Tuesday, February 23, 2010

There was a wicked messenger from Eli he did come

I'll act as a wicked messenger. I will not speak eloquently, but put it in language that the masses will understand. Avatar sucks. Rub your eyes again in disbelief and re-read the sentence because it really is there. I just typed that and it's not a misprint. That movie is a train wreck and I'm gonna tell you why. But first, let me finish delivering my messages. Shutter Island is awesome. The Ziptrek course in Queenstown is ok. Now that you have the syllabus, let's start the lecture.

So I've had the last three days off and I've seen two films at the cinema in that time. I'm proud of the fact that I watch almost no television in New Zealand. But I still love movies and the entire process of seeing a movie in a theater. I was excited to see Avatar due to the ridiculous amount of buzz surrounding this movie. Everyone of my friends in Queenstown had seen it and raved about it. And I'd read at least two dozen facebook status updates professing the awesomeness of Avatar 3D. I had high expecations going in. Alright first things first. I don't care that James Cameron directed this movie. This does not immediately validate the movie. James Cameron is not incapable of making crap movies ("I'll never let go Jack"). So let's pretend that James Cameron was not associated with this movie in any way shape or fashion and look at it for what it is: CGI porn. To me, that's the only thing Avatar has to offer. Yes, it was visually stimulating to see the Avatar creatures running through a black light forest that looks like it jumped straight out of a Timothy Leary coloring book. But that's not enough to justify calling this movie anything more than mediocre. The dialouge is horrendous. It's borderline comical. I actually laughed out loud when Jake Sully asks hot Avatar chick why she saved him and she responds "You have a strong heart." Really? How in the hell did she figure that out? The audience sure couldn't have. The only thing we knew about Jake Sully was that he is an edgy marine who has lost the use of his legs. Guess that gives him a visibly strong heart to an Avatar and makes his life worth saving. The Avatar storyline doesn't bother me. I like sci-fi and magic. I'm a big fan of the LOTR trilogy and all of the Star Wars movies. I think Serenity is one of the best sci-fi movies made in the last ten years. It's not the Avatar story that's piss poor, it's the acting. Giovanni Ribisi and the scarred GI Joe are unbelievable in their respective roles and again comical at times. I mean the guys flying into a battle zone drinking a cup of coffee. Come on. Is this a blockbuster film or Snakes on a Plane (I actually enjoyed Snakes on a Plane, it was hysterical)?

This movies got an 82% rating on rottentomatos.com. That means that of all the reviews it was given, 82% of them were positive. This is a startling figure. It suggests to me that we've got a lot more CGI porn to look forward to. Hell, pretty soon they won't need the actors to make these movies. They will be CGI's as well. And if "Do you know how much cheddar is under that rock?" is the best script writing they can come up with, they might as let the graphic designers write the damn scripts as well. If this is your cup of tea, you don't have to look far for some more Avatar like films. "Clash of the Titans", which is 300 re-packaged for your viewing pleasure, is right around the corner.

I can't write too much about Shutter Island as you really need to see this film knowing as little as possible about the synopsis. I will say this: It does not view like your favorite Martin Scorsese movie. It's like nothing he's ever done. I was consistenly reminded of Darren Aronosky and Alfred Hitchcock while watching. Some of the shots I think must be direct nods to Hitchcock. Leo brings his A game and Ben Kingsley nails his part as well. The suspense keeps you sitting rigid from start to finish and here's a stunning concept: the movie makes you think! Can you imagine that? You actually have to pay attention to what's going on and formulate interpretations on your own. Awwwwwww, sorry Avatar fans. It won't be as simple as "You have a strong heart" this time around. Don't cry though, Avatar 2: Jake's Smurf Babies Attack will be in theaters soon enough.

While I'm on a freaking mass communications roll let me plug some other stuff that's been keeping me entertained lately. I was quite fond of reading Bill Simmon's commentary on the sports world back home. I lost track of his work while in New Zealand but I stumbled upon a great article to get me back on track. Like the rest of the world I watched Tiger Wood's press conference. I guess public speaking is not for everyone. Bill pretty much shreds Tiger on this one, but I agree with pretty much everything he says here. Read on for yourself.

