Christchurch II (5th June to 8th June)

Wednesday, 08th June, 2005

A 45% full Air New Zealand from Christchurch to Sydney, landing on 34L. Quickly through Customs and Immigration, and home. Being a farmer’s son, I know the impact of footrot (and other nasty diseases), so I’d cleaned the sheep poo from my shoes. Customs were happy and no xray or hand inspection necessary. I was expecting the full drug-sniffing dog treatment.

On Sydney soil for only 18 hours, and Avril and I are off. To Mexico via LAX.

Monday, 06th June, 2005

Out of the hotel at 8.30pm, Stamatia and I head towards Mount Hutt. A little secret in my life is that I’ve only been to “the snow” once – when I was less than 2 years old – and have never returned. Today is the day for me to be re-introduced.

Mount Hutt is the closest skiing/snowboarding mountain to Christchurch – about 2 hours drive from centre Christchurch to the car park at the peak: including time for the application of chains and to stop and take in the scenery of the Cantebury plan juxtaposed with the snow-capped mountains.

At the base of the mountain, I hire chains for the hire car – including installation this is NZ$20. Not a bad deal at all, since it takes two people crawling around the dirty wheel arches; mud, grease and tire black: installing chains to the tyres.

Picking up two Christchurch student snowboarders for company, Jack (from Shanghai) and Steelian (from Belgium) we drive up the winding, muddy and then snow capped roads with a sheer rise on one side, and fall to the other. Our lives are in my hands. Okeydoakey, lets go.

The disconcerting experience of having the wheel hard over in the exact direction of the sheer drop to certain page 1 headlines in Sydney, to point the car in a forwards direction is rather strange. Being my first experience with snow and chain driving is all the adrenaline rush I need. For today at least.

Snow. It starts of cold, and then it gets wet. Then its really cold. Now, I’ve cleaned refridgerator freezers in my time: from the big box ones to baby ones. Snow is this, just spread all around. As a committed winter person, I am in love. OK, so I’ve now experienced snow. Cool. Its bloody cold; time for coffee.

After watching the skiiers and snowboarders clash for the powdery runs, we decide the leave for windier climes.

One the trip down Mount Hutt there are two pieces of critical advice that pounded in my head. One over 20 years ago from my dad about “turning out of the curve of a slide” and more recently from Shanghai Jack (the snowboarder hitchhiker): don’t break and use a low gear. Both of these pieces of advice were instrumental in a safe trip down. Once sideways slide (saved) and many times ultimate control helped.

Chains off, and two hour drive back via Lyttelton to Sumner for a late lunch at the Rock Cafe. This is on the esplanade near what Sumner calls a beach. Two surfers brave the temperature, wind and rain.

We follow more sheer cliff-bound roads to Godley head. Scoped out yesterday, and after the rain and into the wind – Stamatia and I explore the site of a WWII battery that has clear views over Lyttleton harbour and Christchurch. All that is left now are sheep of mixed heritage (merinos, suffolks and a lancashire cross I think) protecting the harbour from terrorists.

Drive home (hotel) and rest.

Monday, 06th June, 2005

I have returned to Christchurch (refer Wellington and Christchurch (21st April and 22nd April)), New Zealand, for 4 days. Away from Sydney at Sunday at 6am, for a 40% full Qantas flight at 8:55am. The flight was so quick, I didn’t have time to listen to 2 hours of the 17 hours I can fit onto my new iPod Shuffle. Yes, I caved in at Duty Free and lumped down AU9 for 1Gb of backup device. This is about AU more than a Sandisk 1Gb SD card – so its not too bad for Apple-badged equipment. On the flight, only 5 seats out of 30 business class seats are taken.

Flying over the snow-capped peaks causes all the passengers to peek out at a unique piece of geography.

