My New Zealand hangover

Today I left New Zealand early early in the morning and arrived in Cairns this afternoon. I had a 6:35 am flight, which meant getting to the airport by 4:30am or so. In the past, I've usually just stayed up all night packing in such situations, and I adopted that strategy this time as well. Of course, I failed to factor in that I hadn't slept more than 4 or 5 hours or had less than 5 mixed drinks in about 8 days, and it all caught up to me. I've never been so tired in my life as I was last night. After arriving in Cairns today at around noon, I laid down for a moment in bed and when I woke up it was 6:00pm. I don't remember a second of it, I slept like a corpse.
Fortunately Corinna stayed up with me all night and kept me going. She's on vacation from her semesters abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, and she'll be returning to Bonn in German later this year. We've been pushing each other a lot these past few weeks. It helps that we're both pretty competitive so we're always looking at ways to compete. I hate to admit defeat in any avenues, but I have to concede that she's a better kayaker, ping-pong player (we played about five thousand fiercely contested points over 3 hours in a sauna of a room at Lake Ohau lodge--there was nothing else to do), glacier hiker, spoons player (I hate that card game), golfer (I'm blaming the damn rental clubs even though she had to use them too), and luger (though I gave her a headstart and Stefan was blocking me the whole way down). What an ego buster. I think she pinned me in Nelson at the beach party but that doesn't count because I was drunk. She's definitely a better dancer, and she's been to musical school so she's almost certainly a better singer.
I'm a better pool and air hockey player, a better chess player, and a better jet ski driver. Damn, my list is a lot shorter. Let's see, I'm a better English speaker (ignore the fact that English is her second language). And, umm...ahh, forget it, I met my match. Corinna, along with Laura, Jens, Kjetil and Olav, Rachel and Kerrin, Steph and Brendan, Alison and Ben have formed my own little travel fellowship these past two weeks. I'm not sure we could have continued on such a hard pace of life for much longer, but now that we've gone our separate ways I feel the usual post-vacation depression, my New Zealand hangover. I miss them all a lot and wish they were here in Australia with me. But some of us may cross paths again in Sydney later, and I'm holding on to that thought. Life on the go means constantly striking up new relationships in every next port of call.
We were blessed with the most fantastic weather the whole time. Someone's watching over me. Sunshine and blue skies whenever it mattered, and that was just about every day considering the number of vistas and landmarks we passed per day. If any of you come to New Zealand, do it from February to April.
I think last time I mentioned that I hadn't snapped as many photos as I thought. Well, that all changed. I've pretty much burned through 15 rolls already and had to cough up serious dollars to purchase a few rolls of Fuji Provia 100F. I thought 20 rolls would be enough, but New Zealand's beautiful countryside will do that to you. Oh, it doesn't help that a group of us spent the last day wandering the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, posing for silly photos to remember each other by. Always carry more film than you need. I tell myself that but need to take my advice more seriously.
One other great travel tip for those using pro-size 35mm camera bodies. Always put filters on your lenses. I dropped my camera coming out of the helicopter at Fox Glacier and shattered my UV Haze and 81a warming filters. But better those $70 filters than a $800 camera lens. Yikes.
I survived the bungy jumps. The Nevis, the 134 meter one, was incredible. I consider myself a pretty unflappable dude. Not much scares me (horror movies, speed, public speaking, stuff like that), but the Nevis got my blood going pretty good. You have to ride out in this small cage (you can see through it in all directions) out to a gondola suspended between two mountains, hanging about 200 meters or so above a small river flowing through the canyon below. And then you have to step out onto a small metal platform about a foot and a half by a foot and a half and throw yourself out of this gondola for 8.4 seconds of falling towards the earth at some 128 kilometers per hour. It's one of the most amazing feelings I've ever had, and I highly recommend it for anyone who ever gets to Queenstown.
Poor Laura got picked to go first, and she chose me as her jump buddy so we got sent out to the gondola first. All this is after a bus ride up this narrow canyon road in a rickety bus. The bus ride was nearly scarier than the jump. It's all part of the experience. Laura, like myself, is not a huge fan of heights, and she clearly felt every one of those 134 meters as she stood on that platform. I was filming it all, and I was tense just watching. I could see in her body language the thoughts going through her head, and the way she was slowly overcoming her fear and talking herself into the jump. What a stud. As I told her, it's not courage without fear, and by that measure she was the bravest of us all that day. I'll give Olav credit for the best jump. He dove out far, arms spread wide. Beautiful.
Travel is made easier by the presence of an iPod. Too bad I didn't have more time to download or rip music before I left. Still, going on a Lord of the Rings safari is greatly enhanced if the soundtrack is playing in your head. We visited the places where the ring wraiths were washed away by the river outside Rivendell (the Ford of Anduin?), the place where the fellowship rode by the Pillars of Argonath (much smaller in person), drove along the path they used as the road to Mordor in the upcoming Return of the King, and a whole lot more. None of the sets are there anymore, but the landscape is still beautiful in and of itself, and seeing it with your own eyes gives you an appreciation for the vision of Peter Jackson, to see in normal landscapes the potential for dramatic backdrops, merging the natural with the digital in his head.
There was a Making of the Lord of the Rings Exhibition at Te Papa museum in Wellington. Awesome. The making of the movies is almost as much of a cottage industry as the movies themselves. Peter Jackson and the whole cast and crew contributed to the exhibit where I spent 3 enthralling hours. Among other things, I learned that to make the chainmail used in the movie, two constume designer hand joined over 12 million small metal rings. They spent nearly five years doing it and by the end, the fingerprint marks on their fingers had worn away! I learned that Viggo Mortensen ended up buying the horse he rode in the movie, he developed such a rapport with it. That the reason some soldiers turned and ran the first time they ran the Massive program was not out of cowardice or self-preservation but because they couldn't spot any enemies. They also had an exhibit on all of the seven or eight different techniques they used to make the hobbits appear much smaller than the other characters. Some of them aren't even covered in the making-of DVD.
One of the techniques was brilliant. It involved building a device that would automatically move characters on platforms as the camera moved, always keeping the characters in the proper perspective. I can't begin to describe it properly, but it's awesome. The exhibit stays in Wellington until March, and then it goes on the road. If it passes through your town, definitely go see it!
There's a lot America can learn from the rest of the world. I already mentioned the metric system (I refuse to answer anyone who asks me at what temperature water freezes; yes, it's 32 degrees farenheit, and it's ridiculously arbitrary, and the 0 degree celsius is much more sensible...leave me alone). New Zealand has a wealth of public bathrooms, all quite clean. Can you imagine that in the U.S.? When we abbreviate dates, why do Americans go month/day/year instead of day/month/year? Why not go from smallest unit to largest? Why don't we study more foreign languages in the U.S.? It's embarrassing that everyone's English is so much better than our French, or Spanish, or German.
We're also not winning many fans by beating the war drum. Hopefully most people are anti-administration rather than anti-American. Bush isn't helping by portraying, to a T, the stereotype of the ugly American. Aloof, arrogant, uncooperative, a cowboy who wants to use his guns. If the UN inspections team gets Iraq's cooperation and we have over half the country under British and American air cover, why send in young Americans to die? The process has hardly been efficient, but it seems to be working.
I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this. My vacation hangover is scrambling my brain, and the time pressure of seeing these Internet terminals counting down my time left online is too much pressure. I look back on my time in New Zealand and amazed by it all. So much happened that I didn't expect. It always does when you travel with an open mind, an open heart, and a sense of adventure.
Tomorrow I begin my first lesson towards scuba diving certification.

