19 July 2010

Crafting memories

One last Bali blog, written with chilly fingers on the train from Paekakariki to Wellington. On our last day in Bali, we woke grasping for ways to hold on to the Bali experience. We called our wonderful and helpful driver, Made, and asked him to take us to the stonecutting village nearby so that we could pick a statue for our garden. Made (pronounced Mah-day, which all Balinese parents name their second-born children) took us first to the most famous stone cutter in Bali, and we wandered amongst sandstone Buddha heads the size of a Mini Cooper and green marble Ganeshas standing like soldiers along the side of the road. We fell in love with three statues, each too big to bring home in a suitcase. And, once we asked, each too expensive as well—four to eight million rupiahs each (that’s US$400-800) with shipping to NZ another five million rupiahs. Made smiled and we piled back into the car to his uncle’s stone carving shop. There we wandered amongst nearly the same statues (the Buddha heads maybe only the size of a SmartCar) with prices 80% lower. We picked four we liked and began to narrow down, knowing we wanted two for the garden. I went off to make a final distinction, visiting each of them in turn, and came back to find Michael shaking hands with the carver. “Which ones did you decide on?” I asked, somewhat peevishly (he had picked without me!). He smiled sheepishly. “Why choose?” he asked, echoing what Keith calls the Jennifer-philosophy (he had not picked at all!). So in five weeks (allegedly), we’ll get a shipment of four beautiful pieces of Bali—let the holiday continue eternally in the garden.

The second half of that day we spent creating our own art. In Bali, which is famous for all kinds of art work, you can take a class which teaches you to create rudimentary versions of the beautiful things you see: wood carvings, stone carvings, batik, silver jewelery. We picked the silver. The four of us went to the workshop of a silversmith whose work we had admired and spent 3 hours under his vague tutelage creating jewelery which would be our handmade souvenirs of our trip. His personality was perhaps less delicate and beautiful than his jewelery, and he often seemed annoyed that these ignoramuses had wandered into his shop to abuse his silver with his hammers, but we pounded on, merrily and with only occasional swearing. In three hours, we each had come up with an idea (all of us learning that our initial designs were too complex for beginners and pulling back and back and back from those ideas into ultimately very simple forms). We gained serious appreciation for the jeweler, who can take tiny gems and rough-looking silver pieces and craft them into the shiny baubles we love so much. We left the workshop bedazzled at our own artistic prowess (our grouchy teacher notwithstanding), and swapped bracelets and rings all over dinner, showering each other with well-deserved complements. I did not find a passion for silver as I found a (very latent) passion for glassblowing two years ago, but I do have a bracelet around my wrist (made by me) and a ring around my finger (made for me by Michael) in which I take new forms of delight.

That day closed with a frantic wish by Naomi for one last manicure/pedicure before heading home. We found a lovely spa which would paint her nails and also give the other three of us a 30 minute massage in the meantime. They lined up three massage beds in a room meant for two, and we left Naomi lounging in painted luxury while the three of us dipped our feet into bowls of hot water with floating petals. The Balinese everywhere were taken by Aidan’s near-white hair and smiling blue eyes, and this place was no exception. Aidan giggled his way through the foot massage and sighed happily through the back and neck massage, complete with chocolate-scented oil. The three lovely masseuses matched him giggle for giggle, happy sigh for happy sigh, taking at least as much delight in his happiness as he did. At the end, slick and reeking of chocolate, Aidan beamed at us all in delight. “I love Bali!” he said. Amen.

And then it was over. One last morning dip in the pool, one last breakfast in the open-air restaurant, the 90 minute drive through rubbish and beautiful stone carved statues, and we were at the airport, pulling on our socks and pants and stuffing sandals and sarongs into the outside pockets of our heavy suitcases. 20 short hours later we were flying through freezing rain to land at the Wellington airport. But ah, the dawn over the Southern Alps was magnificent, and Rob’s face at the end of the jetway, and Sarah and the two dogs at the doorway of our beautiful seaside house were as welcome as the tang of icy lemongrass lemonade on a hot Balinese afternoon. Aidan blissfully drank glasses of tap water; Naomi set about demolishing and rearranging her room for a new era in her life. Perhaps it’s a new era for all of us, our post-Bali family. We are closer than we were, with memories as shiny as our new silver baubles but less likely to tarnish. I am a convert to long and wandering family holidays in mysterious and beautiful cultures. And to coming home to a life I love.

