Tuesday, January 31, 2006
In case you’re not in the know, a possum is a marsupial (carries its young in a ventral pouch, like kangaroos and wallabies) that looks like a cross between a rat and a cat. It’s about two feet long with small sharp claws (for climbing), a long, bare, prehensile tail (for hanging and balance), a long snout and large reflective eyes (like a raccoon). They have very fine, soft, brown to grey fur.
Possums eat only the newest growth on the vegetation of New Zealand, and so inhibit the productivity of the vast expanse of rainforest, especially on the west coast of the South Island. To be precise, they consume 21,000 tons of new vegetation every night. Every night. Yes, that means every time the sun comes up in New Zealand, 42,000,000 pounds of vegetation have been eaten, processed, and excreted by possum GI tracts. And used to make more possum babies, of which there are many in a litter. (They reproduce like rabbits, in fact.)
So what do you do with possums in a country where they’re not native and so destructive to the native habitat? First, you run them over with your car. On our bus ride from Wanaka to Fox Glacier we had a couple of folks who saw a dead possum on the side of the road. Considering the animal “cute,” these folks emitted a collective “Awww,” as if to say, “How sad that the poor cute thing is lost to the world.” The driver came over the intercom—because he wanted us all in on this lesson in New Zealand culture—and said, “Bullocks! There will be no weeping and moaning over possum roadkill. If anything, we’ll drink to its demise. If you’re ever driving around New Zealand and see a live one, run it over!” He then proceeded to explain the background to such a cultural hatred of the species.
You can also kill possums (which, as should be clear by now, New Zealanders take great pleasure in doing) and use their pelts for all sorts of clothing and home goods. One of the most expensive materials in the New Zealand clothing industry is merino wool (especially soft wool made from a specific variety of sheep found in New Zealand) blended with possum fur. Since possum fur and merino wool are the same thickness, they can be blended together. The resultant fabric is über-soft. If you’re not into wearing possum remnants, then the least you can do is hang the pelt on your wall and say that you’ve done your bit for nature conservation in New Zealand.
Disclaimer: Remember, kids, don’t kill possum in Australia. It’s against the law and the Greenies over there will drink to your demise instead. Make sure you’re in the right country Down Under before you take off on your possum hunt!
Finally, you can eat possums. This hadn’t really occurred to me until our bus stopped somewhere between Franz Josef and Hokitika on the west coast at a place called “The Bushman’s Centre.” As it turns out, “Bushman” is New Zealander for “hick” or “redneck” or “hillbilly.” The tourist centre (at the doors of which you were greeted by large plastic statues of red-eyed possums) was an architectural marvel after the shanties of bayou Louisiana and rural West Virginia. There were signs at the café making fun of the “city-slicker” drinks served in places like Auckland, Wellington, and Wanaka: “long black,” normally referring to a half espresso, half water, was understood by a Bushman to be “Michael Jordan”; a “flat white,” akin to a latte in many areas, was here “an Englishman run over by a car.” Outside on a fence post sat a toilet bowl with a sign that read, “Ladies’ toilet.” Quite a place to take tourists. I wonder if New Zealanders bring their kids here to see how the other half lives.
Oh, and they serve “Pete’s Possum Pie.”
Pete is the Bushman’s version of Mikey from the old Life cereal commercials. From all the things labeled with his name on the menu, it seems that Pete would eat anything the other kids wouldn’t eat. Next to the glass case with sandwiches labeled “pig, tomato, and cheese,” was a heated cabinet with “possum pies: $4.00.” Like a beef pot pie—you know, the kind you get in the freezer section of your local grocery store—but with possum.
Perhaps it is the fact that New Zealanders refer to possums as “vermin”; perhaps it is because the visage of a possum resembles that of a large rat; perhaps it is because it’s a soft furry animal that, the last time you saw one, was flat on the hot asphalt with a tire tread running down its back; whatever the reason, there’s a visceral response to the idea of eating possum. The initial thought of it is sickening. Only a Bushman, someone with baggy overalls and a penchant for the obscene, would consider eating possum. But here it was: Pete’s Possum Pie.
The answer is yes: I paid my four dollars and ate one possum pie. Possum tastes surprisingly like chicken.
Monday, January 30, 2006
He had a taste for discussion of philosophy, so we rambled on about it for a while. At length he asked if I wanted to play checkers (there was a chess and checkers board at the backpacker), and I agreed to it. It turned out he was rather good at the game—he said from hours of playing on the computer at work—and so I learned a few of the basics of strategy from him. It had been years and years since I’d played the game.
When it was discovered that I was willing to engage in philosophical discussion and that I was a sort of Christian thinker, he turned our discussion towards the problem of evil in the world, and then further to the matter of ethics. As the conversation progressed, it seemed that his interest in good, evil and ethics was not simply academic—then again, for whom is it truly academic? He alluded to a few dilemmas in which he found himself, especially given his current line of work in the stock market and investments. He observed that it was difficult to be an economist and stock market player without succumbing to, or at least supporting, human greed and selfishness.
Though we were not able to solve any of the world’s big problems, I came away from that long, deep conversation with a greater appreciation for how some people walk through life with more questions than answers. Some of those questions can cut to the very quick of how and why we live the way we do. I reckon the world tends to give greater value to answers than to the questions, which might make it difficult to ask the really tough questions. Nonetheless, if there are others like this man from Auckland out there in the world, there is a market for folks who are willing to wrestle with the big overarching challenges of life. And for those who are willing to listen and help others in their own wrestling matches.
Fox Glacier was originally named Albert Glacier for its discoverer. When New Zealand became a sovereign nation (I’m not sure the exact date on which that happened) her first prime minister was William Fox. PM William decided to visit Albert Glacier, and when he did so he enjoyed its beauty and its grandeur so much that he decided to re-name it after himself. (Apparently prime ministers can rename national features of natural wonder at will.) As our guide told us this story—we were mostly foreigners, you know—we scoffed at the arrogance of such a thing. But our guide added then, “Well, the move was not without merit. You see, he did produce a beautiful watercolour painting of the glacier which now hangs in Such-and-such a museum in Wellington.”
Mental note: while in Europe, paint a watercolour of the Charles Bridge and tell them to rename it the Emrys Bridge. Or do I have to become the PM of the Czech Republic first?
A glacier sliding down into temperate rainforest is a thing to behold. Fox Glacier looks as if God stood at the top of this long green forested gorge and dumped a trillion-gallon bucket of crushed ice down into the valley. As we approached the glacier by hiking up the side of the valley through hot moist, ferny forest, we were confronted by this massive flow of white chunks that stands about four stories high and fills up the valley from side to side. The closer we get, however, the more we see the grey streaks of dust and stone that are a part of the glacier, built up over years of rockfall and dust landing on the ice then being covered by another winter’s snowfall. The pressure of gravity pulling the glacier down the gorge makes the whole mass buckle and crimp along the top surface forming long cracks, deep crevices, and spiky ridges. The top surface of the glacier is like a miniature alpine mountain range in itself.
