I think I screwed up the timeline with Franz Josef and Queenstown. But I left the mistake in ... too much work otherwise.
Originally published July 29, 2008
On the drive to little Franz Joseph, I thought about how exactly I ended up in that little country in the middle of farkin' nowhere. Just seemed so random. At the time I was experiencing winter in June and Antarctica wasn't that far away. It's a country that played Kitchen Confidential on TV. Look the show up. Really bad.
I was there because I was pretty bored in Florida. It's nice down here and all, but antiseptic as well. So New Zealand presented a nice change of pace, and with Zach down there it made sense. What other time would make as much sense to go?
That isn't quite as interesting as how, ostensibly, Zach and Monica ended up there. Their old boss in Mariposa, California was such a treat to work with that he played a hand in driving two people to the opposite end of the earth. That takes skill. I really want to meet this guy, a small newspaper publisher, to know how he did it. If I ever end up driving someone, directly or indirectly, to Greenland or something, then I will consider my life a success.
Franz Josef is a very small town known for having a glacier. The drive there had me doing the Peter Griffin version of the Jurassic Park theme song. It looked a lot like that movie, sans Jeff Goldblum. The town center basically consists of one street with some little cafés and trinket shops surrounded by a bunch of hotels and hostels. There's not much to do at night there. Our fellow hostel-ers with their mediocre hygiene and their accents sat around and watched Simpsons re-runs, though it might have been new to them. I must thank them for making me feel better about how I spent my weekend nights during college doing the same thing.
We ended up playing pool at a nearby bar. Some of you may have seen me play pool. I'm pretty terrible, but on that night I gained a rare victory over Fats Domino Hosseini. It was Monica and me on one side and on the other, Ivan Drago Hosseini. Monica played the Eric Gagne roll on our team but I, of course, came up huge, nailing the 8-ball for the victory.
The Russian is cut! The Russian is cut!
The next game Monica hit the 8-ball in almost immediately. Damn you, Gagne! I eyed her with intense anger and then I proceeded to do the same thing in the next game. And this is what I hate about playing pool: There was a large group of people watching me suck. It happens all the time. My awfulness attracts a crowd. So I tried to cut it short right there.
We stayed in Franz Josef for one night and drove to the glacier in the morning. We hiked for an hour or so, most of it on a bed of rocks. Many, many rocks. You'd see signs like, "In 1789, the glacier was here" situated 45 minutes from the glacier's current location. Perhaps they don't know that Global Warming is a liberal myth created by Al Gore. They'll get the news eventually.
Monica, the fastest walker in the world, and Zach, who isn't, were a bit more comfortable with the hike than I was. I hadn't walked like that since my Boston days. It was worth it though, to see a glacier. Get this, it was kinda cold. And big. And there was a river flowing into an opening in the middle. And the scenery looking from the glacier to where we had just hiked from was also stunning. It makes you feel real small and insignificant, dwarfed by a glacier on one side and seemingly never-ending valley of rocks bordered by small mountains on the other. Ah, nature. She's not bad sometimes.
From there it was on to Queenstown. Zach described it as the Aspen, Colorado of New Zealand and that's an apt description. It's the thrill-seeking capital of the world, perfect for bungee-jumpers, mountain climbers, sky divers and the like. I prefer a good book, myself. I'll watch some episodes of Dexter if I'm feeling adventurous.
The hostel sat upon a steep street just minutes away from a big mountain that I don't know the name of. Anyway, it was very dark but there was a lodge up at the top of the mountain all lit up so it seemed to be floating in the air. Neat-o. Our fellow hostel-ites were like the others we encountered, except they preferred Fresh Prince of Bel Air re-runs. Almost to a person, they all had their wool caps, worn-out cargo pants and scruffy beards. Usually, I'm the lout totally under-dressed and poor-looking. But I bet they looked at me as some corporatist, Bush-loving American slimeball just waiting to shoot some innocent deer in the eyeball and carry the head around with me while emitting noxious carbon-based fumes into the atmosphere. I'm an American!
The next morning we went up that mountain. Monica was inclined to hike, but Zach and I overruled her and made the manly decision to take the gondola up. Even that gave me the yips, but just a tiny bit. The view from on top was amazing and I've got the photos to prove it. But it's not just the view and some souvenir shops at the top of this mountain. There's also two luge tracks. Our first run was on the "safer" track and it was pretty fun. The second one, however, was more important. It was a race. Like Mario Cart. Think of it this way: I'm Toadstool, Monica is Yoshi and Zach is Bowser.
Toadstool starts from behind but quickly gains on Yoshi. Once he gets close enough, Toadstool tosses the trusted banana and leaves Yoshi in his dust. He only has to pass the evil Bowser who is cheating by using boosters on his apparatus. Toadstool was right about to pass Bowser but a narrow tunnel approached and he couldn't make the pass. Bowser went on to victory.
What a jerky jerkface jerk.
On the next edition of the endless Chronicles of Mordor, our three adventurers finish their stay in Aspen, New Zealand and end in Christchurch, where a sneaky Indian restaurant gives Steve the vaunted Schaible-face.