Tucked Away on D’Urville Island Part II

You’ve read about the beauty of D’Urville but what did we do there? Good question. The better question is, what didn’t we do? We came here thinking we’d be looking after a 3 year old and helping a family pack up their possession in preparation for their departure form the island. But, not soon after arriving one of those two jobs was no longer needed, and the 3 year old was going nowhere. So, with one of our primary jobs no longer needed what were we left to do? Short answer: Plenty. But before we get to that let me outline the terms of our staying there. Like many other WWOOFing jobs we would put in 5 hours/day 5 days/week for three meals a day and lodging. This was a great deal considering the variety of meals and caliber of the housing. The house we stayed in was called the Villa; a three bedroom home with beautiful natural wood ceilings and floors, double sided fireplace, and fully equipped with antique furniture. The meals were accommodating of our vegetarian life style and in addition to the three meals we were given all the snacks and coffee we could need.

Upon arriving we quickly realized that there was plenty to be done around the home. The family doesn’t spend the entire year on the property so the grounds can become a little wild and the interior can collect dust. We proposed that we spearhead our own projects that we see around the home and in exchange we be get paid a monthly standard income. They decided they could afford $1,000/month based on an average of 7 hours/day 6 days a week. We thought this was perfect, it allowed us to work freely and not have to log hours. I started on the grounds right away. The grass around the home was almost waist high from the persistent rain they had been getting. As I weed whacked and mowed I slowly discovered garden beds located around the home. I weeded the beds as I found them, and turned over the vegetable garden so we could start to grow food. It was a rewarding experience to see the grounds start to take shape. The garden beds I discovered had plants from gardeners past, so I merely cleared a way for them to thrive and be center stage. The vegetable garden was never fully realized, less than 1/4 still needed to be weeded and there was plenty more to be done throughout, but I’m proud of what I was able to do with the time I put in.

David spent most of his time with the 3 year old Dante. Dante was the reason for choosing this job because David wanted to gain experience working with children. Well, he got it, and anyone that has worked with a 3 year old will understand the frustrations and tribulations that come along with it. I think he did incredible though, and it was just as much of a journey learning what Dante needed as it was for David reflecting on his own upbringing. The only real reference we have for raising a child is how we were raised ourselves. Dante wasn’t his only job though, we both got time with the little one over the course of two months and it was a great experience to have. He’s such a bright and curious individual and he never ceased to amaze us with his memory and knowledge. Children truly are sponges.

Once the family saw our potential (and their homes potential) they quickly started to give us jobs throughout where some TLC was needed. We honestly touched every part of that property from cleaning and rearranging the Villa, to renovation projects in the pantry and kitchen, to moving large pieces of furniture from building to building. David and I realized our own potential as well in these projects. Our attention to detail, the way we play to each other’s strengths, and our strong work ethic creates a team to be reconnected with. And because of this family we were able to realize this in ourself and in each other. For this we are truly thankful. Rachel, the mother of the home, offered such personal and thoughtful insight into our personalities that it really added to the experience as well. She is a kind soul and we will miss her effervescence.

The rest of our time was spent socializing and relaxing, with some personal projects here and there. Next I’ll post about the locals that we met and the rest of the time that was spent on the island in my third and final post.

-Ethan Masselli

Tucked Away on D’Urville Island Part I

It’s been a while, eh? I sorely apologize to those of you who check back often, but I must admit our neglect has been intentional. As you may know we accepted a job on D’Urville Island, the largest island outside of the two main lands with a population hovering around 40. So it’s safe to say it’s a bit secluded. Because of this seclusion we wanted to really submerse ourselves in it. We limited our internet use and communication with friends and family to hold true to that. We actually ended up focusing heavily on the family we worked for, but I’ll write more about that later.

I intend to make this a multi-part post for a couple of reasons: First, for you the reader in hopes that it will be easier for you to digest. Second, for myself, I have a lot swirling around in my head and I think it’ll help me compartmentalize it all.

