Always Fill Up!

The big day had arrived. It was time to leave my home for the past eight months – Auckland – and disappear south on a major road trip.

New Zealand is known for its majestic landscapes and I couldn’t wait to see the mountains and glaciers I was promised by the guide books.

Of course,  Mount Doom (aka Mount Ngauruhoe) from Lord of the Rings was top of my ‘to do’ list.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was just a four hour drive away and not only could we look at the legendary volcano, the option was there to actually climb it.

To say I was excited is an understatement.

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Ready to hit the road

We filled up on essentials for the road trip. Like, coffee, some sweets, crisps. A weird granola, yoghurt concoction thingy. All the very important things.

Oh, and of course, we did get some petrol too. Some.

Because it was only a four hour drive to the crossing, we knew we could take our time and that there would be plenty of petrol stations along the main roads. No dramas.

So off we went on our merry little way. Tunes blasting out of the radio, we were hanging out of the car windows acting like hyperactive children. Pulling over every five minutes to take photos of a particularly good-looking hill that we had just seen from a new angle.

The closer we got to Mt Tongariro, the more excitable we became. We just wanted to be there! We wanted to set up our tents and try out our little gas burner we’d bought to warm up some delicious, nutritious instant noodles. We were hardcore campers.

Spotting a supermarket, we pulled in to collect some more essentials. Coffee, more sweets,  more crisps.

“Do we need any more petrol?”

“Na, I reckon we can make it. We’re so close now,”

Famous last words.

20 minutes had passed and we saw the little red light appear.

“Shall we turn around and head back?”

“Nah, there’ll be another petrol station soon,”

Our optimism was crushed when another 20 minutes had passed and there was still no sign of a petrol station.

We became pretty desperate. We had gone too far to turn back so our only option was keep going.

We approached a tractor chugging down the road in the same direction but we were too scared to stop the car in case we couldn’t get it started again.

It was beginning to get dark and we needed to be at our camp that evening as our trek was due to begin at 5.00am the next morning. We simply couldn’t afford to spend a night in the car. And there was absolutely no way I was missing our Mount Doom adventure. No way.

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Help.. 

We made some signs with the hope of catching the tractor drivers attention. He pulled over and signalled for us to do the same.

What a spot of luck! We thought we were saved. He could give us some petrol or he would tell us that there is a petrol station one mile down the road.

Err, nope.

He had no spare petrol and was unsure of where the nearest petrol station was.

We were really glad he had pulled us over to tell us that.. Really grateful.

Luckily, the car did start again.

We sat in silence for about 10 minutes. I was waiting for the engine to start making a funny noise or for the car to start shaking. It was surely running on the last of its fumes.

And that was when we saw it.

A road sign with a little petrol station symbol. Second exit at the roundabout.

We literally squealed with excitement!

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We swung into the petrol station and filled up so vigorously, we’re lucky we didn’t end up covered in the stuff. We also bought a jerry can to fill up. You know, just in case.

How on earth we had managed to drive so far with the red light flashing, still baffles me today.

But we made it. Someone up there was definitely looking out for us that day.

So remember, if in doubt, just fill it up. It’s really not worth the stress!

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Thanks for the honey

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I’ve been known to attract the weirdos.

If there is a space next to me on a bus, a weirdo will sit there. Even if there are 20 other seats available.

I tell myself it’s my stunning good looks and positive aura that invite people to harass me. I must just look like a really friendly person.

Or maybe, just maybe.. it’s because I look like like a weirdo too.

Far more realistic.

Either way, I used to consider myself a great judge of character. Or at least be able to pick out the weirdos from the normos.

That was until the honey guy.

I absolutely loved my waitressing job in Auckland.

The day of my first shift, I almost pooped myself when I walked in to the restaurant and was confronted with ten stunning, blonde, model-like 20 year olds introducing themselves to me as my new co-workers. I was preparing myself for months of bitchiness and self loathing.

