Sunday, 16 March 2008

We woke up at 3am, dragged the kids out of bed, and were in a cab and on the way to the airport by 3:30. It is always a strange feeling, driving around a city when all is dark and nobody is about. We took three planes to get to Christchurch, New Zealand. We watched the sun rise on one plane and watched it set from another. We ate our three meals on planes. We lost four hours, so as we descended into Christchurch it was 8 at night, but it still felt like 4 in the afternoon to us. During the trip, Clay and I watched two movies while the kids happily played their DS games or read their books. I cried in both of them, Martian Child and Juno. I’m a sucker for movies about outcast kids finding homes, and babies being born.

Two things of note happened as we traveled. Benji left his DS game case in the Cairns airport, with all its games inside. He did manage to hang onto his DS, mainly because it rarely left his hands all day, but we were all bummed about the lost case and games. We inquired at airports along the way, to see if there were any way it could be recovered and returned, but it just wasn’t going to happen. The second incident was that I got myself stuck to a popsicle. We had just been served a mediocre meal, with just a measly bite-size piece of chocolate for dessert, and I was feeling unsatisfied. Then a stewardess walked down the aisle, handing out orange popsicles with ice cream in the middle. Hooray! I was so excited, I stuck my tongue out to take a big lick and it got stuck. My entire tongue got stuck. I lifted the popsicle stick, and my tongue went with it.

I played it cool at first. Ha, ha, my tongue is stuck on a popsicle. Then I showed Alayna, who was sitting next to me, and we started laughing, and then I tried to close my lips around it to see if I could heat it up with my breath and my lips almost got stuck, so I peeled them back and punched Clay across the aisle, who also broke into hysterics. It’s very hard to laugh with your tongue stuck to a popsicle. I was starting to drool orange drool and my tongue hurt. Just as Clay was getting some water to pour on it, I peeled it off, along with a layer of my tongue. Nate asked what I did with it, and I told him I ate it (more carefully of course), which totally disgusted him. I ate a popsicle with tongue on it. I tried to convince him it was just my tongue, so it wasn’t that bad, but he was still disgusted.

We got our first sight of this new country as we came into Auckland, islands floated off the coastline like kids on their backs in a pool. Green grass and green trees and the countryside all rumpled below us into hills and valleys. Neat little squares of land stitched a farming community, as we got lower we saw cows and sheep. The ocean ran alongside the runway, it was a pretty place to land. As we flew to Christchurch, the sun set. Seeing the sun set from above the clouds is so beautiful, it looks like heaven. It really does. As we landed on the runway, it was dark outside, our internal clocks were all messed up.

Peggy and Maurice were waiting outside the motel as we drove up in the cab, I saw Peggy pop up behind the lattice that shielded the courtyard from the road, and in a few seconds she and Maurice were hugging us all and the kids were already diving into stories they’d bottled up until they saw Grandmamma and Granddaddy. We all bustled into our hotel, where we had booked a two bedroom apartment for our family. Clay and I had been a little concerned about this place earlier in the day. I booked it back in July, and when he checked it out on Trip Advisor at the airport in Cairns, and saw how low it was ranked, and some of the comments (bed bugs, dirty bathrooms), we were both wondering what I was thinking.

Granted, it’s a backpackers place, with a community kitchen and dorm rooms with bunk beds. But we aren’t in those facilities, we have our own bathroom and kitchen and things are good. Maurice and Peggy checked in before us, and after seeing their scummy room with just a double bed for the two of them (Peggy declared she can’t remember the last time they slept in a double bed), they asked for an upgrade, and were mostly happy about their new room. Except for the partying Italians upstairs that flicked cigarette butts and beer tabs down in front of their door. But, we were all together again and we have two and a half glorious weeks in front of us. We are in New Zealand, and we can’t wait to get cracking . . .


Monday, 17 March 2008

This morning we all slept late. We didn’t get Alayna up until 9am, I think our bodies were still on Australian time. We decided to head to the Botanic Gardens first, we figured out the tram system and hopped on for a few stops. The gardens were incredible. The trees were huge and gnarly, great climbing trees. Some of them had curtains of leaves that hung all the way to the ground so you could hide underneath in a green fort. Some of them had trunks so big our family couldn’t get our arms around them. Branches beckoned, the kids climbed, we took way too many pictures.

We came upon a playground where Nate and Alayna turned back flips out of their swings and all three kids swung on a see-saw swing, trying to balance each other out. While they frolicked, we sat on a park bench and caught up with each other and just breathed a while. The weather here is amazing, nice and cool and sunny, a little bit of breeze, it’s lovely. As we walked back through the gardens we admired the flowers that were still blooming their little hearts out. Roses and canna lilies and carnations and vinca and those big rounded balls of flowers I can’t remember the name of. I got happy with the “macro” function on our camera, where I can take really close up pictures of things. Clay said he will spare you the torture of viewing all of my flower close-ups.

We had a great restaurant meal, it’s been a long while since we’ve eaten in a nice restaurant. With the weak US dollar, New Zealand is expensive. The place where we ate was listed as “inexpensive” in our guide book, and entrees were still $17-$20 New Zealand dollars, or $13-$16 American. But it was good. Enchiladas and tofu and nachos and gnocchi, we dug in. Spaghetti and stir fry, our typical campervan meals, were getting old towards the end and I welcomed the change of pace. We introduced Peggy and Maurice to our games, Emperor and Challenger’s Dice, while we waited for the food.