14 July 2010

Backroads through Bali

Ok, so Keith was right, the backroads are better. We’ve spent the last two days getting into the real Bali, and we’ve found things to take our breath away—for so many reasons.

On Monday, we were off to Bali Treetop Adventure, which is a series of platforms and ropes challenges high in the trees in a botanic garden. We were all alone at first, which was good because then others couldn’t see that Michael and I preferred the practice patch to the actual challenges, nor could they see that Michael started off on ropes that he later found out were for little kids. Many of us got in over our heads at some point—when you finish one tightrope and round a platform and then realize that you seriously, seriously don’t want to do the next thing. Three of us spent some time or another paralyzed up at the top of a tree. But not birthday boy. He was fearless. He climbed up and down, swinging and walking and sliding and hurling himself from place to place. I would have been terrified for him (as I was for me) if there hadn’t been such excellent safety harnesses. He was disappointed to not be able to do the hardest course, and made me promise that I’d bring him back when he was tall enough. It’s not so hard to promise to go back to Bali!

The whole family was less challenged and equally delighted by our day yesterday. We began with breakfast on a volcano overlooking a lake. While the black lava fields were chilling (1000 people were killed there when the volcano exploded over a village some decades ago), the glassy water and majestic volcano cones were somehow soothing. Then to a plantation where we tasted the sweet (but not in any way chocolaty) seeds which will become chocolate and held the bright red berries which will become coffee. We sniffed the branches of a cinnamon tree and fingered the leaves of the vanilla orchid plant. And we learnt about a coffee which they sell in Bali and say is the most expensive coffee in the world. Ready for why? It is a coffee berry which is eaten by a small fox-like animal called a luwak who then poops out the intact beans, which are collected, washed, dried, and then roasted and ground. I kid you not, but I’m still not sure that they were not kidding me. Anyway, we’re tourists so we drank some—and it was smoother than any coffee I’ve ever had. No postulating about why.

Then we were onto our seriously dodgy bikes for 25kms over backroads and downhill through Bali. Other than the bike mishaps (both Naomi and Aidan’s bikes dropped their chains, but Aidan’s topped us all when he lost his whole crank and pedal), it was the most amazing bike ride I’ve ever been on. We stopped from time to time for the guides to tell us cultural things—we saw farmers planting rice in the paddy, up to their knees in water and mud. We went into a house compound and learnt about how they were set up and what they were like to live in. The kids were astonished—and perhaps aghast. In this compound, which our guide said was quite like his, there is no running water, no real walls, no glass windows. The kitchen still is over an open fire, the food processor a motor and pestle. The “bank” out back was one sorry looking calf who will be worth 6,000,000 rupiah in 3 years, two piglets and their mother (who seemed to know I was a vegetarian). They wove the bamboo at the back of their house into roofs and walls and floor mats. We were struck by the depth of the religion, the way it touches every moment of their lives, the way they live with their spirituality the way they live with themselves and their own thoughts. There was nothing about that life which was familiar to me, other than the mothers holding and nursing their babies, a common bond.

We biked past rice paddies, stopped at a tree that was more than 500 years old which vibrated with a kind of wisdom I can’t name. As we passed houses, children would race to their front doors to see us pass, shouting “Hello!” at the top of their lungs and jumping up and down with delight at Aidan’s cheerful Hello back. We chatted with the Swiss and Dutch families on the tour with us, with the Balinese tour guides. We ate lunch at a restaurant perched over rice paddies.

