Entry #048: Sunday, December 22, 2013 (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Coming to the end of Week One in New Zealand, and I still haven't caught any hobbits. They're tricky little buggers, I tell ya. But I have seen plenty of sheep, prompting me to maybe think that they're hobbits in disguise. In any case, I actually didn't think I'd be in Christchurch as of the posting time of this entry; I thought I'd be at my next locale, Lake Tekapo. But wait to you hear the wacky reason why (actually, it's just that I didn't pay attention to my own bookings). But what really happened in the past few days is I saw a lot of pretty views, walked a good 45 miles or so, had a hostel-induced crisis of faith, and had a really bad allergy flare-up. Hot dog! Let's go in for a closer look!

On Wednesday, I did everything I could to sleep in while everyone around me was leaving. Once I finally couldn't stay in bed any longer, I got up and had some breakfast. After wolfing that down, I decided to make myself some sandwiches, sandwiches enough for two days. Basically, I wanted to use up the rest of my materials and not have to worry about constantly making sandwiches (I swear, I am going to be so tired of sandwiches when all is said and done). I did get a little creative/disgusting by putting some hot sweet chili sauce on them. Anyway, I placed lunch for that day into my backpack, and lunch for the following day in the fridge. I then went out for another walk. The first place I wanted to go was a nearby cemetery. I go out and see an entrance. I go inside and think to myself, this might be one of the most beautiful looking cemetery I've ever seen. It was full of lovely trees and flowers and rose bushes galore. Very pleasant to walk through. Admittedly, I was a little confused at first by how small and nondescript all the headstones were, and how closely they were placed together. Could they have been piled up on one another? No silly, it turns out that this was just a memorial place, for people who've been cremated. Look, there's the crematorium right over there...with...with smoke coming out of the chimney.....huh, that' a bit morbid.

After walking out of there, I continued along the road, and came up to the real cemetery, which I actually didn't know was the real cemetery (or there, for that matter). It was very reminiscent of other old cemeteries I'd been two, with broken statues and headstones, but the issue was exacerbated here, because, y'know, earthquake. There were entire rows of headstones that had fallen over, elaborate setups that had fallen apart, and a group of guys doing "cemetery maintenance", according to their sign. (Later in the day, I found out there was an even older cemetery in town, which I guess was even more affected by the earthquakes. I didn't get a chance to visit it, though).

Finished with my death-grounds dealings for the day, I went back to the Eastgate Shopping Center (fun fact: I originally wrote "Eastgate Cemetery"). The first thing I did while I was there was go into the local hair salon. My hair has been a fright lately. Almost two weeks, I'd say. If I wasn't wearing a hat to basically press it down, I couldn't do a thing with it, even when wet. Considering my last haircut (in Sihannouk Ville in Cambodia) was less than a month prior to the point where I started needing to mess with my hair again, I can officially say that that haircut, regardless of how "good" I may have looked, was a failure. Not again. Never again. This time, I went in with the grim determination to only have them use clippers (though that was also because it was half the price of them doing an actual cut). Clippers, Length 2, bing-bang-boom, here's $10, I'm out the door. Close-cropped, this thing should last me two months before I get all hot and bothered by it again, at which point I can get a cheap trim in South America. The system works.

Also, of any sort of physical feature I could be immensely proud of on my body, for me, it's my hairline. I really like my hairline. Is that weird? Am I weird?

I got into the shopping center, found a private little nook which had both access to the library's WiFi and a plug, set up my stuff, and ate some lunch while filtering through my Christchurch photos. In retrospect, this was a stupid time and place to do that, seeing as that's the last thing I need Internet access for. What I did do that was kind of smart, though, was upload the first batch of Southeast Asia cycling photos to Facebook. As I've said before, this takes longer than my short couple of sentences would imply. In fact, I would/should have probably done one more album (maaayyybe two), but I just didn't feel like I had it in me.