I had expected the surface of the glacier to feel like snow. Instead, it felt like the surface of a half-melted, half-hardened snow cone (as you get at the carnival). And sharp! One little slip while trying to position a photo I was taking sliced up my knee. Definitely not powdery snow. Rivulets of clear water run down the glacier’s surface and collect in pools, some as big as a quarter and others like a bathtub. The silt settles to the bottom of the pools—or gets stuck on the surface of the ice—so the water is pure.
It’s blue. The whole glacier when struck by the sun has a luminous pale blue colour, as do the pools that collect on the glacier’s surface. When the ice cracks and streams erode a cavern in the ice, the walls glow with a light that resembles the sky. Truly awesome. God did a good job with glaciers.
Before we get on the surface of the glacier our guide gives us crampons to strap to our boots (given to us by the company—the wearing of someone else’s boots has a whole other story to it) and up we go on steps cut fresh every morning by the guide company. As he hops along ahead of us like a mountain goat in the Alps, we trudge along and try to get the hang of stepping down flat-footed. No heel-toe, heel-toe here. The crampon’s right in your instep, so you’ve got to set your foot down flat to get a grip. After a couple hundred metres we’ve got the feel of it and make good time.
It’s about 80 degrees out, but we’re standing on a phenomenal amount of ice. Still, we’re in shorts and t-shirts and wearing lots of sunscreen. It’s quite comfortable. I look back toward the valley and the coast and see that the air is making heat-ripples off the surface of the glacier. Who thought I’d ever see hot air rising from ice?
We peek down into long blue ice-caves. We gawk at mountains of ice thrusting above us into the blue sky. We marvel at huge boulders floating on top of white cresting waves of ice (didn’t they teach us in school that rocks don’t float?). We see a strip of red sand buried in the glacier from Australia, when a storm carried the silt across the Tasman Sea, dumped it on the west coast of New Zealand, then left it to be snowed on and frozen into the history of Fox Glacier. We look up the valley to the craggy blue-white teeth of the seracs, remnants of an ice fall, that tower over us in an attempt to bite the sky. We look over at the walls of the valley where the glacier has advanced in past years and scraped the rock clean of trees, ferns, and moss. We marvel at how hard our guide works to cut new steps into virgin ice with his ice pick, jumping like a goat and swinging like a lumberjack. We hold our breaths as we stagger down steps that would never pass OSHA codes in your house, and heave a sigh of relief when we’re all at the bottom. (Speaking of OSHA, I didn’t sign a wavier for this journey, either.)
Six hours after first donning our crampons the group descends the last set of ice-steps to the valley floor. The temperature jumps from 75 degrees to 85 in the sunny forest and we make the wearying hike back to the bus. When I get home I’m tired and hungry, but filled with memories of majestic sculptures broken and carved by weather and gravity: one of New Zealand’s great natural wonders. Well worth it.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Today was glacier hike day. I took the half day hike, knowing that there’s a lot of uphill I decided that I’d be a happier camper if I stuck with the short (4hr) hike. As I write, Emrys is still off on the all day hike (7hr) and I’m happily showered and organizing photos! It was a great experience. The glacier was beautiful and the weather was great. Unfortunately I got in the group with Billy Goat guide who’s objective was to get in and out the fastest, rather than allow his group to enjoy the scenery and experience. So aside from being frustrated about being rushed it was pretty good. The “uphill stairs” as described in the promotional material was a bit of an understatement. I definitely got more cross-training. We spent the better part of 90 minutes climbing and descending stairs in the rainforest.
So tomorrow we’re off to Franz Josef to check out another glacier. This one apparently is more heavily traveled and in a different kind of setting. We’ll see what it brings.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Our first Sunday in New Zealand we had poorly executed intentions. Having walked by First Church of Dunedin (the Presbyterian congregation founded by settler-pastor Thomas Burns—nephew of the poet Sir Robert Burns) several times in our first day in the city, we saw that the congregation had three services every Sunday: one at 9:00am, one at 11:00am, and one at 5:00pm. Since I was feeling ill and we were enjoying sleeping in, we decided on the 5:00pm service.
No one was there. The church was open but the sanctuary was empty. We checked the signboards inside the front doors and noticed a bulletin of service times for January through April. They were at variance with the board at the gates of the church property. Sadly, no worship for us that Sunday.
About mid-week the next week we had made the acquaintance of one of the hostel staff members, a young woman from Zimbabwe named Idah. Another worker told us, upon my inquiry about Maori Christian churches, that Idah might know. Well, Idah did not know directly about Maori Christian services, but she invited us to her congregation. It is a church plant by a Zimbabwean Pentecostal denomination. So the next Sunday we worshipped with them; their usual space at the university was not available, so they worshipped at the home of their deacon.
We were the only two white folks there, of perhaps nine people plus a group of rambunctious children. They made us feel welcome, though it being my first experience having regular Sunday worship in someone’s home I felt a little out of place. But this is how the first Christians met and worshipped, after all. I could get into it. Eighty percent of attraction is proximity, right?
What seems to take more adjustment for me is Pentecostal worship. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the jargon, “Pentecostal”—with a capital P—refers to a style of worship that takes its central inspiration from the story of Pentecost in chapter 2 of the book of Acts. At the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down visibly upon the fledgling church and, among other things, allowed Jews from all over the world to understand each other even though they did not speak each other’s native languages. “Pentecostal” denominations are generally known for their fervency in prayer and exercise of spiritual gifts, especially “speaking in tongues.”)
I am accustomed to a regularly structured liturgy, in which predictably timed or marked prayers are offered by the leader of worship, by congregants in unison according to a printed prayer, or by individual congregants silently or in an ordered manner. (One of the semi-official mottos of the Presbyterian church is “everything decently and in order.”) So when our brothers and sisters in this Zimbabwean congregation began praying each at his or her own pace, in other languages, and with voluminous energy, it took a moment for me to get used to it. It’s freeing, in a sense, to know that I am free to pray however and whatever I am called to pray at that moment. Nonetheless, I felt an undercurrent of chaos, as if some potential unity had been lost.
But we did some worship-dancing. The impropriety of free, rhythmic movement is, I think, a tragedy of the Anglo-Saxon Western church. As we sang with these Zimbabweans, we clapped with the semi-present rhythm of the pastor’s synthesizer, and in time the Africans started to dance. It was a sort of line-dance that one would start and the others join in, a joyous unity of movement with the song. I sensed little emphasis on perfect unity—of pitch in voice, of rhythm in dance, or of the words of the song (I had never heard these songs before)—but emphasis that we were worshipping God with body and voice. Good stuff.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Carrying expectations has a certain danger to it. Of course, this is an exciting danger because have one’s expectations challenged or shattered altogether can be quite a learning experience. It can also be transformative in that it helps one to look at oneself through a suddenly different lens.
I had occasion, while we were staying in Wanaka in central Otago, New Zealand, to peruse the magazine section of a drug store. I picked up the December 2005/January 2006 edition of New Zealand Geographic, a publication for New Zealanders that examines issues and places relevant to New Zealander life. I opened the table of contents and was captivated by one word in the title of one of the feature articles: “mall.”
