Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Y2K4 bug (2 of 2)

When I got back from New Zealand, I was pleasantly surprised to find I still had internet access.  I was also disappointed to find about 300 new pieces of spam in my inbox.  I later found some snail mail that explained it -- through the kindness of their hearts (not), the ISP had graciously decided to extend my service with them for another month (because CLEARLY my failure to tell them I wanted to keep them as my ISP for a few more bucks a month had been an oversight).

So now the changeover is set to happen at midnight tonight.  When I am certain there will be HUNDREDS of tech support people just sitting by their phones eagerly awaiting my call so they can tell me how to reconfigure my cable modem.

Oh yeah.  Implement the changeover on New Year's.  Good plan.

The Y2K4 bug (1 of 2)

If I have internet access tomorrow, I'll truly be amazed.

For the past, oh I dunno, few years, I've had a cable modem.  Through my cable company.  But my cable company was not my ISP.  (Nor is AOL, actually.)  What happened was that my cable company had an arrangement with a big ISP, so the cable modem went through them.

This has, for those years, been a pretty darn good arrangement (excepting whenever something went wrong, because each company could then blame the other).  But now, their partnership has come to an end. 

A few months ago, I was alerted that my account with the ISP was going to be terminated and I'd get my service directly through the cable company's own ISP.  (I could, of course, keep the account with the old ISP if I'd pay for it.)  Switching was not necessarily a bad thing -- the ISP I was losing was the email address I gave to everyone I did business with on the internet.  So, with the exception of eight or nine places I actually wanted to receive mail from (like amazon or hotwire or stuff like that), the only people who mailed me at the address were spammers.

They said the account was going to terminate November 30.  Before I left for my trip, I started up an email account with, and changed over my registrations at the 8 or 9 companies.  That was all I did -- it was all they ever asked me to do.  Nobody asked me to change the configuration of my modem which, as far as I know (and my knowledge is concededly a bit spotty here) is still set up to hunt down the internet via the ISP.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Fractionally Sick (1 of 2)

I allow myself to get sick once a year.

Really.  I say that as though I am in control of the whole sickness-thing, and, frankly, I think that, to some degree, I am.  Sometimes.

I first discovered this back in law school.  I was feeling something icky coming on, but the timing was really bad, so I just drank massive quantities of orange juice in an effort to pee out the germies.  (Yes, I know, my knowledge of technical medical terms is a marvel.)  I was in an all-day seminar at the time, and we had a break every hour.  So every hour, I'd run to the restroom, then run to the cafeteria for another bottle of OJ.  Next day, the germies were gone.  I'd put up a fight and they'd run away scared. 

I realized in later years that, while you can postpone a cold by scaring it off with fluids and medicine and getting a good night's sleep and all that other stuff, you can't keep doing it indefinitely.  EVENTUALLY, the damn thing is going to come back at you all full-strength, with no time to fight.  I mean, if you go to sleep all healthy and wake up the next day with a sore throat and feeling like poo warmed over -- well, then, you're sick, congratulations.  Deal with it.

So, basically, I've decided to allow myself to be sick once a year, and to fight it most other times. 

Fractionally Sick (2 of 2)

This has worked well -- and then I discovered the concept of being partially sick.  One year, rather than being fully and completely sick once, I was half-sick twice.  Half-sick is a level of sickness when you're still functioning.  There are no sick days involved with being half-sick.  Nobody can tell that you're even a little bit sick (although they might notice prodigious lozenge consumption).  Being half-sick multiple times is way better than being fully sick once, as far as I'm concerned.  Half-sick is slightly frustrating, but doesn't get in the way of things.

I think I'm about one-third sick at the present moment.  I've been fighting something off for a few days now -- well, weeks, if it's the same thing that conveniently allowed me to fight it the week before I left for New Zealand.  I'd considered letting myself just BE sick now, but I've got some good stuff coming up this week I'd rather not miss.  Besides, I've already BEEN sick once this year, and there's a principle at stake.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Is it just me, or ...

... are all headphones crap?