Afterward, I went to the store to buy myself some personal care items: scissors, soap, shampoo. I was actually able to buy it somewhat in bulk (by which I mean not under 100ml of whatever), as I won't need to get on a plane for another month-point-five, so I can have all the liquid, all of it. This trip also served double-duty, as it gave me a receipt above $10, which meant that I could go get a free photo with Santa. So, I take the receipt and make my way over to the Santa photo op booth. To my surprise, they didn't even bother asking for the receipt (had I not needed those items anyway, I may have been annoyed). Turns out, it was the last photo of the day, so they sat me down, and Santa (who had a distinctive New Zealand accent), asked if I had all my Christmas wishes in order. I just said as long as my trip stays safe and fun, I'm good. They were all good sports about the fact that a 26-year-old was getting a picture taken with Santa, and we all left with a cheery laugh.

I got back to the hostel, where I talked to the staff, and had a shuttle set up for the next day...at 6:15 in the morning. Ugh. I was not looking forward to that. What I was looking forward to was the night, because it was already, what 5pm or so, and there was nobody else, no inkling of luggage or life, in the dorm room. I had seen a single envelope next to the door, but that was about it. So, it seemed like there would only be one other person in the room, which was a nice feeling. So, I just decided to relax a bit, and eat some dinner. However, when I got back from dinner, I saw a whole group of people (like, five) - all German, for what it's worth - moving in. It was a bit disappointing, but not utterly unexpected. Then, two Asian girls came in separately, and we had a full house. Oh, well, it was nice while it lasted.

The sun waited until 9:30 to set. 9:30! That seems especially late, even if it is summer. It really makes it difficult to get a sense of the time. In fact, there's more than 16 hours of light a day; I guess it's just because we're so far south. In any case, once the sun did go down, I decided to pack my bags, so I wouldn't have to worry about it the next morning. After that, I spent the rest of the night trying to keep to myself. Truth be told, I was feeling really introverted. I didn't want to speak with anyone, I didn't care about them, I just wanted to be in my own little world. I don't like to bring up the "I"-word very often, as I've mentioned before how self-centered introverts can be. Still, I did get the feelings of just feeling like people were sapping my energy, so I guess it's appropriate here.

I tried to give the girl sharing my section of the dorm a subtle hint ("feel free to turn off the light whenever you like"), but in the end, had to sleep with the light on. I could also hear some of the folks talking (and it was nearly midnight, mind you), so I had to put my headphones in and listen to some whisper therapy (look it up) to help block out everything and let me sleep. That went...okay. At least, it lasted while it lasted. The fact was, one of the guys in the room over was snoring. At first, I thought it was the girl next to me - that's how loud it was. It had to have been the loudest snoring I've heard since that inhumanly loud guy in Singapore. I tried going back to sleep - Lord, I tried - but it was just too damn loud, uneven, and distracting. At one point, I couldn't take it anymore.

I got out of bed, grabbed all my stuff, and went downstairs into the living room. Yes, I was planning on sleeping on the couch. Thankfully, it was no colder in there than it was in the room, and there were a couple of blankets set up by the TV (likely more for getting cozy than actual sleeping, but they did the job). I grabbed one, and lay down on the couch. One of the cats snuggled up against me for a short while as I tried to get comfortable. I looked at my phone. 3:30. I was to get up at 5:45. At least I'd get a couple hours of sleep. And in some ways, this was more considerate to the other people in my room, as my alarm wouldn't wake them (if indeed they had been able to sleep in the first place). So, I got blanketed up and slept on the couch.

My alarm rudely woke me up, and I was about as tired as you'd expect someone who got three hours of sleep to be. Still, I had things to do, and places to be. So, I made myself a token breakfast, made sure all of my stuff was packed and not left in the original room, and then went outside at 6:15, where I met with the shuttle guy, who drove me to the meeting point. It was raining, which made my decision not to walk with my bags for an hour-point-five seem like an even sounder choice. When I got to the meeting point, I took refuge under the most voluminous tree I could find, and this worked well enough, although the drops that did get through were of the larger, collected variety. Before too long, a bus drove up. However, I was a bit confused at first, because it said "Atomic Shuttles" on the side, when the company I had booked with was called "NakedBus." (Interesting note: there are some hop-on-hop-off bus companies in New Zealand that, through my research, were said to be party buses where people at some point being the nude was not too uncommon. Despite any implications in its name, Nakedbus is not one of these, and is so named because of its more-or-less barebones nature.) Had I not out-and-out asked the driver if it was the same bus, I probably would have been left behind.

