Hail to the chief and shaving cream in a raft

Rotorua Travel Blog

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gas from the geothermal activity is released, bubbles up from the surface and goes directly into my nose, turning my face green
In half-sleep I could feel the girls were already up and moving around the room. I woke up feeling cold. A little too cold. It seems no matter how cold the weather is, during the night I'll kick off my covers. Childhood habit I guess. I opened my eyes and found another discovery. I quickly rolled over onto my stomach, but there's no telling how long I'd been laying there in a full morning salute that my boxers failed to hide. Maybe the girls didn't notice.

"Morning. Morning! Morning!" the three girls chorused out.

Mortified, I grabbed the blanket around my waist and stumbled to the bathroom. The floor was wet from morning showers and I hated the feeling on my feet. I bent half way over the toilet and relieved myself.
the sulfur pits of Rotorua
I went back to the room and smiled embarrassingly as the girls asked questions about my night. I wanted a chance to put on my pants in private, but as the girls showed no signs of leaving, I finally dropped the blanket and did the deed.

Kitchen smells of breakfast had already filled the room, so I asked the girls to join me for some morning grub. The girls grabbed a box of groceries they had bought and walked off to the kitchen. I had no other food, so I grabbed the jalapeño burger I had brought home the night before.

In the kitchen, the girls wasted no time in producing a breakfast feast. Linda V was whipping up some eggs and Victoria was cutting up some fruit. I found it funny, but before this trip I had never encountered grocery box travelers before.
Maori lodge
These are the ones who buy a bunch of food from the supermarket and then use the kitchens of the places they're staying at in the hopes of saving money and staying healthy. I rather found the idea of carrying a box of groceries everywhere you went ridiculous, but to each their own.

I maneuvered around the girls and popped my burger into the microwave. Linda V looked at me as I took it out and asked what I was making.

"Jalapeno burger. Wanna bite?"

She laughed and went back to her eggs.

"You're eating that for breakfast?" Victoria asked.

"Yeah, you want a bite?"

She also laughed and went back to cutting up her fruit.

I took a seat at the table next to three Australian blokes who were busy eating granola and yoghurt.
Maori artist
I caught them looking at my burger, so asked them if they wanted a bite . They smiled as one might to a child offering a bite of hand-rolled mud and concentrated harder on their gerbil food. I made a mental note to buy some groceries the next time the bus made a stop at the supermarket.

Before long it was time to get moving so we packed up our things and loaded it onto the bus again. Waiting for everyone to get on the bus, I met another smoker but I'm not the greatest morning conversationalist and within two puffs we were mumbling about the shitty weather and then stopped talking all together. Fortunately, the Canadian Ben Stiller look-alike who sat in the front seat wandered over and introduced himself. His name was Charles and immediately started talking about American politics. I finished my smoke and found my way onto the bus as quick as I could.

I took the same seat as before, as mostly everyone else did, but I noticed the Aussie girls moved directly behind me and across from me. I thought it would be nice to use the day-long drive to better befriend the three girls, and yet it was only the second day and everyone was still in shy mode. Instead, I fell asleep.

I woke up off and on to the sound of Bells, our driver, once again delivering tidbits of information over the speaker system about the terrain we were driving through. The clouds emptied themselves of rain the entire morning and we passed up a few of the hikes scheduled along the way. However, about 10 a.m. the clouds broke and Bells excitedly told us about a gorge called Karangahake we were nearing. After putting it to an unnecessary vote in which every hand went up (I would've voted in favor of getting off even if we were viewing a trash dump), we pulled into the scenic reserve and piled off the bus.

The gorge featured two swing bridges, that I assumed were only built so that I could scare the Aussie girls as they were crossing, and a really long tunnel built in the side of the canyon. I lagged behind (as I often do) trying to take some artistic pictures from the windows in the tunnel, but Charles found me and started talking about American politics again, so I gave it up and rejoined the group.

We had a picnic of snacks and got back on the bus. The gorge itself wasn't something I'd shout about in the grand scheme of things, but it did serve alright in that everyone in the tour got to know each other a little bit more, and as we rolled down the highway again, the bus was filled with conversation.

The rest of the drive to Rotorua was pretty forgettable, except that we stopped in this tiny little town to pick up another traveler. He got on the bus and went straight to the back. He was wearing bell bottom pants, a tight blue shirt with a superman logo and aviation glasses about 10 times too big for his face. After he settled in and the bus started moving, I broke the ice with him because he was the "new guy" and didn't want him to feel left out. His name was Benjamin and he was from The Hague in Holland. He seemed full of himself and more than a little nonplussed at my attempts at friendship, so I left him to himself.

