Well, it's the last day of 2013, and, by complete coincidence, I have reached my 50th blog entry. To be perfectly honest, when I look back on my naming/numbering scheme for the blog, I'm not sure why I saw fit to put the "0" in my post numbers. The idea was, of course, that I would be covered in case I get up to 100 post and beyond, but that wouldn't have been very realistic; considering my trip is a year long (well, officially a year and ten days), I'd have to make an entry once every 3 to four days. Ad admirable goal, and maybe one I originally thought I could do, but a generally unattainable one. I guess, like everything else, it's a learning experience. But back to this entry itself. Were my last days of 2013 the most exciting ones ever? ...Nah, not really, but they were pretty good.
(As a note, I only really started this on the 31st, and I am really determined to have it be finished before the New Year, so please forgive me if I keep things short and sweet. Well, okay, it's technically New Year's now in New Zealand, but my Google/Blogger account still has me set to California time, where it's still the eve, so that's what I'm marking this post to, despite the fact I'll be talking about the actual New Year's moment...look, just work with me here.)
We start back on my second day in Omarama, the hypest place in the Omarama region of New Zealand (I'm actually not sure if that is true). After my roommate left to continue on his travels, I woke up and had some breakfast, having the closest to a proper breakfast I've had in a hostel, being eggs and crumpets. After milling around for a bit longer, I decided to go out to the sheep shearing show, which was literally the reason I came to Omarama. I walked down to the place, called the Wrinkly Ram, got my ticket, and waited. While I was waiting, I briefly spoke to one of the employees, a kind Japanese girl. I thought it a bit quaint that she'd chose to work at a place like this when a bus pulled up and, I kid you not, 40 Japanese people all came in, all for the show. Seriously, I hadn't seen a single Asian person in NZ until I reached Tekapo; now they're poppin' out of the woodwork. Anyway, it turned out that the girl was a translator for the show, so everything made a lot more sense. But what was going to be a small, intimate show for about ten people was suddenly a lot less so. (Still, I was told I was lucky, because there would be two groups totaling something like 400 people the following day, so I was still experiencing a relatively small show.) The show itself was enjoyable: it covered the various types of wool and sheep, how to be a sheep farmer, the means of shearing sheep, the means of herding sheep, etc. And, of course, there was a live shearing, which was neat to watch, though I didn't get a chance to do some of my own shearing (I was told beforehand that I could ask, but I didn't find a good opportunity during the show, especially since there were so many other people in there). Still, it was fun enough, and I got a discount to their store, which was good, because I found the first item that made me willingly break my "no paid souvenirs" credo: a pair of wool fingerless gloves. I mean...fingerless gloves, c'mon. And they were mostly Merino wool (with some possum fur in there, which is apparently also pretty luxuriant, and it a good way for locals to keep the invasive possum populations down). It ended up being maybe $20, so I'll just write it off, but I swear, that's the last thing...unless I see another pair of fingerless gloves (or maybe some cool goggles).
Afterward, I decided to go on a hike up the main hill in the area, starting at a tourist destination called Ladybird Hill. While they offered fishing, helicopter rides, a giant chessboard, etc., I was mostly just interested in walking. So, I made my way up, though their tiny vineyard and up the hill, and...wait, am I at the top already. Yeah, it wasn't really the most demanding of hikes; it definitely didn't require me bringing my CamelBak. There was a pretty nice view of the surrounding area, but that was about it. Pretty dull overall. I looked at the neighboring hills, which were taller and seemed more interesting, but didn't see any way to actually go up them, so I just decided to go back down and back to the backpackers. I practiced my Spanish on the way down (I actually have been pretty good at practicing every day since I started, so I'm pretty happy about that), and got back to my room, pretty much having exhausted all of my activity options in the area which didn't involve flying in a glider, which admittedly would have been fun, but not $350 worth of fun. I had lunch and, after again confirming that there was nothing else to do in the area, just messed around for the rest of the day. I probably could have got some writing done then, but wasn’t in the mood. Actually, I was able to play some games, which was a pleasant change of pace (see, I'm not addicted to games, but I do enjoy them, so having a good chance to play some after a long while of inactivity felt good). I also thought I was going to have a night where I was all by myself, a concept that filled me with infinite joy, but then, again, I got a new roommate coming in past 9pm. Ah, well. Not much else to say about the rest of the night: I took a shower, did some initial preparations for taking off the next day, and went to bed.
