When I go out to meet the light, the shadow of my body follows me, but the shadow of my spirit precedes me and leads the way to an unknown place
- Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Returning to Malaysia

Why return to Malaysia... the training I intended to take in March to point my professional career in a certain direction did not materialize.  The certification would have opened doors in New Zealand or anywhere else in the world for that matter.  But a week prior to the start of the course, it was cancelled because of insufficient numbers.  This training is only offered quarterly in a handful of locations globally and quite susceptible to cancellation especially during leaner times.  I have returned also because I have realized that at this point in my life, I am not ready to reduce the level of social interaction and live in a more bucolic setting.  Or a more mundane sedentary existence, it is not my calling now.  I can't quite explain it but I feel New Zealand has served it's purpose, maybe it was simply so I could acquire the benefit of iridology and the supplements.  Who knows maybe it will actually resolve my back issue that has plagued me for years and years.  Maybe the true impact of the Oneness Blessing is yet to be perceived.  Maybe to discover Tai Chi and the miracle it is to the body.  Whatever it is, even if it turns out to all mean nothing in my life I will likely return to New Zealand someday again.  This young country of open expanse and rugged unspoiled terrain that homes 4 million southern frontiers people.  It is a gorgeous escape from the modern fast paced demanding lifestyle.  And I will complete the Milford Trek.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Iridology

I leave Queenstown today to begin my journey back to Malaysia via Christchurch and Melbourne.  Before I get on the bus to Christchurch at 230pm I take a trip into town for a long awaited appointment with an iridologist.     

I had been trying unsuccessfully to schedule an appointment on short notice over the phone but the lady is always booked for days ahead.  To make this appointment I booked almost two weeks in advance as soon as I returned from Auckland.  This appointment certainly factored in my decision not to complete the Milford Trek.  I felt this was important and that it would be an eye opening experience - no pun intended. 

The lady seems rather unfriendly when I arrive.  She directs me to a chair on the opposite side of the table without a smile.  She enquires about my friends and I am surprised that she remembers my initial visit here many weeks ago when I came with Jules and Mervin.  I decide that her curt mannerism is just her nature and I ease up, complying with her instruction to maneuver my head to brace my chin against the photographic machine.  The pictures of my left and right eyes are displayed immediately on a large lcd monitor on her desk.  "The left iris," she begins "tells us the condition of the left side of your body.  And likewise the right iris for the right side."  "You are fighting a virus right now, you probably are feeling the effects of a cold but you have a strong immunity.  You can tell from the density of the optical fibres... "

For the next thirty minutes she leads me through her assessment.  I am stunned to hear her mention my father's acidic stomach condition and that my mother is a highly anxious person that thinks too much, she didn't pass me enough red blood cells when I was in her womb.  Both are correct about my parents, but I don't know about the red blood cells - I've never counted.  She says that I've inherited the same tendencies from my parents referring to certain patterns in my iris.  Then it gets even more impressive as she begins to list ailments that I experience.  I have a tendency to be hypoglycemic, the level of sugar in my blood runs too low.  So I like to eat sweet things to compensate.  I have an issue with transport of oxygen to the brain (I really objected to this one), so I like to exert myself with physical exercise to boost the transport of oxygen in me otherwise I get depressed after a few days of inactivity.  My spine leans to the left and is curved to the right and my pelvis is tilted downwards to the right.  I probably have a numbness in my foot when I walk a lot.  Correct again and I have good posture so she couldn't have seen this any other way.  All of her assessments were spot on.  I was quite amazed. 

I ask her why my spine suffers this condition.  In summary she says that we're genetically predisposed to certain weaknesses in us, inherited from our parents.  The human body is designed to fix itself but it tends to not do so because of stress factors in our lives and inadequate levels of nutrition, the quality of the food we eat is in steady decline due to anti-biotics, perservatives and other additives, bio-engineering, chemical pesticides.  We are simply not receiving the proper tools and conditions for our body to mend itself.  She recommends certain supplements for me, essentially putting together a tailored program based on my iris analysis.  She puts them on the table in front of me, I see 6 bottles and I choose the most important 4 to cut cost and because of space limitations in my luggage.  According to her the most important one is to support my liver, many of my ailments stem from an inefficient liver.  Consequently, my body's inability to rid itself of certain toxins that keep re-accumulating at glands along my spine is the primary reason for my spine to continually misalign itself despite a history of chiropractic adjustments.  She is not pushy in her sales pitch and I sense I can trust this.  I ask her bluntly to dispel any last reservation, "will these 4 supplements fix my spine?"  "Yes", she answered without hesitation.  And so I pay for them, they are priced as I would expect.  The program is meant to be adjusted with future iris analyses and I have enough for 3 months.  It costs me NZ$350 including the analysis.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Milford Evac

It is still raining by afternoon and the party is now split into two roughly even groups.  Food is redistributed amongst the groups, one group is to be helicoptered up to Mintaro hut to replace those that are being helicoptered either onto Dumpling hut or back to the start of the trail.  And the other group of which I stand in is to hike back out to the start of the trail led by the warden.  Mervin stands in the other group and we bid our farewells, I shall not see him again until Malaysia. 

