Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just Another Day in Paradise, June 28th

   The past couple days have been a nightmare. We were supposed to leave for Fiji last Friday but beause of the ash cloud our flight got cancelled. Then Jan (the evil Qantas lady) told us that there wouldn't be any international flights until the 30th but we ended up being able to fly out yesterday afternoon. 
   Our bus driver was about two hours late to pick us up from the airport (welcome to island time!) so we got to our hotel around 1 o'clock in the morning after driving for three hours to VoliVoli on completely unpaved roads.  
   We all pretty much crashed looking forward to a full day of relaxing at the beach. 
   And then it started to rain.
   The rain started at around five in the morning and since we were, literally, not ten feet from the ocean it felt like we were in the middle of a hurricane. The doors to our room were slamming, water started to pour in through the uncovered windows. 
   Needless to say we didn't get our beach day. 
   Instead, we hung around the covered area near the beach catching up on True Blood and magazines. 
   Later in the afternoon we went into town for about an hour. That was the first time I really felt like a "traveler" instead of a "tourist". Our taxie driver seemed to know everyone (which isn't surprising since only 750,000 people live in Fiji all together) and as we were pulling into town he hollered out the window at a farmer to cut us off some sugar cane (sugar is Fiji's main export). 
   Then he took us into market. I ended up leaving my camera in the room since it was raining and I didn't think there was anything to photograph. Ms. Bottoms was nice enough to lend me her point and shoot instead. It was so weird not shooting with a giant camera. It was definitely easier to carry around but the picture quality isn't nearly the same. Not that I have them anyway--Ms. Bottoms is staying behind in Fiji with her niece, Brittany, to go on a family trip to Australia. She took her point and shoot with her (hence the pictureless blogpost). 
   Right now I'm sitting in gate 7 in the Fiji airport. There's a band playing in Hawiian shirts and--oh--they just called for boarding! 

See you soon!

The Shaky City, June 23rd

   This morning we woke up early and left Hamner for Christ Church. The drive was only about an hour and a half but the change was huge. For the first time in the past three weeks we were in traffic. It felt like being home. 
   Carl and Dave were both from Christchurch and so they started showing us around the West side which was built on compact gravel and not affected by the quakes. 
   After lunch they took us to the East side. 
   It was like a bomb had been dropped. The streets were completely deserted, rubble was everywhere. All the shops were abandoned. Restaurant still had reserved signs on tables and pepper shakers on the ground that had fallen off the table and shattered. Trash was all over the floors. In one restaurant there was a stack of newspapers strewn over a barstool dated February 22nd, the Earthquake before the one on Monday.
   I know it was an incredible opportunity to photograph but I couldn't help feeling like an intruder. Even though we'd only been a few hours away for the last quake, it's been something really personal and emotional for New Zealanders and we weren't really affected by it.  
   I felt like I was a foreign photographer in New York right after 9/11. 
   But I did get some great shots. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hamner Horses, June 22nd

   It's so weird to think that we only have two more days in New Zealand. I keep forgetting about Fiji. I feel it's the understated part of the trip but I keep thinking that when we leave we're going home. It's going to be so weird not having to bundle up to go outside! To be fair, because of the ash and the quakes and general apocalyptic symptoms (last night we were in a 5.6 earthquake! It wasn't that strong here, but we could feel it) the winter here has been really mild (I spent most of the day in a t-shirt and jeans), but still. 
   We hit up Hamner Horses around 10 for our horseback ride. Everyone had been making jokes about how we're from Texas and ride a horse to school, and the owner laughed and then pulled out an English saddle. 
   And nobody knew what it was.
   Except me, obviously. I had it in the bank. 
   The ride through the mountains was amazing and the guide let me and another girl canter up a hill. It was was awesome.
   Then we shoveled poop for half an hour. That wasn't as awesome.
   After that we grabbed luch and hit up the natural hot springs. The warmest pool was a 'sulfur spring' though so we all just put up with the smell. 

