The Other Side of the World: A Second Opinion

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Second Opinion

For some reason it is impossible to upload more of the large panoramic photos which are some of the most interesting from the adventure, so while I work on getting them into the blog (and the video), here is the remainder of the entry. You will have to scroll to the bottom of the entry and read up. Regrettably posting it in reverse order was too forboding a task for me. Finally, you can click on the photos to enlarge them. Enjoy... -K Below, the views from the top, and above a cow on the side of the road and our sheep friend. So, we drove back stopping in the unimpressive '12 times NZ's most beautiful town' of Fielding, got lost courtesy of M's navigation and headed back to Palmy with one last stop at the wind farm on the top of the adjacent mountains. Going back a moment, the whole reason for getting lost was because we were trying to get to the turbines without having to pass through the Manawatu Gorge, a terrifying lick of tarmac that snakes through the mountains right at the edge of a cliff which drops into a roiling river (see previous posts). Unfortunately we didn't manage this, and so spent another frightful 6km driving through once more on the way to the mountaintop. From here we took a sharp right and headed down a small road before turning right again onto a single lane dirt road that led to the top of the mountain. My nerves were already slightly rattled from the gorge, but that was nothing compared to this beast. It was a 40 minute drive up hairpin turns that would make Alpe D'huez look straight, with rockfall on the road and no barricade between the outer wheels of the car and a cliff that led right back down to the gorge or a timely death somewhere in the middle. M wasn't hysterical, but she was far from relaxed and I was quite tense by the time we made it to the top. However, it was well worth the effort because the view was astounding (on a clearer day you are said to be able to see both sides of the ocean and the south island of New Zealand from here). The wind farm was also beautiful, the turbines were all over the place and we were right at their bases along with a bizarrely located sheep farm and the odd cow. One sheep managed to jump the fence and looked down on us from the side of the hilly road fulfilling my desire to look a sheep right in the face (I didn't know what they really looked liked, since my only exposure was the woody allen vignette with Stavros Milos and Daisy the sheep). The wind was also quite strong and cool where the turbines faithfully churned while emitting a shrill whistling sound on every rotation. I took maybe 50 photos and a few video clips, one of which I will try to post somehow. You can clearly hear the whistling, but listen for mianh making some kind of warble near the end. It basically sums up all that was terrifiying about the trip up the winding road. On the way to Rotorua we came up to kerosene creek which her friend Karen recommended. To get there you drive down a gravel road and park in an unassuming lot by the side of the road which myseriously had a rooster clucking about. We walked down a path a ways and ended up in this lovely slightly saline hot spring water. If you buried your feet in the fine gravel bottom it got progressively hotter until you felt as if you might encounter magma. We stayed in there for a long while as it rained a bit and was otherwise freezing above the surface. The only thing that wasn't very nice was the sulfurous odour that accompanies volcanic activity, but obviously this was par for the course and wasn't hard to deal with. Rotorua was a different story altogether.. We stayed at a hostel near the city centre and were affronted with a foul and unjustified stench which had no apparent reason for existing. It struck us as soon as we left the car, and wherever we walked subsequently. It came in waves of intensity but the whole experience left me delirious and after a mediocre dinner at a psuedo sleepless goat type place with horrendous service and a mislabelled 'lasagna' (which was more mousakka), whilst trying to see if there was a movie theatre there (it was raining), I ended up driving back onto the highway several times. We decided that we'd rather just pack it in early and leave earlier the next day, such was the stench of the place. Anyway, on the way to the craters of the moon (an area of steam emissions caused by volcanic activity) we chanced upon a place that we had seen mentioned in the aforementioned lonely planet book that offered horseback riding tours of the 'craters..' area. We decided to try at the last minute as we came upon the place to do it, and it proved to be quite a bit of fun. Since we had been talking in depth about what types of properties and property we intended to own once we had grown up and married our current or hypothetical partners it was fitting since owning horses featured on both our lists in spite of my attempts to 'shotgun' horses categorically and hence take them out of contention. A further bit of discussion saw a shared interest in owning sailboats, an assertion which I challenged on the grounds that M had not shown any enthusiasm for the Swallows and Amazons books which defined childhood sailing