Seriously.  I short the little buggers out so often, I generally keep a few spare pair around for replacement purposes.  I even bought some nicer (read: more expensive) ones, and while they have not YET bit the big one, I did short out the extension cord I was using to connect them to the computer at work.

Just in case I am incorrectly using the term "short out," let me clarify.  After some (too short) period of use, the headphones start giving me spotty behavior.  Generally, sound only comes out of one ear.  It will come out of the other one as well, if I (a) swivel the connector around a bit, or (b) bend the cord in a particular way and hold it there.  Any time I buy myself a pair of headphones, I know that sooner or later, I'll be doing some sort of gymnastics to hold the cord JUST RIGHT to actually get stereo sound -- it always makes me feel like I'm messing around with the rabbit ears on a TV to make the horizontal hold kick in.

Now, you might think, "Geez, NZ, if this happens to EVERY pair of headphones you own, maybe the problem is the equipment you're plugging them into."  Interesting thought.  But this has happened with computers, every portable stereo I've ever owned, (even the ipod was threatening it the other day), and -- in New Zealand -- with those cheap headphones they give you on the plane, and those suckers were fresh out of the hygienic plastic wrapper. 

Which leads me to the conclusion that either, yes, they're all crap or, yes, it's me.  Really.  I'll start "grounding myself" before listening to music if y'all think it'll help.

Sunday, December 28, 2003


Went hiking today. I can say that all casual-like, but it's still so unusual for me that in certain circles, I can get a roomful of stares by saying it.

(Indeed, I got some gratifying silence when I met some friends I hadn't seen for a year and casually mentioned some of the activities I did in New Zealand. I'm gonna get as much mileage out of this as I can.)

Anyway, when my friends first asked me to go hiking today, I had to silence the initial reaction of, "um, I'm sure I've got something else to do then." Instead, there was that tiny little voice that said, "You're trying to do this, remember?"

Easier hike than the first one she took me on -- it was three miles (total) and only had a very gradual climb to it (unlike the unpleasant "cardiac hill" at the end of the other hike) -- and it even went uphill for the first part and downhill for the last like a good little hike.

I had various equipment errors -- forgetting hat (for sun) and gloves (for cold) -- although the latter turned out to be the real mistake. I also got a blister on my instep because the stitching holding the flap which holds the boot's tongue down came loose. And I got a cramp at the very top of my thigh because (at least, I think this is why) I was a big stupid idiot and put my wallet in my front pocket.

I think the whole thing would be way more pleasant if everything just WORKED the way it was supposed to, but it was still a doable hike and the view at the top (Mt. Lowe) was really impressive.

So, yeah, will probably hike again.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

The Trip in Photos - Part 5 - Rotorua

The sheep show.  Here's me and a Merino sheep.  (Hard to tell where the sheep ends and the sheep-wallpaper begins -- but that's a sheep.)  Photo taken by the nice Chinese lady who offered to take one of me if I'd take one of her.


And Zorbing!  I'm in that zorb (in the middle) going down the hill.


Here's me (dripping wet) still inside the zorb at the bottom of the hill.


And (ugh), by popular demand, the picture that made me glad I kept my undies on under the rental shorts.



The Trip in Photos - Part 4.5 - The Shoes in Fiji

And lastly, this is the last I ever saw of my flip-flops.  I left them in Fiji.  New Zealand is REALLY strict on agricultural imports-- they want to clean off your hiking boots before they let you into the country -- and I was certain they'd take one look at these (which were brand new before this trip) and laugh themselves silly.


The Trip in Photos -- Part 4 -- The Cruise in Fiji

Man, Fiji is beautiful.  I did a "sailing safari" in Fiji with the VERY nice people at Captain Cook Cruises.

Remember how I had to buy a sulu (sarong) and towel before I left, and I got a free crappy souvenir?  You didn't believe me, did you?


This is my beautiful ship, the Spirit of the Pacific and the bluest water I'd ever seen.


This is my bure, where I slept for two nights.  (The blue thing hanging in the window is my overpriced Fijian towel.)


This is the precise view from the doormat of my bure.  (The girls from this story can be seen swimming here.)


