after a little more than a month, I’ve finally decided to leave Christchurch (aka Chch).
it took me a while, not because I was working or because life is so busy that there’s always something to do… no, in fact Christchurch is now something like a huge ghost town – and I’m sorry if any Christchurchean is reading this, I say it with a lot of love and respect – the CBD, now called The Red Zone, is closed because of the earthquake that took place here TWO years ago… I know, shocking… so everything that used to be in the CBD is now distributed all around the city, making something like small centres in different suburbs. this causes the city to look a wee bit empty most of the time. so, that and the fact that they are still working on demolishing or holding old buildings together gives you a feeling of being in a planet of the apes movie.
just for you to know why the city has not been completed after two years (which is something I didn’t understand until I was here): apparently there’s a huge conflict of interests between civilians, government, owners, and insurance companies… they just can’t decide what goes, what stays, who pays and all that stuff, and this makes the city look like it does… the saddest thing of this, is that people don’t have a reunion and/or social spot anymore, like Cathedral Square used to be back in the days… like Il Duomo in Florence, a lot of people told me this “I used to go and just sit down to enjoy a coffee and watch people pass by”… it’s also very sad that it has turned into a morbid freak show. you can actually pay a tour guide to show you around and say very dramatically in every destroyed spot or corner “can you see the damage done to this shop… look at the hair dryers left on the floor… people just ran and left everything as you see it now”… pretty sad, they are making profit out of a tragedy… the whole CBD feels like when you go to the zoo: you can’t get close enough to the buildings, but they give you enough “windows” for you to see the content.
back to the first point… it took me a while to leave Christchurch because it did captivated me. this is one of the two cities that I was able to visit ten years ago, back then I immediately fell in love with it… my memories take me back to a place where people were happy sitting next to the river and walking by Cathedral Square, a place where the sun was shining, the trees were green, and the air was smooth. and though I didn’t get the same sensation this time, I started liking the idea of staying and contributing with the rebuild of the city, I felt as if this is a place I could someday call home (when the work is finished and the birds sing again).
I stayed with Mark and Lizzie the first week, they are friends of my Kiwi mom, Ali. I felt at home right away! they are near my age, so it was easy to be around them. they too gave me my own room, own key, and invited me to have dinner with them every night! we had good talks about almost any subject too… they made my stay easy and pleasant.
Lizzie introduced me to many new fruits and edible plants I had no idea existed or how to cook them, and to some other things that I will describe next.
first mention goes to: rhubarb. looks like a red celery but tastes completely different. I had tried rhubarb before when Ali’s mom made a cake with it, baked like that tastes like a sour apple, very yummy!! Lizzie cooks the rhubarb in a pot with water and sugar, the result is something I cannot describe with words (I have tried and erased many lines), so I decided to put a picture:
second mention goes to a fabulous kiwi invention: easiyo. this marvellous thing makes one litre of the yogurt of your choice (from the packages they sell, obviously). all you need to do is mix the yogurt powder with water in a container, put the container in another container with more water, leave it for 12 hours and you are done! my favourite flavour (actually the only one I’ve tried), was the Greek style yogurt!
now, a little parenthesis… this two discoveries have changed me completely… this two things mixed with some muesli (preferably toasted with dried fruits and nuts) have made breakfast my FAVOURITE meal of the day… when I go to sleep all I can think of is that breakfast will be the meal I will have when I wake up, and that thought makes me very happy! back home I would just have a package of biscuits (cookies) and coffee… not healthy at all… now breakfast is healthy, and beyond delicious!
third mention: feijoas. this things have a weeeeird but amazing flavour… if rhubarb cooked the way Lizzie does is not within my reach, feijoas are my second option as a complementary fruit for the muesli… of course that rhubarb AND feijoas together are THE best option for breakfast… but I can’t be greedy, can’t always get what I want…
fourth mention: pumpkin (squash). I had never tried that! and just baked with a little oil is fantastic!!! here they mixed it with pumpkin seeds and red capsicum (bell peppers).. pretty amazing the mix of flavours and the simple way of doing it!
fifth mention goes to two fruits that I only tried once just to see what they were all about: quinces and tamarillos
and of course kumara is on this list, although Ali was the first one to introduce me to it… this is an endemic sweet potato, which also baked with a little bit of oil (and with potatoes) is a delicious side dish for dinner!
I’m starting to think this will be a LONG entry (makes sense after a month) but I’ll try not to expand so much…
ok… so, remember how my body ached after Avalanche Peak? well, guess what? it was sore for SIX complete days! but that did not stop me (much) from tramping a little bit more… so one day Lizzie and Mark took me with a group of their friends to do a small walk on a hill near Christchurch: Kaituna Valley/Packhorse Hut. they are all VERY outdoorsy and sporty people, so it was a little bit difficult to catch up, specially because I had a sore body.
on that week I also went to the Couch Surfing weekly meeting that takes place every Wednesday at a very cool place called The Smash Palace. there I met a pair of locals, some travellers, and some expats, all of whom were very friendly! on the table next to us were sitting two guys, and one of them looked like someone from my country… so I approached them and just told this guy straight forward “you look like somebody who speaks my language”, and so it turned out that he does speak my language, but he is Chilean. we had such a great time that night that he even offered me his couch to stay the next week with him… and so, I accepted.
so I stayed with Mark and Lizzie for two more nights, and on Friday they gave me a ride to Claudio’s (the Chilean) house. we said goodbye but with the promise of doing something again soon.
