into the water three times in different spots to swim with the dusky dolphins. Big pods can be found year round at Kaikoura. In the winter there are sometimes 1000 dolphins swimming in the bay. On the day I went (spring in the Southern Hemisphere) there were between 100-200 dolphins swimming in the water and jumping through the air. Visibility under water was 5-10 meters so it was only possible to see dolphins that were very close. Usually I saw nothing but bluegreen water. And then there would be a flash of grey as a dolphin or three would zoom under me and pause to swim in circles if they liked what I was singing. Sometimes I got tired and went quiet. The dolphins weren't coming so I would put my head out of the water and look for dorsal fins and other swimmers. It was hard to hear other people with my head in the water but with ears out and above the water it was hilarious to listen to all the bizarre noises coming from everyone's snorkels. Some people were singing like me. Others were booming, moaning, clicking, popping... And the dolphins seemed interested in all of it.

After Kaikoura there was a psycho guy in the dorm in Picton that I had a fight with. That was fun. I think I won.

Finally it was back to the North Island to see Mt. Taranaki (Mt. Fuji stand-in in The Last samurai) and to visit a great family that I had met the first week in New Zealand. Kay, Rich, Finn, and Sonia were very gracious hosts and it was fantastic to have an extremely verbal toddler to play with.

Now I'm in Bangkok, trying to get all my visas sorted out for the next round of travel. I made a big mistake by not applying for a 60 day tourist visa for Thailand. Upon arrival at the airport I could only get a 30 day travel visa. Since I'm here for 62 days I'll have to leave the country twice before my scheduled flight to India in January. Not only that, my current visa will expire two days before Chris arrives to meet me for Christmas. Excellent timing on my part! So now instead of doing some volunteer work, it looks like I am going to have to get myself across the border into Laos. This has to happen sometime after the big Asian summit that will close down the Laotian borders but sometime before my visa expires. Feeling a little bit of red-tape stress...

This morning I spent a few hours at the Indian Embassy so that I could submit an application to visit India in January. After a week I have to go back with my passport to see if the application has been accepted. If that goes ahead, there will be another day sitting in the waiting room until the passport is returned with a visa attached inside. Some days I am tired of traveling around and trying to get things lined up to go travel to the next places. This is one of these days.


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