Then, finally, back through traffic much worse than DC rush hour, to the Monkey Forest in Ubud, where adorable and terrifying monkeys are the kings, and you are permitted to be with them as long as you don’t carry a bag (they’ll chase you as they did Michael and snatch it from your hands) or a banana (they bit our guide 6 months ago because he had a banana behind his back) or look at a baby funny. It was frightening and amazing all at once, the monkeys like humanoid rats, swarming over everything. Suddenly I got a glimpse of 5pm in New York City, when the humans swarm like rats out of office buildings. Are we really so different?

And so that’s two days in Bali. This morning we went to a local market, which was perhaps too real for the kids. Filthy and smelly and packed with scents and sounds and people who felt seriously foreign. We are not in Wellington anymore. Still, we rallied and bought a few gifts (but still not the ubiquitous wooden penis bottle opener which is in every shop). And Naomi, Aidan and I each got a henna tattoo. Now we’re home at the hotel, the cool pool a welcome and quiet space after the busy bustle of the last two days. Vacations can be exhausting.

Tomorrow is our last day. We have had wonderful and horrible times here. We will return home different, which might be the most wonderful thing to say at the end of the holiday.


Tonight, now back from our bike ride (which would have been perfect for Jamie--25kms, mostly downhill), I am too tired to write. Here are some pictures from yesterday when Aidan turned 9 at a high height! I'll write more tomorrow as we laze by the pool--no adventures scheduled!

12 July 2010

Leaving Disney Bali

Keith told us that if we got off the main roads, we would find the fascinating world of the real Bali, but here we are driving from one hotel 1.5 hours to the second, and the life of the main road is fascinating. The roadway itself is a study in emergence, traffic patterns emerging and weaving, creating four lanes where just a minute ago there were two, then falling back into two lanes again. The ubiquitous motorcycles go wherever then want, whenever they want, a father driving with his three-year-old balanced on his knee, mother behind, infant pressed to her breast between them, luggage off the side and to the front. There are something like 200 times more traffic deaths here than in New Zealand. All these tiny heads, much beloved of their families, darting and weaving. I pull my seat-belted children closer watching.

We pass people shucking piles of corn, others selling it, packaged or grilled. Watermelons and corn seem to be the currency along the road, along with stands filled with bottles of clear amber liquid which we took at first to be a local drink until we were informed it’s petrol. Massive stone Buddhas smile serenely from rock carving stands and gilded teak lions roar soundlessly from woodcarving stands . Hand-woven baskets filled with daily offerings—frangipani blossoms, a banana, a cigarette or wrapped mint—sit outside each shop, each house, on the dashboard of every car. Beautiful girls in sarongs leave the baskets on the ground, in a spirit house, in front of a gate. Small boys wrestle playfully on front steps of a tiny shop.

This morning in the one hour left at our resort hotel, we went down the waterslide dozens of times, played our last games of ping pong, admired the sculpted perfection of the hotel and grounds. I heard a pattering noise and then a crash and a burst of water. A man with a machete was up a coconut palm, pruning the lower branches and cutting out the potential-missiles of the coconuts. There were no tears and it was with good cheer that we piled into this little car in our standard form: Michael in the front, the rest of us in the back with Aidan in the middle.

We pass little store fronts, grungy houses with cement walls and no windows holding up sheets of tin roofs, glimpse through ironwork gates into posh courtyards and plush hotels. Here there are rows of corn, towering coconut palms, a sign that says “antiques made to order.” Rubbish and blossoms blow listlessly in the pre-rain breeze.