Claudio is a chef that now works at the Mexican restaurant in Christchurch… since I stayed with him in his transition from one job to the next, he had almost all days free… so we did several things. he introduced me to the Latin American community, we had a BBQ at Mika’s (French friend) house, we went to the beach, we walked along the city, went out at night, etc…
the day he started his new job I went out with Cameron, remember him? the guy I met in the ferry… well, I went with him and his cousin out for a couple of beers and to have dinner… so much fun!
and the next day (Friday) I went with Lizzie, Mark and some of their friends to Hanmer Springs to a bike race they were doing on Saturday, so we slept at a house on Friday, socialising a little bit… and next day we were at a gazebo (riders and cheerleaders) socialising a lot!
we were eating, and drinking (water), and soooo cold!!! but it was very entertaining, and I met some nice Kiwis!
Didier is one of this nice Kiwi friends, he’s also an engineer working in the same company as Mark. of course we had the architect vs. engineer jokes, and we even took them to a party we went later at night in Christchurch. I had a great time with him! we said we would meet again to go out and do something…
the next week I stayed with a couple I met at the Couch Surfing meeting: Luke from the States and Aletta from NZ… they were really nice, also with a spare bedroom.
while staying with them the weather was really shitty, so I practically stayed in the house all day not even wanting to leave the bed!
at night I would try to go out and catchup with friends, so I saw Claudio a couple of times to have beers. I went out with Didier to have pizza and beers at the CBD Bar and Pizzeria. on Friday I saw Amit (Israeli guy from Punakaiki), we met for beers at the Smash Palace and then went to celebrate Aletta’s birthday at the Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn, a bar with great live music (one-man-band) and great beers! that night
Aletta and Luke were a little bit over the alcohol limit, so I had to drive… oh yeah! scary shit! but it was great and fun. it was a manual car and I was struggling with the stick (TWSS), so Luke was changing gear, and I was doing the pedal and wheel job!
on Saturday I saw Amit again, we went to the movies and then to have dinner at the CBD Bar and Pizzeria (yes… I love the place), and then on Sunday I had to change house… again… so my new host picked me up and took me to my new home!
Kristo and Mark were my new family, and for four days I felt ABSOLUTELY at home. they gave me my own room and my key to the house. they are one of the most amazing couples I’ve met!
Kristo is from Estonia and Mark from NZ, they met in Ireland while they both lived and work there. they’ve been living in NZ for five years now in a small and beautiful house located in the “snobby” area of Christchurch.
I could talk with them about anything, and I immediately felt like I could confide anything to them, so this was a nice feeling for a change… not just the usual host-surfer relation… this was more, this was family and friendship…
Wednesday was my last day there, and that actually made me very sad… I had gone with Didier for dinner on Sunday, and we decided to do a little trip for the ANZAC long weekend… so, we went to Kaikoura from Thursday morning to Saturday.
I thought I was not going to be able to see Kaikoura because it’s located between Christchurch and Picton, and since I came down from the west and I’m flying back to Wellington, I thought I was going to skip it for sure!
Kaikoura is where the whale watching takes place all year round. beautiful little town with snowy mountains (in winter) and surfing beaches… it’s weird to see all that in one place.
there we did a little bit of tramping on a track called Mount Fyffe. it was VERY steep but Didier, knowing about my horrible experience in Avalanche Peak, took all precautions to make it easy and pleasant… so as we walked we took lots of breaks to take pictures, and to have food and water too… so nice!
the track is beautiful, it takes you zigzagging up the mountain changing the view constantly from ocean to Southern Alps.
we got to the Hut on the top and had lunch there… we decided not to continue to the peak because it would take longer and we didn’t want to come back down in darkness… so we came down and got to the hostel after buying some beers and got into the hot pool to relax!
on Saturday we started returning to Christchurch through another route and we stopped to have lunch next to a river on a road called Lake Sumner Rd which takes you to a couple of lakes, which we didn’t visit… maybe next time.
on Sunday we were back in Christchurch and went to do another walk just outside of the city on the Crater Rim Walk. from there you can see the city from above, Littleton, and the other side of the valley near Christchurch.
after this small vacation in the vacation I went back to live with Lizzie and Mark for another week. there was really not much to do in the city anymore, so I kinda dedicated my time to arrange my CV and make some cover letters to start knocking on architectural doors, all with the help of Lizzie, Mark, and Didier.
one of those days I received a text message from my friend Jon (who I met in Picton), saying that he will be coming to Christchurch very soon. on May first, I received another message from him saying that he had arrived in the city.
for those of you who do not know, May First is my birthday… so it was a pretty nice surprise to have my friend Jon here. I was kind of alone that day because all my friends were working and they wouldn’t be home until late. so, having Jon by my side changed things!
we were walking around the city, and since it was Wednesday we decided to go to the weekly Couch Surfing Meeting at Smash Palace.
it was fun to celebrate a birthday with a bunch of unknown people from all around the world!
the next couple of days we walked around the city and went shopping to the outdoors stuff stores. we talked about renting a car together and go travel to the rest of the South Island (the southern half: Otago, Southland, Fiordland…)
on Friday I had a small birthday dinner with Lizzie, Mark, and Didier… I stayed home cooking a Mexican dish called tinga de pollo and a chocolate cake (Betty Crocker, of course). it was also a sort of goodbye and thank you dinner because the road trip with Jon seemed to be becoming more and more real every day, and Saturday night Lizzie and Mark had already plans, so it was now or never!
on Saturday night I went with Didier to have a couple of beers and then to a show called The Scared Scriptless. this is an improv show, a variation of Who’s Line Is It Anyway where there’s a moderator, and the audience participates too… REALLY funny!
next day I packed my winter clothes, met Jon at the Restart Mall, and walked towards the car rental company… it was a fact, we were leaving that afternoon towards a new adventure on the south… on this baby…