Saturday, March 29, 2008

March 10, 2008 - Rangitata

Our rafting trip on the Buller last month left us wanting to experience more difficult rapids. According to our Rough Guide, the best place to run class 5 rapids in New Zealand, other than heli rafting trips (which are decidedly not in the budget), is the Rangitata River. So we signed ourselves up for a run down the River in the Sky. What the guide book failed to mention was that this glacier fed river was frickin' cold.

We had a great time. Check out Sten's expressions in the series of pictures below - he is the one in the red helmet. They crack me up. I'm wearing (an orange helmet and) the exact same shit-eating grin in all of them.

After two rafting trips and a sledging trip, we're still craving more white-water experiences. If we ever live in the mountains, we would definitely take up white-water kayaking.
After the trip we had lunch with the other two couples who were in our raft. We all hung out for a bit trading traveling stories. One couple, from London, is on a year long trip around the world. The other couple, from Australia, work for a few months, then pick up and travel until the money runs out. When he introduced himself as a "boilermaker" I thought he was joking. Turns out that it is more than just a drink.

We are impressed by how many people we have met in New Zealand who are taking time off from their jobs and careers to travel. Mind you, none of them are Americans. Traveling (and I'm not talking about a 1 or 2 week holiday here) just isn't part of our culture like it is for Europeans. We both think that the British Gap Year and German Wanderjahr, a year of travel between high school and college, is a terrific tradition, one which should be embraced by more Americans. One of the four women who shared my freshman year quad at Bryn Mawr deferred starting college for a year to travel around Europe. She was so much more grounded and focused than the rest of us fools, who were just a little too thrilled about being away from home to buckle down that first semester.

We've met several Kiwis and Europeans who have mocked the way Americans travel - flocking to 7 day cruises or packaged tours that don't provide any real opportunity to experience a foreign culture. When we've explained the limited amount of vacation time Americans are granted people have been shocked. Once they recover, the follow-up question is usually "Well, why don't you just take a career break." Then we explain how most American employers just don't support the notion of taking off for a sabbatical or extended leave to travel. Whether it is true or not, American employers tend to perceive each of their employees as essential (at least until the next recession . . .). Most employers will let you know, subtly or bluntly, that taking more than a week off at any time is considered to be too great inconvenience to customers and clients. American employees are too afraid to take the chance that their boss might realize that they could get along without them. Asking to do so could hurt your chances of being promoted. No wonder Americans tend to check themselves into all-inclusive resorts to spend a week getting bongo on free pina coladas, rather than dealing with the hassles of really traveling.

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