Monday, May 28, 2012

better late than never aye?!

Weekend before last, as usual, I had frisbee Friday night, and then Robbie's after the game for a few drinks. Saturday, I left for Kaikoura with Jackie, Erin, and Michelle. The drive was beautiful… classic New Zealand. Once in Kaikoura, we drove over to the trail head. It's funny because it always seems like we're going down the wrong road until we pop out at the start. Sometimes it's even on private property. You have to know where you're going. Then we headed up to make sure we got bunks in the hut. It seems to always be the first 20 minutes that i'm constantly thinking…. why do I do this? It's up a 4X4 track, but it's pretty steep. Enough to keep me breathing hard that's for sure. The view's were beautiful and once again we lucked out on weather! It was such a nice walk. Only about 2 and a half hours and it was just the 4 of us. We literally stopped about every 10 minutes because we were describing food we've had/ plan to make/seen on pinterest. Such females! We were first to the hut. The rest of the afternoon we soaked up the views, played cards and made the most delicious dinner. We packed up and cooked shrimp pasta and vegetables along with fresh bread and red wine and cadbury chocolate for dessert. YUM :)  I happen to forget my utensil, but my super talented friend Jackie managed to carve me a makeshift one. It was sorta comical to watch me eat. Serious balancing act.

After dinner and cards, I crawled into bed to enjoy a nice night of sleep after a great tramp up 1100m. Unfortunately, that was not the case. There was a wood burning stove that was awesome until it was 9pm and suddenly became a billion degrees in that hut. There were 9 of us in the 8 person hut, and at first I just took off my shirt and left my sports bra on, still in the sleeping bag, but that WOULD not suffice. seriously, I thought I might melt. Long story short, I could barely cover the necessary bits and bobs and I was still sweating. Every time I heard that darn stove door open, I wanted to tomahawk that guy!! I wasn't the only one either, Jackie and Michelle were on the top bunks which was even hotter! they literally went outside in sports bra's and ended up sleeping in the mud room on the concrete to try and cool off. It was arguably one of the worst nights of sleep i've ever had. haha, even so, I wasn't that upset about it. location sorta does that to you. In the morning, we hiked up the last 400m to the summit. It was SO beautiful! The rest of the way was all down hill. LITERALLY. 1600m of it, and funny enough, we ran into some of the guys we met at Muller Hut 2 weeks earlier! what a small world… especially in NZ.

On the way out of town, we visited this famous seafood trailer out by the seal colony and then headed back to CHCH. I worked all week on my med school application and Friday, it was back to Frisbee and then Foo San for Emma's 21st birthday. Yummy Chinese dinner followed by some casual pictionary which I was awful at and an early night saving up for Saturday's festivities.

Saturday, I studied all morning for my children's literature final, and then we all met at Emma's to start the road rally. My team was Jess, Chris and Stewart. It was SUCH a blast. We had to do all kinds of things like find a pinecone, take a picture with a stranger in a costume, collect a Foundry receipt, a cindy's can, take a team tequila shot, and then there were some clues that correlated to the few places along the way to Flock Hill Lodge. When we arrived, we all showed our clues and i'm sad to report that we came in second to last place… better next time team 3. lol We got ready for dinner, and then met back in common room where we ate and Emma's Dad, boyfriend, and sister made speeches. They all were great. I heard some awesome Emma stories and it's apparent that she is loved and appreciated by more people than she knows. Again, I was reminded how glad I am that I joined the ultimate team. I've met so many awesome people through it. Anyways, the rest of the night was full of good times and great memories and not much sleep.

After the drive back, I napped and studied more for my final. Today I took it, and I don't think I failed, so i'm golden. NO MORE CHILDHOOD IN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE FOR ME!!! WOOOHOOOO!

if that's not exciting enough….. tomorrow, KYLE AND MICHAEL GET HERE!! :D i'm SO SO SO excited. just 4 classes, 2 projects and a final left in my semester. YES!

stay tuned because I've got some great plans for when Michael and Kyle are here! OH and I forgot to mention that I'm officially going to Singapore "on my way home" to visit my friend Mel from TCU, and even better, Amy's meeting me. CANNOT wait. :) so many fun plans ahead!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tonight we will dream of escalators. -Erin Sellman

SO while I should be writing either the essay on the Borrowers for my english class or the research paper for my Ecology class, I'm going to tell you about my weekend instead.

Friday after classes Jackie, Erin and I went to the store to get the food for our adventure and then I had frisbee game. The Honey Badgers didn't come out on top, but i'd say we played pretty well. As our fearless leader for the week said, "we're right on the edge of…..greatness"! haha (translation: we should be able to break the zone that they keep throwing on us soon.) So since we didn't win on the field, classic frisbee dictates that we must to go the pub and win the party. It wasn't much of a party, but there were definitely more of us at the pub then the other team, so I consider it a solid W. What's really important here people?!  Post frisbee shenanigans, I ended up at The Foundary (pub on campus) with Rebecca and some of our other friends. Needless to say, I didn't get to bed very early, and 6:30 came REAL quick. But like a champ, I drank some water and was outside ready to roll at 5 til 7. It was a 4 hour car ride down to Mt. Cook National park in the vehicle we all hold near and dear to our heart that I named Crandle (yet I consistently refer to it as a she…. it's a confused soul) Our friend Jake owns the car and let us rent it for the weekend which was SO nice of him! Anyways, he gets from A to B, but there is ZERO power steering, acceleration requires a solid 5 second delay before she starts roaring,  and those breaks are a real treat to get used to. Once we arrived in the little village of Mt. Cook, we bought our hut tickets and got the run down from the i-site lady before we ventured off. It was here that I learned I would be ascending to 1800m by the end of the day. It started off with a 15 minute flat hike to the split off. Then it was whats referred to as Sealy Tarns. To my knowledge, it's Sealy Range that Mt. Olivier and Mt. Cook are in, and the ridge line we went up is Sealy Tarns. This special ridge is composed of 1800 steps to start ya off because it's too steep to walk up regularly. As you might imagine, I was sucking some SERIOUS wind. if 1800 doesn't do anything for you, i'll spell it out. one thousand eight hundred steps. STAIRMASTER: redefined. so yes I was feeling the burn, but every time I stopped for a break (which was often) I was re-energized by the absurd view that surrounded me. I was also motivated by the fact that my gluteus maximus HAD to be benefiting from this activity. it's the little things right?
About half way up (at the end of the stairs), we stopped for lunch. We were SO lucky that we had such good weather. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and all of us were tramping in shorts and either short sleeves or rolled up long ones. I'll confess that I did start the tramp in leggings, but about 2 "stair cases" in, I pulled over and de-clothed. don't ask how I managed this one. The next part of the hike was mostly dry, but pretty steep and covered with rocks of all shapes and sizes to climb up, over, around etc. This section of the track (and the rest) were follow the orange markers, so there isn't necessarily a path. Its just… find your way. Sometimes you can see where others have gone before you which helps, but there's certainly some trial and error involved. I definitely was presented with sections where I was climbing with all 4s up these rocks with my pack on. Nothing too extreme, but definitely a little more than I'd anticipated. The next section was a snowy version of what we just finished; some climbing over rocks, some trudging through snow all in the same direction, up! This part I was really glad to have the gators that one of my friends, Emma, let me borrow. They keep snow from getting on your socks and into your boots. really nice! When we reached the top, all the sweating and hard work we just did was ALL forgotten and we were overjoyed at the feast our eyes were enjoying. I took a classic go frogs picture that can be seen of F-book. The last part of the hike was fairly "flat". It was snow covered big rocks that you climb over/ walk through. It was on the back side of the ridge where you could see another range that made a sort of bowl between the two. I try to think of words that describe what I was experiencing, but it's really hard. Spectacular takes a whack at it. After a while on the rocks we came around a "corner" (big rock) and the hut came into sight. Beautiful red Muller hut really popped in the white snow. When we arrived, we reported to the hut warden and settled into our bunk rooms. Hut wardens are volunteers for DOC that hike up to these larger huts and stay out there for a week or so to keep everything going. It's a pretty cool deal if you've got the time and would like a quiet week in the mountains. Shortly after arrival (~4:00), we started on dinner. Jackie and Meg were the chefs that prepared a fantastic fajita feast complete with rice and beans, yummy seasoned chicken, avocado, and papers and onions. We even carted salsa up there! While they prepared the food, I slithered off to watch the sunset out on the ridge. Again, its one of those times that is hard to describe because I was just completely and incandescently happy. I think what I love about tramping is that for the 30 hour period, your concerns include: don't fall off the mountain, don't miss any version of this insane view, where should I take my next step, don't slip, what am I eating for dinner, don't slip and don't slip. Sorta silly, but my point is that I get such a high from scaling life back to focusing on the necessities and truly 'being' wherever I am. All that to say, the sunset was incredible. Shortly after I headed in to eat and play cards with the sweet girls I was with. By 7:30, I was crashing hard, though I managed to stay awake until almost 8:45 because I became captivated by the night. The moon was so bright and the snow was so white that there was enough light for my camera to pick up the mountains, stars, and my friends of course. It was really fun playing around with my camera. I'm learning a lot about it. This pictures honestly look like daytime with stars. It's pretty cool! My favorite part of the evening was standing in the quite and listening to the avalanches in that big bowl I described earlier. I'm not sure i'll ever experience anything quite like it. Shortly after that, I really did crash. I stuck my ear plugs in and was gone to the world for nearly 11 hours. At 10 til 7, I rolled over and decided it was time to go watch the sun rise (my timing was impeccable). I bundled up and headed out to the ridge again. Same as the sunset, it was amazing! to watch the light make its way onto all of creation is really special to experience. The colors were great! How can you go wrong with glacial lakes, Mt. Cook among several others, and a huge valley? Anyways, I got some cool pictures, and then by the time I came in breakfast was ready! We had chocolate pancakes that were DELICIOUS! After some wandering around, clean up and packing, we started back down the hill. The snowy part that was pretty tricky coming up was 10 times harder coming down. Even before we started down the steep part most of us had fallen at least once. The snow was good and slick especially where the rocks shaded big areas. I forgot to mention how beautiful the snow was that morning. It seriously looked magical. Walking along the top of Mt. Olivier with Mt. Cook in sight, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed! So the downhill part that looked like ski slope with giant rocks all over it was a REAL treat. Some of us tested out some different techniques. The intentional slide has to have been my favorite to watch. Michelle mastered this one quite nicely…….. ok not at all, it worked for a while (10 seconds), and then she hit some deep snow and took a nice tumble right into it! I'm sure it was not fun, but it was quite comical to watch. We stopped again at the stop of the stairs for lunch/ snack. All of us were feeling really accomplished and really happy to see defined stairs. There is not decision to be made, it's just one step after another. About 3 quarters of the way down, I did get pretty bored of them. If I stopped and rocked up on my toes a little bit, my legs would just QUIVER like a scared child. I was not sore when I woke up in the morning and my legs didn't hurt, but clearly they were fatigued. At the bottom of the stairs, it became difficult to walk normally. We found that if there was any incline, it was easier to assume a light canter than control actual steps. After loading in the cars we stopped to tell the visitors center we had survived and headed back to CHCH. I had the pleasure of driving Crandle all the way home, and I must say that it was really pleasant. I was completely lost in my thoughts and busy admiring the scenery. At Lake Tekapo we stopped for gas and some of the girls grabbed a bite to eat. The remaining 3 hours was a great drive. Erin and Marisa were with me, and we found ample things to talk about. :) As soon as I got back to CHCH, I changed my clothes and headed over to have dinner with my friend Jeremy and a guy from church who invited us. [if you're paying attention, you just cringed with disgust at the fact that I went into someones home after wearing the same clothes for two days, hiking up and down a mountain, and 8 hours in the car…. that's right. please, cringe away because I also went to church like that following dinner… yikes.]  ANYWAYS. It was the perfect sermon to end my weekend. He started an 8 week series on the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Reflecting on how awesome creation is was pretty easy for me. I spent the last 30 hours imerssed in some of the most beautiful places i've ever been.
I can honestly say, that I was not sore when I woke up at the hut or even last night when I got back, BUT this morning when I became conscious, my legs felt 10 times heavier. Progressively throughout the day, the soreness has set in. Stairs are the enemy at this point. Even 2 or three require serious effort to not make grimacing facial expressions. As I walked to the bus stop this evening, I felt like an action figure being played with by a wreckless 7 year old boy who creams my legs into the ground with each step entirely uncontrolled. I can only hope tomorrow will be better or else ultimate practice is going to be a serious struggle. This coming weekend i'm doing a service project with the Student Volunteer Army, and of course playing lots of frisbee. I'll update next week!

