On Thursday, Leslie joined me at the office. The occasion? Alasitas!!
Our Community Liaison Officer (CLO) coordinated a trip to the opening day of Alasitas. Alasitas begins on January 24 every year. As stated on the LAPAZLIFE site,
“Taking place just before Carnaval, Alasitas Fair, or Feria de las Alasitas in Spanish, is a month-long festival, where locals purchase miniature items to give to Ekeko, the Aymara god of abundance, in the hope he will bring fortunate [sic] and happiness to their lives.”
One can read more at LAPAZLIFE by clicking on this Alasitas link.
Before we left my office, Leslie and I huddled to agree on a strategy for our shopping. We agreed we might buy one or two items and then just look. After departing the market, we could decide if we wanted anything else. If so, we could return on another day. That strategy held solid…until we arrived at the market!
At about 11:00, we made the short walk to the Saint George station of the Celeste Line of the Teleférico. The Teleférico was very crowded. No doubt we were not the only ones bound for Alasitas. We waited for several gondolas before one had enough room for us to board. Once onboard, we sat back and relaxed for the ride to the Prado station, the end of the line.
Between the Open-Air Theater station and the Prado station, we “flew” over the Alasitas venue. It did not take a rocket surgeon to see there were hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance. Our path took us directly over the main entrance to the venue. We saw the official Alasitas opening ceremony was in full swing.
Arriving at Prado station, we disembarked and waited for the rest of our group. When we were all accounted for, we began our walk. CLO strategically selected the Prado station as our starting point because everything from there is downhill. That is a huge benefit in this city of monstrous hills.
As soon as we walked under Calle Bueno, we saw the beginnings of the vendor stalls at the Campo Ferial Bicentennial, the venue for Alasitas. At this far end of the site, only a few of the vendors were open. There were, however, many foosball tables and pool tables. They were all undercover. Many of the tables were in use. I assume one must pay a fee to be able to use one of the tables.
Some of my colleagues at work had told me that there are usually miniature Teleférico gondolas for sale. I knew I had to get one each of the green and blue gondolas. I saw some hanging at one of the first booths at which we stopped. There was a wonderful woman there. She sold us the two gondolas. As part of the sale, she provided miniature certificates for each one. They are copies of documents for each of the actual gondolas on the operating Teleférico. She said she is an artist. She made several of the items in the booth, including a green bus. As we departed, she gave us a blessing in the Aymara language. That is the language of one of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.
Our next stop was a booth with dozens of Ekekos of varying sizes. Ekeko is the Aymara god of abundance. He is the one the believers think will grant what is desired in their lives. The miniatures found at Alasitas represent those desires. We opted for one that is about six inches tall. He will reside in our kitchen. The young who sold the Ekeko also provided us with a cigarette. Those are typically lit and placed in the mouth of Ekeko. We decided it will just be by his ear.
By this time, nearly noon, the central aisle was more and more crowded with people. That is because many believe that they need to purchase their miniatures and have them blessed on the first day of Alasitas, literally at high noon. For a blessing, one can go to a Catholic priest or an Aymara shaman. It is customary to pay for this service. The payment is probably around $5 Bolivianos (US$0.75).
We veered off onto one of the side aisles. The aisle was virtually empty of shoppers. About halfway down the aisle was a vendor stall that had llama miniatures. That particular stall also had a little girl that was beside herself, wanting ice cream. As soon as her mother gave her one, she was very content. The little girl’s mother was very kind to help us find just the right llama.
I seem to be a sucker for color, as evidenced when we walked by a stall that had several Bolivian branded items. In particular, some shot glasses with colorful leather holders caught my eye. The young woman that helped me a lot of fun and very lively.
At the end of the side aisle, I saw some beautiful chess sets. I am not the best chess player in the world, nor do I have a collection of chess sets. That changed today, the collection part when I bought a chess set pitting the Spaniards against the Aztecs. I probably got the European discount, which means I probably overpaid. Regardless, I thought $250 Bolivianos (US$36) was very reasonable for the set. My “collection” now includes that chess set and an agate set I bought when we lived in Islamabad.
There was a booth that sold nothing but miniature food items that were refrigerator magnets. We had to have some of those, including my favorite, a salteña.