I turned to the article and read it through. (I rarely read magazine articles through, especially when I’m standing in front of the rack in a drug store.) The author reported on his examination of a phenomenon that has apparently been of some concern to New Zealanders (and especially North Islanders) for a few years: the expansion of mega-malls and “hyperstores” (like Wal-Mart in the U.S.) and their dominance on the mercantile landscape. In his twelve-page article he discussed the problems of urban sprawl, hyperstores crushing the viability of small local businesses, the significance of intentional “city-centres” that were designed by merchants rather than town councils, and the meaning of shopping as recreation.
Change all the place-names, and it could have been an article in Time or Newsweek about the United States.
Here I was, operating under the expectation that New Zealand did not struggle with issues of urban sprawl and commercial land use; after all, is this not the country in which one-tenth of the land is national park, which spends so much energy on conservation and wildlife preserves? But here was the evidence, in black and white, that New Zealand is mulling over the same issues as my home. Fascinating.
But we’re not in the United States, and (alas) no one is paying me to write a cultural comparison article. So instead of mulling over this matter too much, I spend an afternoon with Sara riding an Aqua Bike (see earlier entry). The next day we go out together on Lake Wanaka on kayaks for an hour. Today we rented bicycles and helmets from the hostel and rode down to a great view of Aoraki and Mt. Tasman. After all, this may be the last time we’re in New Zealand, so we’ve got to soak up this place, just as we soaked up the penguins and the sea lions and the albatrosses in Dunedin. We’ve been doing some active stuff.
We’ve been doing some dangerous stuff, come to think of it.
We could have fallen off the Aqua Bike (or been pushed), hit our heads on the paddle-wheels, and drowned. I could have tipped over a kayak, got my foot stuck, and smashed my head on a rock. I could have hit a rock on my bicycle and been thrown into a barbed-wire fence. Heck, I could have been attacked by a randy sea-lion.
And who would be responsible?
According to the running trend in the States, not me. No, the vendor would have been responsible: the one who rented us the bikes, the kayaks, and the ten-yard exposure to the sea lion. I’m sure of it. Because I never signed a waiver.
Sara noticed it first: we haven’t signed any paperwork to waive our rights since we landed on this archipelago. Not a single line. The only things we’ve signed are credit card receipts, so the New Zealanders can take our money (which we’ve been glad to give them—vive l’economie Kiwi!). We’ve been on a cruise in which our boat could have been struck by lightning, the lifeboats failed, and all the passengers eaten by sharks in the Tasman Sea. But did the cruise company give a rip about liability? Nope! “Welcome aboard!” was all they said.
It’s rather unsettling, I have to say, as a conscionable American in a strange land. After all, these people do speak English, don’t they? Sure, they pronounce things differently, but don’t they know the word “suit”? “Tort”? “Negligence”? What’s wrong with them? Don’t they care that one of their customers, victim to a strange occurrence or freak accident, might take them to court and take every penny from them? Don’t they see the danger? Don’t they look out over this sea of tourists and see schools of money-hungry, accident-prone sharks waiting for the scent of blood so they can have their class-action feeding frenzy?
I guess they don’t. And nobody else around here seems to notice. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me. Or maybe I’m just different because I’m from the United States.
Then it was off to take pictures and wander around. We found a little takeaway place boasting fish and chips so Emrys was out to give this one a shot. True to English form the fish and chips were served wrapped up in newspaper and he said they were “pretty good”. Since I’m not a fan of fish, he’s on his own in his search of the best fish and chips. I just test the chips – and mostly chips are chips.
We did a little writing, photo organizing and settling in to our home for two nights then it was off to play! We paid the fare to take the Aqua Bike out for 40 minutes- twice the general time allotment. The guy behind the desk asked if we were sure- oh yeah, we’ll be fine. Then we were instructed: “Go on out to the dock and liberate yourself an aquabike and enjoy”. So we did.
It was not only an awesome view around the lake from 80 meters off the shore but it was a good work out to boot.
Just when I was getting in to the groove, a maniacal look crosses Emrys’s face, he looks at me and says “Now pedal backwards!!” Since when has he taken such a hands on position in my training- I thought to myself, then asked him. He said he was trying to help me get a “rounded cross-training session”. Uh-huh! Don’t get me wrong, he’s been entirely supportive, asking if I need to work in training walks in our travels, going with me on the days that I don’t feel like going, etc; just never so vocally directive about it. So we pedaled backwards for a while and then Coach E directed that we pedal forward again. Then it was out around a buoy. When I responded to one of his directives with a jab to his ribs, he threatened to throw me in the cold water for entertainment value. As you can tell we had a blast!
Off to the market to replenish our food stuffs, then back to post everything to the internet while we have WIFI; lazy evening of dinner and cards at the hostel patio, chatting with a local wine merchant, and some R&R. I totally see why this is where the kiwis come for their family vacations- it’s a great little place
Friday was spent with more R&R induced by the heat- probably near 90 during the peak heat. We enjoyed paddling around out on the lake with some rented kayaks, some ice cream from a local creamery, reading, writing, getting caught up on some e-mails and groceries for the next few days as we’re told there’s not a market in Fox. So now we’re washing some clothes and headed for the grill to make dinner and tomorrow we’re off to the west coast to see some glaciers. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
I am not the same way.
I prefer to take things as they come, and plan things as needed. For instance: to discover what I’ll be having for dinner on any given night, my preferred method is to wait until 4 or 5 pm and see what my stomach craves. I will then make a trip to the grocery and find those things necessary to fulfill my needs. Sara is different. Sara would much rather make a single trip to the grocery, once a week, and not have to return. This idea necessitates, of course, having a week-ahead plan of cooking needs.
I can’t tell you what I’m going to want for dinner on Wednesday. I just can’t. Nor could I tell you where we were staying in Queenstown last night. I figured, Hey, we’ll just step off the bus and find a hostel with some open beds, starting with one to which folks in Milford Sound pointed us. They would be staying at a particular hostel that night, and told us to check it out.
So we get off the bus in city-centre Queenstown. It’s about 8 pm; the downtown is alive and active. We get a tip from the bus driver that the hostel we seek is over a block, up a block, and over a few blocks. Good. No problem. Until we get over a block and up a block. Then there’s a problem.
It’s up hill.
For me: not a problem. But you see Sara does not do hills very well. She’s great with distance over flat ground (such as walking 13.1 miles on a beach next month), but incline does her in. So here we are, ascending this hill, and I can imagine the “I-told-you-so”s coming. We should have planned this in advance. That way we could be sure that we were climbing this hill toward two beds that actually exist.
They didn’t. The hostel’s manager had retired for the evening already, and the reception desk did not invite inquires after hours. Sigh. We walked halfway down the hill again (did I mention that the central southland is quite hilly?) and pulled out the guidebook. Aha! Here’s another option. It’s just—up that other hill.
So I left Sara sitting on a grassy corner, the sun setting behind the mountains, while I climb the hill and scout out our next option for a hostel. As I climb the hill, I reflect on our circumstances. Queenstown: the hottest tourist spot in the southland, catering especially to thrill-seekers (like bungee jumpers) who would rather spend their big bugs on experiences and stay in hostels at night. Summer: the busy season, when it’s warmer than the northern hemisphere and cooler than the miserably hot North Island. After 8 pm: after hours, when many backpackers and hostels close down their front desks.
I stop reflecting on our circumstances and keep walking up the hill. Enter Flo and Garlic, two guys with backpacks looking rather tired and walking in the other direction.