Monday, April 23, 2012

What days do we train!?

wow. let me just say that the last 3 weeks were amazing!!!! Monday morning Lauren was nice enough to take me to the Christchurch museum to catch the bus to Picton at 7am. after a 6 hour bus ride up the east coast I met Emma and Bert, 2 of my fellow Honey Badgers (UC Ultimate team) on the ferry that we took over to Wellington. The ferry ride was beautiful though we honestly spent most of the time in the cabin because it was beyond windy!!! We played fruit ninja for almost 3 hours, and I can proudly report I've busted 500. hahaha my accomplishments in this semester are quite profound. Anyways, we made it to Wellington around 5:30 and hailed a taxi to the fanciest hostel in all of town…. i'm lying. It was, well cozy. There were 6 of us in 3 bunk beds shoved into the smallest room you can imagine. Emma couldn't even get into her bed seeing as the ladders were pushed against the wall. To add, 3 of us were boys who significantly contributed to the foul odor of our humble abode EVEN with the windows open 24-7. Anyways, we moved right in, got sorted and headed out for dinner. We went to burger fuel which was DElicious. Then after a wander around town, we finally found a bar open on Easter Monday. Thank goodness for those Irish folks keeping the pubs open without fail. haha We had drinks at Molly Malones, and then went back to the hostel for a FANTASTIC night of sleep. (s-a-r-c-a-s-m). I woke up with a cock roach in my bed. lovely. Don't let that indicate how awesome the rest of my day was though. Emma, Bert, and Chris were nice enough to walk around town with me and Mai (newcomers to Welly). We went to Te Papa, the local museum, rode the cable car, and wandered around Cuba street. Wellington is a really cool city. That evening we all dressed up in Tron outfits for the Uni Games opening ceremony. Nothing a little spandex and electrical tape can't handle. We had a scavenger hunt at the zoo which was fairly uneventful except that we won a $60 dollar bar tab for Thursday. That night was full of healthy socializing at the hostel and then off to check out Wellington night life. It was a fairly early evening which was good because Wednesday was the first day of the tournament which held 4 games. Games were first to 17 or hard cap at 2 hours of play. That's 8 hours clocked in for the first day. We woke up at 7 and headed to the fields. Everyone had to get their accreditation checked, and then games started at 9. The first game was against Massy Albany. Most of their players were pretty new except one awesome girl who plays for the Aukland women's national team. It was good for our team to get our feet on the ground. We won pretty easily and it was SOO fun. The awesome handlers set me up to score a gagillion times which is always exciting. haha one point I got sandwiched between 2 guys something awful. I definitely felt a few things pop which was sweet, but it was worth it because I scored. lol Anyways, the second game was against the other canterbury team. honey badgers v. honey badgers. :) It was a fun game, and my team came away with the W. The third game was against one of the Vic teams which is the university in Wellington. It was a pretty close game, but we couldn't make it happen in the end and lost by 3 if I remember correctly. At this point, you might imagine that we were all feeling pretty tired. It was raining, and we were all walking with some serious swag (or limping… your call). We played AUT. They were all new ultimate players, but they were super athletic and really did well for their experience. It was sorta funny because they kept saying maybe they could beat us because we were injured. haha thankfully we were able to win, but they drug us out nearly the whole time allotment. During that match we tried to some interesting tactics. my favorite would have to be Alamo. it's pretty simple. Pull the frisbee, then let Tom do all the work. Call me pathetic, but I was DEAD. I was so so sore. We hobbled back to the hostel, left ALL our shoes and socks outside the room and got ready for dinner. After dinner it was another fun night of socializing. I must say that Canterbury clearly knows how to have a good time. Several other schools came to party with us at the hostel. Ultimate is an awesome community internationally. I met SO many great people, and actually while we were out on the town, I ran into the girls I was going campervanning with at the end of the week, Michelle and Rebecca. It was a late night, and an early rise to RAIN. Despite the pouring rain we loaded up the van and headed to the fields. to sum the next several hours up. It was FREEEEZZING cold, raining and windy. They relocated us to artificial fields, and after hours of deliberation, we decided to play out the draw just like it was to begin with… right. STIFF doesn't even begin to describe how i felt. Regardless, we played Aukland which turned into a complete social game. The wind was impossible, and all the players were really just having a good time. We lost, but honestly gave them a run for their money towards the end when we threw our super special drunk d on them. haha! This game I did lay out to score which was a kinda cool first.  Then it was an hour and a half to get stiff again before we played the other Vic team from Wellington. Seriously SO stiff and spent, but picked ourselves up for another game. We ran drunk d and actually played really well. High point for this game would have to be the hand block I got. This was my first tournament so give me a break for being excited about these little things. I'll also mention that I got skied really bad by a giant guy in the in zone. That was sorta embarrassing. I took a dramatic tumble. We won, and then it was more prep for another super fun evening in Welly. We had a $60 bar tab to use. (stick with the girl who has the voucher) we conveniently made it to the bar early. It was a great night and everyone from Canterbury was on form to say the least. The next morning, we entered semi finals play third seed out of 7. The first game was against Aukland again. We played surprisingly really well and led the entire game until the last few minutes where we hit hard cap at 10-10. After a nearly 30 minute universe point, we lost. We all put everything into that game, so the game we had to play directly after for 3rd was a complete joke. in fact, after 10 or so points, we just quit to go watch the final btw Vic and Aukland. When I sat down, my muscles would charley horse. spent is the only word to describe my state. At the awards ceremony, our team got the spirit award which was cool and several of our players made the tournament team. Also, Tom, one of our internationals won male MVP which was awesome. :) I  met SO many great people at Uni Games and I'm really glad I got to participate. After, I got back to the hostel, I showered, packed up, said goodbye. My sweet friends Michelle and Rebecca picked me up in our SUPER fancy campervan. 