The Yankees of sailing

Looks like New Zealand is in big trouble in the America's Cup. The whole country is in a fervor over the even because they're defending champs. The storyline here is that the challenger, Alinghi, is being led almost entirely be Kiwi sailors, some being former members of New Zealand's last championship team. Alinghi, with their deep pockets, basically bought the best sailing team in the world, including skipper Russell Coutts who has won the last ten Americas Cup races he's skippered with today's win (that's an all-time record). The poorer New Zealand team rests their hopes on a young and talented team of sailors and what they feel is superior boat speed and design.
Thus far it's been all Alinghi. The New Zealand team had to drop out of the first race after they suffered a series of disastrous breakdowns. They started taking on water just a short while into the race, then a beam broke, and finally their front sail sheared off. Then today, in race two, Alinghi stole the race in the last leg by 7 seconds.
As you can imagine, New Zealand is incredibly upset at the defection of so many of its sailors to the Swiss team. They can do so by buying a residence in Switzerland and jumping through a series of loopholes, all funded and facilitated by Alinghi. It's like an Athletics fan watching Jason Giambi play for the Yankees which is the team Alinghi would be compared to in the U.S.
I don't know a lot about sailing, but I'm getting into the America's Cup. It's infectious, being out here. I even cheered on as Australia beat England in soccer in England. That's a first. England isn't too happy about losing to Australia in just about every sport right now.
The only sport I still can't get into is cricket. It's seriously on television 24 hours a day here. Someone finally explained the rules to me, and I still find it boring.