One of my favorite shows at ACL last year was put on by K'Naan, a hip hop artist from South Africa. My brother found this video.


Alright, that's enough media. Let's get back to New Zealand. Sunday was locals day at the Ziptrek course. Occasionally, the adventure companies here have "locals day" in which they lower there outrageously high prices for locals who can show proof of address. This is usually done by the companies whose excursions have shady reputations already. They need the locals, who otherwise could not afford the ticket, to come in and participate in their adventure, so that they will spread buzz amongst the tourists passing through. The ziptrek had mostly lukewarm to negative marks from what I could gather. But you have to take that with a grain of salt. In a town and a region that could arguably serve as the adventure capital of the world, it is going to be very difficult to excite people. You can't go from the Nevis High wire to a ziptrek course and expect to be an impressed. I actually was impressed. I liked the zipline. It was quite thrilling for me, because once again, I don't like the heights and the open space. My heart pounds, my adrenaline soars, and I have a good time. Melissa also enjoyed it. Nate wasn't too wound up about it. However we all agreed that the forcefed Eco tour was complete garbage. Part of the zip trek tour was that at each launching station we had to listen to a spiel about the environment. I really don't mind hearing about environmental issues as they are important. But I hate it when someone rattles off a bunch of stats to you and then doesn't give you any suggestions as to what you are supposed to do about. It's like here, here's a bunch of information to make you frown and feel bad about yourself as a human and that's it. I'm not gonna tell you anything you can do to make it better. Thanks. I'm glad you incorporated that into my afternoon.

I suggested earlier that I might be overly critical. Well, I might also be overly dramatic. Sunday was a wonderful day. I played the frisbee golf course for 6 over par, hiked up to Ziptrek course on a beautiful afternoon, enjoyed the Ziptrek course and then ate way too much popcorn at the theater. It was not nearly as bad as my "reviews" might have you believe.

Short Circuits

The beauty of having an Ipod with over a hundred gigs of music on it is that you get to discover and re-discover music you either hadn't gotten to yet or forgotten about. I've found two really good albums on my ipod on my days off. The first is Eric Lindell: Gulf Coast Freeway. I saw Lindell at Chelsea's last fall and had listened to the album once or twice, but had totally forgotten that I had it. This is a great album. Eric's got a nice a little following but I expect him to continue to build steam over the next few years. Get on board. The second group, I honestly cannot remember downloading. The band is called the Bridge and the album is Blind Man's Hill. I listened to it twice today and it is solid. It's got a nice bluesy feel to it with some country casually blended in.

Friday, February 19, 2010

If you plant ice your gonna harvest wind

In general, pizza chefs do not talk to customers. We work out in the restaraunt. With the exception of those sitting on the balcony, we can see every almost every customer in the building. But it's kind of an unwritten understanding that if we should not engage the customers unless it's absolutely necessary. I have no problem with this and tend to just look straight down and make the pizzas, absently tuning the customers out. One night a lady caught me off guard and asked me for some serviettes. Thinking that I had heard silverware somewhere in there I handed her a fork and a knife and she looked at me like I was crazy, handed the utensils back and once again asked me for some serviettes. I had to find a server who quickly handed her a stack of napkins and she walked away satisfied. I let the servers deal with the customers because customers can be a royal pain. We have to deal with the servers, who can also be a royal pain, but not nearly as bad as customers can be. The servers also get tips. It is not customary to tip in New Zealand and few people do it. I certainly don't. But some do and it can provide a nice chunk of change at the end of the night for the servers. They don't rely on it, but they enjoy receiving the additional income. Even though we try to avoid the customers, every now and then one will swing by the pizza bar and compliment us on a pie we made that they enjoyed. At times like these, a few of us newer guys questioned why we were not getting a piece of the tips. Well as it turns out, we have been the whole time.

