Travel Blog: Whitebait for Lunch

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.

My host’s beautiful farm on the outskirts of Auckland.

“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.

Language lessons: This is a vintage Impala pulling a caravan. Not a trailer and not a float.

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.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 

82 comments

  1. I just knew horses were multilingual, even granting ours is the same language. Thanks for the confirmation!

    • Coffee and milk. Here’s the best part; the motel I’m in now is eco-friendly. Recycle in the room, large refillable soap containers instead of those small plastic ones, and at the front desk, she asked if I took milk and then handed me a small glass milk bottle like we had in grade
      school. Local milk in a reusable bottle, for my french press coffee in my room. Love this place.

  2. Beautiful!
    I’ve been there once and would love to go back.
    A very hearty and positive country!

  3. It has been a tough month here in Mississippi. Your post this morning was like starting the day with the world’s best mindfulness meditation–who knew a horse across the world could do that? (Besides you and probably most of your readers?)

  4. What a beautiful and pertinent post. I’ve flown for years, all over the US, but never out of the country. But, I still get the butterfly jitters every time I go until on board and away. Last year during a visit to my sister, she said she had a surprise for me. After many trips being dragged around to stores and shopping centers by her, she took me to a local feed store near a ranch where I could see and smell the horses, and shop in a place I was comfortable. The description of New Zealand makes me want to travel more. I just renewed my passport for a trip to Alaska via Canada. I’m so excited. I love to open my email and see a post from you. Starts my day off the right way.

  5. And now I’ve finally been to New Zealand. Thank you, Anna! I can’t wait to go in person. This: “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 problems where it mattered.” I knew that would show up at some point and I can’t wait to hear more about the horses “down under” too!

  6. What a beautiful essay. Hooray for the kind and resourceful customs officer! And I do envy you your ability to sleep on long flights. I wish I were better at that. I hope the rest of the visit is as lovely as this promising start!

  7. I married a Kiwi so have been to New Zealand many times. You are spot on with your observations. Have a great time! But yuck, no whitebait for me!!

  8. Welcome to New Zealand! It is going to be great to meet you in person after reading your inspiring books.

  9. You made it! And found the perfect welcoming “committee”! Hope to hear lots more about the country and the horses. (people too)

  10. WELCOME ANNA :), My hubby Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed and laughed all the way through reading your post. He got a rundown on the fact that you’re a ‘horsewhisperer’ from me, when he asked about you . He probably only understands that jargon due to the fact he’s sat through ‘The Horse Whisperer’ film a couple of times in the past and it was also watched by our horse crazy grandaughter and I a couple of days ago. My! What a different perspective I have on horse training since I’ve learned a more positive way. I saw this film in a totally different light since watching it the first time years ago, and was able to ‘school’ grand daughter on how not to train a horse, during the movie. I do have to confess that the best part of the movie is Robert Redford! By the way I live with short spikey white hair: well no, the hair’s not mine :).

    Being retirees, Bruce and I conitually have trouble of not knowing what day it is, so you’re not on your own there. Imagine living with it LOL.

    If you think it’s strange that light switches work upsidedown, then you must ask to have a bath rather than a shower to witness that yes, we truly do live upsidedown here. The water turns the opposite direction when the plug is pulled to what it does in the northern hemisphere: something to do with the different pull of gravity in this hemisphere. I do hope your hosts don’t have what we call ‘two way’ light switches because they will absolutley confuddle you !

    Oh, and we probably choose to drive on the left side of the road because Kiwi logic says it’s safer than driving on the right side- not that we see a lot of evidence of that though it tends to be the ‘other’ driver’s fault.

    Must say I totally agree with you about universal language as breathing, laughter and love have no foreign accent.

    I hope you enjoy your stay here downunder. Wish I was there learning more. This is my way of connecting with you. Bless you. Billie Stenhouse.

    • Billie, thanks for the tips, I’m loving this country, but more than that, the horses are riders and just the best. (I remember seeing the Horse Whisperer and thinking the same thing!) Thanks, Billie

  11. One time I was traveling up to northwest Canada on the airlines. I had my “carrot stick” with me. The airline people were bending over backwards to be nice to me and even gave me a seat in first class. I later realized they thought my carrot stick was a sight aid–they thought I couldn’t see!

    Hope you have a wonderful time Anna!

  12. So happy for you Anna!!! I am from Rotorua and try to get back every summer but life has interfered and I haven’t been back in three years. Say hi to Bex for me!! 🙂 I hope the weather improves for you. It’s been pretty outrageous according to my family. Too hot and too rainy – more like tropical weather. I look forward to more reports on your adventures and new friends.

    • Yes, Bex is smart and funny and making a difference for horses. We’ve had perfect weather and the participants and horses have been just great… Thanks, Lyndsey.

  13. Lovely story -made me smile, especially the connection with the mare -transcends cultures, countries and human language!

    • Horses are so dependable that way. It’s a interesting thing to need to listen so closely to sort the accents of humans, and the horses have a universal language. Thanks, Susan.

  14. Love your writing, Anna…always thought provoking and full of empathy. Thanks for sharing your adventures…

  15. I love the tale of the beginning of this great adventure. So far, you and I have had the same initial problems with time and language. I often found myself listening to how words were pronounced rather than what was being said. Bad when I was expected to reply. But I got the hang of it eventually – other than entirely different words for the same things. Loved being in New Zealand. I was completely turned around and upside down when I got back home. Can’t wait for the next message and how the clinics go. Have fun!

  16. Thank you for such a wonderfully detailed report on your time travels and adventures. You’ve taken us right along with you and I can’t wait to read more. Have fun!

  17. Such a good read. Thank you for posting about your travels with your usual good sense of humor. Enjoy your time in NZ, and hope that you may get the chance to connect with Maree McAteer while you are there.

  18. I recognize my beautiful friend Corey Mindlin as your new friend! I loved reading about her and the wonderful farm where she lives. I look forward to reading more of your very clever articles.

  19. I have not checked your blog in awhile. Glad I did today. Fun post. Enjoy your trip and the international language of the horse. Happy for you and the dude rancher on this adventure.

  20. So glad you made it to New Zealand!! Looking forward to travelling vicariously along with you. I laughed at your airport arrival adventure… i hope this time it wasn’t as alarming as when you arrived in Winnipeg :)… and to all your future hosts outside the US… 2 hours AFTER your expected arrival time should be the perfect time to pick you up!! Take care and have fun!!

  21. Love that you are here Anna and love your work.Your approach to horses is seoond to done and so easy to ollow.You will have a lot of friends and fans here.

    • Thank you, Jenny. I am having the best time. I thought all the participants at the Cambridge clinic were wonderful; so interested in doing the very best for their horses! Great to meet you and your family, from one gray mare to another. 🙂

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