Friday, January 28, 2011

Mmm... two minute showers...

You know you've been at the south pole too long when the highlight of your week is a two minute shower. At least the water was warm.

Tuesday, I finished filming the movie for SPIFF and I edited it on wednesday. I showed it to the guys who made it and a few random others and everyone really liked it. I know it's too early to start talking awards, but...

After dinner on wednesday, I had a quick band practice, followed by pub trivia. It was our week to host pub trivia so I wrote 12 questions about horror/monster movies. It was a lot of fun. Justus' category was still shots from movies where someone edited out the person's skin so all you had was the background and their clothing to guess the movie. It was kind of an easy round, but totally a lot of fun. The first round was done by Phil and every question was about military history. The scores were very low. Another round was done by Don, registered Canadian, and it was all about people on money from around the world. Aside from it being canadian biased, it was just plain hard. People seemed to enjoy it, though. How could they not? The prizes are beer!

After pub trivia, a few of us watched the movie Primer. I think I decided that I didn't like it. It's hard to tell since you have no idea the entire time what the hell is going on. It's essentially about a group of silicon valley nerds inventing a time-travel machine in their garage, but it totally throws causality to the wind. It was totally some pretentious sciencey-nerd's idea of a way to look cool to people who don't know more than him. It's like if I made a movie...

After a disappointing movie and weak beer, I went to sleep.

Yesterday, after turning in the movie, I actually finished some data analysis that had been giving me trouble for over a week. That took pretty much all day, but after dinner I was able to sneak in a half hour band practice and then played volleyball until almost midnight. The band is really starting to come together.

Concert and film festival are tomorrow night. It's going to be a crazy night. Parties like this are few and far between and the station really comes together and has a blast.

There are some very interesting people down here. Yesterday, I had a long conversation with my friend Mark. Mark has to be in his 50's by now if not older and has come down here every year for the past decade. He's also the guy I jammed with a lot last year, and the one responsible for getting me plugged into music down here. He was telling me about seeing Pink Floyd in germany in 1972 (before Dark Side of the Moon even came out). He also saw the Grateful Dead in 1970... just incredible. Mark works here for 4 months out of the year, then travels for months, then resumes a job back home for about 6 months. There are a lot of people who do that. They work here for a few months and save up enough money to travel for the rest of the year. It's pretty incredible.

Our winter-over should be getting in today, weather permitting, so there will be another hand to help with the telescope.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ice Beard

This is what happens when you stay outside too long when it's windy...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bingo, Film Festival, Fletch

I've had a busy and fun weekend. Saturday, after dinner, I practiced with my band. We had a really good practice and I think we'll have a great show next week. Saturday night was James Brown Bingo. James Brown is the head chef in the galley down here and every once in a while will host a bingo game. I only arrived for the last two rounds, but I think I got the gist of it. James Brown, dressed like William Wallace from Braveheart, complete with kilt, blue face-paint, and sword would pull bingo numbers and yell them to 50 or so drunk people. He would start by yelling the letter and then people would start guessing the number and if you guessed right, he would point at you menacingly and yell "YES!". It was quite a site. Of course, for certain tiles, there are standard responses. For example, if B4 was picked, everyone would yell "and after," or B2 "bomber" or B1 "with the universe". Naturally when O69 was drawn, the crowd would yell wildly. During the last round of bingo, where you had to black out your entire card instead of just get 5 in a row, when O69 was drawn james brown picked up a 3 foot long wooden stirring spoon (more like a paddle) and smashed a giant gingerbread house to pieces. It was quite entertaining. Afterwards, a bunch of us went into the game room and played pool, foosball, and drank. Much later on, I went with the firefighters to the "bar" at summer camp. Summer camp consists of a bunch of Korean War surplus Jamesways, one of which is a lounge that is used as a bar over the weekend. There, we had some whiskey and scotch. Outside of the bar was an ice-core from the Ice Cube experiment. This ice was upwards of 10,000 years old, so I chipped some of this ice off into my drink and had scotch on the 10,000 year old rocks. Thanks again to New Zealand's extraordinarily weak beer, I felt fine the next morning.