I hadn't talked to my roommate much the night before (when he arrived, he basically went into his partition of the space and went to sleep), but we had breakfast the next morning (not planned, just happenstance timing), so we had some opportunity to talk there. While I had the same egg/crumpet combination as the day before, he had a full set of eggs, toast, meat, and a can (a can) of baked beans (and he said when he was finished that he wanted more; I don't know how he wasn't a blimp). He told me he'd been to New Zealand before, so he didn't need to worry about going places and seeing things. He just was here for six weeks to relax and not do much of anything. Can't say I can argue with such a concept (though, let's be clear about this: he gets six weeks off from work!). Oh, did I mention he was German? I probably didn't have to; you can probably assume anyone I meet in New Zealand is German unless I specify otherwise.
I got back to my room, packed my bags, and checked out at about 9am. I still had about five hours before I had to leave to catch my bus, so I just had the front office hold my big bag, went to the lounge, plugged in my laptop, and spent the time there. I did some work, looked at some of my future travels, filtered through some photos, and played some more games (I'm particularly enchanted right now by a game called Game Dev Tycoon, which - as the name implies - lets you play as a game developer. I probably get more out of it since I'm in the industry, but it's still a fun game in its own right, so I enjoy playing. I took a break to have some lunch (which consisted of another meat pie and some eggs [I didn't want to bring the eggs along with me], and then continued until about 2:30, when it was time to go. So, I grabbed my bags and headed to the bus stop. After some confusion with the driver, who was letting people off so he could refuel, even though there were still people on the bus(?), I was finally able to board.
There was only one seat available, and even that wasn't immediately obvious, because some punk kid was seated sideways with his feet on what was my seat. When I asked to sit there, he rolled his eyes and shifted around. (Small rant: I don't mind the youth of today as a whole, but can I say I loathe, absolutely loathe, anyone who wears a flat-brimmed baseball cap [e.g. New Era-style caps] with a tank top. Shorts are an optional part of that, as well. I don't know; people who wear that getup just infuriate me, usually because the attire acts like a complete d-bag. Am I stereotyping? Hell yes I am, but in this case, I challenge one of these punks to prove me wrong.) Once I sat down and we started driving, I began to notice that the bus seemed unusually young and well-acquainted. I was in the older echelon of passengers, and a bunch of them were speaking with each other and messing around and being loud and, in some cases, annoying. I could only figure that this was a high school class that was all traveling together for some reason. There was even, as there always apparently needs to be in a high school class, a couple making out in the seat directly in front of mine, but I was able to ignore them by listening to some music and looking out the window at the lovely scenery. Finally, the bus got to the town of Wanaka, which I had only heard of in the last week, but seems to be the Lake Tahoe equivalent of New Zealand. (If you don't understand the reference, ask a Californian.) To my great pleasure, this was where most of the high school kids were getting off, so the bus cleared out about 85%, if not more. This newfound freedom allowed me to move up to the front of the bus, and I was now able to take good pictures as we continued to Queenstown. Along the way, I was amazed at how we had rain and shine in equal measure (as well as the mythical combination of rain during sunshine).
Finally, we arrived in Queenstown. I got off the bus, grabbed my bag, and checked my map. The hostel was...a mile away? I considered whether I wanted to convert my big bag into backpack form, but eventually decided to grin and bear the weight on my arms. As I was walking through the town center, I noticed there were a lot of Mexican restaurants, which I decided to make note of for the future. I also noticed that Queenstown is nothing like what I had imagined. Absolutely nothing. I clearly didn't do my research in this regard (and admittedly, I really didn't), but I had known Queenstown to be one of the main destinations in New Zealand, so I was expecting a bit of a big city atmosphere, like a mini San Francisco or San Diego. But no, it's more just like a larger lake town. I don't think I've seen any building over two stories high (well, I probably saw a three-story building, but I can't think of it). So overall, this was a bit of a surprise to me. Neither a pleasant nor unpleasant surprise, just a surprise. Anyway, after a bit of a walk, I arrived at the hostel. The receptionist brought me to my room, which I'd be sharing with three Brits. Wait, no, they were Germans. Almost had ya fooled there, didn't I? Two girls and a guy, all in more-or-less the same group. They seemed nice enough, so I figured it could be worse. What was worse, though (aside from the fact that there was no storage space and that all half of my stuff has to stay on top of my bed) was the Internet setup, which was something like $5 for 100mb. However, I was told that if I book a Queenstown activity through reception, I would get free Internet. Seeing as I was looking at doing a jet boat ride anyway, I decided to take advantage of the offer. I knew I could have gotten it cheaper on an online discount site, but I figured it'd all even out in the end. So, I booked a boat ride for the 31st, and got...200mb free. Damn. That definitely wasn't worth it. I guess it was pretty naïvely optimistic that I'd get free unlimited WiFi, so I guess the joke's on me. But hey, at least I got the boat ride booked, so that's something.
