Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Across the Snowy Pass

A good a day as any to leave Queenstown, I reckon. Not that anyone would ever want to leave Queenstown. When you think of New Zealand, this is what you think of. The deceptive small town, paid for by tourists the world over, the mountains caging you in, waters to reflect the scenery, and beautiful vistas only an hour away. If you come to New Zealand, you come here. And I'd venture to say that if you don't make it this far, you've probably not seen all that New Zealand has to offer.

Sure you'd miss out on the Burgerfuel from the North Island, but who has money for that anyway? You'd have avoided the capital, Wellington – and the largest city (though I can't imagine why) Auckland. But you'd be able to say, quite honestly and directly, that you'd seen New Zealand if you stop for a few days in quaint, charming, and drunken backpacker filled, Queenstown.

I wonder what the upper class staying in the five star hotels think of the louts wandering around looking for their next beer? It's a lovely coming together here. The town is too small for the classes to stay apart. And at the end of the day, well even the well to do stop by Hell's Pizza for a quality slice.

This was not the day to be thinking about how great the town was though, this was a day to put the town behind me and move on to my last New Zealand stop, Christchurch. I packed my bags, and bumbled my way out of the hostel around seven in the morning. I can only imagine how distressing this must have been for the girl who just came in from her night - drinking, bed hopping, doing whatever it is young girls do when away from home for the first time – only an hour earlier.

With all my gear in hand, and my key returned, I headed out to the bus stop. When I got there around eight o'clock (I may have killed some time in the hostel by eating freely available jam sandwiches) I was not prepared to discover that the bus stop here in this must active tourist spot was no more than a strip of asphalt with a little awning over it. It was cold. It was windy. It was raining. I should have known, of course. Using zen mind tricks I made the hour pass without incident, and was soon throwing my bags under the bus, and taking my seat behind two homosexual cowboys from the fly-over states in America. They did not look like Jake Gyllenhaal or Heath Ledger. Those movies were clearly a lie! One resembled Robert O'Reilly and the other Marc Alaimo. Fitting - but slightly terrifying. It was as if you'd not be surprised if they turned out to be the nicest guys in the world. And yet if you discovered they had a penchant for human taxidermy that wouldn't really shock you either. In fact, both could have been true of them. Lovely conversationalists.

The journey was one passed both in and out of sleep until we entered the Mountain Pass. It's almost as if the designers of the highway wanted it to have inclement weather. When my eyes opened the world was that of white. Snow was falling. Cars were backed up thirty deep. People were affixing chains to their tyres. Not tires, of course, not out here. But tyres.

I'd never seen a tyre chained, I don't think it's legal in Ontario, but here the message was that they were essential. A car full of teenage bucks thought they knew better, having just arrived from America, or Australia, or Canada, or other country full of dumb youngin's that think they're smarter than the dumb yokel locals. When they ended up swerving into a ditch, plowed deep into the snow, I think they realized otherwise. And when a passing grader tried to help them out, and instead ended up dragging them partially into he nearby river bed – well I'm glad I wasn't them. Sometimes a bus is the better way to go. Or, you know, put chains on. And if you don't have them? And you see thirty cars backed up thinking it's the right call? Maybe you should head back for the day, yeah?

When we were good to go we began pressing on. Two other buses thought they knew better – that they were powerful enough to make the climb. When one rolled into the other causing some motor vehicle kissing confusion I think they may have regretted their decisions. Our bus moved smoothly past.

An hour later we would learn that a car soon hit the two buses, blocking the entire road, and leading to it being shut down for the night. Good for us, not screwing up like so many.

Due to the time we'd lost – and oh how we'd lost time – we were making only one more stop. I stocked up on juice, grabbed some food, and saw what appeared to be two deer over the back of someones pickup truck. Clearly they'd been hunting. Their dogs were still in the back of the truck with the fresh kill.

Were they deer? They looked like deer. Are there deer out in these parts? It's hard to determine the exact type an animal is when it's tied to the back of a truck, unless you happen to be one who often ties animals to the back of trucks – which I am not. Though, ever if i were, I think I still might have some trouble, as so much of my identification comes from the head, which seemed to be missing – or perhaps just lolled back. The bloody dots on the chest were my primary focus. Though, again, not being one with much dead animal car decorations, I quickly moved on and found myself back on the bus.

We met a girl who tried to bum a ride – we were the last shuttle of the night, and with the road closed there would be no others. We agreed to take her, she just needed to get her bags. Really? She wasn't ready? We waited ten minutes, and then drove to where she should have been staying, seeing if we could see her on the road. We did not. We drove on. Lesson learned. Two lessons – one, if you're trying to get a free ride from a coach, be prepared to board straight away – two, you can bum rides from coaches in New Zealand.

The rest of the trip was without incident, at lower ground the snow became rain, and as we pulled into Christchurch, there was little to do but get out, grab my pack, and look for a pay phone.

A girl I'd met back in Poland had offered me a room to stay at while I was here in Christchurch. Unlike China, these phones took credit cards. Thank you NZ. With the call taken care of and a car on its way, I only had to wait. The pub I was to meet at was closed due to it being the Queen's Birthday (June 7.) I did get a good view of the cathedral reflected in wet stone, with a giant blue neon art piece beside it. I was later told it resembled a giant joint. And to be fair, it did seem to have a marijuana leaf the top. It's hard to deny these things.

Into the car, off to a warm dry place, and – provided with food?! Food! I love food! And it was good tasty food. Sigh. So wonderful are people who feed you. I'm very easy to please, and to get on my good side it's really all one needs to do.

After food I got the lowdown on the city and the things to check out. I was even met with a bus map and a route guide. If someone comes to visit me, I must remember to keep these on hand. What a wonderful thing to have without asking, before even jumping out into the real world.

It's good to meet up with people met on the road – Europe doesn't even seem that long ago. It seems more recent than Thailand, and Africa, and yet – there it was all the way back in the beginning. Poland was before I'd even met up with my friends for the first time. Perception of time – it does strange things out here.

I also discovered the magic of bed warmers. A sort of heat blanket beneath the sheets that warms up the bed before you get in. What a brilliant thing! Why don't we have these? Is it because they often burst into flame killing people terribly? Because that would be upsetting – but for now? I'll take it!

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