Our next stop was a father and son booth that specialized in small grocery items. In this case, small truly means small. There were boxes of food that could not have been more than one-half inch tall. I have no idea what we will do with them. I guess we will just have them and love them.
Just down the way was a stall with all sorts of miniature construction items and tools. Some of the devices were about three inches long. However, I opted for the wooden toolbox. This tiny toolbox held eight small tools, each about one-half inch long. The pliers work! A miniature blue hardhat topped off my purchase. The vendor tried to sell us miniature Academy Awards statues, Golden Globe statues, and a personal computer. We thanked her but decided we had enough already.
One couple was selling miniature currency from around the world. We knew these would be for sale. A colleague from the office gave Leslie and me some tiny money. She said people frequently hand these out to strangers. We had to buy a golden US$100 bill.
After the currency purchase, I vowed not to buy anything else. I finally remembered the well-intentioned strategy Leslie and I agreed upon; albeit late!
Since we were finished flinging money around as though we had it, we decided to walk to the Teleférico and head back to the office. As we walked through the crowd, heading downhill, we passed several Aymara shamen who were blessing items people purchased. Part of the blessing entails smoke. The smoke comes from wood, sugar, and something else. We both thought the odor was quite pungent. We did not stop for any blessings, opting instead for fresh air.
When we walked through the main entrance, on our way out, the crowd seemed to multiply. Above the main entrance is a very large Ekeko. The sea of people seemed to go on forever. We happened to be walking behind a group from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Many of them were carrying colorful god’s eyes. As we walked along behind them, we took the opportunity to hand out some of the miniature currency my colleague had given us. The recipients indeed seemed to enjoy receiving them.
We finally got to a side road that led to the Teleférico, thankfully not crowded with people. However, there were several dozen Bolivian police standing in formation. I am not quite sure why they were standing there. Leslie and I took advantage of the opportunity and handed out the rest of our miniature currency. Like the other recipients, they were happy to receive the notes.
At the Open-Air Theater station, I stopped to take a photograph of the side of the station. Since it is on the Celeste Line, the panels are various shades of blue. I knew I needed such a shot for an upcoming photographers’ group competition. I am not sure what the other photographers will think of the photo, but it is by far one of my favorites.
We boarded and rode back to the Saint George station. At the station is a beautiful mural. The mural is only about two or three months old. I have always meant to stop and take a photo. Today, I stopped and took a photograph.
From there, we walked back to the office and had lunch.
When we got home that evening, we unwrapped all of our loot. We are happy with it; although, we are not sure what we will do with some of the items!
We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Alasitas. For anyone traveling to Bolivia at this time of year, Alasitas is a must-see!
Today was the first time I ever saw Dia de los Muertos first-hand. I chose the La Paz Cementerio General for my visit. I was a little apprehensive because of the unknown and the fact that I was going by myself. Another reason for my apprehension was the odor. One of my work colleagues told me there was a foul odor at the cemetery because the tombs were not airtight. As an ex-cop, used to dealing with bodies that had, shall we say, “ripened,” I knew exactly what odor was being described. Spoiler alert – I did not encounter any noxious odors at the cemetery.
Dia de los Muertos (the day of the dead) is a traditional holiday in many Latin American countries. It is a day for remembering a family’s dead; but, more importantly, it is a time of celebrating the family members return from the afterlife for a visit. To that end, there are many offerings to entice the family member to visit and then to ease their return to the afterlife. The visits occur between noon on November 2 and noon on November 3; however, those times are not rigid.
A family can expect visits at either the tomb or grave of their loved one or at the family’s own home. In either location, family members place photographs and other items that the dearly departed loved during life. Additionally, things the loved one liked to eat or drink are also laid out as offerings. Those items can include bread, cookies, sweets, food, soup, soft drinks, beer, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.; virtually anything the loved one enjoyed.
The bread used for the Dia de los Muertos is interesting because of its many variations. One of the more popular shapes is the t’antawawa, an Aymara word meaning baby bread. A t’antawawa is in the approximate form of a baby’s body with a painted, ceramic face/head. They can range in size from tiny bread or cookies to nearly adult life-size. The food can also be in the shape of animals such as horses. Other bread shapes include the traditional dinner roll size, round loaves, ladders (to aid with travel to and from the afterlife), and crosses. It appears the maker’s imagination only limits the shape.