At the end of each shift, a manager takes all of the accumulated tip money and divides it by the number of servers working plus one. The plus one is the kitchen staff. That money gets socked away and eventually when it has built up to some substantial amount gets kicked back to us in the form of.....river surfing. So a few days after the Super Bowl, I joined some fellow kitchen staff for a river surfing excursion, compliments of the tip jar. River surfing has an interesting history that I cut and pasted from the Serious Fun website (http://www.riversurfing.co.nz/history.htm)
"Jon Imhof, a surfer from Hawaii, came to Queenstown to go snowboarding and he liked Queenstown so much that he decided to stay for summer. Missing the waves of the ocean, he looked for an alternative and came up with the crazy idea to follow the rafters down the Shotover River and surf waves on his bodyboard. Although the rapids were great, he found it was too shallow and decided to go down the Kawarau River instead, and the sport of riversurfing was born.

In 1989, with riversurfing in high demand, Jon established Serious Fun Riversurfing, the original riversurfing company. A few year later, after looking for other suitable locations around the world, he started a sister company on the Zambezi in 1995. A few years after that, some of the African guides took the sport up to the White Nile in Uganda, and to this day, these are the only three places in the world you can go riversurfing!"

During the week leading up the river surfing trip, we were all warned of the potential dangers involved and a story of a girl drowning in the river last year was repeated several times. I've heard different versions of the story, but the general consensus is that she did something that the guides had specifically told her not to do. I made sure I paid close attention to the guides on the bus ride to the start point.

So basically river surfing is swimming through a white water river on a body board with a life jacket and helmet for protection, and flippers to help push you through the water. That's all you've got: a wetsuit, life jacket, helmet and flippers. I've been running, hiking, strength training and cycling consistently for a few months now. None of these activities prepared me for the way I would use my muscles and lower body in the river. As the guide explained to us - "it doesn't matter how strong you are...the River is stronger." And the river is damn strong. I mean that water is moving and the second you don't respect it, it will put you into the rocks. We all struggled at first to get used to the flippers, the powerful current, and finding the proper body position on the board. We didn't have very long to get situated before the first set of rapids. The guides were helpful and any time we started to float astray, they would swim out to us grab and boards and pull us in the right direction.

We eventually reached the section of the river called the chinese dog leg. One of our guides, Bjorn, had explained to us that due to the recent rainfall, conditions were perfect to surf this part of the river. Basically there is a set of standing waves and if your timing and positioning are on point you the wave will hold you and you can "surf" on it for as long as you like. Obviously, none of our timing and positioning was going to be anywhwere near on point. We would need help from the guides to get on the wave. So our plan of attack was for Bjorn to swim out into the rapids and start surfing. We would then attempt to do the same and he would attempt to catch us and get us up on the wave. As luck would have it, I got up on the wave the first time for about 5 seconds.....with nobody filming. When I went back for a second turn while one of the guides was filming with my camera, I missed Bjorn and passed right through the rapid. But you can kind of get an idea of the thrill of river surfing from watching the video. In the video you will see me swimming upstream in the river. I am swimming upstream at a 45 degree angle against the current trying to position my self for Bjorn to be able to catch me. As I come into view fully I am turning completely around so that I am coming down the river feet first on my stomach on my bodyboard. You will hear the guide start to count. She is counting off the standing waves. The reason she is doing this is because on the third wave you want to be kicking as hard you possible can to slow your momentum down to ease Bjorn's task of catching you. You will then see me fly past Bjorn who is surfing the wave. So if you can imagine me actually stopping and surfing with Bjorn, then you will have an idea of what happened on my first attempt. This is the thrill of River surfing.


The chinese dog leg was definitely the high light of the excursion. We hit a much longer stretch of rapids towards the end, about 800 meters. This was very intense as the waves were high and we were forced under them several times. We also had a nice stretch of just cruising down the river. The trip also included two magnificent sitings. The first was a Lord of the Rings filming location. I can't remember exactly which movie, but I'm almost positive it's in the Fellowship. Frodo and members of the fellowship are traveling by boat in a river and pass between two giant statues of kings. We did the exact same thing except the statues of the kings are CGI's. What we saw was just two giant mountains of stone. But I could definitely recognize the setting from the movie. The second site was that of the A.J. Hackett Bungy jumping platform. One of the most famous and popular adventures to take part in in Queenstown is the A.J. Hackett Bungy jump. We swam directly underneath the bridge and platform where the jumpers leap from and got to watch a jumper go before we crossed under. It was awesome.