G'Day Kiwis! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

For Narnia, and for Aslan! June 21st, 2011

  This morning we woke up early and set out for our drive across the coast. Carl said it would take somewhere between 8-10 hours (although the actual time on the road was closer to 5. I see what Karen means about all the extra stops). Ulla wanted us to make a photo story about our travel day so we were all snapping pictures of people making sandwiches and Carl loading the bus. 
   We stopped first at Arthur's pass. It was pretty but nothing we hadn't seen before. The real show came later at Castle Hill, AKA the setting for the final battle scene from the Chronicles of Narnia? Yeah. I freaked out. 
   Also the Dali Lama declared it a holy buddhist place or something. But obviously that's not nearly as big a deal. 

    We watched Ulla's fiancee Sebastian boulder. Which was awesome but super intimidating. 

    From there the drive to Hanmar was another 3 hours or so which I very happily slept through. 
    Once we reached our next Top 10 Holiday Park we met Dave, the trip coordinator Dave who's completely rescheduled our last few days in New Zealand. 
   Because of the lack of snow we're not going to be able to go skiing, and because of all the earthquakes and ash we can't spend very much time in Christchurch (although we just heard that enough roads had opened so that we could go photograph the destruction the day after tomorrow). So instead we're going horseback riding in the morning and then to some natural hotsprings tomorrow night. I've decided that this is a good thing since I'm not a skii-er anyway. 

   G'Day Kiwis! 

June 20th On the Road Again

This morning we woke up at what seemed like the crack of dawn after last night's long talk. We drove an hour and a half to see the Pancake Rocks. 
   We were something like 70 kilometers away when the bus ran out of gas. Carl threw it in park but we all had to rush off because we were around a curve and oncoming cars wouldn't be able to see the bus. So the boys (minus Michael), Carl, Gemina and Peter stayed behind to push the bus into a safe spot while the rest of us walked the rest of the way. I was beginning to feel a little jipped after hearing all the crazy survival stories from Africa last year (they ate a wildabeast that they found on the side of the road. A lion had already eaten half). So I guess this counts as an adventure. The hike wasn't bad and we found a Maori hen. Which, I think, is about like a chicken. 

   Carl then hitched a ride about a half hour back to Greymouth to get petrol while the rest of us went exploring. 
   After we grabbed lunch Carl showed us the Truman Trail. It was about a 1 minute hike through the rainforest down to a bluff next to the ocean. I think it's my favorite place we've been so far. There wasn't really a beach and the tide was coming in so we climbed down to this rock and we felt like we were in the middle of the ocean in the midst of all these crashing waves and salt spray. 
   Then we headed back to our cabins and ordered pizza (from Fat Peepee's) before we set out to see the glow worms. 
   I didn't get any good photos--they were all just globs of light in the middle of a dark background but it was cool to be there and see. 

   G'day Kiwis!

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 19th, 2011

   Yesterday we had our much needed rest/catchup day. we spent the entier day in the common room working on our pictures and bogs. It was raining (hard) so it's not like we were missing out on anything. Good timing! 
   That night we all compiled our "funny pictures" and made a slideshow. That's Peter, our guide. 
   Afterward we watched Anchorman which I'd never seen before. It was funny, but not as funny as I thought it was going to be after all the hype. To be fair most of the hype was from, like, 7th grade boys. So it's not THAT big of a let down.
   This morning we drove an hour and a half to Hokatika to meet Ulla Lohmann our Nat Geo Expert. She and her fiancee, Sebastian (they got engaged inside of a volcano. Whatever) , finally made it after 5 cancelled flights. I was beginning to doubt she existed. She's completely precious.
    We all went on a hike around the gorge and then to the black sand beach that's a couple of blocks from our 'cabins'. 
   Then we went out to dinner (Lindsay and I split the most AMAZING salmon) then to the owner's house for Ulla's first talk. As it would turn out, the owner's wife is in a small photography club and they wanted to sit in. 
   Ulla started to tell us her story: at 15 she discovered a new dinosaur (well, I guess it was old. you know what I mean) and then won a science competition that gave her a scholarship to go study amphibians in the Amazon. Promptly afterwards she went to college in Australia (the school hired her for a year after she graduated as a photographer) then she went and discovered a lost tribe and their mummified ancestors in the forests of Paupa New Guinea. All before she was 21. I'm feeling a little behind schedule. 

G'day Kiwis!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Up until now I haven't been able to upload pictures. BUT now I can! It's all very exciting, so we're going to play a quick game of photo-catchup and then hopefully now I'll be able to post photos with time appropriate blog posts. 