The Trip in Photos - Part 3 - Franz Josef Glacier

Now that I'm back home, my blisters are a memory and my bruises are almost faded, I .. well, I still think I should have done something other than the half-day glacier walk (with Franz Josef Glacier Guides), but since I was so determined to walk on a damn glacier, I think it was something I had to experience to know I didn't want to do it.

Photo One -- A postcard, showing Franz Josef glacier in a state of pretty whiteness, reaching down into the valley:


Photo Two -- A photograph I took of the glacier showing how it actually was (dirty and receding):


Photo Three -- View of the glacier from up close.  That's people there for scale.


Photo Four -- Only evidence I have that I was on the glacier.  I took this photo.  Honest.


Photo Five -- The certificate (not exactly suitable for framing) that says I was there:


The Trip in Photos - Part 2 - Dart River

Remember the trip I took down the Dart River (jet boat/funyak)?  (With the nice people at Dart River Safaris.)

Here's a postcard showing where Lake Wakatipu ends and the Dart River starts:


This is a shot of some of that gorgeous scenery taken from the "bow" of my funyak:


Here's Johnny, my funyak guide:


And, here's a shot -- an absolutely amazing shot -- looking back over the lake when we were going home late that afternoon:


The Trip in Photos - Part 1.5 - Queenstown Stamps

It was also in Queenstown that I realized I should send some postcards home.  I bought three postcards (for my parents, for work, and for my sister) and three stamps.  Then I sat there in the post office to write them and mail them -- and it was then that I realized I left my address book at home.  The only address I knew by heart was my office.  (No, my parents are not still living at the house where I grew up.)  I was stuck with leftover postcards and leftover stamps.  Interesting that I ended up losing the sports strap for my eyeglasses fairly early on in the trip, but that these babies managed to stay pristine through all my adventures:


The Trip in Photos - Part 1 - Queenstown

Yay!  I uploaded all the photos and can now share them.  And it's a linkfest, too.

I briefly mentioned that I had a lovely room in Queenstown.  I took this picture from my balcony:


That's sunset over Queenstown.  Pretty spiffy, no?

Then I went to the canyon swing over Shotover Canyon.  My entries on it begin here.  Photographic evidence that I jumped off the little platform is here:


It isn't a black cavern of darkness I'm jumping into -- that's the canyon -- it was just in the evening so the shadow fell over it.  (Had I known the photo would've turned out the badly, I might have actually jumped again to get a better one.)

Later in the trip I went horseback riding with Shotover Stables.  We went riding by the Shotover river, the same river which you would see at the bottom of that photograph were the shadow not in the way.  Here's me and Dash at the river:


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Oh, THOSE photographs

I was all set to do the photo essay today.  Really.  There were going to be photos from my trip with links to the relevant entries and (if I was particularly inspired) all the links to the Adventure Activity Providers that I left out when I was writing from New Zealand and Fiji.

So I walked in to the computer room (aka the guest room; aka Jasmine's room) and was just about to turn on the computer when I realized, "Oh yeah.  Left the photos at work."

So, instead, I decided to work on my holiday card.  Now, you might think December 23 is a little late to be getting the holiday card out, but for me, it's downright early.  My holiday cards over the past few years have celebrated New Year's Day or Martin Luther King's birthday -- and last year I barely got that sucker in the mail for Presidents' Day.  So the fact that my cards might actually hit the mailbox before Christmas is really amazing.

So, I finished the holiday letter, scanned in the holiday photo, formatted the holiday photo card -- and spent so long trying to "mail merge" my address book from the Palm Desktop into something that made address labels, I finally decided it would be faster to just print it out as is and handwrite the darn things.  Besides, that will give it the personal touch.  :)

Monday, December 22, 2003

"Didja Feel It?"

As a resident of the Great State of California, whenever there is an earthquake of sufficient magnitude to make the national news, folks I know all over the country phone to ask whether I felt the quake and whether I'm ok.

I did and I am, thank goodness. The little rattler we had this morning was way away at San Simeon -- those of us down here in Los Angeles didn't suffer any damage.

