Saturday, December 3, 2011

First Day in New Zealand

I arrived in Auckland, NZ after a 13+ hour flight full of turbulence and boredom. There was a good 20-30 minutes where we experienced some of the worst turbulence of my entire life. It was no fun. And when the turbulence was over, the in flight entertainment system wasn't working. It would cut out half way into a movie and then take 30 minutes to reboot. Luckily, I was able to find a channel with some simpsons reruns to keep me busy. So I watched some tv, ate a meal, tried to sleep, watched more tv, and then there were still over 5 hours left in the flight. Luckily, the entertainment system started working again and I watched X-Men: First Class and Our Idiot Brother. After landing in Auckland, I had to go through customs where they take a keen look at my hiking boots and then off to board another plane for Christchurch. Finally, at around 2:30, I got into my hotel room in Christchurch. Christchurch was hit by several massive earthquakes over this past year (including the 7+ magnitude 6 days after I left last year) so all of our usual hotels were closed or destroyed. After a shower and a change of clothes, I headed out to explore Christchurch. On the plane from LAX to Auckland, I ran into some South Pole Telescope grad students that I had traveled with two years ago, so I wasn't alone in my wandering. I met them at their hotel (which was a slightly longer walk than I was expecting) and then we had lunch at a little bar/grill. Had my first Steinlager of the trip and it was delicious. It's just a shitty pilsner but after the long flights, even the worst of beers would taste like heaven.

We decided to try to go to Cathedral Square to assess the damage from the earthquakes. Much to our surprise, most of it was cordoned off. Christchurch is destroyed. Almost the entire downtown area is in ruin, abandoned, and fenced off. We were able to walk along the fences and snapped some pics of the destruction. The Cathedral, which was shaken when I saw it last year, was rubble. It's incredibly sad to see an entire city like this turned into a ghost town. It looked like we had stumbled upon some post-apocalyptic wasteland. It was very eerie. We found an area near the old Cathedral Square with some shops open and looked around.

Instead of the old shops, they city had erected these stores and restaurants all made from shipping containers painted to look very modern and trendy. Some shops were large, made of 3x3 containers with the inner walls removed, some were two stories of shipping containers. It was so inspiring to see a very real and very environmentally friendly construction to bring back the local economy. We later walked around through the Botanical gardens and past some food/wine event in one of the parks (it was closed so we couldn't get it--everything in NZ seems to go no later than 7:30) and finally stopped off at a bar for drinks and dinner. The bar was also made out of shipping containers. It was set up like a cantina, with a bar in the back, a covered sitting area to the side, a patio area, and a food truck, all behind walls of reused corrugated steel. It was very cool and again, an amazing use of old shipping containers. There was a live guitarist who was actually quite good but nobody seemed to clap. It was awkward. I grabbed a falafel from the Lebanese food truck and ate it as I walked back to my hotel.

I'm exhausted. I've barely gotten any sleep in the past 36 hours so I'm going to crash. Tomorrow afternoon, I'll go to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) and then leave for McMurdo the following day.

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