Through Christchurch Immmigration and Customs, I look sheepishly for the drug-sniffing dogs. Looking like a sheep when attempting to avoid professional coked-up canines is not a good move. Last time I came into NZ via Christchurch, I was assaulted in a “special way” in the crotch by a drug sniffing dog. This caused 30 minutes of extreme baggaging searching and ultimate frustration for the eager customs officer. This time, I exit cleanly.

Christchurch is conveniently situated around the local rugby fields, so its easy to find your way around. This trip, I’ve taken the plunge in a hirecar.

I think of Alan, the taxi driver I had in my last trip to Christchurch. I hope he has today off. Many of the locations of visit today and tomorrow are a result of my questions. Sumner, Mount Hutt.

Making my way out to the southern part of the Pacific, I take some quick photos and make my way to Taylor’s Mistake via Sumner. Spotting the Godley Point WWII battery, I make a note to visit tomorrow. Its back to Christchurch via the Lyttelton tunnel. Now that’s a tunnel!

I’ve noticed more in the south island that rubgy plays a close first as the official religion of state – just like AFL is the religion of Melbourne. One can just imagine what would happen if Rugby was outlawed in this country – it would fall apart.

Mexico Gallery

[2187] Looking north on Las Cuevas Beach, Punta Mita, Mexico
Looking north on Las Cuevas Beach, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2188] Pacific Ocean, looking NZ-wards
Pacific Ocean, looking NZ-wards

[2189] Avril leaving home
Avril leaving home

[2190] Another day, another airport lounge. Qantas Club, Sydney International Airport.
Another day, another airport lounge. Qantas Club, Sydney International Airport.

[2191] View from our Room, Punta Mita, Mexico
View from our Room, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2192] Cabanas, Las Cuevas Beach, Punta Mita, Mexico
Cabanas, Las Cuevas Beach, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2193] Lovely bunch of coconuts, Punta Mita, Mexico
Lovely bunch of coconuts, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2194] Cactus at Punta Mita
Cactus at Punta Mita

[2195] Iguana sunning on the rock
Iguana sunning on the rock

[2196] Four Seasons, Punta Mita: view of main building
Four Seasons, Punta Mita: view of main building

[2197] Mariarchi Band rocks on playing Smoke on the Water
Mariarchi Band rocks on playing Smoke on the Water

[2198] Avril chats up Manuel, our tour guide through the Sierra Madres
Avril chats up Manuel, our tour guide through the Sierra Madres

[2199] Mike Zahorik goes exploring in Mexican fishing village.
Mike Zahorik goes exploring in Mexican fishing village.

[2200] Volcanic sand, umbrella.  Beach is Monterrey Beach somewhere over the Sierra Madres in Mexico.
Volcanic sand, umbrella. Beach is Monterrey Beach somewhere over the Sierra Madres in Mexico.

[2201] Monterrey Beach, Mexico
Monterrey Beach, Mexico

[2202] Nick and Avril with various avian friends.
Nick and Avril with various avian friends.

[2203] Avril gets close to Wiggy
Avril gets close to Wiggy

[2204] Life is hard in Punta Mita.
Life is hard in Punta Mita.

[2205] Nick in Puerto Vallarta.  Somewhere 14000 kms away over the Pacific is New Zealand.
Nick in Puerto Vallarta. Somewhere 14000 kms away over the Pacific is New Zealand.

[2206] Tim Burton's inspiration: Mexican Death Masks. Shop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Tim Burton’s inspiration: Mexican Death Masks. Shop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

[2207] Hills behind Puerto Vallarta.  We ran out of shops, so had to turn back.
Hills behind Puerto Vallarta. We ran out of shops, so had to turn back.

[2223] Candles outside our room, Punta Mita, Mexico
Candles outside our room, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2224] View at Breakfast, Punta Mita, Mexico
View at Breakfast, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2225] Lounges on southern beach, Punta Mita, Mexico
Lounges on southern beach, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2226] Northern Beach, Punta Mita, Mexico
Northern Beach, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2228] Casa de Fernandez, Punta Mita, Mexico
Casa de Fernandez, Punta Mita, Mexico

[2229] Hammocks on Monterrey Beach, Mexico
Hammocks on Monterrey Beach, Mexico

[2230] Church, PV
Church, PV

Mexico (9th June to 14th June)

Tuesday, 14th June, 2005

Leaving Mexico, and the sanctuary of the resort was difficult. A quick lesson in spanish has taught us many words, but none that describe the feeling of being thrown back out into the world where email and mobile phones work.