A work colleague shared with me that when setting up the offerings at home, their place of choice; they receive as many as 150 family members (living) throughout the holiday. That is a lot of people just to have drop by a home.
With that bit of preface, allow me to share my experience of Dia de los Muertos.
I walked out of my front door at 07:00. Green, Sky Blue, White, Orange, and Red. Those colors have nothing to do with the holiday nor are they colors I saw when I walked outside. Those colors just happened to be the five; that is correct, five, Teleferico lines I had to ride to get to the Cementario General.
While on the Orange Line of the Teleferico, I passed over the “illegal” cemetery, Cementerio la Llamita. I do not know if it is, in fact, an illegal cemetery. If it is unlawful, by deduction, that means that the regulations for burial are less strictly enforced. Therefore, it is such “illegal” cemeteries that may be the cause of my colleague’s comment regarding odor. I quickly tried to take a photograph, which is why the focus is not quite right.
At the end of the Orange Line, I changed to the Red Line. I only had one stop to go to be at the Cementerio General. I got off the Red Line and walked out of the Teleferico building. I noticed right across the street was an entrance to the cemetery. I do not believe that entrance is generally in use, just on select days. Approaching the gate, I saw a few small flower stands. Many cemetery visitors stopped to buy some flowers before entering.
The Cementerio General is the main, and quite large, cemetery in La Paz. The exterior wall of the cemetery is nearly 1.5 kilometers long (4,389 feet or 0.83 miles). That means the area covered by the cemetery is almost 10 hectares (24 acres). On the grounds, there are dozens and dozens of columbaria, some with as many as three levels. The “population” of the cemetery must be in the tens of thousands.
At the gate, Bolivian National Police searched the bags of everyone entering. As soon as I made it past that checkpoint, I faced multiple columbaria. At the end of the columbarium closest to me, I saw a mural with two painted skulls. Then I noticed that almost every columbarium had a painting at the end, even those with three levels. Much of the art was stunning. I did not photograph every mural, but I did capture a lot. At this point, the narrative will cease so the reader can view all of the paintings I captured. At the end of the mural photographs, the story continues.
Some of the above photograph captions contain the word “cholita.” That deserves some explanation. Cholita refers to the women of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua tribes. In the not too distant past, cholita was a pejorative term. However, today, it has regained a particular popularity and resurgence in use. The cholitas are very distinctive with their bowler hats and long hair braids.
Looking down the aisles between the columbaria, I could see far into the distance. They seemed to go on forever. The columbaria here in La Paz look much different than those that one might see in the United States. In the U. S. each tomb is covered by an engraved headstone bearing the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. In the Cementerio General, each monument has a glass door, usually with a small padlock. Behind the glass is a void of some eight to ten inches before the masonry seal on the tomb. On the masonry seals are the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. Often the details include a photograph of the person. Filling the remainder of the void are offerings or representative items of things the person enjoyed in life. In some instances, there are metal holders on either side for vases of flowers.
The tallest, single-story columbaria I saw contained tombs seven high. The visiting family must use ladders to reach the uppermost graves. With the aid of the ladder, family open the glass door, remove dead flowers and old offerings. Once clean, the family places new offerings into the tomb, and the glass door closed.
There is an initial fee and then annual fees after that to place a loved one in a tomb at Cementerio General. If the annual fees are not paid, after about three years, the remains are removed, cremated, and dealt with by cemetery personnel.
I did see a few graves in the ground with headstones, but that was by far the exception, not the rule. The columbaria were the norm within the Cementerio General.
I ultimately made my way to the main entrance of the cemetery. The church is there. The church was lovely inside, but it was not ornately decorated. Of particular note were the statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and another area with a depiction of Jesus in the tomb.
Leaving the church, I saw a display containing many of the items that families might bring to the tombs of their loved ones. I was immediately drawn to the t’antawawas, probably because I had been given a t’antawawa cookie the day before by a work colleague. Those on display ranged from cookie-size to some made of bread that was approaching three-feet in length. At the exhibition, there was even a t’antawawa made in the shape of a horse. There were other bread designs, including one that reminded me of a colossal pretzel, bread crosses, and bread ladders. Huge onion plants partially framed the display. The families often use those, and large sugar cane stalks as decorations at the tombs.
