Saturday, December 02, 2006

Surfin' Safari

I have done enough crazy shit in the last two weeks to fill five blog entries, but since this is MY blog where I make the rules, you’ll just have to read one big fat entry and deal with it.
After leaving the Bay of Islands, I had one day back in Auckland for shopping and tying up loose ends before I took off on Stray’s New Zealand circuit. Warmer clothes needed to be purchased and excess baggage stored at the International Exchange Programme’s office. I was then off to the town of Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula. The ride was spectacular, with crazy mountains covered with green, gnarly trees. I kept waiting for Juan Valdez to emerge from the forest with his trusty donkey in tow bearing coffee beans.
Upon arriving in the village of Hahei, most of our group went kayaking to the stunning Cathedral Cove. It was the most perfect little beach I have ever seen – soft white sand, walls of volcanic rock, wild trees clinging to the cliffs, crystal clear water, surreal rock formations and islands out in the bay, and a huge cavern than leads from one beach to another. Absolutely gorgeous.That night we had a Thanksgiving barbecue. I was one of only two Americans in the group, so I took it upon myself to tell the group about the Pilgrims and Wampanoags. Everyone seemed genuinely interested. I am guessing that there were about 25 of us sitting at picnic tables eating beef and sausage instead of turkey. Ironically, it was probably the closest thing I have ever experienced to the actual Thanksgiving – halfway across the world with people from at least five different countries. That night, I snuck down to the beach and saw more stars than I have ever seen with the naked eye. The next day, we took off for the west coast surfing town of Raglan. The landscape was straight out of “The Goonies” – rocky cliffs, dark sand and a raging ocean. Supposedly, Raglan has the longest left hand break in the world, and was featured in “The Endless Summer.” We stayed at the Karioi Lodge, by far the coolest hostel I have been to. It is a tiny set of buildings up in the rain forest, a good 15-minute drive out of town with a view of the Tasman Sea. They have hiking trails up through the forest, a ropes course, a flying fox (more on that later), a supercool lounge area, a sauna, and the offices of the surfing school.

About surfing…

I FUCKING LOVE IT! I should have done it a long time ago. Actually, I did try it once on Cape Cod five years ago and failed miserably. No more. Thanks to the good people at the Raglan Surfing School, I am now a Surfer Dude. I stood up and rode many a wave all the way back to shore. When I think of all the lame weekends I spent sitting on my ass in Southern California when I could have been surfing! Grrrrrr! At least I know now. I spent three extra days surfing in Raglan and did not want to leave. I asked the hostel if they needed any help, but they were all staffed up. Damn it! I am sure I’ll make it back up there, eventually.

So… back to the flying fox. A flying fox (or zipper line) is basically a very long cable suspended from one tree to another at a steep angle. From this cable hangs a little seat that goofy people like myself can sit or stand on to ride very fast through the trees. It is a lot of fun. Pretty much everyone at the lodge did it a few times, especially at night when you couldn’t see where you were going. It was rumored that some people have been known to do this whilst butt naked. No one was actually doing it, though, so I volunteered to strip down and swing through the trees like the naked Tarzan I always new myself to be, hoping to inspire others to do the same. About 15 people watched me drag my bare ass up the hill and ride the thing to the bottom au natural. A nice girl from England even snapped a photo, but it didn’t come out very well. Everyone got a big kick out of my little stunt, but no one elected to do the same. I mean, c’mon people! I exposed myself in the name of group camaraderie, and no one followed! It was pitch black and you could barely see anything anyway! Pussies.

Since then, I have earned a reputation as The Naked Flying Fox Guy. I have bumped into several people since then who recognize me from the incident, even if I don’t remember them. Just this morning, there was a very cute Dutch girl making breakfast at my current hostel who recognized me. Sure enough, she was one of the spectators that night.
Since I couldn’t stay in Raglan any longer, I headed off to Rotorua. Here in Rotorua, there are lots of geothermal pools, bubbling mud, and geyser-type thingies. The air smells funny. There are tons of activities around here – white water rafting, luging, Maori cultural shows, and Zorbing. Zorbing is hilarious. A zorb is a large plastic ball with a hollow center than can fit up to three people. “Zorbonauts” take a short ride up a hill, climb into the zorb, and roll down a grassy slope. Basically, you pay $35 to be put through a washing machine’s spin cycle for about 45 seconds. It is one of the goofiest things I have ever done, and was totally worth the money. Here’s a picture of me post-zorbing with Swedish Marcus from my Stray group. Rafting was fun, too, but the trip was only an hour or so long. There was a 7-meter waterfall and lots of “Jurassic Park”-style greenery. Still, it was not as cool as the New River in West Virginia. One thing this trip has inspired me to do is to explore more of America when I return.

All in all, New Zealand has been awesome thus far. I only have two big complaints.

#1 – Virtually all coffee here is made from espresso. Granted, this makes it taste better than your typical American coffee, but you cannot just go into a café and order a regular cup ‘o Joe. Black coffee is called either a “Short Black” or a “Long Black,” depending on how much water they use. If you want milk or cream, you must order a “Flat White,” which is actually more like a latte or cappuccino. All I want is a regular coffee with cream and ½ a sugar, people! Is that so hard?
#2 – The faucets here totally suck, at least in the hostels. 90% of the sinks I have encountered have old-timey separate spigots for hot and cold water, forcing me to mix water in the basin to my desired temperature. This makes the rinsing of contact lenses a challenge, along with shaving and the washing of hands, face and feet. I know some of you are going to knock me for washing my feet in the sink. Trust me when I tell you that it must be done. When you spend 75% of your time in Teva sandals and no socks, your feet can get downright nasty, and I don’t want to alienate my fellow travelers with stinkiness. If it is only your feet that are dirty, taking a shower is just wasteful. Sink washing is clearly the best option. It just sucks that I have to plug up the sink, fill it with hot & cold water, add soap, contort myself so that I can stand on one foot while washing the other, switch those around, drain the sink, fill it with clear water, rinse, dry, and then drain the sink yet again to wash my hands and begin the process all over again.

Anyway, I must soon decide whether I should head south to Taupo (big mountains by a huge lake, bungee jumping, skydiving) & Tongariro National Park (crazy volcanic landscape where they filmed the Mordor scenes in “Lord of the Rings”), or pay an extra fee to explore the East Cape (gorgeous coastline featured in “Whale Rider” and more surfing!) for a few days. Such difficult decisions. Woe to me…

I keep forgetting that I will be here for an entire year and that there is really no need to rush. A great but tough thing is when you meet terrific people on your bus who are on a different timetable. They are your best friends for a day or two, and then they get bussed away, often never to be seen again. Sometimes you bump into them down the road, but by then you’ve made all new friends and lines get blurred. With all the language barriers, cultural differences, close living quarters, partying, rapid-fire friendships and romances, I am amazed how well everyone gets along. I haven’t seen a single serious argument or even the most minor of scuffles. Everyone just wants to have a good time (knock on wood).

Oh yeah… I gonna hafta get… ya know… a job… soon. I will definitely need to work for a while before I head off to the South Island. I have heard that things are more expensive down there, but are even more spectacular. We shall see…


gretchiemo said...

I wanna go to NEW ZEALAND!!!
Dude, it sounds like you are having the time of your life, and rightfully so! No surprise on the surfing bug - way cool!

Incredible to hear you - and see you - so happy and livin' large!
Did the zorb make you dizzy?


Racheeee said...

Michael Moran!!!,
I am so damn proud of you. Comerford must be kicking himself in the ass for not following you over there. I love you. Be well my brave friend.