Milford Sound: 

Lake Te Anau:

The Sheep Farm:


Thursday, June 16, 2011

On The Road Again

   Yesterday we drove four hours from Wanaka to Franz Josef. The ride was long and pretty windy--Makena and I sang show tunes most of the way. Along the road we stopped at this beach. It was lined by a rock wall dotted with little stark white smooth rocks about the size of your fists that people had written messages on. It was by far the most inspiring landscape I've seen so far. We all signed a 'National Geographic Rock.' I wish I could upload pictures! There was also a dead shark on the beach. But that wasn't as artsy.
  Today while everyone else went on a 4 hour glacier hike Gemina and I went to the clinic then set up a movie theatre in the common room (we set up a projector and blankets) and watched Shutter Island with Carl. I feel bad because I feel like this hasn't been a very fun birthday for Gemina but the day's still young. We might still do something to celebrate.
   What I really want to do is go to the hot glacier pools--they're like hot tubs but in glaciers. No big deal. I'm sure everyone else needs it more than I do, I hear the hike up to the glacier was much worse than actually walking ON the glacier. Except for the 'slow group' who apparently got stuck behind this awful Indian family going 2 miles an hour.
   Gemina just came in saying we're going to go to the Hot Springs so for the sake of humanity I should probably go shave my legs. Or put on water proof pants.

G'Day Kiwis!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Chrysler Building

   Today we got a chance to explore (on our own, finally!) Queenstown. It was so much fun to get to walk around and act like locals (okay, we stopped in a few times for souvenirs--everyone in our group bought hats and, wait for it, possum fur gloves), and since I've decided that my concentration is going to be portraits it was really helpful to get to see and take pictures of the "locals" up close. I sound like I'm talking about crocodiles don't I? Turns out that kids are the easiest to photograph because they're too young to know that they should be really freaked out. I feel like a complete creeper but I'm getting some good shots out of it so I guess it's worth it. being a photographer  kind of releases you from some basic etiquette laws. Emily Post would turn over in her grave.
   After our expeditions we all met up and took a Gondola up to the top of a giant hill overlooking Queenstown. The view was unbelievable.
   We were supposed to go and pick up our National Geographic Expert Ula from the airport today but because of the volcanic eruption in Chile (did I mention it's been raining ash here for, like, three days?) and all the earthquakes on the North Island she's not going to fly in until Thursday so we went on to
 Wanaka without her.
   The drive wasn't far but the bus had some problems and Carl couldn't get it any higher than about third gear, so we were stuck at 40 miles, excuse me, kilometers an hour the whole way here. There were quite a few angry drivers--it's been the first time I saw an angry native. Well, except for the really mean flight attendants. But they were Australian.
  Tonight we went to an Indian Resturaunt that poured us mango smoothies out of paint buckets.

   G'Day Kiwis!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Baa Ram Ewe

   This morning we peaced from Te Anau and started the 3 hour drive to Queenstown. The drive was beautiful (duh) and about 2 hours in we stopped at a sheep farm. Is it sad if I admit that it was my favorite part of the trip so far? 
  It was like reliving Babe. Andy (the owner) gave us a short tour and then rounded and sorted through what seemed like a million sheep to pick two that he sheared in front of us. Then he let all five of us who were brave enough hold the 60 pound bald shep (the singular form of sheep). 
   It was awesome.

   Now we're set up in a hostile in Queenstown where we found Joe's Complimentary Free Wifi (we could go downstairs and pay for it. It would probably be faster but where's the fun in that?). 

