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Monday, February 28, 2011

No More Kava

                February 24. After breakfast today we took a hike into the village where we met the chiefs and had a proper kava ceremony with them. It was a 30 minute walk (in our sarongs) to the village and we had to cross rickety, skinny logs that were makeshift bridges in order to get there. I wasn’t looking forward to a hike today and distracted myself in talking to Olivia.

The high school clique started to fade when we arrived in Queenstown and by now our 2 groups have merged. I have gotten to know Claire, Ariana, and Olivia more than I had and they are all great people. Claire is incredibly confident and is hilarious because of her disregard for what people think of her. Ariana is a down-to-earth girl with a genuine kindness and a dorky, but positively upbeat personality. I have already stated that Olivia is kind, friendly, and a great conversationalist with a slight attitude (which brings a change to the conversation, but never a negative one). Yet, I’ve recently noticed that she is adventurous, relatable, and blunt (she speaks her mind freely and confidently).

                When we finally arrived at the village, we were greeted with enthusiastic “Bulas!” everywhere we walked. The village seemed undeveloped, but pure in its culture. Here, they take nothing for granted. They use every material they can get, which makes their houses look more like squatter-homes. We entered the chief’s home with relief, for it had started to rain during our hike. It was a simple home, but one of the more luxurious ones. It had several couches, mirrors were placed oddly around the room, and there was a curtain that divided part of the room to make a sleeping area. The chiefs were 2 withering, old men who were already sitting in their perspective places for the ceremony. One of the chiefs looked eagerly at us, clearly enjoying our visit, while the other gazed lazily outside, seemingly bored with the events. Before taking our seats around the “Mother Bowl of Kava” we introduced ourselves to the chiefs. They shook our hands, one more energetically than the other, and introduced themselves as we introduced ourselves.

                We sat down and began the ceremony. There wasn’t much difference between the other ceremonies than this one, except the chiefs were served first and were the ones saying “Taki” as we finished our first rounds. The chiefs were relatively quiet throughout the ceremony, only displaying their presence by laughing at a Fijian joke or clapping before someone had drank their kava. The mother bowl was enormous and took several “Taki’s” to finish the kava. I fought back a look of revulsion during my first high tide, but everyone in the group saw right through me and laughed. Then something much worse happened.

                They brought out a bowl roughly the size of a human skull. It replaced the tsunami and was about double its size. Andrew bet me I couldn’t drink a bowl of it. I had to sustain my dignity, for Claire, Olivia, and David had already had one already. I asked for the bowl and Oro’s face broke into a grin. He handed me the bowl and turned to watch (he knew I hated kava). It took about 10 seconds for me to gulp down the entire bowl. It was 10 seconds of repulsion. The bowl was so daunting I had even forgotten to clap and say “Bula!” before I drank, but nobody seemed to mind. Andrew looked impressed, but another ruthless expression crossed his face as he asked me to do another. So, I did another and one more after that because he had bet me again. It was a good thing that the mother bowl was empty at that point, because any more kava and I would have probably thrown up.

                My mouth felt completely numb as I said goodbye to the chiefs, each giving me an approving smile. I walked out while the others teased if I was even able to walk straight. Surprisingly, it was only my mouth that had become numb and even that wore off within minutes. The walk back was enjoyable enough. Most of us just talked about the ceremony.

When we got back to the farm, it was time for a quick lunch and then off to pack our things. I wasn’t reluctant to leave the farm. It was fun, but I was ready for a proper shower and a day without becoming completely dirty. We said our farewells and jumped into the trucks (I made sure I was in the cushioned truck for a change). We stopped for a while in Nadi where I was able to buy souvenirs for home. Then we rolled back to the eco lodge outside Nadi.

We spent the rest of the day in the pool and showers, happy to cool off and get clean. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, we are going to a beach comber island for our last few days, just as a vacation (not like this entire month hasn’t seemed like a vacation).

Hollow Rafting

February 23. The day before, we finished up the night with another kava ceremony. After a dinner of delicious stir-fry, made by Oro’s mom, and pineapple, the family built a large bonfire. It kept the flies away while we sat in a circle, wearing our sarongs, and kept us warm throughout the ceremony, for the night was surprisingly cool. Oro taught us the finer rules of the ceremony, telling us that men were supposed to sit cross legged, while women sat with their legs to their sides. Lauren, who was a professional at this already, didn’t need telling twice, and helped us when we slipped up in our manners.

                She has already become part of our group. Her cheerful, polite, kind and quiet attitude blend in perfectly. I expected as much. I haven’t met one person this month that I haven’t liked immediately. She has been craving American contact for 3 weeks now, and it has made me become wary of the Gap for Good I will be doing in Thailand. I know I will be able to make friends in the areas where I will be going to, but I don’t know how it will feel to go from a great group of kids, to practically isolation. I do, however, have a group of 3 kids in China. That could be a comfortable transition into the Gap for Good.

                The Fijian culture, in these highlands, is not so far from modern society. They have no electricity and only go out into town once in a while. Yet, they eat cereal and snack foods, love listening to modern music, and have a fond liking of brand name clothing and sports jerseys. The women still must wear sarongs most of the time, and even the girls in our group must wear clothing that covers their shoulders, but they are surprisingly well developed for such an isolated area. They do, however, carry their own water from the river for drinking, bathing, and washing and most of them still hold to their ancestral traditions. Kava is almost their life force here. Almost every Fijian starts drinking it when they are at least 22 and most love the taste, though I don’t see how they can. They also still grow their own tobacco, which their descendants grew and smoked as well. They say it is healthy, but I’m skeptical. The leaf is pure, laced with no chemicals, but they do wrap it in newspaper. Also, smoke entering your lungs is never healthy.

