the 'little black devil'
i realize that this has little to no ripple of effect on the world and most people in it. i have the day off because of a strong typhoon that in it’s early hours is trying to comb the trees in every direction. however my world is a little emptier. dante has been a part of our family for 18+ years. . . that’s half my life. he and his companions scout and lump were our first indoor cats that reached adulthood. he is the cat i got after losing my kitten in our house fire.
when i got him he was little more than a puffball. (turns out he had a double coat, so he was extra fuzzy) i could cup my hands around him and just his head would poke out from under my thumbs. (it’s important to note that i have small hands.) he was a manx, so he had longer almost rabbit like hind legs and just a stump for a tale. he often ran with the hop of a rabbit as well. he was sleek black, (except for a white tuft under his neck) so capturing decent photos of him was difficult.
grandma called him a ‘little black devil’ once when he used his claws to work his way up her pants and into her lap at the dinner table. dante was alive when my grandma was alive and still able to come around for sunday dinner.
he had a slightly adventurous personality. we wanted to be able to let the cats play outside, so for a little while we had harnesses and leashes for them. dante would race over to the tinkling sound of the harness clasps. snow or grass, he loved to skulk real low to the ground, like he was trying to have the world rub his belly. as people or cars approached our house, he would sit back on his haunches, a little like a meercat to get a better view. turns out he climbed a screen a little like he ran; both front paws together like grappling hooks that would drag his back legs up with them.
he was playful. dan had devised a game that kept dante mesmerized by throwing playing cards in front of him one at a time. dante would sit back on his haunches and try to catch the falling cards in his front paws. he was successful from time to time. he might take a break and pretend to look uninterested from time to time, but then the flicker of the card would catch his eye and he’d be at it again. he was also a good sport. we stuck present bows to his head, and put tape on his back to watch him try to slink away from it. he even starred in a video my family made for me in college that was played for a dining room full of people who had worked on a production together. he seemed to keep his perch on fred (our fredutian temple statue) with showbiz professionalism.
he was a little fearful of short people. mostly because short meant young. . .and children didn’t always play nicely. when a kid entered the house dante would scurry away and hide in an upstairs closet. i came home for a visit once, after a year and a half absence, and being short and less familiar, dante scurried away from me. when he realized i gave great belly rubs he got over his fear quickly. i also was fearless in attacking his two coats with brushes, often creating a pile of fur as large as him.
my parents often offered to bring him out to whatever new home i moved to. but he had grown up with them and scout and lump. . . my house wouldn’t be as lively, plus i was allergic. . . so, yeah. i sometimes wondered if when they asked it was a joke to let me know he was growing more annoying. he had developed a grating meow that he used to let you know he was hungry (which was often). It was usually the first thing you heard in the morning. It was also his personal sounding alarm when you were about to step on him. (remember, a black cat is hard to see when walking through a dark room.)
he was often underfoot. he really enjoyed sitting at your feet. he’d maneuver his head and ears around your toes to help you get the spot he wanted rubbed just right. his favorite sleeping position was on his back with his four paws slightly outstretched. when he realized he wanted to be seated next to you he took a minute to assess the physics of the jump. sometimes the warm up required a small rump wiggle. when he jumped he trilled, it sounded a little like a short vocalized purr. once seated next to you, if you slacked in giving him attention he would gently remind you by tapping his paw on your hand. . .repeatedly.
he was a source of laughter, comfort, annoyance and joy. and like all good cats, he wore this mantle with an air of nonchalance.
once landing in auckland i couldn’t keep this silly grin from settling on my face. through security, through my next flight, i can only imagine how dopey i looked to everyone else. . . but damn i was happy to be there. (ps, didn’t need to take the liquids out of my bag, or my shoes off. as i started the security guard said, ‘this isn’t the states mate.’)
