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January 27, 2012

New Zealand, Lake Taupo

By Maryanna Gabriel

This photo is of the tallest mountain in New Zealand, Mt. Cook, shimmering on Lake Pukaiki, however the Maori call this mountain Aoraki and revere it as the physical embodiment of the greatest of their ancestors. It is considered a link from this world to the supernatural. This south island is extremely beautiful.
I have seen the west side, the east side, the bottom bit, and the middle. Crossing back into the north island I once again see Tongariro National Park, given by the Maori to the world, it has three volcanoes and a vast landscape. The Maori were not satisfied it is a World UNESCO Park it has been upgraded even more due to its cultural significance. This means if the New Zealand government fails in the responsibility of preserving this area then UNESCO can step in and take over. Here in Lake Taupo a local said that he remembers volcanic ash coming down and that as a lad he drove up to watch the rocks the size of cars spewing out of the volcano. From my window I can see the volcano that was filmed in the Lord of the Rings, Mount Doom. All very geologically seething. Two tectonic plates meet here and four fault lines are encompassed in this country. New Zealand is the most recent land mass to be formed in the world and also the most recent to be populated, the Maori coming here around 950 AD. Enough facts and figures. I am leaving New Zealand for awhile and returning to see the top bit while I wait for the final leg of my journey. Stay with me. It is going to be interesting.

January 23, 2012

New Zealand, The Remarkables

By Maryanna Gabriel

Here are photos of the mountains called The Remarkables around Queenstown on the south end of New Zealand. It is a hybrid of Banff and Whistler to my mind.

Everybody is running around having a good time floating around in the sky in flying things, in the water, walking on the trails, or shopping. There are languages being spoken on the streets from all parts of the world with a very strong Japanese contingent.
This parrot is called a Kia and is one of the most intelligent birds in the world that can solve complicated problems. The Kia likes to pick apart cars as is pictured here where it pecked at the bus. The mountain that I am in front of is Mitre Peak and is one of the most photographed mountains in the world;).

January 21, 2012

New Zealand, Stewart and Ulva Island

By Maryanna Gabriel

It is pretty, very pretty, as one follows the east coast of New Zealand southward, rolling farmlands are sparsely inhabited with a mountainous inland studded with turquoise lakes. I am about as far south now as I am willing to go. I am starting to bump into travellers headed for the Antarctic with big jackets. Summer has come and gone here, summer being the month of December only, it is the coldest I have experienced yet on my travels with rain 270 days of the year. The crossing was in gale force winds and if I thought I was fine I started to double check as passengers around me were sick. One person woofed her cookies right beside the skipper in front of everyone, a performance that brought the boat to a complete standstill while we all watched. The captain apologized for the winds but said it typified the 40’s latitude we were in and said at least we weren’t in the howling 50’s or the screaming 60’s. There are men here wearing shorts and gaiters, trekking gear, the back country uniform. The people that live here are descendants of European whalers who married Maori women and the town is culturally integrated. That was after the Maori were shamelessly hunted down and killed. In these parts the Maori were waiting and ready and managed to eat those that had killing on their mind. They spared an American who married the chief’s daughter and this gentleman ended up being the next chief. The wildness of the wind perhaps creates a tough breed of islander bent on reversal of fortune, it is clearly marked Oban on the map and in the signage but apparently nobody that lives here calls the town this. They call it Halfmoon Bay but it was actually historically named Horseshoe Bay. A London cartographer mixed the names up when the map was issued. In politeness that name has stuck but it all seems a bit haphazard and blique for me, surprising, as I am a tried and true island girl myself. If you are going to put me in a gray sheet of howling wind and rain you have to give me a woodstove. “I just love it,” my waitress said, “At least you can still see down the bay. Sometimes it is a wall of black.” She has been here since November and is from Wales. My hotel is like something out of an Agatha Christie novel.