                After the kava ceremony, I felt rude not taking some and could only go for the tsunami, I was ready for a good night’s sleep. We dragged our half numb bodies, filled with warmth from the fire and an abundance of kava root, out from the circle and tried to find our way back to our huts. Stumbling through the doorway, we crawled into our sheets. I was asleep before I hit the bed.

                I woke up naturally the next morning. No alarm clocks, no yelling leaders, and no obnoxious nature noises. It was a blissful experience. Even when I arise undisturbed I am the early riser in the group. The river looked inviting, so I took an early morning bath and brushed my teeth. By the time I climbed the stairs to the surface everybody had awoken and I ready to have breakfast. We had no change in diet, and I was slightly disappointed. I have developed a habit of trying new foods here and would have loved to taste a native and distinct breakfast food.

                Our original plan was to hike to a waterfall today, but due to the overcast weather we changed our schedule. We decided to build a river raft today. We would build it out of bamboo, which we would cut down from the forest, and string which we would cut from a local string plant­­­­. We were given each a machete and trudged off into the wild. We walked for about 10 minutes before stopping at a large bramble of bamboo trees. Oro’s cousins began cutting down the trees, showing us exactly how to cut them safely. We cut down 25 trees, slipping and sliding through the mud because of the downpour of rain. I underestimated the sharpness of the wood and cut my hands several times. We had to lug each tree, which was about 15 feet long, back to the road where we began our hike. It took around three hours until we had all of the wood. The girls, meanwhile, had cut down the string for us and came back with wide trunks of flexible plant. Covered in sweat, water, and blood, we took the materials to the edge of the river, where we would raft down until we came to the farm.

                The Fijians were already experts at making the rafts and informed us that we would only hinder their work if we tried to help with the actual making of the raft. So, without anything cumbersome to occupy ourselves with, we skipped rocks by the lake and climbed trees to jump down into the water. I, at least, constantly glanced at the progress of the job, however. It was usually to see them stripping the string plant into long, thin strips to make the string or to see the bamboo being pulled together to make the long and skinny raft.

                When it was finally finished, we all jumped onto it, nearly sinking our days’ work. Oro led our group down the river while we pushed each other off and capsized multiple times. It was relaxing and satisfying. Every day is an adventure, whether we are in the car for 8 hours or working to build a crude river raft, always we are having fun and learning something new about everyone. As we floated lazily down the river, Oro’s cousins threw us fresh guava from the surrounding trees. We munched happily for a long while, cherishing the fruit of our labor and the fruits in our hands. The raft came to a halt abruptly and we realized that we were back at the farm.

                The rafts were left on the bank of the river and we climbed up to the top of the cliff towards the farm. Andrew and I nearly sprinted to wolf down our dinner. We hadn’t really realized how much time had passed and how hungry we all were. Breakfast seemed like an age ago. It was, yet again, another delicious meal of rice and veggies (they eat meat very sparingly).We are all satisfied at the moment, except for Andrew who eats like a tank, and we are sitting in the living room. I pray to the man who invented the card game of president, because it has made some potentially boring moments, like the next hour, into some great and fun times.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rustic

February 22. Yet again I was the early riser this morning. We were driving to Oni's family's farm today, where we would be staying for 3 days and 2 nights. I had to pack everything I needed for that time in my backpack. I left several things behind, including my laptop (I'll just type on my phone) so I don't know exactly when I will be able to post the next few days.

Breakfast was a short affair, entailing porridge with brown sugar. Simple, yet filling. We had to fill up 2 trucks with our group, Ori, the cook, our backpacks, and the food. It made for an uncomfortable 3 hour drive. By the end of it I was gritting my teeth in pain and frustration. When I arose from my temporary prison, I had a golf ball sized lump protruding from my spine.

Ori's family's farm is surrounded by their fields and a river (which is below a cliff), which forms a peninsula around the three buildings that make up the property. Two small huts are for sleeping, while the other larger building is a living area, kitchen, and dining room combined. There is a pathway that leads to the river (because the river is about 50 feet below the farm), but due to the dismal weather, we weren't able to climb down until we built stairs. 

The stairs were crude in structure. We cut through the ground to form the basis of the steps. Then we picked out planks of wood from their firewood pile, in order to reinforce each step. The railings were a bit harder. Large logs were lodged into the ground, as smaller logs were nailed into the large ones. It took the best part of the afternoon to finish the job, but we were pleased signing turnout. The steps weren't only built for our uses, but for Ori's family to use as well. Half the village had turned up to watch our efforts and cheered us on as we finished the job. Afterwards, we were able to swim in the river for a well deserved cool-down.

Staren and I were made a couple Fijian friends while we were swimming around and they asked us to join them in their game of water rugby. At first, I was hesitant. Every male Fijian is well built and tough, but they seemed nice enough and it was also being played in water. So we started the game, playing, at first, with just a large empty coke bottle. As the game progressed, however, more Fijians and guys from our group joined. It soon became a fun, yet ruthless battle for points. I wasn't injured, luckily, but I was mentally and physically exhausted by the time my team had one. The other team jeered at us as we came off the field, ready for a long nap.

