Friday, January 29, 2010

Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration, If we don't we're gonna blow a 50 amp fuse"

As you know, I took a long hiatus from writing on this blog. This coincided with a long hiatus from uploading and publishing pictures. I'm happy to officially announce that both breaks are over. I have just added over a hundred photos to my picassa web album. The pictures cover a wide range of events including: hiking to the Ben Lomond summit, the Winnie's Staff Christmas Party, New Year's Eve, White Water rafting, the Ice Bar, and most recently Canyoning.

I talked to some friends on Wednesday and found out that the cliff jump I did on Tuesday is known around Queenstown as "Little Thailand." Little Thailand was a just a precursor to more aerial amphibious adventures to come. I opened on Wednesday and was slightly dissappointed when my boss told me to go home at 3:30 as I was planning on getting more hours that day. This feeling immediately vanished when I received a text from roomate, Mark about half an hour later that read "Canyoning at 5:30 if you're keen." I was keen indeed. If you are not familiar with canyoning, I'll let wikipedia enlighten you....
I've been on a canyoning excursion once before in Interlakken, Switzerland. On that occasion, I paid to go on a trip led by professionals. I am really impressed that my roomate and his buddies have the gear and the knowledge to go out and do it on their own.

Mark and I loaded up his van with wet suits, harnesses and carabiners and headed out for 12 Mile Delta. We picked up two of his friends on the way, an Australian named Gavin and Martin from the Czech Republic and met 3 more of Mark's mates at the river. I barely squeezed into two of Mark's older wetsuits. You can see in the pictures that one wetsuit covers the holes from the other and vice versa. Before I knew it I was abseiling down the rock wall a canyon using ever bit of my will power to not look down. I made it, quite slowly, but without harm. I tried to photograph this entire trip but my camera battery was dying and the shots I took did not come out very well. It is pretty dark down near the water, but at the time of day the sun is shining brightly through the tree tops. So in auto mode the camera will flash because it does not register very much light, but then the pictures are blurred by the sun above. I actually have no idea if ANY of that is true, but it is logical to me. Anyway, the pictures don't do justice to the experience. We did some really fun jumps. The more experienced guys could climb higher and be a little bit more daring. The danger in canyoning is jumping and missing your target area of water, which could be very small, or jumping and landing on object that is hidden like a rock or a branch. It is pretty much a dare devil's playground. I'm no dare devil, but there were plenty of easy jumps for me to enjoy.

I had such a good time canyoning, that I went the Warehouse the next day to purchase my own wet suit. It's pretty cool to get a text message that says "meet for canyoning". I can't imagine that there is too many places in the world where you can receive that text.

It is 11:38 p.m. on Saturday night in Queenstown. I worked a double today, putting in a nice 10 hour stretch. One of my buddies at work just called and informed me that it's a full moon tonight and we should hike up to the top of the Remarkables Ski Park to check out the sunrise. Estimated departure time 3 a.m. I guess I should try to get an hour or two of sleep. Rock on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of abuse

Lots of new experiences today. I kicked it off early with a 5 mile run around Lake Hayes with my roomate, Melissa. This is one of her favorite running courses and it was new to me, so I enjoyed it. I noticed a rope swing anchored from a tree that intend to investigate further. After we returned from the run I took off to pick up Cam, a friend from work. Cam is from Australia which reminds me I need to wish you all a happy belated Australia day. That's another new experience, I've never celebrated Australia Day. Of course, I didn't really celebrate it today, but I observed other people celebrating it. Anyway, Cam knew about this cliff jump a short distance outside of town so we headed in that direction. I parked Voodoo on a bend off the road and we followed a tight trail down to an open patch of earth overlooking the water. It was a solid 30 foot drop that required you to spring out about 4 ft. to clear the rocks below. In order to see the water I had to kind of tip-toe out to the ledge and look over. It was quite intense for me. I don't tell most people that I'm petrified of heights but I am. So Cam showed me where to start from and where to jump off from and then took a flying leap into the water. I watched him swim a few feet away and then followed suit. At first my only focus was clearing the rocks. It soon shifted to how my body would enter the water. I realized in mid-air that I was coming in at a bad angle, but couldn't really make any adjustments in time. I didn't completely flop, but I didn't exactly slice in with no splash either. I've got a nice little strawberry running from the backside of my leg on up my side to illustrate my graceful jump. However pain was mild compared to the reaction my body took from the water temperature. As soon as I submerged every muscle in my body contracted and I swear my lungs reduced 50% in size. I came up gasping for air as if I just done a round of suicides on the basketball court. My lungs were screaming for oxygen and not seeming to find any and my heartbeat could have been knocking trees down. I couldn't speak until I reached the shore and got out of the water. What a rush. I loved it, but opted not to take a second jump as I was already aware of the bruise forming on my side.