I have to say river surfing is easily one of the top five experiences I've had in New Zealand and I'd recomment it to anyone looking for a wild adventure. The only downside was that while kicking up the river I tweaked my back pretty good and have been unable to do much physically since then. But it is healing nicely and I expect to be back on my Routeburn training schedule tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Whichever way your pleasure tends

A little over a week ago the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts to win Superbowl 44. In Queenstown, the Superbowl would begin at 12:30 p.m. on Monday. Due to the peculiar time of the event, it was no problem for me to be given Monday and Tuesday off from work. I started making my way to Ministry of Sports around 11:15.

Ministry is the only true "sports bar" in Queenstown. Cricket and rugby matches are randomly being played on bar screens all the time. But Ministry is the only bar with multiple high defnition televisions that broadcasts the sound of the main event on the PA system. The head bartender is an avid sports fan who is friendly enough to record events for regular patrons who have to miss their games and then replay them while it is not busy. I watched the last few regular season games and all of the playoffs at Ministry, usually alone or with few others. I was surprised to find a crowd of decent size gathered to watch the Superbowl. I shot dirty looks at a few colts jerseys before joining my crew of black and gold clad friends who were busy drawing up a squares board. I was extremely pleased  to learn that Ministry had imported Budweiser longnecks for the even. I have not seen a Budweiser, or any other American beer, for sale in any liquor store, bar, club or pub in New Zealand. I had not drank a Budweiser since last July and welcomed the familliar kick of the beer. I bought 10 squares, ordered some nachos and was ready for the game to begin.

Shortly before kick off we realized that the colors of a yager bomb are black and gold. We marched straight to the bar and told Adam that for the rest of the day yager bombs would be referred to as black and golds, and ordered a round. And of course, as everyone does, I would pay for these later that day, and most of the next day. I won't try to recapture the magic of the game. You all have your superbowl memories and I can't improve upon them. It was great feeling to watch the Saints win. The only thing that I saw different from you was that we missed the damn Superbowl commercials. Sky TV, New Zealands only cable provider did not air the commercials, but instead inserted their own advertisements. This meant that I saw pay-per-view previews for Twilight and Marley and Me instead of Bud Lite commericals. (On that note I just want to say the Owen Wilson is free to stop making movies whenever he's ready. Just go ahead and jump off that ship Owen, its already sunk)

Robert's Rant
For a while now I've been thinking about commenting on bandwagon fans. I'm not going to write about jumping on the Saints bandwagon. I don't want to take away from the Saints' success and I'm happy to see everyone enjoying. What really grinds my gears is the people jumping off of the LSU bandwagon. I heard alot threats from so-called fans before I left the states. "After that game I wanted to burn my LSU hat." "If LSU doesn't fire Les Miles, I'm going to sell my season tickets." What? Are you serious. You weren't burning LSU hats when LSU was pounding Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago. I didn't see anybody outside of the Georgia Dome with their season tickets up for sale after we won the SEC championship in 2007. Didn't see any hats ablazed or tickets for sale outside the Superdome when we won the National title a few weeks later. It's like this. As an American, I support the United States of America. PERIOD. I support the president, whoever the hell it may be. I'm not a fan of Barack Obama. But as the President of the United States of American, he has my full fledged support. Same goes for LSU. I support LSU no matter who is coaching the football team, or the baseball team, or who the Athletic Director is. I support them, proudly - win, lose, or draw. I'm sick of listening to people claim to be "life-long-die-hard" LSU fans talk about burning their LSU hats. Are you really a "die-hard" fan? Did you even own an LSU hat during the Curly Hallman days? But for the love of God, stop talking about it. If you want to go burn your LSU, then by all means go do it. Or give it to me, I can always use another one. If you want to sell your tickets, then sell em. They won't be on sale for long. LSU football has been around longer than any of these so called fans. It will be going strong long after these so called fans are in the cold earth. So if you can't think of anything better to say about LSU, then as Eddie Murphy would say "Have a coke and a smile, and shut the fuck up."

