On the way to Christchurch from Mount Cook we stopped at Lake Tekapo and took some photos of the church that’s very iconic to New Zealand. We arrived in Christchurch late in the afternoon and started looking for a place to stay. This is easier said than done as the whole city centre is closed off since the earthquake in February and it’s very hard navigating the city now. The maps we had were all “pre-earthquake” so anytime we would turn down a street we had no idea if it would be blocked off or not (which in most cases it was blocked off) and to add to the confusion, Christchurch has, like a lot of cities, a system of one way streets. We finally had to stop and call the hostel we were planning on staying at and ask what the best way to reach them was.
After check-in we went grocery shopping and made some dinner. By that time it was too late to go and explore the city and the night life is really non-existent since the earthquake as well. Not that we were feeling up to it anyway. We had spent a good portion of the night prior battling Andrew’s insomnia. Insomnia on its own is annoying but combined with a squeaky bunk bed in a dorm room can drive a person insane. I’m usually very supportive of Andrew and his trouble with sleep, but that night I was ready to scream at the top of my lungs, I was so frustrated. And if it wasn’t for other people sleeping in the room, I probably would have yelled at him. The squeaking of the bed every time he tossed and turned drove me to the brink of insanity. I finally asked him to switch beds with me, as I thought mine might squeak less, and it actually worked! I think it was 2am by the time we had finally gone to sleep. So when we arrived in Christchurch we just wanted a quite place to sleep.
After dinner we did some laundry and watched some shows on our laptop. We woke up at 5:39am to find our bed and, really, our whole world shaking. We were experiencing an earthquake! It was a very surreal feeling. You hear about it on the news and what it will feel like, but experiencing it is completely different. I felt like it was absolute silence around us and all you could hear was this kind of whirring sound. Kind of like a vibrating bed (not that I know too much about that J). Andrew says he could hear the water splashing in the water bottles on our night stand. It only lasted 10 – 20 seconds. The weird thing is I wasn’t even scared and went right back to sleep once it stopped. Tara called first thing in the morning and told us it was a 5.1 earthquake. We had just talked the night before and she said all we had left to experience in NZ was an earthquake in Christchurch so it seems we have now experienced everything extreme NZ has to offer.
The next day we woke up quite late and had breakfast at noon. We then went to find a post office and to buy an external hard drive. Tara is flying to Canada in August and she’s going to take some things back for us since sending a 5kg package from NZ to Canada costs over $230! And sending a 5kg package from Christchurch to Auckland costs $7. I was worried she wouldn’t have room to take it with her but she’s taking two almost empty suitcases with her so she can fill them up with stuff from Canada. Her and I have had a few conversations about things you can’t get here, or you can but at an incredible price. I don’t blame her for stocking up when she goes back. One of the things we were sending was the hard drive with a backup of all our pictures to date. We were worried that something might happen to our laptop and we’d lose them all. So even though it wasn’t really in our budget we bought the hard drive, backed up our laptop and shipped it to her.
That night we drove around the city and witnessed a huge blazing fire. It was in the closed off part of the city but it was near where the fence was so we could see it quite clearly. Not sure how the fire started since it was an abandoned building, but we’re speculating it was probably set on fire to claim the insurance money. Our clothes ended up smelling like smoke for the rest of the day. We also went to see where our rental car needed to be dropped off and where the airport is. And then again back to the hostel to eat dinner and watch some TV. Really, in between all the scary and extreme stuff, we led quite a boring life in NZ.
The following day we decided to walk the perimeter of the closed off section of the city. Driving around you get a sense of the damage as a lot of the buildings, even outside of the “red zone”, are condemned and ruined, but walking around you just get a feeling of doom. It’s similar to being in an end of the world movie. The streets are completely abandoned. You do not see one single person and the buildings are standing completely empty, with lifeless cars or machinery out front. In February, we had watched the results of the earthquake on TV in Sydney, along with the rest of the world, and you get a sense of what it must be like, but once you’re there, it’s a completely different experience. It’s not 1 building that’s collapsed or 1 block that has been blocked off, it’s the whole downtown area. I don’t know this for sure, but I think it’s unprecedented for a whole city centre to be shut down indefinitely. Think what that does to the economy. The businesses are not operating so they’re not making any money, and therefore they are not paying any taxes. So not only is the city not obtaining any taxes, they also have to pay for the teardown, cleanup and rebuilding of the city. And it’s not just 1 or 2 buildings that need to be demolished, it’s dozens. The scale of this operation is unimaginable. There is a couple of high-rise building, and one especially, that is heavily slanted and will have to come down. On the perimeter, posted to the fence, are flowers and notes from loved ones to the ones who have died. It’s really easy to think of the earthquake and think of the people who died as just a number, but when you see a note from someone whose sister has died, saying she really misses her, it helps you to associate that with a real person. These people were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. They left home that day and never returned. They died in the rubble that is now Christchurch. It was emotional walking around. And surreal at the same time. It didn’t feel real. Real cities are not empty. They are full of people and full of life. They are full of traffic jams and people fighting for parking spots. There is none of that here. And most likely, for another 5 or so years.
I had a hard time wrapping my head around it all. How do you not lose hope? How do you continue? Where do you get your strength? When I was looking at it all, taking it all in, I have to admit it feels a bit hopeless to me. Why bother rebuilding? What’s the point? There will be another earthquake. Christchurch lies on a fault line so it’s guaranteed. Why invest all that energy into rebuilding it? It’s almost like a bad relationship. You invest all that time and energy with the hope it will work out but you know it never will. You just don’t know when the next shakeup will be. But the people of Christchurch have not given up hope. Yes, there are those who have left the city because they are fed up. But there are also those who believe, who have to believe, the city will once again be rebuilt. They are not losing hope. And I think we need more people like that in the world. Because if it was all cynical people like me, where would we be?
That night we packed our bags and got everything ready for our flight the next day. We were leaving a lot of stuff behind at the hostel for other people to use if they wanted. We knew we wouldn’t need our sleeping bags anymore, or our gloves and hats. Maybe others could use them. We were getting excited about going to Indonesia. I was looking forward to the heat and getting back to a country where we could finally afford to start doing things. And I was looking forward to the beach. I was a little apprehensive about the craziness that is Asia but I knew I would adjust soon enough. The pros outweigh the cons by a long shot.
We had to wake up early the next day and get ready for our flight to Indonesia. We had to drop off our car at 10:30am. Unfortunately our flight was not until midnight so we would have a lot of time to waste at the airport. And then a 16 hour journey, before we would finally land in Bali.