Today I felt a bit better on a boat ride to Ulva Island which is a national preserve for special reason. Enroute we saw enormous albatross and tiny blue penguins. Here we were introduced to plant life that had some unique primeval plants, missing links in a unique and ancient rain forest. There is a plant called Tmesipteris or Chain Fern that is the forebear to vascular plants and our coniferous forests. Here there are no stoats, or possum, so plants and birds are able to survive that normally would not be able to. We were shown an orchid that possum usually destroy, also there were birds that were thought to be extinct and which have found to live on Ulva Island. One was a little bird that looked like a Brown Creeper called a Pipipi. It didn’t at all behave like a bird. If one moved ones foot across the dirt it hopped to the area looking for bugs even if it was inches from your foot. It had no fear. The kiwi also looks for grubs and has evolved so that it has no wings and is susceptible to the same predators but is easily able to survive here. The kiwi is a strange bird that has multiple mammal characteristics. It is believed to have evolved from the moa that lived not so long ago and has now been hunted to extinction.

The plants, and some of the birds still have defenses against the moa (a giant ostrich) even although they have been gone a century or so. This land is part of Zealandia that separated from Gondwarra. Genetic testing has shown that the kiwi and some of the parrots are relatives of Australia while other parrots are relatives of South America. Much of the life here is unique to these islands, Tasmania, and New Caledonia all of which separated from Gondwarra long ago.This island is laced with golden sandy beaches which the travel brochures certainly play up but one just has to wait be patient for that sunshine.

January 12, 2012

New Zealand, Christchurch

By Maryanna Gabriel

My impression on initially walking the downtown core of this famous city was that I thought that it looked alright until closer examination proved

me wrong as my eyes swept over buildings and roadways more carefully. That hotel is completely split in the middle, I noted. A building would seem intact and the building beside it would be shored up, windows would still be smashed in others, signs of recent repair and then teetering street signs, steeples tilting, pavement heaving in places like a funhouse gone awry. I get it, I said to myself, I get it. It seemed to be encapsulated by a sign I saw that said- the heart of Christchurch is broken but still beating. That is how it felt to me as well. Later my host, Jeanette, drove me through the streets and talked of what it looked like before and after. We got out and walked. She showed me a second story restaurant that still at this moment has plates with meals sitting on it from that fateful day, entry to it barred and unsafe. Peering through the window I could make out the dishes sitting there. She mentioned that people had just walked away leaving their keys and jackets when the quake started. We walked down the downtown main street where several cranes were working even although it was clearly well into the evening. Enormous metal crates, resembling train box

cars had been brought in and new businesses were re-establishing themselves in them, their bright colours giving the street a cheerful air. Flowers were out in planters and past chicken wire with keep out signs, older buildings were awaiting their fate. Some historic structures that might have survived , the subsequent quakes completed the structural weakening. We drove past a church that had the steeple sitting upright on the ground beside it. On the sidewalks were tents with restaurants and where groceries could be purchased as well as other businesses. Jeanette commented that streets that were closed on her last visit had been reopened and she was happy to see that as it helped with understanding the flow of traffic, one did not quite know where streets would stop and start. Clearly the historic colleges by the River Avon were also shored up, lovely old buildings also awaiting their fate. I could see this city had once been a thriving and interesting place but I had made up my mind. I was only going to stay here one night. I returned to my room after dinner out and was sitting on my chair writing my daughter when the shaking started. My chair is moving I said calmly to myself. I waited. After awhile it seemed to subside but not before the whole room shook. How do people do this, I asked myself. The following morning I awoke happy to be in one piece and checked the earthquake site. There it was; a 4.6, with the epicenter very close. I checked out and mentioned to the hotel owner that that was a 4.6 last night. He looked at me from under his brows and gave me a sheepish smile. “That was a deep one, a real good one.” “I don’t have a lot of basis for comparison,” I replied. “Er”, I continued, “Wishing you all the best with everything. I am not sorry to be catching the bus out.” He smiled at me ruefully. As the miles between myself and Christchurch increased we headed across the Canterbury planes into the mountains. It was several hours before I relaxed.