Emrys: Hey, are you guys looking for a backpacker?
Garlic: (in Down Under accent) Yeah! Have you found one?
Emrys: No, we’re looking for one, too.
Garlic: We were going to try Burly’s, this one up the street.
Emrys: [internal monologue] What’s that smell? Is that coming from this guy? [My hall director fifth sense kicks in] That’s not alcohol . . . and it’s not mary jane. What drug is that? [aloud] Yeah, we just tried that one. There’s no one on duty. Have you tried the Salty Dog?
Garlic: Yeah, we tried them earlier today. They had two beds in separate dorm rooms.
Emrys: [internal] Well, why didn’t you take them? [aloud] Are they still open?
Garlic: We don’t know.
Emrys: Well, I’m going to go have a look.
We wished each other luck and I proceeded to the next target. Full up. Sigh. They directed me to another one “right next door,” but I couldn’t find it. So I headed back to Sara’s location, wondering how she’d take it if we ended up sleeping under the stars in a public park. When I got there, she was sitting with these two guys I had met earlier. They’re all there on the corner commiserating about being homeless for the night.
We pulled out our guide, and Flo had a cell phone. So he called a hostel we had looked at much earlier in our travel planning, and they had four beds. Perfect! Flo booked them under his name (which is how I know it) and hung up. So, Flo, where is this place? “I don’t know,” he says. Thanks, Flo.
Garlic pulled out a tourist map and Sara found it: it’s down that street and . . . up that other hill.
On the way to the lodge, we found out that these two guys are labourers on temporary work permits to New Zealand. One’s from Australia, the other’s from Germany. They were working up north picking fruit until too much rain got them laid off. So they found a connection with a construction company in Queenstown, starting tomorrow. One of them, a guy pierced several times visibly and with tattoos on his neck and forearms, is carrying a blue bag.
“Mate, I’ve got to get rid of that smell.” “What is it?” I ask, sensing my opportunity to find out the name of some strange new mind-altering substance used in the southern hemisphere. “Garlic marinade. I had a packet of it that blew up in my bag. It reeks.” It sure does! Now I can place the smell and I know that I don’t want to be near it all night. I wonder if I’ll get the bunk right above this guy, whose bag (and everything in it) reeks of vinegar and garlic.
We show up at the lodge, and Sara asks if, by chance, they have a double or twin room available. Sure enough, they’ve got one twin left. So we take it, managing a little more privacy (for this night) than the dorm room bunk beds and escaping the smell of garlic marinade gone astray. It turned out to be a good evening, even if it was a bit hilly at the start. Still, Sara may not let me “plan” any more overnights. We’ll see; I’ll take that as it comes.
Now we've passed through Queenstown and are in Wanaka which is great. We're both working on a bunch of blogs to post date so check back in the next two days- we have WIFI here- a first since getting here!
More photos are up... enjoy and check back in the next day or so for all of the stories to go with the photos!
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
It is also home to one of the two most photographed mountains in New Zealand (the other being Aoraki or Mount Cook): Rahotu or Mitre Peak. The winds from the Sea of Tasman blow in clouds and rain almost every day, so seeing the whole of Rahotu is a rare thing, unless you live there. And no one lives there, because it’s a national park. Even those who work at Milford Sound come in on a three- to four-day basis and live in staff barracks.
Trying to get a photo of this peak of mother nature is, as Sara put it, like attending “mother nature’s peep show.”
Well, we attended “mother nature’s peep show,” and got quite a good peep. The morning of our cruise out into the Sound was a bit hazy, with a small pillow of cloud covering some of the mid-section of Rahotu. But as our cruise pulled out of the harbour the clouds cleared and we saw the mountain in its glory (see “Milford Sound” photo album link at right). It turns out we were present for the third clear day since 24 December, 2005!
The country around Milford Sound is gorgeous. It’s fiordland, which means that glacial activity carved deep gouged out of the land over thousands of years. So the fiords are deep, the mountains around them steep, and the peaks are high. Let me try to give you an idea of the steepness. We were on a five-level cruise ship touring the sound. That means it’s got a good deal of boat underwater. Yet the ship could still sail within forty feet of the rock wall that came up out of the water. Instead of leveling out and forming beaches, fiords just drop down to magnificent depths. Milford Sound, for instance, reaches a depth of almost 400 feet. And boy is that water blue!
The trees and moss in the Sound are amazing. Since the rock walls of the fiords are so steep, no soil can collect. So the plant life is hanging on to the tiny cracks in the rock with its roots. Twenty- and thirty-foot trees grow with little more support and a cleft in the stone. From a distance, the walls of the fiord look like they have dark green shag carpet on them. (The shag is mostly silver beech and riku, native NZ trees.) The carpet gives way, above tree line, to a finer fuzz of lighter green moss. Tree line? That’s right: Rahotu is 1700 metres (about a mile) in elevation. So when you’re in the boat looking up at the peak of Rahotu, it’s like looking up at Denver from Los Angeles—straight up.
Waterfalls! Since there’s no soil in the fiords, the water that falls (almost perpetually) from the clouds at the top of the mountains slides right off and into the sea below. That means heaps of waterfalls (see photo album). On rainy days (almost every day in Milford) there are thousands of waterfalls on every side. We only saw about fifty or sixty, since it was a clear day. Oh, well. We were glad to have the sun out for us.
Monday, January 23, 2006
After about a half hour’s walk we arrive at the head of the Kepler Track, one of the many trails that wind their way here and there throughout the Fiordlands. We take the right side of the Track, intending only an afternoon tramp at the beginning of what is, for most trampers, a four-day adventure into the dense forest of Fiordlands. At first the trail follows close to the rocky shore, the sound of the waves incessant and echoing through the forest. The trees grow tall and wide leaving little light on the wood’s floor. A single thick blanket of moss covers the ground around the track, creeping up the base of the goliath trees and dampening the sound of footfalls.
Sara takes a turn down to the shoreline. We step ankle-deep into the cold clear water; it is magnificently clear. We can see the piebald stones under the surface thirty feet out from the coast, even though waves are breaking all the time. There is no soil or sand to muddy the waters. It is a giant basin of liquid blue crystal.
I leave Sara to her reading and continue along the Kepler Track. Not long after I do, the forest changes. The trail rises a bit up the slope, away from the water, and into a second canopy of rainforest. Now, still in the deep shade of the taller beech and manuka, ferns cover the ground. Mostly a single species, these ferns obscure the dark forest floor from view, except for the thirty-six inches of trail on which I walk. Some of the ferns are quite old: they have grown, like rainforest palm trees, to be ten or twelve feet high, their trunks comprised of the stumps of former fronds, their latest rings of leaves crowning the top.
Water creeps down little streams, its surface covered by the possessive figures of ferns and lilies. Unlike the vast expanse of visible water in Lake Te Anau, this water is furtive and sneaky. It creeps between gnarled bunches of roots and finds nooks and crannies in the thin soil. But it is making its way to the collecting pool of the lake, moving away from the roots that suck it up as it slides past. It will leave its sediment behind and join the lucid depth of the lake.