I, however, didn't have the luxury to take a nap. I have to write down everything from today because we have a busy night tonight. I'm glad I brought my phone to blog. I doubt it would have been good to lug around my computer in the highlands. As I have guessed, there is no wifi here. I apologize, but I won't be able to post a few days until I get back to town. Thanks for the patience everyone. 

The Tropics of Fiji

February 21. I awoke several times in the middle of the night covered in sweat. It's too hot for human life here. The fourth time this happened I c zosxx hecked my watch, hoping it was a time to wake up. It happened to be 5:30am. That was late enough for me. I did everything I could in that time. I showered, unpacked and repacked, and I took pictures of the landscape. At long last it was 6:30. Time to eat breakfast. It was a basic meal, but much better than the ones we had in New Zealand. Afterwards, we got onto the bus to start our day at the beach.

We arrived an hour later and dragged our feet out to meet the sand (most of us had slept during the ride). Until that time I hadn't noticed that the day was marred by grey clouds. However, it didn't rain once when we were there. We put our belongings down on the sand, but not before brian had ran straight into the water, tossing his towel and shirt carelessly on the sand. Not 10 seconds later did most of our group race after him. The water was bath temperature, with a stench of sulfur palpable throughout the shoreline. We jumped over the waves and played frisbee with Erik and Oni.

30 minutes later, muddy brown horses and foals came striding across the beach, ridden by local Fijians. They stopped directly in front us. "You can ride them if you wish." Ori, in answer to our questioning looks. Excited, we all jumped out of the water. The riders dismounted and handed us the reigns. With help from the owners, we mounted them and were instructed on how to ride. I have ridden before, but it was good to have a refresher course. They started us at a walk, but 5 minutes later we had all broken into a gallop. They horses weren't magnificent, they were obviously bred for labor, not speed. The foals ran alongside us as well. We only had about 20 minutes on the horses until we were back on the bus off to the sand dunes.

I was slightly perplexed as to what the wonders of the sand dunes of Fiji were, but I was excited to hike them either way. We arrived at the tourist center, where there was plenty of history information about Fiji as well as many artifacts pertaining to the dunes. Our guide, Tommy, was a nice enough guy with built legs and a prominent face. While he led us through the wilderness towards the dune, he explained to us the history of the Fijian people. His expression turned from grave to proud and back again during his explanation. When we came to our first dune, after 20 minutes of hiking, we were allowed to race up it and spring back down with enormous leaps. It was good fun, but tiring. Before long many of us were drenched in sweat from the heat and the running. We came to the beach soon after. It was beautiful spot, with white sand and pale blue water (even though it was still overcast). We cooled off with a quick swim, but we couldn't linger because they had warned us of shark attacks in this area. We set off on our hike again, going through the forest and back to the base. We arrived covered in sand and mud, moaning with hunger. We said our farewells to the guide, then pressed on into the town of Nadi.

We only had about 2 hours in town, most of which was spent looking for a place to eat. The group spent the rest of the time exploring the town and buying various souvenirs, while I had to go to the Internet Cafe to post February 20 on the blog.

At 3pm we left the town and went back to base to freshen up. We all showered and were delighted to see that the water pressure had finally been turned up to a usable level. We had no plans for the rest of the day. So we spent our time in the pool, playing billiards and petting the base's dog Boe. There are several kids on the base as well, who are the sons and daughters of the staff. Some are Fijian and some are of Indian decent. Native Fijians and Indians make up about half of the population each, in Nadi. We played with them for a while until we were told that we must prepare for another Fijian ceremony, which wouldn't be complete without cava. I have already put on my sarong and am writing at this moment because I doubt if I'll be able to write after some more cava. I'm starting to really enjoy the experiences that I'm having here, most of which involve the culture of Fiji. I do miss the developed country of New Zealand, but this is a different realm of fun and learning that I could get used to.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Oh the Delicious Kava