At Punta Mita resort, the only place you can get signal is out on “the rock” or in front reception – and its an amusing sight to see people holding up their blackberrys/nokias/sonys to get a few SMSs in and out. But strangely for me, the lack of communication has been refreshing. Not hearing about Michael Jackson and learning spanish was a good call.

Hour bus ride back to PVR, into Alaska (why are we flying Alaska from Mexico to California?) airlines. All checked baggage is hand-checked by a cheeky security guy. The only surprise in ours is a magic pillow of Avril’s that expands and contracts into amazing dimensions.

We board the MD-70, and fly back in time/forward in time to LAX. Tom Bradley Intl at LAX can be daunting, and not something we were looking forward to. Well, we’re through immigration (friendly agent who quoted the Immigration Act of 1976 re: I94A forms) and customs, having collected our bags, in less than half an hour.

Look out LAX, the Hodge’s are here and we’ve only spend AU$150 in the last week!

Sunday, 12th June, 2005

It’s difficult to describe the roller coaster of the last few days.

On Friday, Avril was able to fulfil a life long wish and swim with Dolphins (Not my scene, so I left the tuna-eaters to her), and we’ve walked around the resort.

On Saturday, we took a 6 hours Unimog ride through the local country-side and Sierra Madres mountains to the Pacific ocean. Visiting a beach on the Pacific ocean side of the peninsula was great. Reminded me of 14000kms away in NZ: volcanic sand beach. Our tour guide, Manuel, introduced us (or in my case, re-introduced) to Tequila. Drinking spirits in the open back of what is essentially a truck on a main road has not been one of my dreams. But a thrill, never-the-less. One could get addicted to this cactus juice. Salute! Antonio delivered us safely (but dusty) to the resort.

Sunday has been relatively easier: capped off by a visit to PV, and specifically the “old town”. The shopping could have been better; but it was difficult on a Sunday night. Buses had numbers like the WWII German Atlantic submarine fleet: U-35. They looked equally as comfy (refer: movie “Das Boot”). We found one of two Italian restaurants and had a comparative meal (we like to test the Italian food around the world) Did some damage to the cash balance, but not so much as to solve Mexico’s trade balance.

Thursday, 09th June, 2005

Up and away on Thursday 6.50am. On schedule.

Our meagre bags weigh in at 24.3kgms. I will be comparing this to what we leave with. I suggest that Customs should just impose an import duty on the nett weight of in vs. out. On second thoughts, lets scrub that one. I don’t earn that much

You know you travel too much when the guy on the Immigration desk leaving you saw last night in Customs entry.

12.5 hour flight to LAX in the 747-400 was pleasant. 4 seats spread over 2 people is a good thing. Little sleep however.

Arrive in LAX on Thursday at 5.50am. Therefore, we’ve arrived an hour before we left home. Arriving at the new Qantas arrival at T4, its a short wait for Immigration, bags waiting, waved through Customs – and we are in the US of A. My 21st visit here. We quickly walk to T3, to jump on an Alaska flight to “PV” (alias Puerto Vallarta, Mexico). You know you are in America when:

  1. you have breakfast at Starbucks and the coffee is bitter
  2. The guy to your right is reading ‘the art of spiritual healing’
  3. the amount of carry-on luggage the person to your left has defies logic

Carry-on baggage has grown since my last visit to the US (June 2003). Its an evolutionary survival of the fittest going on: the larger predators survive.

Crowded House’s Pineapple Head plays as we wait for 50m in the LAX heat before leaving to PV.

