Thursday, March 15, 2007
Day Trips to Last a Lifetime
Because we landed so early in the morning, that first day seemed to last forever. We packed so much into that day that when it was over we felt we had been there a long, long time. It was the warm welcome Wendy, Graeme and their neighbor, Ailsa, provided that made us feel so at home. Ailsa is a remarkable women. Quiet, wise and refined, a schoolteacher for most of her life, still fit and trim from regular swimming and healthy living, she is an example of everything that is good about New Zealand.
Graeme, how do I tell you about Graeme? He was the gracious host, the entertainer, the historian, guide and instant friend. He introduced me to the NZ national drink, L&P, a refreshing combination of lemon and mineral water from the nearby town of Paeroa (L&P, get it?). It has been around since 1907. CocaCola bought the company, but didn't change anything about the way it is bottled, nor do they export it to the US - drats. Graeme gave us the opportunity to photograph the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa as we rode by, but we graciously declined. We're not that tacky ~ or are we? We couldn't resist the opportunity we found in Matamata. We did not pass on something else very touristy - a stop at Hobbitton, home of the Hobbit holes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was chastised for not having seen any of the Rings trilogy. It was filmed in New Zealand and watching it is almost a prerequisite for travel there. Netflix is whisking The Fellowship of the Ring to me today. And speaking of movies, Graeme recommended two to me that, again, thanks to Netflix, are in my possession now. I watched The World's Fastest Indian last night - wonderful true story about a remarkable Kiwi. And today I shall see Once Were Warriors, a contemporary Maori drama. BTW - both nina and I discovered the correct pronunciation for Maori - it's M - OW (as in ouch), RE, or when Graeme says it, it almost sounds like Mary. I'll leave it for nina to tell you about her Maori experience. It was powerful.
The end destination of our day trip was Rotorua, the spiritual home of the Maori. And it stinks. Really. The whole town, which is now a large tourist destination, smells of sulphuric gas, you know the rotten egg smell. We spent the afternoon at Te Puia, "where the earth’s crust is thinnest, where awesome drama unfolds daily as geysers erupt, mud pools bubble, steam hisses and warm water rains down." We began by experiencing a traditional Maori welcome. "A traditional welcome marks the start of 45 minutes of song and dance inside the sacred meeting house. Here, surrounded by the carvings of ancestors, visitors are treated to perfect harmonies, the seductiveness of the Poi dance, the ferocity of the haka, (war dance) and the complexity of Tititorea, the stick games." The singing moved us both to tears. It was a very spiritual wave of emotion, but it also really hit me that we were actually 1/2 way around the world, in New Zealand, sharing in the rituals of an ancient culture. Me, I was here, present in this moment.
This photo is not the best, but I am sharing it because it marks my presence among the Maori. The tongue thing was used by the ancient people to scare enemies off. The tongue was the Maori way of telling their enemy: "Your flesh looks tasty to me." Much more pleasant to look at were the beautiful young women who participated in traditional Maori dances. The performance was for the benefit of tourists, but if you came attuned to the spirit and culture of the Maori people, you could glean more than just a performance. We were open to everything. Tomorrow, walk with me through Part II of this day trip - the beauty of the thermal valley.