We then set off on a 2.5-hour drive. One thing I will say against Nakedbus's credit is that, on their website, they make a pretty big to-do about having free WiFi on board. In fact, this was one of the reasons I chose them in the first place (alongside the fact that they were having a sale). After finding none on this bus, I looked on the website, and saw that it's only really available on two of their routes, and "sometimes available" elsewhere. So that aspects a bit of a bust. But on the flip side, this gave me more opportunity to look out the windows at the many views the journey offered. And it was expansive and attractive. Rolling green hills, rocky non-green hills, trees and crashing waves, and sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. This was the first I saw of the famous NZ sheep, and I can attest, there are in fact a lot of them.

When we finally got to Kaikoura, the rain was still coming down, lightly but steadily. I checked my GPS. My hostel, the Dolphin Lodge, was just about 100meters from where the bus let off, but it was up a hill, and so the only path I could see was a 1.5-mile walkaround, along a highway with no actual sidewalk. When I finally got there, I saw two other backpackers in front of me, who had also been on the bus, and who had sat down at a cafe. I asked them what way they went. "Oh, there's a shortcut up the hill." As I shook the rain off my bag, I chided myself for not even considering that there might have been such an option. I also noticed that there was a sign on the hostel, noting that there was no vacancy. It made me fairly pleased that I had decided to book everything well in advance, because this does seem to be the season for things to fill up. this also meant that I was definitely going to be in a full room, so I hoped for the best.

After waiting in the lobby for a bit while beds were arranged, we were allowed to go in. I was one of the first in, so I had my choice. There were two pairs of bunk beds and a single, and I didn't want to be that jackass that everyone hated by taking the single, so I took a bottom bunk. I regretted this decision for the remainder of my time there, because in the two nights I spent in this hostel, I hit my head on the top bunk no fewer than twenty times (probably more, but I didn't start counting until someways in). The advantage my bunk had was it was just close enough the the electrical outlet. Now, this place may be involved in a tie with some of the worst-designed outlet placement I've seen. Here, there were two outlets for five people. They were three feet from the ground. And they automatically turned off after an hour, at which point you'd need to press a button to give it another hour. This last part is actually understandable from an environmental perspective, and this hostel - this whole town, for that matter - was very big on being green. I respect that. But c'mon, guests need to be able to charge their phones overnight to be ready for the next day. It's just common service. (And I won't go into detail about their WiFi plan, but I'll say this - you had to pay $1 for every 10mb.)

Luckily, I became an unlikely hero in this situation, or at least my power strip did, as one of the other guests, named Corey, was Canadian, and thus had the same plug style as me. Another guy, a German named Tim, was able to plug his stuff into the strip using a converter, making the whole thing look like some kind of fire-starting monstrosity. The other two, also German, barely spoke a word to us except when they had to, and even then it seemed like they hated it, so I didn't explicitly give them an invite to the bosom of my power strip. After getting settled in, the three of us decided to go out into town. We first went into the iSite, which is one of the genuinely helpful visitor centers that exists in every major town here. Inside, the others did some booking of activities, while I just looked and enquired about prices. For the most part, it all seemed very expensive. One that was particularly odd? A llama trek, where you walk around with llamas. ("You don't ride the llamas!" was one of its baffling selling points.) The cost? $60 for a 1.5-hour walk, $100 for six hours. Nothankyousir, I said. I could have also signed up for whale-watching and seal swims, but all of these cost anywhere from $60-150, and I simply can't afford spending that everywhere I go. So instead, I just got some information on some of the walks around town, including getting some information booklets on said maps, thereby paying only $3 for what I needed.