I sat down at a bench near the display. I stayed there for quite a while, watching the people streaming into the cemetery. Many of them stopped to view the exhibition, some even taking photographs as I did. Others merely walked on by, destined for the family tomb. While I sat there, I saw a couple of men dressed in medium blue clothing wearing hard hats. One, in particular, made frequent eye contact with me. It dawned on me that they were probably masons, available for hire by the families to make any needed repairs to tombs. I ultimately approached one of the men. He confirmed he was, in fact, a mason, waiting to be hired by an incoming family. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph. Unfortunately, I was not thinking, so I failed to get his name. Regardless, he was very nice.
After my rest on the bench, I continued walking through the cemetery. I did find a large map of the grounds. It is truly astonishing just how many columbaria are at the cemetery.
In the eastern portion of the cemetery, I noticed several tombs that had QR codes. If one captures the code with a smartphone, information about the person buried there is displayed. I did not do that, but I did come across two vast tombs that were obviously of revered Bolivians. The first was the tomb of Carlos Palenque Avilés, 1944 – 1997, a famous Bolivian singer and politician. The second large tomb was that of Germán Busch Becerra, 1903 – 1939, a military officer and ultimately a President of Bolivia.
I found a mausoleum dedicated to those that had fought in the Acre Campaigns. That was a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil at the turn of the 20th Century. Bolivia was the victor in the fighting.
In all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I never saw any sadness. I never saw any family members weeping. The Dia de los Muertos seemed to be more joyous than a sad occasion. I did find out that families can hire people to cry at the tomb. I did not personally witness that. However, I did see families that hired musicians to play and sing at the graves. One of the more noteworthy groups were about ten boys playing drums and Bolivian pan flutes. They did an excellent job and amassed quite a crowd of onlookers. I did come across another group of boys with drums, but they did not seem to be as polished. In fact, a woman walking by the group covered her ears.
During my walk, I stopped at one point when I saw a man and his young son. The man was struggling with one of the ladders. I asked him if he needed assistance. He politely declined.
Strategically placed throughout the cemetery are sinks and water spigots. The visitors use these stations to clean items from their loved one’s tomb. Most often, the items cleaned are flower vases. Near each sink are rubbish bins in which the old flowers are placed. Workers come by periodically to police the area and take the rubbish to large 30-yard trash bins. In turn, those are removed from the cemetery by large trucks from the local trash service.
After all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I decided it was time to head home. I walked to the main entrance of the cemetery. Not far from there was an exit. As I stepped onto Avenida Baptista I noticed the street was closed for the holiday. There was a real carnival atmosphere. One of the first things I saw was an art deco building that reminded me of a building in Wellington, New Zealand (see the posting Wellington Museum).
There were a couple of zebras walking on the sidewalk. The zebras are people in costume. The La Paz Zebras were born as a way to help regulate traffic and avoid pedestrian/vehicle mishaps. The Zebras have been around since 2001. As I walked past, they both said buenas dias!
One of the streets heading off from Avenida Baptista had what seemed like dozens of stands of BBQ and other delicious smelling foods. I wanted to try some, but I did not since Mr. E. Coli had just visited me. While on that street, I ran into a shoe shiner. Many of the shoe shiners keep their faces covered because they do not want their friends and family to know that is what they do to earn money.
Directly across from the main entrance to the cemetery is a small mall with nothing but flower shops. While I was there, it was doing a booming business.
I began walking east along Avenida Baptista. Luckily, it was all downhill, so I did not have to grapple with gravity very much. As I noted above, the street was closed to traffic. Instead of vehicles, the road was packed with vendors of every ilk; ladies’ lingerie, plasticware for children, handmade wooden items, DVDs, ice cream, fruit, etc. It was varied and noisy as some vendors shouted out what was available. Pedestrians choked the parts of the street that were not covered by vendors. I can only imagine the scene later in the day when it would no doubt be busier.
At the Garita de Lima park roundabout, I stopped to take in the sights. That is where I saw the Evangelical Baptist Church and the Hospital La Paz.
Departing the Garita de Lima park roundabout on Max Paredes, I saw something that very much reminded me of home, the kitchen gadget salesman. A man set up a portable table in the street. The edges of the tabletop held about four dozen oranges. In the middle of the table, there was a pile of different colored plastic gadgets. The salesman, speaking loudly and rapidly, demonstrated how one could insert the device into an orange and quickly obtain the juice. He had several people standing around watching his demonstration. I am not sure if he sold any to that crowd.
