Today is a truly a vacation day. Grace and I will not have to pack up our gear and check out today for the first time in 14 days of good hard travel. We have our own room (not sharing dorm space with any foreigners, pleasant or otherwise, at the eerily quiet Marine Backpackers in Sumner (just 30 minutes from downtown Christchurch). We are 2 blocks from the beach, 2 minutes from the fish and chips shop, and 2 seconds from the bar. I think I did mention that it is officially the Marine Bar and Backpackers. We have all of our needs well met. I believe that it is quiet here because yesterday there were still signs about the town stating WATER POLLUTED posted in front of the surf shops and at the beach. Well, we lucked out. Since when has a little E coli contamination kept us out of the water or even drinking it for that matter.
Actually our surf instructor yesterday did check for the all clear with authorities before allowing us in the water. There are some (but very few things) that Kiwis take seriously. Water pollution is apparently one of them. There was a sewage spill from a broken pipe in a nearby estuary that occurred over a week ago. Water testing on the weekend showed the beach to be clear but they continued to keep the beach closed until further surveillance. Yesterday late afternoon the tests were fine so Grace and I lucked into our first surf lesson within one hour of arrival. As stated in last blog notes, it was exhilarating and exhausting. Today I can feel those arms and shoulder muscles pleasantly aching. I experienced one nosedive (where you bury your head into the sand as you fly forward off the board bringing laughter to any one fortunate enough to witness it) but the thick Norwegian skull prevails… No worries in the head department.
We’ll need a really fast shutter speed but I’ll try to capture some images of us above board today.
A few observations about Kiwi culture. They have a great sense of fun and what’s possible. Yesterday when we first arrived in Sumner we could not find any info available regarding lodging, surfing, etc. At an I site. (These are usually well represented in even the most remote locations.) Fortunately the library was open. I approached the local librarian, a woman of roughly my own age, 50ish, and she did not bat an eye or laugh uproariously when I inquired about surfing lessons. She got rather excited and began an earnest search for the local surf instructors as if she was on board with the whole adventure. She was like most everyone over here, very helpful in a familiar way, as if she had known me for much longer than 30 seconds. I realize that most of the NZ economy is dependent on tourism, but New Zealanders seem to genuinely enjoy being hosts to their country. I have not travelled abroad extensively, but I have never found a ubiquitously more hospitable country in the world. It is if they have all had college education in the hospitality profession. It comes very naturally to them. And they do it all with out pretense but with a generous dose of humor. They are not afraid to have a bit of fun with you at your own expense. Here’s a good example of that.
When Grace and I had a guided paddling day of kayaking in Abel Tasman, we were grouped together with 6 others from around the world. At the end of the day of paddling, as we cruised toward our final destination at Anchorage Beach, all 5 kayaks were lashed together (with our hands gripping each others kayak seats). Our guide, Laird (I will call him that because he was Laird like in his naughty charming way) brought out a large sail. The outside kayaks each took a corner of the sail so that we could sail into the harbor rather than paddle the last bit. Laird invited any one to become the mast head for the group by straddling the front middle kayaks. Candy (a pilot from San Francisco) accepted the offer/challenge. She was very athletic, scantily clad in a black bikini so she of course was the natural choice. She easily stood up on the bows of 2 of the kayaks and we all enjoyed (some more than others) her antics. Then Laird had to up the ante by parting the kayaks forcing Candy to perform the splits. Fortunately she was extremely flexible as she looked like an Olympian up front with her legs fully extended. We all laughed including Candy and she crawled back to her seat. Laird tried to get me to do same, but I modestly declined. However, a very tall (6’6”), lean iron Man type from Germany named Mike accepted the challenge. Now, Mike was nearly my age and had already witnessed what a scene Laird had created with Candy, so he was fully informed when he decided to become the second mast head. Mike obviously had a very twisted sense of humor and was a bit of a showman himself. He clambered forward to the front middle kayaks and straddled them with less grace than Candy. As he stood fully appreciating the fact that we were all laughing with him, once again Laird parted the kayaks and it was Mike’s turn to do the splits in his black speedo.
He survived this ordeal as we laughed and laughed. Then I called out for an encore. He was very much enjoying being the center of attention so he decided to stand on his hands on the kayak. He managed to get into some form of an awkward hand stand position momentarily, but then the Laird factor kicked in. Once again the kayaks mysteriously parted and Mike could no longer stay balanced. He came down hard, crotch first over the bow of a kayak and then flopped into the Tasman Sea, laughing the entire time. Of course, all of us nearly fell out of our kayaks, laughing our asses off. As he scramble into the bow of his own double kayak in retreat, he swamped that kayak but this time, Laird reached over and single handedly uprighted the kayak. At the end of our sail into the harbor, Mike did end up swamping Laird’s kayak and then both tipped over in what was observed by another guide on the beach to be the world’s slowest swamp. More about Kiwi humor later.