The first day, as expected, seemed hectic and slightly stressful, but that is something to expect when you just arrive in a country and prepare for the time you will spend there. One of the first things that got to us was the climate. It was to be expected since it is winter back home, so seeing a summer place when we are used to winter during this time. The accent was also different, and the local slang and lexicon was interesting to hear, especially the pronunciations of certain words. The locals seem to be a bit reserved, but they are good at communicating when needed and they are very friendly as well. It’s a very nice place. Things did not go as planned for an event, since it was a holiday, but we all managed to enjoy ourselves and have a great dinner.
Exploring the city, it wasn’t very big, yet all the indications of a central business district were there, like gentrification. Most businesses find their place around the central plaza, only a short distance from the river. All other places spread out from the center. Despite the urban setting of this area, the impact of domestic agricultural trade can be felt, both in the supermarkets as much as in the farmer’s market and the surrounding areas. Tasting the different foods and drinks was an interesting experience, and it made me appreciate what is here and what this place has to offer. Speaking to the producers further solidified that appreciation, since they apply themselves just as much as the farmers and ranchers back home. I still don’t know enough of the processes they use for production, but that will be something to discover throughout the week.
We visited Whakarewarewa, the Maori village. It stands out to me that New Zealand has embraced its bi-cultural past and integrated it into modern society. Kiwis (slang for New Zealanders) know a small amount of the Maori language. The haka (traditional Maori dance) has been integrated by the All Blacks into rugby. This is one of the few places that I have seen genuine coexistence between two cultures, and I find it truly amazing.
Something that I thought was really cool is the adaptation to the local geography in different areas. Of course, you have the areas that have been used for the usual things, like farmland and forestry. Then, there are the interesting areas, like the village built on top of a geothermal area (which they use in their everyday lives).
After seeing the Maori village, everyone went to the beach and enjoyed a few minutes of free time. It was cloudy, a slight drizzle fell over land and sea, and mist covered some of the islands in the distance, so not a very ideal time to visit the beach. However, this deterred no one from having a good time and the beach was very enjoyable. We also made our first official farm visit. We met an avocado farmer at the Farmer’s Market and he opened the doors to his home for us and showed off his avocado crop. He was an interesting and fun person to speak to, but he was knowledgeable about how to grow avocados and a few of the tips and tricks of his trade he learned throughout the years.
To finish, something that I cannot get over in this country is the scenery. I don’t just mean the climate, I mean the landscapes and geography. When we arrived, sunny and slightly dry. Today, light rain everywhere, somewhat foggy and misty in some areas (lots of mist at the village). It’s just so surreal, this place, the people, the culture. I can’t quite put it into words what I feel when I see these things, but hopefully I can define it by the end of this trip. It’s definitely been worth it so far, and I hope to learn and experience so much more. Let’s see what this week brings.
– Emmanuel Hernandez, New Mexico State University