I’d love to start with the scenery. Our time in NZ thus far (6 months at the time of this post, half of our allotted time here) has been marked by breathtaking views. And I’m not just talking about the places you’re told to go, I’m talking about places you just stumble upon. D’Urville Island is marked by (almost nightly) breathtaking sunsets, sprawling forests, and the ocean right at your doorstep. Now, it’s not all “rainbows and sunshine” as the locals would be quick to point out. One local sums it up quite well, “The island always wins.” But for us our luck played out. We may have had some window-rattling, trampoline-blowing, roof-tearing winds in the beginning, but all-in-all it’s been sunny and warm for 2 months straight. We lived in a little bay tucked between mountains on all three sides called Kupe Bay. We ventured out in every direction we could. We kayaked out as far as the wind would let us. We trekked the road that runs the length of the mountains around us (5.5 hours long). And hiked to the tops of mountains for breathtaking views. D’Urville has a wildness to it, the kind of untamed that feels like many have tried and failed.

Living here has been an honor. Mother Nature allowed us to see Her beauty and even some of her wrath. To permanently live here would be a feat. For us this was always temporary, but for many on this island, it’s life. The constant natural beauty woundn’t be enough to make us stay.

Stay tuned for Part II soon! I’ll spend some time talking about what we spent our time doing: our accomplishments and setbacks.

-Ethan Masselli

Last Gig in NZ

After an exhausting journey throughout the South Island we have landed back on the North Island. That’s right, a little over a month and we came back. I have still yet to write about our hardships, I suppose I just don’t want to think about it. But I’ll fill you all in eventually.

Anywho, we are settled and happier then we’ve ever been here in NZ. We are living in a National Park, probably the most well known national park actually. It’s the location of Mt. Ngauruhoe, also known as Mt. Doom from The Lord of the Rings. We work at a holiday park that provides accommodation for hikers and sightseers. Our main duties are housekeeping and reception, but we also do some maintenance jobs as well. The park is mostly comprised of powered camper van sites but we also have space for tents, and a few cabins as well. We also have a lodge with bunkbeds, a lounge, kitchen, and bathrooms as well as an amenities building with kitchens and bathrooms. David and I split the cleaning, he does the amenities and I do the cabins and lodge. I also had to learn how to drive a manual transmission truck in order to take out the trash and recycling. It was rocky for a while, stalling every time I had to take off. But I’ve got the hang of it now!

Every new place we end up we build a family around us. Our personalities are just like that, we love people. Being here has been such a loving experience. Our bosses are like our parents and our coworkers are our siblings. We also have “uncle Chris”, he’s the chef at the local restaurant. We have dinners, we give each other shit, and we’ll miss them all so much when we leave. I find myself reflecting back on our time here often, which just shows we’re almost at the point of having to move on. But before we do, we’ll be making the most of the Whakapapa Holiday Park.

-Ethan Masselli

Our Travels Will Continue

It has been decided, we will not be coming back to the US, we will instead continue on our journey around the world. I think many of you saw this coming before we even did. If you’ve ever traveled outside of the US I’m sure you understand the excitement and thrill you get. You also get this itch to keep going. Once you’re in the thick of it you realize how easy it is to be somewhere foreign. Leading up to your departure it’s of course nerve-racking, but once you’ve been in another country for a few months it becomes comfortable. We’ve been very lucky to find a job that pays well and has many opportunities (more about this job in another post). This job will propel us into our next adventure.

Next we will hop over to Australia and essentially do the same thing we’re doing here in NZ, work and travel. The visa for Australia is a bit different, it costs $500 and has the opportunity of extending for an additional year if you work in agriculture for a short time. The pay is greater as well, so hopefully the money we make there will sustain us for a couple years after that. We hope to head to Japan after Australia, then the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, etc. We’ll end with a Euro-trip before coming home. At this point our endeavors will take us into 2022, and into my 30’s! Eek!

As exciting as this sounds we do miss our friends and family deeply. Not a day goes by where we don’t talk about someone. How something reminds us of a time we spent with friends, or a new acquaintance reminds us of someone back home. If we could afford it we would fly back home in between each new adventure! But unfortunately that is not the case. Stay tuned for more details as we finalize our plans!!

I also want to thank all of you who come by and read our posts. I know who you are, and I love you. I will be renewing the domain and I will continue to write (hopefully more frequently). Who knows, maybe you’ll see some merchandise on here someday. Hehe.