A few days before the Superbowl, I became concerned about the squares board. Although I have never had a winning square, I have been buying squares on a board for as long I can remember. I didn't want to let this time honored tradition die in New Zealand. Luckily my American friends shared my concern. We surprisingly sold all 100 squares and I surprisingly one the second half. With the Saints victory, winning an extra $50 was lagniappe. It turns out I needed that fifty to go straight to my bar tab. Apparently it wasn't very cheap to import those buds over. I was estatic though. The Saints had won, Peyton Manning was pouting and it was a beautiful day outside in Queenstown. We celebrated hard for the rest of the afternoon.

I finally got to watch most of the Superbowl commercials yesterday. I really liked the one where the people are stranded on the island like in Lost and one passenger finds a radio, but the other finds the beverage cart. Good stuff.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Some come to make it just one more day

Someday, I will master HTML and make this stupid blog look exactly like I it looks in my head. Someday....Maybe in the winter on an ugly day.

Wow so much to write about I don't even know where to start. Let me first give a quick congrats to the New Orleans Saints. I have been an extremely lucky sports fan to this point in my life. I grew up during the golden years of LSU baseball, which I'm glad to see are not yet over. I have fond memories of sneaking sandwhiches and apples into Alex Box stadium for double headers on Saturdays. I've been in the Superdome for both of LSU's BCS titles. I watched the Astros clinch the National League Wild Card spot in 2005 by beating the hated Cubs in Minute Maid Park. (I was also present a couple of weeks later when Albert Pujols knocked a Brad Lidge slider into another dimension to keep the Astros out of the World Series for one more game) And even though I wasn't in Miami witnessing the Saints super bowl victory live, it was just as special as all of the other championships I've been a part of. I hollered "Who Dat?" all day long in Queenstown, and received plenty of confused looks in return....

I also need to give a quick congrats to my very dear friend Catherine Salazaar for sending me a beautiful calendar filled with pictures of events and landmarks in Austin, Texas. Thanks Cat! You rock.

Milford Sound

The first few weeks that I spent in New Zealand were on the road. Traveling from one new town to another and sleeping in a van provides a high level of excitement. Queenstown has been far from boring. But it has become very familiar to me. After a couple of months of staying in one place, I was ready for a road trip. And I luckily stumbled upon a great one.

There are currently three Americans employed at Winnie's: myself, Kile, from Colorado and Kelli, from South Dakota. I learned of the availability of my current position through Kelli. She told a friend about the kitchen position, who in turn texted me suggesting that I go to Winnie's and inquire. The rest is history. So naturally I became fast friends with Kelli and also her boyfriend Hayden. Kelli planned a trip to Milford for her birthday and I was fortunate enough to get to tag along.

In 2007 (i think), in an effort to promote national tourism and travel, the New Zealand Automobile Association compiled "The 101 Must-Do Kiwi Experiences." http://www.aatravel.co.nz/101/ Sitting at the top of this prestigous list was? You guessed it....Milford Sound. What is Milford Sound you say? Well, don't ask me. Ask Wiki. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milford_Sound

View Larger Map

As you can see on the map above, Milford Sound is only about 50 or 60 miles due west of Queenstown. However, there is no drivable road that traverses these miles as it is straight through the mountains. Thus, it's about a four hour drive to get 60 miles away from where you started. I've been told that this a good nuisance. It is spectulated that if you could get to Milford Sound from Queenstown in an hour or so, it would be raped by tourists. I've always enjoyed road trips, so the drive didn't bother me one bit.

On Thursday, February 4th, I filled my backpack with far more clothing than I could possibly need and started walking down the hill towards Kelli's house which is less than half a mile away from mine. It was there that I met Nick, Kelli's roomate, who also happens to be Hayden's best friend. We split up into two cars and drove to the Queenstown airport to pick up another Kelli (Kelli S from here forward), Jenna and Erin. These were Kelli M's friends from the states. They had flown from Australia where Kelli S is working as a nurse. Jenna and Erin were visiting from the states where they both work as nurses. Why I feel like these details are necessary we will never know.