Through a rainstorm, past ever more quaint villages, and we were down a side street and to our new hotel. This is not Disney Bali. This is actual Bali, a hotel in the middle of a rice paddy, a gathering of Balinese builders carrying straw and brick and dirt on their heads and back to build another villa here. Then another ride through villages, past brown hens followed by a flurry of black chicks, past a village celebration, past tiny houses selling massive paintings on stretched canvas, and we were in Ubud. This village, swarming with people and cars and motorcycles, has mazes of markets and miles of storefronts selling everything from inexpensive silk sundresses (yes, I bought one) to massive “antique” metal sculptures (made to order?). We fingered cloth and silver, and Aidan drove his first market bargain (“How much are these?” he asked. “5,000 rupiah,” she answered. “How about 2000?” he shot back in a flash. She took it.). Then, just before the rains thundered down, we got a table at Lamak, which the guidebook had said was one of the best restaurants in Bali, where we waited damply for one of the finest meals we’ve ever had. We celebrated Aidan’s last night of eight-ness with stories from earlier birthday parties and declarations of what he’d like the next year to hold. The rain splashed around our feet and legs and dripped down my back. We shouted over it and passed the mocha tart around the table.

Tomorrow we will go to the Bali Botanic Gardens, way to the north, to walk through the flowers there and play on the ropes at the Bali Treetop Adventure. It is Aidan’s birthday tomorrow, and he’s selected every moment of it, although it turns out there’s a beautiful temple near the park, built in 1633, which I’m allowed to visit. The next day we have booked a back-roads mountain bike tour through villages and rice paddies. We are discovering real Bali is even better than Disney Bali, and that family vacations are more precious than gilded lions.

Pictures today are from our last hours at the beach--perfection before the rain storm and then our first hours in real Bali, as Naomi fingers the sarongs in the Ubud Market. The last picture is Aidan's last picture of eightness--eating a magnificent dessert.

11 July 2010



And so ends this portion of our holiday. We have perhaps stayed at this beach resort slightly too long, long enough for the kids to mistake this for home, for us to know the front desk staff at this massive resort, for Aidan to have made one friend from Jakarta and another from Milan. I fear that the kids will weep tomorrow when we bundle into a taxi to take us farther north, into the world of rice paddies and temples, away

from the world of waterslides and cool tropical smoothies you can order from the bar at the pool, and drink at the bar stool, legs still swimming.

Before we go, though, here are some postcards from our time in South Bali, since none of you are likely to ever get an actual postcard from me (my cousin Michael is the best in the world at postcards, and I've seen him spend hours at it. Me? I buy them and sometimes even write them. But I never, ever mail them. Details.)

First postcard, our snorkeling trip. We piled on a boat and were first taken to Turtle Island, which I imagined as a tropical, little-explored island where sea turtles once bred and where we could have a nature walk out of the sun. HA! We ended up calling it Turtle Alcatraz, because all around us were sea turtles and other creatures locked in jail. We were knee-deep in the seedy side of tourism, with a snake with his mouth scotch-taped shut and a beautiful sea eagle in a cage just about the size of his wingspan. We couldn't get off that island fast enough.

Next stop, snorkeling in a small and sad reef in the middle of a world of container ships and jet skis. Still, we held hands, the four of us, and watched beautiful--and apparently hearty--tropical fish. It was Aidan's first time snorkeling, and it turns out he can talk constantly, even under water. Who knew?

Postcard two, the next day. Watersports.

After haggling over the price (Michael drives a hard bargain), Aidan was off to do the thing he wanted more than anything else on this Bali trip: jet skiing. (Yes, I know I mentioned those with disdain in the last postcard, and yes I still hate them, but it was the dream of my nearly 9-year-old and only 15 minutes of two-stroke engine hell.) Aidan rode at the front and one of the instructors rode behind him, and it was the ride of his life. Because the wind was wrong for Naomi's dream (parasailing), we all signed up for a two-person wake-rider. After the jet ski, we hopped onto a powerboat. First Michael and Aidan bounced along and then it was our turn. I won't wax on about the brain-jarring, bumpy, terrifying ride except to say I was delighted to be on land again. The other three loved it.