We then continued into town. Corey went into some of the bric-a-brac shops, whilst Tim and I decided to go to the "local" supermarket and library. I use quotation marks because they were about a half-hour walk outside of the town center, in what could only be described as the fringes. (Thankfully, there was some reprieve in the rain.) I didn't even bother going into the library, but stopped in the supermarket to get yet more sandwich-making materials (I swear, I'm gonna get mighty sick of this). We then walked back to the hostel, where I ate and then chilled out for a bit, waiting for the rain to die down. Once it finally did, I walked out onto the beach, which afforded some really great views, but the best part, oddly, was the sound. When you got closer to the water's edge, there wasn't sand, only pebbles and larger rocks. As a result, when the water would retreat, it would sound like...I'm not sure what...like a thousand pebbles clattering down a hillside of other pebbles? Or maybe it was just the sound of rushing water through thousands of little passageways. Either way, it was really neat. I also managed to find a nice piece of driftwood, which was just my height. I took a small stone, whichever I could find with the least-smooth edges, and scraped away all the loose bark, and was left with an admirable walking stick. I continued walking for another hour or so, and then walked back into the town center.

It was only then that I remembered that I had brought my laptop with me, so I looked for a place I could use WiFi without having to pay a dollar per ten megabytes (really, that's pretty absurd). I ended up stopping at some restaurant called the Adelphi, mainly because it had one of those free Telecom WiFi hotspots literally out the front door. Of course, you have to not be a scumbag if you use one of these places, so I ordered a milkshake to show my patronage. The server, a Welsh dude who apparently worked at the Dolphin Lodge as well, was a bit of a lovable airhead, although had I not noticed he was going to charge me $24 for my milkshake (as his mind was on serving table 24), I might not have found him so lovable. This faux-pas was made up for, though, when he also messed up the measurements for my drink, and he had to make a second, and I got both. I slowly sipped on these while I did what work I could on my laptop until it basically died (I was actually in a chat with a customer service representative [long story] when I was down to 4%, so there were some bullets being sweat).

I went back to the hostel, stayed in the room long enough to plug in my laptop and receive a snooty remark from the two Germans whose names I never got. I then went into the common area and talked for a bit with Tim and some of the other guests. Once they left to get some dinner, I prepped myself some chicken and salad. Unfortunately, the place's environmental slant put me in a bit of a bind. See, there were no waste bins. There were six different recycling bins, all for different nuances of recycling, and a compost bin, but nothing for straight waste, which was what I'd define my wax-lined bag of chicken and grease as. So, to throw this away, I had to walk down the hill into the town center to use a public trash can. Again, I'm all for the earth, but one needs to be practical sometimes. I then went back up and worked a bit on my Spanish. Corey returned from his day in town, and showed us a movie schedule for the town theater. I considered seeing the new Hobbit movie (this being New Zealand and all), but figured I'd hold off until Queenstown or so.

I went outside and stood by the hostel's hot tub, with the intention of being social and all that, but I left within maybe 20 minutes, as I found them all - or at least their conversation - terribly unappealing. First there was the girl who works in...something where she has to airbrush photos of models, saying that she hates doing it because "they're all perfect". (Personally, I think "beautiful" is the right word; definitely not "perfect", but that's a rant for another day.) Then one of them said, "I have a sticker on my bag that says, 'Stop talking, start doing.'" And then my all-time favorite: "The important part of traveling is not what you see or do, but the people you meet."

The fact is, the important part of traveling is what you get out of it. It might be meeting people, but it might be seeing amazing things, or maybe taking pictures to express the things you see, or for the sense of accomplishment of doing things, or maybe just for the thrill of going for place to place to place. Don't let anybody try to pigeonhole what aspects of travel are superior to others. It's your adventure, let it be yours, and let the values be yours.

