Misadventures in New Zealand

 Swimming with dolphins, kayaking on the open sea, hiking along the shore, plus visits to wineries and fabulous meals.  My kind of trip.

It was the Marlborough Nelson pre-trip on our voyage to New Zealand last November to attend the convention of the Society of American Travel Writers.

The food and wine were over the top.   Dolphins and kayaks – another story.

“These are very sturdy kayaks.  No one has ever capsized on one of my trips,” our perky kayak guide assured us as we prepared to put the boats in the frigid Pacific.   Maladroit Bob and Leah had obviously not been on one of her trips.

We were the retards in the group of six  or so kayaks – always way behind the others.  He (Bob)  kept yelling  at me to switch the paddle to the other side, to dig the oar deeper into the water.   I must admit, I was not adept with the blasted paddles.   And, I was always a bit nervous as I feared we were holding the others back, so I constantly tried to paddle faster and faster which was exhausting  and left my arms throbbing.  The scenery, however, was stupendous.

We held our own until we had to round a point to get back to shore. The winds were strong, so strong we weren’t moving, even though we were paddling hard.  The guide explained how we could use the paddle as a sail – just hold it up and the wind would blow us forward.  Bob was screaming at me, “Paddle left,  Paddle left.”  As I switched to the left, a gust caught the paddle and over we went.

A rude  shock.  12 degrees C. ( 54 degrees F.)  water is none too pleasant, but I popped right up and out of the kayak.  Where was Bob?  I was concerned as he does not know how to swim.  Fortunately he popped up instantly too. Nonetheless  I panicked.  My camera, my precious new Canon Rebel?  It was in one of those waterproof bags strapped to the boat, but I was devastated, convinced  it had drowned.

How to get back in the kayak which had righted itself?  The guide, no doubt eating her words, arrived at the scene of disaster and told us to turn the kayak upside down to empty it of water.  I refused, certain this would spell death for my camera if in fact it had survived.  I told her to help Bob, and that I could swim to shore which  did not seem that far off.  She was adamant – no way should I swim.  So, she gave us instructions and somehow, but with great effort and none too gracefully, we managed to manipulate our soaked and freezing bodies into the boat.  Then, she instructed  us  to pump the water out.  We pumped and paddled, but we were trembling with cold and making little progress.  Finally another guide came and towed us to shore (farther away than I thought – good I did not swim).

I  could not stop shivering, but once on shore I ripped open the bag with the camera. Unbelievable.  It was OK.  Bob’s expensive sunglasses did vanish to the bottom of the sea.  My prescription sunglasses, which I had been wearing, managed to stay on my head.  Another miracle.

We had been toId to bring an extra set of clothing.  Certain that it would not be required, I only brought a pair of jeans  — better than nothing, but more was needed.  Others in the group lent us T-shirts and sweaters.  Nonetheless, we quivered from the cold for what seemed like ages… (This kayak catastrophe brought back memories of our failed attempt at dancing lessons.  There, too, we were the duds in the group.  We best stick to bicycling.)

Then there was the boat excursion to swim with dolphins.   The lovely creatures were sure to appear, we were told.  Those in the group who planned to plunge into the freezing water, this time about 14 degrees  C ( 57 degrees F.) , were given wet suits.  Bob, not a swimmer, passed on this adventure.

The boat trip was scenic, and eventually we spotted dolphins.  The playful creatures followed right alongside the boat, jumping and soaring out of the water at times. Watching them was thrilling.  Swimming with them would be even better.

The boat captain maneuvered the craft  to get ahead of the dolphins, then we were told to jump in.  As dolphins are said to be curious and like humans, they were supposed to come and join us in the water.  We were told to make noise, to sing, through the snorkel mouth piece. This would surely attract the dolphins.

Nine bodies swimming around in frigid waters emitting bizarre sounds.  It was comical.  The wet suit did help, but after awhile, the cold penetrated.   We swam and sang, but the dolphins did not show up, so one by one we’d get back on board.  This ritual was repeated four different times as the captain tried yet again and again to position the boat where he thought the dolphins would be. And, time after time, we plunged into the icy water for naught.

The dolphins were nearby.  Why didn’t they join us? According to one of the guides, they were probably mating, and sex was more exciting than a bunch of crazy humans.  Can’t say I blame them.

Not all was amiss on our excursion in the Marlborough and Nelson regions which are at the top of New Zealand’s South Island.  Marlborough is the country’s largest wine-growing region, especially known for sauvignon blanc.  We visited several beautiful wineries where we tasted and savored some excellent vintages.

We also enjoyed a delicious boat excursion to mussel beds   Lunch was on board – a feast of succulent greenshelled mussels, the best I’d ever tasted.