But I was wrong. They were wonderful. All of them.

First Impressions

It was a typical Friday evening in St Heliers. The restaurant was rammed and the atmosphere buzzing.

A lovely elderly couple and their son occupied one of my tables. When taking their order I noticed their British accents.

They began to tell me how they were here visiting their son who had moved over to New Zealand seven years ago.

“Wow, that’s amazing! I’m so jealous,” I said to the son.

“Yeah it’s pretty great,” He said with a smile.

I left the table to place the food order and continued with my busy shift.

Later on, as they left, the son approached me and handed me their bill with his phone number on it.

“I know how hard it is to be in a new country with no friends,” He said.

A little presumptuous.. I had plenty of friends thanks!

“A group of friends and I are heading to a comedy gig in town tomorrow night and we have a spare ticket. Would you like to come?”

He was only being nice. What was the worst that could happen? I thanked him for his generosity and accepted his invitation. You can never have too many friends, right?

The longest evening of my life

I arrived at the pub where we’d agreed to meet and was surprised at how quiet it was. Especially for a Saturday night.

Confused, I checked my phone for the time and that was when I heard my name being called.

I looked up to see the honey guy, alone, holding two drinks.

“Where is everyone?” I said as I accepted the warm Sol he handed me. He’d must of been there a while.

“Oh, they can’t make it.” He said matter of factly.

He reached in to his pocket and pulled out two tickets for the comedy gig. And that was when it hit me. This punk had tricked me in to a date!

I felt sick. Overwhelmed with awkwardness.

The only thing to do, was to get very drunk.

Just when I thought it was over..

The gig ended. I couldn’t tell you if the comedians were funny or not. I just wanted to go home. I was fuming that I had been duped.

“I’ll give you a lift home,” He said.

He had only had one beer for the entire evening.

I was pleasantly tipsy.

“Thanks,” I said.

Probably not the greatest idea. But I was a waitress trying to save up enough money to travel the whole of New Zealand, have enough money to book a flight home later in the year and still have a social life. Times were tough. A free lift is way better than forking out $20 for a taxi.

So here began the painful drive home.

“Would you mind if we stopped at a friends house? He’s having a moving in party. We won’t stay long,”

Trying not to be rude – this guy had paid for my comedy gig ticket – I agreed.

“There is a card in the glove compartment. Would you mind writing it for me?” He said as we approached the motorway.

“You want me to write your friends card?”

“Yeah, his name is Leon. Sign it from both of us,”

“Ah, Leon, we go way back,” I said purely as a joke.

I’ve never claimed to be a funny drunk. But the silence that followed led me to believe this guy was not amused. He actually wanted me to sign this dudes card.

‘To Leon,

Happy moving in! 

I’m sorry you don’t know me and I’m writing your card, but I’m scared that *honey man* will kill me if I don’t.

Cheers.

Meg and *honey man*’

I giggled to myself as I sealed the card in the envelope. It was then that I realised I was only half joking with what I wrote.

‘It will be fantastic evidence for if I go missing,’ I thought.

We arrived at the ‘party’ and I almost laughed out loud. This night seriously couldn’t have gotten any worse.

We walked in to dead silence. A group of about eight people were sat in a circle on the floor all eating chocolate cake.

Introductions were made and I was offered a piece.

“No thanks, diet!” I said patting my belly.

One guy began tapping a hollow box to break the silence. To which the guests started swaying to the beat.

I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to be home. I had been texting my room mate frequently updating her on my whereabouts and what was happening.

“Tell him to bring you home now! Or I’m calling the police!”

I turned to honey man and yawned.

“I’m really tired, do you mind taking me home?”

We said our goodbyes and headed out the door.

Thank GOD it’s over. I couldn’t wait to get home and have a BIG glass of wine.

Nope. Still not over.

I noticed he missed the turning for my road.

“I live down there!” I said twisting in my seat, longing for even a glimpse of our house.