   On another note, I realized I'd never talked about my adventures in customs. 
Background: New Zealand is crazy strict about customs. Back in the day, apparently, some british people carried over possums and rats on their ships and then started to eat the kiwis and the takahaes and now the country as a whole is really really bitter and takes extra special care when searching for weapons of mass destruction like apples. 
   But I digress. 
   I'm standing in line to go through customs and I've declared food. I watch as the girl in front of me approaches a grandfatherly looking gentleman who barely glances at her passport, smiles and says "go ahead, deary". I'm really excited because I think I'm good as gold when out of the corner of my eye I see a disheveled woman motioning to me. 
   I got a female customs official. 
   Everyone knows that women are the Polar Bears of Civil Service work. Let's think of Police officers as predatory mammals. The men are like lions, tigers bears etc. They don't naturally eat humans. Obviously if you slather yourself in bacon grease and do a dance they'll take a nibble, but in general they're more afraid of you than you are of them. Women, on the other hand, are like polar bears. The only predator that will actually hunt humans. They're the ones to look out for: hungry and easily agitated. Like badgers. This is where the metaphor starts to fall apart.
  So I walk up to her, she barks at me to give her my entrance card and then snatches it out of my shaking hands when I don't give it to her fast enough. 
   Disgruntled Female Customs Worker: Do you have food to declare?
   Me: Yes
   Disgruntled Female Customs Worker: What is it?
   Me: A couple chocolate bars, some candy and a bag of goldfish.
   Disgruntled Female Customs Worker: Goldfish?
   Me: Yes.
   Disgruntled Female Customs Worker: *blank stare*
   Me: You know, the snack that smiles back?
   Visibly Angry Female Customs Worker: Excuse me?
   Me: They're crackers.
   Visibly Angry Female Customs Worker: Go.

  Little did she know my "chocolate bars" were actually Cliff bars containing, wait for it: dried almonds. heh heh heh heh. 

G'Day Kiwis! 

Exploring the Sound June 11th, 2011

 Today we went to go see Milford Sound. My stomach braved a 2 hour bus ride through windy mountian roads and  4 hour boat tour over choppy waves. It was rough but worth it. I was sure to self pic a ton for Sittu.
   Pictures can't do this place justice. Not just Milford Sound but New Zealand as a whole. The pictures I googled a couple of weeks ago can't even BEGIN to compare to actually being here. It's intoxicating. Everything is beautiful. LIterally everything--we got off the plane in a parking lot next to The Remarkables (the mountains between Mordor and Gondor. I'm sort of a geek). I don't think we've seen anywhere that Narnia was filmed yet. I'm mentally preparing myself but I think I'll faint. 
   I wonder if the people who live here realize how incredible everything is or if they're just casually like "Oh, yep. Looks like my backyard". We really haven't seen very many Kiwis yet. To be fair, we've mostly been in tourist-ey areas but I can't help feeling like I'm living in the first few scenes from Children of the Corn. 
   Carl, our bus driver, is really the only New Zealander we've met besides people at the airport. He's got long white hair that he pulls back into a ponytail, large teeth, a long mustache and big bushy eyebrows. He's short and the hair takes up most of the room on his face so he kind of reminds me of the friendly beaver from the Chronicles of Narnia. 
   The few people we have met seem just as warm and inviting as their reputation suggests (although, unfortunately, their food's about as good as it's rumored to be too) and since we don't have much planned for the next couple days I think we'll be hanging around town and the locals. I'll be keeping an eye out for Maddie.

G'Day Kiwis! 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Up, up and away!

   I'm posting from the 'free internet' computers in the Aukland airport while waiting for our connecting flight to Queenstown. It's cold and rainy here, but I'm hoping it will be nicer on the South Island (which will actually be colder. weird to think about). Our 14 HOUR flight from LA to New Zealand landed about an hour and a half ago. It was horrible. I was seated right in front of a sick baby. When it wasn't screaming and kicking the back of my seat, it was coughing like the kid from the PSA about whopping cough (the one with the mom? You know?). I don't understand why people bring their babies on 14 hour plane rides. They should have rules against that kind of thing. I ended up getting enough sleep somehow and I don't feel too jetlagged. It's about 11 am here (Friday June TENTH!) so I guess we'll have to see how I feel in a few hours. They just called for our flight to start boarding and...a young lady with a baby just got into line. Fantastic.

G'Day Kiwis!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Classes Day 1

   Today was our first day of classes--6 hours in the Spring Woods High School library. People have been throwing around words like 'f-stop' and 'shutter release'. I'm completely lost. We've got another class session tomorrow before we leave on Wednesday so I hope I can figure SOMETHING out before then.                              I've had so much fun meeting the rest of the group! They all seem like they know way more about photography than I do, but seem cool enough not to make fun of me for it.  
G'day Kiwis!