We left Wellington around 4 and started our 4 hour drive to Napier. We stopped for gas and dinner in Woodfield and situated somewhere to park our campervan when we arrived. It was SO great to catch up with Rebecca and Michelle. They're the girls I went on the overnight hike with early in the semester. We all get along really well. When we stopped for dinner in Woodfield, found a place just off the main road that when we walked in was clearly a local joint considering everyone and their mother looked at us. It was great food, and then we were back on the road. I'll mention here how awfully slow I was moving at that point. It took my at least twice as long as the other girls to get in and out of the van and even out of my chair at the restaurant for that matter. In Napier, we managed to plug ourselves in, and then I PAASSSEEEDD out. It was a long and taxing week for my body. In the morning, we got sorted for a Hawks Bay wine tour. We drove into town and picked up groceries and then the van picked us up for the afternoon. We visited 4 wineries in the area. The first was called the Mission Estate. It's the oldest in Hawks Bay, started by monks in 1851. The drive was lined with beautiful trees and it definitely fit the picturesque image you would expect. Behind the winery there's a giant hill that they do concerts on every year played by pretty big bands where somewhere around 50,000 people come out!! It's a beautiful place, and I really enjoyed what they had to offer. In fact, this place had my favorite wine of the whole trip, Pinot Noir. I wish I would have purchased a bottle. Maybe I can order online while I'm still in NZ. The second stop was a place called Ngatarawa. It means between two ridges. The vineyard was owned by a family with an English man and Maori princess. The location of it is on their original estate. The horse barns have been converted into a tasting room. The grounds were again, BEAUTIFUL, and we had some more great wine. What's unique about Ngatarawa and the next one we visited called Craggy Range vineyard is that they're both Gimlet Gravels wineries. This is a piece of land that put Hawk's Bay on the map internationally. Apparently the area is an old river bed, and the rocky soil forces the plants to be smaller, but produce larger grapes because they put all their energy into reproduction and not growth. Also, just outside the gorgeous modern facility of Craggy Range, is the Te Mata peak which is iconic to the Hawk's Bay area. The legend is, Te Mata, a maori warrior fell in love with a maori girl who was conveniently the chiefs daughter from another tribe. He requested the chief to marry the girl, but he said Te Mata had to eat his way through the mountain range to prove his love. So he started eating the mountain, and had some trouble with one chunk, and then died up on the mountain. The peaks of the range look like a man's profile laying down. It's especially visible after a few glasses of wine. The last stop was a place called Clearview Estate. It's right down on the water. At this stop, they fed us a YUMMY meat, cheese and cracker platter and we tried more delicious wine. At this place they had a red dessert wine that was unlike anything i've had before (which honestly isn't that difficult consider i'm FAR from a wine connoisseur.) but I wanted to buy a bottle to bring home, and we weren't going back to Mission, so I went for the dessert wine. I figured I'm going to be strapped for space/ weight already getting home, so the smaller bottle was probably a good idea. I can't wait to enjoy it back home with the family! I'm thinking this will be for a dinner at the See's with all the usual suspects kind of evening.  After the wine tour, we jumped in the campervan and started the 6 hour drive to East cape… Now you might be thinking that sounds like a terrible idea to drive after a wine tour in the dark on a windy road up to a super remote region of NZ. Let me give more detail. We drank approximately 1 glass of wine over a 5 hour period, and then ate, sat around for an hour on the drive back to Napier, and then got in car. We were all sober as judges. It was quite an entertaining drive though. The roads that lead up to East Cape are not top on the list for quality. I can honestly say that some of the roads I've been on here in NZ hold a dim candle to the roads of Costa Rica and Spain. The most exciting part would have to be the blind turns one after another that require you to reduce your speed to at least 40ks. Towards the end of the drive, I went back to take a snooze which wasn't very snooze like because as my dear friend Michelle described… THE ROAD HAD WAVES IN IT!!! haha and there were seriously rats and possums the size of cats which was DISGUSTING and worthy of some girly screams. When we made it to the free campground, it was after mid-night and there was NO one there. It was sorta eerie to be honest. None of us even got out of the van. We just crawled back into the bed and snuggled up!! haha We woke up at 5:30 to drive out on the East Cape to see the sunrise. It's the furthest East point in the world. So we saw the sunrise first. Unfortunately, it was sorta cloudy on the horizon line, so it wasn't as amazing as it could have been, but it was still well worth all the effort. It was BEAUTIFUL. Totally energized but the sights, I jumped in for my 4 hour shift towards the Cormandel Peninsula. It was seriously the most beautiful drive I think i've done in NZ. Not surprisingly, when I went to nap that afternoon, I was NOT feeling so hot. everything was catching up with me, and my body, rightfully so, was starting to get sick. I had a terrible sore throat!! Thankfully, I was able to rest the whole afternoon on the way to the Hot Pools Beach which I definitely needed. We hooked up our van and sat out basking in the sunshine. It was a gorgeous day. 
In the AM, we got up, and headed over to the hot pools beach with our spade to dig us a hot tub!! HA! such amateurs. we dug this hole for us to sit in, and then realized we were on the wrong part of the beach… by that time, the tide was coming in and we only had time to go sit around the bubbling, BOILING water coming out of the sand. Poor Michelle actually stepped on the bubble and scorched her foot. Hot Pools is no exaggeration!! Then, we thought why not enjoy the sunshine. So we laid down on the beach and soaked up the sun. There was a guy playing the guitar just down from our towels and it was perfectly relaxing. After a while I noticed there weren't anymore people on the side of the beach where we were, so I recommended we pack up. Thank goodness I said something because the tide had come in and all these rocks were nearly blocking our way off the beach. We weren't exactly fit to climb over the rocks, so we just waiting for the right break in the waves. Unfortunately, our spade was carried away in the water and Michelle got soaked by a wave that crashed on a rock near where she was standing holding all her gear. When we made it to the other side, we decided it was safe to hang out a little longer considering that's where all the people had gone. (when I say all the people, don't be confused. there were maybe 20 people on the entire beach.)  After that, we went back to the campvervan to devise a plan over lunch. 
First on the list was head up to check out Cathedral Cove. It's a half hour walk down to this beach surrounded by rocks with a caveish thing on one side.. Harder to explain than I thought. Definitely check out the pictures on Facebook. It was pink sand, and completely picturesque. After that we started our drive across the peninsula to Cormandel the township. It was another drop dead gorgeous drive on an unpaved windy road in what looked like a jungle. The sun was setting, there was a river that ran along the road, and it was just perfect. Only about 10k from our designation, we came across this whole group of BABY baby pigs along with a whole slew of other animals. All three of us reacted completely appropriately squealing like children and jumping out of the van to take pictures. They were the tiniest pigs I've seen in person. The funniest part is after we made this big to do about the pigs, we get back in the van and start to drive off and notice there's a farmer standing just out of sight laughing at us in our obnoxious "BACKPACKER" campervan. We made it into Cormandel for sunset, found our holiday park and made quite the feast for dinner. In the morning, we started the drive down the west coast of the peninsula and around to Aukland. Again, it was great drive!! SO beautiful, and actually all paved roads :) Hamish, One of the guys I met at Uni Games from Aukland was nice enough to let us park our campervan at his parents house for our time in the city. They were all over the top good to us letting us shower and use their kitchen as well as giving us all kinds of advice on things not to miss in the area and all around the North Island. After getting situated, we took the ferry into the city central. We walked up Queen's street and then headed over to the Sky Tower. I'm actually really glad we went up because It was the perfect way to see Aukland with someone there to point everything out. We also watched someone buggy off the top.. NUTS. that's all I have to say. After the Sky Tower, Hamish's sweet sister took us back to Howick to get ready for dinner. That night we ate in town, and then enjoyed running around the city on a Tuesday night. real classy!! The last day of vacation, we drove out to Mount Eden (volcano) and hiked up to get another awesome view of the city, and then went out to Musick point to eat lunch and sit in the sun some more. That evening, Michelle and Rebecca dropped me off at the airport and they headed up to the Bay of Islands (JEALOUS i missed it). We were so sad to leave each other. it was pathetic. We just had been spending so much time in that little campervan, it was weird to say goodbye. There are not many people I would be willing to cram into a 2 person campervan with, but i can honestly say there wasn't one time I wanted to get out. We had the BEST time exploring the North Island and I'd do it a hundred times over. 
My flight back to CHCH was a STRUGGLE. I did the head bob the entire way. Thankfully, Lauren came to get me at the airport and when I got home at 10:30.  I had to unpack, do laundry, repack and get to bed for the last part of my 3 week vacation. The next morning, I finished off some last minute details, and literally ran out the door to catch the bus to Uni for my field trip with my Ecology class. We loaded the buses at 8:30 and headed towards Arthur's pass to Cass Research Station. I won't bore you with all the details of my trip. I identified plants, estimated lots of canopy coverage, trapped and counted bugs, measured 120 tree diameters, and struggled through 2 short reports. I have to say, it was the coolest field trip i've ever been on. I actually learned quite a bit and really met some MORE great people. Another American John, taught me how to take pictures of the stars with my camera. You can imagine that they were pretty spectacular out there, and while my camera doesn't even close to do it justice, I was SO happy to have captured the southern cross. 
After this COMPLETELY full on 3 weeks, I returned to CHCH and had a lovely dinner with Lauren, James, his parents Alison and Ian and Tess. It was really nice! Today was my first day back of classes. hahahahahahahahahahaha classes. i'm in classes? right. thank goodness my grades don't transfer. There's not much chance i'll be paying attention for my last 2 months in this AMAZING country. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Akamaroiroi: go with strength.