“Oh I’m just going to nip to mine. I need the toilet.”

Lamest excuse I have ever heard. If this guy seriously thought he was getting lucky tonight, he was even more delusional than I first thought.

He pulled up outside his house and got out of the car. I kept my seatbelt firmly in place as he opened my door.

“Do you want to come in for a minute?”

“No thanks, I’m fine here.” I said imagining the dungeon he had under his house where he keept all his victims.

“Do you like honey?” he said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Do you like honey?”

‘Oh my God..’ I thought ‘that is what they’re going to find my lifeless, naked body covered in!’

“I can take it or leave it,” I said wondering where this conversation was going.

He turned away and walked inside.

I grabbed my bag, undid my seat belt and was ready to make a run for it when he came back to the car holding a tiny pot of honey. I mean, just your bog standard honey. Shop bought.

“Thank you,” I said with a smile.

He got back in to the car and drove me to the corner of my road.

I waved goodbye and power walked as quickly as I could to the house. Promising myself I would never, ever, ever go on – or be tricked in to –  another date. Ever!

True Love

So there you have it. That was how I met my husband, Steve.

(Jokes.. obviously)

That’s a much better story.

We only cheat tourists and drunks: Durango

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There is a special place in my heart for Durango.

We arrived on 14th September 2015. I know this, because it was my birthday.

The picturesque town greeted us with scenic views of mountains and woodlands. And the steam trains made us feel like we had stepped back in time.

The weather was still warm so we weren’t graced with snow clad mountains, but the blue skies and beaming sun were a welcome substitute.

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We strolled through the town with beaming smiles, admiring the character and spirit of the little isolated town. All the little independent stores and cafes made me fall deeper in love. It was the perfect example of small-town America.

Small. Town. America..

We spotted a quirky little bar and decided it would be a good spot for dinner. A sign  in the window suggested that it was ‘home to the best burger in town’.

A bold claim, but we were willing to give it a try.

We approached the bar, ordered two bottles of bud light and began my birthday celebrations.

The drinking continued until about 7.00pm when we were seated at a table for 2 in the garden. The tables were full and I couldn’t help but notice all eyes were pointing in our direction.

Convincing myself I was being paranoid – or that I must still look super hot for a 27 year old – we ordered our burgers and another couple of beers.

The waitress gave us a polite, somewhat forced, smile and turned away to go and fetch our drinks.

It was only when she had her back to me I saw what was on her t-shirt.

‘We only cheat tourists and drunks’

I grabbed my husbands arm.

“Oh my God Steve, look at her shirt. We are both of those things!”

She came back over with our drinks and I was super appreciative. Over the top doesn’t really do it justice. I was borderline hysterical.

I have an uncontrollable need to please people and the thought of being unwelcome somewhere is torture for me.

I must of used the words ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’ and ‘fantastic’ a hundred times each. Although, I wasn’t really helping our cause. We were tourists. And we had had a few beers. No amount of brown-nosing was going to change that! I should have just been grateful that we weren’t turned away in the first place.

I then began to contemplate that, maybe, all the people in the garden knew each other. We were outsiders and must have stuck out like a sore thumb. Maybe Monday was beer and burger night for the locals.

We were intruding on their evening. And their town.

We finished our meals, studied the bill (until we were sure it was correct..) and said our goodbyes.

We thanked our waitress for the millionth time and left a hefty tip.

“I’m sure their t-shirts are a joke, right?”

“Yeah, they must be,”

Either way, I love Durango. Even if Durango doesn’t love me.

Don’t let the smooth taste fool ya: New Orleans

We approached New Orleans via interstate 10 and I became immediately aware as to why Louisiana was an ideal filming location for the first season of True Detective.

The creepy trees and marshlands reminded me of something from a scooby-do episode. I was fully prepared for a swamp monster to jump out at us any second.

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I knew little to nothing about New Orleans so was unsure as what to expect from our time there.