That morning there was the Polympics. Originally, the events sounded fun, but then there were all these stupid rules so it was more like games you'd play at a picnic than actual athletic events so I didn't feel like doing them. After lunch, I played volleyball from 2-4:30 and then soccer from 4:30 to 6 so my legs were quite tired after dinner. There's a film festival this weekend called the South Pole International Film Festival, or SPIFF, where people at the south pole make movies and submit them for judging. I decided to borrow an HD camcorder from the IT department, wrote a script, practiced some editing with iMovie and started filming. I plan on trying to make 2 movies: one will just be a documentary-style movie where I interview people around the base as to why they decided to come down here to work and the other will be my best attempt at a coen brothers style movie. The movies are only 5-10 minutes long usually, so it shouldn't take to long to complete... maybe a couple of days. I've got my actors lined up and a camera man and have shot some scenes already. It's a lot of fun. After SPIFF this weekend will be the open mic where my band will be playing. It's going to be a busy weekend.

Last night, after doing some editing, a bunch of us got together in one of the lounges and watched Fletch Lives on VHS. It's funny to watch a VHS movie on an HD tv... It was a very silly movie. Oh Chevy Chase... used to be so funny.

Today, the other guy in my group finishes his work with the telescope, so I can take over and start running the schedules that I want. I'm heading out there after I finish this post.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Past few days

A picture of a sun dog. These are like rainbows but occur when the air is full of ice instead of water.

I'm standing on the roof of MAPO, which is where Keck is located. In the background you can see DSL which is where my telescope is located.

Sara was complaining that I hadn't updated my blog in a while, but the only chances I get to update it (when the satellite is up) I'm usually on the phone with her... so it's her fault. That, and since the internet is frustratingly slow, it takes a long time to actually make a post.

I've been working pretty hard these past few days. We've had to do a liquid helium refill (I'll have to do another today) which is somewhat fun. During the fill, the visiting priest and dentist came by (I know, that sounds like the start of a dirty joke). I gave them a quick tour of the telescope and then went up to the roof for a while to install a mirror on top of the telescope. It wasn't too cold, only -15 F and there was no wind, so it was tolerable to be up there for a while. Afterwards, we had a group picture at the Keck telescope in the next building over. There were probably close to 20 of us, which was really cool. We had to do a re-take of the photos and I decided that I wanted the BICEP2 t-shirt that I designed on full display, so in the re-takes I was wearing only a t-shirt and jeans in -15. It wasn't so bad, but I didn't want to stay out there longer than a few minutes. Later that night, we played volleyball then watched Wet Hot American Summer with some beers and scotch. A few of the guys had never seen the movie before so it was even funnier seeing them crack up. The next morning we had a telecon meeting at 9am which went well and afterwards I took a quick nap. I did some more data analysis until around dinner time, after which I jammed with my band (concert is in 2 weeks). We've got about 4 songs that we're working on for the show. There was supposed to be soccer that night but it ended up being cancelled. All day, my plan was to go to soccer and then hit the sauna but with soccer cancelled, I was still able to convince a few people to go to the sauna with me. We cranked it up to just over 200 degrees and then ran outside for a total of about 215 degree difference. It's so far the most extreme I've experienced. I felt sooooo relaxed afterwards. Those whacky norwegians are on to something here... Afterwards, a few of us got together and watched It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia until we got tired enough to go to bed.