I returned to town around 12:30 and got some sun-bathing in my Queenstown Lake. It eventually got hot enough for me to take another swim. I just ran in from the share this time, but it was equally cold and I was quickly out of the water. I'm very happy to have swum twice today. Even though my water time was about 3 minutes total. I enjoyed beautiful weather during the afternoon in which I played a round of frisbee golf (frolf) followed by an ice cold Guiness at the Irish Pub. Later on that evening I had another new experience at Minus 5.

Rebecca, one of my new Queenstown friends, works at the famous "ice bar" and I went to check it out this everning (another new experience).
I will post my own pictures soon, but you can get an idea of the concept for now on this website. So everything in the ice bar is frozen. The glasses, the cash register, the shot glasses...All made of ice. It's really cool. Minus 5 provides you with gloves, boots and a huge jacket to go into the bar with. You can only go in for thirty minutes at a time and when you are finished you get to break your frozen glass. I found the drinks to go down really smooth in their. They were all vodka based fruit drinks.

And of course you can't have just one drink in Queenstown so I headed to Winnies for a few after that. Now I'm home closing out what has been a wonderful day off and trying to avoid the fact that I have to open tomorrow. Or even worse, that i need to get up and run before I open tomorrow....

Friday, January 22, 2010

Come back home, Have to rumble in the alley

When I woke up this morning, I didn't plan on making any big decisions today. I was scheduled to be free from work but last night I picked up a shift from a co-worker for today. So basically when I woke up this morning, I knew I had to be at work at 3:00 p.m., that I needed to clean my room, and that I needed to complete some sort of exercise before going to work. I planned on coming straight home after finishing at Winnie's. This was to be a routine day with nothing exciting or out of the ordiany planned. Of course I don't plan on much of anything these days. And I guess I never really get up and sa y "I'm going to make some big decisions today".  But after a 20 minute conversation with my roommate I have made the very big decision of registering for the Routeburn Classic ( Click on the link and watch the video for a good visualization of the race. The Routeburn Track is one of the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) Great Walks. From the DOC website:

"The Great Walks are the department's premier walking tracks, through areas of some of the best scenery in the country. The huts and tracks on the Great Walks are of a higher standard than other tramping tracks, and many of the Great Walks have booking systems to manage visitor pressure. The Routeburn Track traverses 32 kilometres of Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, part of Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area and is administered by the Department of Conservation on behalf of the New Zealand public. Located in the southwest of the South Island the track extends between the head of Lake Wakatipu and S.H. 94, the Te Anau – Milford Road. The nearest townships of Queenstown, Te Anau and Glenorchy have a full range of accommodation. Shops in Queenstown and Te Anau can cater for all your tramping needs, including equipment hire. You can walk the track independently or as part of a guided group. Ultimate Hikes hold the only DOC approved concession for overnight guided walks on the Routeburn Track during the peak walking season."

The DOC lists the time to complete the track as 3 days. On April 24th, 2010, I am going to complete it in 7 hours or less. That's a shade over 90 days away. Go big or go home.

This is very exciting for me. I haven't trained for an outdoor race since last year when I trained for the MS 150. I haven't been this nervous about an event since my very first road race: the Decker Challenge 20K in December of 2007. I remember signing up for the training group for that race and thinking that I had absolutely no business embarking on something as ludicrous as a 20K through the hills of Austin. Deja vu. I'm pretty sure I have absolutely no business embarking on a 33K through the mountains of New Zealand. But making it my business will be painful, challenging and rewarding at the same time in large doses. And hopefully it will help to limit my intake of pizza and beer over the next few months.