Last Saturday, I woke up, and packed my bag for Rarotonga. IES, the program i'm studying abroad through sets up this trip during mid semester break. Eunice, our coordinator has been going to the island for the past 5 years, so she's great at planning an awesome week. For those of you that don't know, Rarotonga is one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. It's the biggest island and is inhabited by about 10,000 of the 15,000 people who live in the country. We left in the afternoon and stopped in Aukland on the way. The descent in to Raro was pitch black. There was nothing nothing nothing, and then within a minute of touchdown we finally saw a few lights. We didn't arrive until 11:45pm. Then we cleared customs, and loaded into a van… scratch that, we STUFFED into  2 vans with all our luggage. Thank goodness its a small island and it was a short drive, because we were all in a bit of heat shock coming from Christchurch. When we arrived, I settled into a room with my two sweet friends Erin and Jackie. Then all the people in our group met on the back deck that overlooks the water. It was nearly 1am by that time, but we were all captivated by the stars. You could very clearly see the milky way, o'ryan's belt and the coolest thing was the southern cross which i've never seen before!! Also, the shooting stars were the best i've ever seen. I could follow them for almost 5 seconds some times. Everything was so clear. I started to realize how "in the middle of nowhere" we were. Then it was off to bed to get ready for the first day. We woke up around 7 and walked down the beach a little ways. It was a beautiful and peaceful start to the day. Jackie, Erin and I were on breakfast making duty. We cut up some paw paw (papaya), mango, and assorted cereals and toast stuff. Shortly after we were off to the saturday market (so yes, i lived saturday almost twice). The market was huge, bumping with music, and full of bright colorful things. We watched a few performances, and I bought a pretty new dress to where to church the next day. For lunch, we picked out some home-made bread, pumpkin humus, a few guavas, and star fruits. All were DELICIOUS, and it was fun trying new stuff. 
After the market, we walked over to a local families house for some "cultural activities". We tie-dyed a sarong, weaved coconut tree leaves into dinner plates, and head pieces. This was all in preparation to learn our dance. While we were making our head pieces, we sat and laughed at the boys learning their part, but shortly after it was our turn… I can't say any of us will make it as maori dancers. Then we headed over to the taro patch. Taro is starchy like a potato. Its a staple to cook islander diet. We helped the family turn over the soil, and plant a patch of taro. After, one of the guys scaled up the coconut tree and kicked down a few for us to eat, drink, and huck. SO yummy!! We had a coconut hucking competition. They make a sharp stick with a machete thing, drive it into the ground, and then shove the coconut onto the sharp end. Sounds easy, but there is definitely an art to it. It took me about 15 minutes to finally get one open. After my pathetic attempt, the dad of the family literally hucked the coconut with his teeth!!! That's who I want with me if i'm stuck in a jungle. While at the taro patch, I made an oopsy. There was a young kid that had been with us the whole day. It had long hair that was braided and really pretty eyes. So, making assumptions like I never should, I asked his mom how old she was. HE was an 11 year old boy… right. Then we headed back to paradise inn for a shower and a few beers on the deck before dinner. We walked down to the convention center for dinner with the plates, head dresses, and sarongs we made that afternoon. They welcomed us with traditional music and fed us like kings! Thankfully, I made a rather large plate, so there was plenty of room for all the kumara, taro, chicken, paw paw, mango, and passion fruit. YUMM! After we ate, I realized that I should have paid more attention at the dance moves because it was our turn to perform. If that wasn't bad enough, they insisted that we have a dance competition. I was proud to not be the first out… good enough for me!! I wish I had better skills because the winners got the cool hand-made wooden drums. 

Sunday, when we woke up, Erin and Jackie went for a run, and I made my way down the beach so that I could see the sun rise. It was gorgeous! Afterwards we had breakfast before we walked down to church. It was communion sunday, so all the mammas and papas were wearing white. My favorite part was the singing. Most I couldn't understand, but it was really cool when I recognized the tune to songs I knew. Also, it was really interesting to watch the behavior of the kids. They mostly sat by themselves, and literally played an talked through the entire service and no one seemed to mind at all. One kid even threw something down on his grandma's hat from the balcony. Speaking of, the women of the church are required to wear hats every sunday. Most of the service was in maori, but some was english, and besides being terribly hot and tired, it was a really neat experience. 

After church, we loaded up and headed off to the eastern shore of the island to snorkel!!! It was SOOOO cool. There are over 100 species of fish just off the shore in the lagoon. I'll stop here and tell you just a brief bit about the island. Its volcanic and then theres a fringing reef that surrounds it. It is reallllly important. It breaks the surf to help prevent erosion of the island among other things. Anyways, it made for some awesome snorkeling. there were tons of beautiful fish and other marine creatures including an eel. YIKES! We lounged on a beach for a while afterward and then were served passion fruit and coconut. Later, we went to play put-put before dinner. It was a beautiful evening, and actually quite fun to play with my friends. Out of our group of 5, I managed 3rd which I decided was respectable enough. The same place prepared another FANTASTIC feast for us. oh my gosh. This was a meal that I enjoyed like the one I had in Springfield that Kaeko prepared for me. My favorite part was this fish that they put a paw paw chutney over. SO SO delicious. On top of that there was super tender and yummy steak, and an assortment of potatoes and salads accompanied by really good garlic bread. And then of course, desert was cream puffs, some chocolate meringue type thing, and fruit salad. We came back to the Paradise Inn deck and played cards with the rolling pacific ocean close by. 

In the AM we had the typical breakfast and then it was off to USP (university of south pacific) for a couple lectures. Sounds boring, but they were great! The first lecturer is the president of the voyaging society of the Cook Islands. They make these vakas that resemble what their ancestors used when they stumbled upon the pacific islands. Then they sail around the pacific without GPS. Their navigators rely on stars, sun, wind, currents etc to make their way across the ocean. It's amazing. It would be a unique opportunity to go on a voyage. They've traveled to Tahiti, New Zealand, California, Hawaii,  among other places and currently there's a vaka coming back form the galapagos islands. He was a fascinating guy, and the hour flew by! To be honest, he did say that often times the captain carries a GPS and records lat/longs or safety reasons. If they were to become in danger, they would need to be able to transmit their location, but this information is not shared with the crew. The voyaging society is an attempt to maintain the cook island culture. It's really a cool practice. The second lecturer works for the NES (National Environment Service. He is tasked to work with one other person to maintain the biodiversity on the islands. What a job for two people!! To put in more manageable terms, the cook islands land area is about 2 disney worlds, but their exclusive economic zone (aka, the water thats considered cook islands), is the size of Alaska and Oregon put together. That comes from measuring 200 miles off the coast of each island. He's quite a busy guy, but was nice enough to come speak to us. He taught us all about the flora and fauna of the island. There are several native and endemic species he works hard to maintain. Most are threatened by human impact and invasive species. 3 of the 15 islands are uninhabited, and work as a great location to manipulate and isolate animal populations. They've had a lot of success growing up species on these islands. Back to the EEZ. Within CI waters, there are trillions and trillions of dollars worth of resources. I think it was something like 30 trillion dollars worth of lead. Even better, its sitting there in ball shapes just waiting. The cook islands are being very cautious in assuring that the mining won't do more damage than good before they release any permits to the several countries waiting for a green light. The big hold up is to develop technology to suck the lead and other resources from the ocean floor because we are not allowed to scrape it. After the lectures, we ate lunch and then met a local guy and his son to start on the cross island walk. It's marginally marked and decently treacherous. The track leads from the Avatiu valley, up to the Needle, about 400 metres above sea level, then down through the Papua valley to Wigmore’s Waterfall. I must admit it was a little more intense than I anticipated. It was like climbing up very large stairs for about 25 minutes which is 20 too many. Though, when I got to the Needle, It was well worth it. The views were spectacular. I could see both shore lines, and the lush green mountainous center. Funny enough, we ran into a rooster that lived up there which I guess isn't too much of a surprise because they're literally EVERYwhere on the island, and they LOVE to wake you up in the morning. Anyways, it was an awesome hike complete with river crossings, steep slopes, beautiful views, narrow pathways, a few near death experiences (kidding… sorta) and I had the company of some awesome people. At the Wigmore's waterfall we went for a swim which was well deserved after being wet with sweat after the 3 hour hike in the super humid forest. 

For dinner that night, we hopped on a bus to begin a progressive dinner. We started at the house of this nice man who showed us all around his piece of land. If you are a cook islander, you are entitled to land somewhere within the islands, and this man and his family live on theirs. Several family members all on in one place. What's cool is like most families on the island, they're nearly self sustaining. They have taro patches, ALL sorts of fruit trees (coconut, passion fruit, guava, oranges, limes, star fruit), as well as a vegetable garden complete with tomatoes, lettuce and various other things. In fact, everything we ate except the fish was from their property. Its a special month for this family because the man (i can't remember his name for the life of me… ) is accepting his responsibility of king of the family name from his mother who passed away 2 years ago. After the ceremony, he can't leave Rarotonga unless one of his son's is there to act as "power of attorney" (ok, i'm a little tired, and when I was writing this I wrote power of eternity, got through another sentence, and then THANKFULLY caught my stupid mistake. haha!)  They were so welcoming and wonderful to take us all into their home. The entire night, the sweet man and his sons came around with us playing ukulele and guitars. The main course was served at a really nice house just above the new sports auditorium. This auditorium was built by the chinese. They came in with their supplies, tools, and workers to build the arena at no cost to the CI…. sounds all too fishy if you ask me. All they ask in return (for now) is that CI acknowledges one China (this means they don't consider Tiwan as a country). They also want fishing permits. Something to keep your eye on thats for sure! Anyways. the main course was once again, DELICIOUS and served by the sweetest couple. When we all sat down she came in and welcomed us to her home. She's no more than 5ft tall and she half jokingly informed us that she was in charge and then said "claps for me". haha it reminded me of my mom, the admiral. She said her husband was just the helper boy that sleeps in her bed. They were the most endearing people constantly telling us we were now part of the family and welcome to return and stay with them whenever we wanted. Two of her grandkids also came by and performed for us. It really is part of their culture to dance, sing and play instruments together all the time!! Desert was served by a couple. The husband is a cook islander and his wife is a kiwi. He's 3 generations from William Masters, a man with a super unique story. It went something like this. He had a child with one lady, then married her sister. then left England and one one island he made friends with the chief and got 3 more wives whom he had kids with. On a voyage to another island he met another lady who he promised he'd come back to. He did, but it took too long and she was already married to another man. Then he came to Rarotonga and met a woman who he stayed with for the remainder of his life. Funniest part about it is that he came with the London Missionary Society! They served a delicious desert. Guava, mango passionfruit cheesecake, fruit salad, banana bread, and meringue with passion fruit on top. It was great!! I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time in these families houses and see how they live daily. 

