2019, BLOG XII: a train, a ferry, a bus

I spent the day on the train going through a different landscape than I had seen up north but, as the day before, going in and out of rain. There had been yellow-green moss on trees around A’s house but from the train the trees were encrusted, scaled with green lichens. Besides cows and sheep there were occasionally llamas. I got on the train before eight am and off just after seven in the evening.

In the afternoon we climbed into more rocky, rugged land that had been brutally clear-cut for sheep pasture. Trees’ grey bodies lay about on the land, decomposing. Erosion was apparent in horizontal lines on hills where sheep had grazed. As we climbed there were more sheep, fewer cows. We came down through tunnels and over several deep, narrow gorges, with sides barren as a Nepali landslide.

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From the station I took a share taxi to my hotel. The driver gave a tour of the earthquake aftermath, pointing out injured buildings and those under reconstruction. In my Spartan hotel, my room had no window, but there was endless hot water which considering the chill outside was very welcome.

Waking early, I dawdled, thinking probably there wouldn’t be many places open for breakfast until at least 8. I found a terrific cafe with eggs Benedict over fried potatoes and a large serving of bacon. Their cappuccino was enormous.

I have no sense of direction but I do have an early warning system that tells me I am off course. I asked my way to the Ta Papa Museum, curious to see their Maori carvings and exhibits. What they have is not as extensive, I think, or as fine as what is displayed in Auckland, however, there is a fascinating modern meetinghouse in a room of its own. The carvings, more delicate than the old ones, include female figures and are painted in fantasy shades of purple, green, the prism’s colors.

There is a small, frank, factual display about the Waitangi Treaty of 1840, its physical fate and how it affected lives for the next century and more. It is reminiscent of various treaties with the Native Americans in the U.S.

L and K had recommended an exhibit about the Anzac troops at Gallipoli. The figures of soldiers, two to three times life size, were accompanied by films, photos, recordings by men who had survived the massacre. It recreates the horror and is immensely moving.

After a yogurt lunch at the museum I walked back to the hotel to find the City Gallery. It was close but I managed to go the long way round.  I am directionally impossible.

There was an exhibition of sculpture by Eva Rothschild, fine but unexceptional—open triangles welded together into a tower, for instance. Upstairs, however, was an exhibit, I doubt the word “art” applies, I found upsetting and shattering to mind and emotions. Called “Semiconductor: The Technological Sublime”, the first part consisted of a long curving video installation entitled, “Earthworks” that is a “five channel computer generated animation— (that) processes seismic data to represent the folding, faulting and forging of the land, encompassing millennia in mere moments.” Waves of apparently multi-colored matter—green, pink, yellow, red, purple—surge and recede accompanied by rumblings and detonations. The brochure describes the video as “immersive and entertaining”. Definitely immersive! I watched for a half an hour but terrifying rather than entertaining. It made me feel the raw power of the geologic earth intensely. It was deeply disturbing. I never really got beyond the first installation.

I walked back to my Spartan hotel, unpleasantly conscious of the earth beneath my feet, investigating shops as I went along and restaurants of all nations, including Iran. But I ended up having a beef cheek pie for lunch at a small café.

The next morning out of anxiousness I rose too early, went to the rail station too early and, therefore, spent too much time in the cold. From the station a bus took me to the Inter Island Ferry. I have not been on a long ferry ride since I was in Denmark, 45 years ago. As I came onto the ferry I saw a notice about a special lounge. I decided to upgrade. There was lots of food—eggs, bacon, croissants, sausages, muesli and passable coffee, in a warm room with great views.

We nosed our way between green islands, many with houses and villages on them. It was calm and pleasant with the addition of scones. We went through a short passage of open sea, followed by more islands, but these were different, higher, more precipitous to the sea, less populated and frequently unpopulated, no beaches, just rock.

We came into Picton, tiny, not very populous, with big, pined hills about it.  After a short wait, I climbed onto the bus. The scenery became, immediately, more dramatic, big barren hills—sheep and cows—sandblasted areas of erosion. It is dryer than the Palouse of Idaho but similar. We came down to the coast and the drama heightened. Hills became white peaked mountains with rivulets of snow down their sides, while on the left, after a stretch of black beach, a wild, rock-bound coast developed where white manes of waves threw themselves in foaming profusion.

I got out at Kaikoura but had trouble finding the Dolphin Lodge, a slightly fancy backpacker’s hotel. Having dragged my two cases up the street I decided I’d better ask because what was ahead was not promising.  First I asked a man with two hearing aids behind his ears. But even with them he couldn’t understand me until the third repetition.  Since I too have hearing aids I understood. However, he had never heard of the Dolphin Lodge. I went into the museum where a charming woman not only knew of the Lodge but let me use the museum elevator up to the next level, allowing me to skip an extremely steep hill. She then dragged my bigger case the rest of the way up and pointed at the Lodge’s sign.