And so the 7 of us set out for Milford. There are several different ways to tour Milford but one of the most popular is to travel on a cruise ship through the fjord. And that is one of the things that you learn on the cruise tour. Milford Sound is actually not a sound at all but a fjord. Before I went on the cruise I did not know what either was but I am definitely going to share my newfound tid bits. A sound is a narrow channel of water connecting two seas. A fjord is a long narrow inlet of the sea between high cliffs created by glacier activity. The tour guide explained why Milford is incorrectly called a sound but I wasn't listening as I was completely mesmerized by what I was looking at. You may recall that I wrote about being dazzled by the hills in Taihape that been formed by Volcanic activity. Well that was childs play compared to what Glaciers have formed. Unlike the Remarkables ski park, which gradually ascends over a piece of earth, these mountains shoot straight up into the sky. You can see waterfalls. You can see snow caps. You can see beautiful trees and vegetation. You can see the brilliant dark blue water of the inlet that makes you shiver just to look at it. You can see seals resting on rocks below. And the one thing you absolutely cannot see is much sign of human activity. Milford Sound is managed exclusively by the Department of Conservation of New Zealand. This is quite brilliant as it prevents commerical activity from taking place in this region. No one can capitalize on Milford Sound. Imagine that. After our tour, we had pizza and beer at the Blue Duck Cafe and Bar. Then we stayed at a lodge about a mile and a half up the road. These were the only fecilities anywhere near Milford Sound. There's no hotels, no restaraunts, and no gas stations. When we ran out of beer at the lodge around 9:00 o'clock, we had to walk back to the Blue Duck cafe to get more. We had no other options. This turned out to be quite an extraordinary walk though. As we walked back to the cafe, the sun was setting and it was extremely foggy I continue to be reminded of the Lord of Rings throughout all of New Zealand and this sparked images of Mordor. There were no street lights. When the workers at the cafe get off and return to the lodge, it is so dark outside that they cannot see even a few feet in front of them. They have to walk or ride their bicycle on the white line of the road looking straight down at it, lest they end up in the tree.

Milford Sounds' only visible scar was the sand flies. The lodge we stayed at is nestled above a river and shortly after checking in, we climbed down a few big rocks to dip our feet in the water and throw the football. (I've gotten in the habit of carrying my football with me everywhere I go. People are intrigued by it and are always inclined to toss with me. In fact, I have probably thrown a football more in New Zealand than I did in all of 2009) The sand flies attacked us the moment we stepped outside. They were in packs so thick you had to swat them away from your face. Sometimes there were so many I had trouble seeing the ball being thrown to me. At one point I was spraying Off from a can onto a sand fly on my arm and it was not even phasing him. He just carried right on biting me while being soaked in Off.....

The next morning we had a nice cafe breakfast and took our time returning to Queenstown. We stopped at a small trail called the Chasm, where Hayden showed us a hidden swimming hole off of a side trail. Hayden and I were the only ones to jump in and believe me that glacier mountain water is about as cold as jumping into Barton Springs before the sun comes up for those of you who have had the pleasure. I had a delicious meat pie in Te Aneu, the last town of any relevant size before Milford, which I chased with some Hokey Pokey flavored Ice Cream. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokey_pokey_(ice_cream) Wiki is your friend.

We arrived back in Queenstown late in the afternoon, but not late enough to stop at Lake Hayes for a quick swim and jump off the rope swing. We concluded the road trip that night with san gria, margaritas, coronas and big plates of mexican cuisine at Sombrero's.

I can't wait to get back to Milford.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I've updated the picassa web album to include the photos from the Remarkables trek. I've also added my roomate Melissa's website to my links. If you use google earth and would like to see the path we followed up the mountain, shoot me an email. I have a .kmz file from my GPS watch that plots our course in Google earth. You can then zoom down into the mountains in 3D view and see exactly where we walked, stopped and how where we took a different course back down than on the way up. It's really cool to look at, but I don't have any idea how to post it here.


Some come to laugh their past away

Here's a new trial: blogging in the morning with a fresh cup of coffee. Actually it's a cup of instant coffee and it's not that great. Coffee is a topic I've been meaning to sound off on for a while. There are no drip coffee makers in New Zealand. Anywhere. The people have no use for the phrase "coffee pot." You basically have only a few options to getting a cup of coffee here. The first is to buy a plunger (french press) and ground coffee that is made for a plunger. Pour boiling water over about 3-4 tablespoons of the coffee and let it sit for about 5 minutes. This is decent but it's no Cafe du Monde. Your second option is to buy coffee from a cafe, which is all espresso based. So basically you are limited to how do you want to drink a shot of espresso. There's no equivalent to getting just a cup of Community Coffee house roast. You also cannot find a coffee drink that is more than 6 ounces here.

