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Monday, 1 May 2017

Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround

Originally, I had planned to stay in the Tasman area for about two weeks. However, since another host unexpectedly summoned me, specifically asking for my help, I found it agreeable to stay in this part of New Zealand for a little bit longer, and so my stay in the Golden Bay area extends into...

At the end of the day, I'm still staying in Takaka, so there's nothing new to be said about the region. This time, however, the place where I'm helping out is located in the town proper.

Since this turn of events became apparent a few days into my stay in Autumn Farm, I planned my strays accordingly, and while the last two weeks were focused on exploring Takaka Valley, the next two weeks should revolve around exploring the coastline, while also helping my new hosts in what I like to call...

The Backpackers Backup

This time, I am helping out in a hostel, which means there is quite a cast of characters to be introduced. First up, there are Henrietta and John, the owners of this place, who are very kind people.

Next, there's Natasha, who functions as a manager of sorts for this place... well as Fyfe, the aged canine loyal soul of the place, who is secretly a super-dog.

Then, there are the other helpers in this place, first of whom is James from New Zealand, the most senior helper around, yet also the first to leave.

Two more helpers who are already in place when I arrive are Laure from France, and Kristina from Czech. They should eventually depart around the halfway point of my stay.

Replacing them are another James - this time from the (yet) United Kingdom - as well as Nils from Germany, and while I get along great with James, things are soon starting to get rough between me and Nils, who like so many of his countrymen displays a disturbing sense of entitlement.

And then, there's naturally plenty of guests. Most of them don't stay for too long, but we do have a group of workers from the Solomon Islands staying on long term, who are working as fruit pickers in the nearby fields, as well as an old traveller by the name of Bob who is a regular guest at this place.

The Place

As I already mentioned, I am helping out in a backpacker's hostel in the town of Takaka this time around.

The place is not too big, but not to small either: Apart from 4 dormitories in the main house, which can host a combined total of about 20 guests, there is also two caravans in the backyard, a little self-contained building known as the honeymoon suite which is ideal for couples, as well as a room in John's and Henrietta's house next door. Allow me to show you around.

My accommodation this time is a humble caravan, which I first share with Laure and Kristina, and later on with James and Nils. It gets kinda cold at night, and is just a little bit of an inconvenience, but I suppose it's still better than a tent (and we do get people putting up their tents in the backyard even at this time of the year).

And I also get some space in the pantry to store my stuff.

However, one of the greatest assets this place offers is a convenient combination of lots of free time, and free bikes...

...and as a direct result of said combination, I should soon find myself on some of the most extensive excursions so far, such as...

Interlude: The Labyrinth Lap

My first ride should take me through the streets of Takaka, and out to Labyrinth Rocks. From there, I should eventually find my way to the sea, do the Jesus, and return back to town - albeit on a rather labyrinthine track.

I begin my trip by choosing an adequate metal mount...

...and setting out onto the streets of Takaka...

...from where it doesn't take long to reach the scenic countryside.

My first destination is Labyrinth Rocks, which - as the name suggests - is a rocky labyrinth that is entirely natural in origin and spreads across several hectares.

Curiously, I do not only find other people exploring this place, but also all sorts of plastic figures, and it takes me a while to make the connection between these strange treasures purposefully placed all over the labyrinth and my visit's proximity to the Easter weekend.

After about an hour, I escape the labyrinth rocks unscathed, and continue on my quest to finally reach the waters of the golden bay. On my way I come past some ponies who have obviously heard the saying about the grass on the other side of the fence... well as a school of fish hunting insects at the mouth of a river.

However, close though I might be to the ocean, my arrival on latter's shore should be delayed for some time yet, due to me catastrophically misreading a certain sign while passing by.

Having mentally registered the sign in passing as "[Beach Name] Beach Access" in passing, I only realize my mistake when I end up in a dead end and have to backtrack all the way. Great job, whoever made this sign. Here are some more suggestions for signs you could place virtually anywhere!

After quite a bit of backtracking indeed, however, I manage to finally make my way to the shore of the Golden Bay - barely three weeks after I arrived in the area!

Since the tide is currently out, I get to watch a colony of sea birds scavenge for food on the mudflats of the estuary.

With the tide out, I can walk across the sandy dunes across the water and to a little island in front of the shore, from where I get but the faintest impression of Farewell Spit in the far distance...

