Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jack Attack Christchurch, vol. 1

Well, it's a long time in the works, but here goes!
I arrived in Christchurch on February 1st. So much has happened since then, but when telling a story, one must start from the beginning.

My first night in Chch I met a Canadian farmer who was on scholarship to study hops farming in the Nelson region of the South Island. I know it sounds like someone's lame (or genius) attempt to get discounts and access to many breweries, but he really was a hops, herbs, and veg farmer up near Toronto. We visited a brewhouse to do a sampling and got 3 free bottles of beer (since he flashed his scholarship business card).

My second day in Chch was equally fortuitous in that I met Sandy, a local woman who, upon finding out that I was trying to embark on a bicycle tour of the South Island but did not yet have a bike, offered me a free bike. Someone had dumped it in her yard one day; she gave the bike to the police, who could not track down the owner; the police gave the bike back to her, whereupon it sat in her shed until my arrival. She desperately wanted to get rid of it (enter Jack, in need of a bike). I should've said earlier that this whole interaction happened at Joe's Garage. Who knew that my place of work would follow me all the way to Australia and New Zealand, but alas, fortune has a funny sense of humor. I ended up staying at Sandy's place for two nights (since she had an extra bedroom).

As soon as I had a bike, my exploration of greater Christchurch began. I biked SE of the city center toward the ocean and around the oceanside suburb of Sumner. Maps can be really deceiving, especially ones that don't have altitude. I found out the hard way that New Zealand is VERY hilly. I got lost somewhere on Godley Head Peninsula. I wandered along a path that wasn't meant for biking (which meant I did a lot of walking the bike and carrying it over fences) until reaching an old coastal military defense region with old gun enbankments. I found my way down to Lyttleton (the epicenter of the earthquake that was still two weeks away), and since it was almost completely dark, I decided to stop at a local bar for veg nachos and a ginger beer. I checked the bus schedule and decided to throw my bike on the bus rack and head back to Chch.

Two days later, I joined the Rainbow Riders (a GLBT-friendly cycling group) for a bike ride back to the same region. This time, I would be with people who knew the area and its elevational challenges, and they were great support. They were both over 60, but they were in great shape. On the big uphills, Davinia would race to the top and come back down to encourage us to get all the way up. (what a show off!)
After the ride, Larry offered to make buckwheat pancakes, and I am NOT one to turn down buckwheat pancakes (or any free food really). We had a great time just chatting and getting to know each other. He is as wise as a 60-year-old, but in the shape of a 45-year-old.

I made a friend on CouchSurfing that went by the handle, ComradeLee. He had a whole day of fun planned for our hangout on Monday, but then it rained. Seeking to be non-plussed by what I learned is typical NZ weather, we decided to have our day of fun in the rain. So we took his scooter out to the woods and found a suitable patch of land on which to make a Bear Grylls-approved lean-to out of sticks, leaves and pine needles. We brought the photocopied instructions from Bear's book and our raingear. It was harder than expected, and the end result was a bit small for us, but we were proud nonetheless. Plus, we brought soy hot chocolate with us, so we had a perfect rainy-day reward!

I also met a wonderful couple on CouchSurfing who have a garden and chickens and a love of Dexter and surfing. I cooked them an Indian curry, and they made a delicious rhubarb crumble for dessert. They took me surfing, and we even got some photos that make me look like I'm good at surfing (a photographic feat, really). To Jill's chagrin, Julia went out the next day to buy Dexter Season 4, so the second night ended with a couple episodes of Dexter and delicious lemon popsicles. We also caught the final match in the Sevens World Series. It's the 7-man rugby championship. England lost to the All-Blacks (which I learned was their actual team name, not just some non-PC epithet). It's NZ's premiere rugby league. The whole match was over in 20 minutes. To my used-to-American-football mind, it seemed so anticlimactic. Upon further analysis, however, I think I really do prefer it. Less time wasted and more athleticism on display, since all 14 men on the field run at absolute sprints for the whole 20 minutes. All in all, a great time!

I was very much looking forward to going back to Chch when Tristan flew in. We had tickets to the annual Flower Festival; I had many cool places to show T while he was getting over his jetlag; and we had a CouchSurfing host family lined up with a 5-year-old daughter who loves ponies and unicorns. Well, I guess NZ had other plans for us...

Lyttleton and Sumner (suburbs of Chch) 2 weeks before the earthquake

Getting lost on Godley Head Peninsula

Christchurch's quirky beauty

Bear Grylls would be proud!

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