Friday, March 9, 2018

So, what do they speak in New Zealand?

We learned a lot while we were in New Zealand.  For one thing, it has only been inhabited for something like 800 years; before the Pacific Islander ancestors of the Maoris landed, it had been almost exclusively the home of birds, who filled nearly all the niches of the animal kingdom filled elsewhere by mammals.
Europeans sighted it first in 1642, though the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman didn't actually land.  Captain Cook circumnavigated the islands in 1769, and soon European folks were exploring and living there, though not without conflict with the indigenous people.  
"Mocking Australia's criminal heritage is something of a national pastime," says one source, which we found to be hilariously true, but by contrast, those who settled New Zealand came voluntarily.  They were largely Englishman, with a liberal smattering of Australians coming over, and so English became the official language.  Sort of.  
Oh, sure, there are the usual differences that are in common with the UK.  For instance, it's not polite to run around in public in "pants" in either country,  
rather, you wear "trousers" when you go out.
When you say "chemist" in the US, various things come to mind, some of them not so happy.
In New Zealand or England, he or she is more likely to sell you an antacid, instead of meth.
However, it goes even further in New Zealand.  It first hit us when the cheerful flight attendant greeted us with "Kia ora!" when we boarded the plane with the big fern painted on the side.
Many place names, greetings and daily words are Maori in origin.  If you're told you have a nice kuru, you can be complimented (or slap the guy) for being told you have a good looking derriere.  Wait, that's some other language...
The Maori tongue was actively suppressed for many years, however by some accounts over 1,000 words from that language are now in active daily use by non-native speakers, and it is taught in schools.  Words like waka (technically canoe, but often used to describe any motor vehicle, kai (food), puku (belly, stomach), and whanau (family) can now be heard interspersed in everyday conversation. 
Then there are some colloquialisms derived from (surprise!) the sheep industry.  If you've been "pinked," it means you may get sunburned, as you've been trimmed a bit close to the skin, and such.
However, that's not all.  There is a distinct accent difference, different from Australian, South African, English or whatever.  This became apparent one day during our cycling adventure, when the van had to park on the grass in front of a farm to help one the riders.  I was in the vehicle when the unhappy farmer confronted the guide about having stopped there.
I swear he yelled, "Bloody terrorists!"
OK, we were wearing unusual colorful Spandex clothing, helmets and weird shoes, but "terrorists?!"  I don't think so!  I mean, all we did was park the van on his bloody grass for about two minutes!
When I voiced my objection to our guide, she scratched her head for a moment, then said, "'TOURISTS,' not 'TERRORISTS!; TOURISTS!!"
Anyway, I was just starting to pick up the lingo when our trip ended, unfortunately. 
We hope you have a tino pai day, mate!
Dave & Paula

Sunday, March 4, 2018

So, what do they eat on the other side of the world?

Per the previous post, we had a great trip to New Zealand, the glow of which is still softening life, and the jet lag of which is about over.
Though several folks have asked politely how things went, expecting a torrent of superlatives and a travelogue, we've been careful to answer briefly, and to this point have shown no pictures.  Except to you, sucker.
One of the questions we'd like to answer that no one has asked is, "What do they eat in New Zealand?"  Ah, great question.
To begin with, we had to put away some serious calories for the rides each day.  Great excuse, no?
Just to get it out of the way, they don't eat Vegamite® - that's Australia.  Instead, they have Marmite®, which originated in England and which is basically the same thing, and for which I still lack a good grasp of its purpose.
The taste is kind of yeasty, salty, mineral-ly, and they say that you can put it on about anything.  The reverse side even gives some suggestions:
So, next time you need a boost for your bangers (that's sausages, mind you) find some Marmite.
Wait, aren't there are a bunch of sheep running/leaping about in New Zealand?
 What about them?  
Great question.  I'm not sure how to put this delicately, but the ones, er, like the little one in front in the picture are prepared quite deliciously.  I've been told...
A year-old sheep is known as a "hogget," and it's meat is called the same.  After that, it's "mutton," and it's thought to be less culinarily desirable, and sadly it's used for dog food, etc.
Isn't New Zealand surrounded by ocean?  
Yes, and they eat things from it also, though the terminology is different.  Here in North Carolina, this is called a "crayfish."  Sorry, "crawdad."
I noticed "crayfish" on the menu at an eatery, and wondered about the huge price for such a little thing.  Below is a New Zealand "crayfish," caught by one of our cycling guides, and it's probably worth the price.
Here in the States, "fast food" denotes something quick, but not always that good or good for you.
Our first day on the bikes, we stopped at a little café, and were told that there was "cabinet food" available.  Noting that I had never before been invited to consume furniture, I was shown to a glass-front refrigerated cabinet in which heavenly things, like smoked-salmon bagels and quiche lorraine and salads and on and on were displayed, freshly prepared and reasonably priced, to be heated and brought to your table by a friendly Kiwi.
Oh, my gosh!  This café must have been an exceptional place!  Nope.  Cabinet food was everywhere, and always yummy!  
Speaking of kiwis, don't even think about it.  They are fiercely protected, and probably wouldn't have very big drumsticks anyway.  Hmm, maybe with some barbecue sauce...
They also have great stuff to drink, and even great non-alcoholic stuff to drink.  I became quite fond of "L&P," a fizzy lemonade concoction.  The company slogan is, "World Famous in New Zealand!"
I always thought that the Hokey Pokey was a dance that clarifies what it's all about, but apparently, it's a great edible treat in Kiwi land.  This really, really good ice cream was full of the stuff, crunchy toffee bits. 
The bottom line is that it's not only a friendly and beautiful place to visit, but the food is superb.  We never had a bad meal, whether at a nice restaurant,
or even a bar in a small town on the coast (sorry, Mom!  I promise that I don't eat in bars!  That often.)
With all that great food, we feared not being allowed to board the plane to go home, or at least being charged extra for the additional fuel needed to lug us across the Pacific.  However, all the cycling must have just about balanced the caloric misbehavior; when all was said and done, we came out even.
Cool!  One of the Seven Deadly Sins (Gluttony) and we got off Scot free!  Yee Hah!
We hope that all of your trips are as delicious.
Dave & Paula