...and as the sun sets over the Takaka Range, I return back to the hostel, to prepare myself for another day's work.

The Job

The work here in the hostel is quite varied. Being an accommodation business, there naturally are rooms to prepare and beds to make...

...but there are also lawns to be mown... well as trees to be mulched up.

Naturally, we the helpers are also required to clean the place up regularly...

...a duty which includes cleaning the bathrooms with chemicals that appear to be wide-spread all around the globe - albeit under slightly different brand names.

However, my true potential is only unleashed when James I, Laure and Kristina suggest I do something about the limited usefulness of the public computers in the game room. After discussing the matter with Henrietta and John, they are more than happy to allocate time for me to have a look at the slightly outdated machines, and what I first imagined to be a job for a day soon turns into an epic odyssey as I do not only bring the left Windows 7 machine up to speed again, but also diligently fight my way through the toils of bringing the right Windows XP (Service Pack 2) back into shape again years after Microsoft officially stopped supporting the outdated operating system of my childhood. It is a long uphill battle which should take me not one afternoon, but rather three full days to fight, but in the end I emerge victorious, and with a kill count of over 1,800 viruses and unwanted programs removed from both machines.

Since this added effort easily catapults me over the required hours at this place, Henrietta and John kindly agree to give me an extra day off, which suits my plans just well, since it makes room in my schedule for...

Interlude: The Rawhiti Ride

My second ride should take me past the Labyrinth Rocks, and into a valley in the Takaka Mountain Range, where I should embark on an adventurous ascent to a spectacular sight. My subsequent return trip should take me right past Autumn Farm, and although time should not allow a brief visit, I would nonetheless make my presence known in that special way of communication that is unique to me and me alone.

After a quick ride which among others takes me across the Motupipi Stream...

...and into the mountains along a gravel road, which is quite adventurous to travel on this bike of mine.

As I approach the Rawhiti Track, I curiously notice a family of turkeys on the flank of a nearby hill, and wonder whether they belong to a local farmer, or are feral neozoons...

...and then, I finally arrive at the point from where it is impossible to continue on by bike.

So I tie up my metal mount at a nearby fence, and embark on a track that has serious written all over it, starting subtly with seriously entangled vines...

...continuing with seriously disguised Geocaches...

...proceeding along a seriously haggard trail...

...and eventually graduating to an ambitious ascent along seriously slippery slopes, where I occasionally require the assistance of conveniently placed vines to proceed.

But the effort is well worth it, as I climb the final crest to see this:

At first glance, it may look like the mouth of an impressive, yet ordinary stalagmite cavern. However, Rawhiti Cave - the name of which means "Sunrise Cave" in the Māori language - is a nationally significant phytocarst. Unlike normal stalagmite caverns in which stalagmites and stalactites are formed through gradual deposition of calcium, in a phytocarst such as this plants like algae and moss actively contribute to the growth of the stalagmites and -tites, which is only possible due to the unique geological features of this location, which allows for water to drip in from above while also permitting for some sunlight to permeate into the depths of the cavern.

After a while of marvelling at this masterpiece of nature, I turn around to begin my descent, only to take note of just how high up the mountain the track has lead me so far.

And even though the climb up here was already challenging, the way back down is nothing short of calamitous, with slippery muddy tracks turning into greasy slides that make me seriously ponder the option of just skipping all the hassle and skidding down the track on my backside.

But in the end, I manage to make my way back to my bike without barely ever slipping. Glad to have solid ground beneath my feet again, I proceed to return back to Takaka via the scenic route.

Passing by Autumn Farm along the way, I hail them with my unique chirping ability. Those who have met me will likely remember the peculiar, high-pitched and piercing noises I am somehow able to produce. Throughout my travels I still have not met someone who has the same uncanny talent. But for now, it is time to return back to the backpackers, where I have yet to prepare a hearty dinner for the night.

The Food

Little though the workload at this place may be, it comes at a price: Although accommodation, internet and laundry are free, we have to food provide for ourselves. The one exception to this is breakfast, which contains of a lovely home-made müsli.

Although, since this breakfast is limited to one scoop per day and person, I'm grateful when Bob generously augments it with bonus-pancakes...

...and being a fox, I most certainly won't scorn free grapes.

Since I have to pay for my own food, and my resources are limited, I limit myself to quite humble lunches...

