March 12-15 - Christchurch, Akaroa, Valerie Adams
Guess what, I have a friend in Christchurch, too. Well, now I do. Before Silvia was just a person I knew via Facebook because one of my Spanish peeps back home knows her. When he heard I was going to travel New Zealand he connected me with her. Now I got to meet her and her husband for the first time. I love these things.
So Silvia invited me to stay with her for my visit to Christchurch. Luckily she was home and had time to welcome me. I said that because she has a job she loves but one that is just crazy time consuming when she's on it. She's a truck driver.
Back in Spain she was a truck driver too and got to see quite a bit of Europe. Usually truck drivers don't really get to see much of a country except for the motorways and roads they are driving on. Silvia, however made sure that she could explore the areas more. Whenever there was a longer stop, like at weekends, and she had to basically camp down and wait to be allowed to go again, she would get her little foldable bike and be off to the next little town or village or whatever was nearby and do some exploring and sight-seeing. She said it was funny to see that her colleagues, mostly men, would just sit in front of their trucks, play cards maybe and have some beers and wait the time away. She would just wave at them and be off on her bike. That way she got to see quite a bit. I love that. She often told her boss in Spain to just drop the trailer off at the Franco-Spanish border and she would take over and do the Europe tour. She didn't care about driving around Spain. She knew Spain.
At some point she came to NZ because she wanted to improve her English (which she did!). She could have gone to England for that too but opted out because there were too many foreign truck drivers there who barely spoke English. So she decided to go to NZ because she wanted to see that country and after having travelled the country as a tourist for a bit she got a work visa and worked in agriculture and hospitality and stuff like that. Then she got a job as a truck driver. Apparently truck drivers are a big demand in NZ because not many people want to do it because of the working hours. The pay isn't bad at all, she says, but the working hours are crazy. Imagine, they have to work up to 13hrs a day and when you don't live close to your job you have to add the commute time to that. I think apart from risking exhausted and over-tired drivers, there is the physical component too. Sitting on your butt for 13hrs a day is simply not good for your body. Health regulations aren't as strict as they are in Europe where truck drivers get a more comfy seat with more cushioning and springs and stuff. Seats are pretty basic and uncomfortable.
When I stayed with Silvia she was on a four day - three day shift which means four days of work and three days off. She loved that because it gave her time to do private things as well as some physical exercise to counteract the sitting times. Unfortunately the company she works for has a lack of drivers too so she might be able to stick to that shift.
About Christchurch now. I like it. After the devastating earthquake in 2011 during which 185 people lost their lives and numerous building were destroyed, Christchurch is still in the rebuilding phase. Many streets and houses have been rebuilt and the main shopping street is boasting of new building and they are still at it. They are creating a modern city which looks good to me.
There has been a big discussion about the rebuilding of one building in particular: the Cathedral. The building was destroyed almost completely. The area has been blocked off and you can only see the ruin through a fence or from across the street. Rebuilding the cathedral will take years and lots of money. The discussion was if to rebuild or just leave the ruins as they are. And if there was going to be a rebuild, who was going to pay for it. Apparently a decision has been made. The cathedral, once a major tourist attraction, will be rebuilt. It'll take about ten years to do so and the costs will be expected to be $NZ 104 million. That equals $AU 93.8 million, $US74.9 million or €61 million. The tab will be picked up by the Anglican church, taxpayers and donors.
In my humble opinion, or maybe not so humble, this amount of money could and should be used for much more important things. At least the taxpayers should be left out and the country should put the money into education. Or the reimbursement of the Maori tribes for forcefully losing their property and land. Or environmental improvement and setting up and supporting self-sufficiency of home owners. There are lots of areas this money could be used for. End of rant.
I visited the museum, the botanical garden, the old university building, and just walked around a bit. I enjoyed it a lot. One day I drove out to the peninsula to see what the rave was about Akaroa, a former French colony town. Well, the drive was spectacular and pretty. Especially since I took a side road which for most parts was just a gravel road. At some point I wasn't even sure if I was on a proper road any more. There was no traffic and the road just kept winding up the hills. Turning around would have been quite difficult. But since there had been a sign at the beginning of the road saying not suitable for caravans I guessed it was still a road so I kept driving. After many kilometres I reached a T-junction and the signs there told me I was on the right way. Well done, mystery machine Mimi. About 8km down the hill was Akaroa. On my down I could see the bay and a huge cruise ship. As a consequence of the earthquake damages of 2011 to Port Lyttelton, the cruise ship port, and on-going repairs Akaroa has experienced an enormous increase in cruise ship visits in the recent years. I guess that's a good thing for the businesses n that area. I'm not so sure what it does to the wildlife The bay is well-known for its dolphin population. I cannot say however if and how much of an impact those big ships have on the maritime life there. The little town was busy with tourists and most of them were coming in from a cruise ship. I encountered them when I looked at some things in an antiques shop. I actually helped convince some American tourists buy some silverware. I should have got some discount for the spoons I bought as a reward. 🙂 It's all good, my reward was the little chat I had with the Americans because they were Hispanics from Texas. When I heard them speak Spanish I chimed in and they were surprised to hear someone speak Spanish there. On top of that an accent-free one as they said. Big smile 🙂 After some more chatting with the owner about school and education and languages and exchange students and such, I left the shop with some long-stem spoons and a cake lifter (all of which ironically were imported from England). I walked through town a bit and admired the beautiful little houses and cottages before I started my drive back to Christchurch again. I had an appointment there at 5 pm which I didn't want to miss.
Dame Valerie Adams, New Zealand's popular and famous athlete was going to perform in Christchurch together with Tom Walsh. Both are world record holders and Olympic champions. As part of the Big Shot tournament these two were competing against other world class shot putters in Christchurch. And I was going to watch that event!
I found a parking spot close to the event and free -yay- and walked over to the event location. It was just a small setup with some stalls for the not so important people and opposite of them the VIP section. The event started at 5.30 with the youth athletes competing. Young male and female shot putters showed their qualities and some shot their personal season's best. Then it was the professionals' turn. When each athlete was introduced and jogged into the arena you can imagine the welcome applause for Tom and Valerie. Especially since Walsh is based in Christchurch. It was amazing. Valerie Adams came in second that afternoon whereas Tom Walsh won his competition. I would have loved to get a picture with Valerie but I could see the whole fan thing and picture taking and interviews were a bit of an ordeal. I get it. It was only three weeks before the Commonwealth Games began, a big competition and event for the athletes. Valerie had only given birth to a daughter half a year earlier or so and started training again only four months after giving birth. Maybe she was tired, maybe she was focused, whatever she was, you could see the smiles for the pictures came a bit forced. Or maybe I'm just doing her wrong here. However, I took a couple of pictures from the distance and left the mini stadium. I saw what I wanted to see and was happy enough. (BTW, Valerie Adams came in second to win the silver medal with a personal season's best at the Commonwealth games. Tom Walsh won his competition and got the gold medal.)
All in all Christchurch was and is definitely worth a visit and not just for a couple of days.