Friday, March 28, 2008


The Hotel Hostel
The best way to travel solo as a woman is to stay in a hostel or backpacker hotel. You're the oldest person there and NOBODY will bother you because - well, you are old enough to be their mother and they just don’t know how to deal with you in that environment. Take for example the hotel manager - young (maybe late 20’s). He originally put me in a dorm with a few other youngins’, but a little later he decided to change me into a dorm room with no other people in it. He said that the one room had a few people in it who he thinks likes to party a bit so he thought I’d be more comfortable in the other room. YEAH I WAS!! They were up Waaay past my bedtime, drinking and partying up a storm. And I think he has a little bit of an Oedipus complex.

Patrick, Mary, David and Jenny
I found out why these folks were drinking and partying to the wee hours……….They had just bought $NZ300 of liquor and beer and were intent upon “liquidating” it. As I passed by their room we commenced conversing about their native land, Scotland, and next thing I knew they were passing around a bottle of Glenfiddich as you would pass around a joint - swill and pass. This to them is common scotch, nothing special. They all went to elementary school together but David and Mary went off to University while Patrick and Jenny work in the same factory, he slaying sheep, she cleaning up after. Mary is decidedly the party maker, self-confident and sturdy. David was half-asleep, or rather half passed out. Every other word was an f-word from Jenny, who seemed young and rebellious. Fair-haired Patrick would melt a girl's heart with his smile and follow the group wherever. This was somewhat of a reunion trip for them all, as David and Patrick had just come from India where they had been traveling for about a month. The girls planned on staying for a year, working to earn enough to finance each segment of travel. Yet, in the Bay, other than drinking they hadn’t experienced anything of the area other than walking around. They were going to be leaving to go to the Cape on the far far north coast the next day. I hope they wake up in time to catch the Magic Bus, a tour bus for backpackers.

As I was fixing my breakfast the next morning in the common kitchen I made small talk with Inga, who comes from a small town in Holland. This pretty young lady with long brown hair is traveling alone and enjoying it. As we talked about the relative merits of traveling solo I learned that Inga is traveling to get away from home and clear her head and make a new start of her life. She had been living with a man in a committed relationship for 3 years when she discovered that her partner was seeing someone else. She's financing this trip with money she had planned on using for her wedding. She teaches 4-6 year olds in a small town where this man is also a teacher. Referring to traveling solo she mentioned several times that you “have to make your own party”. She’s taking her party around NZ, then on to Australia and then on home with a rest stop in China and Japan for a few days.


All Things Left

This day was all about driving…on the left. Try buckling the seatbelt - I instinctively reach to the left to grab the belt, but it‘s not there. Look in the mirror…it’s on the left. Gear shift…..on the left. Turnabouts……..go clockwise. There are very few stop signs. At the end of the street on the pavement there is a triangle which makes you think it’s an arrow pointing at you and there’s a moment of panic thinking that you’ve gone down a one way street, but it’s really just a yield sign. If you walk down the street and someone comes at you….stay to the left. Coming into the harbor? It isn’t red right returning…’s red left returning. Hot and cold faucets are often switched and although I’ve been watching, I haven’t seen any toilets that flush counterclockwise….They just seem to go straight down there’s so much force in their flush.

Miracle Cure for Bug Bites - Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
They may not have snakes and spiders, but the sandflies and mosquitoes more than make up for it!!! Something found my legs on the way down here and by the time I went to bed, I couldn’t stop scratching. I’ve always put vinegar on bug bites and it works pretty well, but I didn’t pack any and was desperate for relief so I took some of the wine and just rubbed it on my legs and feet. Much better. I hate to waste good wine, but it would have been an equal shame to waste good sleeping time.


Men In Skirts and Other Cultural Oddities
So I got up a little late today and sauntered down to the restaurant for coffee and a look at the local paper. After a rousing discussion with the locals on the Glue Ear malady that seems to affect native children, I inquired at the reception desk as to which cultural diversions seemed to be the best value. The consensus was Te Puia, a Maori village with a weaving and carving school, geyser, thermal mud pool, and cultural exhibition. Best of all there was a gift shop. Excellent, beam me up. Great the receptionist said….the bus is turning the corner now. And so off I went, without camera or raincoat (It rained all day). I’m just delighted the bus driver knew where I was going and what backpacker I was staying at to bring me back.
The carvings are incredibly detailed, in a pinch and with a few hemp leaves I could weave a skirt (not!), the geysers were steamy, and the mud pools really did look like Middle Earth. The cultural exhibition was well done, but the best part is watching the men do the Haka, the war dance. I mean, seeing men beat their chests, twirl sticks and stick out their tongues is so manly. It’s so typically male to flaunt the plumage. I’m sure it made every woman there feel more secure.

Other Cultural Diversions
After that I thought it time for culture of a different sort. XORBING. Leave it to the Kiwis to invent an extreme sport that involves rolling down a hill inside a giant rubber ball. It’s not at all what it looks like - IT’S TERRIFYING!! Yet, when I first looked at the hill I thought it looked short and boring - sort of like going on the kiddie rollercoaster. First, some background. It was raining all day, constant drizzle and rather chilly. You have to put on a bathing suit and leave all your clothes and shoes and towel and everything down at the bottom of the hill in a changing room. Given the weather, that didn’t make it any more attractive. They take you up to the top of this hill in a van where you are told to dive into the middle of this ball -within- a-ball into which they have put a bit of warm water to make it easier to slide around in. The hole you have to dive through is about 2 feet in diameter and once inside you can’t see out and your voice echoes back at you. Once they zip up the hole you have to stand up and walk, which - pardon the pun - gets the ball rolling. There you are sliding around inside not knowing if you are upside down or going head over heels as the ball rolls down this grass track like a pinball on a raceway. You are tossed about quite a bit in the process, sure all the while you are going to land on your neck and break it, until you come to rest at the bottom and they unzip the hole and have you slide out. I will never ever again contemplate getting in the dryer for a spin!

More Men in Skirts
The men in skirts were so sexy, I had to go back for more, only this time is was a Hangi. We were picked up in a bus and taken to the Matai family's compound. Upon arrival they led us all into a big tent that was laid out for dinner, but that was just to tease us. We wouldn’t eat for another 2 hours. We learned a little song, a few Maori words, and then they led us down to the river where the warriors would be arriving by canoe. Very cool. It was dusk, the pathway was lit and interspersed with Tiki carvings (only they aren’t called tiki but I forget what they’re called) and there were walkways on both sides of the riverbanks. About 6 warriors rode in the canoe singing, holding torches and paddling in rhythm. When they got up to us they backpaddled so everyone could take pictures, all the while chanting, slapping the oars and doing their thing. Finally they got out of the canoe and led the way to the performance area where they danced, sang, explained their culture and taught us a few hand gestures so we could do our own Haka. (Oh boy!) It was very, very well done . And finally, we got to eat. Lamb, chicken, cumadin (?)(a type of sweet potato), cabbage slaw, cauliflower salad, regular potatoes, stuffing, trifle, chocolate roll and a few other things. Before they sent us home they took us back down that dark pathway to see the glowworms that line the path and live on the edge of the riverbank. They have a blueish electric tint that really makes me wonder: How many light bulbs do you think they used to do that? And how do they get some of them to go on and off (The men fade in and out; the ladies are always on. Just like real life.)
Well, it’s late. Hopefully my laundry is dry. I have to get up early to get my glasses repaired. I’ll need all the help I can get on the road to Wellington.

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