This post could and should serve as my love letter to Christchurch but luckily for everyone I’m not much of a romantic and there are a few other things to touch on. In the last 4 years Christchurch has been rocked by two huge earthquakes, a 6.3 in 2011 and a 7.1 in 2010, destroying the elaborate cathedrals it has always been known for. Ever since we landed in New Zealand people had told us to skip Christchurch, that it wasn’t worth the stop. I didn’t know much about these earthquakes. Maybe it didn’t make the US news because 185 people died, not like 100,000+ in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Maybe it wasn’t talked about as much because Christchurch is not a third world country. For whatever reason, I didn’t know much about these earthquakes so I wasn’t prepared to see a city completely destroyed.
We saw block after block of broken buildings being held up by stilts, vacant lots and more cranes dotting the skyline than buildings. By night Christchurch is depressing, everything looks grey, crumbled and under construction. But by day it’s lively. Cool neighborhoods and trendy restaurants run along many of the streets and since they are separated by blocks of destruction, stumbling upon them really does feel special, like you’ve found a diamond in the rough.
Street artists are using the sides of abandoned buildings to give color in places that would otherwise be various shades of cement. The city has opened a mall made of shipping containers where you can find street performers, boutique clothing shops and THANK GOD countless coffee shops. Coming across the burst of color on a mural after blocks of grey, or the giddy young professionals enjoying happy hour at a trendy outdoor bar after walking past empty streets shows what Christchurch is without its churches. It is Christ. Just kidding.
I was indifferent to stopping in Christchurch at all. Every tourist attraction we’d heard of was closed for reconstruction or shut down completely. It seemed like there was nothing to do there. Looking back that was the exact opposite mentality I’ve had and wanted to have this entire trip. I hate tourist stops. I hate guided tours. I want to know what it’s like to live in New Zealand not just be in New Zealand.
So I need to thank Christchurch for bein’ real wit me. Because considering another earthquake can and probably will come, the resiliency in this city to live, thrive and rebuild with or without the tourists was very cool. I love you, Christchurch!
Christchurch brought me much joy but it also took a big chunk away. British Bill has left our traveling weirdness and carried his adventures on to Thailand. Thailand is in a very interesting place right now, we don’t have access to much news but according to Bill there’s a coup. He hasn’t made it sound too serious, and he’s mostly only affected by the new, strictly enforced rules of no congregating with more than 5 people and a curfew of 10pm. In which case Bill will be fine. After spending a month only talking to each other, the three of us have definitely lost all social skills so making a new friend – let alone 4 new ones – is out. And whether he wanted to or not, Bill adapted nicely to the 10pm bedtime (more like pass out time) Kyla and I live by. He’s going to be FINE.
When the three of us were traveling together we confused a lot of people on our relationship because no one looked particularly tied (romantically) to anyone else in the group. We’d keep our heads down around others so as not to appear welcoming to conversation, fill our water bottles, retreat to our room, turn the lights off and lock ourselves in as soon as the sun went down (5:30pm). It wasn’t until our last night in Akaroa that I realized it looked like we were having the earliest and quietest orgies of all time. In reality we were watching all the Harry Potters.
Kyla and I have maintained these behaviors: private rooms, never looking anyone in the eye, splitting food and sharing body wash and in Blenheim we were delighted to see that someone knew just what we wanted out of a hostel stay. We got in to our private room with 1 bed, 2 towels, a fridge, bowls, cups, a heater and two champagne flutes. We no longer looked like orgy-ers (is this a word?) but now like a lesbian couple on their very clingy and budgeted honeymoon.
Now that we’re out of the South Island our driving has become a lot easier. No more worrying that one of the many large rocks on the side of the road, fresh off a fall from the mountainside could land on top Carol next time. No more panicking to decode the one-lane bridge signs as we approach at 100km/hr. No more giving Carol empty promises that if she can just make it up one more hill we’ll treat her to a car wash. We’re back to the straight, flat terrain of the North Island. There is one thing I’ll miss about driving the scary two-lane highways of the South Island and that is being an unofficial enforcer of the speed limit.
I encountered too many cars, even shipping trucks, taking these curvy, unruly roads at high speeds. I hate getting passed on the highway, especially when I’m going the speed limit. An insane adolescent self consciousness comes over me. These cars would rather swerve into oncoming traffic than be behind me, as if being stuck behind me is like being forced to hang out with me. I have no idea why I think driving fast is the equivalent to being popular but when I can see the driver behind me getting antsy and preparing to make his move I think: “No, no. I’m cool, guy! I’m going the speed limit! I’m going 100km, I really want to be going 80km so it’s basically like I’m speeding… Please let me be the leader.”
So I love it when we reach a long stretch of double yellow lines. I feel a surge of power and importance when I see the cars add up behind me as I safely coast at the speed limit. Maybe even under, just to prove a point. If the road is a high school, the cars that pass me are the popular jocks and I’m the principal with deep seeded insecurities from youth. It’s for their own good; they may not know, but despite popular (my) belief, New Zealand cops do issue speeding tickets (we’ve gotten two now.) SEE I AM COOL!
After Christchurch we stopped in Kaikoura, a place known for wildlife. Being at the mercy of a budget and being against guided tours we didn’t want to pay for a guaranteed sighting, we thought walking around would do the trick. But the perk of paying for the sure thing is that you’re sure it’s the thing. I’m still not positive the dozen photos we took of the creatures clustered together were penguins, but that didn’t stop us from ambling over jagged rocks, waves crashing inches in front of us to get a closer look. Do penguins bend their necks back as these animals did? Do penguins have slim builds? Can penguins get on to these tall, pointy rocks without being able to fly?
Unfortunately these questions will never be answered but fortunately for us, there was no guess work in our seal sightings. We drove to the end of the Kaikoura peninsula (is this what it was?) and came across what appeared to be the early morning aftermath of a crazy night of seal binge drinking. There were seals asleep (passed out) EVERYWHERE: under benches, behind rocks, on sidewalks, head-in, butt-out of shrubbery. I mean I get it, a nap in the sun is a pretty nice way to nurse a hangover.
After Kaikoura we spent a couple of days in Blenheim and had a delicious meal and tasting at Rock Ferry Winery. Wine tasting was the sole purpose of our stop and I wish the great experience at Rock Ferry could be what I will always remember of Blenheim but it’s not. Blenheim will always be remembered as the place where our lies got the best of us.
We’ve been getting free trial memberships at various gyms under the white lie that we’re new in town. We’re new in town in every town, technically. We just aren’t ever going to stay in town. Usually all we have to say is that we have work visas and the rest kind of takes care of itself. We leave our email, phone number, and false interest at the front desk and then never come back. It’s a great system. Until people care about you.
The manager of the gym in Blenheim asked us so many personal and fitness questions that panic lies started spilling out. She dug so deep that I started to think we had moved to Blenheim. She showed as much interest in our success in fitness and in life as we showed in her gym. But hers wasn’t fake and by the end of the day she had gotten us jobs at her friend’s restaurant. I don’t know which restaurant or which friend because we didn’t return her 5 phone calls, 2 text messages and 1 email. I do feel really bad because her genuine care for us was really sweet, totally misplaced and over eager, but sweet. I’ll definitely swing by Blenheim City Fitness and say hello next time I’m ‘new in town.’