Shortly after passing the kitchen gadget salesman, the street opened to traffic once again. At that point of Max Paredes, there were still vendors; however, they were relegated to the sidewalk or curbside. This area is where the food market begins. It is set up in specific sections. There are sections for vendors selling fruits, vegetables, cooking spices, lentils, fish, and meat. There were even a couple of fabric vendors thrown in for good measure. Between the vendors, pedestrians, and vehicles, one has to be careful while walking.
After walking nearly a mile (1.3 kilometers), I found Sagarnaga, the street for which I had been searching. That street would take me to the Witches Market and the Basilica of San Francisco. I was quite happy that my walk from the cemetery to the Basilica was downhill.
In the Witches Market, I did a little shopping. I found several touristy items that I could not live without.
When I finished shopping, it was lunchtime. I was not that hungry, but I did want to sit down for a while. I found Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub. I asked the man that greeted me at the door if he had a cold beer. He said he did so I immediately sat down! I continued to talk to him as he came by my table intermittently. I discovered he was Tomas Luna, the owner. We had a pleasant conversation. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph.
While sitting at Luna’s, I received two unexpected “guests;” Hillary and Leslie. They called me. They were both anxious to hear about my Dia de los Muertos activities. I told them a little bit but added that they would have to wait for my blog to get the rest of the story.
From Luna’s, it was just a few blocks down to the Basilica San Francisco. The last time I was there, it was after my CLO walking tour (see the Witches Market post). That time, the Basilica was not open. This time, to my surprise, it was open. I walked inside. Immediately I saw some huge signs. I thought they said that one could not take photographs during mass. A mass was in progress, but I could tell it was at the very end. I heard the priest give the final blessing, and the people responded.
Soon the people were walking to the back of the Basilica to exit. That is when I began taking photographs of the very elaborate and beautiful altar. After about four or five clicks, I suddenly found myself in the company of a Bolivian National Policeman. He was not amused. He said something in Spanish and pointed furtively to one of the signs. In my best Spanish, I tried to tell him I thought I could take photos when mass was over. The officer impatiently pointed at the sign again. I said I was very sorry and beat a hasty retreat to the exit.
The last portion of my journey was several blocks downhill from the Basilica to the Light Blue line of the Teleferico. Between that line and the Green line, I made it back to my neck of the woods and ultimately home. I arrived at my house at about 14:00.
Next year, I will return to the cemetery. I will probably go at a different time to see how that may change my experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my day.
I wanted to visit the Wellington Museum. For some reason, the timing never seemed to be right. That changed yesterday.
Leslie and I walked to the train station near our home and rode the light rail to the central Wellington railway station. Exiting the train, we walked to the waterfront and then mainly south toward the museum. Just before gaining the harbor, I stopped to photograph the Hotel Waterloo building. The building, finished in 1937, has a definite art deco style. It is one of several art deco style buildings in the Wellington CBD.
The first business we walked by was MADINZ. It is a store selling New Zealand tourist items and collectibles. What caught our eye were the two Shih Tzu dogs inside by the front door. When we walked in, the younger of the two, Oscar, became very excited. Leslie stopped and petted Oscar. As we began to wander around the store, the dog settled down. The items for sale were very high quality. We did not buy anything only because we already have a lot of New Zealand souvenirs.
As we walked farther, we came to the building at 1 Queen’s Wharf. It is an old harbor office building dating from 1896. Maybe the most well-known business there today is the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. We did walk in and take a quick look at the items on display at the Academy. We did not spend much time because much of what we saw was too modern for our taste.
At the south end of 1 Queen’s Wharf, in between that building and the Wellington Museum, one can see a set of entry gates to the wharf area. The gates date from 1899. I found the seal on the entrance to be quite whimsical.
Finally, we had reached our goal; the Wellington Museum. The museum is in the 1892 Wellington Harbour Board Head Office and Bond Store. It is a Victorian-style building designed by the same architect as 1 Queen’s Wharf. The bond store was a warehouse that stored goods imported to New Zealand as the customs fees and paperwork process was complete.