And now, for your reading pleasure, the actual thoughts I have during an earthquake like this one:

Hmm. Building is shaking. Longer than it does when a truck goes by. Ooo, the blinds are swaying. Must be an earthquake. Let's check for confirmation. "Hey! You guys feel that?" Yep, it's an earthquake. Still shaking. Must be a long one. I think my co-worker is going to stand in a doorway. It isn't severe enough for that. She's just gonna look silly. Besides, I never understood why you're s'posed to stand in a doorway anyway. What did that comic say after the Northridge quake? That the reason you stand in a doorway is to get hit in the head with crap flying from TWO rooms? (And hit in the butt by the door.) Ooo, shaking has stopped but the blinds are still swaying. And swaying. And swaying. A co-worker thinks the upper floors of our building are still swaying, which would explain things. And.... and.... stop. Ah good. It's over. Wonder where it was centered. Hopefully right under me.

Those last two thoughts are standard for me after every quake. Once it's over, you realize that the further away the center is, the more powerful and destructive the quake will have been -- so you hope that it was a small quake really close by. (Barring that, you hope it was centered in the ocean someplace.)

I understand the losses from this quake were not nearly as bad as they would have been had it been centered in a more densely populated area, which is good, but my heart goes out to the victims just the same.

Man, I Am So Mad At Myself

I have a pierced ear. Singular.

It started out as a matched set, back in college.

Sometime in the past few years, I stopped wearing earrings, and the little buggers closed up.

One day, in a feat of major stupidity, I decided to, y'know, reopen them. I still had my piercing studs, and armed with copious amounts of alcohol (the kind you pour on the earrings, not the kind you imbibe -- although I imagine the latter is usually involved in acts of this nature), I forced the studs through my half-closed earring holes.

For about six weeks, I kept those buggers in, twisting them every morning and night, and dousing them with alcohol. After a week or so, they stopped hurting; and after six, I had nicely repierced ears.

My folks bought my some lovely diamond earrings for my birthday.

Here's the problem with lovely diamond earrings: the people that make them don't want them to accidentally fall out of your ears. So rather than put them on normal studs with normal backs, the posts are all corkscrewed up, and the backs screw on.

This is all well and good if you put them on once and never take them out. If you decide you don't want to wear your nice pretty diamond earrings all the time, putting them in and taking them out scrapes up the inside of your piercing, what 'cause the posts aren't smooth.

I didn't want to wear them all the time, so took them off and put them on a lot. When I'd take them off, one of the piercings would start to bleed. Over the time I was in New Zealand and not wearing any earrings, it scabbed up and healed over.

So. I'm gonna have to repierce it AGAIN. I'm thinking this time I might actually go to a shop with a piercing gun -- for some reason, I just don't feel up to shoving a piercing stud through my ear with brute force again. And I am SO pissed off that I went through all that pain and trouble doing this six months ago and will have to do it again.

I'm getting those diamond studs put on new backs, though; that's for damn sure.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Probably the Geekiest Thing I'll Ever Write

Does anyone else think that great hall where they find Denethor in "Return of the King" reminds them of one of the sets in "Myst"?

(Not just in style, although I wouldn't be entirely surprised if that hall was cgi. I mean the room looked the same as one of the very last shots in "Myst." Then again, I played "Myst" ten years ago, so my memory might not be solid on it.)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A brief entry on "Return of the King"

OK, if you're like me, you've read all the reviews that say things like how this is the greatest movie of all time, an epic cinematic achievement, way way better than the first two (and they were pretty damn good to start with) and so forth. Do yourself a favor and lower your expectations. It's good, but it's at about the level of good you've come to expect based on the first two movies. I mean, with the first one, we didn't know what to expect, and it turned out to be way good. With the second, we were still a little cautious -- wondering whether Peter Jackson was a one-hit wonder who just got really lucky with "Fellowship" -- and he proved that was not the case. So, based on the track record, you can pretty much approach "Return of the King" confident that there will be good solid filmmaking going on, with the occasional extremely spiffy effect (and also the occasional less-than-spiffy one). Just go with that -- don't let anyone raise your expectations beyond that or you'll be disappointed.