* silly grin *
the next flight to christchurch was short. . . i didn’t realize how much water is between the two islands. it would probably be fun to take a ferry between them. landed in christchurch, and walked right up to camille and holly who had only been waiting a few minutes. we collected my bag and set off for lunch in christchurch. we found a great pub place close to the mall called fox and ferret. we had hoped to drive around some of the area still under construction from the earthquake, but a lot of it was closed off to cars.
so we set off to oamaru. my sleep schedule was a bit off and the afternoon sun and hum of the car made me sleepy. . . i might have missed about an hour of the drive, but i had my eyes glued to the scenery while i was awake. we made a stop at a favorite place of holly and camille’s. cookie time cookie shop. this was the first in many experiences where i wanted to buy more than i needed simply because i could read the packages. bags and bags of cookies everywhere. a cooler with things like ginger beer made by the same company that i am used to seeing ginger ale from. (ginger beer’s got a little more of a kick. . . awesome) we selected some cookies and brought along some for other people we’d see later.
we also made a quick stop at a dana’s house (holly’s friend.) dana was moving to australia to be with her husband so she hung out with holly and us for the evening. we stayed with holly’s family in oamaru and we arrived just in time for dinner. gail, john (her parents) alanna, jasmine (her foster sister and foster sister’s daughter) and dana. the food from the kitchen smelled amazing. we had a NZ meat and veg dinner. . . john asked me if i had ever had lamb before. i have, maybe only a dozen of times. . .it was something mom would get on a special occasion, but i was still looking forward to it. holly’s family had gone all out. . . lamb and gravy, peas, and a pan of roasted veggies; potatoes, kumara (known to me as sweet potatoes), parsnips, yams (which look nothing like what we call yams) and pumpkin. i was so stuffed and then the apple and pear pies (made from apples and pears from their trees) came out. well, had to try one of each of those. . . >.< everything. yum.
i was thankful for a chance to walk about a little after dinner. holly, camille, dana and i took a little tour around oamaru. not much was open. we missed the main time to see the penguins come ashore, but there were still a couple of stragglers wandering about. the lights of the car seemed to alarm them, so i didn’t take pictures at the time. we caught the view from a lookout point. they pointed out shop signs that dana had helped create and we even drove past her work. there were little bits of artwork around downtown that were also related to the steampunk theme. . . but dark and rainy don’t make for good pictures.
we also made a stop for the steampunk hq area. you could drop coins into the machines to make them operate, but it was hard to see all the detail at night, so we’d get a better view in the morning. the victorian downtown was really interesting to see. something about the uniformity of the stone made it seem a little more foreign to me. again, i was looking forward to checking it out during the day.
(one other difference i noticed: most of the time, people in the states will say, ‘i’m going to the bathroom.’ people in NZ will say, ‘i’m going to the toilet.’ well, perhaps that’s because the rooms are actually a little different. in the states there is a room with a toilet, sink, and bath or shower. . . or maybe just a toilet and sink. most of the houses i was in on this trip, the toilet was a separate entity from the place where you showered. a sink didn’t even accompany the toilet. just an observation.)
back at holly’s we watched a little of the olympics and news and listened to jasmine play with her talking book. we all caught up on our statuses online and then turned in for a delightful sleep. and man, did i sleep solidly.
the moeraki boulders gift shop was my first gift shopping experience in NZ. . . my eyes glazed over pretty quickly. as i stocked up on postcards and such camille and holly reminded me that there would be more shopping elsewhere. (oh and there would be so much shopping)
we headed back to the downtown victorian area of oamaru. we drove around it a bit the night before, but i really looked forward to seeing it in daylight. all the buildings are made from the white limestone native to the area. there were tons of shops and artisan galleries about. there were also historic monument type places, but a lot of it was shut down on monday. kind of a bummer. . . and the worst part was that the whole steampunk headquarters bit was also closed on monday. the libratory that holly was excited to show me was closed for the whole of july. . . so had my whole vacation just been shifted a few days, there’d be a lot more pictures and talk of the stuff i saw. i dropped a few more coins into the outdoor displays outside of the steampunk headquarters and took lots of pictures.