But a man in Austin, Texas, gave me an idea of what was to come.

We met him whilst checking in to our motel in Austin. His travel companion was casually leaning on the reception desk whilst he stood outside smoking a cigarette near his pick-up truck. He was swaying and stumbling around but looked like a friendly enough fella.

He came in to the reception area and immediately came over to us. We had a huge back-pack, cowboy hats and were quite clearly from out of town.

‘Where ya’ll headed?’ he asked, slurring his words. We told him of our trip across the states and mentioned New Orleans as our next destination.

‘Oh! I’m so jealous. New Orleans was my second home before Katrina hit,’

He went on to list the places we ‘MUST GO!” Bourbon Street was mentioned more than once. ‘Don’t let the smooth taste fool ya!’ He said with a huge grin on his face; wagging his finger. My reaction was typically English.

‘Oh really?’

I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. But the guy was drunk and I was trying to be polite.

We approached New Orleans and the french quarter was where we were headed. It was the area that Bourbon Street was located and our new friend looked like the type of guy who liked a good time. We took his recommendation seriously.

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French Quarter – New Orleans

The city as a whole, was a stunner. It was completely different to the other cities we had visited so far on the trip. It had a distinct style and couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than, well.. New Orleanian!

We found a quaint guesthouse, in a great location, dumped our bags and headed straight out in to the scorching sun.

We had arrived at a weekend which meant there was a market on down by the Mississippi river. It was a great place for us to start our discovery of the real New Orleans. There were  voodoo souvenir stalls, hot sauce stands; We were in our element!

We came across a shop that sold unusual voodoo ornaments, so picked a couple up as presents for back home and approached the counter. A friendly gentleman served us. ‘How’s your day going?’ he asked. We responded bubbling with excitement, ‘Great!’

‘Where’s your accent from? Alabama?’ …

I was always lead to believe that Americans don’t get sarcasm. But don’t be fooled by this common misconception.

‘No we’re from England..’ I cringe as I think back to this.

He burst out laughing. ‘No shit! I was kidding.’

Duh..

Swiftly moving on, which we were stupendously grateful for, he asked if we needed any advice on places to go. We told him our friend in Austin had mentioned Bourbon Street.

‘No, no, no, Bourbon Street is for spring breakers. Its full of strippers and trannys. You want to go to Frenchman Street.’

We thanked him for his politically correct advice and headed on our way. Still a little mortified at our sense of humour failure.

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That evening, we headed out for a night on the town and decided to go to Bourbon Street first. Even if it was a bit hectic, we still wanted to see for ourselves.

The guy from the store wasn’t far off. The street was jam packed with people drinking beer out of plastic cups and shouting over balconies. Although, it didn’t have an intimidating atmosphere like I’d expected. The people were friendly, we were being invited in to bars and the music was blaring. It looked like a fantastic night out. And I could definitely see why it would be a popular spring break destination.

We decided to take a stroll to Frenchman Street to see what all the fuss was about.

We heard the live music before we had even arrived.  The jazz and blues travelled down the street so smoothly, I was half expecting a parade of cats playing instruments to walk past.

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The Aristocats – Disney

We entered the first bar called ‘The Spotted Cat,’ and that is where we fell in love with New Orleans. The atmosphere was euphoric. People were dancing and whooping and the band was in full flow. It felt like we had stepped back in time to the 1940s. The band consisted of an accordion, a french horn, a trumpet, guitar and drums.

For a quick 15 second clip, click on my instagram page: Instagram

We moved towards the bar and decided to try the infamous ‘Hurricane’ cocktail. Every drinks menu we had seen throughout the day had offered this particular cocktail. We had to give it a try!

It was without doubt, the greatest cocktail I had ever tasted. And for those of you that don’t know me, trust that I have ample experience to provide an accurate review.