Anyway, I got myself settled in, talked a bit with the Germans, and before I knew it, it was already dinner time (in fact, it was a bit of a late dinner time). I still had two meat pies from Omarama, so I quickly (and poorly) microwaved them and ate them on the balcony overlooking the lake, which was pretty nice. I then considered my options for going grocery shopping; there were several different grocery stores in the area, but I was told by a couple sources that the only one with even halfway decent prices was about a mile-and-a-half away, if not even a bit more. I could wait until the next day, but that may have taken a bit of a chunk out of the day, so I decided to go now, in this evening time. I made my way there, and, as I've noticed before, when you've become entirely budget-conscious, shopping takes sooooo much longer. Like, back home, I could be in and out of Trader Joes, with four days' worth of meal supplies, in eight minutes flat. Granted, I was in a bit of a routine there, but still. Here, since I have to check out how economic each item is, it takes over an hour for what amounts to less food than I'd get at home. It was even worse here, because the price tag didn't provide a price-to-weight note, meaning I had to do all those calculations myself. I actually debased myself a little bit more than I have before, because instead of going for turkey or ham sandwich supplies, I went for PB&J. As much as it pained me, a jar of generic brand peanut butter and a jar of generic brand jam together cost less than a 200-gram pack of sliced deli ham. It's not fancy, but it'll make a lot of sandwiches. (I was a bit angry, though, as I found out when I got home that the bread I purchased - a cheap-looking generic brand that was shelved as $2.19 - cost me $4.) After waiting in line after a guy buying 40kg of ground beef (I counted), I bought my stuff, only to see that it was raining outside. At first, it was light enough to walk through, but for about 20 minutes, it got hard enough that I had to seek shelter under the overhang of a library. I was contemplating calling a taxi when the rain died down a bit, so I continued walking. Stupidly, at one point I decided to switch which hand held which bag, and in the transfer process dropped one bag, which contained a kilogram tub of yogurt, which popped open the lid and let out a good fifth of the stuff, not only wasting food but messing up the other items in there. When I finally got back to the hostel, I cleaned up everything and put it away.
I spoke with the German girls a bit more, and then they asked if I wanted to play Monopoly. I noted that it was pretty late to be doing so, but agreed if we could get five players (I'd just play the banker again). I don't know why Monopoly has been one of my go-to ways of getting to know people, but there ya go. It was the three Germans from my room, an Argentinian guy named Tomas, and me as banker. It was all going fine until Flo, the German guy, started losing and getting all mopey. Sometime close to 1am, I suggested that we call it quits, as we had one player who was clearly winning and we didn't want to go all night. So, we cleaned up the game, and went to bed.
One thing I noticed when I got in the room was that there were no windows, just an emergency exit door. What I hadn't considered at the time was that this could probably mean that we wouldn't have nearly as much morning light coming in. A side-effect of this was that I ended up sleeping in until a little past 10am. Yay! Anyway, I got up and had some toast for breakfast. While I was eating, the two German girls came up and we talked a bit. The actually started venting about the guy who was with them, because "he's a nice guy" but he has a lot of quirks that add up, including being clingy; apparently, he found out what hostel they were staying at in and invited himself to come to Queenstown with them. Whether they were divulging this to me because people tend to tell me all their secrets with no provocation, or because they simply wanted to kvetch, I can't be sure. (Though I should note, I'm not completely sure, but I think at least one of the girls likes me in some way, which I can't point to a single clear example of, but rather a bunch of little things. Then again, she could just be nuts; who's to say?)