After lunch we visited a nearby museum, where we learned about the extinct Moa bird. It looked like an ostrich body with stumpy legs, and it was once a resident of New Zealand, it’s only been extinct 500 years. Anything that’s extinct is pretty cool in Benji’s book, because dinosaurs are extinct, so he got all excited about their reconstructed skeletons and had me read him all the information. They had dioramas of the natives of New Zealand, and of course they were naked, and of course Alayna was offended. “Couldn’t they make some clothes?” she hissed. The museum was vast and varied, with everything from stuffed birds to displays of Chinese clothing and Egyptian mummies. I felt like we were walking through little bits and pieces of our trip!

After the museum, we all hustled onto the trolley for a ride back towards the hotel. We passed a campus with some boys out front dressed in hideous school uniforms. They were wearing black shorts with white shirts, a black blazer with white vertical stripes on it, and a black tie with horizontal white stripes on it, and to top it all off, white socks pulled up to the knee. The trolley driver informed us these boys attended an exclusive all boys school, tuition was $24,000 a year. They reminded me of what Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter must have looked like, all dressed up for school.

The kids and Grandmamma settled in to watch Underdog, one of two movies Clay’s parents brought for the kids, they were thrilled. Benji got some great laughs out of that movie, and apparently, according to Peggy, it was written with a six-year-old in mind. I got some laundry started in the community laundry room, passing through the community kitchen where backpackers were cooking their Uncle Ben’s dinners. Some girls were actually making pancakes, they smelled and looked delicious, and everyone seemed to be having a good time, just getting to know each other while they cooked. I almost wanted to be a part of it all, but I really didn’t. I think they looked at me like I was old. Me! Old!

Clay and I went for a run. It was a great feeling, running in that cool weather with the sun shining. We passed and pitied some more of those poor boys in their black blazers and knee socks, they seemed totally unembarrassed by their clothes. I guess they get used to it. We encountered lots of other people running along the perimeter of the park, it was a day to run. We got back, and went to another delicious meal, this time at a gourmet pizza place. We got a pizza with apricot chicken, roasted cashews and cream cheese, and another with chicken and gravy and pumpkin . . . it was all good.


Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Today we went to Antarctica. Okay, so we went to the International Antarctic Centre. Did you realize that most expeditions to Antarctica leave from Christchurch? They fly in a huge cargo plane that leaves from here, and they get their survival training here. When we arrived, we were just in time to experience a winter storm. A digital clock counted down the minutes and seconds, just outside the door to the “storm room”. When we arrived it said one minute. In just one minute all seven of us pulled on rubber boots over our shoes (so we wouldn’t get the snow dirty) and grabbed heavy coats. I ended up with a kid’s coat that came up over my wrist bones, and Benji had one that came to his knees, but we skidded in there just as the “storm” started. The wind blew, the temperature dropped, and pretty soon we were all huddled like a bunch of Emperor Penguins while people on the other side of a big glass window laughed at us. It is pretty darn cold in Antarctica.

After the seven minute storm was over, we looked around the room. There was an igloo we could crawl in, a canvas tent, and a ramp made of ice that the kids slid on. They thought this was great fun and slid again and again. Once they were done we all left the room and thawed out for a while. We watched the Blue Penguins eat their lunch. These are the smallest of the penguin species, and each one in the flock at the Antarctic Center have all been hurt somehow and can’t survive in the wild. Some are blind, some have a bum flipper, but they can all eat, and we enjoyed watching the two humans feed them. Each penguin has a name and a personality, one was grumpy that day and hid in the bushes because it was molting, and when you’re molting, it feels kind of like a sunburn. The Davises know all about sunburns.

Next we rode on the Hagglund ride, a vehicle they use in the Antarctic to traverse the snow and ice, sometimes through perilous landscapes. We were taken on an obstacle course that demonstrated the capabilities of this nifty truck, we tilted at 45 degree angles, barreled down steep slopes, and plunged through a pond. The Hagglund can float, and its caterpillar track worked as a paddlewheel in the water to propel us forward. After the ride we explored a little further, checking out a cool display that demonstrated the earth’s tilt in regards to the sun as it orbits through the seasons, showing that in certain months Antarctica is in total darkness the entire day. We marveled at the layers of clothing that must be worn to protect yourself from the bitter cold. Four layers, of everything. Four layers of gloves, four layers of feet protection, long underwear and two layers of fleece and a heavy coverall . . . what if you had to go to the bathroom after you got all that on?

After leaving the Antarctic, we caught a bus to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, a pretty place where we encountered all sorts of animals. Although we enjoyed the tame eels, the wallabies, and the lemurs, the real reason people come here is to see the kiwi birds. The kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand, and since it’s nocturnal, it’s really hard to see in the wild. It’s squatty and brown with a long, skinny beak, about the size of a chicken. At the Reserve, they have a nocturnal house where it’s dark all day, and you can enter and spy one of these special birds. We entered the hallowed halls of the kiwi very quietly, signs warned that we must be silent, that we were being videoed, no pictures, etc. We spotted a kiwi seconds after entering the dimly lit environment. It seemed pretty unconcerned considering all the warning signs, it pecked its way around a tree, occasionally lifting its head and shaking it back and forth, like it was guzzling a particularly good insect.

Wow, our second day in New Zealand and we can check “kiwi” off our list. We came back to our apartment and ate some Subway sandwiches while we sat at the table and talked. About the time Clay set off firecrackers inside tomatoes, stories about Peggy’s dad when he was in the war, stories about the crazy man who was in front of Peggy at a Best Buy back home. Sitting with family, telling stories, it is something I love. Tomorrow we take a train farther north, I can’t wait to see some of the beautiful scenery I know New Zealand has to offer. Our bus to the train station picks us up at 6:15am, so we’re packing up tonight, knowing chaotic moments loom just over the horizon in the pred-dawn light, as we scrounge around trying to get ourselves out the door. Could it be the Davis family is becoming a little more “type B” as the trip progresses? Nah.