One other random thought -- given the relatively huge cast of male characters in this picture, there is a rather significant list of "Lord of the Rings Characters I Wouldn't Mind Seeing Shirtless." Gotta say that the one who ends up with a little chest screen time did not make the list. Phbbbt.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sorry for the quantity

I just looked over the journal and realized I added so much stuff yesterday you have to click on "Older Entries" just to pick up the whole story.  Oops.  I guess that's what happens when you have three hours, an internet connection that actually works, a few days' of stories to tell, and a 2500 word limit.

I figure I'll lay off the new entries for a day or so (what could I possibly do that's as interesting as all this?) -- although I'd like to register my thanks to the Coalition Forces for capturing Saddam Hussein when they did.  Normally, it's pretty hard to get my ass out of bed at 3:15 in the morning -- but I had to catch a 4:00 airport shuttle this morning.  When the alarm went off, I was still in a daze but I clicked on the TV for some background noise.  A big red "BREAKING NEWS -- SADDAM CAPTURED" newsbar is the sort of thing that makes your brain click into "awake" pretty darned quick.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Zorbing (2 of 2)

The idea is to walk/run down the hill -- to remain standing in your wet zorb as it goes down the hill.  You get a free T-shirt if you accomplish this (something only a handful of people who aren't zorb staff have done).  My zorb experience is pretty standard -- I get about two or three steps in, then I'm down, sliding around the inside of the zorb as it bounces down the hill.  I can't recall exactly how it happened, but during my brief ride, I slid down front first, back first, forwards, backwards, and sideways.  At the bottom, they ask you to leave the zorb feet-first.  I come out soggy (although not as soggy as the day before) and smiling.

The nice men at the Zorb place held my camera and snapped a few pics.  I've been updating the journal while waiting to see if my film developed, or if it got killed by the x-ray machine at Nadi.  I picked up the film, and all the pictures came out.

The zorb guys took a shot of me coming out of the zorb -- since you leave feet first, it's basically a close-up of my legs and shorts.  Let's just say the photo convinced me I made the right decision panties-wise.  :)

And that, dear readers, is pretty much it.  In about a half hour, I catch a shuttle for my flight back to Auckland, where I meet up with my suitcase and repack it -- and very early tomorrow morning I'm off to L.A., via Melbourne.  I'll be back Monday morning.  Damn, this has been fun.

Zorbing (1 of 2)

OK, lets review.  Zorbing.  You're inside a big plastic ball inside another big plastic ball.  They push it down the hill.  You topple head over heels over head.  Fun results.

Now, you can get strapped into the zorb and just roll down.  Or you can NOT be strapped in, and instead be accompanied by a bucketful of water, and slosh your way down.  The wet zorb came highly recommended.  And you could rent some clothes for the experience.  Fair enough.

I pay my money and get my rental T-shirt and shorts.  I go into the changing room, strip down to my skivvies, and contemplate the rental clothing.  Clearly, there's no rental undergarments.  Do I take off my drawers and zorb "commando" or do I keep them on and spend the rest of the day in wet undies?  I go for a compromise solution -- remove the bra (the rental T-shirt was solid yellow, so I figured it wouldn't do standard Wet T-shirt Contest behavior) but keep my drawers.  Heck, those shorts look pretty loose.

They drive me to the top of a hill and have me dive head first into a zorb.  While laying there on the bottom, they toss in a hose and give me a dose of pleasant warm water.  I'm enjoying the bath when he tells me to stand up.  He zips the little zorb door closed, lifts the bar keeping the zorb in its pen, and signals me to get moving.


Sheep (2 of 2)

The sheep show itself was fairly informative.  Can't say as I've ever actually seen a shearing live and in person.  And they had something like 19 breeds of sheep all represented there on stage, some of which were fairly entertaining.  (Each sheep had its own pedestal to stand on, with a little feed dish holding what I figured must be some sort of sheep treat, 'cause the way they were going at those dishes was pretty intense.  Each sheep was called out of the pens individually and led to its pedestal.  When one sheep saw that it was next, it couldn't wait and leapt over the gate to run up to its pedestal and start eating Sheep Treats.)  And they had some sheep dogs performing, and at the end they had some audience members feed baby lambs (which again reminded me of my kitten).