adventure. Anyway, the riding was great fun. M's horse Jake was a bit stubborn and would periodically stop or take a wrong turn until the guide gave mianh a switch to smack him with. My horse was named Bob and was quite lovely although he clicked his heels when walking leading me to believe that he was tired and about to keel over at any moment. Between our horses was another ridden by a girl who was on exchange from Columbia (the school) and who lived in the thousand islands. Her horse kept crapping and farting every time we went uphill, so perhaps some of Bob's lack of enthusiams stemmed from an uninspiring odour at his nose level. After we saw craters of the moon (the steamy wasteland above) we were given the opportunity to trot and canter on the horses which was fantastic, even though we both felt like we were falling off our horses, and mianh will tell you she only prevented a disaster by clutching the big beasts thick torso with her short legs. From the horse riding adventure we headed north again to Rotorua. From Napier we drove up to Taupo, this shot is of Lake Taupo. This float plane was just landing as we parked and walked to a cafe to have some breakfast. It was one of those situations where I was trying to see it touch the water but the damn thing kept skimming over the surface, close, but not touching. So we had to keep running toward it to prevent our view from being obscured by the buildings on the street. We ate after that, a steak and cheese pie and some spirulina and feijoa drinks, and then headed north toward the 'craters of the moon'. M, as was the case for the previous legs of the trip was the 'navigatrice' which she fulfilled most ineptly giving no useful directions whilst demaning to listen to 'Bad Day' and 'Nine Million Bicycles' on my mp3 player which I had to set up (knee steering). The north island is extrememly hilly and the highway twists and turns like a child with ADD flits about. All the highways are one lane shindigs with the occaisional passing lane. We noticed a lot of motorcycles and I took to testing M whenever one passed to see if she could discern between a harley type bike, a dirt bike, a racing bike or a touring bike. It wasn't very official, but she did well, and long after I had stopped asking I would hear periodically ...'racing!'..... We headed back for the night to our hostel which was the building to the left of the above picture. It was a charming place with free TV which I started to watch. Luckily for me the remote cacked it just as I was flicking past 'what not to wear' so you can imagine how much fun I had with that. We also went downstairs and bought some dessert pizza's from Hell's Pizza a chain of pizza stores which was recommended (in a way) by M's housemate. That night after I went to sleep mianh went to check her emails and upon returning a white (but siamese formed) cat snuck into the room with her. It jumped up on the bed and curled up on my chest (rather like a dog) which was fine but for my allergy to cats. I finally cursed at M enough for her to remove the cat but she 'accidentally' let it slip back in soon after. I must not have noticed this happening because I woke up with the cat there once more, but this time it was coughing up a hairball. So I picked it up gingerly with a shirt (so I didn't have to touch it) and deposited the package outside the room. In the morning I saw the cat as we checked out, and gave it a little scratch on the head to make ammends for the difficulty it no doubt encountered being left in the cold hallway. This is indeed Vidal, where the wine is lovely but disqualified on account of their use of screw top caps. I read on the flight from Auckland to LA in the in flight magazine that 90% of wineries in NZ use the screw top now, a disturbing trend that can only be kicked by putting a self imposed embargo on any foolhardy institution that follows the trend. It was unfortunate though, because their Sauvignon Blanc was almost juice like in its refreshingness, strong hints of passion fruit and kiwi [fruit]. We ate there anyway, and had a huge small sized antipasto plate which the waitress kindly recommended on the grounds that the large plate was too much for two people despite the on-menu recommendation ("for two"). This view is 90 degrees to the previous one, looking back at Mission Estate and their swanky grounds. The building is the chapel and store, and there's a restaurant nestled in between the two. We had intended to eat there, or at the place next door, but I think the alcohol made decision making sloppy and instead we ended up eating fish and chips at a dingy pub in town, before heading off to Hastings for a run at Vidal Estates, where we eventually ate properly. This was the stunning view from a veranda type protuberance jutting out of the lawn at Mission Estate winery, the source of the lovely looking but less than delicious wine. We were taught some things about winemaking and had an otherwise lovely chat with a Sommelier there who was bound for an unnamed Niagara Peninsula winery for the next vintage (maybe an ice wine?). M will recall his name, all I recall is that he told us about the dark side of Palmerston north, girls beating each other up over boys, and other such drama. I thought it was just an exaggeration until I read in the newspaper some days