Insects thrum, birds chirp and warble, but these sounds are interruptions in a lush silence that stews in the rich dark green of the forest. I stand in a vast dark space between the groundcover of ferns and the high roofed pillars of the trees, a visitor in an organic cathedral to God’s creative wisdom. I am impressed.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
On the ride from Dunedin [pronounced dun-EE-din] to Te Anau, we discovered that our bus driver was also an impromptu tour guide. (Did we know we’d be getting a commentary? If we had, we might have offered them more money.) He would point out scenic areas as we drove through them, note historical details of interest, and mention where someone staying the night in a certain town might like to get a drink. Oh, and when we came to Te Anau he dropped us off right at our backpacker. Good guy. But he didn’t know how to pronounce Te Anau.
By now you’re probably reading the name “Te Anau” and trying out pronunciations in your head. (Actually, I’m betting on it; otherwise this entry loses some dramatic tension.) If you’re like me, then you’re actually mouthing the name in a half-vocalized, half-whisper in an attempt to wrap your voice box around it without seeming totally mad to those around you. Or to your cat, who likely already thinks you’re mad.
First off, let’s remember that Te Anau, like so many other names in New Zealand is Maori, the language of the native Pacific Islanders of New Zealand. (The name of the people is also Maori, pronounced—ach, we better not get into that.) I picked up a few gems from a book, “Beginner’s Maori,” that I perused on the flights over. “Te” is the singular definite article in Maori: “the.” Like English, the definite article does not carry the emphasis of pronunciation. (For those of you I’ve lost, try saying any noun+article, like “the butter,” with the emphasis on “the.” See? It sounds weird, doesn’t it?) The “e” in Te is supposed to be pronounced like the “ay” in day or bay or say, yielding a phonetic “Tay.” But many New Zealanders—either in an attempt to confuse the tourists or perhaps out of boredom—change it to an “ee” sound, as in bee or see, or pee for that matter. Our bus driver/tour guide used these two pronunciations in about a 70/30 ratio, respectively.
In Maori two- or three-syllable words, the strong emphasis is placed on the first syllable. So in the “Anau” portion of the word would have the emphasis on the first “A.” My understanding is that the Maori tongue has a predominantly long “a,” which is usually found in “o”s in American English: top, mop, lop. But European New Zealanders tend to shorter the sound to the “a” of Americans’ tap, map, lap. Our bus driver, bless his heart, had about a 50/50 distribution in this syllable.
The Maori apparently gave every vowel its own distinct sound. New Zealanders don’t do that; they slur those dipthongs into messy piles of tone. Like the Quebecois do to French. So what the Maori might have pronounced “Te-A-na-u” is now pronounced “Te-A-now.” All right, I gave much of the last syllable away, but you’re probably getting tired of this linguistics lesson. So let’s review. The possibilities are:
tee A-no-oo . . . you get the point. There are lots of permutations.
I said earlier that our bus driver/tour guide didn’t know how to pronounce it. I know that because he used every permutation of pronunciation at least once. And with four drop-offs, one snack break and a potty stop along the way, he said it a lot of times. Whatever “it” was. I still don’t know how to pronounce it. And I’ve been there for two days. Somehow, however, I don’t think it would have done any good to ask anybody.
I need to find a full-blooded Maori. Maybe then I can get the real deal.
At the end of all this, you’re probably expecting me to tell you what “Te Anau” means. I would if I were you, as well. But I’m not. Because I can’t. I have no idea what it means.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Thursday, January 19, 2006
These words were spoken by a classmate of mine while we enjoyed a lovely supper in a pub close to the university campus. "Barbecuing tea?" As much as I’d read about the customs of New Zealanders (which mostly came from a novel by Keri Hulme entitled "The Bone People"), I should have been prepared for this phrase. But I wasn’t.
When she uttered the words in her thick New Zealand accent, my mind began to fill with the image of a bunch of college students putting tea leaves—or, worse in my imagination, Lipton teabags—on a hibachi and lighting ’er up. I don’t know how burning Earl Grey smells, but I don’t imagine it to be good. So as she spoke I began to sympathize in my mind, "I’d get out, too, if my apartment were filling with the smell of burning tea!"
Then the latter part of her sentence struck me and I was jolted into the world of a New Zealander. "Tea" is more often a reference to the evening meal than it is to a beverage of steeped leaves. What she meant—in my American idiom—was that the folks downstairs were barbecuing their supper and it smelled so good that she had to leave, because she wasn’t getting her supper until two hours later.
It took me an extra second or two to laugh at her story because I didn’t properly know what "tea" meant right off. But I’m catching on now.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
A couple nights ago we decided to take the cribbage board and cards over to a coffee house/café/bar type of place we’d walked by a dozen times but never stopped into. They have large overstuffed chairs and couches and tables around, dim lighting and fairly quiet. One side, facing the sidewalk is the coffee bar, and the other side, adjacent to the coffee bar, is the liquor bar. Kind of a funky place but the BEST latte I’ve had in a long time (no offense Jill). Their hot drinks are served in “cup” or “bowl”. So of course having to check this out Emrys orders a bowl of hot chocolate. He ended up with a steaming soup bowl of liquid chocolate- his was really good too! So I think we’re going to have to visit the Black Dog again tomorrow night to markthe end of the first week of class!
Monday, January 16, 2006
Sunday, January 15, 2006
As we sat waiting for our meal to appear, we pondered an analysis offered to us by a few Americans before we left the States. They told us that “New Zealand is like the United States was in the 1950s.” We thought about what we had seen in New Zealand so far that would confirm that impression. First, we agreed, the large bell-shaped plugs on appliances reminded us of older appliances in America. Second, the absence of SUVs on the roads (almost all vehicles are smaller here than in the States) made us think of years past in America. Third . . . well, there was no third. The guy (yes, guy) walking down the sidewalk in a blue and white woman’s one-piece swimsuit and swimming cap certainly didn’t remind us of the 1950s in America. Except maybe the swim cap.
Then again, we weren’t alive in the 50s. Can anyone who was alive then testify to the popularity of middle-aged men wearing blue (with white polka dots) women’s one-pieces, walking down the street at night in the 1950s?
We found out that George Street was the main drag in more ways than one. This guy was strutting proudly along (no, really: elbows out, chin up and everything) the sidewalk with a bunch of guys behind him who were his moral support. By moral support I mean good doses of laughter, whooping, and hollering designed to draw attention to their athletically-clad compatriot. (The members of the peanut gallery were all wearing jeans, shirts, and jackets.) The whoa-man in question spotted a finely-dressed gentleman exit his car on our side of the street. He crossed and followed the man . . . right past our table and into the Persian cafe!
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a middle-aged man of unathletic physique wearing a woman’s swimsuit—especially one who’s not wearing that butt chapstick that Miss America candidates wear to keep their suits from riding up. It is not a sight for the weak soul. (I have yet to find out if mine will recover.) His quivering buttocks moved right past me (at eye level—I wish I could have torn my eyes from the sight, but it was like a car wreck: you know how it is) and into the restaurant. This occurred much to the annoyance of the finely dressed gentleman, who was apparently no friend (or even acquaintance) of the Night Swimmer.
When he had worn out his welcome in the Persian café, the man walked back past us, patting me on the head and saying “How are ya?” to my smirking visage. Needless to say, I could not respond. Things had passed beyond my capacity to articulate a sensible response. So we just marveled. Perhaps not the 1950s in America.