February 20. I was supposed to be my room’s wakeup call at 6:30am, but I actually slept through the loud and obnoxious sound that usually wakes me. Apparently everybody else slept through it as well… Yet, I was still blamed for our lateness. Erik yelled at us to get up at 7am (the time we were supposed to be leaving for the airport). We threw our belongings in our bags and raced down to the van. Not surprisingly, we ended up waiting a few stragglers. Staren, Olivia, Claire and I had a brilliant idea to grab a Subway breakfast while we were waiting. It ended up taking about 10 minutes too long. Everybody, yet again, blamed me for being 10 minutes late (instead of blaming the stragglers).
The drive wasn’t a long one. It was gloomy, yet exciting to say goodbye to New Zealand. I watched the landscape on the way to the airport, soaking in as much as I could before we arrived. As we unloaded our bags from the car, we were split into 2 groups. Claire, David, Ben, Jade and I were flying Air Pacific, while the others had connecting flights from Christchurch to Auckland and then on to Fiji.
My half got our tickets and headed to the gate. Little did we know that our flight had been delayed by 2 hours. While the others shopped (in order to kill time), I bought a combined book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which was the answer to all my prayers. It’s over 1100 pages, and looks as daunting as a dictionary, but it will undoubtedly keep me occupied for some time. We ate lunch and settled down at the airline lounge. Finally, it was time to board the plane. As soon as it took off, I crashed. I slept for the entire 4 hours and only awoke when the plane roughly landed in Nandi Airport.
We were immediately greeted by singing and dancing locals and, after an hour through customs, we met up with our other half. Elise drove us to the Rustic Pathways base in Nandi, which is much more comfortable than the hostels we have lived in. We were warmly welcomed by the base members and one other Rustic student, Lauren. She is here for 5 weeks on a Gap for Good, which is what I will be doing in Thailand.
 The culture shock was such a blow to me. On the way to the base I noticed how undeveloped this country is compared to New Zealand, and I wondered how I could transition to this lifestyle. I found that it wasn’t hard however; you just need to get used to little or no bath water and develop a fondness for trying new things.
We ate dinner, which consisted of rice, savory vegetables, and ripe pineapple. Then the staff announced that they would be preforming a Fijian welcome ceremony shortly. We were handed sarongs and taught what to say and how to behave during the ceremony. I was already sweating bullets in my jeans and I wasn’t eager to put on another piece of clothing.
When we all had our sarongs on, we sat in a circle for the ceremony. The head of the group, Oni, had a large bowl in front of him. He explained to us that we would be drinking cava in order to immerge ourselves Fijian culture. Cava is a root, grown on this island (Veti Levu), which calms the mind and body and makes your mouth go numb. To start making the cava, Oni took a substance, which looked oddly like dirt, and poured it into a strip of cloth. He poured water over the cloth, while Indae, his assistant, kneaded the dirt inside of it. It produced a muddy brown liquid, which Oni promised would taste like chicken soup. I was eager to give it a try after that statement. Oni grabbed a large bowl and dipped it into the cava. Indae clapped 3 times as he did this. Before Oni drank he said “Bulla!” (Which means hello/welcome) and chugged the cava. Then Indae clapped 3 times again. We were obviously supposed to follow suit.
There were 4 types of bowls that you could drink out of. The tsunami, the largest bowl, high tide, about the size of a cup, low tide, half a cup, and pussy, which is the smallest bowl. No one was foolish enough to go for the smallest bowl and, out of respect for their culture, most of us chose the tsunami. When it came to me I said “Bulla!” and drank deeply. I almost gagged from the taste. It was like eating dirt off the ground. I pretended to enjoy the drink as I handed it back to Oni. He smiled with a toothless mouth and I tried to smile back, but my lips were numb from the drink.
When everyone was finished Oni yelled “Taki!” My first thought was thank god, it’s over. As I was standing up to leave, however, I caught sight of Oni handing out the bowls again. I grimaced as Indae explained that Taki meant “Again!” The second tsunami made my tongue go limb. After the fourth there seemed to be a dull throb coming from my arms. I was about to throw up from the taste and I doubt that I could have drank another one. Before Oni could yell “Taki!” Elise jumped up and stated that we were all very tired after our long journey and needed a rest. I have never been fonder of a person than at that moment. Oni opened his arms wide and put on an understanding smile. He named us all honorary Fijian visitors and sent us off to bed with his unwavering grin.
 We were led to our villas afterwards. Most of us are peeling off the clothes from our bodies before we take showers. I had to immediately write this down because it was the first real cultural experience I have had in ages. Even though it was an experience I hope to never encounter again, it excited me to learn more about a culture, which is what I set out to do during these 4 months. I wish I could write more about today, but my hands are slipping from the keys even now. The cava was more powerful than I expected.
You can look forward to some different, but no less exciting, blogs in the next 8 days. Please keep posting any comments, feedback, or questions that you may have. They are what keep me typing, even when my body is slowly becoming numb and useless.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Recuperation

                February 19. I was grateful for an off day. I woke up at 10am and a good night’s rest recovered me from yesterday’s attitude. I was ready for another great day and I made it my mission to make up for what I had lost in yesterday’s sulking. There were fresh donuts and muffins waiting for me when I walked into the kitchen, and I ate them with content as I chatted with Erik about what our time will be like in China (he is my leader in my next month). I was the only one up until 12pm. Everyone else had gotten to bed at 5:30am (I knew this because they had barged into the room at that time, yelling about the night’s events). Until then I uploaded all the pictures of white water rafting, black water rafting, and freefalling skydive onto my web album. I had only just been able to do this because, until last night, nobody had given me their CDs of the events.
                When everybody awoke, bleary eyed and stumbling, I handed them breakfast and started talking about what we could do today. Only one part of me had actually penetrated their hungover minds: the act of giving them breakfast. They ate slowly and distractedly, with their eyes unfocused. After they showered and changed, they were finally ready to discuss the day’s events.
                We decided on going out to wander the town and stop along the shops. The city of Christchurch is plenty more hectic than Queenstown or even Auckland. There is so much to see (or maybe today was a special day) because people were playing scavenger hunts, dressed up in ridiculous costumes, and I even saw a portly old man with a monkey that would do tricks when given a dollar. We admired the shops and landmarks until about 5pm. We occasionally stopped for coffee or tea and at 4pm we had a late lunch.
When we finally came back to the hostel it was to find the rest of the group lying around the couch watching Monsters vs. Aliens. We played some more pool, which led into several games of president. This was one of the first card games (that I have played in) that escalated into physical injuries. Ben slammed his knee into the table, Andrew took my hat and chucked it at my groin, and Steran slammed his head against Caitie’s in their rush to play their cards.
Nursing our injuries, we all returned to our rooms for a quick change before we were off to dinner. We ate at an amazing Mexican place. A sign outside stated that people that had birthdays could get a free cake for the table. When we placed our orders Ariana stated, in passing, that it was my birthday. Everyone repeated the statement in earnest and the waitress, somewhat caught off guard, hastened to put balloons on our table for the false occasion. I know what you may be thinking and I can’t deny that it was wrong. Yet, it was necessary.
After our delicious meal and a savory chocolate cake we returned to our hostel. The group is playing a few more games of president before we set out for the town tonight. Some have agreed to stay with me throughout the night, no doubt because their livers are kicking them in revenge for the last 3 weeks. I look forward to my last night in New Zealand, but I’m still not ready to leave. I am, however, curious to see what Fiji will bring to conclude the last leg of this amazing month.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Finding a Remedy