...which doesn't mean that I can't occasionally indulge myself in very affordable and cuteness-overloaded hazelnut spread.

Dinnertime is when I allow my culinary skills to shine, whipping up time-tested favourites of mine, such as Gamm Ligeral, Naleiayafero or Schweinefiletzgeschnetzeltes.

Once per week, every Wednesday, there is also an event known as potluck, where every participant provides a dish, and people can go around and help themselves to small servings of every meal, kind of like a random buffet.

And finally, after James II and Nils arrive, the opportunity also presents itself for me to bake legendary tri-Tail pizza for the three of us. Using the tools of the trade, I create an amazing meal for my companions, and they are just as delighted to devour it as I am making it.

Yes, the three of us got along really well for some time, and although circumstances should eventually turn Nils and myself against one another, these developments were as of yet unknown when we undertook...

Interlude: The Salmon Sidetrip

This trip marks a first, since it doesn't take me anywhere I haven't been before. Instead, it results as a result of me volunteering to show James II and Nils the way to the Anatoki Salmon Farm, which I passed during my trip into Rainbow Valley two weeks ago. This time, however, we do have the advantage of bikes, and hence can cover the expanse of the Long Plain Road in a matter of minutes. Had I had a bike on my first visit here, I might have been able to make it all the way to the end of the Rainbow Valley.

As we arrive, we stop by the paddock on the other side of the road to marvel at some very tame deer, and I only barely manage to snatch my camera away before one of the ungulates tries to nibble at it.

However, that is not the reason why we have come here. The big attraction of Anatoki Salmon Farms is the option to try your hand at fishing and subsequently have your catch prepared in one of various ways. The attendant gives us a quick crash-course on fishing, and soon enough the three of us are at the lake, trying our luck with the rod.

One essential lesson that I have learned from video games is that fishing is all about patience, and as such I am not disappointed by the fact that I don't get a bite for quite a while, nor do I despair when a fish gets away. However, the staff of Anatoki Salmon Farms is less patient, and since we only have to pay for what we catch eventually sends an employee our way to help us make a catch before they close down for the day. Certainly enough, after a bit of helpful advice (as well as generous amounts of bait provided by the attendant), Nils has a big salmon on the hook...

...although in retrospective he regrets having made the catch as he realizes his success entails finishing off the struggling fish by putting a nail through its brain.

Knowing the steep price of these fish, we decide to call it a day with his catch, and split both the costs and the meal between the three of us, feasting on the freshly smoked salmon, which is without a doubt the freshest fish I have ever eaten.

On the way home James II and I introduce Nils to Geocaching, and with his amazing climbing prowess are able to reach two previously unattainable caches.

We return to the hostel at the fall of night, and for once I'm quite happy to have met good friends not only in James II, but also in Nils, who would be the second German person on this trip with whom I got along. Or so it would have been, had not Nils gradually begun displaying more antagonizing behaviour towards me.

What happened? Well, I guess it started that night when Nils had invited a girl over into the caravan to watch Lord of the Rings on his laptop - a performance that lasted till past midnight, and within the close confines of our small caravan too. Wanting to be a good friend, I did not complain about it even as I curled up on my bed with the intent to sleep - after all, he did keep the volume of the movie to a tolerable level. However, what he did not keep to a tolerable level was the volume of his own voice as he commented on it as if he was sitting in his own living room at home. After my first civil request for quiet failed to reach Nils, who was probably also mildly intoxicated that night, I resorted to a more memorable and playful attempt to reach him, and while my unorthodox new approach - which admittedly was probably heavily influenced by my half-asleep state and the entailing loss of control over my vulpine nature - certainly provided the desired result and allowed me to sleep in peace while still allowing Nils and his date to finish watching the movie right there in the caravan and at that time, I fear that it might have been a bit too much for 20-year-old Nils' poor young mind to handle, as the resentment began the next day at breakfast.

I tried remaining open and approachable all the while even as his antagonizing behaviour stacked up against me, until he eventually left the hostel a few days prior to my own departure, with things still unresolved between us. Oh well. I have no regrets. I suppose that unlike James II - who also witnessed the triggering event from his bed in the caravan - people like Nils are simply not mentally prepared for dealing with unorthodox people like me. That is one of the reasons why I usually keep my true vulpine nature well concealed. Yet I step forward, hoping to meet cosmopolitan people on my journeys, from whom I do not have to hide my true self.