Sorry, sorry, that is just one of my pet peeves with the people I meet. It was at this point that I left them to do some writing. But I definitely felt some slight sense of ennui. It got me wondering: am I over it? Have I gotten over traveling at this point? It's impossible to say for sure, mainly because there's one real variable here: the fact that I'm in a hostel. I really don't like being in hostels. If I could afford it, I'd never be in them. Going back to the whole introverted feeling concept, they drain me mentally, and the more I'm surrounded by people, especially young people, the less interested I get in being surrounded by them, and the more I want to separate myself. In a very real way, being in a more social environment makes me less social, which does indeed color my moods. So it may be that I'm not over traveling at all; I do enjoy hopping from place to place and wandering about. Maybe I'm just over being in hostels (which admittedly didn't take much). Unfortunately, that's going to be the facts of life for the next several weeks, so gulp.

With that happy thought, I went to sleep, waking up at about 8am or so. I got into the kitchen, fixed myself a few sandwiches, and then popped in some bread to the toaster. I then went into my room to prep my bag for the day, and am set to head off, when I head the weak chirping of an out-of-date fire alarm. I could also smell burnt toast. Whoops! Once that business was quickly settled, I headed off for my day trip, and I really mean day trip. I was going to walk to the summit of the local Mount Fyffe. I was told that, to the base of the mountain, it was a 10-minute drive, which made me feel like the walk couldn't be too bad. Unfortunately, this was a little underestimated, because there's the base of the mountain, and then the base of the mountain's trail. If you want to get to that, it's a good twelve miles from the town center.

Twelve miles.

Just to get there.

Think about that for a second.

Of course, I didn't realize this until I was already in a car. See, I wasn't planning on walking the whole way, regardless of distance. I had heard good things about hitchhiking in New Zealand (namely that it's legal and usually won't get you killed), so I wanted to give it a shot. Once I was on a road that was clearly heading towards the mountain, I started thumbing as I walked. Unfortunately, a good half-dozen cars passed by without a second glance (which doesn't sound like much unless you consider that it's a very sparsely driven road). Finally, a pickup truck pulled over, and some old cattle farmer lady let me in. She was heading most of the way herself to fix some fence, and drove me well past where I thought the trail started, all the while making pleasant conversation. When she dropped me off, I still had about two miles to go (overall, I still walked a good six or seven miles just to start the trail). But, finally and with a bit of luck, I made it to the parking lot and began my way up the mountain.

Not gonna lie, it was a tough walk. The summit is 1600 meters (essentially, a mile) high, and with about two exceptions, there are no points where it levels off. So when you're on your way up, you're going up. And up, and up. At any point on this trail, you could look straight at the path ahead of you, and it would be twice your height before it disappeared. And you could turn corners, hoping for some moments of even ground, but nope, more up. The mental demoralization of this constancy was probably the most difficult part of the walk, followed by the work on your lungs. I actually did have to stop and take a number of breaks, more than I'm used to. And I'm normally pretty good going up hills; I can only imagine what it's like for somebody who's not.

In any case, I had the opportunity to see some cool things. I saw at least one hare scampering along, and possibly several (as it came and went from the shrubbery). I also was rewarded at almost every stage with some amazing view of something, be it the ocean, the valleys, or the mountains beyond. Some of the other mountains even had snow on them. I had asked the farmer lady about this; she said it was quite unseasonable, meaning that this was a wetter, chillier summer than they were used to.