In the morning, we headed off to Takitum Primary school for a visit. When we arrived, they gave us leis and hurried out to their positions. On Fridays and when there are special visitors, they do an assembly. A few kids play the drums, and the rest go out and march around this perimeter. They're so sincere and adorable in their uniforms. After their march they came in and sang songs and when it was time to pray before lunch, the principle told them to close their eyes. It was near impossible for them to not watch us. There's a funny picture i put up that shows the little girls and boys really struggling to not watch all of us sitting in front of them. They served us a delicious lunch, and then we played with the kids for a little over 2  hours. It was a blast! we played soccer for a while, and then I sat down with several little girls playing ring around the rosy. After a few minutes, we went for a water break. I sat down on the mat with them and they went to work on me. They braided my hair, sprayed "perfume"on me, and wanted to do my makeup! Thankfully I talked my way out of the last one. Lord knows i needed some perfume though. It was another scorching hot and humid day. After several hours of games, we loaded back on the buses and headed to the CICC (Cook Islands Christian Church). This is the new name for the CI London Missionary Society. We went to their theological school. The timing on this one was a little poor. We were all exhausted from the school that staying awake during his talk was near impossible. Thankfully, it wasn't too long before we headed out to Parliament. When went into the room where Parliament meets and actually sat in their chairs. Most exciting was the fact that the building was air conditioned!!! SO exciting. A sort of jack of all trades for the Legislative branch of the government gave us a quick history of the country and current problems and concerns. It was quite interesting. They had a huge recession in the early 90s that was followed by a controversial election where tons of money was spent to bring voters from NZ which ended up invalidating the results which were then simply given to the opposition for all offices. He told us about a lot of their current issues. Land ownership is probably the cause of the most drama which was technically supposed to be handled by the House of Sek (which is the native leaders), but it's too complicated considering some plots of land may be entitled to up to 30 people. China is a significant concern also as well as the trillions of dollars of resources in their waters. I really liked the simplicity of the place. A small room where all the legislation is passed through. Their budget is something around 110 million for a population of 15,000 heavily relying on tourism. Speaking of, on the south side of the island, theres an unfinished hotel that stands near the end of the cross island walk. It looks like a scene from a movie. It's all over grown and looks like they just up and left in a hurry. The Rarotonga Sheraton got pretty close to completion in the early 1990s, but dodgy behind-the-scenes dealings; including the embezzlment of large amounts of money, Italian mafia connections, and attempting to build on “cursed” land meant this hotel has been a lost resort for nearly 20 years. So the concrete structure just stands there empty. 

After parliament, we headed to Aro'as Bar and accommodation. It was such a cool bar area on another beautiful beach with a sunset brewing when we arrived. We all got delicious cocktails served from mason jars and sat out watching the colors paint the sky. They also served us dinner which was AWESOME. the best part of the meal was desert. They made guava cake that was phenomenal!! SOOO yummy. When we got back to the hotel, I was dead tired. I crashed in no time. At about 5:30am, i was fast asleep when a crab or spider or cockroach (still unsure) climbed on my arm. YIKES! Thankfully, Jackie had just gotten up to go to the bathroom, so in my scrambled attempt to shine my phone light on on the object I could not see without my glasses, she saved the day and smashed the creature. then for the next 10 minutes I had a serious case of the creepy crawlers. And sure enough, within 15 minutes, another creature was on my leg. I slapped it away and then begrudgingly wrapped the sheet around me so I could fall back asleep. yuck. 

The next morning we had breakfast and then headed over for a lecture from Nan at the Whale Research center. She gave an great presentation about all her research on the humpbacks that use Rarotonga as a corridor. She does a lot of work to prevent whaling and is currently studying migration technoques etc.. After the whale center we went to pick up our bikes for the rest of the afternoon. It started raining just as we got there. Regardless we all rode down to black rock beach anyways and went for a swim. It was GORGEOUS. The water was super warm and crystal clear. after an hour or so, it was time for volunteering at the only vet clinic in the Cook Islands whose director came to Rarotonga simply as a handy man with no training. His girlfriend is a vet and they're supported mainly by volunteers that cycle in, some for 1 week up to a few months from all over the world. Generally its just as long as they can take time away from an income. We cleaned the animals cages and then fed them. There were some adorable kittens, newborn puppies, and a small dog with tetanus. Apparently, he will be fine, but he looked like stuffed animal with his paws stuck out like that. I also got to see a dog get spayed. It was pretty interesting. haha After Animal shelter it was time to dry off and then head to the cultural show. Erin and I ate BBQ Kebabs there sitting in rice with coconut milk mushroom sauce. SO delicious especially considering we followed it with a giant slice of banana cake. The cultural show was performances by all the local schools on Rarotonga. IT was really good! The first few were just plain cute because these itty bitty kids were dressed in coconuts and little skirts shaking their hips best as they could. It progressively got more impressive through out the show, but let me clarify that we were there from 6:30-10:30. They haven't quite got the "on time" and "keep things moving" theme from showbiz in the states. We finished the night with ice cream sundays and attempted to go out for a drink in town, but didn't get there until 12 which is when everything closes. So instead we came back to the deck and had a few drinks. It was a beautiful night. 

The last morning, we rolled out of bed extra early to make bacon, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast. Afterwards Chloe, Miranda, Erin, Jackie and I went back to Takitum School for another day of volunteering. They were once again SO welcoming and wonderful to us. We organized sports games, and helped situate their classrooms for the Easter holiday (2 weeks). I ended up using this little straw "broom" to sweep some classrooms which actually took quite a bit of time. Thankfully, the sweet kids 'helped' me out best they could. We stayed for almost 3 and a half hours before we biked back to Paradise Inn. Then we packed up again, and headed to the beach. ended up being a great few hours wading in the perfectly clear water and playing frisbee with my friends. It was a fantastic way to finish the trip. After this it was just a quick stop at the Inn to pack our bags and pay our tabs. We left Rarotonga in a 777 to Aukland. It was a 4 hour flight, and by the time we got to Aukland, it was too late to make a connection to CHCH so we rode to the hotel and went to sleep pretty quickly because it was a 5 am wake up call. After the short flight to CHCH it was LAUNDRY time. It was near impossible to get anything to dry in that humidity, so I can't say my bag smelled like roses. I'm happy to report I'm all cleaned up and ready to leave Monday on my next adventure up to the North island. I'll keep you posted!! 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Time flies when you're having fun!

So I fell off the face of the earth for a few weeks, but i'm back to try and remember what just happened. The weekend before my parents came, I did my best to get ahead on schoolwork. That only lasted through Saturday. Sunday, I went to Orana Park which is a wildlife park just outside of Christchurch. We showed up a little after 10, and literally stayed until 4:30. It reminds me of the movie We Bought A Zoo. It's all spread out! You walk around and they have feedings lined up all day where they, yep! you guessed it, feed the animals and give you a whole spiel about why they're endangered. I'll fast forward ahead and tell you i've been twice since i've been here. This place is really cool! I learned all kinds of interesting facts about spider monkeys, lemurs, kiwi birds, rhinos, tigers, chetahs and on and on and on! and as far as the endangered stuff goes I can sum it up for you….
1) don't use products with palm oil
2) don't buy wood that's being taken down from the rainforest
3) don't use products with palm oil
4) spread awareness that rhino horns are just the same thing as our hair & nails
and 5) don't use products with palm oil
so of course, what does the rhino guy go and do… he tells me that Tim Tams are made with Palm Oil products… now, i'm not sure how much longer this is going to last, but I can honestly say since my last visit, I've been Tim Tam free!  Speaking of Rhinos. They were my favorite! I can see a trend here… large, grey, clumsy= qualifications to become my favorite animal. Mom and Katy really liked the Giraffes. I put up some really good giraffe pictures if you want to check them out. We got to feed them! The other thing I really like about Orana is that it's mostly run by volunteers. They walk around to the feedings and answer questions. Its amazing what they know, and you get to meet a whole range of people. When mom, Katy and I went we had these 2 volunteers, David and Margo. David was a young guy wanting to get into zoo keeping, and Margo was an older lady who comes out once a week. They were both nice as can be and basically walked around with us all day. Mom, Katy and I stayed to the last feeding. We left at 5pm!!! 