                February 18. Today wasn’t a day packed with adrenaline, quite the opposite really. We had another long car ride of 5 hours (they are starting to wear me down). We listened to some more comedy in the car to keep our spirits high. We only have 2 more days in New Zealand before we go to Fiji. We’re not ready to leave yet. I, at least, feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of this amazing country.
                Andrew lent me his Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring book. I have been so eager to read the series again after we have watched the trilogy and saw some of the landscape on which it was filmed. The book is tedious, but it’s still a great read. I forgot how much was left out of the movie that is in the book.
                We stopped for lunch after about 3 hours. We all made sandwiches again and threw the Frisbee around. I wasn’t on my game, and I felt like I was having an off day. I wasn’t myself at all. I kept quiet and just thought about what the next year of my life would bring. I don’t know why I was thinking of my future that day, but it kept eating at my mind when I least expected it.
                When we finally arrived at the hostel in Christchurch, I was not looking forward to going out to dinner with everyone. I just wanted to be alone for a while. I did my laundry and showered, pausing once in a while to humor one of my friends as they made a joke or tried to initiate a conversation. Finally, it was time to eat dinner. We had another Kebab, but these ones were enormous, with twice the meat, sauce, bread and veggies. It could have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It brought some happiness back into me, but that soon died away as the group left for the bars and I went upstairs to my room. Even if I had been able to be with everyone, I wouldn’t have wanted to.
                I checked my email immediately when I got back to my room. Just to add to my disappointing day I read an email that stated I had been deferred to my number 1 college. I know that it doesn’t mean I’ve been denied, but it didn’t do anything to help my mood. More out of routine than desire, I grabbed my computer. It’s funny how I wouldn’t have wanted to write a page or more every day when I was at home, but now it’s become a habit. It’s funnier still how the simple act of writing is making me feel better about my day. I think, subconsciously, I’ve been purging myself of all bad emotion for almost 3 weeks now. Knowing that there is a way to escape, for me to be able to channel my emotions into something, is a comfortable feeling. Hopefully this sensation will stay with me for the next few months or maybe even forever.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Just So You Know

                February 17. At least this morning wasn’t as hectic as yesterday morning. I woke up and blogged, as you might already know, and finished blogging at around 9:30am. We had to leave at 10am so I only had 30 minutes to pack, eat, shower, and pack up the van. We only just made it, checking out at exactly 10am. We drove for another 6 hours to Dun Edin, a much larger town than Queenstown. Our hostel is located right under the PoolBar. There are at least 20 pool tables in this bar under us, so we were able to spend the rest of the day down there. I also was able to post my Nevis bungy jump on my Facebook, so if you would like to view it please don’t hesitate to friend me on Facebook (I am Jimmy Mack on Facebook). We went out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant and I was pressured into trying many new foods I wouldn’t normally eat. I ate seaweed, plenty of vegetables, and even eel. We went back to play some pool and President again. I used to hate President, but it is a game of exotic emotion and exuberant attitudes. The noise rose twice in level when we play cards. The game just ended and we are now in our beds getting ready to sleep, but I just wanted to share a statement that might clear up some confusion.
                When I first planned the month of February, I signed up for the Give Fiji trip, but it was canceled due to only 2 people signing up for it. It just so happens that Caitie was that other person. When I chose the Essential New Zealand/Fiji trip I thought it would be culture based. It sure seemed it would be that way when looking at the itinerary on the Rustic Pathways website. Don’t get me wrong, I love this experience and have learned some culture while I’ve been here, but it didn’t meet my expectations. The main purpose of these 4 months is to help world communities and learn about culture, but it did not turn out so for February. I spoke to Rustic Pathways about this and I have been assured that my next 3 months will be more of an immersion into the countries, so I hope for those of you who were hoping for feedback on my original ventures, your expectations will be met in my next 3 months. Sorry if any of you were disappointed by my first month, but I would urge you to check in during next month. Thanks so much for your feedback, keep it coming.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ceaseless Landscapes

