Sailing out of New Zealand and Landing in Houston

After witnessing the bluest of blue water we have ever set eyes on and twenty-five hitches from where we started in Nelson, we finally made it to Picton. Considering the distance covered, the sweeping variety of great people we met, and the fact that we only hit only minor bumps in the road (such as discovering that our last campsite did not have any water available meaning we were water-less and eating PB&J sandwiches yet again), we were stoked we made the call to tackle our ambitious hitchhiking journey.

Goin' my way?

Once we were settled into our hostel and were eating lunch (consisting of the previous night’s intended dinner) we were confronted by the hostel owner, Shira. She is crazy! Shira is this overwhelming ball of energy with a blonde white-girl afro to match who moved to New Zealand with her family from California. The gist of the conversation was that it was Tuesday which meant there was a cheap sailing opportunity that evening and we HAD TO DO IT DARLING! (Her words, not ours.) We figured…why not? What a perfect way to draw a close to New Zealand.

Sail boats in the sound

While we were out running our errands and finishing up last chores before setting sail, we picked up a bottle of wine for the boat ride. I mean, a sunset ride on a sail boat through Queen Charlotte’s Sound almost mandates a bottle of wine, doesn’t it? Well, turns out that bottle of vino had to wait until afterwards because…drumroll please…very much to our surprise, we were going to be crewing a sail boat!

Hard at work crewing the boat

That is right, folks! It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it will not be the last, but we failed to ask any questions before signing up for this little sailing excursion. It was not until we arrived at the marina, me in my skirt with bottle of wine in hand and ready to uncork, that this reality started to dawn on us. Basically, there is a weekly race for the sail club members and if they are short on crew for the evening, they draw from the backpackers crew on hand to help out. Soon after coming to grips with this snafu in the evening’s plans, we were drafted by the friendly captain of the boat “The Entertainer”.

Setting sail

The more we sat with the idea, the more fitting it seemed. This was going to be awesome! (Ron was onboard with the plan right away, but I took a little more convincing having mentally prepared for an easy, carefree evening coasting along.) New Zealand wanted to make sure we went out with one last grand Kiwi adventure!

And off we rode into the sunset! Sails at the ready and ropes taught, we waited for our official start all the while learning the in’s and out’s of the sailing world. It is fascinating! The different types of boats, the different race categories, the physics of sailing…the list goes on and on! Once the race began, Ron did most of the crewing while I did my best to stay out of the way and help when called upon. (I think our captain saw the skirt and realized how utterly unprepared I was for this.)

Oh, don't mind me...

The race lasted the better part of an hour and while we did not come in first, we were neck and neck with The Entertainer’s arch nemisis which made for some fun competition. (Side note: It is really bizarre to participate in a race that switches from what feels like a breakneck pace with one side of the boat almost completely in the water it is so off-kilter to a snails pace with the change of direction in the wind.) Following our gentleman’s race, we docked back at the port and shared hot dogs and beers with our charming captain and crew as the sun set behind the mountains. There is absolutely no way we could have planned a better way to close the New Zealand chapter of our trip!

One...Two...Three...JUMP!

A bright and early start and we were off to Houston. It only took a ferry ride from Picton to Wellington, a bus part way to the airport, a walk the rest of the way to the airport, a flight from Wellington to Auckland, a flight from Auckland to San Fran, and a flight from San Fran to Houston for us to get there too. The most mindboggling thing of all however, was that thanks to the time difference, we landed in Houston an hour before we left New Zealand in Auckland! Weird! Talk about jetlag…

Ron’s parents met us at the Houston airport and in no time whisked us away for much anticipated Mexican food…and of course the manditory margarita. (This is Texas afterall.) After a late night catching up, we all finally crashed out with hopes of catching some shuteye in preparation for our week in Texas. (Yay! A whole week!!!!)

Ready for the Houston highlights reel? (In no particular order.)

1. Buying a car – Yes, we had been in the country for less than 24 hours and successfully purchased a Subaru Forester for our return to reality after South America. Laugh if you must, but that has been my dream car forever.

Hip! Hip! Hooray for a new set of wheels!

2. Time with the kiddos – Not only do Ron’s parents live in Houston, but his sister and her family do too! Lucky for us! We got to spend loads of time playing with our niece and nephew, Ava and Kaleb. It was the best! Holy cow are they big…and hilarious!

Kaleb - the monster man

3. Talking on a real phone – Being in the states again, we were finally able to make phone calls on a real phone. (Sorry Mama Rod, your phone was held ransom for the better part of the week.) No offense Skype, but phone calls win out in my book. Talking with friends and family was absolutely priceless!

4. Real clothes! – That is right people! Real clothes, as in pants with buttons and shirts that fit and are not instantly smelly. Ron had the foresight and kind heart to have my sister send a package of a couple shirts and shorts to Texas for our arrival. Never has there been a better Valentine’s day gift if you ask me. But is doesn’t stop there…for my birthday, Ron’s mom took us shopping for jeans! It might sound silly, but we have been unbelievably envious of anyone and everyone we have seen in jeans for the last eight months.

5. Food – During on of our layovers, Ron and I tortured ourselves and made a loooong list of food we were craving. Our first morning in Houston, we have the list to his mom hoping to check at least a few delicacies off. Boy, oh boy! Not only did we manage to check every single item off that list, we checked things off that we were not even aware were on our list. Serious yum!!

6. Cookies – I know cookies might seem like they should be included in the food list, but trust me when I say that Mama Rod’s cookies are a whole different ballgame. We ate our weight in cookies and loved every minute of it! Thank goodness for the invention of the double batch is all I can say.

7. NASA – Having lived in Houston for years, one would assume you would have been to the NASA Space Center. Lucky for us though, Ron’s parents had not been there to date which meant we all got to go together. It was so unbelievably neat! Sitting in Mission Control and knowing that only a few decades ago people were sitting in our exact spots watching and orchestrating the historical landing on the moon was indescribable. (Did you know that the computer memory at the time of the moon landing had less memory than it takes to hold two digital picture files?!) After mission control we were able to walk past the Apollo 18 rocket…WOW! That about sums it up. It was huge! Once we felt sufficiently educated in space museum information and had touched a moon rock, it was time to go. I think it is safe to say that we all left in awe of everything space related. So cool!

NASA Mission Control Center

8. Family – Hands down the best part of our time in Houston centered on the time we were able to spend with our family. It was a perfect balance of time spent with everyone. We had an amazingly fun night with Nicki and Dan (sister and brother-in-law). I won’t go into the details, but it was a blast! As I mentioned before, we were able to spend priceless time with Ava and Kaleb since they are growing up so fast. Joking around, swapping stories, and just hanging out with Ron’s parents (or I should say our parents I suppose 🙂 ) was fabulous! The opportunity to all be together and just enjoy each other’s company was the best thing we could have asked for. It was so special to have this time together. A gift.

Nicki, Dan, Ava, and Kaleb

Poof! Our week in Houston was over so quickly. Before we knew what hit us, we were packing up (quite the project I am sure Ron’s parents would assure you judging from the messy state our room was in all week) and getting ready to hit the road again. It was a little strange to leave the States again having been so comfortable back at home. (What with real jeans and all…) But it was time. We boarded our plane and set off for the big South American finale! Some might argue that the best is yet to come!

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