-Ethan Masselli

Tucked Away on D’Urville Island Part III

Though we were on a secluded Island we were not alone. Just to the right of us, very close by, we had a lovely couple Sue and Terry. They are Kiwi’s who had lived not too far from D’Urville most of their life. Hard workers, they had an incredibly expansive garden, fished regularly for food, and helped look after/process the sheep that reside along their property. They are also very much involved in the lives of Rachel and Randy, and others on the Island. They are active members of the committee for D’Urville Island, and are very much invested in the well being of the Island and it’s inhabitants (animal and human). What amazed me about these two was their hospitality and their garden. From the first time we met them they treated us as if we were family. We got a tour of their garden and I was blown away by the work they had done over the years. The land they grow on had once been mostly rock. Year after year they dug up the rocks and amended the ground with rich, nutrient soil. They grow more than they need and give/trade the excess food. Sue and Terry are so knowledgeable of the plants they grow it reminded me of when I was in school and meeting the scholarly individuals in the Horticulture industry. I think one of the most endearing things about these two is how they call each other Sav/Savage. Their last name is Savage and they’ve come to just call each other by their last name. It’s unbelievably cute to listen to them talk and ask,

“Ain’t that right Sav?”

“Yeah, that’s right Savage.”

We feel truly grateful to have met them and we hope our paths will cross again one day.

The couple to the left of our house weren’t as close as the Savage’s. Pip and Jannette lived off the grid in a tiny cabin with their pigs and two dogs. Getting to them wasn’t easy. When the tide was out we were able to get to them easily via the coast. When the tide was high, we had to walk through a mountain trail that had many slips and washouts. But no matter the journey we were always rewarded. We spent much more time with Pip and Jannette than we did with Sue and Terry, mainly because they seemed less busy. Now I don’t want you picturing a shriveling old couple rocking the day away on wooden rocking chairs with old Coon dogs at their feet. These two kept busy in their own way, they just seemed to us, more accessible. The day we met them was at Dante’s birthday party. Pip is a lawn gnome of a person, smaller then I (I’m 5’7″) with a bright and cheery face. Jannette is a fiery individual, unafraid of questions and comments one wound normally shy away from when first meeting someone. Only a couple of minutes into our conversation she asked, “So are you two gay or brothers”? Now, for us this is uncommon, and for others (that are not queer) this may seem rude, but I lit up when she asked us this. It normalized gayness. She put being gay on the same level as something as natural as brothers. This was just the beginning of some incredible, thought provoking conversations we would have with both Pip and Jannette. These are two individuals so concerned with the state of the environment and so aware of their impact that they have never flown to another country. They believe the amount of jet fuel it takes to fly somewhere is too detrimental compared to the pleasure they would get from traveling. Anyone would be lucky to meet this caring, thoughtful couple.

It was heartbreaking to leave our friends and family behind. Neither of us had ever had to say goodbye not knowing when we would see our loved ones again. I remember thinking that once I started traveling it would be easier and I could just focus on my adventures. But I had no idea that I would spend the year in NZ having to say goodbye to people that I made deep connections with. With people that I feel as connected to as I do with my friends back home. I truly hope I see these individuals again. But even if our paths never cross again they will always live on in my heart and mind.

-Ethan Masselli

A Day In The Life Of A Backpacker

Humans are creatures of habit. I may be on the other side of the world, with no resemblance of what my life was, but routine has still set in. Let me take you through an average day of mine:

6:00-7:00am– I’m usually awake before anyone else, which is how I like it. It allows me to take a shower without anyone buzzing around the bathroom. I get the water warmed up for my first cup of coffee on my way through the kitchen to the bathroom. I quietly enter and exit the room to get my clothes and toiletries, careful not to disturb David or our coworker Narumi. Breakfast consists of toast with jam and a bowl of oatmeal with raisins. Lucky for me coffee is free here and I usually have about two cups in the morning. As people wake up and start their morning I check the news, always unable to avoid the dreaded word “TRUMP”. I then practice my Japanese and follow that up by reading my book, currently I’m reading In The Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall. Depending on how early I wake up I’ll spend some time soaking up the morning sun while stretching.