we stopped at the whitestone cheese factory. in the back you could see trolleys and trolleys of blue cheeses curing. . . and there were samples inside. it was so hard to keep in mind that many of our meals were preplanned as part of our travels. so buying lots of cheese wasn’t prudent. . . yet i wanted to buy lots of cheese. we kept it to a few small bricks that would travel along with us. then on to a grocery to get a few more things for lunch. again, i wanted to buy all the things and definitely ended up buying more than we would eat. . . you have to understand, it’s so overwhelming to be in a grocery where i can read the ingredients, the directions, the contents. i wanted everything. on top of it, there were NZ based flavors that i’d never had and wanted to try. . . i didn’t get to try a fresh feijoa, but i had feijoa flavored cider! there’s only so much time and so much money in my wallet, so i had to make some compromises.
we went back to holly’s house for lunch (which is also called tea, but it’s not morning tea and it’s not afternoon tea. . . yeah, the whole tea thing just kinda confuses me but i like how it sounds.) camille was looking forward to cheerios. .. which isn’t what you think. baby sized red wrapped franks and sauce is delightful, but a very different flavor from the cheerios i’m used to. we included some of the cheeses and cake we got from whitestone and a handful of our groceries. everything else was packed for travel (included a lot of food that holly’s mom snuck in that would surprise me later.)
holly’s family were really fantastic hosts. so sweet and welcoming. i feel bad that i didn’t get a family picture of them while i was there. i was still feeling a little sheepish (see what i did there?) to be up front with my camera. they watched us pack up holly’s car and wished us well on our drive.
the scenery was so beautiful. green rolling hills and rocky over-hangs here and there. we passed an area that pointed to the elephant rocks which i could just see the edge of. . . which is a pretty good metaphor for site seeing anywhere. my mom was amazed at how much we got to see and do on this trip.. . . and yet, it always feels like just scratching the surface. but it was a lovely surface.
a few things that caught my eye. . . yeah. . . there’s a lot of sheep. seriously a lot of sheep. also, the sheep look ubercreepy if they are all facing in one direction. i even saw those black faced white body sheep that i only thought existed in picture books. along with sheep, cows and deer are kept in fences. also, hedges are enormous. i guess farmers use them like boundary lines. where we usually have hedges that can be talked over (or not). . . the hedges i saw on the first leg of this trip were easily between 20 and 40 feet high. when i see that in the states they are usually just trees lined up to create a tree wall. .. . but these were trimmed and boxy like hedges.
i think camille and holly missed a golden opportunity to play me the fool while we were driving around. each time i asked a question about something they would try to answer truthfully. i reminded them that they could really take advantage and make me out to be a completely gullible traveller by just making shit up. they tried here and there, but the laughing gave it away. i asked about the coin money, i wondered if the one and two dollar coins had names like canada’s loonie and toonie. they didn’t, so we decided to make them up. the cranie was the two dollar (since it had a crane on the back) and the kiwi-e as the one dollar (it had a kiwi on the back). . . though for short i called them both queenies since they have the queen on the front.
once in tekapo we checked into our backpacker’s stay. we had a room to ourselves in the main building. we shared a bathroom with another room, and there was a dorm type building next to us that shared the kitchen and living room area. it was dark enough that we couldn’t see much of the town so we dropped our things off and got ready for snow tubing and hot pools.
it was lightly raining and kinda cold when we pulled up. it looked like the snow tube hill was closed. we asked and they said there’s still an hour left but no one was going. they opened it back up for us. holly was so excited to be there. she had missed out on it during another trip. we were warned of the dangers of stepping off the lift. . . but it turns out getting on the lift was my downfall. nearly took a plunge before we even got started. after getting my balance, we got to the top of the hill and i expected holly or camille to jump at the opportunity to go first. suddenly both of them were nervous. i hadn’t been nervous before, but them backing off made me nervous. . . but what the hell. i went down first. the attendant told us it would be slower due to the rain. seemed a perfect speed for me. i imagine that when that place has a decent number of cliental that each person only gets a few times down the slope in their allotted hour. with just three people. . . no lines, and the attendant (while cold and wet) got to chat friendly and coax us into trying different formations down the hill. we probably got nearly a dozen rides.