Perhaps it was a bachelor party. This explanation was the only one that came to us as an adequate explanation for the phenomenon we had just encountered. What’s more, it made sense in juxtaposition with the next phenomenon that walked by: a woman clad in jeans, t-shirt, string bikini (on the outside, over the aforementioned), and cowboy hat with attached veil. (Did Elvis ever wear this getup? Did they have string bikinis in the 50s?) This must have been the bride and her bachelorette party (she too had an entourage), since her husband-to-be had just passed down the street on the other side.
There were other things, too, that brought us back to the future from the 1950s impression we were by now straining to imagine. The small flock of teenage boys perched on park benches across the street shouting at the cab full of drunk, screaming women to reveal their unmentionables was one element. I don't think teenage boys in the 50s wore so much denim, black, and metal in combination. Thumping bass from low-riding window-tinted station wagons was another.
What happened to greased hairdos, poodle skirts, and varsity letter jackets? No, this was not reminiscent of 1950s America. At least we hoped not. If so, then television has betrayed the fair history of our country. We never saw the Beaver running around in a woman’s one-piece, did we? (Shiver.)
Saturday, January 14, 2006
First stop: the colony of Royal Albatross on Tairoa Head at the end of the peninsula. Albatross are members of a family of pelagic birds renowned for their ability to fly long distances over open ocean. The royal albatross, for instance, has two landing-places: the Otago Peninsula and the tip of South America. It spends two years or more at a time at sea, soaring over the ocean or sleeping on the water. They’re one of the few birds that can sleep on the water (some biologists theorize that the albatross can “sleep” while flying, by turning off one half of its brain at a time, as dolphins can do—but this theory is unconfirmed).
The albatross has superior physical advantage. Its wingspan is over three yards compared to a body less than a yard long. They have such fine skill with their fingers and feathers that they can ride the wind currents for hundreds of miles without flapping. When they take off from a cliff into the wind, they just open their wings and slide off, catching the wind in their enormous wingspan and rising into the air. They are gorgeous to see in flight: long thin black wings on a small white body drifting through the air overhead. The gulls all around flap and stumble in the Pacific winds while the albatross glides with no effort.
We got close enough to see the mother albatross sitting on their eggs, feathers ruffled by the 60-mph winds. Down the slope was a large colony of cormorants, and of course the ubiquitous sea gulls all around. Of the three the albatross is the most grand and the most endangered. But with some help from the biologists at the conservatory they’re holding their own.
Next stop: the New Zealand Fur Seal. We got within fifty yards of a colony of fur seals and their pups basking on the black rocks in the afternoon sun and wind. Not much action here, unless you count the baby seals learning to swim in the shallow tidepools, sloshing in the water and seaweed. Three generations (of seals) ago the population of fur seals was down to one female seal. Since then, she has had pups and her children and grandchildren have had pups. The near-extinction wrought by seal-hunters is fading away, but not without the grace of a local farmer who owns the coastline and is willing to fence it off so the folks can’t access the colony without permission.
Next stop: up close with a New Zealand Sea Lion. What’s the difference between a seal and a sea lion? I asked. Seals have pointier noses and narrower faces; sea lions have flatter noses and broader faces. But they’re the same family of mammal.
We walked right onto the beach and within ten yards of a male sea lion. Ten yards? Yeah. The wildlife guy said it was alright. He said that sea lions can run up to 20 kph (about 13 mph) on land, over short distances. They’re not nervous about humans; in fact, if they get disturbed they’re more likely to run toward you than away. So ten yards is the distance you need to beat a sea lion in a foot race. He’ll be out of breath before you will—if you’re in shape.
(If you’ve ever played “Worst Case Scenario,” [Sophie!] you’ll know that the game’s remedy for a seal attacking you is to “lie on the beach and flap your arms as if you’re a seal.” Well, according to our marine biologist—whose research was on seals and sea lions—that may not be the best course of action. While seals do respond to submissive behaviour, they are also known to engage in unsolicited sexual behaviour. If you lie down on the beach when a seal charges you, he may decide to have a cozy moment with you. As our guide put it, “Yeah, and here’s a photo of me on holiday, being humped by an angry seal.” Not something I want in my photo album. Mind you, once the 600-pound animal has climbed on top of you, its sexual advances may not be the greater problem.
Is there a disclaimer on those Worst Case Scenario cards?)
We were not attacked by the sea lion. He moseyed on down the beach, giving us a passing glance as we walked inland toward the hide from which we could view the penguins.
Last stop: Yellow-Eyed Penguins. They’re the rarest penguins in the world. They swim out every day 20 kilometres to the edge of the continental shelf to hunt fish then return to their nests on shore. We saw them clamber out of the surf and stand on the beach, head up and wings out, trying to cool off. Apparently penguins are so well designed for the cold Pacific waters that once they get on land they overheat quickly. So they have to stand in the wind with their wings outstretched to cool off. It looks like they just woke up, stepped outside, and are taking a breath of fresh air.
Slowly the penguins make their way to the grassy slope where they climb up the steep hill to the nesting ground, 50 metres high. One thing I never expected to see is penguins in the grass. I’m so used to thinking of them as ice-birds that seeing a penguin waddling up a bright green grassy slope struck me as strange. Curiouser and curiouser.
Meanwhile, our friend the sea lion had come over to sit on the beach just in front of where we were hidden from the penguins’ view. For some time I thought we might get to see some “Wild Kingdom” action if the sea lion decided to have a bite to eat of one of the penguins or the flock of seagulls. Endangered species versus endangered species. Whom do you root for? But the sea lion just lay down for a nap, so we didn’t see any bestial bloodshed.
But we saw some cool animals. God did a good job with marine animals.
When we were done watching the penguins we tramped back up the grassy slope, weaving between stands of thistles and sheep-poop, to our little van. The sun set as we drove along the shore of the Otago Peninsula, the first pink sky we’ve seen since coming to New Zealand. It bodes well for our journeys on the west coast. Six hours of wildlife watching wore us out—but it was well worth it to see those creatures that can be seen nowhere else.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Before this gets going too far, I have to describe New Zealand Customs and Immigration. We got off the airplane in Auckland and headed for the immigration line. The guy in uniform glanced at our passports, asked us how long we were staying, and waved us through. Couldn’t care less. “Another pair of tourists. Great for our economy, just so they don’t stay too long.” That’s my authoritative read on what he was thinking.
Customs is a different matter.
On the way toward the long stainless steel tables you pass large yellow bins into which you’re supposed to discard any vegetable material for food before you attempt to get through. Wow, these guys are serious.
“Any fruit or vegetables?”
“Any tents or camping gear?”
“Any boots or hiking gear?”
“Yes, hiking boots.”
“Can you remove them from your luggage, please?”
We’d been prepared for this. The guidebooks and the New Zealand tourist websites inform you that NZ does not allow ANY kind of non-native animal or vegetable material to enter the country. And they are supposed to very strict about these matters. But I’ve driven to California several times, and you see the signs: “No Produce May Enter California,” “Cars Are Subject to Search,” “Prepare to Be Stopped.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve seen ONE checkpoint; every other time I’ve driven from Arizona to California all I’ve seen is a Love’s truck stop and a whole lot of sand. Governments say these things to cover their butts.