We were on our third hurricane and the room began to spin. I suddenly had a flashback to Austin. Our friends grinning face flooding my brain ‘Don’t let the smooth taste fool ya!’ echoed through my mind.

‘Oh..’ I thought. ‘Now I get it.’

 

 

Walls and stuff.

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Mutianyu section – The Great Wall of China

There is nothing like being thrown in at the deep end.

When booking our round-the-world trip, I had only one condition. That we were to see the Great Wall of China. It was at the top of my bucket list and had been there since before I can remember.

Our flight to Beijing was booked, but I had no idea what I was in for. You see, there is so much more to China than just a wall.

When we arrived in Beijing, back pack in tow, we were more than a little nervous. We had a print out of directions to our hotel for the night and a list of trains that would get us there.

We were managing just fine until we left the station in downtown Beijing. The pure volume of people alone was enough to leave even the most experienced London commuter flustered. We walked up and down the same street three times before a friendly gentleman in a business suit asked us if we needed any help. He pulled out his cell phone, called the hotel and then took us there without even the slightest grumble or huff. Bidding us a farewell, he went on his merry way having done his good deed for the day. It was that moment that I began to notice the differences between China and home.

One thing I distinctly remember alarming me, was the smog. I had heard about the pollution in Beijing, but I was not prepared for the smell and suffocating sensation it had on my lungs. The sky was literally yellow. Knowing that the Great Wall was not overly far from the city had me worried. I had dreamed of crystal blue sky behind the mountains and taking some arty-farty shots to send back to everyone at home flaunting at how ‘cultural’ I was becoming. The dream was slowly disintegrating and it didn’t help when it started to snow. Health and safety are bound to close off the wall in case people fall off, I thought. (Well, that’s what would happen in England anyway!)

 

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Beijing

We spent a day exploring in the snow heading to various gardens and temples. And to be fair, we were having a great time. Once we got over the initial shock at the hocking and spitting by the locals, we were having a wonderful cultural experience.

One woman approached us holding a camera and smiling. Thinking that she wanted me to take a photo of her, I reached over but was quickly dismissed. After a few moments lost in translation, I realised she wanted to take a photo of US with her husband.. Slightly baffled and surprised, we obliged, holding up our fingers to make the peace sign (which now I think back to could be construed as mildly racist..) as she snapped away. We left feeling what can only be described as a little bit violated.

The morning arrived for us to head to The Great Wall and the first thing I did was head over to the window and check the weather. Still smoggy and grey.  I was gutted. I had visions of being on the wall and not being able to see a thing.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We arrived at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall and the weather was perfect. It was cold, but we couldn’t have asked for a clearer sky. (Proving how truly awful the pollution must be in Beijing).

Thrilled at my initiative to bring a hat, gloves and scarf, we headed toward the wall ready for a steep climb.

Leading up to the wall, there were a few stalls for people to buy souvenirs or some warmer clothing (for the less prepared). A girl in our group decided to take them up on their offer and buy a pretty pink hat so we left her to haggle and decided to take advantage of the facilities.

The smell was something I could cope with. But the balancing was another matter. I had heard about the squatting toilets but until now, I had only peed in the hotel which had fully functioning western toilets. I tried my hardest to angle in the right direction, but failed miserably. Denim is definitely not the best material to hide this kind of mishap. I had two choices. Either stay in there and wait for it to dry out, or splash water all over myself and pretend I had fought with an ill-mannered tap. I chose the tap.

We left the toilets, less than satisfied, when our friend came bounding up to us with her gorgeous new pink hat. It was her first experience of bartering so we congratulated her and asked her how much she had got the price down. She was thrilled that she had only paid 200 Yuan. For those of you not familiar with the currency conversion of Yuan to the Great British Pound, she had just paid £20 (at least) for a flimsy, polyester hat.

But nothing was going to dampen our spirits. We were on the Great Wall of China! And it was everything I dreamed it would be. The scenery was breath-taking and even to this day, one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen.

China me

Me

– M