February 15 and 16. (Sorry for double posting February 14th, here is the real post) We left Queenstown after 3 nights there. I wasn’t sorry to leave. Quite the contrary. Everyone was nice, it had great shops, there was so much to do, and I loved the atmosphere of music and cheerfulness. I might even move there one day. We left for Te Anau that day. It was only a 5 hour drive, which has become normal for us by now. I slept most of the way, too tired to do anything due to my nerves still being shot. We arrived at our hostel and settled down. We napped, which was very beneficial, because as soon as we awoke we felt lively again. We headed to Subway for dinner (cheap and simple tonight) and preceded to the local park to throw around the Frisbee we had bought (we sadly lost the rugby ball a few days ago). We then finished off the day with a spectacular 6 hour Lord of the Rings marathon, where we watched the last two we hadn’t seen while in New Zealand. When we finally curled up into bed, it was about 3am, but I still wasn’t properly tired.
The next day we were awoken by Erik at 6am. We didn’t realize we had a sightseeing appointment at 7am and we rushed to pack our things and get out the door, only to later be told that we would be staying another night at Te Anau. We drove 2 hours to the sightseeing harbor. We hopped onto a tour boat, with a cafĂ©, free tea and coffee, and a free deck of cards. That’s all we needed for a good time. We cruised through huge mountains and lakes, continually seeing beautiful waterfalls, double rainbows, and baby seals. The landscape was amazing, like all landscape in New Zealand, but it never stops surprising me how preserved this land is. It’s one of those sights that can only be explained when you see it for your own eyes. No wonder they used it for Lord of the Rings. At one point, we cruised right under a waterfall, where Steran, Claire, Brian, and I all got soaked to the bone. It was plenty fun, however. We passed the time with playing President (a card game), but it soon got too loud because we kept yelling at each other and getting really into the game. After 2 hours we pulled into the harbor, where we made about 3 sandwiches each and talked late into the afternoon. At around 5pm we left for the hostel. I went to the computer repair store and gave them my computer. We played another round of Frisbee and made ourselves some great tasting tacos. I went for a run after dinner, wanting to get back in shape after 5 delicious meals today. We watched another movie tonight, Anchorman. We laughed and joked, staying up late as we swapped jokes and ridiculously childish scary stories. It’s now the next morning, and I’m finally catching up on the days where my computer was broken. Hopefully this repair did the trick. Thanks for reading!

Topless Valentine's Day

February 14. Happy Valentine’s Day from New Zealand! I was finally able to sleep in late today. Steran, David, Olivia, Jade, and I planned to bungy jump at 2pm, so I was able to wake up at 12pm. The other group members chose to skydive today, which I would have done if bungy jumping “The Nevis” wasn’t an option. The Nevis is a 134 meter (440 feet) free fall from a box suspended under the Nevis River. I wasn’t able to eat before I left for to bungee jump, although I was starving. My nerves were at the breaking point. The only thing I thought to do was to visit the Lord of the Rings store. I wandered around town aimlessly for 2 hours with Steran and Olivia. Before we could figure out where to go, it was time to meet Elise to go bungy jumping.
 We walked 10 minutes to AJ Hacket, the local commercial bungy center. We spotted a TV showing The Nevis bungy in the lobby and, while we waited for Elise to sign us up, watched the experience of unanimous people. My fear left me as I watched the video. Seeing the drop and the location developed a mental picture in my head, which is much better then facing the unknown. At that point I was just excited and anxious. We signed the “we are not responsible for your death” forms and were about to pay when the woman told us of a special that was going on for Valentine’s Day. If we paid for The Nevis and 3 bungy jumps at The Ledge (where you could freestyle bungy), we would only have to pay $450 with pictures and video included. Steran, Ben, and I were sold. We paid for the jumps and set off to The Nevis. We drove 30 minutes by bus to a mountain top, and then took a smaller bus up the mountain to The Nevis location center.
 Local New Zealand’s don’t waste time with anything. They threw us into harnesses and put all the items in our pockets inside a locker. Ben nervously asked “Do we get helmets?” They distractedly responded “No need.” as they shuffled us towards the gondola. Everyone turned slightly greener at those words. The 5 of us piled into the gondola and were shipped off across the cables that suspended the box from which we jumped. The box swayed dangerously as the wind propelled it backwards and forwards. In no time we were pulled into the box, which was about 20 feet by 30 feet. The music blasting inside was obviously supposed to get you pumped for the jump, but all it did was put my nerves on the edge again. The guys who operated the bungy were super friendly, like most New Zealands, but I barely noticed their comforting and jesting comments as they put on our ankle straps. Jade was first, not because she wanted to be, but because she was number 56. I was 57.
We all watched from the railing as she was laced up with the bungy and was informed of the red cord she was supposed to pull when she reached the peak of her second bounce. She was soon inching towards the ledge, her eyes set resolutely towards the horizon. She waved at the camera as it took her picture, but her stony expression didn’t change. Behind her the man yelled “3…2…1…Bungy!” She dove after a second’s hesitation. We didn’t see anything but the dive, and 2 minutes later she rose looking shaken, but with an enormous smile on her face. Her eyes were bloodshot and her voice was a whisper as she tried to communicate with us, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Now it was my turn.
The bungy guy led me over to the diving area. He told me the same thing he told Jade and I strayed myself in trying to concentrate on his instructions. I crept towards the ledge, the metal just preceding my toes. I looked down, and I smiled. It was terrifying. Yet, I remembered all that I’ve done so far and that, more than anything else, gave me confidence. I smiled at the camera and said farewell to my friends. I don’t think I even heard the man behind me yell “Bungy!” I just dove when I was ready. Exhilaration replaced every emotion in my body. It’s the hardest thing to describe an experience like this one. It’s also as difficult to remember it. There are no words to describe the rush of feeling that engulfed my being at that moment. The combination of wind, the oncoming ground, your nerves, the feeling of weightlessness and helplessness, and the adrenaline that consumes you is… I couldn’t tell you. To achieve the actual experience is the only way to relay that feeling to another person. I felt a twang that shook my body and I was yanked upwards. I couldn’t help but scream my triumph. I yelled every word that came to mind, my voice 10 times louder as it reverberated off the surrounding ridges. At the second bounce I tried to pull the red cord, but only 1 foot came out. I tried again on the third and my other foot released as the bungy caught my harness. I yelled all the way up to the box, staring straight into the river. It looked inviting as I was being raised, all the fear I had ever felt was erased from my memory. It seems like nothing will ever scare me again.
As I was raised into the box I yelled “Party!” (The official word of the trip). Everyone grinned as I bounced in my harness, eager to expel the adrenaline rush I was experiencing. I burst through the bar gate, clapping and hugging everyone. My eyes felt inevitably bloodshot from the wind rushing across my face and my friends’ expressions confirmed my beliefs. I couldn’t help trying to explain every moment of my free fall, but, as I am now, I was lost for words.
The rest of the group went and came back with the same silly grins on their faces and blood shot eyes, acting as giddy as I felt. There is such a dramatic change in expressions before someone is about to jump, and when they rise up from the jump. We all traded stories of our free falls as we took the gondola back, almost yelling with insane excitement. We were handed our free t-shirts and the DVD of our photos and videos and shunted out towards the bus. A wave of exhaustion hit us all on the way back, and the 45 minute drive was spent sleeping on each other’s shoulders. The adrenaline was sorely missed, as Ben, Steran, and I sprinted to the Queenstown gondola for our next 3 bungys. We only just arrived before an enormous crowd of tourists at 5:45pm (our bungys were at 6pm). We took the gondola up, trying to regain some energy. This jump was only 44 meters (144 feet), but it was directly under the gorgeous city and landscape of Queenstown.
We arrived, panting, but ready for our next 3 jumps. They tried to convince us that the first jump should be a normal jump, and not a trick jump, but we boldly stated we had just jumped The Nevis, and they allowed us to trick jump all 3 times. They led us to The Ledge, where you jump down into the side of the mountain under Queenstown. I wanted to be first this time. I was ready to get that adrenaline rushing through me again. They harnessed me and asked me which trick I wanted to do first. I told them a front flip. They explained to me the way I should do it, how I should hold the bungy out with one hand and then grab the safety rope when it falls (it falls 60 seconds after I jump). The anxiety was nowhere close to The Nevis, but I was still excited. I did a running jump, and front flipped. It was cool to do, but it wasn’t as frightening because I couldn’t see the ground too clearly. I was pulled up, yelling like a maniac. I had the adrenaline back and I was ready for more. For the next two jumps I did a flying squirrel (you grab your ankles behind your back) and a backwards fall. The flying squirrel was the most exhilarating because you could clearly see the ground hurtling at you. The backwards fall was amazing because the bungy guy held me over the edge and suddenly let go. This was definitely one Valentine’s Day that I will probably never top.
I bought all the pictures and video so I’ll post them as soon as I have the chance. We went back to the hostel, our nerves screaming at us for some relief and rest. We only had the energy to order in Ferbergers. We munched greedily and before I knew it everyone was asleep. The skydiving group tried to explain the experience to me, but I was too tired to listen properly. My computer broke that night and I fixed it 2 days later, which is why my posts are so late. Sorry everyone. I did go to a repair store and get it fixed and it’s working properly now. I hope you enjoyed this long, exhilarating post.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top Speeds and Big Burgers