Oh yeah, and we stopped for food in Matamata, the town where the set for Hobbiton was built. I got a cheesy picture of myself in front of the sign that no one will ever see, ha ha!

Before we pulled into Rotorua, a few clipboards were passed around. One was the obligatory hostel sheet, in which everyone by now, realizing that it was easiest to stay at the hostel arranged by the tour, signed quickly and passed on. Another was for a huge man-made go-kart track experience (called luging in New Zealand). We have go-karts in the States and didn't feel like I would be missing anything so I passed that clipboard on without signing it. The third was for a tour of a traditional Maori village, show and dinner. It was expensive, and I noticed that not many people had signed up for it, but I knew I wasn't going to get as much exposure to the Maori culture as I wanted, seeing as how I would be trapped on a bus for the next three weeks, so I wrote my name down and passed it on.

Somehow, as the clipboards were being passed back to the front, the girls noticed that I hadn't signed up for luging and began to tease me about. Ah, the powers of femininity.... I reminded them about my ATM fiasco, and when they wouldn't buy that I brought up the fact that I would much rather go Zorbing than luging anyday.

Zorbing, you ask?

I had seen a pamphlet describing Rotorua as the ultimate Zorbing experience: a person gets in a human-sized hamster ball and is rolled down a hill. Seriously. I excitedly told the girls about what I had read and had them convinced to do it too. I shambled up to the front to ask Bells about it and he said they didn't Zorb on Mondays or something ridiculous like that. Oh well. I relented instead to go luging with the girls.

A note should be said about Rotorua here. It was founded by the Maori because of the extreme geothermal activity taking place under the ground made it a good place to keep warm during the winter, and special topographical features, such as mud pools and geysers, made the place easy to defend against other Maori tribes. However, anyone who has ever visited a location noted for its geothermal activity will know that these places don't particularly have the most pleasant smell, and you could smell the sulfur several miles before we even got there.

We pulled into town and dropped off our gear. I ended up in a room with the other smoker mentioned before, named Yannick from Zürich, and an American girl I thought he was seeing named Ratna. They were kinda weird and full of pretenses and I don't remember hitting it off with them, but fortunately a bus came to fetch us immediately after check in to take us to the luge track.

Now, I'm probably the only guy in the world who isn't really into cars. I couldn't care less what's under the hood or how big your rims are. I don't lease out the latest model and then turn it in at the end of the year to get the new one so I'll look slick. If it gets me from my house to the mountains or desert or wherever I need to go without breaking down or costing me an arm and a leg in gas, I'm cool with it. That said, I was thoroughly impressed when we rounded a gigantic hill and saw that the luge track was carved right out of the side and spanned the entire length, top to bottom. We took a winding road to the top and I must admit, by the time we got to the top, I was seriously looking forward to kicking some go-kart ass.

Well, perhaps I'm getting a little long winded about the not-so-important stuff. I'll summarize the New Zealand luging experience in a sentence: I saw some kid fly off the track trying to go around a sharp downhill curve and totally eat shit! Awesome... you have to check it out for yourself.

We got back and those of us who were going to the Maori cultural dinner got ready to go. I had brought one nice shirt and put it on after a hot shower. I said goodnight to the girls, who weren't going, and we agreed to meet up in the bar right behind the hostel afterward for a night cap. I noticed the only people who were going was the new guy, Ben, and the English jocks whom I hadn't talked to yet, so I pretty much kept to myself.

A car picked us up at our hostel and dropped us off at gathering spot where we loaded onto buses with a hundred other tourists passing through the city. I ended up on the same bus as Ben, but we had gotten to the bus late so we grabbed the only two vacant seats far apart from each other. Our bus driver was a crazy old Maori guy with the coolest Maori accent (you have to hear it, they all seem to talk like that). To break the ice, he asked us where we were from; to raise our hand when he called out our country. He shouted Ireland! and about 3 Irish people raised their hands and hooted and hollared. He shouted out Australia! and a group of guys in the back raised their hands and shouted Oi oi oi! It went on until he called out America! and as I silently raised my hand, I realized I was the only American on board and everyone turned their silent gaze on me. It was a silence I won't forget. But I handle myself alright in large groups and knew I had to disspell the gloom on behalf of an entire nation of Americans who actually travel - In the seconds that followed the silent raising of my hand, I belted out as loud as I could, "BAYWATCH!" and the entire bus erupted in laughter. I stood up and bowed, knowing too well that surreal moments like these were one of the reasons I loved traveling alone.