We wave our goodbyes to each other and the warden leads us out.  We only go as far as ten minutes before we are walking in water.  We arrive at the river and there is no boundary between the river and the trail, the water continues to rise as we continue to tread slowly.  It is cold but not dangerously cold.  Eventually the warden turns us around, it is too risky to continue on foot.  We are to return back to the hut to be helicoptered back to the start of the trek and then catch the boat back to Te Anau Downs, from there a bus will return us to Te Anau and even onto Queenstown if we desire it.

 

The water rises and rises as we attempt to trek out

The party we split from is amused to find us back again so soon.  There is an air of excitement in the air as we are given instructions on how to manage ourselves when the helicopter begins transporting us 5 at a time.  Soon we hear the faint whirr of the approaching chopper which crescendos into a loud thumping as it makes it careful descent on the deck.  It takes several trips between Mintaro, Clinton and the trailhead but eventually only a handful of us remain and then I too am ushered into the chopper.  From the air the landscape looks like a disaster zone, there is water everywhere.  It is only a short ride though and insulting to the amount of effort we expended on foot two days ago. 

The winds are calm enough today for the chopper to fly

We are given to option to stay the night in Te Anau or carry on to Queenstown and I choose to return to Queenstown.  This leaves me one full day in Queenstown before I depart.  Jules is startled to see me return a day early and I relay the events to her supplemented with my camera footage of my little dramatic rescue.  She doesn't buy my story that Mervin got carried away by the strong current though :)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Milford No Go

We awaken to strong wind and irregular rain fall, though the weather seems quite benign word reaches me that no one is allowed to leave the hut until the warden has given the clear.  The river is now at unsafe levels and the occupants in other two huts further along the Milford trek are unable to proceed.  

I venture out to the river to have a look and I am rattled by how much the water has risen, the river had completely changed character overnight.  

Back at the hut, the rain falls intermittently, one moment there is none and the next there is a furious downpour for a few minutes.  Of the 3 huts, the storm is least ferocious here because we are sheltered down in the narrow valley by the steep slopes.  The warden gives us hourly updates on the conditions at Mintaro hut situated halfway up the trail to Mackinnon Pass and for the Clinton river where we are.  They consider using the chopper to transport the trekkers between the huts but the winds are too strong at the higher elevations for this.  The river is also preventing the trekkers at Dumpling hut from completing the trek.  Dumpling hut is the last of the 3 huts on the Milford Trek.  By noon we are resigned to wait another day.

My mood is crushed by this, if I continue the trek having lost a day then I risk missing my return flight to Malaysia because of travel connections beginning the day after the end of the trek.  Throughout the day I oscillate between decisions to either risk hiring a rental car and driving in the early hours of the morning to Christchurch to make my 6am flight to Melbourne or hike back out to the start of the Milford Trek, emerging a day earlier and without completing it.  I curse the fates for this misfortune dashing the highlight of my trip to New Zealand, there is nothing to do except sit around fending off sandflies (how are these persistent buggers unaffected by the rain??).  Everyone's mood is somber, sitting around watching the rain fall on the deck.  

The warden organizes a nature trek to keep us occupied, I am impressed by his knowledge of the plant and wildlife.  

My back starts acting up so I return to my bunk and allow myself to slip into a funk.  According to the warden, the last time this happened was years ago and now it happens to me on this day!!  I could handle not completing the Camino last year but I can't let this one go for some reason.  The fact that it is happening again makes it extremely difficult to not take this personal now, my funk turns into a rage. By night I arrive at the decision to leave at the next opportunity, for to pursue the trek would jeopardize my flight arrangements, and I would not have the peace of mind on the trail. 

