At 2:45am our hotel phone rang. Our flight had been put on a 24-hour weather delay. This call kept coming every morning for four days, giving us extra time to enjoy New Zealand prior to heading south.
Choosing a life of migration means that sometimes you will have complete freedom and responsibility to get where you need to go, but that sometimes you will be in limbo. Every morning the first twenty seconds of “This Will Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” by the Talking Heads would play as Kevin’s iPhone alarm went off at 2:45am. The first morning we bolted into action, but by the third and fourth days of weather delays, we’d just stay in bed waiting for a phone call letting us know we’d fly tomorrow.
Becoming quite familiar with the Christchurch bus system, we ventured further every day. In the sleepy beach town of New Brighton, we walked out on a long pier where old men were fishing and huffing out of paper bags. A bright blue long-legged leotard was bought at a thrift store with Antarctic costume parties in mind. Kevin bought a raffle ticket from a kid with tall green socks that was trying to raise money to go skiing, the prize of which we would not be around for. We were only in Lyttelton briefly: surveying the destruction, purchasing some fun clothes made in Nepal, realizing that somewhere between the bus station downtown and the bus stop in Lyttelton, my camera had disappeared from my back pocket. Sumner involved some incredibly greasy but deliciously fresh fish and chips, a stroll on the beach during a stunning sunset, and a long huddled wait for the bus in the dark.
Each day was a gift that came with a small chunk of change from our employers to feed ourselves with and another opportunity to do a few more “real world” things, one last time. As wonderful as these days were, by the fourth day we were becoming quite anxious to get where we were supposed to be. Getting ready every night for nothing had grown old, we had exhausted everything left to do in the devastated Christchurch area, and we were ready to unpack our suitcases and settle for a while.
We traveled through the suburbs of Christchurch, avoiding the vacant and decaying city center. We went to New Brighton, and walked the pier over the teal-green waters of the Pacific Ocean. We went to the port of Lyttelton, and witnessed the effects of a big earthquake on a small town: deserted main streets dotted with collapsed buildings that were left as they were when they fell. We walked the beaches of Sumner, underneath receding bluffs that had taken entire sections of houses with them as they fell. We explored the abandoned and collapsed concrete monolith remains of an old cement factory, laden with graffiti and tangled steel.
The presence of destruction is never far in Christchurch. It was surreal, tragic, fascinating, and very honest. Six-month-old piles that were once the structures that comprised a modern, first world city are very clear reminders of the instability of life. You aren’t always as safe as you think you are. Amid this, half a year in Antarctica still loomed above our heads. We were given four days of last chances to enjoy the vestiges of the civilized and hospitable world before we were returned to the Ice. The 24-hour delays kept us in a purgatory of “last days,” each fooling us into believing that tomorrow would be the day we would be headed out. Finally, one morning the call didn’t come. We were going to fly.