January 10, 2012

New Zealand , Pangaroa National Park

By Maryanna Gabriel

Instincts served me well to hone into this area. It is really beautiful. I am in a place called Pancake Rocks Blow Holes in Pangaroa National Park by

the Porari River. This coastline is beyond stunning, clean, clear, pure and characterized by rocks that look like stacks of pancakes set with a snow-capped mountain backdrop that is the Mount Cook area. Hardly anyone lives here, there are very few facilities, and more tourists than they know what to do with. It is a way point for people travelling and this is a remote area. I have been fortunate enough to be able to take time to walk up the

river and wander the bays and beaches. Inland there are a series of bluffs that are unique and difficult to capture in photographs that the river winds under. One doesn’t worry about animals here the way we do in Canada, for there are none. It was like this when the Maori came. It’s just the way it is. Birds. No animals. What one does run into is poison and traps laid for possum and stoat, both introduced. What is a stoat I asked myself, and I am sorry I don’t know that much about it but I did see a young one in a trap and it looks like a little dog thing with short legs and goodness knows why the British brought it over. There is a kind of a jungle that is the river valley, a fern tree presentation with thick grasses that are like pampas. It isn’t very inviting and while I am of the understanding there is nothing poisonous I keep to the trekking path not wishing to push my luck on the subject. What does bite are nasty black flies that come out in the early evening, vicious creatures and the beaches are populated by a biting sand flea that “loves English blood” making beach sitting a restless experience. The Maori of course have something to say about this saying it is, in measure, protective. The Maori are beautiful looking people, I met a family today. He came selling ‘green stone’ and I bought a couple of pieces from him, happier that I could meet the artist as opposed to purchasing through a shop. Tomorrow I am being taken to a coastal town that is famous for it called Hokatika. I have also been offered a car trip to Christchurch and so I am going to take that with my host rather than the famous train. We will go through Arthur’s Pass which is supposed to be mountainous scenery.

January 5, 2012

New Zealand, Nelson

By Maryanna Gabriel

I have been recovering. I didn't realize I was so bushed. All I seem to want to eat is yoghurt and the 5 hour time change from Lombok to New Zealand has been more difficult than I anticipated. It takes 6 hours to fly from Indonesia on account of how absolutely large Australia is. It is about the same distance as from Vancouver to eastern Ontario according to my fingers which are not all that accurate really. I was curious about this city which is on the top of the south island as I heard it was like our Nelson in British Columbia. To some extent I would have to say that this is true. It is an artistic type of a community with older buildings but has a lot more light and the surrounding area is relatively low. It is also on

the ocean rather than a lake. There is a jazz festival and a film festival going on here this week, a perfect antidote for what I have just come through and I enthusiastically settled into it despite the decrepid hostel I find myself in, a decaying mansion located conveniently close to everything. Nelson recently experienced drastic flooding from intense rain and homes have slipped down slopes as a result. I read in this mornings paper that 180 homes have been condemned. As 10,000 people have relocated here from Christchurch due to the quakes it must be quite worrisome for some. I have been curious about the earthquakes in Christchurch. In this mornings paper I read that "More than 9,500 shakes have hit Canterbury since the 7.1 magnitude quake in September 4, 2010," (The Press, Christchurch, January 6, 2012). The subject of rebuilding peppers the papers and everytime I read one it is a hot topic. Yesterday the band that you see the picture of here were joking about luiquifaction. I didn't really clearly understand that word until I saw a film here at the festival called "When A City Falls" about Christchurch. My God. Mud and water oozed up from the ground after the quakes creating an enormous mess and it is ongoing. Almost 200 people died mostly from being trapped in buildings. Their great cathedrals were severely damaged. It was clear to me in watching people descibe their heart break over who they lost and how, that the understated British reserve thrives here and emotions are kept in check even although it is appallingly difficult. I was reading in the local paper yesterday about a politician in Christchurch responding to a blog that said it was best to avoid the place as it is still dangerous. He refuted this and said Christchurch is on the rebuild and the "glass is half full". I thought to myself, firstly this blog you are reading is private, not published, so I want to feel free to speak my mind and not see a rebuttal in a paper, but secondly, Christchurch cannot in good conscience encourage tourism because the quakes are ongoing. It isn't a one-off. The paper here in Nelson had a graph on the front page of multitudinous quakes that had occurred the night before last. The area does not seem to be settling down - and it seems to me, lovely as this city is, to live in it would require nerves of steel. I plan to visit but for one night only. Apparently the downtown core is cordoned off. My next moves are just clarifying now. I am going to Paparoa National Park tomorrow to help a lady out there who is running a kayak and canoe business. The area is lovely and I am hoping it will go well.