i was also pretty wet from the rain and snow. thankfully camille had loaned me another jacket while i was in the rain. our hour finished and we headed directly into the hot pools. there were three pools each with a different temperature. the coolest was covered. there was still a cold light rain coming down, but those pools were wonderful. the only thing that sucked was putting still damp or wet clothes back on. we thought we’d fight the chilly with a pre dinner drink at a pub. i had a rather strong ‘godfather’ and found it difficult to perform higher functioning tasks for a few hours. luckily we were just headed back to our room. we had thought to make use of the common room for dinner, but there were other people about and we wanted to be anti-social. so we had a dinner party on the floor in our jammies. avocado spread, bread, sausage rolls (home cooked by holly’s mom), salt and vinegar chips, ciders, cheese. . . and still plenty more left for breakfast.
a pretty fantastic first full day. there was even a little snow during the night, but not enough to stick around.
one excellent stop to pick up provisions for lunch and travel. korea's getting better at cheese. . . but this is a whole other level of existence. i was so absorbed by looking at the cheese that i didn't catch the signed pictures of the scrubs cast on the wall till we were leaving.
we made a couple of stops before lunch. toilet, sight seeing, snow seeing, small town viewing, and brake resting (the mountain pass road was rough on holly’s car). we were at lake wanaka in time for lunch. . . and my first pie of the trip.
i had been promised a bounty of meat pies. i was told they were sold on every corner store and i was told which brand not to eat. but so many of our meals were specifically planned- dinner with a family or at someone’s favorite place, or something i just had to try. i loved it all, but i was missing out on the pies. so in wanaka i was promised a pie. wouldn’t you know, the first two places (where i would’ve been happy to eat) didn’t have pies! inconceivable! then we were on a mission. . . had to go to the actual pie place. i went for something i haven’t had much, if at all. . . mutton. not the best choice, it was just one big greasy mutton sausage encased in pie pastry. . . oh well, they can’t all be winners. alas, my pie eating began. . .
the town reminded me of other lake shore resort towns. . . quiet, but always open for tourists. we drove around the lake a little and found a lovely quiet spot to view the lake and snap off some pictures. it was still cloudy, but slightly less drizzly, which meant the outdoor maze at puzzling world might be a viable option. (of course we also made a quick stop to pick up some spirits for toasting later that evening. they didn’t have the exact whisky i was looking for, but the bartender. . . and his accent. . . talked me into a house favorite.)
puzzling world was a blast. the outdoor maze was more difficult than i expected. exasperating at times, though it was easy to pick up a laugh when everyone around you was having just as difficult a time. we must have brushed shoulders with one family a dozen times. each time they were searching for a tower we had already finished and they had come from the tower we were trying to find. there was a group of friends racing each other. . . it would make a great spot for scavenger hunts and group activities. i was pretty glad when we had completed the whole thing and could take a few minutes to do some table puzzles before hitting the illusion rooms. they didn’t disappoint either, though my camera’s focus decided to take the afternoon off and left most of my pictures fuzzy.
before long we were back on the road to queenstown. the skies were looking more and more clear, and we were in sometime around dusk. our hotel was in a gorgeous setting. we got settled in and then headed out for dinner. cam and holly showed me around the downtown area. there was plenty to choose from, but in the end we got taken in by a boy with an irish accent. they had him out front wooing people in with the dinner specials and his brogue. we bought it hook, line, and sinker thinking there would be more irish eye candy inside. . . nope. the food was really good though and with a couple drinks, we laughed it off.
back in the hotel we relaxed. i did laundry, we hit the hot tub and even tried the sauna for about three minutes. too hot! then back to our room to fall asleep with the olympics in the background.