Not New Zealand. The guy checked the soles of my boots. Now, since I was a naïve newcomer, I’d heeded the warnings and scrubbed my soles with a toothbrush. Good thing I did! He approved of my clean Vibram soles and sent us on through. All this to display that while New Zealand welcomes human visitors, it welcomes no other species to its shores.
As we drove out the Otago Peninsula, our guides informed us that except for a few stands of native manuka trees, none of the plants we would see was native to New Zealand. All imported. Grass, fir trees, oaks, shrubs, gorse (gorse? You mean that stumpy, thorny bush from Scotland? Aye, gorse. Leave it to the Scots to bring gorse to a rainforest), all have been brought over from somewhere else. Oh, yes, and thistles. The Scots brought those over, too. And thistles are one of the most invasive species of plant in the world. And hard to kill.
There are a few species of animal left in New Zealand, which it was our specific task this afternoon to find and observe. But so many are non-native. Sheep, for one. Alright, so sheep are a necessity. But rabbits? Who brought the rabbits over? “The British who wanted something to hunt.” Wanted something to hunt? They come to pristine rainforest with their own supply of meat and wool, then let loose the little buggers so they can hunt? Sigh. Well, now New Zealand can’t get rid of their rabbits because they reproduce like . . . well, like rabbits.
“Oh, look! There’s a hedgehog!” Says one of the other tourists in her British accent. “Are hedgehogs native?”
“No,” says the wildlife guide.
“Why would they bring over hedgehogs?” My question exactly.
“To eat the slugs and snails that infested their English herb gardens.”
So they’re more than cute. Good thinking on the Brits’ part.
Well, now tourists pay top-dollar to go see the native species of New Zealand fauna that are coming back after years of devastation by hunters and collateral damage of colonization. To New Zealanders’ great credit, the government here is quite mindful of the unique ecology of this archipelago and spends a good deal of money annually to ensure that native species are not driven to extinction. Taxpayers and tourists foot the bill for these efforts, and we were glad to do our part as members of the latter group.
Good on ya, New Zealand!
Thursday, January 12, 2006
The railway dates back to the days of the gold rush—1840-1860. Strange that a phrase I have come to believe is unique to the American West, “The Gold Rush,” also applies to a crown colony in the South Pacific. Was the rush for gold a world-wide phenomenon in the mid-1800s? Or at least widespread among the crown (and one ex-crown) countries?
NEW: I just put up the first photo album of our journey. I got a little carried away with the rose garden at the Botanical Gardens so you can skip through some of those if need be. I tried to at least label them in general so that you don’t have to go through a bunch of pictures that mean nothing to you all but we know all about- and feel free to e-mail questions, comments etc. Also, I reduced the resolution for ease of upload but this means (a-hem, mom) if you try to print them out they won’t print too well or they’ll print really small.
So, enjoy and I wish you all a good weekend! We’re off to see penguins, albatross(es?) and other wildlife inhabitants of the Peninsula tomorrow and then Sunday will be low key before Emrys has to go to class on Monday. Irony of ironies, we come all the way out here and his first prof is from Princeton. Oh well!
The botanic gardens were gorgeous. As shutterbugs we find gardens quite fascinating and productive places to visit. The Knot Garden of hedges sculpted around pockets of brightly coloured flowers; the Rock Garden hillside mimicking a Japanese garden; aviaries with brightly coloured birds of the southern hemisphere; the Native Collection of unique New Zealand flora; and a traditional English herb garden gave us heaps of good photographic opportunities, lovely smells and peaceful walkabouts.
One fascinating part is the Loveland Bush. It’s a large section of the gardens in which the gardeners have evicted all non-native species and allowed the forest to grow (hence “bush”). Walking through the paths of the Loveland Bush is taking a stroll through rainforest of two or three canopies. It’s a cool (literally and figuratively) reminder that native New Zealand was a rainforest. If left to its own devices and native species, it grows from pale green sheep pastures to dark, thick forest with wide, spreading leaves above and bushy ferns below. And not a single poisonous animal to worry about. Good for going barefoot!
Then there’s the duck pond. One of the many species introduced to New Zealand by the Brits and Scots is the mallard duck. They haven’t killed them off again, so I suppose their presence is not having too great a negative impact on the environment. In fact, the botanic gardens cultivate the mallard presence by clipping their wings and giving guests free seed bars with which to feed the beasts. Great for little kids and mallard lovers, not always so good for romantic lunches in the park.
Sara and I brought our sack lunches to a bench by the pond. Good place to sit down—under a spreading willow—and enjoy the lovely weather, eh? As soon as we drew the first sandwich out of our bags, we saw the ducks. About fifteen of them hopped out of the pond and came over to us. And they’re not shy—oh, no. These ducks know where their bread is buttered and which hands feed them. So they come for it.
Perhaps it is hard to imagine the unsettling quality of birds stalking you. After all, the walk of a duck is symbolic of silliness. But if you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant thriller or had your own run-in with a determined member of this particular order of avians (as I have had with a goose), then you’ll know that fifteen ducks pressing in on you with the confidence of an urban street gang can be unnerving. The way they tip their heads back and forth to size you up is especially freaky. As if they’re saying, “Yeah, we can take you. Now, ’and over a bit ’o that bread, there’s a good lad,” with that icy mallard glare.
Many thanks to the five-year-old who showed up on the other side of the pond, squealing with glee to be scattering handfuls of seed on the brick patio. Only two or three ducks held out hope that they might get some of our lunch, and with those odds (three hundred pounds of human against six pounds of duck) I felt brave enough to shoo them away with my boot. Thereafter we ate in peace.
Who thought to bring mallard ducks to New Zealand, anyway?
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Then we set out for Baldwin Street and took the hike to the top- definately a steep trek. Now we're off to make dinner and probably crash! I decided to wear my pedometer today in lieu of "training"- we clocked almost 10 miles so I think I have my 4 miles for today covered!
I'm putting the photo album together and plan to post it tomorrow afternoon... stay tuned!
PS. Check out Emrys' post dated entries below :)
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Monday, January 09, 2006
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Friday, January 06, 2006
Thursday, January 05, 2006
We took off from Auckland for our one-hour flight to Christchurch, the Sea of Tasman on our right and the flat bright green of the Northland on our left. That green gave way rather quickly to the wide blue Pacific. Soon we were over the Southland, the sky thick with Colorado clouds flying high in the bright blue. The terrain below is unique to my eyes: a carpet of various and melding blues covering the sea and the 10,000 foot peaks still capped in white, both visible in one turn of the head. The foothills north of Christchurch remind me of the Rocky Mountains. They have the sharp contours of etched stone at the base of pyramidal greying peaks. But the nature of the fabric is subtly different. The soft deciduous felt of the New Zealand mountains differs from the napped coniferous velvet of the Rockies.
They like hedges here. Bright green pieces of property—or perhaps parcels separated for different uses—are marked off on the landscape by dark green lines that, as the aircraft descends, resolve into tightly cropped bushes, high proud hedges, and neat rows of trees. The layout reminds me of the perfect square stone hedges of Scotland. And I’m not so sure the resemblance is coincidental. To hear tell of the heritage of the Southland, the similarity may be familial.