9:40– This is about the time I make David his breakfast. He likes to sleep in, he only leaves himself 20 min (sometimes less) before we have to head to work.

10:00– We walk across the parking lot to the main office to get our tasks for the day. I’m either paired with Anna or Narumi when cleaning rooms. David is in charge of cleaning the backpacker, where we live. Cleaning rooms is like you’d expect: I’m in charge of cleaning the bathroom, my partner the kitchen. We then vacuum and make the beds. After housekeeping is done I head to the gardens. Getting to work with plants again is really enjoyable. It’s also a treat to be working with tropical plants. A lot of what grows here I used to grow in pots back home, in much smaller form. It’s currently winter here but you can’t tell from the flora. Right now there are vines blooming, Calla Lilies, Birds of Paradise, Clivia, and so much more. As I make my way through the grounds my imagination goes wild with the possibilities for landscaping. But alas, they are not my gardens to tweak. The owner, Lynda, does give me some creative wiggle room, which is greatly appreciated.

1:00-2:00pm– The afternoon is about the time we finish up our work. As you can see we get a majority of the day to ourselves, which is quite opposite to our lives back home. We take advantage of this time to do a whole host of things. David likes to play his PZV2 game (more than he may admit). He also works on burlesque routines and makes sure to call his loved ones often. I like to have a project going (I have many planned in my mind) with the most recent being our homemade Monopoly board. Very often though I will dedicate an hour or two to lounging in my hammock somewhere hidden in the forest. Once the sun starts to set Narumi and I will be dedicating some time to the hot tub to soothe our muscles. Back in Japan, where Narumi is from, it’s very common to spend time in a hot bath daily for your muscles and health.

5:00-11:00– Dinner varies from 5:00pm till sometime after 7:00pm. Going vegetarian has been easy for me, especially because I used to be one not too long ago. I’m surprised how easy it’s been for David though. The only thing he seems to truly miss are Slim Jim’s. Luckily they don’t seem to be very popular here so he’s not often tempted. After dinner the Anchor Lodge crew like to get together and play some games. I introduced them to Liverpool Rummy. For those of you that know me well you will be very familiar with this looooong card game. The Czech couple introduced us to a really fun card game that involves having the least amount of cows in hand (I’ll update the post with the name of the game). Card games make up the majority of our games, but like I said earlier, we now have Monopoly. We also play Pictionary, which can be quite a riot considering the majority of the players do not have English as their first language. David heads to bed no later than 10:30, I sometimes stay up a bit later. David and I share the bottom part of a bunk bed. And with a whispered, “おやすみ” (oyasumi) we head to dream land.

Ethan M.

GAY PDA

This is a topic I’ve always wanted to write about, being gay and the stresses around public displays of affection. PDA has different levels of tolerance depending on the public area you’re in no matter your sexuality. For the sake of this discussion “public” will be defined as sidewalks, parks, and shopping centers (grocery stores, malls, etc.). These are areas that heterosexual couples are frequently seen holding hands, kissing, and sitting in an embrace without even a nun caring. When I was fresh out of the closet I was a junior in high school and I had no problem with PDA. I had been in relationships with woman prior to coming out so I was no stranger to holding hands and cuddling up on benches. So when I started dating my first boyfriend I just kept on doing what I had been doing. It wasn’t until the fight for marriage equality in my home sate of Maine that I started to feel the piercing eyes on me.

PDA started to feel like a silent protest, which sometimes it was. My boyfriend and I would often go out of our way to walk, hand-in-hand, in front of a crowd of anti-marriage equality protesters. But when something like who you are is converted into a challenge to society, it becomes exhausting. You can’t turn it off, or put it away. Imagine your hair color is seen as immoral. You would first wear it out with pride. You would walk in front of screaming crowds, shoulders high, hair flowing in the wind. But imagine you just wanted to go out to grab some take-out Chinese after you had a long day. Along the way you see businesses with signs in their window protesting blonde hair. Then, as you walk down the sidewalk people stare in disgust, some even “brave” enough to say slurs under their breath. You’d start to think about what you might look like bald. PDA declared to the world that, “Yes, I am gay”! Which was an open invitation for some to declare their opposition (or applaud our “bravery”).