Yesterday, I worked on my code from pretty much when I woke up until dinner. Needless to say, I was not in a terribly great mood. After dinner we played volleyball for about 3 and a half hours. For the first hour I was still pissed off and there were some real goobers who play who were annoying the crap out of me. Goobers, by the way, in this case means either really dorky and annoying or someone who is just terrible at volleyball. I don't usually mind the terrible people because volleyball is really an excuse to relax and have some fun, but they were just awful that day. Eventually, I shook off my shitty mood and started to have a lot of fun. I was actually able to pull off a move that I've been trying for a while: the ball came over the net really low and I was able to bump it with my foot--where my foot was planted firmly on the floor. I was in shock that it actually worked. After volleyball, I was hungry so I went to the galley for some leftover lasagna (one of my favorite things) and had a beer with some of the Keck guys who were there playing cards. Eventually, I went to bed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

20 hour work days and spelling bees

Yesterday, I stopped working somewhere between 5 and 6 am. Not really sure when exactly. It was a loooong day. I jinxed myself since earlier that day I wrote an email to my advisor saying how great it was to have a working telescope and not having to pull the late nights like last year... and then it was 5am. It's somewhat fun, though. Since the sun is up all day you actually are able to work later without feeling as tired. You trick your body into thinking it's earlier and it keeps going. I was helping to build this housing for a calibration test and it was fun to get back on the mill and the lathe, since it has been a while since I've had to machine anything.

I was able sleep about 5 or 6 hours and get up for sunday "brunch" which they combine breakfast and lunch on sunday with a little less variety to give the cooks a break. I got a chorizo, onion, and cheese omelette and there was a make-your-own waffle station. After brunch, there was a spelling bee in the galley so I participated in that. I made it through about 8 rounds and got out on mischievous because the lady pronounced it "mischievious."

Today was the south pole marathon, which is just an awful idea. Marathons alone are terrible. Add to that -10 degree weather and 10,000 ft elevation and you have possibly the worst thing in the world. It was supposed to take place in McMurdo but due to weather, they couldn't fly the Pole runners in so they decided to have their own. Apparently, one of the people on the station is a world class distance runner and had a really great shot at winning so it's somewhat disappointing that he didn't get a chance to run.

There's supposed to be volleyball today and soccer a little later, so I'm looking forward to that. I think the science lecture tonight is from one of the guys on our sister telescope so I'll probably do that as well. Plenty to do...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

48 hour birthday

This is the Dark Sector Lab where I work. BICEP is on the right--the ground-shield is visible. South Pole Telescope is on the left (the big one).

My ice-beard.

What the South Pole looks like when it's cloudy. Can you spot the horizon?

On the 13th local time, I played volleyball for a few hours and then split a 15 pack (yes, 15) or crappy NZ beers with some of my friends down here. It was a good time, but it's no fun being hung over at altitude. Then, yesterday--the 13th in the real world--I had a couple of gin and tonics at dinner and then jammed with Daniel, the bass player I played with last year, and then went to the game lounge and had a few more drinks. They had these weird Japanese candies that tasted like real foods just like in WIlly Wonka. I had the Mexican meal which really tasted like an enchilada. After a few minutes I could even taste rice and beans. The Japanese are light years ahead of us!

Strange Japanese candies. Translations wanted...

Birthday beer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Soccer at the Pole

After breakfast and the meeting yesterday, I was feeling a little light-headed, so I took a nap. I woke up, grabbed lunch and walked the 1km to the lab. It's fairly warm, for south pole weather, only about -10 so I only really needed my wind pants and a fleece (along with gloves, a knit hat, and goggles). I spent the afternoon reacquainting myself with the lab computers and equipment and started some simple data analysis. Later, I trudged back to the station for dinner and then played some soccer. I still wasn't acclimatized so the doctors would have definitely advised against playing, but I did anyway. I just tried to take it a little easy. Playing soccer at 10,000 feet is like playing soccer in space. Every 5 minutes we have to stop to catch our breath. You breathe, but you don't feel any better. It's strange. I just can't wait until next week, once I'm fully acclimatized and can really start running. After soccer, I was feeling pretty dead, so I went to bed.

Woke up this morning and had a big breakfast of steak and eggs and headed back out to the lab to do more data analysis. I also wrote a schedule for our telescope to run which should give us some useful information. I'm currently working on another, longer schedule to be run later in the week.

I think there's volleyball tonight, which will be totally awesome and then I'll probably have a few birthday beers with some friends and go to bed.