Postcard 3. Spa-ing. Bali is famous for its spas, so we wanted each of us to have a taste of the spa experience. We stopped in the heat of the day in a little village and popped into a tiny spa, just slightly wider than the massage beds themselves. While I ate the best curry of my whole life, Naomi had a mani/pedi. And when she was done, Aidan had his first massage. I've always thought Aidan was a cheerful fellow, but post-massage Aidan was so blissed out you could hardly even focus your eyes on his beaming face. He kept describing it--the scent of the oil, the feel of fingers on his scalp, the hand massage. He is a spa-convert.

Michael and I didn't need to be converted. This morning we shipped the kids off to a tennis lesson and we headed to a "spa sampler" for two. Boy do they know about the spa experience here! There was ginger tea and a footsoak (petals in the water) and a massage and a facial. Then a soak in a huge tub (petals in the water again). It was all outside and yet private, with a gentle breeze and bird song. I tried to hold as many of the sensory pieces as I possibly could--the sound of the ethereal music, the feel of hands on my scalp, the astringent smell of cucumber rubbed on my face, the taste of sweet and spicy hot tea. Bliss.

Lest you fear, it hasn't been total bliss, however. After the water sports (and all the brain jarring), we all hit a wall and ended up everyone fighting with everyone else. Then, when we wanted to be away from each other, we discovered the limits of sharing a single room--one person fled to the balcony, one to the bathroom, and the other two were stuck not speaking to one another on the massive bed. We disagree about what to do. We are hot and irritable. We have the constant battle between wanting to experience culture and wanting to stay as close to Bali Disney as possible.

And we have felt our strangeness here. We are already tired of having people constantly trying to sell us things, constantly pulling or pushing at us to buy this dress or that hat or this all-day tour of the island. We cannot speak any of the other languages around us. We have seen people desperately poor and tragically rich. We have watched monkeys in cages and turtles pining for the sea. We have felt guilty and sweaty and nauseous and grumpy with the world.

But then there are times like tonight. Aidan had wanted to go to the cheesy Caribbean Pirate’s night at the hotel, since it’s our last night. It was 348,000 rupiahs each (kids half price) which turns out to be about NZ$50 a head. Too much. So we headed into Nusa Dua town, outside the security gates, which is like leaving Disney and heading to the wilds of Orlando. We picked a German Beer Garden, just for variety. Michael had Chinese egg rolls to start and then a veggie green curry, Naomi and I split a swiss rosti, and Aidan had chicken nuggets much to his delight (Although, truth be told, Aidan’s was actually a chicken cutlet as my grandmother would have said, and he said that he actually preferred “chicken nugget food-like product” which was honest, but a bummer.) There were murals on the wall of quaint German scenes—cities and mountains. And then the entertainment began—two Indonesian folk singers on guitars, singing old favourites from the 60s and 70s—the Beatles, James Taylor, and then songs we have to assume are the equivalents in Russian, German, Spanish, maybe other languages. It was as out of place as you can imagine, and we loved it. We sang and ate food from several cultures and just were generally silly. This is what holidays are for, I think.

Next stop is Ubud. We leave Disney Bali behind and plunge into a more real Indonesian experience. How do you say "wish us luck" in Bahasa?

08 July 2010

Learning to play

A girl could get used to this.
Today I actually began to play. I went down the waterslide a billion times. I played ping-pong and lost to Aidan (but only barely). I did underwater somersaults. What a joy! I began to wonder why we do this so seldom and then I forgot to care.

When the sun got too hot, we headed back to the stores pick up some things we had forgotten. Aidan bought jandals. Naomi got a second batik sundress. Michael got a second linen shirt. I bought a purple bikini (that's different!) and a sarong. We're relaxing into this Bali thing.

Then, for dinner, to Jimbaran. This fishing village at the edge of the airport is famous for its sundown fish dinners on the beach. You actually pick out the live fish and they cook it for you (allegedly--Michael did all the picking etc because I am very nearly about to give up eating fish and I couldn't handle the reality of all of the swimming fish). Aidan drank watermelon juice and Naomi had a coconut and juice concoction while we watched the fishing boats chug into the harbour and we waited for our grilled snapper. It was utterly unlike what I expected and also perfect. Ahh how I'm loving learning to play.

