Queenstown, New Zealand Ditching Rasputin

Queenstown. The extreme sports capital of the world.

Extreme sports piss me off. Actually, no, the term "extreme sports" pisses me off. It’s a marketing exercise wrapped in a lot of insipid carpe diem platitudes. No, I’m changing my mind again, the whole thing pisses me off.

Extreme sports is a lot of people who look vaguely like Jake Busey screaming out inane catch-phrases about fear and adrenalin.

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The activities themselves are overblown amusement park rides. And that’s all Queenstown really is: an amusement park. They’ve got dozens of rides, each costing about $150-$200, and backpackers flock here to skydive on mountain bikes with angry monkeys strapped to their backs while solving rubik’s cubes — or whatever dumbass passtime they just came up with. The newest one seems to be flying in circles on a steerable rocket attached to the end of a long cable.

…okay, that does sound kind of fun.

Extreme sports themselves are pretty neat. But, like so many things, the people bug me.

And Queenstown is a nice place. Lots of great restaurants and fun things to do. If I were here with some friends, more money to burn, and a desire to be amused, I could really enjoy myself.

I’ve been pretty grouchy the whole time I’ve been here. Fortunately, I’m traveling alone, so I can be as grouchy as I want and the only person who’ll suffer is the occasional hostile hostel manager. I actually kind of enjoy being grouchy, at least in these circumstances. It’s my way of coping with being trapped in a tourist bubble with no hope of escape.

New Zealand has a lot of sheep. Maybe they got too used to handling them, cause it’s kind of how they treat people too.

Get off the bus. Stand here. Take a picture. Eat here. Buy a stuffed Kiwi. Back on the bus.

Get off the bus. Get in this kayak. Follow me here. Turn around. Get out of the kayak. Back on the bus.

I haven’t been on a bus yet, but they’re all over the place. I guess it’s like that at all tourist places, though.

I imagine I’m supposed to say New Zealanders are exceptionally polite. But they’re not, really. I think they’re exhausted. This place seems to have exploded in the last few years as a tourist destination, and I think they’re overwhelmed from all the Americans wanting their sandwiches toasted and their towels warmed. It’s a grind. Every town on the west coast has every room in every hotel and hostel booked to capacity every single night. You have to call two days ahead for each place you’re going to stop at. And if you want to do anything like ride on a boat or go on a hike, you need to book weeks in advance.

To me, that kind of sucks a lot of the joy out of things. It’s Disneyland. A canned adventure. I was expecting something a little less tamed.

What is it with Queen here? It’s a national obsession. I’m constantly hearing them on the radio. And not just Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s really obscure, post-haircut Queen.

So all in all, my current thinking is that New Zealand is a little overrated. If I’d come here 10 years ago, I’d probably have been banging the drum as loud as anyone. But these days it’s gotten to be too much. It’s played-out.

Picture time:

I stopped at a limestone rock formation on the highway coming out of Christchurch. It was right there in the middle of the island, 100km from anywhere.

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The world’s coolest naturally occurring paint gun arena.

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I’m pretty sure the Riders of Rohan went past here in Two Towers.

Hmm, kind of boring.

…so I ran into Rasputin and we decided to travel together. Here are some snapshots.

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Later on we stopped at a restaurant for dinner. Rasputin told the waitress she was going to die in 3 years, and also that her son is gay. So we got kicked out. Then I caught him stealing cheese twisties at the service station. Rasputin is a real asshole. I ditched him in Greymouth.

I’ve gotten much better at driving on the other side of the road. I had to read Dan’s post a few times, but I think I figured out how roundabouts work. I’m still not sure how to signal, though. Do I ever signal while I’m in the roundabout, or only before entering? If I’m going straight, do I not signal at all? What if I’m signaling a right turn and a person first sees me while I’m halfway through the roundabout? How will they know where I’m getting out? What exactly was wrong with stop signs that you guys had to go and make roundabouts?

You know whose fault it is that half the world drives on the right side of the road?

Napolean’s.

If you’ve heard this rant, please skip ahead.

For as long as roads had been around, people always rode their carts on the left side. I don’t know why. It’s just what they came up with. That’s how they did it in Greece, Rome, medieval Europe, all the way up to Napolean’s rule in France.

Napolean’s soldiers pulled their cannons into battle with oxen. The men walked behind, cracking their whips as they went. Of course, most of these guys were right-handed, so they had to walk on the edge of the road to avoid the inconvenience of whipping across to the other side. Napolean found this intolera ble, so he had all the roads changed to allow the men to walk in the middle of the roads, whipping to their right sides rather than their left.