It's hard to determine when to celebrate my birthday... Back in the US, it's tomorrow, but our timezone is across the international date line so it's a day later here. I figure, if I moved to Australia, I would be celebrating my birthday on their 13th, not the US' 13th so I'm going to celebrate today. Of course, maybe I'll just have a 2 day long party...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More fun at Pole

Counting the ways that Pole is way better than McMurdo continues. Dinner was much better and way more fun since I ate with a large number of people from my group. Afterwards, I played volleyball (which I totally shouldn't have done) and jammed with this grateful dead cover band down here. It was a lot of fun. The band sounded great and volleyball was a really good time. The weight room overlooks the gym so there were a bunch of spectators who were cheering us all on. It was gooooooood times.

Breakfast this morning was pretty good. There was a 7-grain porridge-like thing which tasted like the mash that you make beer out of. I also had peach yogurt, bacon, buckwheat pancakes, an egg and ham breakfast sandwich, and a fresh kiwi and orange. There's a meeting for my team in about 10 minutes, so I'll have to sign off.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arrived at Pole!!!

The LC-130 that flew me to pole.

grr!!! This machine doesn't want to be in mcmurdo any more than I do.

The trans-antarctic mountain range as viewed from the plane.

me in the back of the plane.

Finally arrived after only 12 days of delays...

I woke up this morning and took my last longer than 2 minute shower for a few weeks. It was quite nice. Afterwards, I packed up my stuff, cleaned my room and headed out to meet the shuttle (at about 6:45am). The shuttle was a normal passenger van, lifted about 2 feet, and given a badass 4WD system. Usually, we take a Delta out to the airfield but since there were only 3 of us (plus the flight team) this shuttle took us the whole way. Once we boarded the plane, they started up the engines. We heard a strange sound and the plane lurched a little bit. Apparently, engine 1 had a blown starter so we deplaned and caught a shuttle back to the airfield's galley to wait for them to repair it. It was just 3 of us travelers and then 2+ crews of airmen so we spent a while talking with the pilots. They were all cool guys. Some were young and some were old and they all had different perspectives on flying these massive planes in antarctica. Some of them were asking me about what I do at the south pole and I gave a mini science lecture. I could tell that their minds were thoroughly blown by the stuff my telescope looks at. It's always fun to share science with people who wouldn't usually come into contact with it. Once we got back on the plane, we started up the engines again, this time all four started, but there was another maintenance problem. One of the generators wasn't working. I'm not exactly sure what a generator in this context does, but I can take a guess. This was a quick repair and we were ready to fly within a half an hour or so. With my luck this trip, I figured we'd scrub the whole thing and I'd be stuck in mcmurdo for another day.

As I mentioned, there were only 3 of us in the LC-130 (that's the one with the skis) so it was quite spacious. The airmen were pretty relaxed about us moving around. About an hour into the flight, we crossed the trans-antarctic mountain range and I went to the back of the plane where there was a larger window and took some pictures. I'll try to post pictures with this posting, but the internet here at pole is much slower and a lot less reliable. We landed on snow, which is just about the smoothest landing possible and after a short taxi, we deplaned. Just about my whole group was waiting for me, which was quite heartwarming. It really felt good to be greeted with hugs and smiles by everyone after the rough travels. If any of them happen to be reading this, thanks! You're the best. The cooks made a plate of lunch for me and kept it in the oven so I had some food--more reasons why south pole is waaaaay better than mcmurdo. My room is in the station, which is excellent, and I even have a window!!!! I'm not actually sure whether or not that's a good thing.

Hmmm... fire alarm is going off... is it a test? Hmmm... doesn't sound like it... better go.

Well, it wasn't a drill, but it wasn't a problem. I'm back (about 20 minutes later). They announced that they were looking for one of my group members so I assume he was playing with matches.

I'm going to try to take it easy tonight to avoid getting altitude sickness (since we're at 10,000 ft). It's a balmy -15 degrees F (-34 with the wind). Beach weather.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cleared to Fly!!!