 I drink coffee everyday without exception and I love it. In fact, it may be the most consisent thing I have done since I was 15. I can remember being served coffee by my parents and grandparents when I was kid. Back then I got about 60% warm milk and 30% coffee and however much sugar I could get in the cup before someone got the jar away from me. I've used this recipe ever since, although I've tapered down on the sugar. It's difficult to recreate this cup of coffee over here, but I'm working on it.

I finally got fed up with having a square on my blog showing the blog template number. Most readers probably did not notice but it aggrevated the daylights out of me. Sorry mister blog template designer, but your work was not so fantastic that it needed to be numbered and permanently marked. So I killed that template and replaced it with a new one that has eliminated the template number but created a whole new set of problems. I'll deal with those later.

The Remarkables Ski Park - Single Cone

If you want to ski/snowboard in the Queenstown area you have a few options. But the closest slopes to town are found at the Remarkables Ski park, or simply "the Remarks". http://www.nzski.com/guides/09/theremarkables/
The remarks has two peaks, single cone and double cone.
And I'm back. All those periods represent lots of time passing. I started this post on February 3rd in the morning. I rambled on about coffee for 20 minutes and was finally getting to more important topics when I realized the weather was just too damn good to be inside typing on a computer. As with almost every residence I've entered in New Zealand, our house does not have an air conditioner. A consistent breeze blowing through opened windows keeps away stifling heat. The heat reminds me of the cold days and inspires me to get out and enjoy. So I left that morning, with every intention of finishing the post before work. Needless to say, I didn't finish it, but I wasn't about to scrap the writing I had accomplished. And without further ado.......

One of a la carte chefs at the restaraunt is a Brazilian guy named Amauri. Amauri is an avid outdoor athlete and has run the Routeburn Classic. He also skates, snowboards, mountain cycles, runs, etc, etc. We've passed each other on the trails before and had a few conversations about Routeburn and training. It came as no surprise to me last Saturday while at work, Amauri asked if I wanted to go for a hike the next day. Of course I was eager to do a hike as I still have several trails around Queenstown that I have not conquered yet. A few minutes later Amauri remembered that it was going to be a full moon that evening and got very excited about doing an early morning walk to single cone; the idea being that we could hike in the moonlight and watch the sun rise from the peak of the mountain. This sounded unique to me so I agreed to go. Let me point out that every hike I've done in New Zealand as been along a very well laid out track or trail, complete with gravel, steps, and signs. There have been steep climbs and some grueling hills, but still always upright walking. When I first arrived in Queenstown, I walked with some friends up to Lake Alta. Lake Alta is a small body of water that sits in the valley of the remarkables ski field. We drove up to the ski car park, and walked a short distance along the ski lift to the greenish blue lake. From there you can see the single cone and double cone peaks. On that particular day, I thought I saw a trail running along a saddle on the back side of the mountain. And I thought it looked like a relatively easy hike to get up to the top along this trail. So when Amauri suggested walking to single cone, I figured it would be a challenging hike along a well marked trail. And what do we say about ASSUMPTION class????

Amauri picked me up at 3:15 a.m. and we headed towards the ski park. I had plenty of proper cold weather gear this time thanks my care packages from home. The car's outside temperature meter read 11 degrees celcius in Queenstown, and then 7 degrees when we parked up on the mountain. It was chilly. We began walking along ski lift, following the same path I had the first time I went to Alta. I used a head lamp, but Amauri was able to see with just the moonlight. We stopped at Lake Alta but did not stay long as we wanted to ensure that we were at the top of the mountain for the sunrise. We had to stop a little ways up from Alta to soak up one of the most memorable views I've seen in New Zealand. I sat down next to a waterfall running down the mountain and to my left three items formed a perfect triangle. The base of the triangle was the waterfall and if you followed it's path down you would have immediately noticed the second point of the triangle, the sparkling reflection of the full moon on Lake Alta. This would prompt to look up at the third point, the moon itselft, which was magnificent. And then you might happen to notice the mountains themselves. This could not be photograped effectively so I tried to the burn the image into my brain. I think I got a pretty good copy saved.