The Lodge was freezing and the young woman who gave me my key seemed to be wishing that I would disappear. But she was informative about the radiator in the room.  The room was slightly larger than the bed. It was like being back in Japan but that meant the room heated up quickly. There was a bathroom and the water was hot. I asked about the location of the supermarket.  She said vaguely, “Oh, it´s just down the street. “ It was quite a way down the highway but was a good supermarket and I bought what I would need for both dinners and breakfasts. I was planning on going whale watching the next morning.

By the time I came home from the supermarket, however, I was beginning to feel ill—sore throat accompanied by a decided bodily malaise. I had dinner, letting my room warm while I tried to think my situation through. I WhatsApped L, telling her how I felt. She came right back with the information that the town hospital was ten houses from where I was staying. I decided to go to bed and see how I felt in the morning. There was one couple and one young man who stoked the wood-stove in the living room besides me. I felt decidedly alone, isolated and frightened. But I went to bed and had no difficulty sleeping. The room was warm.

L canceled my whale watch and in the morning I walked a hundred meters or so to a reassuringly modern, clean and efficient hospital where I received an appointment. When I saw the doctor, whose first name was Anders; I asked if he was of Scandinavian descent.  He was. This was quite irrationally reassuring. Not reassuring was that he couldn’t tell anything; probably I was too early in the process. This meant I had to decide whether to trust myself or decide I was being psychosomatic. I decided to trust myself. I had the receptionist at the hospital call a taxi. When I asked the woman driver where to eat she recommended a place on the highway that had a good lamb lunch. I returned to the Lodge. L cancelled my whale watch, they gave me a refund, but I hated giving this up. She had communicated with her sister-in-law S in Christchurch that I would be arriving to stay and then fly back to Auckland. I had originally planned to stay with S but the circumstances had changed slightly.

Coming back to the Lodge I found the young man who stoked the fire in residence. He is a New Zealander. I asked if he had ever been outside New Zealand. He seemed shocked at the idea. I was surprised because I have met a lot of New Zealanders on the road. He explained he came from a large family and he couldn´t leave them. I said I knew lots of big families that are scattered in interesting places around the world and visit each other. He considered this bizarre. I had dinner and went to bed. My sinuses were beginning to feel as if someone had recently injected them with large quantities of lead, but my throat wasn’t any worse, maybe better.

The next morning I got up packed and had breakfast with two delightful Netherlanders who were going to a conference way south and having a wonderful time driving the coast. We were both puzzled by the lack of warmth of many of the New Zealanders because New Zealanders we had met on the road had invariably been wonderful people.  Maybe only the nice ones leave the country?

I braked my bags down the steep hill to the bus stop and caught the bus to Christchurch. The scenery is dramatic with steep mountains on one side and either black sand or rocks among the froth of tumultuous surf on the other.

On the bus two women behind me were speaking something that was not English. I tuned in and could separate a word or two. It was Spanish. Then I began to understand the Spanish, sentence after sentence and with such clarity that I thought, “They have to be speaking Mexican Spanish.”

Whatever the dialect, accent in which you first learn a language it will, forever, be clearer more easily understood, than any other variation. It is your home in the language

When we all got off the bus at Christchurch and waited for the driver to pull our bags out of its belly I asked, “Estás de Mexico?” Delighted, they responded, “Si. Si.” One was from Oaxaca, the other from a town I have heard of but not visited when I lived in Mexico. We talked as we went into the station, I to get a taxi, they to find out about their next bus.

The young woman at the information counter was made up to the enth degree–flounces of eyelashes and lips painted in a many colored design with slender vines separating one hue from the next. This was startling but I had seen something similar when out to lunch with L in Auckland at my favorite restaurant, the Blue Breeze.  We were served by a young woman with a navy blue pout. One wondered if her boy friend was an embalmer. I was fascinated since most women eat their lipstick off in 20 minutes or less. I do it in less. Made up like this one would have to make a constant conscious effort NOT to eat your lipstick.

With her extraordinary lips she told me to find a taxi at the curb outside. I waited a minute while one of the Mexican women asked about their next bus. The girl asked her name but it was already obvious that she was put off, probably frightened, at having to speak to a foreigner. She asked the woman’s name and immediately said she had no reservation.  I have to admit I couldn’t understand the name either. She then asked their booking number. I translated; my Mexican friend nodded and went to get it from her friend. I followed her. They had the number. I thought it would be all right. I felt like death so I left them to their fates and climbed into a taxi, which for 50US took me to S´s house.

The attitude of “You don’t speak my language, therefore, I am going to block you,” is fairly universal. It happen to me at the rail station in Xining, China; I was lucky to have a Chinese speaker with me. But the woman overcharged for my ticket, a statement of her opposition to my foreignness.