I better go to sleep and get to rest. Official training for the Routeburn Classic 2010 starts tomorrow. Shit, it's 12:50 a.m. here, training starts today...what have got myself into?

Short Circuits

  • Everyone in the restaraunt besides the Americans pronounces the word tomato as "ta-motto". Americans say it as you know "toe-may-toe" or some similar variation. As a ruse, I pretend not to understand the other pizza chefs when they say ta-motto. For example, if one of them says "Can you get me some sun-dried ta-mottos out of the fridge?", I respond "nope, I don't know what those are". So the other day, I'm pulling this little stunt in the kitchen and I turn to one of my American friends and say "Kyle, he keeps asking me for ta-mottos, do you know what a ta-motto is?" Without skipping a beat Kyle responds "Yeah, it's like a to-may-to for morons." I thought this was hysterical.
  • Winnie's pizza ovens and prep area is out in the public area of the restaraunt. The customers can watch us make their pizzas if they wish too. So when we are out front making pizzas we are forced to listen to the Winnie's soundtrack, which consists of about 200 songs that are played over and over and over again. Most of these songs are awful, "American Pie" by Don McLean, "Give it Up" by KC and Sunshine know what kind of music I'm talking about. Pop hits from the 70's and 80's that make for decent background music. Strangely enough, there are some really odd gems thrown into Winnie's mix like "Whiskey in the Jar" by Thin Lizzy and "American Music" by the Violent Femmes. But for the most part it's all crap. Listening to these songs all day as inspired me to compose a list: "The Top 5 songs I hate by Artists I Love". The theme of this list is that sometimes great artists put out shitty music. Sometimes great artists put out great music that mass communication rapes into something that you end up hating. Take "Under the Bridge" as an example. Brilliant song that has been absolutely bludgeoned to death by the radio. Without further ado, here's The Top 5 Songs I Hate by Artists I Love.
    • Number 5 - "Here Comes My Girl" by Tom Petty
      • radio didn't ruin this one for me I've just never liked this song. The lyrics are unoriginal and Tom's singing sounds winey. Frankly, I don't understand why it was ever released as a single.
    • Number 4 - "You Can Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac
      • OK, I don't really hate this one....yet. Winnie's is pretty much ruining this tune for me as I hear it three times a day and for some reason every female server thinks that when it comes on they are magically transformed into Stevie Nicks and they can just walking around the restaraunt belting the corus out. Tell em Lee: Not so fast my friend!!!
    • Number 3 - "Hungry Heart" by The Boss
      • No explanation required.
    • Number 2 - "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison
      • Van Morrison is one of my all time favorite musicians and the fact that this is his signature song is a complete misrepresentation of his talents. Little known fact: the song was originally written as Brown Skin Girl, but the record label wanted something that would appeal to a larger audience.
    • And the number 1 song I hate by an Artist I love issssssssssss:
SWEET HOME ALABAMA by Lynard f-ing Skynard.

Oh man, I can't stand this song. From the jingle jangle rhythym guitar to the dissing of Neil Young to it's association with the University of Alabama to it's mass popularity and drunken idiots singing along to it, this song is a complete trainwreck. I heard it three times today. Can I hear "Give me back my bullets" three times a day instead?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Go out yonder, peace in the valley

It doesn't feel like it, but I worked an 11 hour shift today. The sun rises around 6:30 and doesn't set until around 9:30, making for plenty hours of daylight. I was up by 8, which is unusual for my schedule, allowing me to squeeze in quick run before starting my shift at 10:30.

