Monday, September 28, 2009


They don’t sell coyote fat talismans at the local supermarket here in Paihia, which is a disappointment. They have other weird and terrifying products, such as pre-cooked spaghetti in a can, but no amulets, charms or magical spells.

Cruising in New Zealand is different that way.

In Mexico, you always knew your meat was fresh in the market. You knew this by evaluating the fly-to-meat ratio on the eviscerated carcass. Also, the good meat stands had packs of feral dogs hanging around, hoping for scraps. The bad meat stands didn’t have any dogs. This is because they were selling the dogs, butchered and sliced, as carne asada.

The same goes for chickens. In El Salvador, I knew my chicken was fresh, because it was waddling around in a cage with a worried expression on its face. And our Thanksgiving turkey in Guatemala was as fresh as they come. We were secure in this fact, since we’d spent the afternoon chopping its head off with a machete.

But here in the Paihia supermarket, all of the meat is in shrink-wrapped containers, cleaned and labeled and priced. There’s not a fly to be seen, not a maggot, not a dog. The only way to gauge the freshness of the meat is to read the date stamp some joker slapped on the package. And who’s to say if he’s telling the truth? Personally, I’d rather follow the swarm of flies.

There are flies in New Zealand, just a different variety. New Zealand has a teeny-tiny black fly with the scientific name Austrosimulium australense, which is Latin for “Total Fucking Asshole.” Long adopted by Satan as his Minion on Earth, the black fly is the only known insect whose bite is approximately four million times larger than its body. You can’t see them, and you can’t feel their sting. Then, hours later, as you lie snug in your bunk, a welt the size of a silver dollar will appear on your skin. You’ll start itching in your sleep, and you won’t wake up until you have the curious sensation of scratching your own fibula, ribbons of flesh formerly known as your ankle scattering the sheets around you.

Sailing in New Zealand brings another curious challenge, one commonly known as “maintaining personal hygiene.” Our lack of a shower never troubled us in the tropics, since each new anchorage offered a fresh place to swim, usually with excellent snorkeling. Whenever we got a bit sticky, we just hopped in the drink, then pulled ourselves on deck to air-dry in the sunshine. We were clean and suntanned, our skin glittering with salt crystals. It was a halcyon existence really, sort of like Brooke Shields and that blonde guy in Blue Lagoon.

Not so in New Zealand. Wishing to avoid hypothermia, chilblains, and all their attendant discomforts, we don’t swim here. We see quite a few penguins paddling around our boat, but we take that as a sign that the water’s not warm enough for humans. Instead, we stew in our long underwear for days at a time, growing cysts and carbuncles and other plagues of the medieval unwashed.

On the other hand, the water’s safe to drink. There’s Parmesan cheese in the grocery store. Unlike San Salvador, you can walk down the street without being menaced by bored teenagers with pump action shotguns.

So what’s a carbuncle, more or less? As long as we don’t have to eat that tinned spaghetti, we'll just scratch those black fly bites and smile.


  1. Ah yes black flies, one of the reasons I moved away from Ontariariario those many years ago. That and snow and no ocean. Oh and my mother lived there but thats another story. Keep up the good work and try olive oil and a bit of wood as a scraper. The romans swore by it.........martin

  2. Kiwi land does offer one superb packaged food offering; Powdered Milk, the local stuff is great. Unlike the U.S. they don't yank all the cream out of it, hence it tastes quite good. As for the U.S. stuff, it's so nasty tasting that I refuse to buy it.

    The black flies, yeah they're annoying because they bite. But if you make your way to Oz be advised that you will be personally assigned 5 or 10 regular house flies once you've entered the country. They will faithfully follow you around and make your life miserable. They'll buzz about your head seeking the moisture from it. Perhaps that's not a big deal for most Aussies ('cause they live in houses and in cities), but if you're on a boat or traveling in a van's torture.

  3. New Zealand food memories:

    Hokey Pokey Ice Cream: Amazing.
    Meat Pies and other kinds of savory pies.
    Pumpkin Bread Pudding: may be local to the family I was staying with in Auckland, but v.good non the less.