January 28, 2013
The sun shines brightly through the small attic window of our cozy wood paneled room, showing the Tasman glacier glittering and sparkling in the distance; it feels similar to being on winter holiday in the Alps.It’s been difficult to chat regularly with our children due to the time difference and scant wifi availability, so Christof sent them an email yesterday saying that we’ll be able to Skype this morning at the hostel. Cornelius calls before we’re out of bed, but the girls are offline, and Christian is on a month-long tour of Brazil.
We drive towards Christ Church without any concrete plans. We could possibly stay with Corinne’s friend Brian – she generously took us into her home in Pine Valley, California – Day 74 – but haven’t yet contacted him. Using the wifi of a café we stop in for lunch, we call him. The connection is so weak we can hardly understand each other. He lives an hour north of Christ Church and invites us to stay, but because it’s out of our way and we don’t connect on the phone, we drive to the Banks Peninsula instead.
Winding our way up a steep serpentine with innumerable switch-backs we’re overjoyed not to be cycling up, we’re dazzled by the view at the top. A gigantic lake has formed in the collapsed crater of a volcano that is surrounded on all sides by prairie-covered mountains.
Near the lake we pass Halfmoon Cottage, a backpackers’ so tastefully done up it could win a prize in an upscale home and garden magazine. A white cottage, surrounded by a wooden porch decorated with a thick, flowering border, and sitting squarely in a fenced-in emerald green lawn. Following signs to the office located in a back shed, where baskets of freshly picked plums are artistically arranged between antique garden tools on rough wooden tables, and entering a gorgeous bohemian loft, we realize, belatedly, that we’ve unwittingly entered someone’s private space. Feeling awkward and spotting a desk on which a hand- printed sign asks guests to ring the bell for assistance, we take up the brass bell and shake it, summoning an elderly, friendly woman, who welcomes us warmly.
We praise the beauty of the cottage and flower borders, compliments she swats away like mites, claiming not to know the first thing about gardening.
– It’s the volcanic earth and favorable climate, flowers just grow here like weeds.
Because the double rooms are booked out, she calls a colleague in Akaroa, but they too are full. We just have to stay at this beautiful cottage, and check into a mixed dorm room.
After supper, which an interesting mix of guests eat at picnic tables set up on the stone patio in the garden, the hostel mother carries a plum cake covered with lit candles into the kitchen to honor a German guest who is celebrating her 28th birthday. She cuts and passes cake topped with whipped cream round to sixteen guests milling about the kitchen. We thank her and praise the cake, but again she waves our words away saying,
– It’s just a little something I whipped up to get rid of the plums.
Typical British understatement.
The mosquitoes chase me off the porch into the living room, where I’m prevented from working on my blog by a precocious eight-year-old English girl who buzzes round me with the tenacity of a mosquito waiting to draw blood.
She tap- dances, a fake grin plastered onto her face, head raised, eyes sparkling with smug self- satisfaction, waiting for applause. Can I swat her away like an unwanted insect?
Leaning in towards me, she whispers, dramatically rolling her eyes in exasperation,
– My sister is a day dreamer and it drives me crazy because then I can’t day dream.
Impatient I feel like saying,
– Right now you are preventing me from day dreaming,
but she continues before I can say a word, self-importantly batting her eyelashes for effect and looking down with false modesty,
– I am a natural learner, but my sister needs to work.
How does an eight-year-old come up with this stuff?
– I play the viola and when I turn ten, I’m going to join the philharmonic orchestra. . .
I stop listening as she prattles, wondering if there’s a switch somewhere to turn her off.
– I want to show you something, I say holding out my iPad and beckoning her over. I show her how the days of our journey are chronologically arranged on the screen and point out the blank pages that have been numbered but are otherwise empty. No text, no photos.
– I have to fill these empty pages with writing and pictures before I go to bed, I say trying not to let impatience creep into my voice, and if I don’t start working, I’ll be up until midnight.
This is too subtle for her. After a quick disinterested glance at the iPad she launches into another tirade about her annoying seven-year-old-sister. Suddenly my patience snaps,
- Go sit in your chair and look at a magazine!
I command in a voice that expresses exactly what I feel.
To my surprise she does as she is told.