After two hours, I reached a hut on the mountain that people could sleep in if they were so inclined. I wasn't, but I was interested in the drinking water they offered, as I had powered through the majority of the three liters I had brought with me. There was a sign next to the reservoir say that you should boil, filter, or treat the water before drinking it. I realized I neglected to bring my UV sterilizer with me, which was made for just such an occasion. But it was just rainwater, I desperately needed to refill, and the sign said "should" instead of "need to", so I just went for it. And it was worth whatever risk was there, because it was cool, clean, and refreshing. It was good enough to last me the next hour-plus to the summit (along the way, I met up with Tim and a French guy from the hostel; I declined going with them because I always go faster than others; they just happened to have better hitchhiking luck than me). I finally got to the mile-high summit, and spent some time there, sitting, relaxing, listening to the birds, enjoying the view. It was nice; windy, but not too cold. Still, I knew I had to make my way back down at some point, and so I hitched up my gear and went down. And it's just like I (and probably everyone else) has said before about hiking - going up is hard on the lungs, going down is hard on the legs. That was certainly the case here, especially with the steep slopes and loose gravel everywhere. At some points, I had to do that controlled half-run you sometimes need to do in order to keep your balance. My feet, toes, knees, and quads were not thanking me, but they had their chance to be comfortable on the way up. Also, it was only at this point that I had realized I had forgotten the lovely walking stick I had acquired the day before, and man would that have been useful.

Since I'd already experienced the sounds of nature on the way up, I decided to complement my way down by listening to more of my Bill Bryson audiobook. I also passed by a few folks on the way down (though just a few). There was a mother and two boys who were clearly going to be camping up there. One of the boys, who was carrying nothing, asked me how much further. I told him 45 minutes, and he whined, while his mother, who was carrying an 85+-liter backpack, just smiled and sighed. Later, I saw a German guy heading down with an empty water bottle. I offered him some of my remaining water, as even though I was dehydrated despite the amount I drank, he probably needed it more. He refused, though, so I carried on.

Once I made it to the bottom, I saw that the parking lot was mostly empty, except for a couple cars that I could peg to people who were going up and probably wouldn't be down for a while. I wasn't going to be able to hitch any immediate rides, so I just decided to start walking. And so I went for a good five miles or so before I came onto road that was even registered as road on Google Maps. Most of it was through either wooded areas or through dairy farms (with some of the orneriest looking cows I ever did see), and not one car drove past in that entire time. Once I gotten onto the marked road, I sat down, and considered calling a cab. It was only then that someone drove past. I quickly stood and put my thumb out, but I think this may have created the wrong impression (that I was some lazy freeloader), and they drove on. Disappointed, I decided to start walking again, looking up taxi numbers, and before long, a pickup truck came. I put my thumb out, and it pulled over. It was an old farmer man (God bless them old farmers), who was kind enough to take me almost the entire way to the hostel, talking about travel the whole way (as he had done plenty of traveling of his own in his day).

I thanked the old man profusely, and walked the short distance back to the hostel. All in all, I had walked/hiked nine hours. So you can understand why I decided to take an early shower. I then went to make myself some dinner, by which I mean I grabbed what remained of my food, put it on a plate, and brought it back to my room. The dining room was pretty much full of this group of Germans (I swear to God, so many Germans everywhere. I like about half of them, but jeez.) I spoke with Tim while eating, and then he went off to get his own dinner, at which point, Corey came in, and I spoke with him for a while. It was only at this point that I noticed my arms - the only real exposed part of my body during the day - had a slight tingle to them, despite not being obviously burned. The hole in the ozone layer, folks, I thought to myself.

I then left for a bit, went back to the same restaurant before, got another milkshake (which remained unfortunately singular this time around), and stayed until closing time, doing some legitimate preparation work (making sure I had all my accommodation spots pinned to maps, knowing my bus ride confirmation numbers, etc). I then went back to the hostel, did whatever work I could do offline, and went to bed at an early-ish time.

Unfortunately, I also arose at an early-ish time, because we had forgotten to close the shades when we went to bed. As such, a huge shaft of light, care of the southern summer solstice, came in to bid us all arise. I would have loved to stay in bed longer, but I suppose it was just as well, because I had to be checked out of the hostel at 10am anyway. So, I got up, had a pathetic breakfast of dry, crusty leftover bread, packed up my stuff, and then checked out, leaving my big bag to pick up later. I said my goodbyes to Tim and Corey, and then headed out on my trip for the day, which was around the Kaikoura Peninsula.