That night the rain falls with greater force.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Milford Trek Begins

The Anzacs are Australian and New Zealand army corps that served in the First World War against the Turks and again in Vietnam.  Unfortunately, the morning I awake in Te Anau to resupply for the Milford Trek is a national holiday in recognition of the Anzacs.  I walk through the small town ghostly still in the damp morning mist, and as I dread because of Anzac Day the supermarket is closed when I arrive.  Thoughts of abandoning my trek play in my head as I walk back through the town towards the lake to arrive at the only open food outlet and it specializes in pies.  I ask the girl at the counter to supply me with pies and sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 4 days.  She thinks I am joking but when she realizes my predicament her lady coworker emerges from the kitchen and volunteers to drive home to bring me non-perishable food for the trek.  I am not really in a position to refuse and so I accept her selfless kind gesture.  I still buy about 2 days worth of pies and sandwiches before I return to the hostel to pack and then checkout by 10am. 

I have about 4 hours before my 30 minute bus ride to Te Anau Downs but I am glad to spend some of the time at the hotel reception because of the friendly diminutive but attractive German receptionist whose blue eyes I admire - Manja.  From her, I learn that the bus company is literally next door and I can catch the bus from there.  Rather than continually distract her from her duties, I go sit in the waiting room next door and read.    

I notice the bus arrive and Mervin gets down to stand beside the bus and enjoy the sunshine.  I gather my backpack then pounce upon him giving him a good scare.  We board the bus to Te Anau Downs where the trekkers are ferried to the start of the Milford trek.  The boat ride offers great views of the mountains straddling Lake Te Anau.  It is good to feel the camaraderie and excitement of two friends embarking on a common trekking adventure, we both are pumped knowing that the Milford Trek is the highlight of our trip to New Zealand. 

The first day of the Milford trek leads us from the lakeshore along the banks of the Clinton river for about 3 miles until we arrive at Clinton hut.  The trail is exquisitely maintained and the only sounds apart from the trekkers are the calling of the birds along the river.  As we approach the hut we are startled to see an extremely tall elderly man wielding an axe and walking in our direction.  He passes us with a smile and Mervin and I both look at each other then comment how he looks like a character out of Lord of the Rings, we figure Gandalf.  The man has extremely long legs. 

That night the trekkers gather in the meal room for dinner.  For Mervin and myself, there is no cooking needed, we simply munch on our cold pies.  A man joins our table, he has been busy frying himself a juicy steak with steamed vegetable and rice.  He cuts into his steak then munches loudly exclaiming "Mmmmm!  Delicious!", I don't know about Mervin but I almost want to punch the man.  

The tall warden introduces himself, gives us the standard safety procedures and rules, then regales us with humorous anecdotes of his encounters with the mischievous Keas, of the DOCs efforts to trap stoats and rats to preserve the native blue duck numbers.  His talk is very lengthy, at one point he speaks of the weather in the area: "to determine the weather, you look in that direction and if you can see Mackinnon Pass then it means that rain is coming.  If you however, CANNOT see Mackinnon Pass then that means it IS raining."  I smile to myself, I had heard the same joke from the warden on the Routeburn trek, a testament to how much rain this area gets.  "About 5 years ago, there was so much rain that trekkers were not allowed on the Milford Trek because the river overflowed past safe levels."

During the night, I am awakened by the sound of rain pelting the roof with a fury.

Along the Clinton river

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Routeburn



I complete the routeburn trek traversing 32 km through Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park .  My back holds up well but on the second day I encounter Ken on the trail and he is not faring so well because of indigestion.  He chooses to turn around.  

I delight in the open expanse and freedom in the hills.  Everything here is so pure and unspoiled it seems.  Through each day I don't encounter a single piece of trash on the immaculately maintained trail.  I admire the Kiwi's pride in their natural heritage.  I am also impressed by the variety of the terrain on the Routeburn trek, in a short 3 day romp one passes from lush temperate rainforest, crystal clear rivers, meadow flats, lakes, glacier hewn valleys, high alpine scenery and formidable rock pinnacles.  I see why this trek is so popular, I have never before encountered such dense variation on a trail. 

There are two overnight stays on the trail and I have booked huts to sleep in instead of camping.  In the huts I enjoy hearing the mixed foreign chatter from the disparate international groups.  I meet many young 20-something year olds Gai, Alisa, Ofer from Israel, lone Katerine from Germany, and Canadians surfer Dennis and girlfriend Kristen both from Toronto.  At the huts there is a warden/ranger from the Department of Conservation who is in charge of the area.  Each night, he/she briefs the guests about safety procedures, rules and educates us about the wildlife and features in the area of the park.