Monday, February 26, 2018

Kiwi land!

You'll notice a big gap in these entries.  We were gone to the South Island of New Zealand for just short of the entire month of February, but figured we shouldn't make that widely known, or people might break in to the house and steal something valuable, like, uh, the TV (no, 15 years old, small), the computers (uh, uh, 14 and 9 years old, slow), the stereo (no, 15 years old, crummy), jewelry (nope), cash (joke), credit cards (had them with us, used them too much).  OK, so we probably didn't need to be so careful.  I guess we were just having too much fun to write.
In 2011, we came close to going to New Zealand, but just didn't feel right about it.  We would have landed at 6:30 AM in Christchurch, and the deadly earthquake struck at 12:51 AM, about six hours later.
No such feelings this time.  We got there on Paula's __th birthday, February 5th, and rode our bikes around the South Island, starting in Christchurch and going down the west coast.
Each day we'd get up, put on the usual weird cyclist clothing dictated by the day's expected weather, eat a huge breakfast, hustle our luggage out to the van, and head out on the road.  By the way, that's one of the guides photo-bombing Paula.
We cycled between 30 and 84 miles each day, stopping along the way at a café or for a picnic lunch if we were in the sticks.
There are said to be about ten sheep in New Zealand for every human, but I lost count.
The accommodations at the end of each day were always good, at times the best in a small town, or in a few cases, the only accommodations in town.
Classy to the max, we took advantage of the occasional washing machine, and some cord for the dryer.
In truth, that night was our favorite, in a humble cabin in the middle of nowhere, on a high plain among big mountains.  It was absolutely silent.  We stepped out to see more stars that I thought existed, and then slept soundly under the drying underwear.
At the same place, we took a jet boat ride up a small river to near a glacier-topped mountain peak.  The boat was piloted by a former farmer, who admitted that it took him a while to be able to say much to the tourists, but not long to learn how to scare them in the boat.
We stayed in several towns on the west coast that were snug up against glaciers, with helicopters ferrying the tourists up and down.
One morning we awoke to a clear view of Aoraki/Mt. Cook (on the right) from the motel, before the rain set in for the day.
Much of the riding was nothing short of spectacular.  The traffic wasn't bad at all, despite it being Chinese New Year, meaning there were poorly-piloted camper vans careening about.
Like I said, spectacular, even in the rain.  Look closely, and you'll get an idea of scale by noting the bus on the road in the distance.  It's the teeny dark thing.
We actually did two cycling tours, one from Christchurch down the west coast to Queenstown, then Queenstown to Christchurch up the east coast.  During the gap between, we took a bus ride to Fiordland National Park, and a boat down Milford Sound.  Again, otherworldly, perhaps even more so because of the rain and wind.
There were several epic climbs over mountain passes through the Southern Alps, including one with 17% gradients.  If this were a video, you'd note that my arms and legs are shaking.
It was times like those that one wished for an energy source other than one's legs.
I know you get to see the same things from behind the wheel of a car, but it's different on a bike.
There were some pretty funny moments along the way, like the time we were invaded by ducks.
 Or the time the kiwi guide got Paula to swim in the coldest water I've ever dove in to.
During the two-day gap in Queenstown, we wandered around town, and learned that the city deserves it's reputation as The Adrenaline Capital of the World.  Bungy jumping was actually invented here.  Every other store front was either a purveyor of various activities, or selling outdoor gear to participate in them.
We thought the gondola ride up the mountain was for sissies (with high credit limits) and so we hiked up.
The ride up the east coast went to the very bottom of the island, then swung north.  In North Carolina, a southerly breeze brings warm, moist air.  In New Zealand, a southerly "breeze" comes straight from Antarctica (check your map), and though not represented in the photos, there were several days of strong wind and rain.
However, there were also some gorgeous days...with wind.
The coast line was obviously constructed by the New Zealanders for the tourists and their cameras.  That's a fur seal on the rock in the foreground of the first photo.
Beautiful, no?  Did I mention the wind?  
Oh, and the climbs.  Did I mention the climbs?
Last day on the road, last climb.  That's why she's smiling, folks.
Arriving back in Christchurch, we had a couple of days to let our heart rates return to normal.  We lucked in to an Air BnB on the beach to the east of town, with great kiwi hosts.
Doesn't every Air BnB have a lap pool and sauna?  No?
We took some nice strolls on the beach.  However, just because February 26th is equivalent to August 26th in the Northern Hemisphere doesn't mean it's not cold in Christchurch.  
In the end, a truly great trip.  Now, a big challenge is going to be eating normally, remembering that we're not on the bikes every day.
We hope that all your winds are tailwinds, and that your water is warmer.
Dave & Paula