When we started back uphill I thought that surely we would reach a trail soon. If a trail exists we were not headed for it. I found the mountain getting steeper and solid dirt turning into giant movable rocks. I used to do train with a group called Crossfit in Austin. One of our regular drills was to do "mountain climbers". To complete a mountain climber you drop down to a pushup position with your arms fully extended. The movement is to bring your left leg up, attempting to pull your knee to your chest. As your left leg returns to the floor, you being the same motion with your right leg. I did 50 of these the other day after a run. I soon found myself doing real mountain climbers on a very steep mountain. Amauri and I had to create seperate paths so that I was not directly behind him, in danger of sliding rocks he may have shifted out of their resting state. In hinesight, the darkness really changed the outcome of the excursion. Had we been doing this in broad day light, I would have quickly realized that the climb was going to be much steeper than anything I had ever embarked on. I probably would have turned back. But in the darkness, I could not see exactly what I was getting myself into. The mountain climbers eventually turned into just straight climbing. I don't want to exaggerate. It was not 100% vertical. But there was absolutely no walking anymore. It was one hand on rock, two hands on rock, find a foothold, move one foot into postion and push up placing other foot into the next foothold. As we got higher and higher the sun started to illuminate what lay behind me. And that is when the fear set in.

I've mentioned before that I have a fear of heights. This statement is misleading. I am perfectly fine with being abnormally high of the ground, when I am enclosed. Enclosed in something like an airplane, the space needle in Seattle, the observation deck of the John Hancock Center in Chicago, or the car of the Batman The Ride roller coaster at Six Flags over Texas. When I worked on the rigs, I had no problems climbing a six foot ladder that was strategically placed between the driller's cabin and a large cable tray and running wires. But if you put that same ladder out on the middle of the floor with nothing surrounding it, I would not be able to climb the first two steps and work. My fear is of open spaces. It occurs when I can clearly see and visualize the path from which I will fall. As the sun came up, the climb became steeper and these danger paths started to strike my imagination like a rusty hammer pounding nails into a two by four. Amauri showed no signs of any such fear. He climbed quickly jumping from boulder to boulder with ease. But on several occasions we had to stop so that he could show me exactly where to put my hands and feet to get up a certain section. I should also point out that I have a huge climbing disadvantage in my gargantuan feet. A size fifteen shoe just does not sit in a bit of rock the same way that a size ten does.

So I pretty much spent the last two hours of the ascent in absolute terror of sliding down that mountain. I would reach a certain point, look down and think "How the f*** did I just get up here, there's no way I can go back down where I just came." Then I would look up at where Amauri was and think "How in the f**** am I going to get up to where he is, there's no way I'm climbing that." At these junctures Amauri would scamper back down the mountain and guide me up. Each section that I climbed was an amazing moral victory. A few times I tried to tell Amauri to go on without me, that I wouldn't go any further. But he knew and I knew too, that I wasn't about to get that far and turn back.

At 6:30 a.m. I pulled myself up to the highest point of the single cone of the Remarkables ski field. I looked out, with my back to Queenstown and saw the sun making it's own climb above the clouds BELOW me. I turned around and saw Queenstown, a tiny little playground 5,000 feet below with the full moon still hanging around above. I was cold and tired. The stress of the climb had worn on me. But it was the greatest feeling in the world. I had a climbed a mountain. I traced a path into the earth that will never again be traversed exactly the same by another person. I know this, because I kicked rocks down the mountain in the process. I won't say that I conquered my fear, but I dealt with it. I was cursing Amauri the entire way up, but on the top of the mountain, I thanked him for not letting me bail out.

As with everything else in New Zealand, the pictures do not do justice to what I actually saw, but I think you'll enjoy them none the less. Climbing down was pretty scary as well, but easier than going up as I knew each small section brought me closer to complete safety.

It's 1:53 a.m. now on Sunday morning. My writing brings our timeline up to about 11 a.m. last Sunday. I had an amazing day on Wednesday and then a hell of a road trip on Thursday to Milford Sound. I've got a lot to write about and even more great adventures on the horizon so stay tuned.