February 13. I woke up with my computer not working, and I just spent over 2 hours trying to fix it. Ben woke up with me and immediately took up the challenge in helping me fix it. He knows how important blogging is to me and without him I don’t think I could have fixed it. It’s almost been 2 weeks with the group and I can’t believe how close we have become. It’s the perfect amount of people, with everyone contributing in some way or another to make it the perfect group. I also realized I’m starting to run low on money, the $500 I had when the trip started is dwindling, but I think I can make it through the month if I budget correctly. I’m really proud that I haven’t lost anything so far; I used to lose countless items when I was younger.
 We have 2 more nights here in Queenstown, but there is so much to do. Our time here is all optional free time, allowing us to do whatever we want. Everyone here is so friendly, and it is a gorgeous town surrounded by a gorgeous landscape. There is usually live music playing outside our hostel window, and it’s all great music. A bunch of us are thinking about taking a tour of the Lord of the Rings landscape, but it’s expensive and might not work out. It rains on and off here a lot, so that might make for an unenjoyable trip. We might just visit the Lord of the Rings store in town to make up for the journey, but we’ll see.
Today Steran, Caitie, Jade, and I are luging. It’s not like the luging in the states, where you lay on a skateboard with a high chance of a fatal accident. This type is a kind of cart, where you sit in an open plastic seat with three wheels and a steering wheel. You pull the handle towards you to go, and away from you to brake or stop. It’s simple, but so much fun. I’ve only done it once before, at Beaver Creek.
The four of us hiked to the top of the town, where there was a gondola. Along the way we saw a car with a huge lizard on it and we took a picture (click my slideshow if you would like to see it). We took the gondola up to the top. We bought three rides each for only $20. We got on helmets and were instructed that we had to take the scenic track before we drove on the advanced track. The scenic track was fun, and we all raced each other to the bottom. It became more competitive as we drove down, with us kicking each other carts and crashing into each other. Jade ending up winning the first race, but we vowed for revenge.
The next two races were, you have probably guessed, on the advanced track. The turns banked so hard that Steran and I were literally riding on two wheels half to time. There were also huge drops where the cart would leave the ground entirely. The girls took this one a bit slower, so Steran and I were head to head the entire time, crashing into each other to gain a lead. I finally was able to pull ahead after a good shove to the side and come out with a win. Tempers were flaring before the next race. The girls were ready for a comeback. Steran and I thought it would be prudent to team up together. Both girls had lost their fear of the course and sped down as fast as me and Steran. We kept the girls off for a while, until Steran crashed headlong into a pile of tires. Caitie made a break for it and streaked off towards the finish line, bellowing her triumph. It was an exciting race, but the girls got us in the end.
After we gathered up Steran we walked to the photo shop. We saw all of our faces during the race. Steran and I were making ridiculous expressions, more like barbarians roaring than anything else. Jade’s face was screwed up in concentration, but Caitie’s was the most priceless. Her face was expressionless. She looked almost bored. It was hilarious to see how we were all excited and screaming, but her face made it seem like it was just another dull day at the luge track.
 At 3pm we walked home, wanting to take a power nap. We actually didn’t realize how tired we were and slept until 6pm! We only had 30 minutes to get ready for dinner, but luckily we ate in today. We had massive burgers from a restaurant called Ferberger. I could barely finish mine even though I had eaten nothing all day (because I was too busy with my computer and luging). We lay around the lounge of the hostel afterwards, nursing our food babies and laughing about the day’s events. The others had hiked around the landscape all day and they told us of about the awesome scenery. Then Steran popped in a movie (X-men 3) and we all huddled around the TV. Yet again they went out partying afterwards, and yet again I’m here blogging. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not fussed in the slightest. I’m happy to have some alone time after a day with everyone. I’m having the time of my life.