I milled around the hostel for a little bit, then made myself some sandwiches for the day; this was gonna be a walking day! I left around noon to go out on the day's activities. I first went into town, and stopped at the nearby iSite, asking for information about any of the walking trails around. They didn’t give me terribly in-depth information, but they provided enough to get me going. I decided my first trip would be up the Queenstown Hill. As I continued walking in through the city, I noticed there was a McDonald's. I technically hadn't had lunch yet (and if I didn't eat those sandwiches now, I could always eat them later), so I thought this may be an opportunity to continue along My Disgusting Quest™. I had seen a sign earlier for a....Geordie? Was that it? I'm not totally sure, but it was, if I can recall correctly a lamb pie. So, I thought I'd try that. Alas, they did not have that here, but they did have something called the "Kiwiburger", which I suppose is about at New Zealand-ish as a burger name can get. What apparently puts the "Kiwi" in there is, in fact, not the meat from the kiwi bird, but rather the addition of an egg and a slice of beet (or as they call it, beetroot). Not gonna lie, it was actually pretty decent; it's been a while since I've had beet, so even the small slice they included was a pretty nice treat.
Having loaded my body with calories, I went to go burn them off. I got to the hill, put on some music, and then went up. However, when I got to a section of the trail which was talking about "going back in time" and giving a bit of a history lesson on the area, I decided to take out my ear buds and enjoy the surroundings. I did notice that I was moving a lot slower without the music, but I guess that's part of the idea. (Also, I find when I'm walking by myself, I begin talking to myself. Not conversationally, but rather, I'm thinking up lines and dialogues for stories, and saying them out loud helps the process.) I took some pictures of the forest that I was walking through, all the while wondering, is this getting boring and repetitive? Are all these forest pictures I'm taking in all these places just blending together? I mean, forest pictures often turn out pretty lousy regardless, so maybe it's not even worth it. I was able to take some shots of amanita mushrooms (the red-and-white poisonous ones that are the basis for the Super Mario mushrooms), so that was cool, in the least. After maybe about two hours, I got to the summit of the hill, which was windy as hell, but had amazing views of the lake and the nearby mountains. While I was up there, I heard some people saying, "Is that where Rohan was?" and similar things. Which got me thinking, are the Lord of the Rings tours necessary? Most of them, like the one in Twizel, take you to a place that was used for, say, a big battle scene, but you can't tell unless someone was to tell you. Otherwise, it just looks like just another hill, or just another field. Honestly, I could say any place, anywhere in New Zealand was featured in Lord of the Rings, and who's gonna prove me wrong? Nobody, that's who. The obvious exception to this is Hobbiton, which I am visiting, because that's actually set up to still be Hobbiton, as opposed just being "sweeping vista".
Anyway, I walked back down the hill, again using the opportunity to practice my Spanish (I don't know why I find going down hills such a good opportunity for that, but it really is). I then walked back through town and to this other hill, which was an activity center for the area. There was a gondola ride heading to the top, but I intended on walking my way up the nearby Tiki Trail (and I have no idea why it's called that). It was a fairly steep climb, but not a terribly long one. Whereas the two German girls noted that they made it up in an hour-point-five, I got from bottom to top in 45 minutes, with breaks and pictures and the like. At the top, I had a look around, and it was again a great view, albeit somewhat less-so than what you got at the top of Queenstown Hill. I was actually a bit surprised at all the things that were up there; it was a whole operation. There was a helipad for heli-tours, there was a chairlift in addition to the gondola ride, there was a luge track (which was a tempting concept until I realized that it was a family-friendly luge track, and thus painfully slow), and there was even - bafflingly - a Jelly Belly store. There was also a restaurant, a little ice cream stand, and some other things. I noticed that the ice cream was actually priced fairly competitively (in fact, was cheaper than almost everything else there), so I decided to get myself a cup of it, and then headed back down, munching away. After all, you don't gain calories if you eat while walking, right? Right?!
