Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Beginnings One

Hello Mate! Welcome underground!
We’re in Christchurch. We’re not in Asia anymore! Yay! 
The shuttle from the airport takes us to the hotel. We rented an apartment for 5 days. As usual the first day is for accommodating. We came with a cold air front and we have to change our plans. Ileana is turning fifteen and we wanted as a gift for her to swim with the dolphins, but it will have to be two days later. We ask her what she wants and she chooses to sleep in and computer time. In the morning Mihai picks up the rented car. It says “Keep Left” above the steering wheel. It is a challenge to mirror all the rules that we’ve learned for driving. In the afternoon we visit the Antarctic Center.
For a space so small, it packs a huge amount of information. To think that only a hundred years ago people were still trying to get to the South Pole, still mapping places on the seventh continent. How much technology have changed and how much we’ve learned from studying Antarctica. We “experienced” the change of seasons, a “real” storm that came every 30 minutes, we saw a 4D movie about life in Antarctica, Ioan dressed up in clothes used on the US Base. 

They even had real blue penguins, who were injured and rescued. It was interesting and again, doors closed on us. 
The next day we visit the Botanical Gardens. The weather cleared and ... it’s fall. March for them spells end of summer and yellow leaves. As we walk the grounds we come across a wish tree. It is a huge eucalyptus with a string on which people hang their wishes: I wish happiness and well being for the people I know, Peace on Earth, no earthquakes, be a rock-star...
It is time to go swim with the dolphins. It is in Akaroa, an extinct volcano that was flooded. The drive there is beautiful. The sky is blue, it’s relatively warm and 2 meters/ 6 feet swells on the sea! The counter girl from Black Cat Cruises asked us if we are confident swimmers. No, we’re not. It seems that this is a gift not to be given. Ileana is not bothered. She can claim a gift from us when she sees one!
No swim, no cruise, yes visit Akaroa. We learn more about paua shell, that lives only here. It has beautiful blue iridescent colors and they insert half of spheres to obtain cultured pearls. The rest of the shell is used for jewelry or as a decorative object. 
To return to Christchurch we chose the scenic route. The wind picks up and brings in and transforms clouds. We see a grassy spot that reminds me of Van Gogh. 

There are sheep there, but they are afraid of humans. Later we will see black swans on a lake.
A new day is here and it is one of many “for the first time”: first time driving a campervan, an RV; first time camping in it; first time seeing whales.
The campervan is named Big Bear and has 5+1 beds. If he would be mine he would have a better compartmentalization, but it’s OK. It takes us a while to get used to it, to pass each other in the walking space. Our luggage fits perfectly, and beside pajamas and toiletries, everything is stashed away. 
As Mihai starts driving we’re stressed way above our heads: it is sooo big, it’s with a shift stick on his left, not as he learned on his right, he’s supposed to drive on the other side of the road! There are lots of noises as he changes speeds, and no matter how we try he can’t get it in the fourth. We realized later that the fourth is at a speed of 45 km/h and its top speed was 90. As we got used at its clanks and noises, the narrow roads, the one lane bridges, we relaxed, enjoyed the spectacular view and the funny signs (100 is not a target! drive according to the conditions)
Kaikoroua (pronounced Kye koo ra)
Is our first stop, as we want to watch whales. We had the beginners luck and entered a camp site, where we became members (good for the Australian part too) and got a discount for the camp, as we pay per person, and also on the cruise.
When we were in our twenties we went camping with our backpacks, but for our children this is a first.  It was nice to discover that we had a kitchen, laundry, a playground, TV and conference room, even a free spa. From the corner of free stuff we completed our cleaning supplies (they were not provided).
The woman from the campgrounds told us to ignore the sign that says no direct access, showed us the hole in the fence and we crossed the train rails to get to the Whale Watcher’s Cruise. The girls didn’t want to come, they chose quiet time and internet.
We watched a movie about different kind of whales. Then we got our briefing for the vessel, climbed in a bus to take us to the pier, got on the boat and started. The sea was calm, the day was warm. We didn’t have time to adjust to the way of sea, when they spotted and stopped next to a sperm whale catching its breath on the surface. What we could see of it was the dorsal flipper, more like a hump, and part of its head. The skin looked brown, with long and deep wrinkles. From time to time he would spray and bob up and down with the waves.

 We were all in awe, clicking picture after picture. Then they said that this is it, it’s going to go under the water, come for a last breath, and then dive, showing us his tail. I was trying to take pictures, but the hair of a woman was getting into them, so I didn’t see it with my own eyes. It was an experience, such an encounter, not short, but not long enough, and you can’t say “do it again”.
So we sailed again, going slowly, and found another one and we did the same thing, though much more calmer this time. It is such a wonderful thing to see them. They are so long, 16-18 m/ 48-55ft long, still they seem so small, almost lost in the vastness of the ocean. The spray is a few meters tall, like a small geyzer, only more reliable. 

And then it disappears again. This time I was prepared and got every movement of it: the fin, the ridge of its spine cord, the last part of its body, then the tail, getting out of the water, rising, dripping sea water, flipping elegantly, and diving slowly. I still had a ghost image on my retina, my mind was playing the movie again and again, even if there were only circles on the water surface.
YES! We became more enthusiast, comparing our pictures, showing the movie. While moving we saw some dolphins, playing in front of the boat, but they were too quick to be caught in pictures. We arrived at some rocks on which there were seals lazily sunning themselves and albatrosses. They looked so familiar...and so intangible. Images from Galapagos were running through my head. We were fortunate to have visited it. And again, now, for being here. On the right it was a nursery, several cubs were playing with the wave line: not too brave, they got sprayed, too daring, the wave caught and tumbled them in the sea weeds. 

Half way up the rock the road was blocked by another seal; which way to go? Eventually she chose an almost vertical one, pushing herself on the front flippers, and balancing the tail with her head. She just needed a spot under the sun, where she was not going to be disturbed.
Suddenly, they announced that another whale surfaced and started with high speed toward there. This time I had the binoculars, and through them it was so close. There were fleeting moments, after a breath, when I could see the breathing hole, like a muscular C. Then it would be again covered with water. 

How is this possible, going minutes out of shore and finding whales? The volcanic island has underwater canyons going as deep as 1300m/4000ft. There they can find giant squid, from which they take their water (they are 98% water), and sharks, which they swallow whole, and fish. 
And again, the whale gets ready for its dive, and though we’ve seen it two times already, we’re not tired of it, we want more. You look at that tail, with it’s telling fringes, how it just silently cuts the water and disappears. 
I have a quiet feeling of happiness. This whale watching trip was on Mihai’s list, I could have lived without it. I was thinking, after reading a National Geographic article, that their breath is going to have a fishy smell and, if we meet with their scat, an oily liquid on the sea surface, that would be a rotten fishy smell. Maybe from a close distance, or maybe the author was very sensitive to smells, but from where I was, it smelled of sea.
Here we go again, high speed, chasing another whale. This one I was fortunate enough to see it from a distance, a small spray of water interrupting the horizon line.

 And watching again, how it breathes, how it moves, how long is its head, the blowhole, the hump. Sometimes there are scars, but I couldn’t see. 

“This is it, get ready” says the voice over megaphone and we all are eyes and cameras.
We didn’t have enough, but is time to go. A member of the crew tells us a little bit more about what we saw. From those four whales, two were returning, Tiki and Tiaki, meaning Defender.
After the cruise we spend some time on the beach, marveling at the different levels with different sizes of rounded black stones. 
Another new beginning. 

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