Sunday, April 22, 2007

FINDING NEVERLAND

I know, I know. Almost a month with no updates. Shameful. I’ve been kinda busy.
The first of April was a busy day. I got up early to catch the 8:30 ferry from Wellington to the South Island. The weather was nice, and I got lots of pretty pictures of the harbor, Cook Strait, and the fantastic coves and forests on the way into Picton. The whole trip took about three hours. I picked up the Stray bus, and a quick stop at a winery we were off to Abel Tasman National Park.

Remember “Hook,” Steven Spielberg’s flawed attempt to update the Peter Pan story? One thing that always bothered me about that movie, even as a 13 year-old, was how artificial the Neverland scenes looked. The sunlight wasn’t natural and the sets… well… they looked like sets. The design team obviously put an enormous amount of work into creating them, but I was always conscious of the fact that the whole thing was built and filmed on a soundstage. It never came to life for me. In my imagination, Neverland was a lush, beautiful place with sparkling waters, green mountains, and little coves filled with sexy mermaids - not some art department wank-fest. In my imagination, Neverland looks like Abel Tasman National Park.
The park is named for the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who is credited with being the first European to spot New Zealand. The waters of the park are an amazing shade of translucent green. There are dozens of little islands and coves, all covered with lush greenery. Imagine the coast of Maine with its craggy rocks and rolling hills, but with swimmable water and you start to get the picture.

I did a four-hour hike with some of the people from the Stray bus – a young couple from England, a girl from Scotland, and a girl from Canada who was undoubtedly most hyperactive human being I have encountered in my 28 years. She was sweet, but she was so relentlessly perky that I wanted to suffocate her with my quick-dry towel. I managed to enjoy the hike anyway. We walked through the coastal forest and met up with a catamaran in a gorgeous little inlet. When we first stepped on the beach, I spotted a stingray in the water. After a quick lunch, we went sailing, which was terrific. The weather was perfect.
The next day, we headed down the spectacular west coast. Lush does not begin to describe it - lots of big mountains, forests and crazy rocks for the surf to crash upon. After an overnight stay in Barrytown (there was a pub and a place to make your own knife, but no town to speak of), we headed for the town of Franz Josef and its glacier. With the exception of flying over Scandinavia and Greenland on my way back from Russia ten years ago, I had never seen a glacier before. It was pretty damn cool (no pun intended). It looks like, well… it looks like a giant river of ice flowing down a gorge. You know, something you want to climb!
So, yeah. I climbed a glacier. After being fitted with special boots, crampons, and a supercool ice picks, myself and eight others were guided up the… um… the glacier (sorry to keep using the word “glacier” - it has no synonyms). It was surreal. Seriously, how often do people get the chance to climb a fucking glacier? The guide was constantly using his pickaxe to chop steps out of the ice for us newbies. We had to squeeze through narrow passages and sometime jump from one block of ice to another. Slipping in the wrong place could have sent us down into icy caverns where a dark, icy death was pretty much guaranteed. The higher we climbed, the narrower the crevasses became. We got stuck in one for the better part of two hours. The guide tried very hard to find a way out, but we eventually turned around and headed back down. Once we got back down to the bottom, the guide pointed out just how far up we had climbed - about ¾ of the way up. I asked him how high up he usually takes people. He said that he had taken our group up higher than any group had gone in more than a year. That felt pretty badass. I slept well that night.

Oh yeah. Peeing on a glacier is interesting. The blue ice makes your urine appear day-glow yellow. It’s like cartoon pee.
The next couple of days consisted of more spectacular driving down the west coast. It was beautiful, but with one major drawback – the fucking sandflies. Sandflies fucking suck, literally. They are horrible little gnat-like creatures that crave human blood. The second we hopped off the bus to have lunch on the beach, they swarmed us. It was impossible to enjoy the views, they were so relentless. Fuck you, sandflies!
I hopped off the bus for four days in Wanaka. Wanaka is a beautiful little town on the edge of a huge lake and surrounded by the Southern Alps. There were some great walking trails with some terrific views.I considered trying to find a job and flat there, but it was kind of dull and expensive, nice views notwithstanding. Instead, I opted to seek my fortunes in Queenstown.