PV, Mexico, Hola! Its a balmy 28degC, 80% humidity. Quiet dinner, and we are asleep at 11pm local time. +36 hour day with less than 3 hours of light sleep means we sleep the sleep of the peaceful.

Los Angeles Gallery

[2209] Sonoran Desert from flight PVR to LAX
Sonoran Desert from flight PVR to LAX

[2210] Sonoran Desert from flight PVR to LAX
Sonoran Desert from flight PVR to LAX

[2211] Snow capped mountain in Sierra Nevadas, PVR to LAX
Snow capped mountain in Sierra Nevadas, PVR to LAX

[2212] Palms, Los Angeles, California
Palms, Los Angeles, California

[2213] 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, California.
3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, California.

[2214] Clock tower, Santa Monica, California
Clock tower, Santa Monica, California

[2215] Cuban cigars, Mercedes and traffic on La Cienega Blvd. What more could be LA?
Cuban cigars, Mercedes and traffic on La Cienega Blvd. What more could be LA?

[2216] Views from a Mall. Beverly Center Car Park to the Hollywood Hills. Los Angeles, California
Views from a Mall. Beverly Center Car Park to the Hollywood Hills. Los Angeles, California

[2217] Driving La Cienega: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Driving La Cienega: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

[2218] Driving La Cienega: Motel
Driving La Cienega: Motel

[2219] Driving La Cienega: Car Wash
Driving La Cienega: Car Wash

[2220] Driving La Cienega: Lonely Palm
Driving La Cienega: Lonely Palm

[2221] Driving La Cienega: Dislocated Eucalypt Trees
Driving La Cienega: Dislocated Eucalypt Trees

[2222] Another country, another flight, another airport lounge. Terminal 4, LAX
Another country, another flight, another airport lounge. Terminal 4, LAX

Los Angeles (14th June to 16th June)

Saturday, 18th June, 2005

We miss the experience of earthquakes and the tsunami warnings.

So ends my 21st visit to the good ole US of A. What surprises me most about this visit is the lack of “culture shock” that I certainly experienced on my first visit in September 1989. Whilst it is still pleasing to hear Aussie accents in your travels in the US, either the cultural invasion of the US into Australia, or my working in a US company has softened the experience. The world has also shrunken in the last 16 years: information travels the world quicker; certainly electrons move more rapidly than atoms – resulting in a compression of cultures.

14 and a half hour flight, QF12, arriving in Sydney along with an amber sunrise in Sydney. The experience of an intensive AQIS search (hand search through our ever self-replicating bags) results in one infraction of the strict Quarantine. We dodge the bullet and take the verbal reprimand.

Sometimes, its good to get home. Unpack, and mount the new fridge magnets.

Thursday, 16th June, 2005

It was only a few short weeks ago that we were in Tokyo, and I commented on the weirdness of the town. Many of the experiences are compounded by “lost in translation”; LA does not have this excuse. Its just weird.

Damian taught us the skills of retail sales; we visited the slowly decaying Santa Monica Plaza/Mall; and visited the up-and-coming Santa Monica Promendade (Adelaidians would call this a Mall…). Brand names worth their mettle all have stores along this strip; and we’ve arrived at peak discount time just prior to the US summer holiday season. Jeans, shirts and other items are all hoarded for expatriation to Australia.

Eating at one of our favourite higher-class fast food diners, ihop; I have a salad. I am sure that even the salad had fat in it! This place is a carb and fat factory. Missing the fres fruits of Mexico.

Choice is the name of the retail game. At the Drug Store, there are at least 5 types of Excedrin; an acetometaphin based headache tablet. The active ingredients are all basically the same – just the labelling is different to suit different headache circumstances: migraine or colds. It goes to show one modern method of retail marketing that is not widely used in Australia at the moment. I think we’d see through it.

Thursday we spent largely at the Beverly Center. This is on La Cienega and is another mall. Remember, this part of the trip is not tourist-y! Japan is often sited as an excellent location for shopping. Many have to learn from the US. More brand-name stores, more choice all within easy reach. We experience the massaging chairs and tempur bed in Brookstone and try on every pair of sunglasses in the joint.