As with so many of the museums in this country, there is no set entry fee. There is simply a place to leave a donation. The quaint museum does an outstanding job of taking one through the maritime history of Wellington from the mid-to-late nineteenth century up to today.
The ground floor houses exhibits in a timeline fashion, highlighting many years past. A few of the exhibits that caught my eye included replica crown jewels, a 1958 diorama, and several peace sign emblems. The gems were reproductions made for display at the 1939-1940 Centennial Exhibition. I do not recall the significance of the diorama other than it depicted 1958…say no more. The peace signs date from 1982. They were part of the nuclear-free New Zealand protests at that time. The protests came to a head with the visit of the USS Truxtun. The United States at the time would neither confirm nor deny any nuclear capabilities of the cruiser. Decommissioned in 1995, we now know the boat was nuclear powered. The Truxtun was the last U.S. ship to visit New Zealand until the USS Sampson visited in 2016.
The first and second levels delve into the maritime history of Wellington, New Zealand. The most poignant area of the museum deals with the Wahine sinking on April 10, 1968. The movie in the museum is painful to watch. At least 51 people lost their lives that day. An additional two died later, bringing the toll to 53. The disaster happened during one of the worst cyclones to ever hit New Zealand.
As Leslie and I walked up the stairs to the Attic level of the museum, I stopped to take a photo of the diagonal bracing of the building. I may very well be the only person ever to do that!
The Attic is a beautiful, hands-on portion of the museum. I believe we enjoyed those exhibits the most. If we had visited the Wellington Museum earlier in our posting, I am sure we would have returned. It is well worth the visit.
Leaving the museum, it was time for lunch. We ended up at the München Food Hall and Bier Haus. We both opted for a rueben sandwich on rye and a liter of beer. Yes, you read correctly, a full liter of beer each. That may not have been the best decision we have made lately… Regardless, I thought the food was excellent.
When we left the restaurant, I wanted to walk to a photography store nearby. On the way, we passed near Wellington’s Civic Square. As we got closer, I remembered that a new Ferns orb sculpture was erected the previous day. I walked into the square, and sure enough, the orb was there, suspended above the square. It is an impressive sculpture. The artist is Neil Dawson. He had a similar sculpture in place earlier, but it was taken down. This new sculpture has a stronger internal structure.
After visiting the photography store, we walked back to the Wellington Railway station to catch a train back home. The railway building is another from the art deco era. It dates from about 1937. The front of the station is easily recognizable by the tall Doric columns at the main entry.
We found a train leaving in about five minutes. We got on and rode the 20-minutes or so to our train station. Then it was a short walk home. All totaled, we walked about four miles, so we were both ready for a nap even though it was late in the day.
Secretary of State Kerry was “wheels up” early Friday evening. That meant his visit to Christchurch, New Zealand, and the United States Antarctic program was over.
Once I got back to my hotel, the Ibis; I had dinner, a glass of wine, and prepared to check out early the next morning.
The following morning, I reported to The George Hotel at about 06:30. Some items need to be loaded in a truck and driven back to Wellington. I met a small vehicle and a driver there. In no time, the truck was packed, and we began our journey north.Our route was State Highway 1. We stopped in Cheviot to get a cup of coffee for the road. Then it was on to Oaro. Until that point, the highway was like so many roads in New Zealand. It wound its way through valleys and fields in the lovely rural, green countryside. At Oaro, State Highway 1 begins to hug the east coast of the South Island. Right next to the highway was the railway. We passed through Peketa, Kaikoura (little did I know I would grow to know a lot about this area very soon), Mangamaunu, and Clarence; before turning back inland toward Ward and Seddon.
The scenery in New Zealand is stunning at every turn. However, the view along this portion of the South Island, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was some of the most picturesque I have ever seen. On the west side of the highway were towering hills. Tectonic plate movement thrust them up from the ocean many millennia ago. I marveled at how they seemed to shoot straight up from the roadbed. At a couple of points, there were tunnels because going through the towering hills was the only way highway engineers of the past were able to make any headway.Along the east side of the highway was the rugged Pacific Ocean coast. Now and then I spotted a few seals. In fact, at one point, there was a highway sign cautioning motorists to be aware of seals straying across the road. The rocky coast also appeared to be the perfect habitat for the much-loved paua (abalone). It was all such a beautiful sight.