Now, this was a bit weird. Normally, I'm pretty fast on walks and hikes. I've mentioned this several times. This walk, I was told, should take 3.5 hours. On this day, it took me four. I attribute this to a couple reasons. First, though I had left my big bag in the hostel, I still had my backpack, filled with laptop, cables, and a bunch of other stuff unnecessary for a walk. Second, remember how I said I had walked nine hours the day beforehand, often up or down a steep incline. Well, my legs sure remembered it, and they weren't too keen on going fast. But the biggest factor I will attribute to this is allergies. You know how Bilbo Baggins' sword, Sting, glows blue when there are orcs around? I think my nose is similarly magical. I dunno, I haven't had allergies so noticeable anywhere on this trip before, but in Kaikoura, they were cranked up to eleven. My eyes alternated between water and dry/irritated, I couldn't walk ten feet without sneezing, and my nose just ran like a broken faucet. (Take it from experience - it's hard to look cool when you're having an allergy attack.) It got so bad that I ran out of tissue and had to use leaves to blow my nose. I quickly stopped this practice, though, when I considered the option that the leaves I was using may have been what I was allergic to. In short, allergies slowed me down quite a bit, and made what should have been a very enjoyable walk...well, less enjoyable.

That's not to say it wasn't nice, though. I saw seals, a whole bunch of seagulls (in the uncreatively named breeding site, "Bird City" - really, "Gull City" would roll off the tongue better), I saw more wonderful panoramas than I could possibly take composite photos of (but Lord if I didn't try to). It was wonderful. Oddly, I think my favorite part was walking through some wheat fields, which I've always wanted to do while putting my hand out across the wheat (if you've seen Gladiator, you know what I'm talking about). Like I mentioned back on Everest, the concept of walking through an endless wheat field titillates my senses to no end. (I just hope that's not what I'm allergic to...)

By the end of the four hours, my legs were quite tired, so I went back to the hostel, walked back to the same restaurant I'd been to before, and decided to shake things up, ordering a hot chocolate this time. Despite being 25% cheaper than the milkshake, I actually thought it was significantly nicer, and seeing as the weather was changing for the colder and wetter, it was quite comforting. I did some computer work for a bit, and then, when I had about a half hour before my bus arrived, walked to the meeting spot. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long - everyone who booked boarded early, and so we left 10 minutes before out scheduled 4pm departure time.

The ride itself was mostly pleasant, with the exception of some drunken white trash local behind me who talked nonstop for an hour and a half with the Brit next to him. (I know he was drunk because I heard him open, no joke, five beer cans during that time. Also, he got less and less coherent.) Topics included some wholly racists diatribes (during which he made clear he wasn't racist), how to keep a fishing knife sharpened, V8 engines, and how he was heading to Christchurch with the intention of beating his best friend for sleeping with his (now ex-)girlfriend. The Brit tried valiantly to talk him out of this, and I can only hope it worked. But there was a collective sigh of relief when he got off the bus early. I shook the Brits hand for making it through all that unscathed. And I hadn't even heard all of it; I had spent a good portion of time dozing off while listening to music and looking at the rolling hills pass by.

Once I got to Christchurch, I grabbed my bag and walked to the new hostel I would be staying at here. (Spoiler, I liked this one a lot better than the last one.) I was hoping to find a quick, easy, cheap place to grab dinner, but didn't really see anything. I arrived and checked in, and then realized that I wasn't leaving for Lake Tekapo the next day. No, I was staying in Christchurch an extra day. ....Okay. I suppose I must have figured when I booked all this way back when that I'd have more to do here, but whatever. Decompression/Writing day, I guess. I asked about any places to eat nearby, and was told there was just a single nearby cafe, so I went there, and ate a good - but quite pricey - caprese-like sandwich. I then went back to the hostel, got the WiFi code, which cost $4, but is unlimited. (Man, I wish there was a way I could store bandwidth on my laptop like a squirrel stores nuts in trees, so that I could use it in times when good WiFi is scarce.) I then took a shower, relaxed a bit, and went to bed.