The hysterics on the bus continued when the bus driver said that we now had to sing a song that represented our countries, and, just so we wouldn't be shy when our turn came, he would start by having all of us sing with him the renowned national Maori song of... "The wheels on the bus go round and round!" And so, like idiots, we all pitched in in singing along with the driver that silly song from our childhood, making the hand gestures and everything to the dismay of the other cars on the road that happened to look in our direction, and country by country, we went around the bus listening to each others songs, until I knew eventually we would come to America and I sat undecided in my seat, trying to think of something that would represent my country without sounding retarded. The idea of singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall occurred to me more than once, but I knew I could never live it down, so when the bus driver once again called out America! I stood up slowly and started singing:

"I wish they all could be Californian.... I wish they all could be Californian... I wish they all could be Californian.... GIRRRRRLS!"

By the time I had sung "GIRRRRRLS" most of the people on the bus recognized the Beach Boys song and had started singing along, but when it came time for the verse, I didn't know the words. And neither did anybody else because suddenly we were all humming the verse in a bunch of da-da's and la-la's and other gibberish and the song turned to laughter and the bus driver moved us onto another country.

I sat back down and sighed in relief.

After everyone went through their songs, the bus driver told us a little about the night to come. He said that in Maori culture, when one tribe met with another, only the leaders could meet to discuss affairs. But before the leaders met, they would stare each other down and do a Haka to intimidate each other's tribe (if you've ever watched the New Zealand rugby team, you know what this looks like). We, the people on the bus, represented a tribe and so before we arrived at the Maori village, we had to elect a Chief who would do his or her duty to represent the strength of our tribe. Upon hearing this, people smiled and looked around. For a few moments, it was silent again, and I was beginning to think that I would have to stand up and volunteer for the job (which I really didn't want to single myself out to do) but before I had the chance, I heard a familiar Dutch accent say from the back of the bus, "I'll do it!" I turned and looked back. It was Ben, already turning a little red from embarrassment. I'll be damned, I thought to myself, a little bummed that he beat me to it, but also stoked that the Chief of our bus was someone I knew.

We drove through the gates of what looked like the entrance to an exclusive golf club and parked. I found Ben when everyone got off and joshed him a little bit about being the Chief until the bus driver pulled him aside with some of the chiefs from other buses to better explain the roles they were now going to have to play. I wandered with the crowd to the area before the gate to the Maori village, this time looking a little like something from the set of Jurassic park, and waited. Ben found me and said that he had been made the Chief of chiefs and that it was his responsibility to convince the host tribe that we were strong.

This was ultimately funny to me and I couldn't help laughing, as for all his attitude Ben was a bit scrawny. I shadow-punched him in the arm, which is guy speak for "Don't be a pussy" or something of that nature, and squeezed my way into the semicircle of people gathered around the entrance to get a good spot.

When all the buses had arrived and the people gathered, the host tribe came out and the leader, at least 300 pounds of blubbery goodness, marched right up to Ben and screamed in his face. It was something to behold, that scream, every bit as scary as you might think someone screaming in your face would be and yet again extremely comical because we had chosen for our leader a Dutch guy who looked like he still hadn't come home from clubbing the night before. Some people gasped and some laughed.

Ben screamed back as he was probably told to do and the Maori chief started his haka, which consists of lots of posturing and violent slapping of the chest. And the eyes... the most important part of the scare tactic is opening up your eyes to seem as large as you can. It was Ben's job to open his eyes this way and show that he was not intimidated by the haka. Only then would our tribe be deemed strong and invited in to visit.

When the haka ended, we all walked in through the Jurassic Park gate into a recreation of a real Maori village. After a short chance to tour it, we were led into a lodge house that had brightly colored patterns painted over it. It reminded me tremendously of north american tribal art... Inside, we took seats around a wall-length stage and watched some traditional Maori dances set to traditional Maori music... with an encore of an old Jimmy Buffet stand-by. I mean, why not, right?

After that, we were left to wait outside the dining hall next to the giant smoking mounds in the ground where the food was cooking, and people left in search for the bar. I ran into Ben once more after I had bought myself a vodka tonic and we smoked and found a table to sit at for dinner. An emcee eventually came out and thanked us for this or that and told us that the food would be served buffet style and any table that had a chief sitting at it could go up first for dinner. I nudged Ben in the ribs as way of thanks and beat him to the buffet.