After finishing the ice cream and placing the cup in my backpack, I decided to try some downhill running, which is exactly what it sounds like. For pretty much all the portions of trail where it didn't look like I'd die if I made one false move, I just started running down and down. In fact, I was going so hard in some places that my feet at some point became legitimately hot. At other points, I was just doing a light jog, and I slowed down to an actual walk at the really treacherous points or when I was passing by someone. Along the way, my running music of choice was a mash-up tune called Marvel vs. Slamcom. I got to the bottom in 20-25 minutes, roughly. I then decided to go to the nearby cemetery that I had noticed on the way up. It was a pretty old one (1885 was the oldest plot I could find), though it was also very small, and I covered the whole place in about 20 minutes. Still, if you're going to be buried somewhere, I could think of few places with nicer views. I then walked into town until I was able to find a spot that was a WiFi hotspot. I had brought my laptop with me (and in retrospect, it was a pretty stupid idea to run down the hill with it, if only for the danger of violently shaking the components), and I wanted to get some stuff taken care of without using up any of the free 200mb I was given at the hostel. Once I did everything I needed to do out there (which didn't take long), I walked back to the hostel. To my legitimate surprise, it was already past 7pm. I put everything down, changed clothes so I wasn't stinkin' up the place, and then prepped my dinner, which was yet more meat pies (hey, I can't argue with price) and a half-plate of frozen mixed veggies (which was such a nice addition). However, since it takes a half-hour when you cook the pies properly in the oven, I didn't end up eating until 8pm. I ate while watching some of the other backpackers watching the movie Cast Away...on VHS (I didn't mention this before, but the majority of movies this place has are on VHS, which I find rather quaint). After I finished eating and washing up, I went down to my room, where I did a little bit of writing, and then played some more games for a bit while the German girls talked to each other. (At one point, they sheepishly asked if I knew German, and when I answered no, they said that it was for the best, because apparently they were talking about their sex lives. From this point on, if anyone asks me if I speak a language they were speaking, I'll initially answer, "Yes, fluently," just to see their reactions.) Later on, the girls went to bed while I was doing my thing, and then, just as I was going to bed, they got up to have a midnight snack of...pasta?! Like, seriously, spaghetti and sauce at 1am? ...Okay, whatever.
In any case, this morning, I woke up, though I didn't have the chance to sleep in as late as I did before, getting up sometime past 8am and just checking emails for a while. I ended up getting up and having breakfast (I had completely forgotten about the crumpets I had, so I ended up having a couple of those), and while I was eating, an older Argentinian man (Tomas's father) began speaking with me, asking me about my trip and all that. When I got to the fact that I was heading to South America (and Argentina in particular), Tomas and his father had plenty to say. "Visit the Patagonia." "Visit the northern part of the country, that's the real Argentina." I was very appreciative of their advice, so much so that I didn't have the heart to tell them that I was now just planning on going straight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza to Santiago. But hey, the reciprocity fee I paid to enter the country is good for ten years, so I'll always be able to come back at a later time and do all that good stuff. As they went off and went on their jet boat ride, I spent the time before my own jet boat ride by writing. A little bit of conversing here and there, but mostly writing, up until having some PB&J sandwiches for lunch.
After eating, I quickly packed up my bag and headed out the door. I got down to the wharf and found my way to the K-Jet terminal. After a little bit of a scare regarding the fact that I hadn't brought the receipt that I got from the hostel (on account of the fact that they never told me I had to), they gave me one of those, "Alright, just this time speeches, and then set me up. I gave them my bag to store away, and then they outfitted me with a splash jacket (which made us all look like Satanic cultists) and a life vest, took a picture, and then had us go in the boat. I asked the driver which was the best seat in the boat. He at first said they're all good, and then narrowed it down to the back corners being good. It's not like I had much of a choice anyway, because I was the first person in the boat, which would make you think I had a choice, but they just pointed for me to sit in the back-right seat. Once everyone filled in (and it was quite cozy indeed), we began driving along the lake at something like 85km/h (although that's the maximum speed, so it might have been less). They did a couple of 360-degree spins, and some sudden turn-and-stops, which flung a lot of water my way. Specifically my way. Like, I looked around, and I was easily the wettest person sitting in the boat after, like, 45 seconds. Thank God I had kept my camera safely tucked in the sleeve of my splash jacket, I tell ya what. But as for me, I was a little less than 100% for the first few minutes of this trip. I had gotten so much water on me that it seeped into my goggles, so I couldn't see anything, and the wind that was blowing upon us was an icy one. So it was imminently uncomfortable. Once I took off my goggles and flipped my jacket's hood on (it was a good thing I had brought my jacket with me), it started to get a bit better. We then continued into the river, which was a bit more enjoyable than just out on the lake. The driver did a bunch of "oh-look-we're-gonna-hit-that-thing-oh-wait-no-we-didn't" maneuvers, and a bunch, a bunch of 360's. I didn't mind the 360's all that much except for the fact that they circled me right through the exhaust fumes. And every time I even got a hint of such a fume, I began feeling a bit seasick. (Maybe that's the main contributor for me, and why I didn't get seasick on the sailboat out of Cairns?)