later that some teenage girls had put a bus driver in a coma after attacking him, and had paralyzed a cab driver (although it was in different towns than palmy). And I was worried about getting shot in LA... After a week and a few days in town, reading, drinking coffees and trying to conquer AFS with the odd glass of wine, we hit the road in a rented car. I was launched into left hand side driving with no practice, in a car with a hypersensitive brake, but I managed to lurch myself into the flow of traffic and in a few short hours we were happily cruising toward Hawke's Bay. M perpetually refused to capture the magnificent countryside from the window of the car, and to this day I still have no picture of the rolling hills or foxtail growth on the side of the road. New Zealand is comically small but it has very varied climates and leaving a rainy and freezing palmerston found us in bright sunshine on the coast, a mere three hours away. The photo above was from a beautiful hilly street in Napier where the buildings are meant to all be Art Deco in style, and where cats act like dogs. This is New Zealand wine country and we made the most of it, although the limiting reagent as it were was the missing enzyme which was prohibitive to tasting at more than a few wineries. I learned a hard but important lesson in the world of vintages, a strong aesthetic presentation of a bottle of wine does nothing for its flavour, unless of course the finest wines are meant to smell like fish with subtle notes of cabbage and a flutter of barf... all that this means is that my desire to buy a crate of wine bottles from the source has gone unfulfilled. I should note that this section (from here, above) comes to you courtesy of the JAL wireless internet connection in LAX intended for their first class passengers, and that I just got off a looooong flight, the majority of which was spent trying to pin down the culprit in a stinky foot (shoes removed) international incident of epic proportions (a funny spanish man was even more disturbed than I was, and he went to great lengths to source the stink, stopping just short of demanding a lineup of peoples socks, although he did continue to investigate well beyond the immigration cue). In fact, whoever it was that was reeking up the cabin with their putrescence managed to get the odour into the first class cabin, according to the head steward, and all attempts to spray down the aisles with air freshener were in vain. So, as I mentioned, I am in LAX now sitting at a table half covered in green tea which I just bought and subsequently capsized in my computer-opening enthusiasm (before a single sip), with napkins covering the spill courtesy of a girl who came up to me two or three minutes later (as I sat procrastinating) and said 'I saw you spill your drink, here you go'. Now that i've set the scene, i'll get back to the photos... It wouldn't have felt like a vacation without a little bit of golf, I had my heart set on some pretentious recreation afterall... I managed to wake mianh up early enough (we actually had quite a nice routine of early morning wakeups) that we could make it to the course and be the first on the grounds. This was important because our pace was embarrasing and the ball refused to stay on our fairway. We coined the term arboreal golfing as a celebration of this style. Try to ignore the fact that the ball in the above picture is happily seated on the ground although the club has been fully swung. I should also note that we finished the game having lost only 2 balls (although I did have to jump one fence to retrieve a wayward shot), and that on the first putt M sunk the ball from some 25 feet out in one stroke. Sunset on one of the four choked arteries into the city centre (not really, although people do love to give cops reasons to believe their cars have been modified for the purposes of street racing), the 'square', which is decidedly un-WWI like (if you've ever played the game online) and a rather beautiful area to frame with the main shopping streets. Palmerston is a rather small city however, and it is just coincidence that I have captured here two of only four or so tall buildings in the city. If you walk straight along the picture above and turn left at the lights, you'll hit george street running parallel with this one and the café cuba and Barista. My second local destination on a daily basis was the palmerston north city library 'the livingroom of the city' they say. It is a lovely sunlit place with a senseless cataloguing system which makes it impossible to find books, but this wasn't such a bad thing because it made racing for a Lonely Planet New Zealand that much more interesting. The library also had a healthy stock of foreign (mostly british and australian) newspapers which I read, and some decent internet access. Oh, and if you're ever in need 'they'll have a decent opera section'. Clearly that much walking (a herculean effort by my standards) is deserving of some good grub, and thankfully the proximity to the ocean equals good sea food. The menu tonight was steamed fish, Tarakihi and green lipped (?) mussels (the flesh of which is about the size of an ear), cooked in a proper wok with a good flame below. After being white-fish-less in Montreal for two years now, it was nice to find a proper