Spending 11 hours straight in the kitchen of a pizza restaraunt makes eating any kind of sensible diet a monumental challenge. My shift today is called "opening pizza" and is considered to be a double shift. When my shift starts before noon, I receive a free small pizza as my lunch. Each evening, the a la carte chefs cook a plated dinner for all the kitchen staff that are working so just for showing up today, I get a small pizza to eat plus a dinner. And you won't find either of these meals in your Zone books. Before I made my lunch pizza, my english mate and co-worker got to talking about good the apple crumble desert pizzas looked. We make these all night but have never gotten to try one. So we came up with the brilliant plan of splitting our small pizzas. I would make us a small meaty pizza to munch on during the day and then he would make us a desert pizza for the afternoon. This proved to make for a wonderful afternoon as the apple crumble pizza with ice cream on top was amazing. When the evening a la carte chef arrived, I suggested Chicken Parmesan for dinner and he catered to my request, even going so far as to some cajun seasoning to the chicken. Now these are just the meals I enjoyed at work today. As a pizza chef, our first duty is to make pizzas for the customers. Pretty simple. But when we do not have any pizza orders, our second responsibility is to prep. We prepare the toppings and ingredients that go on the pizzas. This involves cutting ham, bacon (the bacon here is not what you think of as bacon, i'll come to this dilemma soon), salami, feta cheese....Basically if it goes on a pizza, you prep it in the kitchen and let's just say that we do a good job of quality checking our ingredients before they make it to the pizza.

And yes, I did just type an entire paragraph about what I ate today. Which brings me to my next topic of discussion, The Montanara. The Montanara is the best selling and most popular pizza at Winnie's. It is referred to by both customers and staff as the "monty". I have know idea why it is called a Montanara and neither does anyone in the restaraunt (believe me, I've asked everyone). Quite frankly, some of the pizza names are down right ridiculous. The monty is a very good pizza, but it is definitely not the most tasty dish on the menu. I think it sells very well because it does not contain any ingredients or toppings that people vehemently dislike, such as mushrooms. Let's break it down. First of all our pizza bases are thin, very similar to thin-crusts pizzas back home, and circular. However the way we make the pizzas does not really leave it with a true crust. We try to push the sauce and toppings all the way to the perimeter of the pizza. Since the base is consistent in height, there is no thick ring of dough that you could call a crust. First on the base is freshly made tomato sauce, no surprises there. Then we add some sun-dried tomatos. Next is a layer of cheese, on top of which goes baked chicken that has been sliced. A handful of chopped spring onions are thrown on, mainly for color as you would never taste the difference with or without these. The next step is where it gets interesting. Our next ingredient is sweet chili sauce, which we drizzle back and worth until most of the pizza is covered in it. Before arriving in New Zealand, I had never heard of sweet chili sauce. But this liquid is almost as popular as catchup is to us. In fact, it is pretty much used like catchup. If you order french fries in NZ, they will probably be served with sweet chili sauce. If you order a kebab, you will have the option of getting sweet chili sauce as your topping. Catchup as we know it is very hard to find here. If you ask for catchup, you will receive tomato sauce. I don't know how or why, but tomato sauce IS NOT catchup. So people generally go with sweet chili sauce instead. The best way I can think of describe the taste of it is sweet and sour sauce, just a little bit sweeter. Basically, it's good but not great. To me, it is definitely an odd item to put on a pizza. The final pre-oven topping for a the monty is sliced bree. Now I think this is pretty damn brilliant. I've never seen a pizza in the states with brie on it, but why the hell not. Just think about it. Hey, what can I put on this meaty-cheesy-bready dish to make it better? Answer - more cheese, but make it a fancy cheese. Done. This is what the sets the monty aside....Well this and the nut cream. The monty goes in the oven for seven minutes, comes out with cheese and sweet chili sauce bubbling and then gets an ice cream scoop of nut cream slabbed right in the middle of the pizza. Nut cream is a mixture of sour cream, cream cheese and chopped pistachios. So when you eat a slice of a monty, you grab a slice dip it in the nut cream and bite into the sweet chili brie chicken goodness. Like I said, there's really not too much on the monty that you can dislike. I mean who doesn't like brie?

I can't really think of a pizza back home from any restaraunt that is similar to the monty. If you know of one, let me know. Those 11 hours are starting to take their toll so I will shut it down now. Tomorrow I will explain the correct pronunciation of the word tomato.