Doctor says everything looks good. Tomorrow will be a week, which is the minimum that they'll let someone with barotrauma as bad as mine was leave, so good job body on healing quickly. Yesterday they gave me Drixine, which I think is what they call Affrin on this side of the planet. I don't think my nose has been this decongested ever. Seriously, I'm finally using my giant nose to its full advantage.

I haven't checked the flight schedule, but most likely I will leave at 9am, which means a 6:45am shuttle pickup and should put me in at pole at around noon. I'm finally leaving!!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Soccer in Antarctica

Finally, there was a soccer game down here. It was only a 3 on 3 but it was still fun. We played for about an hour in a half. It's very dry here, so it took a little while for my lungs to adjust but once they did I was able to hit my stride. The games were in the big gym so we didn't have to brave the elements.

Now I'm watching more playoff football on AFN. Oh, there's a new public service announcement. Aside from our troops having big problems with suicide, domestic abuse, driving drunk, driving fast, driving motorcycles in general, being drunk, not knowing how to put out fires, and giving away secrets on facebook, apparently they also huff aerosols. Well done America. It wouldn't be so bad if these were spaced out throughout the day, but since they're all on back-to-back for the entirety of the commercial break, I'm starting to think our military needs some better role models--or maybe a hug. They had a commercial with an ex-NFL star quoting all his accomplishments and saying he was mostly proud of being a team player and then said "over 100 troops die a year in auto related accidents. That hurts the team." I did not see that coming.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Adelie Penguins in the wild

I just happened to go for a walk out to Scott Hut and there were 7 little Adelie Penguins waddling on the ice. I snapped some pics and took a couple of videos.

Passing the time in McMurdo

I've been keeping busy between meals mostly be reading or watching Bowl games on the American Forces Network that we get down here. It's a funny network where instead of commercials, they play propaganda and public service announcements. All the public service announcements are about either drinking too much, riding motorcycles dangerously, domestic abuse, or PTSD. It pretty much sums up all the negative stereotypes of our military. They also have military trivia, which is totally cool and news updates pertaining to the military.

The store was closed yesterday but it has opened today so I bought some random trinkets to take home as well as rented some DVD's to watch.

Also in my free time (which is bountiful), I take walks out to Scott Hut, which was an emergency base set up by the famous explorer and best middle name ever holder: Robert Falcon Scott. It was built over 100 years ago but due to the environment here is in perfectly preserved condition.

Anyway, it's off to lunch. Hopefully it doesn't make me as nauseous as it did the last two days...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

First Night in McMurdo, feeling a little better

Eventually the loudest of the snorers turned and stopped snoring and I was able to get back to sleep. I actually ended up sleeping like a rock--I didn't even hear my roommates get up. I missed breakfast (5:30-7:30--too early) but I was able to grab a bowl of cereal and a couple of plums. I spoke with the recreation people this morning and there should be plenty for me to do to keep from going crazy. Essentially, there are three types of people here: 1) scientists 2) people who facilitate science 3) people to make sure people don't go crazy.

Thanks Dan for the words of encouragement. Unfortunately, the cool-ness of being in antarctica fades in McMurdo unless you can get outside and go hiking--of course to do this, you have to be certified--of course the next certification course isn't until saturday... There's two things you can do without being certified: go to Scott Hut (which I'll probably do everyday to hopefully see penguins) and climb Ob hill which isn't really worth it since McMurdo isn't pretty this time of year. I did it last year and it was fun, but there was more snow on the ground so McMurdo didn't look like a dust bowl.

It's a goddamn symphony in here

It's about 2:30 am, I've probably been asleep for about 3.5 hours and now I'm awake and no less than 3 people of the 5 are snoring EXTREMELY LOUDLY! How am I supposed to heal if I can't sleep. And if I can't heal, I can't leave this godawful place. I think I'll just smother someone with a pillow. At least if I go to jail, it will be away from here.