we walked over to the jet boat launch site. there were a few other people gathered and camille and holly stuck around till we left. we put on long water resistant coats and life jackets. i really should have realized that tying my hair back before the ride would be a good idea. . . but no, i decided to wait till my hair was whipped and snarly after the ride to tie it up. anyway, we put on our gear. many times i find that i’m not scared or nervous enough because i lack information. people were asking how scary the ride would be. i just kept thinking, it’s just a fast boat ride, right? . . . then camille and holly told me that they whip you close to banks and rocks and i started getting nervous. the ‘driver/ captain’ guy assured my riding companion that, ‘it can’t be too bad, it’s only my second day on the job and they’re letting me drive.’ oh, he was a funny one. and he liked to show off.
he had AC/DC blasting as we toured part of the lake and river. he would warn us before doing a donut so we could properly brace ourselves. he swept us close to banks, trees, bridge trestles and rocky over-hangs. the first couple near-misses i was nervous, but then i let it go. they do this everyday. . . it’s gotta be pretty safe. (i found out later there is a more dangerous ride further out at shotover river where there’s been accidents and deaths.) our ride was fun. the guy next to me had done one in tanzania and asked how i was coping without sunglasses. the wind was pushing my eyes to water a lot, and even though it was chilly, the tears weren’t freezing on my lashes. mike would stop the boat every once in a while to let us take pictures and talk about the surroundings and how the boat works. i probably would’ve been more interested in the propulsion and how the boat can work in eight inch water depths or whatever, if the scenery hadn’t been so sensory absorbing. our ride lasted about an hour and we headed back to the dock. while getting off the boat i thought to myself that the jet boat ride was possibly the most fun and sort of amazing thing i had done in a few years. there was a guy wearing a helmet cam the whole time. . . i should do a search for that. the company also offers video. . . but the video shows our reaction to the ride, and not the scenery. . . and i was behind a tall guy in the camera’s view.
holly and camille were waiting to pick me up and drive out to arrowtown. it’s an old gold mining town and looked a lot like the old west. of course there was lots more shopping and we were told by the girl who worked in the jet boat kiosk to stop by the arrowtown bakery. it was a fine idea, and we picked up pies for lunch. we sat in a quiet park and ate the pies while teasing the birds. (i had thai green chicken pie)
before heading back to queenstown we stopped by shotover river. there’s a beautiful outlook area, and you can watch their jet boats racing around. there are markers along the walkways that indicate how far some of their floods have risen. i think the tourist toilets were submerged a couple of times, and they were pretty far up.
after shotover we headed back to queenstown for an afternoon gondola ride up to the skyline area. i didn’t know the view could get even better. more shopping, a quick drink, and i even found a place to get a squished souvenir penny. while we drank our juices we watched the wind pick up. i saw fewer and fewer people on the chair-lift. the chair-lift leads to a luge ride that brings you back down to the gondola area. cam and i had tickets for it. . . and got nervous as we watched the chair-lift come to a halt. maybe we had to walk up to the luge? nope- the whole thing was shut down. too windy. oh well. . . it wasn’t the first or last time that i’d lose out to weather. it might have been too windy near the top of the mountain. . . but the weather was sublime as far as i was concerned.
we settled outside an irish bar while the sun went down and had a couple of drinks- yay hot toddy and chilly weather!
a friend of holly and camille’s had mentioned a burger joint that was pretty famous. we had scoped it while shopping in town. the line could get really long and the eating area was tiny, so we opted for take out and jammies back in our hotel. the place is called fergberger and it isn’t for the faint hearted. they have great flavor combinations, and since i was pushing to try things i don’t get often, i chose the venison burger. . . it was called the ‘bambi burger.’ i think i would’ve loved it, but in all the confusion, i ended up with a chicken burger. i had a feeling something like that was about to happen. . . too many orders, too many people waiting around. we didn’t notice till we were back in the hotel, and i wasn’t going back, so i had to settle with a delicious chicken burger. we had some tv on and were chatting. the burgers were huge, and i filled up on fries. . .. four hours later i was on my belly on the floor and still had five burger bites that i couldn’t put away. insanity. . . fergburger kicked my ass.