I was watching first-run Star Trek episodes before I ever took a commercial airline flight. I only mention this because there seems to be a gray area for me between transporters and planes. Especially if you agree with horses that clocks don’t really have any connection with time. So, here I am in New Zealand and it either took me 24 hours or a couple of days to get here, but I fell asleep on an airplane and woke up someplace else entirely. I was transported.
Travel Tip#1: Think seriously about what you pack for international travel. I didn’t. I pack what I always pack when traveling to clinics. My trainer clothes. Crocs, the preferred shoe for chronically lame gray mares of a certain age. And my favorite two ropes.
After landing, I’m pulled aside because I have a work visa. The agent asks me what I will do for work and I answer. She stares at me.
“What do you have to declare?” I smile. “Packaged snacks,” I say, because I saw the posters about not allowing fresh food.
“Anything that’s come in contact with livestock?” I lean foward, like any confused tourist. I have a bit of a hearing loss and the accent confuses me.
“Yes, I have my two favorite ropes with me.” She pauses. Looks away, not entirely happy with me. She says something I don’t catch, and they she enunciates.
“Anything else to declare?” I think hard. “No.”
“Do you have boots for your work?” Ack. I’ll be deported. “Yes,” I confess.
The agent goes through my bags, bit by bit. Long silence, I look at my toiletries with new suspicion. She asks me if I’m a horse whisperer. I weigh this question carefully, because I’m a little nervous about my favorite ropes. Because I think that’s a complicated question. I could write a book, but I’m confused about what to declare but I’ve been too slow to answer already. “I guess you could say that.”
The agent tells me to wait there and takes my ropes and boots away. I repack my bags and still have time to wait. After about as long as the flight over, she comes back with a bag of wet boots and a bag of wet ropes. She’s very jovial now and I thank her. I know better; in the last few years, we’ve all disinfected our boots to protect our home barn if there are health issues in our states. I thank her; she’s concerned about horses.
By the time I finally get to the waiting area, so much time has passed from my arrival time that the person picking me up is concerned that something is very wrong. Travel tip #2: If you are picking me up at an international airport, come two hours late. I believe the person who picked me up in Canada would agree.
My first impression of New Zealand? There is a lot of short spikey white hair here. Granted, it’s on older men, but still more than I usually see.
I’m met by a friend-I’ve-never-met, a reader who’s an ex-pat. She’s offered to get me acclimated before my first clinic. We walk through a tropical storm to her car. Winds and rain tossing tropical plants, and the air so warm and moist that my skin relaxes. Living on a high desert prairie, skin can take on the qualities of cardboard. She is apologizing for the weather. It’s the strangest weather for this time of year. Something else I hear absolutely every place I go. Nobody has their usual weather anymore.
Over the next 24 hours, I am treated to a massage at a Zen spa. Body work is a universal language. We have lunch at a restaurant overlooking a black sand beach and the ocean, hard to make out because of torrential rain. By now I’m only missing half the words spoken; I know to order a flat white to drink.
My new friend suggests a local Maori delicacy, no, I don’t quite pick up the name, but I order it. Whitebait. It’s like a crab cake only different. Because it’s made from hundreds of tiny eel-like fish. In this case, local slang is literal.
My biggest concern coming to New Zealand was the language challenge. It’s all English, but I always have to focus really hard during Masterpiece Theatre in PBS. Accents baffle me. I have a bit of a hearing loss on top of that so I tend to keep a slightly alarmed look on my face. The sort of look that might encourage a customs agent to think I have something to hide. And I do; my embarrassment.
I go to bed when it’s dark but it’s impossible to tell what day it is or what day it used to be. I’ve set up a world clock on my phone, but looking at the time there has no connection with reality and it disoriented me more than helping. It’s been a day here but it’s yesterday at home. Guessing the day of the week is impossible. Besides, the light switches here flip the opposite way.
Apparently, crossing the International Date Line alters reality in some way that leaves me unstuck in time. I decide to just trust those who drive to get me where I need to be. Besides, driving on the other side of the road is as baffling as the light switches, but I could kill people trying to drive.
The next morning, another long flat white and I head out to the barn. As my new friend does her chores, I wander through her paddocks. I’ve never seen more beautiful hooves in my life. The soil is so rich that I never see a rib. The challenge is keeping the paddocks hacked down, even the ones with horses on them. Not a challenge we have on the high desert prairie at home.
There’s a warmblood mare in the barn. Thank God for mares. She’s confident and in charge. She watches me from a distance with a royal gaze; golden eyes, large and intelligent. Her coat is caramel and chocolate. I’m a visitor here, she’s cautious and I don’t make assumptions.
We size each other up, sharing breath at a distance. This is the language I know; there’s no confusion of accent or local jargon. Another breath, she licks and snorts out a release, and moving a gelding out of her way, strides a straight line to me. Letting me know there would be no language problem where it matters.