England, rightly, ignored this change. So did almost every other country. But it somehow caught on in post-revolutionary America, and that was that. Once the automobile came around and the vast majority of them were made in the U.S., a ton of countries came over to our side. So now it’s one big mess.

Thanks a lot, Napoleon.

A Brisbane cab driver told me that story. If it’s not true, blame him.

So I went to the Hokitiki Wildfoods festival.

Pig offal. Who would want to eat Pig offal? There’s a pretty strong indication in the name that it’s not something you want to eat. The people who named it put a hidden message in there, just in case anyone started getting ideas.

And scorpions. They were serving fried scorpions.

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Grilled camel penises…okay, no, just beef sausages.

There’s a thing called whitebait that the Hokitikians are very excited about. It’s a little tiny fish that looks just like a worm except it’s got a face. Having a face is one of the only things that could make a worm less appetizing. They put a hundred or so of these little wormy things between two pieces of bread and serve it as a sandwich. They cook them whole, so you get the eyes and the brains and the cartilage and all that stuff.

They say whitebait is a delicacy. Why is it that every food I’ve ever heard of that’s considered a delicacy is innately gross? "Delicacy" is a word they came up with to make people feel like they’re missing out for not eating gross food. "Oh, but it’s a delicacy." What does that mean? It doesn’t mean it tastes good.

Glowworm caves are everywhere in New Zealand. Every tourist stop has a glowworm cave somewhere. They sound exciting in the tour guide, but they’re just caves with worms in them that happen to glow in the dark. It gets old fast.

Any Australians want to comment on why people down here are so fascinated with South America? They sell a lot of Incan handcrafts on the street, and I remember in Australia the #1 travel fantasy was to go to Machu Pichu and travel around that area. In North America, we’re generally not all that into South America. To us, it’s where we get all our cocaine. Most of us have never even heard of Machu Pichu.

The main thing that interests me about the Incans is that they must have been a very picky people. Of all the folks on Earth, the Incans, Mayans, and Aztecs are the ones who said, "Nope, its too cold here. We’re gonna keep on going." "Nope, sorry. Not enough food. We’re gonna see if it gets better a little bit further down." "Nope, still not good enough. We’re gonna check out what’s on the other side of that mountain." I admire that, cause it was a really long walk.

Speaking of long walks, here’s a guy who makes me feel like a big lame-ass for getting all worked up about my trip.

I’m going to Mongolia. BFD! This guy is jogging across Antarctica.

Speaking of Antarctica, I’ve got a few days before the dolphin thing in Kraikoa and I’m thinking of going to Stewart Island. It’s one of the southernmost population centers on Earth, and only a hop, skip, and a jump from Antarctica.

I’m all about segways today.

Speaking of segways, where are those things? Aren’t I supposed to see people scooting around all over the place by now? I saw one in Seattle, but Jeff Bezos said it was going to be the biggest invention since the spoon. I see lots of spoons around. No segways.

Speaking of spoons…nope, sorry. I got nuthin.

I’m going to go into radio silence for a few days starting on Tuesday. I’ve got the Milford trek coming up, and I’ll be on that until Friday.

So far the only thing I’ve lost or destroyed on my trip has been my sneakers. I don’t know where I left them, but all I’ve got is my hiking boots now, and hiking boots are kind of annoying to walk around in. They’re halfway to ski boots.

I won $20 at blackjack tonight. That paid for dinner. My trick is to play until I’m up by even the slightest amount, then get out of there fast. I won my first two hands, so bam! Out the door. I think it’s a pretty good technique. The hardest part about gambling is stopping when you’re up.

I can see the stars pretty well from down here. The milky way is easily visible. It’ll be even better in Micronesia.

The milky way is a trip. Say you can grasp that you’re standing on the side of a huge sphere. And say you can also grasp that the sphere you’re on is spinning around in a giant whirlygig. On top of that, you’re also inside of a flat pancake that’s bigger than all get-out. You’re a speck on a speck in a speck in a speck, cause that galaxy is on the circumference of a huge cluster of galaxies. And there’s a bunch of clusters too!

You forget about that stuff in cities. The lights block it all out. It’s a convenient thing, I think. Who wants to think about the universe in a place like New York? When you’re in New York, that IS the universe.

Something is bothering me about this web site. My sister gave me a copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" for Christmas, and the main thing good ol’ Dale Carnegie says in there is that everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. And here I am talking about me all the time. What about you? Umm, how are you doing?

No, that doesn’t really work, does it? Well, I’m feeling kind of self-involved right now. I don’t know what I can do about it other than stop writing. But this is fun, so I’m going to keep on doing it.