Its been two days in LA. The Hodge’s came, saw and damaged both the credit card and Qantas baggage allowance. We left AU with 24.3kgs. We’re coming back with 46.2kgs. And that is just checked in bags. Avril has broken at least 4 fundamental laws of physics to acheive a packing result. I have been refrained from speaking of the purchase of two new bags in LA to assist in our venture.

Gazumpped someone with my Platinum card on a status points and freaky flyer point upgrade to business class each. This is required looking at the carry on baggage vs. allowance on QF12 to Sydney. These seats are the perfect topping to a most relaxing set of days half way around the world.

Tuesday, 14th June, 2005

Avril remembers her Wiltshire, La Cienega and Sepulvedas; ignores the persistant, wrong and nagging Neverlost and self-navigates us all to Santa Monica and back to West Hollywood. Upon taking Paul Stephens to Santa Monica, we decide that this is our first stop tomorrow.

Avril was last in LA about 8 years ago, and notices that Wiltshire’s shopping has “gentrified” from Santa Monica into Century City. Its amazing the range of stores that follow this road.

The aim of this 2 day sojourn in LA is to buy things that are either expensive in Australia, or where you get limited choice. We hit the Drug Stores (don’t think Corby drugs, think Australian pharmacy but the size of a Coles or Woolies!) to buy up different items (lactaid, excedrin and bounce fabric softener sheets for the dryer).

Class of 1985 Reunion

No Name tags required

Driving familiar streets of Adelaide on Saturday; the names and the faces on buildings have changed – yet the roads still head in the same directions. Names are tags, that sometimes attempt to label, but are generally used to represent “things”, but they are not who we are nor indicate directions we choose in life.

At my first school reunion, name tags were mandatory even as we recognised faces, physical expressions and postures, voices and groupings. Old school nick names that once sounded edgy were now embarrasing and difficult to explain to non-old scholar partners – and the girls who chose to change their maiden names to unknown surnames have only changed in name; not dramatically in personality.

A reunion of this nature is unique life experience. Not one to be missed. It is surprising that it is rarely explored by art; and where nostalgia is thematic, it seems comical rather than cathartic.

It was difficult to tell: was Kevin Richardson, the current Headmaster of Immanuel College, joking when he said he “had checked around” on the class of 1985? I am sure the uncovered opinions of our group would have been mixed. The pride of this school, and any private school, is it facilities. These are paramount in attracting a steady stream of revenue – and they express the educational will of the teaching community. Kevin, coming from a technology background in teaching; seems to have swung Immanuel down the road of modern teaching techniques – a lesson my son’s techno-phobic school could learn.

In the tour of the school grounds, ably spruiked by Kevin with doors unlocked by the famous non-mirrored sunglassed Mr Dawes; one of the few members of administration staff we recognised with some mixed fondness; we all realised that the scale of the operation has changed. As has the method of delivery of classes from our day. Old school: Whiteboards were the mod-device in 1985. New school: 1024×768 LCD projectors. Chalk dust is as ancient as slate boards and wooden hinged desks. The number of vocational classes, and seemingly focus, out weighs the pure academic classes.

Our class of 1985 was sandwiched between the swot-heavy classes of 1983/4 and the active and engaged class of 1986. Our year was the class that experimented with the application of the Pareto principle as it came to high school education. For 80% of the class, 20% of the effort was applied to schoolwork. The other 80% of the time was spent in other activities which ultimately had a greater positive outcome on who they became.

The attendence rate directly reflected the class Pareto principle. Roughly 80% of the class turned up. For a minority, it was the first time they were drinking alcohol on school grounds in the shadow of the former boarding houses. Those who were not there were remembered in words and stories. Classic events, bustups, inadvertent animal sacrifice and pairings reanimated personalities. Many stories, left unsaid and untouched, remain in the collective experiences.