One night in this shithole, and I'm already losing it. Fantastic.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some Pics from Antarctica

While I'm sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself, I thought I would post some pics for people to enjoy.

Here's a pic of antarctica from the air.

And one of me getting off the C-17

And a pic of Ross ice shelf from Scott Hut near McMurdo.

Arrived in Antarctica!

After 5 days of cancellations and an aborted takeoff (which was all sorts of fun...) we finally left for antarctica. We arrived at around 4:15am at Pegasus field, which is a permanent ice field about an hour's drive from mcmurdo. Once we arrived in town, we were immediately taken to an orientation breifing and then taken to breakfast in the galley. Finally, at around 8:30am I was able to get some rest. During the flight, my sinuses were really clogged and as we were landing, my left ear really hurt. Once we landed, I noticed that I couldn't hear out of it and I couldn't seem to pop it so I went to the doctor assuming I would just get some sinus meds and be on my merry way but apparently, my ear was in worse shape than I thought. According to the medical staff, I burst a few blood vessels and it didn't look good. They gave me some Flonase and Sudafed to help clear things out but they said I can't fly out until it heals or else I could risk permanent hearing damage! It could be one to three weeks! I've already regained hearing in my ear and am generally feeling much better, so I'm optimistic about the whole thing. I am, however, not looking forward to spending ANY time here in McMurdo. Everyone I know is leaving tomorrow, so I'll be stuck whith no one I know and nothing to do. I was fairly depressed earlier, but I'm feeling better now. Hopefully, I can heal fast enough that they can send me out in a few days, but if not, I have no idea what I'm going to do with myself. We're not at altitude here, so I can exercise without having to acclimate first so maybe there's some soccer going on that I can play. There are also spectacular hikes and cross country ski routes nearby, but I have to get certified and that might take as long as I'll be stuck here anyway.

Being stuck makes me feel homesick. Travelling in New Zealand was like a vacation, but until I arrive at Pole and start working, I would rather just not be here. Hopefully, I'll find stuff to do aside from lounge around in long-johns all day...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hiking in Marlborough Sound

Two days ago, we were in Picton, which is about 5 hours up and around the coast of the southern island from Christchurch. We arrived at around 10:30 on new year's eve and watched the fireworks. The next morning, we went to Le Cafe a few blocks away and had breakfast. It was very good. At about 1:30, we went to the docks and hired a boat to take us out into the sound and drop us off somewhere out on the remote parts of the peninsula and then pick us up at a spot about 4 hours away. The boat ride was long and gorgeous. We were on it for about an hour and a half and the scenery was breathtaking. Eventually we arrived at Ship's Cove where we started our hike. About 2 minutes in, we saw our first animal. It's called a Weka and is about the size of a chicken. It's a flightless bird that is only lives in the area where we were hiking. It was very different.

Half an hour later, we were almost run off the path by an errant cow. It must have lost it's way from one of the farms and found the trail. It was a strange experience.

As we hiked, we came across spectacular views, as well as remote farms--some of which we had to walk between sheep and chicken to get past. The views were just amazing. At one point, you could look into the sound and turn around and look into Cook's straight (in between the North and South Islands) and if you stared hard enough, you could just see the tip of the north island.

Occasionally, we would stop and snack while Wekas waited anxiously for us to drop any food. Eventually we reached our destination (Furnaux campgrounds) which had a pier. As we were waiting, we waded in the water. The water was surprisingly warm and very clear. We spoke with some people who had boated in from Wellington (on the north island) for vacation (or holiday). They were diving for Crays (which are essentially rock lobsters) and were all around enjoying themselves. Eventually, our boat arrived and we started heading back. Marlborough is wine country here in New Zealand so we decided to split a bottle of wine on the boat (they had a makeshift bar on the boat where we could buy wine). As we rode back to Picton (about an hour of a ride) the sun was starting to set. As we passed boats and ferries, wine in hand, it was easy to get lost in the beauty. New Zealand has such an incredibly beautiful and diverse landscape.