Once out of the taxi, I discovered that S’s gate had a combination. I didn’t know the combination and my phone was only good for WhatsApp and email. I had no New Zealand sim. I looked about, went up the next door neighbor’s drive where I heard dogs yapping. There was a car in the driveway beyond the gate. I thought, “Maybe this is the extra car. I hope not but those dogs, if I ring the bell, are going to yap until Hell grows tulips.” I pressed the bell firmly. The dogs, there were two, went into small dog hysteria.  Sure enough a woman wearing a violent pink bathrobe and a scowl and came down the drive. At first she was unwilling to help even when I explained my predicament. There is evidently a strong, automatic distrust of strangers in New Zealand. I stood there looking friendly and impeccably respectable with my bright red Tumi suitcase next to me. After I explained a second time making it clear via body language that I was not going away, she gave in, called S, and transmitted the combination.

I let myself in after carrying the red case since the driveway was gravel and the little wheels wouldn’t work. Inside I immediately made myself ginger tea from a root I was in my pocket and a meal out of what I was carrying with me. The house was cold but there was a warm welcome from a small, boney, elderly, black and white cat who delivered short, aphoristic lectures and was delighted to see me. S arrived, turned on the heat and, well beyond the call of duty, carried my suitcase upstairs. The house is airy, beautiful with bare, black lacquered floors and huge windows looking onto Sumner beach and its surfers. It is full of S’s individual art collection. I drank cups of ginger tea as we talked.

She was going out to dinner. I went upstairs, got into bed accompanied by the elderly black and white cat still delivering lectures, and went to sleep.

In the morning I found L and S had arranged everything. I had a flight to Auckland. Sue delivered me to the airport. I was fine until we had been in the air about 15 minutes when my sinuses exploded. I was in pain and my ears, never the best part of my anatomy, blocked. I grit my molars. Luckily it was only an hour and twenty minute flight. K and L took me to their warm home where I collapsed, drank ginger tea, collapsed and continued with that routine for two days.

My sinuses had improved on the third day and L made an appointment for me at a clinic where a doctor from Malaga, Spain prescribed prednisone and a mild antibiotic. With this I took an elixir prescribed by A. You boil a three-fingered pinch of the leaves in a mug and a half of water for an hour and drink it twice a day. A had said it tasted foul. It was bitter but not bad; in 48 hours it had done the trick.  I was coughing up stuff. The prednisone is like taking speed and a bit scary but it also worked well in union with the antibiotic.

At the end of four days of this treatment and sleeping after breakfast and after lunch I began to have energy so I went to the gym, which gave me more energy with which I walked, one day, to the zoo. It was about 11 kilometers.

The Auckland zoo is an excellent zoo, although the walk is along very busy roads. The animals are housed in big natural settings. A lion on a hill looked about him while his buddies lay on their backs, paws in the air, in the sun. A serval cat in an enclosure full of trees and ferns with superbly striped ears provokingly lay with his back to his audience. You knew he knew he had an audience, his ears twitched and turned.

The New Zealand section is wonderful for its birds and lizards. There were whios, a startlingly blue duck, quacking and being gregarious in the fubsy way of ducks. A kia with greenish, gold feathers seemed attentive, looking over its tightly curved beak. Even more interested were kias, a burrowing parrot, bright green, bright eyed, full of ‘satiable curiosity, and wise cracks. I could not see the kiwis in their nocturnal enclosure. I was glad I had seen the one by the side of the road when driving up north around A’s house. I took a taxi home, having done my 11 km getting to the zoo.

Otherwise I did nothing but lunch at the Blue Breeze on Tuatua clams, big juicy clams cooked in an excellent Thai influenced sauce, luscious dim sum, heavenly fried noodles, lamb curry and salmon salad. All of which worked because by June 30th I felt ready to go on to French Polynesia.

Although this blog is too long, I want to do a quick assessment of what I have learned about living with my newly old body.

  1. I have learned to STOP. My reflex is to go on and that’s wrong. STOP is right.
  2. Sleep. Those naps after breakfast and lunch worked. They meant I healed. I never take naps because “old people” take naps. Welcome to being and “old person,” Karen
  3. Go see a doctor.  I have always done that.

I hope this knowledge will help me continue to travel.

So when June 29th arrived, I was hale, hearty and ready to leave for Tahiti.

2 thoughts on “2019, BLOG XII: a train, a ferry, a bus

  1. Terrific descriptions, from animals to food to land and sea scapes. Naps are sometimes necessary for me and i am in early old age.


  2. I just got back from NW Scotland and there were so many parallels in landscape, cuisine, attitudes, climate, etc. Paradoxically (or obviously) there are as many differences as there are similarities. Hemispheres and kilometers of separation make for very exotic cousins. Myself now being a member of the 3rd act club, find your sage advice to be points of reference – if one is to make it to the next leg or stand on two. BTW, I have seen those hellish tulips, but karma has taken a different turn for this life. Keep on trekin’!


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