“So what have you been up to?”, when first asked, is a frightening question. Stupidly and strangely, I had not prepared a PR talk track and 15 second elevator pitch to intelligently answer this question; to achieve any formal goals of comparison. Mumbling some words; attempting not to be a bloke and focus only on the work and provide an element of family colour; yet knowing that this aspect provides the shapes that explains who you have evolved into.

Twenty years is a perfect interval to reconnect with old school acquaintances. There has been more “after school life” that outweighs the ackwardness of of the teenager that lives inside us all. Family, experiences, relationships, travel and raw maturity provides an ability to shroud the embarrassment with intruiging small talk to fill 6-7 hours.

Yes, Immanuel is the school that Lleyton Hewitt attended; the sheer number of tennis courts is probably the core reason he chose the school. Yes, this class sprouted a Miss Australia. restauranteurs, respected tradesmen, vegetable based protein manufacturers, standard grey-haired business-types, two PhDs and a bevy of dedicated mothers of largish broods. Success, if gauged only by an ability for self-support and an ability to not be a burden on others – has been kind to this class.

According to Dawkin’s, “The Selfish Gene”, the meaning of life is to re-spawn more life and perpetuate DNA. Therefore, the topic parenthood was usually an immediate question to assist in generating conversation. Many had braved three children; others speak of staying at home with their children, and working “0.8” weeks. Adelaide, in comparison to Sydney, is the perfect location for detuning from a pure career ladder of a economically fulfilling yet soul draining lifestyle.

Putting it scientifically, the desire to reproduce, partner and perpetuate DNA is a driver close to the surface of all teenagers. Another unspoken activity at reunions is the evalutation of our teenage crushes/hormones/pairings to determine if our mental wiring had chosen an appropriate potential mate. A few had made very appropriate choices of partners early. A surprising few were single.

Many of the class have started to spawn their own future students. There is a surprisingly large number of the group who have chosen to live in the Immanuel side of town, and send their children to the school. There is some business planner at the Immanuel that must model these figures with an eye to future revenue from old scholar parents. As a parent, it’s difficult enough to converse with your child’s teachers, let alone in send your children to a school you attended in your distant youth.

Another measurement of success is living up to the spark of potential first shown at school. I have always wondered if teachers can foretell the potential of the students in their class; and live in wonder of their results. Not enough teachers from our time arrived to ask this question and test the hypothesis.

Mr Volk, or should I say “Noel”, popped over to say hello. His first question is a question that will echo for some time: so are you a journalist or in IT? There was an air of inferiority on “IT”, or at least I wasn’t living up to a previously unforseen potential. Personally, I never viewed doing the school’s magazine as a journalistic job; nor as it as a path to future career success. English wasn’t a subject I felt passionately about to complete in Year 12/Matric, but it was a small moment of pride seeing people reading a 1985 Echo that contains your fingerprints. I sort of fell into the magazine job in an vain-glorious effort towards self-promotion. Everyone else on the team did the hard yards. That is why IT is the perfect home for me; standing on the shoulders of giants.

The age from 12 to 17 is difficult for all. Apart from the obvious physical changes, our worldview emerges yet it seems the fundamental nature of people is there to see. Look at a 16/17 year old, and you will see 80% of their future self. Yes, there are many experiences and more education to come – but the adult they are to become is just there. There are more than just shadows and echoes of their school self in the adults I met.

This class reunion, for me, was more than a mechanism for measuring our personal life choices against our peers – it was a good cathartic mechanism for extinguishing regret. Rather than dwelling on the past, it permits us to refind old friends and let the intervening years of disconnect fall away. These are classic pure friends that are untainted by the mud of a working relationship and the shared age group of our collective children.

If anything was to be learnt from this weekend’s experience, is that I will become a better parent of a teenager – and see the future potential in the sparks of the next few years; the mirror of others and the memories of life blurred by time has been cleared a little – and I am able to lay a collection of personal mnenomic demons to rest.