5 January, 2006, 6:30 am PST (which is 2:30 am NZ time on 6 Jan)
As we were taking off from LAX, the captain informed us that our estimated flight time from Los Angeles to Auckland was 12 hours. We were pleased especially since our own calculations estimated our flight time to be 16 hours. Four fewer hours in the livestock hold (those two seats smack dab in the middle of the centre row of a 747 jumbo jet) was good news indeed.
After three hours in flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, the head of the flight crew came on the intercom with the following announcement:
"Ladies and gentlemen, one of our passengers is feeling unwell. If there is a doctor somewhere in the cabin, would you please make yourself known to the flight crew. Thank you."
Not good news.
Is there a doctor in the house? It’s something you expect to hear in a film or on TV, but never in real life. Do people get suddenly, tragically ill on plane flights? Of course they do—and the longer your plane flight, the more likely someone is to do it on yours. Does someone ever really get up and shout, "Is there a doctor in the house?" Apparently they do. Do doctors then arise and exclaim, "Why yes, I am a doctor!" Well, they didn’t exclaim, but by my count of people hustling down the aisle our flight had two physicians and an EMT on board. They made themselves known to the flight crew and the murmur of curious and half-sleeping passengers died away.
Things moved along as planned (bearing 225 at about 40,000 feet) until an hour or so later, when the captain came over the intercom and informed us all that it had been decided the ill passenger in our midst required immediate medical attention. (Apparently two physicians and an EMT huddled together in cramped quarters at 40,000 feet and hurtling across the globe at hundreds of miles per hour did not count as "medical attention.")
So we went to Honolulu. That yellow line on the movie screen in front of my seat made a right-angle turn and headed for Oahu. Numbers changed: distance to our immediate destination fell precipitously as time to our intended destination climbed inexorably. And we saw Hawai’i again, or at least the portion of Honolulu international airport that is visible through the window (at night). We sat on the tarmac and waited while the medics got the unfortunate passenger off and refueled the jet. Meanwhile we breathed some more recirculated air and tried to stretch our legs.
I should have taken that Ambien like Sara did.
Well, the crew managed to get the passenger off to a hospital and the doctor returned to his seat. (I’m glad they made that emergency landing. It meant quick help for our unlucky passenger; and if I were the one falling ill on a trans-pacific flight, I’d want them to stop for me.) They got us refueled and in the air again. Now we’re approaching the equator with about seven (that’s four additional—but who’s counting with this groggy brain?) hours of flight time remaining. We’ll get to Auckland a little late (after 16 hours in the air after all), but we’ll get there. And that’s the important thing. Sometimes you just have to take a little detour, that’s all.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
So, as Pasadena gears up and thousands assemble for the Rose Bowl Game, we will flee to LAX, leave on a an earlier flight and arrive in Dunedin via a more direct route, earlier in the day on Friday, losing Thursday entirely to the crossing of the International Date Line. Let the international portion of the adventure begin!!
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
When you step off the plane onto the jetway, or climb down from the train, or clamber out of the car into a new place, the first thing you should do is to take a deep breath. You may know about the therapeutic effects of a deep breath especially if that inhalation accompanies a good long stretch. You may know how a rib-expanding breath can crack the spine that has known only a poorly-cushioned seat for the last eight or ten hours. You may have your own experiential reasons why you would, as I do, take a deep breath in a new place. But I have a different (if not exclusive) reason for taking that breath. Smell.
In spite of our cultural addiction to coffee and bathroom candles, the human sense of smell seems to be one of the lesser developed and appreciated of the five senses. Visual and auditory stimuli take front and centre in our media culture. Tactile sensations beckon from massage parlours and the front of stadium speakers. Glottal impressions imprint their values upon us at least three times a day—often more frequently. But the sense of smell receives a second place to the firsts of the other four. Televisions and computers neglect it; masseurs cannot finger our olfactory nodes; and the speed of our culture whisks food past the nose and into the stomach. Only the Body Shop and les entrepreneurs de parfum (who peddle aroma in a clumsy attempt to abstract its allure with screen and speakers) seem to receive the gift of the nose with proper respect.
This neglect strikes me as counter-intuitive. The sense of smell has some of the strongest attachments to the profound unspeakable emotions of the soul; it is capable of conjuring images in the mind by a single waft that would require a thousand brush strokes or a hundred spoken words. The scent of cologne can invoke the full depth of a child’s relationship with his father. The aroma of meatloaf can enfold the heart with a sense of home and a mother’s love. The smell of a hospital hallway can shock the heart to palpitations and the flesh to a nervous sweat. The scent of a first girlfriend’s hair or of the intimacy of a spouse can bring whole relationships to the surface with a thousand memories and a hundred emotions. Of the five senses the sense of smell holds the most secret power, able to brush the core of human being as a breeze brushes the cheek.
Yet the olfactory function of the nose and brain persist as profound and powerful interpreters of our environment. And so, I say, as we arrive in a new place we should take in a deep breath and all the scents such a breath will bring. For places have their own scents, so complex and intimate that we may perceive another dimension of our lives by paying attention to them. And the time passes so quickly in which these scents are new, for so rapidly our nostrils become accommodated to the slight nuances of aerial flavour and harmonies of aroma fall into a flat monotone backdrop. Take the opportunity, early on, to catch the scent of a place.
We arrived in Burbank, California today, to stay in Pasadena for three days before our flight to New Zealand. As we left the sterile environs of the airport terminal I took a deep breath. There was moisture in the air, wetness from the winter rains of southern California. The wetness bore the rich, strong leafiness of this plant-filled state, an odour of soil and chlorophyll. Woven into this tapestry of phyllophilic essence was the greasy aroma of petroleum emissions and vulcanized rubber that accompanied humanity into this once-desert environment. Burbank has its own smell, as distinctive as a Calvin Klein parfum but with deeper images than the model-studded billboards can offer.
Burbank is not like Kona, Hawai’i. Taking a deep breath on the Big Island fills the lungs and caresses the soul with a different aerial poem. The air in Kona hangs heavier about you, laden with the broad moisture of humid tropics. The leafiness is there, but darker, thicker, and more robust yet with thin threads of light fruitiness woven in. The aroma of that island is seedy, pregnant with coming growth like fresh potting soil though more colourful than that of any garden store. It is a mother-land in which the ever-ready rain in the air tells of warm fertility.
Neither of these two places is like the scent of New York City. There the sticky odour of asphalt and rubber tickles your nostrils with a sour overtone of hot steel. Invisible clouds of exhaust assault your glands with pockets of acrid bitterness. Eastern Pennsylvania farmland is still different. In the summertime the rich coolness of grass massages the nostrils with a soft welcome. In the autumn sour swirls arise from wet brown leaves and the winds carry the dry bland sweetness of cut cornstalks.
You must listen to your nose to catch it all, though. As I step out of the terminal in Burbank, California I wonder what the scent of New Zealand will be. For all the pictures I’ve seen, nature programs I’ve heard, and travel book restaurant reviews I’ve read, I have no idea how the place will smell. I can’t wait to step off the plane and take that first deep breath.