Sunday, February 12, 2012


Alright, orientation weekend part 2. After dinner, I went to email my host family to find out when they would be able to pick me up, and let them know I was thinking about them during this tough time. They responded and said they were looking forward to meeting me the next day. I thought everything was still all set. Also while checking email, I received a message from one of my professors back home. I learned that my dear, dear friend Denise has metastatic liver cancer, a relapse of the breast cancer she survived a couple years ago. It broke my heart to hear such news at this time. Thankfully, Eunice and Nicole, my advisers here were really great in comforting me as I processed this information. She has been on my mind everyday since I left Fort Worth, and I miss her a lot. I'm asking that you pray for her and her family as they navigate all the decisions and struggles that come with a diagnosis like this one.

The next morning after a delicious breakfast (as expected from Kaeko), we headed off to Rubicon Valley. We arrived at the sheep farm of a man named Chris. Our first activity was Jet-boating. If you're not familiar with a jet boat, here's the story. In the 40's a man named Bill Hamilton dreamed up the idea of a boat that required very little depth to travel at high speeds. In the 50's and 60's the jet boat was created, and this is where the jet ski was born. There's a water intake valve at the back of the boat which sucks up water and propels it out the back to advance and steer the boat depending on where it points. Our guide said it cycled 500 liters of water every second!! So all 20 of us climbed in and off we went. Best I can describe it is like Tokyo drifting on water. I've never done anything quite like it. The boat requires 3 ft to start and stop, about 2 ft to do a complete spin (which we did several times) and only 3 inches or so when cruising. The water in the river is all run off from the mountain snow and glaciers. It's appropriately named Waimakariri River. The Maori translation is River of Cold Water. It's highest temperatures range from 6-7 degrees C. Once again, I cannot even explain how amazing this adventure was. We were flying across this river, occasionally in only 1-2 inches of water in the most beautiful area. The water was almost crystal clear. The guide said some days you can see straight down in 35 ft pools along the edges. Speaking of the guide... people are really into extreme sports around here, and man did he like to push those limits. At some points we were inches from these bluffs that lined the river. YIKES! I decided her probably knew what he was doing, so I shouldn't worry. It worked out pretty well. :) When we had driven about 20 minutes up river, he stopped and pointed out this area between two mountains in the distance. He said in the winter, that turns into an ice field, and that's where another scene in Narnia was filmed. This location is really remote. there is a 4X4 trek, but most of the equipment etc. was carried in by helicopter. He actually said that when they were filming, he'd come sit and listen to the battle above. Pretty COOL! Then we headed back, and it was a THRIL ride. The speedometer was broken, so I don't know how fast we were cruising, but it was a blast! 