At this point I’m sure you’ve figured out what this has to do with traveling. Back home I knew which areas were safer to hold hands, or cuddle up in the cold. But as we travel we’re more cautious about when we show our love for each other. This isn’t always conscious, which makes it worse. As we walk down a sidewalk and approach a group of men I can feel David pull his hand away, not on purpose, but we’ve been conditioned to be cautious around certain groups of people. I do it too, and it’s not until I see a happy heterosexual couple with interlocked hands that I’m made aware of the distance between David and I. We’ve been conditioned that displaying our love is bad, and we will be punished. And it’s not just the slurs and threats it’s any attention at all. So many times I’ve been approached by strangers thanking me or praising me for my courage. As true as their intentions are, they too are bringing to my attention that I’m different. I’m the first to stand up in protest for anyone’s equality, if you know me you know that much for sure. But what I would give to just wrap my hand around my boyfriends waist and walk down the street without wondering who approves and who disagrees.

I will say this, NZ has given me no reason yet to feel different. Have I seen any other gay couples? Not yet. But when David and I have shown our love for each other in public I’ve never seen anyone even bat an eye.

Ethan M.

This Land Is Not Our Land

I look out the window as we drive for miles and see nothing but green with dots of white on rolling hills. Between pastures are trees and untouched land. We were on our way to the northern most point of NZ when I began to think about how important this land is to every living thing on earth. We live our lives thinking about what will move us forward, what will make us happy, what will advance humankind. In this pursuit of happiness and perfection we have claimed this land for our own. We were not the first to touch it, yet we claim it. It’s been talked about many times how we are killing the planet. Rainforests dwindle, more animals endangered, the Great Barrier Reef dead… We not only claim this land but we damn it too.
Being here and seeing how much of their land is left for others gives me hope. And by “others” I don’t mean other humans, I mean animals, plants, water, earth. This land is left to be free of human development. Even large swaths of land that is owned by humans is left for sheep and other livestock. Where I’m from a large percentage of land is left untouched, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the USA. Our cattle and pigs live on top of each other in plants and pens and are never given the pleasure of fresh grass, the sun kissing their skin, or a gentle breeze down their back. Instead we have decided to use their land for parking lots, graveyards, sprawling malls, and backyards and lawns we never use.
I can only hope that we be more mindful of the fact that we share this land. We share this land with millions of other plants and animals that are just as deserving of it’s beauty. Humans are the first and only living creatures on this planet capable of controlling their actions. We are aware of what we do. We not only have the wherewithal but the capability to be more efficient with the land that we use. We have the responsibility, every one of us, to use less of it, protect more of it, and restore what we can.

Ethan M.

Starting A Journey- LGA to AKL (Auckland, NZ)

When you decide to uproot your life and leave everything you've ever known behind the first thing someone asks is, "How are you doing this!?" That's a valid question, easier to ask, harder to answer. "How" can mean so many things: How are you able to stay in another country for a year? How are you paying your bills? How are you surviving? I'll answer all of these questions and more in time. But I wanted to start with the most important thing first, the mental "how". How I'm able to leave everything I know behind.

We cling so much to the stuff around us. Stuff meaning actual tangible things like cars, clothes, and iPhones. But also stuff meaning the repetition of life: go to work, eat, get drunk (or high), sleep and repeat. We cling to this stuff because it begins to define us, and to give it up would mean giving up ourselves. I began to feel this in my life, like my stuff was controlling me. I couldn't decide where I was going, my job decided where I was going. Instagram started to describe who I "was" better than I  could. And the little money I was making was going right back into the retail environment I was a slave to. Now I don't want this to sound like work is terrible, retail is terrible, Apple is terrible! No, quite opposite actually. What I'm saying is, I let it consume me. And this leads us to why I need a mental vacation.

Getting away is the best thing I can do. My job has helped me grow professionally, my degree allowed me to grow academically, and now it's time to grow mentally. Leaving this town, this state, this country, will allow me to push my understanding of what it means to be alive. This journey is not one I will take alone, I will have the man I love with me. I believe shared experiences are just as important as ones you make on your own.

I'm able to take this jump because I can feel it inside me, it's time. It's now or never.

Ethan M.