On the last day, April 24th, I spend a little time walking with Jonathan and his wife both in their late 50s and from Australia.  I manage to roll my left ankle stomping on the uneven ground with a pack on my back.  It is my fault for not heeding the previous wobbles all warnings to tie my laces up tighter on the descent, and knowing that I've a weaker ankle from bad injuries on the tennis court.  Luckily, I am almost to the end of the trail and the anti-inflammatory that I had been taking for my back stops the ankle from swelling.  At the end of the trail, we clean our boots and spray them for Didymo then sit and fend off sandflies as we wait for the bus to take us to the town called Te Anau. 

The bus ride from The Divide to Te Anau is about an hour long and the cushioned seats quickly lull my body into a slumber but I do not allow myself to sleep because of the spectacular terrain outside.   The beech forest along the road is not too dense and the light passing through the foliage seems both mysterious and ethereal.  The forest yields occasionally to open wild grassy flats perfectly dotted with toetoe, rolling expanses framed by mountains wedged against each other with dark valleys that beckon to be explored.  On the left side of the bus are hilly green pastures and the occasional farmhouse.  There is a delicate innocence to this place, a sort of gentle, peaceful wisdom and I feel myself brimming with love for this planet in a way I have not felt before. 

In Te Anau, we alight the bus around 430pm at the Department of Conservation office on the fringe of Lake Te Anau.  At the office I collect my tickets for the Milford Trek tomorrow and get directions to my hostel.  It is thankfully just around the office from the DOC office and upon my arrival I drop my backpack then walk 15 minutes into the heart of town to stuff my face with REAL food.  My ankle is hurting more now.  

At the end of my meal, I feel utterly relaxed and content.  I reach under the table and massage the ankle joint, rolling my foot gently.  There is a small pop and the ankle settles down back to normal after that.  It is dark by the time I return to the hostel to shower, do my laundry then Ascend and sleep.

reach out and drink

The Routeburn Trek Begins

I catch the bus to the Routeburn Trek, there is only one other passenger on it.  His name is Ken and he is from Japan but has been working in Auckland as a waiter for the past 8 months.  Mervin has opted to rest his knee a few more days and focus on the Milford Trek instead of joining me now.  

The driver is a friendly chatty guy and we speak of comparisons between the US and New Zealand, of how the people in Queenstown have disdain for Auckland because they are nowhere near as productive in terms of GDP as the people of the south island who are a fraction of the number and much less pollutive and consumptive, and of 3 meter tall Moas that were hunted to extinction and eagles once so large that the Maori speak of children being snatched away by them.  He tells me that the only mammal native to New Zealand is a tiny bat that is rarely seen, everything else has been introduced and in many situations are now threatening the endemic wildlife, especially the bird population.  Looking at the incredible amount of roadkill along the lake I surmise that the animals introduced sure agreed with New Zealand, they have really propagated in numbers.  I am slightly horrified that he is intentionally driving over the dead possums, hedgehogs and rabbits.  He drives well and fast but I a little fearful that the bus will skid off a dead possum into the lake as we take our sharp turns.  He senses my unease and he tells me that he is doing the falcons and hawks a favor by tenderizing the meat and flattening it out.  

I learn that the sheep are from Spain and I ask him if there are any wild sheep.  He replies there are none but for an exception - Shrek the sheep who gained fame after being found by a farmer with 7 years worth of wool growth from living in the wild.  By then Shrek is massive because of his unkept fur and there is a charity fundraising event to shear the sheep that is hugely successful.  Since then Shrek has risen to international fame touring and raising millions over the years from around the world effectively making it the first ever celebrity sheep. 

The bus turns onto an off-road track and we bounce our way for several minutes until we arrive in a peaceful glade nestled among the hills.  The only structure here is a clean building with a notice board, benches and toilets.  At the start of the trail there is a spray bottle and brush to prevent the spread of Didymo.  Before starting the trek, I make careful adjustments to my pack to ensure minimal strain on my back.  I feel optimistic knowing that a properly fitted backpack can benefit the spine more than not having a pack on at all.  I take in the sweet scent of the air, snap some pictures of the outrageously clear blue river then start walking.

the start of the Routeburn

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My birthday

It is my birthday today. In the morning I walk 10 minutes into town and find an appealing cafe with a healthy bustle of breakfast activity.  I sit down and peruse the menu when I overhear the girl at the table next to mine announce it is her birthday.  I turn to tell her that it is mine also and we exchange conversation briefly, she and her female companion are from the UK.  I say how lucky we are to be in Queenstown for our birthdays and in her case to also share it with a friend on this day.  When my food arrives I enjoy a grilled fish in hollandaise sauce.  It is truly tasty. 