(pictures today are all from Jimbaran and, my dear Melissa, include both Naomi's braids and Aidan's tattoo!)

07 July 2010

Holiday school

I am at “holiday school,” Michael keeps telling me. This is where I learn to be on holiday, a lesson that the last 40 years have not prepared me for. I am sitting looking out at the sea, which isn’t all that uncommon, granted, but in this case it’s the Indian Ocean, which does strike me as rather unusual. There are seaweed farms in the distance and the sound of the pool basketball game’s occasional highs and lows wafting up to our 10th floor room. This is Bali.

There are so many things that strike me about being here. There’s the sheer beauty of the place, the millions of colours of blue of the sea, the rumpled and rich tangle of greens in the wild space next to the hotel. There’s the gilded luxury of this resort, the nicest place I’ve ever stayed. I was disgusted that we were going to Nusa Dua, a gated resort community in the south of the island, designed to corral the upscale tourists in a manageable space. But this hotel was picked while I was working in Sydney, and it was selected for the 30 metre water slide and the interconnected series of pools. It seemed like a kind of Bali-lite to me, Disney Bali. And so it is, but geeze, how magnificently done this place is, Disney Bali or no.

We arrived yesterday, gasping into the heat and humidity of the afternoon. Bali, for those of you in the Northern hemisphere who think of New Zealand and Australia and Bali as close neighbours, is seriously far away from New Zealand (the key lesson here being that EVERYTHING is seriously far away from New Zealand). Three airplane rides—one of them 10.5 hours in a Singapore airlines plane that was state-of-the-art 10 years ago—and 20 minutes in a taxi and we were here, in the lofty open-air lobby of the Nikko Bali Resort.

I spent the whole trip not doing work. I didn’t particularly do anything else—there were no movies I wanted to watch or books I wanted to read—but I felt how strongly I was not doing work. It was like an itch I’m used to scratching or a hunger I was used to feeding and I was feeling the raw desire for it, the blind press to do something that I usually do. It was hard to resist.

This trip wasn’t planned originally as a way to test my holidaying skills. It was originally Naomi’s trip, planned for the time following her Bat Mitzvah to take the sting out of the fact that she would have her Bat Mitzvah far far from the centre of her Jewish life, far from her Jewish family and friends, far from the place where Bat Mitzvahs were a regular part of a teenage experience—rather than the semi-freakish event they are in New Zealand. But the press of the oddness, combined with everyone’s dissatisfaction at the lack of family at the event, made us postpone the Bat Mitzvah into a time in the future when we might hold it in the US. But then the question: What to do with the airplane tickets to Bali?

So Naomi’s trip became my trip, a celebration of my 40th birthday and a test of my capacity to be on holiday as this one is nearly twice what any holiday has been before (nearly 2 weeks). I’m not supposed to do anything that I feel like I’m supposed to do. This morning I didn’t work out. On the plane I didn’t work on my book. I put a vacation notice on my NZCER email. In one stunning move of self-restraint, I left my beautiful laptop at home. Zowie.

And so I’m here. Today, on our first full day, we splurged at the hotel breakfast buffet. We sat in a garden overlooking the sea, eating fruits we’d never seen before, and wondering at the range of breakfast-desires this hotel needs to serve: American tastes (eggs and bacon), Asian tastes (noodles and pork and hotpots bubbling away), European tastes (chocolate croissants, yoghurt, French cheeses). There were flower petals strewn on the tables. My tea was English, the juice guava, the water bottled. The waiters bowed as they saw us and opened doors as we walked through them. I changed into my bathing suit and went down the water slide with the kids again and again. I played pool volleyball (or, er, I tried to play pool volleyball but there wasn't as much volleying as you might want). To coax the kids out of the hot sun, we took them to the thing called a mall around here, another toe-dip into the actual Bali culture. Naomi had her hair braided into cornrows. Aidan had a henna tattoo of a dragon painted onto his bicep. We fingered sarongs and wooden carvings and tried to do the conversion math. What did it mean that the sundress was 149,000 rupiahs?