Ok, REWIND! After the first Orana visit: On Wednesday I had SERIOUS ants in my pants… I left class early to catch the bus to the airport to meet dad and Amy. When I say I ran from the bus to the terminal…. i'm unfortunately not joking. It was super anti-climatic because then I had to wait an entire 15 minutes for them to come out. When they came through the customs doors, I was ELATED!  SO exciting to see familiar faces from home. We took the shuttle to pick up the car rental, and headed off to a bar just outside of Hagley Park that had a fish and chips special on. Dad barely made it through dinner! He was in the middle seat between 2 other men on the long flight from LA to Sydney. Needless to say, he wasn't exactly well rested. That night Amy came to stay with me at Tess's. It was sooooo good to have her there. Skype is great and all, but there's nothing like sitting on the bed together chatting away. She finally hit a wall, and I realized I was talking to myself….. 

Thursday, we met for breakfast (had DELICIOUS scones) and then I went to school and sent Dad and Amy off to Akaroa, the little French colony out on the Banks Peninsula. We met up for dinner when they returned, and again hit the sack early because they were still not adjusted. Friday, I took Amy and Dad down to Ballantynes in the RE:Start area for more scones. They really enjoyed the opportunity to see what the earthquake did to CHCH. Afterwards, I very poorly navigated us from the city to pick up mom and katy. Between, all the construction, one way streets, and dad turning on the windshield wipers every time he wanted the blinker, I was a BIT distracted… Their flight was delayed, so we were right on time. There was literally a running welcome from the terminal. (proof on Facebook in Amy's pictures) I know people say this all the time, but really… Its only been 2 months and Katy has grown SOOOO MUCH. She's amazing. Anyways, we all piled in the matchbox car and headed to rent the campervan. We actually made it out of Christchurch fairly uneventfully. Dad did an awesome job at navigating the traffic circles and……. I forgot to tell you something. In NZ, for the past 60 some odd years, the have had a particular "give way rule"… here's the run down. When you are waiting to turn left in America, you have to yield to the folks going straight in the lane you'll be crossing. Makes perfect sense. Here on the other hand, the person going straight is to yield to the person wanting to turn!?!?! makes ZERO sense. To make things crazier, they changed the rule to match ours (but on the left side of course) within the time mom and dad came. SO Dad gets a lot of credit for managing that 6 berth home on wheels out of the city!!

That day we drove to Kaikora. What we anticipated being an hour and 20 minute ride, ended up being 2 and a half easily!! The last stretch into the town that brings you down to the coast was sorta miserable. Everyone was not quite all set on NZ time, and we were all getting tired. Thankfully, when we popped out to the water, it was overcast, but BEAUTIFUL!! A view like that has a way of making everyone happy!! We got settled into our first campervan site, sorted out our beds and went to have some dinner down the road. The best part of the meal was the homemade bread!! When we got back to the campervan, it was do not pass go, do not collect $200, GO TO BED! All armed with ear plugs, we nestled in. While this occurred every night, i'll make a comment on it now. Our home on wheels was great, but it sure is annoying when every single time anyone moves, the entire place shakes. At first it was funny, but after a while… it got a little old. 

Thankfully, we woke up to a clear sunny day!! We could see the mountains, we got MORE scones, and we took a drive down to the beach. Dad and Katy wasted no time getting their feet in that Pacific Ocean! We dilly dallied around and then headed out on the penninsula to see the seals. There weren't many to be seen, but the view was spectacular!! Kaikora is a stunning place. Where else can you get beach right next to mountain!? I also put up some beautiful pictures from this stop. After the seals, we hopped in the van and headed inland towards Hanmer Springs. It was about 2 hours of GORGEOUS driving. It was much less treacherous than the way into Kaikora. We drove through lots of farm lands and valleys. On the road, mom saw this "deer" that she described to be about the color of the cows we had been seeing. We gave her a hard time, and told her it was probably a cow she didn't see very well. After about an hour we stopped along this river for a lunch break. We made some DELICIOUS ham sandwiches with the bread from the restaurant we went to in Kaikora, and dad and Katy skipped rocks. Mom decided she wanted to take a nap in the back for the rest of the ride. So within 10 minutes of being back on the road, we see what she was talking about before lunch. We dubbed it a cow-deer!!!! Its huskier than a deer from home, but the same color as the brown/ red cows. We even pulled over to ask them what they were. They ran away. 

When we arrived in Hanmer, we got to the site, and went to soak in the hot springs pools. I must say, while it was great for Katy to go down the slides, it was not a favorite on my list. As Dad said, its like taking a bath with a bunch of other dudes… and then of course mom made us get into this magnesium pool. We smelled terrible leaving that place… Hanmer is a gorgeous town. I would have much rather done a short hike to check out the 360 degree views. That night was our first attempt at cooking in the home on wheels. It was a smashing success. Mom cooks, and Amy and I are either doing dishes or taking out trash continuously. After dinner, Dad, Katy and I went to throw the frisbee around. Dad, being a man with a drink in his hand, couldn't just lightly throw the frisbee. He kept chucking it at us with all his man strength. As could be easily predicted, he proceeded to through the frisbee over the fence into someones backyard…. This required a full on recon mission which included me jumping a fence to retrieve my frisbee. We called it a night after that one. 

In the AM we loaded up and headed west! The drive through Lewis Pass was again, GORGEOUS! Unfortunately, when we made into Greymouth, it was rainy and you couldn't really see much. We decided to keep driving and stay in Hokitika. It ended up being about 3 hours on the road which was just enough. We cruised around the town (can be done in about 5 minutes) and then settled in at our site. It cleared up a bit, and our campervan site was right on the beach! We spent the whole afternoon skipping rocks, throwing the frisbee and just laying around listening to the Tasman Sea roll in. The sand was black, and there were lots of rocks. it reminded me of the cape in the states. For dinner, we fixed up another 5 star dinner from the kitchen in our home on wheels. After dinner, we rented a Evan Almighty from the front office and watched it together. It's really a funny movie and it was perfect for the whole fam. The rest of the trip when we wanted to use an explicative we said SHEEEEEEEEPPPP! 

After another night rocking around in the campervan, we woke to RAIN!! We were so bummed, but decided we were going to the gorge and lake kanerie anyways!! As is typical in NZ, by 11am it was sunny and clear! The drive out to the gorge was great and the short little hike to see it was perfect! We got to cross a swingbridge which my dad thoroughly inspected and decided it probably wasn't all that safe. haha! None of us are big fans of things like that… After the gorge we headed over to Dorthy Falls and Lake Kanerie. As we got closer, the road became dirt, and we just hoped and prayed we didn't meet another 6 berth (OR ANY car for that matter) along the way. Lake Kanerie was awesome! We packed up a lunch, and walked down to sit in the sun and soak up the gorgeous scenery. This is where we all fell in love with coconut rough Cadbury chocolate. YUM! (i wonder if it's made with palm oil products.. i HOPE NOT!!) Dorthy Falls was just a short trek from the road which was also really pretty. We continued on the loop around the lake. We made it back to Hokitika and headed north again. On my map, I could see a small road that was a short cut to get to Arthur's Pass. It was the same color and width as the roads we'd been on, so I figured it would be alright. 2/3rds of it was paved and just fine, but the last third, I was feeling pretty guilty for steering us down the path to the washboard road… :X  FINALLY, we made it to the highway and headed back inland across Arthurs Pass. It was super super windy, and hands down, Arthur's Pass was the worst driving we did the entire trip. There are some steep gradients, and all kinds of blind turns which is 10 times more intimidating in a 6 berth campervan. There were some spectacular drops, and all I could think about was the poor folks that made this road. The Arthur guy was the one that pioneered his way through scouting to see if a road was plausible. If I were him, I would have said HECK NO!! Thank goodness there are more brave souls than me! It was along this road, that I saw my life flash before my eyes. We were almost down out of the mountain when we came around this blind corner and DUN DUN DUN!!! there were not 1 but TWO giant logging trucks. SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. I could see the edge on my side, and I kid you not, we were like 6 inches from our doom!! Way to go dad on getting us out of that one safely… On this side of Arthur's pass we stopped at Castle Hill where I had been before with my orientation group. Katy loved climbing around and exploring! She said that was one of her favorite parts of the trip. We settled in just down the road from where I stayed in Springfield. Again, we prepared a meal for champions from that little kitchen, and played cards for the rest of the evening. 

It was so funny to wake up to sheep outside our back window in the adjacent field. That morning, we ate at the Yellow Cafe were they claimed to serve yummy food! (who could resist) It was a short 50 minute drive into CHCH to return our home on wheels. After doing so, we ventured over to the RE: start area for lunch and then over to the Antarctic Center for the afternoon. It was a pretty cool (ha ha!) place. We experienced an Antarctic summer storm, and got to see some really cute penguins that had been rescued from the wild. Each one had little colored markers that matched them with their partner and told their name. They were really cute! For dinner that night, we went over to Lauren & James's with Tess. It was SO great to have my Texas and Kiwi Families all together. 

At OH DARK THIRTY the next morning, mom and I went to drop Dad and Amy at the airport. We came back and slept for several hours. I had to go to class, so they came to school and sat at a cafe working on Katy's homework. After class, I was going to send them to Orana Park, but decided I would skip more class and go with them! great decision! We had a BLAST! After Orana, we ate dinner and caught up on American Idol with Tess. Thursday, Mom and Katy went down to Akaroa to ride on the Canterbury Cat and I went to class. FAR less exciting. They LOVED it. Katy took tons of pictures of the seals, dolphins, penguins and sea birds. I was really impressed when they were only 15 minutes late to pick me up. Katy is getting better at her navigating skills, and mom did so well driving on the wrong side! 