Personalities

February 12. A long drive to Queenstown is what we have to look forward to today. I had to take a hot tub after I woke up this morning because my muscles were still sore. I couldn’t muster up the energy to go for a run so I was forced to have breakfast and pack. At the moment, I’m waiting for everyone to wake up to get on the road. I’m betting that today won’t be nearly as exciting as yesterday, but I want to address a question that readers have frequently asked.
                I haven’t described my group thoroughly enough, nor my relationship with them, which is crucial knowledge for all you readers. So we’ll start with the guy I met first, Andrew. I traveled with him from LAX and I immediately got the impression of a smart, hilarious gentleman. He spits out jokes like quick draw McGraw, but in a subtle, serious manner that leaves you wondering if you should laugh or not. I’ve learned by now to almost never take him seriously. He never makes jokes about you, however, but always at the expense of himself, which makes me respect him more. He’s a nice guy who I talk to frequently and is one of my closer friends on this trip.
                David (we call him Steran) is another of my close friends on this trip. He parties hard, but is one of the nicest guys on this trip. He always makes the effort to include me when they party, even though I can’t drink. He never judges anyone and cracking Family Guy jokes is our favorite past time. Steran and another guy, Brian, were in Australia last month together. Brian is a sport crazy guy. He knows everything about any sport. He is full of testosterone and definitely gets rambunctious sometimes. He does, however, treat everyone fairly and is a great conversationalist. Olivia was with Steran and Brian on their last trip, but she sticks mainly with her other two friends, Claire and Ariana. Olivia is a Cali-girl. She does have an attitude, but for the most part is kind and friendly. She’s another great conversationalist and has a million stories. I haven’t gotten to know much about Claire or Ariana because they attach themselves to Olivia. Even on our long road trips they separate themselves. Ariana, Claire, Olivia, and Elise drive in the car, while the rest of our group follows them in the van. It is somewhat like a high school clique scenario, but I’m not fussed. Our van group is already too much fun.
                So the other David, who we actually call David, is another great addition to our group. He gets a little cocky and has a sarcastic humor, but is always ready to whip out a story about any subject. I’m not sure if they are all true, but he seems to know and have a story about everything. He has a passion for music and is our D.J. for the trip. He never plays the same song twice, yet every song he plays is a good one. He has also signed up for the China trip with me.
                Ben is the oldest on our trip. 21 and in college, he acts like a wise old man, teaching us lessons in life. He seems to yearn for appraisal because he always buys people lunch and drinks or is the first person to loan you money. He’s also the cheerleader in our group, always making sure everyone is happy. He listens to whatever problems you have and either fixes them or erases them from your mind with a few good jokes.
                There are two other girls in our “van group.” Jade, who arrived with Olivia, is a down-to-earth girl with one of the nicest personalities. She’s the person that makes everyone feel good. She always compliments you and spreads herself around the group. Even if you have a terrible joke that nobody laughs at, she laughs just to make you not feel like an idiot. Caitie is the last girl in our group. She finds guy humor hilarious and almost never hangs out with the other girls (except for Jade). She has a quiet, subtle humor that I can’t help smiling at, no matter the joke. She’s another great conversationalist, and it’s always good to get a break from the guys and talk with her for a bit.
                Elise and Erik are great leaders. Erik is a wilderness guy, loves adventure, and meeting new people. He enjoys culture and has been to almost every country. He’s not much of a conversationalist, but when you can get him to talk, he rambles on about every experience he had in some part of the world. He keeps the group in line and makes sure the others don’t blackout from partying too much. Elise is another story. She has a sarcastic humor, with a slight attitude, but it’s all in good fun. She loves to party with the others, yet she doesn’t party too hard. She loves her job and doesn’t let anything come between it and her. I don’t know if she loves culture as much as she just loves traveling and being around younger people, but she does love the experiences.
                So I hope this clears up any confusion in my writing, but if it doesn’t please comment and I’ll be happy to answer any more inquiries. We are almost ready to go now, and yet again I don’t have Wi-Fi, but I’ll post this as soon as I do.
 
From left to right: Steran, Jade, Claire, Olivia, Ariana, David (on tree), Me, Andrew, Caitie, Elise. Bottom: Ben and Brian