Short Circuits

  • For the most part I am completely comfortable with the fact that I'm closer to 30 than 25, until......I put on a 311 album in the kitchen today. One of the younger pizza chefs asked "Where are these guys from?", I replied "Omaha, Nebraska, these guys have been around forever". He had never heard of them. I told him that this was one of their earlier albums and probably came out around 1991. He laughed and stated "No wonder I've never heard of them, I would have been one year old when it came out."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alright, Alright, Alright

Christmas definitely came late for me this. When I think of Christmas I think of massive trees with flashy ornaments and decorations. I envision a plethora of gigantic boxes with gigantic bows and ribbons. I remember opening so many gifts at so many different Christmas parties and loading my car up to haul them all back to Texas. Today I opened a much smaller box than those I remember. About the size that you would wrap a sweater in. This box was not wrapped, but covered in packing tape, shipping notifications and international customs stickers. It did not contain anything flash. In fact, if I had received this package on any Christmas prior to this one, I would have found it rather unremarkable. But the contents of the Christmas box I opened today provided more excitement than any gift I've opened in the last ten years.

The package I'm referring to was sent from my parents and family back home in Baton Rouge. Due to a small scheduling dilemma it was actually sent to Winnie's and that is where I opened. My co-workers at Winnie's get a real kick out of my American southerner culture. They enjoy my accent so much that most of the time I thicken it into a bad John Wayne impression just for their enjoyment. I brought a can of Slap Ya Mama cajun seasoning to work and left it there. My co-workers are fascinated with the fact that I really do put it on everything I eat. When I arrived at work and I picked my package up and brought it to the changing room with no intentions of opening it until later on when I returned home. But apparently my boss and co-workers had been speculating all day as to what was in it and asked me to open it in front of everybody.

I think the expression "like a kid at Christmas" is quite overused, but when the first thing I saw as I ripped cardboard away from tape was the familiar brown leather of an AMERICAN football, I really was as happy as a small child at Christmas. I've been looking for a football here since I arrived and they just do not sell them here. The only thing you can buy is a rugby ball which has no laces and is not meant to be thrown with one hand. I was even more estatic to pull the ball out and see that it had LSU and the eye of the tiger printed on it. I've just returned home from work and inflated my ball and I can't wait to go toss it around. I dug a little bit deeper and pulled out a can of Tony Chachere's that was stuffed inside a New Orleans themed koozie. I listened with a sly grin as each kitchen member tried to pronounce the famous cajun seasoning unsuccessfully. My gift opening turned into a small teaching session as I pulled out three t-shirts. The first was a black saints t-shirt with "Who Dat Nation" printed on the front. The second was bright green t-shirt with "Try a King Cake" printed on the front and "There's a little Jesus in every one" directly below that. The third was a baby blue Dirty Coast t-shirt illustrating lots of people at a festival using flags to mark their positions. This shirt was inspired by Jazz fest. I proceeded to try to explain "Who Dat", King cake, and american music festivals and eventually gave up. If you're not familiar with Dirty Coast, you should check there website out I love their t-shirts and have at least a dozen of them at home.

I then proceeded to go through the stack of photos with my kitchen friends which of course led to more explaining. It was great fun and I really can't thank my family enough for all the stuff they have sent over.

It appears as though we are finally enjoying a proper summer here in Queenstown. Monday was the first full day that I have spent in New Zealand where I did not put on some piece of long sleeved clothing. I spent the entire day in shorts and t-shirt and then slept in boxers and a t-shirt that night. The high was 82 and the low was 58. This was a far cry from the first week in January when were getting fresh snow on the mountain and cold, gray, rainy days (on January 8th, the high was 48 and the low was 43 and half an inch of precip fell). Needless to say, I was pretty damn miserable during this strange weather pattern. Of course now that it has gotten warm, my friends, co-workers and roomates are complaing about the heat, and I'm as happy as a pig in shit. Being hot has never bothered me. If being hot did bother you while living in Texas and Louisiana, then you better be prepared to spend most of your year being bothered. I actually enjoy the heat.