Friday, we got up and headed over to Lauren's because Tess's bathroom is being re-done. We played with Alec, and worked more on Katy's stupid homework. They took me to class, and afterward we ran some errands. It was really nice to have a car to do the things that would have taken me hours on foot/ bus. We even made it down to see the Christchurch museum. They just opened a CHCH Earthquake exhibit. Its really well done, and it was nice for mom and katy to check out. We had a delicious dinner with Lauren and James and after tea and biscuits, we went to bed. 

This was mom and katy's last day!! We got all packed up, and headed over to check out the NZ Air Force Museum. It was really cool and FREE! In fact, while we were there, we met the author of this book dad had been reading in the book store a few days earlier. Its called Skyhawk, and it's all about the A4 (which my dad flew). He offered to sign the book, so we bought it along with a NZ Air Force t-shirft for Amy. It was set in this big dark hanger, with these cool spot lights on the planes. I'm so glad we went! Then it was time to drop them off at the airport… I walked them in, and got them all situated, and had one last big hug from both of them. I really haven't been homesick at all since I've been here. There's been times when I wished I could be home for a day, but I haven't been ready to get back. Seeing mom and katy cry made it a little tough to walk away. I sure do miss them!! 

I took the bus home, and there to greet me was Alec and his adorable self! Lauren, James, Alec and I sat outside in the beautiful sunshine. Alec is such a great baby and SO much fun to be around. I'm really glad I've gotten to spend time with him. That evening, I hopped on the bus, and headed for campus. Erin, Michelle, and I were headed to the Canterbury Crusaders rugby match. It was a blast!! We bought bratwursts, beer, and chips. SOO nutritious. They game was awesome!!! There were definitely parts I didn't understand, but overall I had SO much fun and WE WONN!!! 

Since then, nothing overly exciting has happened. I wrote an essay for a scholarship to support my senior honors thesis, went to frisbee league and practice, and got a B+ on my Alice in Wonderland paper. WOO!   But don't fret, this weekend I leave for Rarotonga. I'll be there a week, then I get back easter weekend and leave Monday for Wellington for Uni Games (ultimate tournament). After that, it's more campervanning with Michelle and Rebecca around the North Island, and my 3 week adventure finishes with 4 days at Cass research station in Arthur's Pass for my ecology class. It's going to be fun!!!!! I know this is epically long, and if you seriously read the entire thing.. you must be bored. :) but thanks anyways. 

PS: tonight Tess is helping me make a Pavlova for my friends 21st birthday!!!!! I'll let ya know how it goes… 

Monday, March 5, 2012


Last school week was a tough one. I learned that my friend Denise had been moved to a hospice care facility and her health was rapidly deteriorating. Feeling so far away, I battled with the decision to come home or not. I decided against it, and braced myself for what I knew was sure to come. During this time, I attending my first UC Tramping club meeting. They told us about an overnight hiking trip this weekend. I felt vastly unprepared based on the "supplies list" they publicized, but found myself signing up anyways. Thankfully, they lent me a pack, and tent. The rest of the week I spent in class or gathering the bits and pieces for my sure to be adventure. Friday evening I tossed and turned not wanting to accept what I could tell was eminent. I was trying desperately to sleep as I speculated on the amount of energy and effort I would need to get through the next day. To no surprise, I received an email in the middle of the night that Denise had passed away. I felt sick, and overwhelmed with emotion yet I pulled myself out of bed, dressed in the warmest/ most waterproof clothes I have, strapped on my pack and headed for uni. Did i mention that the weather forecast was rain, cold, and wind? 

so off we went to Lake Sumner Conservation Park. It was about an hour and a half to the turn off for lake sumner. Before I go any further, I'll note the trouble UC Tramping club has with bus companies. They set up these trips that require bus transportation, and the company we used this year is the last in the area that will work with them. Why you might ask? Let me set the scene. It's mid morning, raining, cold, and we're on a gravel road heading into this valley. There are 80 trampers split onto 2 buses. I sat in the front seat, and I'll tell you our bus driver was STRESSED. The road was in fairly good condition, but it's covered in blind corners and fords (where the water crosses over the road). Oh, and the bus we were on was an old volvo bus from the 60s. It was a standard, and the gears were tricky to get into. The initial plan was for the groups to be spread out into 4 different tramps based on skill level. 3 of the 4 routes required a river crossing to start the day. River crossing in NZ is a dangerous activity. The rivers rise SO quickly and lots of trampers die each year trying to cross unsafe rivers. Not even the swim bridge was safe to walk over. So on the way to the only available trailhead available, the first bus dropped a tire in one of the fords. Still raining and freezing cold, we all piled out of my bus because our driver refused to go any further (note that he's sitting on a hairpin. Don't know how he managed to get out of that one, but he was there to pick us up sunday, thank goodness!!) We start the trek up to the other bus and on to the trailhead. Just as we approached, the bus had been pushed out and was making it's way back over the ford successfully this time. 

We got to the start of the tramp, and left in groups about 10 minutes apart. As we start walking, the rain lightened up and i started to think 'this isn't so bad after all'….. Then we come to the bridge where there are 80 of us trying to cross a bridge that only 1 person can be on at a time, and it takes about 1 minute to cross. do the math, thats a long wait. Oh and did I mention it started raining again, and it was really cold? I made a big mistake not taking my pack off and eating something right off the bat. I just stood there, completely miserable. That put me behind the 8 ball having not spent the energy moving around some blood to my extremities. At that point, I could not feel my hands, and I didn't want to move. Then the shivering began, and the oh-so-friendly safety officer informed me that i'd managed to enter stage 1 of hypothermia and insisted I drink some of his hot tea from the thermos. Not too long after that, I was shuffled over the bridge. it's a lot scarier than it looks from the ground, and when you're already cold and miserable, it seems MUCH worse. I was SO glad to get to the other side, and I immediately started walking to try and warm myself up. I honestly can't tell you much about where I was at that point because I literally was looking at the ground taking 1 step at a time wondering why the hell I paid money for this. To be fair, even when I did look up, there was such low visibility, it wasn't that interesting. Not until about 2 and a half hours into the tramp I began to feel my hands again, though they were hardly functional. Simple tasks like buckling my pack back together took quadruple the time it should have. About this time, it stopped raining, and we made it Gabriels Hut. This is just a quick 20 minute walk from Lake Sumner. We ate lunch, and even got a glimpse of sunlight which I actually ran over to make sure I didn't miss. The last hour and a half was in the beach forest, and was all muddy, up and down, and peppered with stream crossings. We seriously crossed the same river 14 times… Whoever was making that path must have wanted to make certain that you arrive at the camp site with your feet completely soaked. Another bridge crossing, and we'd made it. After setting up the tent, I was beyond excited to take off my wet clothes. I made a typical nube move not bringing shoes to wear around the camp site, but being the resourceful individual that I am, I tied plastic bags to my feet, and even went so far as to hopping around in a garbage bag. To be honest, the only time I left the tent was to use the luxurious portapotty and collect the pancake that the club provided for dessert. My tentmates, Michelle and Rebecca, and I were in bed by 7pm. I've never slept so hard in a sleeping bag. For a bit more description, I happened to be on the downhill slope of the tent. Though, this would have bothered me far more if it wasn't so cold. I was happy to be the bottom of the sleeping bag pile. 

In the morning, we woke up, and heard rain drops on the tent. Considering our bags were outside and there was an unescapable 5 hour walk calling our names, I can't say I was in the best of moods. Thankfully, it was a small shower that passed quickly. Despite leaving our shoes under the tents protection, they were still soaked and freezing cold. I dreaded putting them on. To my surprise, it was terrible for only about 2 minutes until my feet warmed up the shoes. I took some advil with breakfast to assure I would survive the trek back. My hips were the most sore. I have bruises where the pack straps wrap around. This was painful, but it was great to be able to put the weight onto my hips instead of my shoulders. Even after day 2, my shoulders haven't been sore at all. I thought for sure not having carried this pack before, I would have some back and shoulder aches. By about 9:30 we were on our way, the forecast looking heaps better than the previous day. After the bout through the forest, we arrived back at Gabriel's Hut and decided to check out Lake Sumner. It was BEAUTIFUL, and I felt light as a feather walking over there without my pack on. We took a few pictures, and headed back to pick up our packs and be on our way. I can honestly say, that to my surprise, I didn't mind carrying the pack, and I wasn't the slightest bit miserable on day 2. The weather was perfect! I actually TOOK OFF layers, and basked in the sunshine. Its amazing what a change in weather can do for your outlook. I could see all that the gorgeous river valley had to offer, and I was tickled pink to be there. After my thoughts the day before of never doing this again, I began to reconsider. We stopped a lot along the way for the impossible to pass up photo opportunities, and even ran into a sheep stray along the way. Also, our leader, Sasha, is a biology graduate student specializing in ecology. It was really cool to have her share random facts about our surroundings as we walked. Here's a few interesting things about NZ:
1) you can drink out of most of the streams!!!! They have mostly birds, and sand flies with the occasional deer which is considered a pest. yes, I drank from them, and no I do not have giardia yet. 
2) The beach tree's have this little bug that attaches to the bark and sends a piercing extension of it's mouth into the phloem veins of the tree. This is what transports all the nutrients around the tree. Due to the pressure of these veins, it's a force feeding of sugar for the bug that ends up filtering a good portion of it right out an anal canal where a wasp comes along and takes advantage of the "free energy". Research has shown the the bugs are not considered parasites because the trees are so efficient at photosynthesizing that their impact has almost no bearing on the tree's ability to sustain itself. In my pictures on Facebook, you'll notice they all are distinctly black. 
3) Also, the reason sand flies are named as they are is because when Cook discovered the area, he thought they looked like the sand flies in England. There are several cases just like this one where things are named based on the environment their discoverers come from. 
4) we learned all sorts of other stuff about the different trees and birds that inhabit the area, but i can't remember their names…

When we made it back to the trailhead, they let us know that the buses had not come all that way to pick us up, and we would have to start walking to the promised BBQ. Thankfully, after only about 1k, a van came by to pick us up. Its a really good thing, because little did we know, we would have been in for a 10k walk to the BBQ.  Also to be noted: when a kiwi says BBQ, they mean a sausage and piece of sandwich bread with tomato sauce and if you're lucky, some onions. The first time I heard BBQ, I was envisioning hamburgers, corn, a fruit salad etc. Its not the case here. 