We wandered to a public beach where the sand had not been scrubbed so clean and the people in the water were as many shades of brown as there were shades of blue in the sea. (Here at the hotel there are many shades, but most of them have crispy pink undertones marking them as pasty-tourists unprepared for the Bali sun.) This is the more real Bali, and leads to conversations about poverty and wealth and what it means to be a developing nation (and what DOES it actually mean to be a developing nation?). And then for dinner, a little restaurant on a main street just out of Nusa Dua, is more real Bali still. Aidan’s half chicken was a seriously half chicken. Michael’s fish still had their heads. My veggie curry made me sweat more than the humid night air. Naomi ate rice. And we talked and laughed and ate and wandered with cars and motorbikes whizzing past. So THIS is holiday, when you just hang out with your kids and laugh and eat strange foods and listen to every kind of language all around you. This is my first test in holiday school. I think I will enjoy the next one.

ps careful readers will see aidan's new short hair. More pictures tomorrow!

29 January 2010

Dad and Jamie: Wanaka

I'll let the stories come later, but here are the 4000 words of images. Bonus points for anyone who figures out the last one...

26 January 2010

Dad and Jamie: To the mountain

It felt almost like we had engineered a slowly-unfolding New Zealand experience. The way to Mount Cook/Aoraki was, as the day before had been, gray and solemn. The mood in the car was bubbling, though, as we all searched through the clouds for the mountains we were off to see. Dad joked about New Zealand going easy on him, acclimating his eyes to the scenery in the near black-and-white of an overcast day before blinding him with both the shapes and the colours in the full sun.

The road from Twizel was perfection itself. We meandered along a beautiful lake, nestled in hills. We found ourselves in an unexpected traffic jam along the way—only four cars but ten times that many cows, spreading out over the road. The cows were being controlled by skilful dogs and cowboys (because they’d have to be actual cowboys right?), who were crossing them from one pasture to the next. We watched, enthralled with the show of nature in the water and hills and cows on the road, until the cows took a sidestep off the road and onto greener pastures.

Eventually, the delight of the ride was over and the actual mountain was before us. The visitor centres at Mt Cook are modern and sleek, designed to appeal to the many international tourists who show up in regular buses. It is an international scene, with Japanese women covered head-to-toe in merino, Germans looking sleek and blonde, Americans a little over-coiffed for the setting. The lodge could have been anywhere with its soaring ceilings, enormous plate glass windows, posters advertising this or that activity. The mountains, however, were pure New Zealand.

And once we began to walk, crossing paths with French and Dutch and Australian fellow explorers, we were united in our love for this country at this moment. The mountains decided Dad and Jamie had been patient enough, and soon there was blue sky around the peaks, and everything was blue and white and grey and green. We passed a motley collection of people: from everywhere, of every age, wearing everything from parkas to tank tops and flip flops. All of us gaping at the mountains around us. All of us swinging on the swing bridge. All of us baking in the newly hot sun.

This is a merciful country, though, and so once the mountains had been seen and admired, and it was time to turn our back to them and walk back to the car, the clouds closed in again and a misty rain began to fall—not enough to annoy but enough to cool us off from what had begun to be uncomfortably hot.

Dad wanted to sleep after the long walk—and he was still jetlagged after all—but with scenery shouting like this, it was too loud to close his eyes. And so we made our way through landscape that Dad and Jamie kept trying to identify. Were we in Provence? Now in Vermont? Now Africa? And then the Lindis pass and we were on the moon (or anyway, not on earth at all anymore).