One we disembarked, we went back to our respective hotel rooms showered and changed and met back up at Le Cafe for a late dinner (it was about 10pm by this point). I had my first (and probably last) NZ grass fed, free range Angus beef steak. It was beyond delicious. New Zealand is small enough that they don't need to torture their meat to feed their people. You can feel much better about eating animals here. You drive by their pastures all day and they're munching on grass with acres (or hectares) of room to run around. Many of the cafe's even have all organic/local food.

Our goal was to drive back in the morning in time to return the rental car and catch our flight southbound but since the flight was delayed we were able to have a nice breakfast before driving straight back to Christchurch. Once we checked back into our hotels we pretty much just rested. I think I've come down with a cold (Grant had one and most likely gave it to me) so a little rest is nice. Our flight is supposed to leave later today but who knows...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

One Very Long and Interesting day

I don't even know where to begin...

Well, both the New Zealand and the Pakistani cricket teams ended up staying in my hotel last night and both teams came down for breakfast at the same time. It was awkward since Pakistan beat the crap out of New Zealand. One of the New Zealand players at the table next to me was reading a newspaper that had a giant picture of the team with a headline to the effect of "embarrassment." It was pretty funny. All the Pakistani players were all wearing matching button-up shirts and khakis and looked clean cut whereas all the NZ players looked like they just woke up and rolled out of bed.

After breakfast Zak and I went to rent a car. We hopped on a shuttle to the airport where there was a nice dutch family and we struck up a conversation. On the way, I saw a 1969 mustang on the road. It was an American import, not one designed for Australia/NZ--so not that exciting, but still cool to see.

Once we got the car, we headed north up the coast to Kaikoura, about a 3 hour drive. The drive was beautiful, right in between the mountains and the ocean but the town was kind of touristy and boring. We ate a terrible lunch at this horrible restaurant that nearly made us all sick and then got on a boat to go whale watching. The boat was expensive, at $145 NZ, but I don't know the next time I'll have the opportunity. We rode for about 20 minutes and then spotted a large Sperm Whale. It was actually sleeping when we came upon it (not that it would have looked much different awake). It was impressive to see. We got within maybe 40 feet of it. After hovering there for a while, we went to an area to see some Dusky dolphins. There were about 300 of them and they were all jumping very high into the air--some in synchronized packs of 4 or 5! It was very cool. We got so close that we could reach out of the boat and touch them.

Since the town was kind of a huge let-down, we decided to keep moving up the coast on to Picton, about 2 hours away. We arrived shortly after sunset and there was already a new year's party in full swing (remember that we are across the international dateline here so we're a day ahead--essentially I'm writing this from the future). We found a hotel with a vacancy and then set out for some food. Our appetites, mostly destroyed from the terrible lunch (I'm queasy just thinking about it now) were now starting to return (at 10:30pm) and we found an Indian restaurant that was open. The food was decent and we ate with great fervor. We then went to the harbor where there was a live band and had a couple of beers. At the new year, there were fireworks over the harbor. They were okay, but could have used a lesson in showmanship from SeaWorld or Disneyland. Afterwards, we all went back to the hotel to get some sleep for the day ahead.

We woke up this morning and chartered a boat to take us to the end of Marlborough sound so we can go hiking. This is supposed to be one of the 10 best hikes in the world! We're leaving at 1:30 and the boat will pick us back up at around 6 or so. I'm excited for the boat ride since we'll be riding through some very interesting features. It looks somewhat like the pacific northwest here in Picton, but with more dramatic features. I'm very impressed with this city so far. It's very clean and the views are spectacular. All the restaurants and bars seem to be more real and less touristy. Picton is where you can catch the ferry to the North Island, so it has a lot of visitors, but isn't set up like a crappy port town. We ate breakfast at a charming little cafe right by the water. I had scrambled eggs with smoked whitefish and a home-made bread. It was quite delicious. I'm very impressed with Picton. I would definitely come back here for vacation.

And yes, that's a picture of me driving on the wrong side.