The Flair

Being not only in the heart of Takaka, but literally all over the place with my borrowed bike, there is naturally quite a number of amazing or interesting things to be discovered about. Let us begin with something that I have named one of the trademarks of New Zealand, yet did not explicitly refer to in my last few posts: Intricate murals!

As I venture into the store to send birthday cards to my family back home, I spot a neat addition to my accessories on the shelves. With this vibrant pen in my possession, I can now finally sign my Geocache logs in orange! Later on, Nils should almost lose it as I let him borrow it to sign a cache up a tree, but fortunately only almost.

Also, while cleaning the hostel, I not only come across a coaster with very distinctive life advice...

...but also the holiest of all mints... well as a beer with a rather unique marketing strategy.

By the way, all of you who have a romanticised image of a common room full of youngsters idly chatting with one another when hearing the word "hostel", let go of all delusions. This is what a common room looks like in the 21st century:

Meanwhile, James II takes a genuine interest in the world of Ceal which I am working hard on...

...and the very stylish cat from the next hostel over takes an interest in me on one of my shopping trips.

As I browse the supermarket in search for patches to fix my clothes with, I realize that even after 19 years of study, the English language still finds ways to surprise me with new words in everyday places.

Even though I don't find something as simple as patches there,I still manage to track down suitable cloth in a store in town known as the Junk Palace, and manage to patch up my favourite pants - which by now have seen quite some wear and tear. Still, considering what I paid for these particular pants, I would have expected them to last longer than this. Why, I still remember the day when Daniela and I went shopping together and she helped me track down the elusive orange trousers.

Another interesting thing I come across on my shopping trips is the local bike shop, the name of which takes several moments to fully appreciate...

...and the windows of which warrant a closer look even if you're not looking into buying a bike.

By the way, that's not a frying pan...

That's a frying pan!

And finally, just a few days before I move on, I go out to view the local Anzac Day parade. Observed annually on the 25th of April, Anzac Day commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Officially established in 1916 to commemorate the massive losses which the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) suffered in World War I, Anzac Day has ever since been a day to honour the fallen soldiers of both countries. Here in Takaka, the day is observed with a march of the local fire brigade accompanied by the city marching band, followed by a formal speech in the city square.

Interlude: The Eastern Exploration

Whereas my previous rides were only half-day afternoon trips, this ride should be an epic day trip all the way to Wainui and back, and is an order of magnitude above the scale of my previous rides here on Takaka, and on a level with some of the rides I ventured on back in Christchurch.

Following the familiar road past Labyrinth Rocks, I soon find myself on unfamiliar terrain as I cycle further to the east than ever before, my first stop along the way being the scenic Grove Reserve...

...where I follow the footpath through the lush forest and eventually a narrow chasm...

...and am rewarded with a marvellous panorama of the Takaka valley, the likes of which I didn't even get from atop the nearby mountains.

As I cycle up the Upper Rocklands Road in search of a cache, I come across yet another creative mailbox built by the third little piglet...

...but also a not-so-subtle vocabulary lesson for German drivers who have somehow made it all the way out here driving on the wrong side of the road.

Further down the road, in Pohara, I come across a holiday park the owner of which had the idea for getting the name of his establishment up in all Google-searches (right up there with the "Going out of business" electronics store)...

...and enter the territory where beaches are still real beaches...

...roads cutting through cliffs are still real roads cutting through cliffs...

...and cute little toilets adorned with penguin iconography are still cute little toilets adorned with penguin iconography.

The road up and down the coastal cliffs is quite curvy, and thus large, hand-painted billboards warn drivers to watch out for cyclists and penguins alike. I for one dearly hope the drivers take these warnings to heart as I toil up the winding slopes with many blind spots.

The next prominent feature on my trip is the Tasman monument, which commemorates the "discovery" of New Zealand by Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman on the 13th of December 1642...

...and allows for a striking view of Golden Bay as well.

The monument is located quite high atop one of the many cliffs around here, and as I take my time to look around, I spot two people taking their canine companions for a walk in the refreshingly cool waters below on this relatively warm autumn day.

My next stop is Tata Beach, which not only has its eponymous beach to be proud of...

...but also amazing rocks to climb upon, as well as pristine waters to surround them.

It is here that I sit down on a scenic view platform high above the beach...