Mervin and Jules invite me to go with them to Skippers Canyon for a jetboat ride.  I decline for two reasons, a bouncy boat ride would not be the right thing for my back a day before I begin a multi-day trek; and secondly, I have not made the hut bookings and transportation arrangements nor packed my gear.  These activities consume the bulk of my day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oneness Blessing

Before I left for Auckland, I looked up Ascension in Queenstown on the internet to see if there was anybody practicing Ascension here.  Perhaps this why I am here in Queenstown.  I didn't find any such Ascenders but my search led me to a website about Oneness Blessing and then to a Oneness Blessing contact in Queenstown by the name of Adrian Young whom I emailed.  While I was in Auckland the person wrote back and we agreed to meet when I was back in Queenstown. 

We speak on the phone today to arrange our meeting and I learn that Adrian is a woman not a man.  The rental car must be returned today and I volunteer to do so. The car rental is out of town at the airport and there is a shopping plaza walking distance from there called The Remarkables Shopping Park where Adrian and I agree to meet.  There I make a quick trip to the Flightcenter air travel agency to see if I can get a cheap airfare back to Malaysia for immediately after the Great Walks; it is however disappointing.  

Adrian walks into the cafe and locates me seated at the back; my surprise extends further - she is Asian.  I prompt her about Oneness blessing and why after 8 years of Ascension she had made the switch to Oneness Blessing for spiritual nourishment.  She tells me that she still Ascends sometimes but many of the Ascenders in New Zealand are now practicing Oneness Blessings instead.  She explains: some people can't deal with the silence it creates, some are not willing to divest the false aspects of their personalities, other's can't deal with the stuff that comes up.  We bury our fears in our psyche and when they surface, they can take on  other guises to fool us into ceasing the practice.  The mind is a sort of entity in itself and it has the relentless guile to preserve it's mastery of who we believe we are.  Others simply lack the gumption to deal with them head on; there simply isn't enough Faith to carry them through.  Hearing this I am reminded of the parable told by Jesus of the seeds that are scattered, not everyone is prepared to allow the trees to grow and bear fruit.  I completely understand what she is saying, I am familiar with the flags that my ego has waved in my mind in attempts to curb my Ascension practice.  The mind really is quite cunning. 

In a nutshell, Oneness Blessing causes less upheaval in the individual.  So is the Toltec approach to awakening from our Dream; each one of us carries within wall of false agreements we have made throughout our lives and fastidiously protect.  One can imagine each agreement as a brick and our faith and personal power are tied up in this belief system which we believe without a doubt even though it ties up our personal power to create, we surrender our ability to co-create our reality and realize our full potentials further costing us true happiness, freedom and unconditional love.  Instead we accept the drama and emotional pain these beliefs/agreements generate.  The Four Agreements are a means to create a doubt in this belief system and doubt is the seed of enlightenment, the person who doubts now takes the responsibility to find the Truth and bit by bit the structure is dismantled brick by brick so that the Truth can be experienced.  Each one frees personal power than in turn enables us to tackle the larger ones.  Ascension on the other hand though effortless goes directly to the root stresses - in can be too much all of a sudden, especially without guidance and support. 

She hands me a picture of Bhagavan and Amma, "this is for you if you wish to keep it".  This couple I learn are the founders of the Oneness blessing that is now sweeping the planet.  On the back of the photo there is a Sanskrit prayer that I recognize as the Moola Mantra.  I negligently place it face down on the table and she chides me to "treat the picture as a living photograph".  In other words, respect the photo as though they are really present.   I am a little perturbed by this, I tell her that I am wary of any approach to enlightenment that takes the focus outside of myself.  She assures me that there is no worship involved.  I learn that Bhagavan and his wife are the original transmitters of a healing energy that heightens the powers of the brain and creates endless joy within each individual.  hmm... sounds like psychic drugs to me.  This gift is not exclusive to them, there is a Oneness University that leads participants through a 21 day process to gradually increases the person’s vibration. When the participants are ready they receive an initiation or attunement to be able to transmit the Oneness Blessing to others.  Adrian herself has undergone the process years ago to attain this ability.  

A transference of healing energy seems akin to the Reiki process of attunement that I underwent months ago and I have no doubt from that experience that an ability was conferred me.  I have no reason to doubt Adrian.  She tells me that I will not be the same once I receive a blessing, the mind will be altered to allow the person to move into higher states of emotional joy and bliss by shifting the primary activity of the brain into the frontal lobe.  When we operate from the frontal brain versus the parietal lobes or the lower brain centers, we feel connected to everyone and everything.  This sounds good but yet I feel a nervousness rise in me, just the knowledge that my mind will not be the same fills me with fear.  I remind myself of something I said to someone recently - if it doesn't involve some risk then it's just not worth doing.  I request for the blessing, I figure it would be a nice pre-birthday gift to myself.  

