Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nature 3.0

If I asked you, my dearest friends and relatives, to make a blind promise to me right now that would fulfill your soul's quest for enlightenment AND require only a few thousand dollars to see through, would you do it? Please say yes. The feeling's worth every penny, there's no preaching involved, and holding hands while singing with a bunch of strangers isn't necessary. But here I am getting ahead of myself...

Friday dawned oddly. I woke up an hour earlier than usual, which (as we all know) is strange enough in itself. Everything's slightly colder, there are less breakfast dishes stacked in the sink, and the shower walls aren't yet covered in nasty long hair. There had been a pre-party party in our living room the night before (an extraordinary event in itself), so in a paradoxical complement to the unusual cleanliness of the kitchen sink, the dining room table was a mess of beer bottles, playing cards, and chocolate chips (?). The toaster was also broken, so I settled for an orange. I walked to campus to turn in my film journal (the last graded asignment of the term!), thinking frenziedly about everything that still needed to be done for our trip to Milford Sound later in the afternoon. Were we camping? Were food AND cooking utensils necessary? Was rain likely? And so on.

What followed was an unfathomably improbable series of events (including someone's lost credit card, a bizarre encounter with the remarkably friendly and concerned-for-my-future professor of my Film Genres class, and finally a harrowing thirty minutes at the Budget rental car offices as they discovered my online reservation AFTER all the fleet's vehicles had been rented). Nevertheless, a group of seven international students (spread across two cars) embarked through the blindingly green countryside of spring-time New Zealand, and arrived in Te Anau at dusk to spend the night. Camping cost $15 per person at the Country Hills Motor Lodge, so we forked it over and went about setting up the two tents. Group A's tent was recently purchased for $250 and included a waterproof screen. Group B's tent was a 1967 A-frame (missing several crucial ropes and zippers) that had been hastily borrowed from the international house. The forecast predicted over 8 centimeters of rain for the night. Guess which one I was in?

To slim down an already unsightly bulky story, let's fast-forward three hours. Sarah, Marty and I returned from a country bumpkin bar to find the other four playing poker. Outside, rain and lightning (something that supposedly NEVER occurs in NZ) lashed the ground competitively. The card fiends insisted on one group hand to finish the night, so we all grudgingly accepted. We each took turns cutting the deck, Mark shuffled, and then distributed five cards to all seven of us. No one wanted to exchange, and we all wore the same puzzled/smug expression. We showed our cards. Here were the hands, IN ORDER: 33399 4441010 555JJ 666QQ 777KK 888AA (Alexa had nothing)!!!!! Such a terrifyingly patterned round was the last necessary straw required for our collective haystack to go haywire.

The improbability of it all! How had it happened?

Later, as we wiled away sleepless hours in the car (after our tent had collapsed from rain), we further back-tracked the odds of this freakishly chance card game to the minute details of the walk back from the bar that placed us at the right moment in time for a collective hand of poker, then to the fact that we'd all ended up at the same campground (as cell phone communication had been terminated earlier in the afternoon, and we'd split up) to render a card game even possible, then to ALL SEVEN OF US going on the weekend trip (even after the rental car fiasco and the lost credit card, whereby Andrea almost bailed), then to one of the girls completely randomly deciding to come along the day before, then to our random decisions to study abroad in New Zealand this term, which was, like, a long time ago. It was all too much, and we soon realized that EVERY event in life stems from random forks of fate, which kind of made the whole thing less significant (because it, in turn, made everything else MORE significant, you know?). Naturally, the conversation quickly turned to aliens and how much more likely our chances of being abducted were now that we'd already thoroughly beat probability.

Did any of that make sense? I hope so. Regardless, it was an uneasy evening, made worse by the ominously cackling thunder. The next morning was another early one, but I didn't mind because I was so excited for Milford. While only 107 kilometers away, the drive was supposed to take all day due to its windy mountain roads and incredible scenery. We pulled out of Te Anau at noon, and from there entered a dream world so sublime in its renderings that my meager vocabulary just isn't going to cut it. Here are some photos I took:

Then we drove straight into the side of a mountain via a tunnel named Homer. I grew uneasy at its entrance when I read a sign that stated, "bus turnouts 400 and 1600 meters in." Needless to say, it was a large mountain tunnel, and the only one I've been in that slopes seriously downward for its duration. We felt like we were driving into hell itself, until Sarah said, "you guys... just imagine what the view on the other side of this tunnel is going to look like." As the pinhole of light on Homer's far end grew closer, then enveloped us, the most spectacular view of sheer mountain faces cascading with hundreds of waterfalls from the previous night's rain met my gaze. I couldn't take any pictures because the whole place was under a strict avalanche warning (which prohibited stopping), but lengthy switchbacks down into the valley provided ample time to stare out at the awesome geography and shake my head in wonder.

The hostel near Milford Sound was decent, and its scenery more than made up for the one knife its kitchen possessed. I've discovered here in New Zealand that I like cooking good food, but when you have to do it in a small hostel with like nine other international families who are all clamoring over the same eight burners, it can be a harrowing experience. Regardless, I sat around in a state of bliss, replaying that day's short hikes to numerous waterfalls in my head.

Woke up bright and early Sunday. Drove to Milford, geeked out at the view, loaded ourselves onto a boat for 2.5 hours that took us real close-like to all them waterfalls (so much so that we filled drinking glasses with pure glacial water). Again, I can't really paint an accurate picture, so I'll give you one of the 200+ photos I took.

***Photo wouldn't upload. Just ask to see it when I get back***

Then the drive back, where we stopped everywhere on the OTHER side of the road. I know this is another rushed conclusion, but it's a busy week for me and if I don't end now this post is just going to sit on my desktop until I accidentally delete it. YOU ALL MUST GET TO MILFORD SOUND. Somehow, it changes everything (this is where that weird first paragraph is supposed to make sense. Looking back, it doesn't, but I don't want to change it so bear with me). Also, I leave for Australia on SATURDAY until October 24th, so I might write one or two more posts when I return, but don't expect anything for a whiile. We're driving in a Wicked Van (which has a large bed, a sink, and a stove in it) from Sydney to the Gold Coast area, and we'll be camping on the beach every night. I plan on scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef as well. Crazy.

With the impending trip, classes ending, and less than a month to go, I'm kind of freaking out. What's going on?!?!? Madness...


Jeff said...

Wow AJ. what an unbelievable trip. Sounds like the poker was spectacular. Oh, and the scenery sounded neat too. I seriously can't wait to see some of the pictures you took when you get home though. And if you get abducted, make sure and note it on here. I'd be interested in hearing that story.

simone said...

holy crap! the poker thing is nuts!! and milford sound sounds amazing. i'm glad you're feeling enlightened. i think i get what you mean by the first paragraph... especially after the randomness of poker. i hope i make it there before i die, or hopefully sometime sooner.

kelands said...

are you sure the deck wasn't arranged ahead of time? pretttty crazy.

I'm so incredibly jealous of you right now. Camping, traveling, being in a foreign country and no school.

I skied on Sunday. Yup, that's right. There is snow in Montana. Bet you're jealous.