January 1, 2012

Indonesia, Lombok

By Maryanna Gabriel

Lombok. Oi. Some countries one can be semi-detached from – others command a
more active involvement. Lombok demanded a rise from me in the sense that part of it was like an endurance test and just when I was entrenched in that as the modus operandi, I was set down in a tropical island paradise. Contrast makes for heightened appreciation I suppose. As I write to you, I hear the sound of waves from turquoise waters and I watch brightly coloured, covered, barges disembark. It is peaceful and quiet and for the most part tranquil. Hemingway would have liked it here. It is perfect as it is but I sense this little island won’t be left alone, it
will be built up like its neighbouring sister island. Gede (pronounced good day), our Balinese guide, says that this island was the final destination at the end of “Eat, Pray, Love”. It is also known as the “Honeymoon Island”. It is good to rest and come out of the defensiveness engendered by the week prior.Where Bali is primarily Hindu, Lombok is primarily Muslim. Mosques replace the Hindu temples. Lombok is about two thirds the size of Bali with considerably less population. The humidity is wilting and when I looked at an atlas I was surprised to see how close to the equator we are. It isn’t a warm cosy place for the most part. We must be infidels I should think. Call to prayer commences over the loudspeakers at 4:40 a.m. sometimes accompanied by the howling of dogs and in one case a cacacaphony of music and rival loudspeakers that were impossible to sleep through. One night I had a monkey hurl its body at the window and then jump onto the roof and it
sounded like it was trying to rip it off. Accommodation in one case was without running water, dirty, and had most of us clenching our bellies as cramps ripped through our digestive systems as the unsanitary conditions were more than our western bodies could endure. Means of transport is incredibly overworked ponies pulling carts, laden mopeds (without helmets) and Mitsubushi lorries. People carry all kinds of amazing things on their head including baskets of stones. I just watched a man walk by with a pillow on his head as I was writing. We toured rice fields and walked through people’s yards in the process as well as watched women doing amazingly skilled weaving (Ikeat) on hand looms, sitting on the bare ground. Gede is able to speak the language here which is different from Balinese. Gede tells me it is Muslim because of traders that came from Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. He says that Lombok is what Bali used to look like 40 years ago. There is very little garbage here for one whereas Bali is an eyesore in this way. Lombok has an active trading relationship with China. Potatoes we ate are from there and rice is exported to China
leaving the needs of the people here shy of their yearly quota which is not a great situation. The little island we are on now is thankfully recycling the omnipresent plastic water bottles and it is the cleanest place I have seen.
My fellow travellers have been amazing, a pleasure to get to know, and I am deeply moved by them. They are positive, upbeat, uncomplaining and fun. We have a strong Canadian contingent along with Australians, Europeans and Americans. They have restored a sense of hope for me and a renewed commitment to my life after some horrendously painful events in my life. Yesterday we all went snorkelling; the underwater gardens in this ocean are startlingly beautiful. We saw sea turtles and an abundance of multi-coloured iridescent fish. We came back and played volleyball on the beach
and dined on fresh fish together beside the ocean. There are palapa-type, grass roofed huts that are a joy to dine in and we are happy to enjoy a more expanded menu in addition to a diet of rice and noodles. Tonight we are having a fire on the beach as a farewell dinner party. Gede will leave to continue the tour in Java and I ready myself with mixed feelings to fly out of this country with much gratitude for being able to participate this far. May the new year bring us all continued blessings and wishing you much fulfillment and happiness:)