...and refuel on some müsli bars, as well as good old water. Being a responsible fox, I naturally take the wrapping paper with me and dispose of it back in the hostel.

If you think that this midday meal (which I admittedly ingested only at about 2pm) would mark the culmination of my trip, you are sorely mistaken. There is still one more pass to scale, and one more bay to discover, so I hit the road again with newly gathered strength, and tackle the final pass to Wainui Bay, which is the last outskirt of civilization before the Abel Tasman national park, and hence the eastern terminus of Golden Bay.

It is a place where people apparently don't care about freaking 200-hectare inlets that get into the way of their coastal tracks...

...or their power lines for that matter. I can just hear the discussion going: "So, if we build the line around the perimeter on the inlet, it will take about 2 weeks and cost 60 grand... Oh fuck it! We'll just do it the direct way! Water or not!"

My sole regret is that I do not have enough time to visit the Wainui Falls, which are located at the end of yet another track...

...but the shadows are already growing longer, and I am painfully aware of the fact that I have yet to scale the same three passes which I crossed on my way here in order to get back.

Sure enough, as I cycle back, exhaustion soon spreads through my limbs, and I am only too grateful when I arrive back at the hostel just short of sundown and have nothing to take care of except for preparing a rewarding meal.

The Retrospective

Overall, staying at the Barefoot Backpackers was a pleasant enough experience. The work was varied and interesting, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and having a bike to explore the surrounding area was definitely a strong plus, since it enabled me to get around a big part of Cable Bay by myself. The facilities were good (although the showers' hot/cold fluctuations were a bit annoying), and having unlimited WiFi is certainly convenient. The downsides included having to sleep in a tight, shared, cold caravan, and the fact that I had to pay for two out of three meals a day myself. These downsides are offset, however, by a very light overall workload, which earn this place the highest Work-Value-Ratio so far, even despite all the extra hours I spent working on the PCs.

Having enjoyed my stay here with Henrietta, John, Natasha and Fyfe, I naturally prepare a piece of gift artwork for them prior to my departure...

...and they are so thrilled by it that they insist on taking a picture with me before I depart.

But wait! There's more! I know I've already been over a lot, but there is yet one last adventure which I haven't told you about, namely...

Interlude: The Collingwood Challenge

Never again have I undertaken a trip quite as daring as this one, and with the days only getting shorter now that winter is rapidly approaching here on the southern hemisphere, it is unlikely that I will be able to break the records for both distance and duration which I set on that fateful day when I resolved to cycle not only all the way from Takaka to Collingwood, but also take several side trips along the way. All in all it racked up to well over 70km in 10 hours, as well as attempting 15 Geocaches and finding 10 of them.

Still, after mastering the ride to Wainui, I am confident that I can do it, and I set out at the crack of dawn...

...and set out on the long road to Collingwood.

With the sun still low in the sky, it is yet quite cool. However, since I'm well aware of how hot I'll get cycling up the four passes on the way to Collingwood - especially when the orbital photon blaster reaches its full potency around noon - I have chosen to leave my trusty jacket behind and endure the cool morning air as I cross the Takaka River very close to its mouth this time, marvelling at its calm, mirror-like waters this close to the ocean.

As I cycle up the first pass just north of Takaka, I notice a curious installation for the protection of cyclists such as me. It appears to be dysfunctional as of yet, but I make a mental note of it anyway.

Fortunately I manage to pass this apparently perilous saddle without any incidents...

...and soon take a turn to the right to make a side trip to my first destination: Patons Rock.

I'm not sure what I expected of this place, but it was probably more. To be honest, the main reasons why I came here were that fact that two Geocaches are hidden around this place, and the realization that for a cycling trip this long a couple of intelligently-spaced breaks along the way would probably greatly enhance my overall performance. Nonetheless, I'm just a little bit disappointed by the bland scenery. However, all frustration is soon forgotten as I find a curious creature crawling along the beach. At first, I mistake it for a hermit crab, but soon enough it reveals its coleopteric nature to me.

As I continue on my path, I pass by what must be every action gamer's favourite camping ground...

...and climb the second of the four passes on the way to Collingwood. This time around, it's not a saddle, so I get a great view of the surrounding landscape.

My second stop along the way takes me to a nameless beach at the end of Washbourne Road, and yet I find it infinitely more endearing than Patons Rock, since it not only has random seashell installations...