We shift to a location outside in the sun in the carpark away from people.  I sit down and close my eyes as she prepares herself.  Then I feel her hands rest gently just above my forehead and they feel quite cool.  There is no jolt of lightning and no buzzing of chakras as I had felt during the Reiki attunement, just a pleasant sensation of coolness on the front of my brain.  Maybe it's just from the temperature of her hands I think to myself.  At the end of it, I am relieved that I still can recall my name and it is still Aaron Shori. 

Soon thereafter, Adrian gives me a ride into town and we part ways.  Walking back to the apartment, I still feel the vague sensation of coolness.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Glenorchy and Deer Park Heights

Mervin and I take the rental car to Glenorchy which is a scenic small town situated 45 km further along the same lake as Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu.  Today I witness for the first time the staggering number of sheep in New Zealand during the drive.  All they seem to do is stick their faces in the grass and munch.  But that's what makes lamb meat preferred over the other forms of meat, in terms of one's health it doesn't have the level of artificially introduced hormones as the other types of meat since it is essentially 'free range'.  As a guy, I would prefer to be without the abnormal levels of estrogen found in chicken/veal/pork.  Moobs are not considered sexy in my time.

It is not difficult to find quiet in Glenorchy

Glenorchy is a popular tourist spot due to its proximity to the lake and to many trekking (or 'tramping' as the Kiwis refer to it) tracks. It lies near the borders of Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park and trekkers who wish to do the Routeburn Track must pass through this town. Glenorchy received worldwide attention when it was used as one of the settings in the first of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. We spend the morning sitting on the jetty fending off vicious sandflies, taking pictures.  The water here is very clear and it seems as though the jetty is floating in the air.  After 30 minutes, we gas up then head back towards Queenstown for lunch.  

After lunch our next destination is Deer Park Heights; Jules told us about this great vantage point on a hill offering great views of Queenstown, the airport, surrounding mountains and unobstructed vistas of both lake arms.  It only takes 10 minutes from town and when we get there we encounter an electronic gate demanding NZ$20 to drive up the hill.  I am outraged by the exorbitant fee, this would earn me an entire week in a National Park in the States or Canada and here is only a drive up a hill!  We opt to pay anyways and begin driving up, at the nearest viewpoint we stop and take some pictures.  After 5 minutes we observe a donkey sauntering up towards the car.  Hmm... that is unexpected.  What's next - Shrek?  The donkey sniffs us then dismisses us with a toss of it's head when it realizes we have no food offerings.  He/she carries on uphill to the next vehicle where we can plainly observe a rather big social gathering of various domesticated beasts eagerly jockeying for food handouts.  Ok, perhaps there's more to this place than we thought... I feel a bit like a loser for showing up empty handed :)

 

Spare a bite?

As we head higher up the hill, there are more hoofed animals such as different species of deer, ponies, goats, llamas, Tibetan yaks all roaming quite freely.  They approach the vehicle and practically stick their heads in for handouts.  At the top of the hill, there is an odd sight.  An ancient Chinese style fort sits up here with a giant painted face of what looks like Mao Tse Tung on the side of it.  It is the only structure here and seems quite incongruous with the setting, looking closer we read on a sign that this was actually a movie set constructed for a Korean film.  Mervin takes off with his SLR to hunt more animals with his lens; I find the highest point to sit with my eyes closed and Ascend facing the Remarkables mountain range and braving the cold wind.  It feels good to be outside and to discard the residual negative energy from the altercation the night before.  I feel anchored and relieved by the time Mervin joins me.

Other residents

Deserving of the name Deer Park Heights

Friday, April 17, 2009

Queenstown Drama

I arrive back in Queenstown by flight today since Vivek has also departed for Sydney.  There is no one in the studio apartment so I take to the town for reading and coffee.  Later in the evening Mervin and Jules return from a 3 day road trip to Catlins in the south of the South island.  