The food was good and greasy, like barbeque chicken cooked underground should taste, and after killing all the New Zealand bottles of wine on the table, I went outside for a smoke. I ran into the English jocks and finally made friends with them. The big guy's name was Mike from Somerset who actually came across as kinda shy at first (which was way off as you will see if I ever get around to writing about Taupo). Another guy's name was Martin and I couldn't quite place if he was Indian or of other origins, but he was definitely British too. We moreso joked about drunkenly than talked, and even though I came to realize that I had unduely labeled them as jocks, something about them kept me from delving beyond the usual traveler's chit-chat with them.

The Maori dinner came to a close and we boarded the buses again. It was almost 10pm by the time we got back to the hostel. I went to my room to change into more comfortable clothes and found the room completely dark and my roommates sleeping. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I didn't think I could handle the tension between those characters. I quietly changed and closed the door slowly. I didn't know what room the girls were staying in, so I went down to the bar to see if they were already there.

The bar was behind the hostel, or better put, in the hostel's backyard. People were sitting on the long steps that led up to the bar porch. The front was completely open and it had two rooms, one with the actual bar and the other an open space where it looked as if a pool table should be. I recognized a couple people from the Kiwi Express, but no one I knew too well, so I went and got myself a drink. I saw Charles in line and I braced myself for more American politics, but we started talking music instead. I asked him if he'd seen the Aussie girls and right then I felt a hand on my back. I turned around to see Victoria.

She was wearing make-up and a low cut black blouse and the tightest pair of blue jeans I've ever seen on a girl. She gave me a rather warm hello and led me and Charles outside to where the girls were sitting on the steps and teased me for not noticing them on my way in. The other girls were equally decked out. Linda V was wearing an alternagirl t-shirt and was in rapt conversation with some guy who could have been Vanilla Ice's son. Linda K was wearing a purpley number that made her look even more sweet and innocent than she already seemed and sat in the middle of the group looking red-cheeked and tipsy, somehow keeping track of the various conversations going on around her and managing to laugh along with each one.

Well, you must know how a night spent in a bar usually goes: lots of banter and little memory of it. We drank and joked and flirted in fuzzy drunken goodness. I remember at one point discussing with Charles which of the Aussie girls I liked. Poor Charles had his eyes on V, who had since disappeared somewhere with Vanilla Ice and returned 20 minutes later. I thought all three of them had their own unique beauty, but I remember talking with Victoria the most that night.

The bar had filled to the brim by midnight, and one of the bartenders announced that he needed volunteers.

"For what?" Linda V shouted.

"We need two lovely ladies for the shaving cream wrestling match!" he shouted back.

Charles and I looked at each other and ran inside to find spots where we could see. The girls followed us in making "Oh my god" faces. The bar staff had placed a giant yellow river raft in the center of the room and were shaking up cans of Gilette. All the guys were looking around expectantly, trying to get the girl next to him to volunteer. I tried my hardest to get Victoria to do it, but she just laughed and told me "in your dreams," which had enough sexual innuendo in it to make me blush.

By the time they finally found two girls, the staff had completely filled the raft with shaving cream. They lathered the girls up. The rules were simple: Pulling hair was discouraged, ripping off clothing was highly encouraged, and the first girl out of the raft loses. One girl was much bigger than the other. Everyone gave each other side looks thinking we knew how this match was going to turn out.

The referee blew a whistle and the crowd cheered. The girls hesitated, then took a tentative step toward each other. Slowly they came closer and when they finally locked in wrestling embrace, the crowd roared in approval. Barely resisting the urge to grab the other's hair, each girl had a handful of the other's shirt and was madly tugging and twisting until both girls fell down in the raft hard, bringing a yell from the crazed crowd. The big girl was up first and had the smaller girl by the shirt again, and with a tug the girl was flipped over the side, minus her shirt which had come right over her head and was still in the big girl's hand. The crowd screamed in frenzy. The smaller girl, covered in shaving cream, stood up in her bra, bashfully took her shirt from the champion and immediately ran around the raft to hug as many of her traveling friends as she could.

The ref asked for another volunteer to challenge the big girl, and that match went pretty much the same except that the loser managed to keep her shirt on. By the third match, the girls and I had gone back outside to smoke cigarettes, and we must've stumbled to bed soon after because I can't remember anything beyond that.

alyssa_ob says:
You have a very entertaining way with words...
Posted on: Mar 29, 2008
TRE69 says:
Sounds like a great time!:D
Posted on: Sep 07, 2007
brownh27 says:
Loving every bit of your trip.
Posted on: Sep 07, 2007
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gas from the geothermal activity i…
gas from the geothermal activity …
the sulfur pits of Rotorua
the sulfur pits of Rotorua
Maori lodge
Maori lodge
Maori artist
Maori artist
photo by: Vanessa_Mun_Yee