After we ate, we went down to the river for river crossing training. It was good to learn about safe river crossing, and at that point the cold water felt good after the long days walk. 

The bus ride back was in and out of consciousness, and when I returned, I had dinner with Lauren, James, Tess, and James parents who are in town for a few days. We had a delicious roast chicken with all my favorite vegetables and rhubarb crisp for desert. I ate like it was the last supper. :) When I returned from dinner, I received word that one of my best friends from TCU, Maddie, had to rush home to be with one of her hometown friends, Scott, as he is battling bone cancer. I've had the pleasure of spending some time with Scott when he visited TCU, and back in Chicago with all of her hometown friends. All I can say is, if i was battling something like Scott is, I would be lucky to have the support group that I know surrounds him today. From the little bit that I've seen, they are one great group of people. While I'm certainly not as close to Scott as I was Denise, it is no easy pill to swallow dealing with the realities of this wretched disease. Please pray for Scott and his friends an family. I cannot wait for my family to get here. A giant hug is long overdue. 

Today, after some serious laundry, I read Alice in Wonderland for my children's literature class. What a triply story… I just realized I have an essay to write due next Friday on why it's a classic to children's literature.. oh joy. After class, I socialized a bit, and then headed to frisbee league. I was NOT prepared. It was extremely windy and way colder than I expected. All I had was shorts and a t-shirt…. It was still fun, but pretty discouraging. Any talent I ever even remotely thought I had was decreased 10 fold by the wind factor. Even so, I was glad to spend some time running around getting to know my teammates. Tomorrow is "training"… I've gathered that this is the equivalent to practice… i'll let ya know how it goes. Currently, I'm planning to go play in a tournament in Wellington over mid-semester break. I've heard its quite a good time!!!

And to finish off, Tess bought me flowers this evening to express her condolences for the lost of my dear friend. so thoughtful. 

PS: here's a link to the map of where I was this weekend. I think it's sort of interesting.
You can select show all huts in Lake Sumner Conservation Park as well. The huts are a great way to get around if you're traveling in groups of 7 or so (some huts house up to 40). Most supply some cooking materials, and you can make a fire inside. It would have been fantastic to go in and take off my wet clothes instead of crawling into that tent!! 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

books, a bay & beer

Goodness! This past week was a good one. I definitely confirmed that I love being a biol/chem major. I was so happy to be in Ecology class!  I also attended the memorial service held on the 1 year anniversary of the major earthquake that took the lives of 185 people. It was held in Hagely Park, and there were thousands and thousands of people. I really enjoyed the opportunity to be surrounded by this resilient bunch, and I'm so glad to be here for the next couple months. I really think this city is wonderful, and I can only imagine what it was before and what it will become. Other than attending a few classes and the service, I joined the Ultimate Frisbee club, The Student Volunteer Army, and the Kayak and Canoe club. Tomorrow I actually have my first ultimate scrimmage. lets just hope I don't make too much of a fool of myself…. TOO LATE. I already mistakenly sent an email to the entire team distribution list (~100 people) because I didn't know what "to post to this list" meant…. it doesn't mean to sign up for this list if you're wondering… on the positive side, they probably all know my name. By Friday, I was ready for some more exploring. About 5 of us headed downtown to the Antigua boat sheds to hire a few kayaks to paddle around on the Avon. The Avon is like the lazy river, but slower. It runs through a park, and has weeping willows and all sorts of other beautiful trees and shruburry along the shore. It was perfect weather, and so relaxing besides the fact that after an hour on this extremely mild river, my arms were burning…. and i just joined the kayak/canoe club… I hope there are some patient instructors and maybe I should stick to 2 person boats. in fact, what about strictly canoe, where I can sit and marvel at this beautiful country while someone else works on their biceps.  That's more of what I have in mind. 
The rest of the evening was uneventful other than the fact that I had delicious fish and kumara chips form the joint around the corner from my house. OH, & the Christchurch Crusaders rugby team won by 1 point. 

Saturday, I met 6 other study abroad students to catch the bus to Lyttelton. Lyttelton is right on the coast, just outside of Christchurch. When we arrived, we made our way to the market. What we found was slightly disappointing. I've been on this quest for some homemade jam and local honey since I arrived, and have yet to succeed. So when we got off the bus, and found a decent sized garage sale, I was a bit deflated. Thinking this surely couldn't be what I heard was the best farmer's market around, I asked a local who so kindly pointed us down the street a couple blocks to a perfect market with everything i've been looking for. I don't know what it is about fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, jam, pies(savory), fresh baked bread, and the staple chocolate station that really makes me happy. Funny thing is, I kept thinking… MAN! if only my mom was here, she would know just what to do with all this stuff. I seriously made about seven laps before I could figure out what to buy. Thankfully, I had decided honey and jam was a nonnegotiable purchase. That gave me some direction. I bought local clover honey, and blackboy peach jam. Both are DELICIOUS. I also picked up some sun-dried tomato & kalamata olive spread along with some kalamata olives. Naturally, I needed something to put all this on, so I bought a small loaf of sourdough bread. and because I hadn't eaten breakfast, I added in a bacon and egg pie. NO regrets. everything tasted great, and it was nice to have snacks the rest of day. 
After the market, we wandered around town a bit, and then finally found our way to the ferry. We took the Diamond Harbor Ferry across the most beautiful water I've seen. There were sailboats racing in the distance, the port hills surrounding this bay, and I could see the open water to the Pacific. When we arrived, we marveled at the scene for a bit, and then took off to explore. Our fearless scouts found a trail that seemed to follow the water line, which is never a bad plan. The view just kept getting better. I honestly am running out of words to describe this place. I  cannot believe how beautiful this area is. The people that live over there, and wake up to that every morning are doing something right!!!! I spotted a beach across the bay we found, and i'm determined to figure out how to get there. There were tons of sailboats in that area, and even a motorboat pulling some happy folks on a biscuit (tube). After an hour or so tramping around, we hit up the country general store for some ice cream and smoothies and went back down to the dock. There were kids jumping off into the perfectly blue water. All I could think about was how much Katy would LOVE to swim around, and swing off the rope there. We rode the ferry back, and caught the bus back to uni. After printing off our tickets, we headed down to Hagely Park for The Great Kiwi Beer Festival. First of all, what a great idea right!? There were about 40 breweries all set up in these tents, live music, and lots of food. It was PACKED full of people. We arrived sometime around 4, and they had run out of the mini steins we were promised. This may have worked in our favor though because instead we got 2 plastic cups. I didn't recognize a single one of the companies, so it was really fun wandering around trying to figure out which ones to try. Don't ask me which was my favorite, because I tried a lot of beer and I don't remember. I liked them all, and it got really confusing because most places I would ask for each cup to have a different kind. I tried to keep the brewery and beer type straight, but it was an uphill battle. While there, Erin and I ran into Lauren & James, my "second" host family, and then a couple other guys from our UC. It was really cool to find people we knew at such a huge festival. In addition to the beer tasting, there was some great live music, and my friend Erin and I split a Fritz's Bavarian Style Sausage. I was one happy camper with a beer in one hand, Fritz's in the other, the sun shinning, and music playing!!! :) On the way out, Erin and I found some unprotected/ neglected mini steins that clearly wanted to be taken home, so our admission cost was not for nothing. It was a well spent 22 dollars!!! After the festival, we met some friends who hadn't bought beer festival tickets at a bar just outside the park. They compensated just fine for missing out on the event. We all walked back to campus, and hung out playing cards for the rest of the evening. Apparently, when I was on the way home on the bus there was a 4.3 earthquake, but neither I, nor the bus driver noticed it. 
Today, James was nice enough to come over and help me fix up the bike Tess's coworker has loaned me for the semester. Now I just need to take it down to the gas station to fill up the tires and i'm ready to go!! I also got to call my friend Denise back home. It was so good to catch up! I sure miss my TCU family. This evening, Tess and I went over to her friend Carol's house for dinner. She was so hospitable and her husband prepared us delicious steaks. Afterward we all came back home and watched the final X-Factor Australia. Apparently, it finished in october, but it didn't play in NZ until now, so everybody knew who was going to win. No suspense. Anyways, tomorrow is another school day, and one day closer to when my family arrives!!! I can't wait to see them :) 

Funny phrase:
good on you= good for you or well done