...or colourful pancake-clifffaces...

...but also something which the literate hitchhiker will recognize as a telltale sign of an Eddy in the space-time continuum.

Regrettably, sitting on it does not send me to an alternate time and space though, and so I continue my journey past piscine post boxes...

...and reach my third stopover of Parapara Beach just after clearing the third of the four passes.

As I take a breather here, I make a mental note to reach the fine-print extra carefully should I even consider buying into real estate hear in Parapara.

Now there's only one last climb left before I finally reach my long-awaited destination!

If Takaka is a town, than Collingwood is a village at best, and as I finally arrive at about lunchtime, I stand in awe of its three different roads.

Shortly thereafter, I sit down by the side of the Aorere River's estuary, and enjoy my well-earned lunch...

...before going down to the beach and taking in the serene panorama, realizing that this is probably the closest I'll ever get to Farewell Spit.

Setting out from Collingwood shortly thereafter, I realize that the mailmen in this part of the world sure have their work cut out for them. Just imagine counting down these numbers!

As for me... I've still got my own fair share of work ahead of me.

Having realized how tough a long uninterrupted ride can be on my way home from Wainui, I have wisely divided my side-trips evenly among both the ride to Collingwood and the Ride back to Takaka. My first side-trip on the way back takes me into the Milnthrope Reserve...

...where I meet a curious and bold Weka-bird while looking for Geocaches. Although this ground-dwelling bird may look a lot like a Kiwi at first glance, the two species are actually completely unrelated. Unlike Kiwis which are rather shy and nocturnal, Wekas are pretty bold and diurnal, as I should soon learn, but more about that in the next chapter.

After walking through a part of the reserve, I backtrack to my bike and proceed to ride down a track that is marginally more bike-worthy.

There, I soon come across another cleverly hidden cache, which is only easy as long as you know under exactly which of the countless rocks on the leafy forest floor the cache is hidden...

...and proceed to find a one-of-a-pair road on my way back towards Takaka.

Near the village of Onekaka, I take yet another side-trip along a green wilderness path...

...which proceeds to prove that there are mystical overgrown forest ruins to be found even in this remote part of the world.

By now, it's high time for me to wrap up my trip, as the sun is already setting behind the western mountaintops, and night starts to spread its tenebral cloak over the land.

With no lights on my bike, I realize it is imperative to make haste and hurry back to Takaka before I'm trapped in complete darkness. Fortunately, the cyclist-protection-device which I noticed about 10 pages ago appears to be functional now, alerting motorists of my presence as I traverse the final pass to Takaka.

And then, just at the end of civil dusk, I finally reach the Barefoot Backpackers again, exhausted and hungry, but unhurt and accomplished.

What a trip! And with that, my explorations of the Takaka Valley and Golden Bay finally come to an end. Looking at the lot of them, I realize that the only other place where I've gotten around anywhere near as much must have been Christchurch.

Having done all these trips during my month here in Takaka, I feel quite satisfied, and finally begin looking forward to...

The Road Ahead

The next leg of my journey takes me to Cable Bay, which is just a bit to the north of Nelson. At 126km, it is one of the shorter segments of my journey, yet still takes a couple of hours to complete.

It's a rainy day when I leave. Fortunately, I only have to walk about ten minutes to the local iSite, from where the bus to Nelson departs.

And then, its back aboard the bus through the Takaka Valley, up into the takaka Mountains, above the clouds, and down again into the Tasman Lowlands.

This time around, the bumpy and quite speedy trip through all the bends and switchbacks is quite nauseating, and I have to hold back a fit of nausea by the time we finally reach level ground again. Grateful to be off the bus, I wait to be picked up at the iSite. Since Cable Bay is a bit off the beaten track, I have no way of getting there by public transport. Fortunately I was able to find a host who could give me a lift from Nelson, and soon enough I'm on the way to my next destination.

As we arrive, I am rendered positively speechless: Not only is the scenery quite fantastic despite the bleak weather...

...but the place itself is really amazing...

...and for the first time in almost a month do I get my very own private room again - complete with a comfortable bed, a heater, and a space for Liete, my trusty laptop.

Overwhelmed by waves of gratitude, I set out to make myself useful right away, almost certain that I should enjoy my stay here in this little slice of heaven. But that is another story, and shall be told at another time.

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