product and possibly have the chance of making some people jealous. M down the path a ways, not far from where she decided to laint the river. Its an obscure word, but look it up anyway, I promise if will provide you with many future laughs. Above that I am set next to a palm plant. This felled tree was almost passed by without a second glance but in my manic inspection of dead matter for the aforementioned insects, I happened to catch this gem of a cross section. The colours in the photo are truly representative of the trunk itself, if anything they are less vibrant. I'm not sure what type of plant this is or what caused the pattern and colouration but it was worthy of presentation. I'm not sure what motivated this photo, but it did look cool at the time and I maintain that it still does today. At any rate it confirms what many of you must be wondering, New Zealand does have fungi. Another day we opted to walk to the esplanade, a conservation type area with dense jungly growth and some recreational facilities like tennis courts. On the way we argued over whether Tom Hewitt was pretentious, and once there we walked through the bush in a fruitless search for Mantis insects or Locusts. That may have been a failure but we got a few snapshots that were worthy of sharing, a fern unfurled and one unfurling (perhaps a silver fern?) which is one of the most common symbols of New Zealand. Moving further down George street (to the left in photo above) M and I ordered those small Italian bottles of concentrated fruit juice (below), the type that I was expecting when the 'Next' juice fiasco occurred. For all the connoisseurs out there, this is the peak of juice perfection. I also recall that we ate corn fritters and then decided the only suitable course of action to chase that type of meal was to make molotov cocktails out of our drink bottles and make a run for it. A beautiful morning on M's easily remembered street [confidentiality barrs me from naming names] which was a fitting start to the café lifestyle which ensued. Above you will see the Café Cuba, my adopted watering hole for the duration of the two weeks; a fitting place to be introduced to the unique vernacular of Kiwis with respect to their beverage names. Forget about ordering coffee here, you'll probably just end up with a quizzical look and a stronger thirst than you started with. To my understanding you can only order espressos (long or short black), cappucino's, flat whites, cafe lattés (which it turns out may actually only be warm milk) and so forth. I found the flat white to be the best choice, a manageable amount of dense froth and a quality espresso based brew below, [sweet as!]. One final note of regret, the policy of the café cuba is 7 cups for the price of 6, but I repeatedly failed to fill out a frequent drinkers card and forfeited what must have been at least 3 free coffees, such was my prolific drinking. Anyway, I digress, the point is that travel makes you hungry, and cooking is classically the second best form of relaxation (much like a land war in Asia is the first classic blunder), so after walking to the grocery store to pick up some produce, it seemed appropriate to make some kind of feast. Lamb, and various roasted vegetables were the order of the day, the veiny looking pale thing in the picture below is Kumara (white kind), and the rest you can probably guess. The grocery run also proved to be eye opening, self scanning groceries with small handheld devices and mysterious new fruits were also discovered. Unfortunately, the second of the new fruits proved to be rather un-delicious in its raw form and because it would bring back terrible memories of bizarro flavour country, I have left out a depiction of the tamarillo, although I invite you to seek one out on your own (apparently they are popular in South America). The last post which M put up some 2 weeks ago outlined the evening following my arrival in Palmerston North, camera shenanigans ensued motivated by jet-lag fatigue. Because it wasn't immediately clear to all viewers previously, and because my desire is to bring you all closer to understanding the motivation for each picture's posting (not further and further..), I thought it might be interesting to have a picture of M and I with serious expressions mostly because I am known for being over formal in photographs, and secondarily because I wanted to see if M was capable of complying. Indeed she was, although it took a second effort, and the experience seemed to validate my subconscious impression that it would precipate some kind of amusing banter or produce interesting pictorial fodder. Please direct further questions to my phone number or email address [you know who you are...]. After considerable difficulty bring this post to fruition, involving four computers and many frustrating hours cursing New Zealand's primitive internet infrastructure (in an otherwise astoundingly tech-enthusiastic country), I finally have something to present, albeit with some ommisions. Please note that if you have read this text last, you have in fact proceded 'ass-backward' but hopefully you got the broad strokes anyway.. well, without further delay I present to you another snapshot of Aeotearoa (tangata whenua of...). Best, -Kien


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