That night, some friends are invited over for drinks.  As the night progresses, I opt to retire for the evening but a big altercation escalates between my two friends and I in front of the guests.  I am furious and pack my bags, I've had enough.  This trip is really a wash out, I opt to stay elsewhere tonight then get on a plane the next morning back to Malaysia.  Somehow Mervin's mediation settles things and I stay put, apologies are exchanged but the mood is soured.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tai Chi


On this morning I follow Vivek to the gym and there I learn Tai Chi from a fitness trainer named David whom Vivek has engaged while in Auckland.  This man hails from Buffalo, New York and though shorter than me, he is built like an American football player.  I learn he has indeed played the Grid Iron, and learned competitive boxing and wrestling having performed in movie fight scenes.  Looking at him, you would not expect him to practice TaiChi but he does it everyday for 5 years now.  "If you only ever do one form of exercise, make it TaiChi, nothing can improve the quality of your life like it."  That is a strong endorsement!  "Actually a martial art form, the movements appear simple but it takes a lifetime to master, I have the utmost respect for TaiChi masters".  


He shows me the basic 8 step pattern of the Yang style and I think to myself, is that all?  I can master this in an hour!  But I find that the more detailed information I am given and after repeated corrections, the more lost I become and after an hour is up I can only repeat the first two movements before I blank out.  I only complete the routine by mimicking him and neglecting the intricacies which are critical for proper energy flow.  Nevertheless, doing so I feel a tingling sensation in my hands.  

"TaiChi is good for balancing the Yin and Yang in our body".  He elaborates that the Yang is the Sympathetic nervous system which tends to be overtaxed in our stressful lives.  The Sympathetic nervous system is the one that governs "Fight/Flight" response.  It is triggered under distress/fear the result of prolonged burden here is the production of cortisol which pulls the bodies resources away from extremities essentially interrupting healing in favor of conservation and defense, the cost of this over time is ill health.    The society we live in is increasingly 'Yang' and TaiChi aims to counter this effect.  The Yin on the other hand relates to the Parasympathetic nervous system.  As further convincing, David also tells me about an older student of his who was delighted to part with his Viagra after 2 weeks of Tai Chi which helped offset his Yin and Yang imbalance by tapping into his Parasympathetic nervous system.  More can be read about Tai Chi and the nervous system here - Tai Chi and Stress


David also shows me a pose known as the Heavenly Pillar and it is a simple standing posture with arms raised around an invisible pillar of sort and knees slightly bending.  He tells me to breathe in and out in six count, apparently this is the most beneficial sort.  The purpose of this is to learn to harness the Dan Tien and he shows me the source of energy in our body, two inches below the navel.  He tells me to do this everyday also.


To see the routine I learned performed by a master click here.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Piha

On this day we decide to return to Piha to walk a 4 hour trail along the coast recommended by the girl in the Information Office at the Arataki nature reserve a few days ago.  We start the trail at an area known as KareKare.  We start off in the wrong direction but fortunately our confused expressions draw the assistance of some Kiwis who kindly direct us to the trailhead.  I am impressed from my interactions with the locals how they often seem to have a certain stillness and calmness in themselves that it uncommon in most cultures.  Perhaps this quality is lost in the rat race typical of over populated cities in developed nations.  


From the trailhead we immediately ascend the ridge steadily for a good hour.  On the ridge we find ourselves in a low forest where the air is so still is seems we are on a movie set.  The weather is perfect.  After another hour I pull away from Vivek and allow us our privacy on the trail.  It seems surreal.  The essence of who I am now walks in my place.  I am acutely aware of how perfect the moment is, I have not known peace like this since the Camino.  It seems I am walking the Camino again, there is no other place I would rather be.  I say out loud "Buen Camino" to no one except the trees, soil, and wind and I grin like a fool.  As I pass a slim tree trunk I stop and rest my forehead against it, immediately I feel a surge of emotion strong enough to bring tears, it doesn't last... my mind quickly intervenes with 'why?' and 'what if?' and the emotion dissipates as suddenly as it arrived.  I sit on a rock and wait for Vivek.


Together we take the trail that now leads downwards.  Eventually the track degrades to a slippery steep rocky mudslide and after some 15 minutes of careful steps we reach the bottom of the hill to find ourselves in a marsh.  We trek on a boardwalk built over the water and then step onto large black sandy dunes.  The view is quite spectacular.  The entire 2 hour trek to arrive here was without human encounter but here on the beach we find a father and his young daughters playfully sliding down the dunes, soon they too are gone leaving behind large scrawled wordings in the sand.  I survey my surroundings and I can't stop taking pictures with my camera, on one side the steep verdant slopes of the ridge, at the bottom is the marsh, where I stand the fine black sand and beyond is the ocean with large waves crashing in succession.  


We walk in this rather desolate stretch of coastline and the sun shines brightly.  The black sand sparkles like stars in the sky.  After 45 minutes, the sense of isolation is lost by the presence of surfers braving the cold water to catch a ride on the large untamed surf.  At this point we locate the short  trail inland to where we parked the car.