Ah, Queenstown! Spectacularly insane Queenstown! Man, did I pick the wrong week to show up! Upon my arrival on the Tuesday after Easter, I was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of Americans. I had gotten used to being the only American in New Zealand. No more. Hundreds of American college students who were studying in Australia had hopped over to Queenstown for their Easter break. And they were not backpackers. They were rich kids who had come to party. Queenstown had turned into an Alpine Cancun. Fittingly, I went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner where I was instantly reminded of my first nights out on the town during my days at Cape Cod Sea Camps, the nights when a large group of loud and indecisive frat/sorority kids would take over a restaurant, change their orders twice, demand separate checks, and generally drive the wait staff insane with their stupid requests. Man, did they piss me off. In light of my country’s current standing in the world community, I try to do my best to be courteous, patient, and informed – you know, the things Americans aren’t supposed to be. It’s tough to do that when you’re surrounded by a bunch of spoiled douchebags doing their damndest to reinforce the stereotypes. GGGGGggggggrrrr! Frustrating! Anyway, the TriDeltas took off over the weekend, and my job hunt began in earnest. Thanks top its dazzling geography and location, Queenstown is the biggest tourist destination in New Zealand. The skyline is dominated by an aptly named mountain range called the Remarkables, the most jagged, gothic mountains I’ve ever seen. They are reflected in the waters of fifty mile-long Lake Wakatipu. The activities are endless: skydiving, bungy jumping, jet boating, canyon swings, horseback riding, helicopter tours, mountain biking, sailing on an America’s cup boat, and skiing in the winter. There are hotels, bars and restaurants all over the place. Getting a hospitality job should be no problem for an experienced guy like myself, right? WRONG! We are in the early months of New Zealand’s autumn (they don’t call it fall). The summer folks have left, and the winter crowd won’t show up for six weeks. Everywhere I went, people told me “Come back in June.” Given my current financial situation, that doesn’t really work. I will most likely have to pick grapes on a vineyard or do hotel housekeeping for a few weeks until the town picks up a bit. What illegal Mexicans are to America, backpackers are to New Zealand.

At least I found a nice flat. It is a ten-minute walk from town, and is actually cheaper than my former digs in Taupo. Cleaner, too. I share a room with a guy from Argentina. Also in the house are two Brazilian guys and a French girl. They all speak English, which is a plus. The house is very quiet, so far. Kind of boring, too. I’m sure that I will have lots of fun around here once things get busy. Until then, I’ll just continue my current routine of dropping off resumes, admiring the mountain views, and perusing the local bookstore’s magazine rack without actually buying anything, which is exactly what I used to do in LA between film jobs. You can take the boy out of Hollywood, but you can’t take Hollywood out of the boy.

Speaking of Hollywood, I saw “300” a few days ago. It was entertaining, but so grotesque that I had to laugh out loud on several occasions where I think the director had intended me to be thrilled or titillated. Remember that “South Park” episode where they had a running tally of each time the word “shit” was uttered? Someone needs to do that with “300” counting the times the characters say “Sparta” (or, more accurately, “SPAAAAAAAAARRTAAAAAA!!!!). The movie never pretends to be realistic, and that’s part of its charm. Still, I have a funny feeling that ill-informed kids everywhere will believe that ancient Sparta was populated with a bunch of superbuff (and curiously blonde) dudes in their underwear who did battle with hordes of 9-foot tall Persian trannies and their mutant minions. Seriously, what was with that hunchback seduction orgy? There was actually an actor credited as “Transexual (Arabian) #3.” Jaysus! I hope he/she usues the success of "300" to launch a fantastic career. Allah knows that the world is craving more stories about Arabian transexuals.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

So this is South Island.
Spectacular and what a kick to climb a glacier.
I love the shot of Tasman Nat'l Park too.

All's well here; but oh so boring by comparison.
Except for the RED SOX !!!

Sail on!
MRM

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Needed this today brotha. Miss you. cackled at work re: the 300 commentary.
When are you going skiing?
-Living Vicariously,
love YourBigBadSister

Kim said...

Hey Michael - You are cracking me up. I can't stopping laughing my ass off! Sounds like fun... love the pictures! Keep on having fun... nothing has changed in LA! Love Kim and Quincy