This just does not do it justice, but here's one picture to help you visualize the optical feast my eyes were experiencing!! After the boat ride, we came in for morning tea. I must say, that's one thing in the Kiwi Culture I absolutely LOVE. Tea all the time. AND SCONES! oh the most delicious scones and jam. These scones were so delicious I took a picture... tell me this doesn't look amazing! 
Then the sheep farmer Chris started to tell us more about his farm. He has 3 thousand Romney sheep on 2 thousand acres. Their wool is only carpet quality, but their meat makes them profitable. They're fatter sheep unlike those that are run in more mountainous areas. The mountain ones are smaller, and their wool is a far better quality. Romney sheep wool is about $3/ kilo and the mountain sheep wool is $35/kilo. HUGE difference. After the spiel we headed out to feed a couple of older sheep he kept around as pets. They generally stay on a farm only 5 years. At that point, they're no longer producing as many offspring and their meat is no good. These sheep were FAT and old. After sheep feeding, we headed over to watch a sheep herding dog demonstration. He has 5 dogs for all his sheep. Each dog can manage ~100 sheep. The two we got to meet were Blue and Tess. They're both border collies. Tess is 12. Her working days are really over, but she likes to do easy work like this. Blue is only 3 and still has some training to do. It takes years to train a sheep dog. All the training is done by praise, and its done in short increments over a LONG period of time. Anywhere from 2-4 years depending on how instinctive the dog is. Most times the farmer and dog are 1-2km apart, so verbal praise must be enough. No time to run back for a treat. Blue was hysterical. He wants to chase sheep all day everyday. It's about containing his excitement and channeling it to what you want him to do. Also, the dogs only listen to Chris. They don't even flinch when any of us said the same commands. It was really cool to watch. He would just speak to them firmly and BOOM they were gone. NOTE: herding lingo..
if you want your dogs to approach the sheep from the right, you say come out. 
if you want your dogs to approach the sheep from the left, you say come by.
and to put more pressure on them, walk up.
if you want them to jump over a fence, you say, come over. 
then sit and stay.. they only ones i can think of that Charley occasionally complies to... haha! 
They were incredible to watch. they worked together and herded the sheep wherever Chris directed. Then he got us involved. He had a male and female volunteer to act as Tess and Blue, and then I was the sheep herder. I even got to hold his staff. All I was missing was a giant belt buckle and sweet leather hat like his. This, I'm sure, was quite entertaining to watch. I was supposed to tell them what to do and they "herded". We got them all but 2 within 5 feet of the gate, then lost all but two. They were seriously 2 feet from the coral, and then bolted!! We successfully herded ZERO sheep. Guess we'll leave it up to the dogs and Chris. Next was our introduction to Alpacas. What funny creatures. Chris told us the males are worth around $900, but the females can be worth up to $9000!! We all took turns taking pictures hugging them. We thought they were SO soft, but Chris said that was considered coarse... Can't imagine what really soft alpaca feels like. 
Now it was time to learn bout sheep shearing!! We came inside and sat in front of this sheering platform (purposely slippery to prevent the sheep from getting any traction). He showed us the old school sheers and the new electric sheerer. For the sheep in the mountains, they use the old school shearers because it leaves a 1cm coat to keep them warm. This costs about $2.80 per sheep, while electric sheering is $2. Each sheep produces about 1 kilo of wool, so from some quick math, it's clear that there's little money in sheep wool unless it's the mountain sheep wool. But because we've intervened and bread sheep to grow longer wool, they must sheer them twice a year or else they will die. Native sheep only grow their wool an inch or 2 long. (not at all profitable) He brought out a sheep, man handled it between his legs and sheered away! Several folks in my group also got to use the old school shearers to cut some wool to take home. After about 15 minutes of sheering, he mentioned that the record for sheering 3 sheep (that includes catching them and pinning them down) is 29 seconds!!! I'll have to do some youtubing. this sounds crazy. It's really hard work. In fact, its now number one in terms of manual labor jobs that still exist. now, it was time to eat again!! (or so they told us) Naturally, we had mutton along with some sort of lamb patty and sausage. Then a baked potato, several salads and fruit and cake for dessert. Once again... stuffed! Chris's farm is SUCH a beautiful place. It overlooks the river we jet boated on, and on the other sides is surrounded by the southern alps. absolutely perfect views from every angle. He does Horse Trekking which sounds like it would be really great! This is a must for the Amy, Tanner, Bridger visit. Also, I'm thinking Bridger should start looking for a jet boat for summertime in MT... They're a blast! 
Once we left Rubicon Valley, we headed over to help a conservation effort run by the DOC (department of conservation). There are tons of efforts to regrow native trees and other plants to NZ. Also, they're trying to create safe environments for Kiwi Bird conservation. We went to this area just outside of Springfield where they are in the process of planting 4000 trees over a 50 hectare area. Brian, the man coordinating the effort was great! He taught us how to do it and set us to work. We planted 206 trees in an hour. The goal was to beat the local primary school who did 216 in 2 hours... I say we won, but it was much debated. 
By this time, I was zonked! We got back on the bus and headed for Christchurch. When we arrived, I thought i'd be meeting my family, but I soon found out that the mom caught the flu upon arriving back Christchurch!!! What luck! Thankfully, Lauren and James (my current host parents) are willing to let me stay here until things are sorted out. I'm not sure what will happen. I may be assigned to a new family altogether. Regardless, I'm so thankful for my current host parents taking me in. That evening, Sera, James, Lauren and I ate dinner and sat around talking about the weekend. After they went to bed, me and Sera watched the fist Lord of the Rings. (now i understand my happy birthday Bilbo display.... thanks Kara and Dane) haha! Now, i'm just waiting around to hear from the homestay folks. We'll see!! 

Kiwi phrase of the day that I think it's really funny:
Cooler = Chilly Bin

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