As for the rest of the trip, it was pretty okay. We drove through some nice canyon area, through some shallow waters (as little as 5 inches deep, we were told), and us a couple rivers, for 43km total. As one point, the driver noted that one hill was used in Lord of the Rings filming, which I felt vindicated my earlier thoughts regarding that exact topic, because I couldn't either confirm or deny what he was saying. But on the whole, while it was fun, I didn't really get the thrill out of it that I might have been hoping for, and so I can't really say it was worth the $120 it cost (particularly because it didn't last the full 2 hours, but more like 50 minutes). I dunno, maybe I've done so much adrenaline junkie stuff that it's become really, really difficult to scratch that itch. One thing I definitely did feel I would like, though, would be to go on that river on a stick-driven raft, not unlike Huckleberry Finn. I think that may just be because it'd have more of a sense of ol' fashioned adventure to it, but I may just be over-romanticizing the notion. Anyway, when we got back, we were able to go down to an undersea observation room, where we could see some fish swimming around, though the real stars of the show were ducks shooting up from the bottom. I also saw a wall with little souvenir books, with my pictures placed inside, as well as a little keychain with the same picture. How neat, I thought, that's a great little treat that helps validate the price of the activity. But as I was beginning to walk up with it, I was stopped by the guy at the register, who noted that those little items cost $40. "Plus you get a CD with the pictures!" I blinked a couple times in disbelief, and then smiled and placed the items back on the shelf. No way was that justifiable.
Back on shore, I walked up into the street mall part of town, where I saw a Starbucks. I went in, got a small fruit-based Frappuccino, and planned to make use of their WiFi, as the mobile signal was starting to go all wonky. However, even though you get free WiFi with a drink purchase, you actually have to ask them separately for it, at which point they print out a new ticket. I'm not complaining about this, but I note it as a clear example of how much of a premium WiFi is here, if Starbucks have to only provide them upon request to avoid losing out on unclaimed vouchers. What I will complain about, though, is the fact that they didn't accept my Starbucks card. I'm physically pouting about it right now. I then walked down the road to the local theater, where I looked to see about getting a ticket to see The Desolation of Smaug. I was considering either getting a ticket for today (which would be for 6:30) or one for tomorrow (at 8:45), but when I saw that Tuesday tickets were about 33% off (making my 3D movie ticket "only" $13.50), the choice became pretty clear. Unfortunately, now I needed to have an early dinner. I decided to go over to a Mexican place called the Coyote Grill, which I had done some research on, and was reviewed as the best Mexican place in Queenstown. (Yes, this is where some of my research goes.) Unfortunately, when I got there, I walked inside to a couple confused places, at which point they told me they were closed until 5pm. That would really only give me an hour to eat if I wanted to get to the theater with time to spare, but I figured I should be able to handle it. To pass the time, I went out to the nearby park, where they would have music and fireworks (and drunkards, most likely) later in the evening. There was also free WiFi available, so I took out my laptop (which I wisely brought with me), did some bandwidth-required work, and then continued my writing.
At 5pm sharp, I went in the Coyote Grill. They said that the kitchen wouldn't be ready for another fifteen minutes, but that I should be fine to be finished by 6pm. They had a set menu for the evening (most likely because few of their cooks want to work today), and in terms of entrees (or, as they call them here, “mains”) they just had beef enchiladas, which cost a hefty $31. It pained me to no end, but I basically told myself that this is my night. This is New Year's Eve, and that I can go wild, and start a year of doubled-down frugality tomorrow. So, I ordered that, and when they asked about a drink, I asked if they had horchata. "Hot chocolate?" "No, horchata." "Sorry, what's that?" I could only imagine what the waitress was thinking when she saw my vexed and perplexed face. When I explained the concept to her and the rest of the staff, they let me know that they didn't have it, which was a bit on the distressing side. Before too long, I was served my plate, which just had two enchiladas, a scoop of rice, and a scoop of beans. I'm not sure what I was expecting, really. Actually, I do: frickin' complimentary chips and salsa. The enchiladas themselves were pretty good, but the whole thing was a meal you should be able to get in California for $12, max. When I finished and got up to pay, I asked them if the price was higher because it was New Year's Eve. They said it was. The normal price: $27. That's...cheaper, I suppose, but it still wasn't worth anything near that.