I remember marveling at how portions of the hillside did not come crashing down onto the road… Our destination on the South Island was the small town of Picton. That is where we would catch the 13:00 Interislander ferry back to Wellington. I was looking forward to that part of the trip. It would be my first time crossing the Cook Strait. I was secretly hoping the crossing would not be in rough seas.
We arrived in Picton with some time to spare. I took advantage of the time to do a little shopping for tourist trinkets and to take photos.
Waiting in the queue to show our tickets, I saw the large sign with the current water conditions in the Strait. The broad arrow of the Twister-esque game spinner stopped on the pictogram of three-wave crests. The word above that ominous pictogram read “Moderate.” Oh, how I longed for something more in the green or blue-tinted area of the sign. I began to wonder whether or not I would have to deal with seasickness. Waiting in queue allowed ample opportunity to come up will all sorts of plans to deal with the potential discomfort.
I tried not to let my imagination get the best of me, but I have heard horror stories of Strait crossings taking seven-plus hours or stories about running out of seasickness bags. I wanted nothing to do with either of those eventualities.
The driver drove onto the ferry with no problems. We parked the vehicle and headed up to the passenger deck. Before departing Christchurch, I bought an upgrade to my ferry ticket to the Interislander Plus, which is roughly equivalent to a first-class fare. The lounge area has comfortable seating and coffee tables. Once the ferry is underway, there is food, drink, and alcohol available. While I did partake of some of that, I did spend a lot of my time on deck taking photos of Queen Charlotte Sound.
The voyage from the South Island to the North Island takes roughly three hours; about one hour in Queen Charlotte Sound, about one hour on the open water in the Strait, and then one final hour to get from the opening of the Wellington Harbour to the dock.
As it turned out, the crossing was very smooth. The water in Queen Charlotte Sound and the Wellington Harbour was very calm. The Strait did have some swells, but I did not think it was bad at all. I felt no sickness whatsoever. All-in-all, it was a brilliant success.By the time we docked, drove off the ferry, and arrived at the Embassy, it was about 17:00. We had additional help there, so the unloading went very quickly. After the unloading, I grabbed a taxi and went home, arriving around 19:00.
Shortly after midnight, I was unceremoniously awakened. At first, I thought it was Leslie shaking me, trying to wake me up. Once I did wake up, I realized it was Mother Nature shaking me. I found myself sitting up in bed, feeling the whole house violently moving back and forth. Leslie has a cross collection on one of the walls in our bedroom. They were swaying to and fro like leaves in the wind. I saw things on top of our dressers scooting violently back and forth across the surface.After roughly 30 seconds, the shaking stopped. New Zealand has a service that monitors earthquakes. It updates very quickly. I suddenly realized that we had just lived through a monstrous 7.8 magnitude earthquake. When we were in Pakistan, we went through a 7.2. That extra six-tenths was enormous. The earthquake epicenter was very near Kaikoura.
Leslie was bushed, so she stayed in bed. I went downstairs to begin to try to decipher what exactly had happened. It was during that time that I discovered the magnitude was 7.8. While I was watching television and checking for information online, the emergency sirens began sounding. It took me a while, but I finally found out that it was a tsunami warning.I was shocked that our house sustained zero damage; either to the structure or the contents.
Meanwhile, we had several aftershocks that seemed they should have been classified as earthquakes. Many were well over magnitude 6.0. All totaled, there were more than 5,000 aftershocks.
I made it back to work at about 04:00 to see what damage the Embassy may have sustained. I was glad to see nothing. To be sure, I arranged for an engineering firm to do a more thorough review. They found no issues.As news reports began to filter in, I saw the damage along State Highway 1; particularly in the stretch of highway near Kaikoura. The damage was substantial. Several parts of the highway were covered with dirt, rocks, and debris. That all used to be those magnificent hills I had just seen the day before. Parts of the railway were completely swept away and across the now blocked highway. Parts of the coastal seabed were thrust up by as much as six feet. I was so thankful the earthquake did not occur as we were driving.
I was equally glad that I made it to the dock. That next day, I found out the docks were damaged. As I drove home, I saw all four Interislander ferries anchored in the harbor. I was fortunate that I and the Embassy truck were not stuck on one of those. I really do not wish to go through another earthquake. I have had enough.