The bright sun was again an unwanted alarm clock, as was the early departure of one of my roommates. I was able fall back asleep, then get up again, then go back asleep, and then get up once more. It must be late, I thought to myself. I checked my watch. 8:00. Whaaaa?! I stayed in bed checking emails and whatnot for a while, and then got up to have some tea. I went to the kitchen, brewed some up, and then walked outside, in what has to be the most stereotypical morning thing one could do - drinking a cup of tea with the morning sun hitting your face. It did feel nice, though. I went back into my room, and then started my writing. Today would be a writing day, that's for sure. All the while, my other roommate, a French girl, lay asleep until her alarm woke her up at 10am. As she got herself prepared, I popped a couple small handfuls of cereal into my mouth. "Sleep well?" I ask, which seemed to startle her.
"Why, was I making sounds?"
"Oh, no, I was just asking if you had a good sleep."
She didn't actually answer my question, but just responded with, "So, you're already awake and eating chips this early in the morning. Christ! I thought to myself, how much more judgmental and contemptuous can a question be than that, intentional or not.
"Oh, it's not chips, it's cereal. This is my breakfast." She only responded by cocking her head a bit and continuing with her activities. Location necessitates we be roommates, I mused to myself, but I suppose nothing requires us to be friends. A shame, I was actually making a bit of an effort there, but whatever.

In addition to writing, I spent the day trying to figure out signing up for health insurance through Covered California. Really, it's difficult to show that you would like assistance in paying when you have no job, and thus no pay slips and proof of income that shows your current financial situation. But still, as far as I'm aware, I had to turn in such proof today, and so showed them my bank account and hoped for the best. They gave me some plan options, I signed up for one and...it worked? Maybe? I didn't get an email confirmation, or really a confirmation of any kind, so I'm hoping it all worked smoothly. I gotta say, while I am a supporter of universal/socialized health care, the roll-out could have been done a lot better. (And also, in the dozen times I tried to use the online chat, I never once was connected with anybody. That's pretty bad.) But at least it's maybe sorta taken care of.

Not much else to talk about for the day. I made a couple calls to home, did some writing, went out, got a quick lunch, went back to the Eastgate shopping center, retrieved my official photo with Santa, did some grocery shopping for cereal and snacks and a frozen pizza for dinner (I really wish I could afford to eat healthier here - I legitimately do - but at least I can find some solace in that I haven't degraded into Cup Noodle levels of unhealthy frugality yet). I then walked back to the hostel (and this is a two-mile walk each way, so that made me feel better), and got back to writing. And then did more writing. Every so often, the French girl came in and saw me sitting at my bed, writing. She probably either thinks I'm some eccentric novelist or just a lazy sack who posts on online forums all day. I then paused to make dinner (and their oven gave me a bit of a worry when it wasn't warming up; turns out, it requires the internal light to be on in order to function at all, for some unknowable reason). After that, I met my new roommate, a nice, cute German girl who, to my ultimate amusement, was thrilled that I wasn't also from the Fatherland. ("It seems like there are more Germans in New Zealand than Germany.") For the remainder of the evening, I finished up my writing, filtered through some photos, and then just relaxed, prepping myself to leave the hostel for a 9am bus.

Well, there was one more exciting thing I did. I booked my flight home. That's right, I now have a flight back to the US of A ready and rarin' to go. As of 7:20pm on April 18, I'll be back on American soil. Unless my flight is delayed...then it'd be later. Still, exciting!

And so, like I said earlier, I'll be hopping on a bus and heading off to Lake Tekapo tomorrow, which is said to have one of the best, if not the best, night skies in New Zealand. Unfortunately, there won't be a new moon while I'll be there, but it should be beautiful nonetheless. And that's where I'll be spending my Christmas, hopefully with good people, in a good environment. And, to get a little sappy, if you're somehow reading this before Christmas has already passed, I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas!

If you're reading it afterward...well, I hope it was good?

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