With this new heatwave, my next mission in Queenstown will be to find somewhere to go swimming. Unfortunately the water that immediately surrounds Queenstown is way to cold to swim in for any significant length of time. But I've heard rumors of some good lakes and cliffs to jump off of in the surrounding areas and I fully plan to scout out these places on my next days off.

Well, my dear friends, this is two posts in two consecutive days. Dare I say that I'm on a streak? No, I won't go that far. But I will say it feels really good to be writing again. I plan to start discussing the Winnie's menu with you soon. Ciao.

Short Circuits

  • New Zealand television is quirky. We don't have Sky TV, the national cable provider, so we get about 4 channels. Oddly enough, we get these same four channels twice. During the day, these channels broadcast the worst of the of worst of American tv shows: Rachel Ray, Tyra Banks, Ellen Degeneres. I used to turn the TV on while eating to have back ground noise, but I would rather listen to fingernails scratch a chalkboard while I eat than to hear the mindless cackling of Rachel Ray. Then at night, the New Zealand public channels will randomly broadcast uncensored R rated movies during prime time hours. A few weeks ago I was feeling under the weather and stayed home all day and all night. Naturally I watched some TV. During the day, I couldn't even find something that was monotonous enough to just fall asleep to. The programming was so awful I had to just turn it off. Then that night, at 7 oclock for all of the nation to see, they broadcast AMERICAN PSYCHO uncensored! Now, don't get me wrong, this is one of my all time favorite films, so i was tickled to see it on. But American Psycho on network TV? Think about if they showed that on NBC right after 30 Rock. Like I said, quirky.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Well I'm standing next to a mountain, I chop it down with the edge of my hand

It appears that Christmas has come a little bit late for me this year. Seeing Texas and the Dallas Cowboys get beat down in their respective season finales brings joy to my heart. I've also received several care packages from home with lots of American products and goods that I haven't been able to get my hands on since I left the states.

Welcome to 2010 friends. 18 days of this year have already raced by fast enough to make my head spin. As usual I have to apologize for the ridiculous delay in postings. I could write a paragraph of excuses, but I won't bother this time around. I am sorry that as soon as I started to build momentum and gather a handful of faithful readers, I dropped off the face of the earth. But I am back now, in full force. I have a permanent residence, a solid internet connection and lots to write about.

Over the past month I have transitioned from a backpacker's lifestyle to a resident's lifestyle. Shortly before Christmas I moved into a nice little 3 bedroom house on Wakatipu Heights. (My address is 14A Wakatipu Heights, Queenstown, 9300, New Zealand if you want to google earth me) I am still within walking distance of the Town Centre, but its a longer walk than when I was living on Hay Street. Basically it takes about 15 minutes for me to walk to work, and about 20 to walk home as I've got a nice little climb to get up to our place.

My roommates are quite interesting. Mark occupies the upstairs master bedroom and bath. He works a professional job during the week from 9 to 5, and spends every other second he can flying threw the sky on a hang glider. This adventure sport fascinates and I nag him with questions about piloting. It is quite the thrill seeker's activity. A few days before Christmas, one of his buddies had a hang gliding accident and broke both his legs and fractured his hip in several places. I've moved it to the bottom of my ever growing list New Zealand to do list. The kitchen and living room are also in the upstairs part of the house as well as two balconies. One of them overlooks the lake and has quite a scenic view of the mountains.

There are two bedrooms downstairs, one belonging to me and the other to my second roommate, Melissa. Melissa is in the process of the opening a cake decorating business in Queenstown. She is a native kiwi and is very well traveled, having most recently spent 5 years in London. She is in the process of opening a cake decorating business in Queenstown. This makes me the lucky recipient of the lots of cupcakes and various other baking goods. Melissa's family was kind enough to invite me over on Christmas day, so I did miss having a proper Christmas feast.

My eyelids are starting to lose their strength, so I think I'll bring this posting to a close. I'll be back soon with much more.

Short Circuits

  • Popping your shit collar is the easiest and quickest way to looking like a sure fire douche bag.