The view once you ascend the ridge
The light is magical

The marsh at the bottom of the ridge
Black sand that sparkles

Moonscape. Vivek stands to the right.

Waves crash

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An easy day in the city of Auckland

Vivek and I take a bus into the city and spend the afternoon in Borders sipping coffee and going through a batch of books we'd selected from the Mind/Body/Spirit section.  There are a few books on Toltec wisdom in the stack, but the one that fascinates me most is a book called "The Intention Experiment" by Lynne McTaggart, a well-respected international authority on the science of spirituality.  Her bestselling book is called 'The Field' (www.livingthefield.com).  We cut short our reading to watch an Imax movie called The Watchmen.  It is another DC comic book based production and quite entertaining though very bloody.  

We catch the last bus back to Birkdale at 1140pm.  Walking the streets of Birkdale suburb, I experience the myriad heady aromas from the scent of the many trees seeming to explode with scent.  It seems that trees exude a stronger scent nocturnally.  The air in New Zealand is some of the sweetest I have inhaled, it seems I am walking an olfactory safari.  Not a single car disturbs our 15 minute walk in the still crisp air.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rotorua

Today Vivek and I drive to the Rotorua district to explore the geothermal wonders and lakes formed by extinct volcanos in the area.  This district has a multi-cultural population of approximately 68,000 people of whom 35% are Maori.  Rotorua is renowned as the heartland of Maori culture.  It is a 3 and a half hour drive from Auckland, and I feel a bit unnerved by the poor handling of the small 90s Toyota we had rented.  And as one would expect in NZ, we see nothing but farms and the occasional small town along the way.  80% of the names of locations are in Maori and it takes a bit of a trick to pronounce them.  For instance, 'Whangarei' is pronounced 'Fangarey'.  


When we arrive at Rotorua there is a constant taint of sulfur in the air but after a while it goes unnoticed. I spend about NZ$200 to visit 3 geothermal locations, one called 'Te Puia' has a commercialized Maori village where we watch a staged production showcasing the dances, music and shown tidbits from their culture.  The highlight of that performance was the Haka or war dance that the Maoris perform in front of their opponents prior to battle.  A lot of defiant posturing and exaggerated mad expressions with bulging eyes peppered the entertainment.  Vivek tells me that the people that perform the Haka the best in this day and age are the NZ rugby team known as the All Blacks as they face off with the opposition before every professional rugby match .  Leaving after the show I feel quite robbed for the money we paid, and quite disappointed with the Hangi or traditional Maori meal.  That one turned out to be not much more than steamed tapioca, potatoes, carrots and chicken.  


Next was a half hour drive south to the Thermal Wonderland known in Maori as Wai-O-Tapu.  Here the variety of mineral deposits leave colorful coatings on the earth and there are massive pools and lakes as well as the most impressive geyser at Rotorua which only erupts once daily at 1015am.  I thoroughly enjoy the 2 hour circuit on foot and take many pictures.  Here I felt I had gotten my money's worth.  


When we return to the car we notice the left rear tyre is very low on air and barely drivable.  We limp the car for 10 minutes until we reach the highway where a gas station air pump quickly resolves the problem.  The low tyre pressure pretty much explained the tendency of the car to skid on the right turns.  


An hour's drive later we pull into the parking lot at Hell's Gate where we expect to indulge in a mud bath and spa.  Before I exit the car, I am amused to find a large male peacock wandering beside it.  There is no indication of where it came from or whose it is.  At Hell's Gate there is another collection of geothermal pools, but once you've seen a few boiling mud pits and hot water pools they quickly start to lose their fascination.  The spa was communal and merely cordoned sections of mud and hot water. My vision of being pampered by a lovely Maori girl suggested by the brochure were cruelly shattered by our confrontation with the gruff male Maori attendant in coveralls who was more interested in getting his eyeful of the girls in their swimsuits than assisting Vivek and me.  We are given curt instructions on how to handle ourselves then left alone, we don't stay long.   


We are quite famished after the long day and we decide to drive into town to get a bite before heading home.  We find an ornate cafe called The Fat Dog and the burger known as The Dog's Bollocks turns out to be one of the finest we have ever tasted, not to mention the tallest with it's double fat patties.  


On the way home without a radio, Vivek's crooning the entire leg of the return journey almost makes me throw myself out the window but my concerted focus on Ascension spares me.  Still, I am impressed by his mental archive of lyrics for the songs. The guy obviously has an extraordinary memory.


Wai-O-Tapu

The guide map...

Wai-O-Tapu's 'Champagne' pool.