Sunday, June 15, 2014

new zealand travel journal 6/7/14: two days with the volcano gods

1. spaaaahhh

After we all finished our travel journaling Thursday night at the Irish pub, we kept talking, and Rachel came up again. I asked Emily how, exactly, that year had shaped her. She was living in Moscow, Idaho, and teaching in Pullman, Washington, a place she hated, and Rachel’s death simply but vividly underscored the fact that life is too short to waste. She didn’t want to fuck around, but she was also kind of trapped.

A coworker who had also lost a good friend told her: “This kind of experience gives you a clarity not everyone has access to. But it fades—the challenge is to keep it close to you and let it inform your life.”

So Emily bided her time and went to therapy and the gym, and made herself the kind of person who would be ready to take full advantage of better things when they come along. I want to let the whole baby/cancer experience inform my life the same way. I don’t have the luxury of dreaming my life will be perfect and waiting until then to enjoy myself. I do have the luxury of an opportunity to leave my old perfectionist thinking behind.

We spent the first part of yesterday at the Polynesian Spa, where an arthritic priest had once been cured of his aches and pains by the sulfuric water bubbling up on the edge of the lake. Ever since then, the spot has drawn tourists in its various incarnations. The present-day pools sat next to the ones from the 1930s, lined with sand-colored brick and full of swirling, filmy water. It was the most vacationy stretch of our vacation. Warm water and reading! Emily found a guy to talk Scandinavian history with.

Happy feet.

Happy rest of me.
At the Rotorua Museum, we watched an amazing twenty-minute film about the history of the area, from its mythic Polynesian origins to the nineteenth century tourism boom to present-day Maori-white-folk harmony. The story made so little narrative sense (why is that hotel maid smiling at that bellhop, when we’ll never see either of them again except as crushed bodies after the 1886 volcanic eruption?) that you knew it had to be based on fact.

And the special effects! 3-D animated volcano god, SHAKING STAR TOURS SEATS during the eruption. The grant proposal that had made this possible typed itself across my brain: By using state of the art technology to tell traditional stories, the proposed film will engage young viewers and aid them in connecting to their history in an interactive, multimedia format.

Tudor architecture, island sky.
The museum, a sprawling Tudor mansion, was the site of another nineteenth-century bathhouse, and it was full of cabinet-of-curiosities nooks and crannies. A network of pipes in the cement crawl space reminded me of Seattle’s underground city tour. Old photos of people getting “treatments” made me 1) happy to live now, 2) think about the fine lines between medicine and masochism, and 3) want to write a story about the collision of cultures and the long strange history of tourism, using the 1886 hotel collapse as a rather heavy-handed metaphor for said collision.

2. poi vey

The other main exhibit, about Maori history (they sailed over in canoes just six hundred years before the white people) paved the way for our evening activity: a tour of Tamaki Maori Village—kind of like the living museum we visited in Sarawak—complete with a haka, the traditional war dance made famous by the NZ national rugby team, and a hangi feast. The dance was badass: all percussion and bug eyes and spear-spinning. The campiness was palpable—our tour bus driver (who’d gone to the International I Can’t Heeeear You School of Tour Guiding) drafted a reluctant but polite Frenchman named Hashid as our “chief.”

Maori dancers: Those are not chillaxin' hukilau hands.
There was some fun/painful audience participation. One of our co-participants was a loud woman from Louisiana, who, upon volunteering to learn to spin the poi (a rock on a string, now played by a ball of foam) announced she was going to “represent for America!”

Woman on right is presenting for America. I'm on the left, representing for Los Angeles.
But the food, slow-steamed in the ground, was fantastic. The little gold potatoes tasted like smoky heaven.

Today we drove to Lake Taupo, stopping half way at Orakei Korako, an island in the middle of a different lake. It was a mini Jurassic Park, with bubbling sulfur springs, geysers, silica deposits like blankets of snow, a cave full of turquoise water and pinwheel-shaped palm trees. And yet cows grazed on rolling green hills across the lake. This whole place is like England + Hawaii.

This snow will boil you.

Mountains in the mist.

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