After finishing my meal with a side of financial regret, I walked back to the movie theater, where I was thankful that they had some nice lounge chairs, where I could sit while I waited for the movie to begin and continue my writing while my laptop still had sufficient battery. I then went into the theater, a small little thing, and took a seat near the back corner. Since it was such a small thing, this corner wasn't terribly far from center of screen, so it wasn't too bad. As for the movie itself, I will say I enjoyed it more than the first Hobbit movie (possibly because it had fewer songs and long tangents), but I also watched it in, to borrow a term I've heard from elsewhere, "Funny Vision", which is a mixture of 3D and 48fps. 3D I can deal with, although I just don't like wearing glasses of any kind. The 48fps, though, was a real bother. (For those who don't know, this is twice the normal cinematic frame rate of 24 frames-per-second.) It gave everything that surreal, soap opera-esque look to it. I thought I had gotten a grip on it about halfway through, but anytime there was an action scene with fast movement, it just looked wrong all over again. But aside from that and the most forced ending I've seen in a while, I enjoyed it overall.
When it was done, I got a little ice cream from the closed concession stand (I had actually gotten a popcorn/soda/ice cream combo, but asked for the ice cream when the movie was done, because why the hell would you want that at the beginning with your popcorn and soda) and then went outside. It was 9:30, so there was still plenty of time. There was also still plenty of daylight; it didn't even seem as though the sun had set yet. I decided, then, to use this opportunity to walk a bit along the lake's shore. Along the way, I actually passed by the two German girls, sitting on a bench with some other girls. I greeted them and continued on. To my open surprise, they were still there when I came back about a half-hour later. In any case, I got to the main park at about 10:20 (I know this because we had 1:40 left before midnight). There was a local band playing a lot of song covers, as these events almost always have. They weren't definitely decent, but I found it difficult to really work myself up to anything other than half-hearted head-nodding and shoulder-swaying. It was partially the songs they were playing, and partially because I couldn't really find the space to dance (by which I mean, to dance like I dance). Still, I stuck around until about 11pm, just before they were about to change to the next band, and went to a different area further along the waterfront. Here, there were no singers, just a DJ. It was definitely a less wholesome crowd: there were few families, more open drinking, the smell of marijuana, and I assume there was some ecstasy somewhere in there. But the music was way better, and way more dance-able. I started off in the middle of the crowd, but found it a bit too...well, crowded, so I went closer to the fringes, and then did my thing. And, as per usual, people noticed. I got in four dance-offs, got about a dozen high-fives, had a group surrounding me taking videos on their phones, and was even recorded by a local news station. (I am going to have to make sure to see if I can find a clip of that online).
Once I was getting to a point where I needed to take a break, the universe mercifully decided to let midnight come. As people were climbing sign poles, we counted down to midnight, and were treated to a fireworks display over the water. It was actually a very impressive display, better than many of the Independence Day shows I've seen back home over the past few years (although I'll attribute that to New Zealand not being as deep in the recession as we are and the fact that this may be their only fireworks holiday). It went on for quite a while, but once it stopped, the mass exodus of the shore began. If I were smart, I would have waited around for ten minutes to let the crowds die down, but I'm not smart, so I had to wade through seas of marginally sober people, heading either home or - as was more often the case - the bars. I exchanged no small number of high fives, helped a couple girls tripping over their high heels and drunkenness, and got an "invitation" from either a seriously wasted girl or the world's least-convincing prostitute. Still, I made it back to the hostel square and true, took a shower, and then hopped into bed to enjoy my first couple hours of the New Year.
So...that was 2013. What a year, huh? I can probably say I've done more exotic things in 2013 than any other year (perhaps every other year combined), so I can say it was a good one. I doubt 2014 will have the same magnitude of excitement, mainly because my trip will occupy a minority of that year, but I'm looking forward to it nonetheless. And what of resolutions? Do I have any resolutions for 2014?
.................No, not really.