And, we had a delightful overnight stay at the Lochmara Lodge Wildlife Recovery Center.  The lodge is accessible only by boat.  Hiking trails lead up in the hills above the cluster of buildings, offering super views, as well as interesting outdoor art and sculptures en route.  www.lochmaralodge.co.nz

Watch the slide show below for more photos of New Zealand.  And, try the recipe for “Two Cheese Spinach and Mushroom Casserole” listed in the column at right.  It’s a winner – and easy to prepare.

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Sam’s Saga

It’s a feline fairytale come true,  a rags to riches story. From life as a stray cat wandering in the alleys of Cereste, a Provencal village in the Luberon, to that of a pampered pet in a posh apartment in Paris.  And, not just any apartment.  Sam’s new home is with the famed pianist and conductor Philippe Entremont and his wife.

There must be millions of homeless cats in France. How did this husky gray tomcat get so lucky?

The saga began last December when I decided to adopt Sam. Friends Marten and Jessica had been feeding him, but they have four other cats.  Sam was especially friendly and affectionate, however he was becoming a nuisance, fighting with their cats.  They needed to find a home for him.

I was in mourning at the loss of Buddy, my big black male cat, whom I had to have euthanized due to cancer.  Sam seemed to be the answer to cure my sorrow. He was a delight with people, loved to be petted, purred loudly. But, he quickly decided he must be king.  He made life hell for my two female cats.  This would not work.   I called friends, sent emails, put up posters.  I was determined to find him a home.  All to no avail.  Some friends, including cat experts, said the kindest thing would be to have him euthanized.  I could not bring myself to take this step.  Since he had been surviving as a street cat in Cereste for years, a town where kind souls do feed strays, I took him back to the village with great remorse and feelings of guilt.

Sam was born under a lucky star.  Along came Anne to the rescue. Shortly after his return to the streets, this kind English woman arrived to spend the winter in the apartment upstairs from Marten and Jessica. Anne and her friend Martine came to Cereste from Ireland with their dogs and horses.  They have been spending the winter training for a 500 kilometer charity ride on horseback across France to raise money for the Program for Assistance Dogs for Families of Children with Autism.  http://thewanderlywagons.blogspot.fr/

Anne took to Sam, who was hanging around and hungry.  He soon moved in with her and her canines: Fionn, a huge lab/Rottweiler cross, and Roxy, a lab/retriever mix.  Sam detests cats, but dogs are his pals.  All became friends, even sleeping together.  When Anne walked the dogs, Sam would follow.

But, Sam’s time was running out.  Anne would soon be starting her horse trek, then return home to Ireland where she has two cats – no hope for Sam there. Once again I started the search.  Friend David, a photographer with expert computer skills, made beautiful professional posters with Sam’s photo which I distributed to numerous vet offices and shops in the area.  Again no response.

I also told my friend Jude Reitman about my plight with Sam.    Jude is an award winning journalist and author – and devoted animal rescuer – who has been living part time in France.  www.judithreitman.com  She put me in touch with Amelia Tarzi, a lawyer born in Afghanistan who gave up law to work as an interpreter, the latter allowing her more time for her passion:  animal rescue.

Amelia has lived in the states and Switzerland, but is now at home in Paris.  However, she spends as much time as possible at an animal shelter in central France, DPA-Refuge de Thiernay, www.refuge-thiernay.com

I sent photos of Sam to Amelia who soon announced that she had found a home for the fortunate feline — but it was in Paris, some 610 kilometers away.  A friend of Amelia’s is a friend of Mme. Entremont,  wife of the noted musician Philippe Entremont.  She had just lost a cat.  The friend quickly put her in touch with animal rescuer  Amelia who sent photos of many cats needing homes to Mme. Entremont.  She zeroed in on Sam because he looked like the cat she had just lost.

How to get Sam to Paris?  Amelia said she would pick him up at the TGV train station in Aix en Provence en route back to Paris after a job in Nice.

Sam needed to be vaccinated, micro-chipped and tested for disease before departing for the City of Lights.  The first attempt to cage him for the trip to the vet failed. (See Anne’s blog at the above address for more on this fiasco.)  The next morning Anne succeeded, and I took Sam to  the vet where he was a prince, a surprise to all.  Then, husband Bob (a dog person and a saint to put up with my cat capers),  drove me and caged Sam to the train station, more than a hour away.  This normally very vocal cat was amazingly subdued during the journey.

Shortly after 1 p.m. Amelia met us in the train station café, and soon street cat Sam was on his way to a new life in high-class surroundings.  Released from his cage in the Paris apartment, he ran to hide behind a bookcase.  During the night he emerged and, according to Amelia, got the shock of his life when he walked across the keys of his esteemed owner’s piano.  He’s adjusting to life with the upper crust, and Mme. Entremont is “thrilled” with her pet rescued from Provence, says Amelia.

Jude Reitman has recently started a company, La Bedouine, specializing in skin care products handmade by Berber women in Essaouira, Morocco.  http://www.labedouine.com  She has moved back to her home in North Carolina where she is active in finding homes for abandoned dogs.