It’s not a surprise to me how many different forms of beauty New Zealand can manage to produce in such a small number of miles. But hearing the oohs and ahhhs from the back seat somehow changes everything. For me, it wasn’t just that there was beauty all around me—this I am getting blissfully used to. It was the company. Finally here I was with Dad and Jamie. Our eyes were all seeing the same sight at the same time, with no need to describe it later, my hands uselessly drawing out shapes in the air as I talked on the phone. Here my hands waved at a mountain, and we all saw it. And when Jamie saw a bird take off or a particularly wonderful shade of azure, we all saw that too. Language is a beautiful thing, my favourite medium. But sometimes it is most wonderful when we don’t need any at all.

(pictures today are mostly from this Mt Cook day: the drive in, various mountain shots, the triumphant post-hike picture. The last two are a hint of the day to come: Wanaka in the swim!)

25 January 2010

Dad and Jamie: The Beginning

It’s true that I’m not sure there’s enough of interest in this settled kiwi life of mine to keep up a blog as regularly as I could in the early days. But there are events that will happen which may necessitate a blog or two, just to let those who might be following along see the highlight reel of our lives. These last days belong on that reel.

It began on Friday the 15th of January, when Dad and Jamie stumbled off the plane and into our arms. It had been a weird week of coming and going. Michael left for a workshop in the US on the Tuesday, Naomi came home from 10 days at camp on the Thursday (missing our fantastic WWOOFers who left that morning), and in a burst of delight and exhaustion, suddenly Dad and Jamie were there as well. Rob, who came back from his cool bachelor pad in Wellington to help out, was the perfect host as we tried to keep our weary travellers awake the requisite number of hours (my theory is that if you make it until bedtime on the first day, you’ll be fine from then on out). But up they stayed, eating the amazing food Rob was preparing and soaking in the Paekakariki life. I have been waiting for them to stand in front of my house since we first moved here, have been anxious for the surprised inhale that comes from seeing the sweeping Tasman Sea which is our constant companion. And, while sometimes great expectations lead to grave disappointments, this moment was better than I ever expected, and their speechless delight in our life felt in every way like a dream come true.

The weekend was spent in Paekakariki gray, Jamie reading on the new green loveseat and taking endless walks on our endless beach, Dad sitting in the living room with me and talking and talking. We celebrated birthdays and Christmas past. Monday dawned perfectly clear and they headed into Wellington while I headed into work. The overwhelmingly busy work day was a blur, but the evening walk through the Botanic Gardens, the dinner on the restaurant on the harbour—those are in slow motion. Slow motion too was coming home to a Perry whose leg injury had gotten infected, who was a sick and unhappy dog. Tuesday at work was an agony of worry as beautiful Melissa took Perry to the vet and Dad and Jamie looked after him while I was at work. And on Wednesday, the rush of the work days, the anxiety over a healing Perry (now safely housed with Keith for the next couple of days) the endless housework of the working-mom-on-her-own, the pre-trip preparation—all of it was over and we were off.

We met Michael—newly back from the US—at the airport and we all flew to Christchurch to begin the journey (Michael now in airports or airplanes for 18 hours). We rented a van in Christchurch, and we were off. The first part of the trip was as boring as NZ scenery gets, but we were still so excited to all be back together again that we hardly noticed. And by the time we were ready to sit back and watch the country, the country had begun to dress up for us, getting our eyes used to a little beauty, and then a little more, and then a little more. Finally we were in Lake Tekapo, a magical glacial lake with waters brightly turquoise even in the misty gray afternoon. We marvelled at the colours and shapes—rough blue lake hurling against gray stone, green hills draped with gray clouds, spires of soft lupines alongside the hard stone of the tiny old church.

Onward to Twizel, a town we had heard was good only as a rest stop and not much for that. But our hotel (the Mountain Chalets Motel) was perfection and the little restaurant where we had dinner was unexpectedly delicious. We sat in the town square and drank New Zealand wine in the evening gray and hoped that in the morning the sky would clear enough to go visit Mount Cook. And in the morning, the visit to the local DoC office (where we said hello to one of the participants in my leadership development programme) ended with his walking outside to see if the mountain was out. And it was. We were off to see the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere. It was an auspicious beginning.