I had felt some sort of obligation to see the sheep show.  It was like, sheep are such a major part of New Zealand, it was my duty as a visitor to see what they were all about.  Ticket having been duly punched, I made my way over to Zorb Rotorua.

Sheep (1 of ?)

Which brings us to today (er, forgot the bit about the Polynesian Spa last night -- after rafting, soaked in some nice mineral pools and got a weird massage done under water jets--felt good) -- anyway, today is basically my last day in New Zealand (waaa!) and there's only one thing left on the list -- bouncing down a hill in a big plastic ball -- aka zorbing.

The zorb establishment is on the premises of the Agrodome, a place that has a sheep show ("as close as you can get to a real Kiwi farm without stepping in something!") and other adventurey stuff (a bungy, a jetboat, etc.)  I took a shuttle over to the Agrodome, and ... figuring I had nothing much else to do, went to a pre-zorb sheep show.

A word about Rotorua -- I'm told it is something like the second most popular tourist destination in New Zealand (#1 being the Waitomo Caves) and you'd NEVER think it from being here.  The town is dead.  DEAD.  I walk the streets and there's nobody here.  I can't believe any of the shops get enough custom to stay open.  It's like a ghost town, there are so few people.  There have only been three places I've seen significant tourism:  the Tamaki village, the Polynesian Spa, and the sheep show.  (Do they have sheep in China?  There was a HUGE Chinese group at the sheep show, and they were all standing next to the sheep and taking pictures with sheep as though a sheep was something unusual.)

White Water Rafting (5 of 5)

It was great!  Partway through the slow bit, it started raining.  And I thought about how, in normal circumstances, I usually hate being outside in the rain -- but here I was pretty much as wet as I could possibly be, wearing all appropriate getting-wet gear, sitting on the edge of a raft floating down this gorgeous tree-lined river in New Zealand, and the rain was just adding to the beauty of the whole thing.  I spread my arms open and leaned my head back and laughed and just welcomed all the rain.

(Although, when we reached a bit where a metal bridge crossed over the river, and Kelvin said, "It's good luck to touch the bridge with your paddles," and we heard thunder RIGHT THEN, I thought, "OK, rain good; lightning bad."  I have limits, ya know?)

So, er, Peg... tell That Guy that next time he plans a rafting trip, I'm in.  :)

White Water Rafting (4 of lots)

(When we ultimately got out of the river, I found that the double knot in the shoelace behind my head had become totally undone, and the double knot on the left stem had worked itself down to a single knot.  I couldn't believe the glasses had loosened themselves that much, as I didn't think I'd moved my head that much paddling.  One of the others said it must have been when I was "in the washing machine.")

Of course, the rest of the river was a breeze after that.  There was a long boring sequence in the middle where we just sailed along (one person even got out and swam) and Kelvin gave us all candy bars (proof again that River Rats was the company to be with -- the other raft had no goodies), and then there was a sequence of 3-type rapids at the bottom.  By the end, I got the feeling that Kelvin was feeling confident enough with this group to give us a fun ride, rather than just trying to get through without throwing anyone from the raft.  So as we approached one rapid (which he said is called, "Kelvin's Mistake") he gets us spinning the raft as we go into it, so we sorta bounce up spinning and all get wet.  Way fun.  He also slid us up the side of a rock and down again off it -- which I'm sure was acceptable rafting technique, but appeared not strictly necessary for getting past.

Did I mention Kelvin was a good guide?  After awhile, I sorta started not paying complete attention to the "watch the rock" commands, which were inevitably followed by a teeny little bump which at no time threatened to dislodge us from the raft.  Even when he said, "hold on," there was never any time when I felt like I was gonna fly out of the raft were it not for the fact I was then holding on to the ropes.  I mean, yeah, sure, I had my feet wedged in that thing pretty solidly, but he really took us on a course that was fun and totally safe.

White Water Rafting (3 of lots)

Kelvin is also a friendly, supportive guide.  After we get through the first rapid without getting into any trouble, he's all, "Well done!" and frequently compliments us on nice paddling.  I heard, "My 12-year-old niece can paddle better than you!" coming from the other raft.

The second 4-rapid involves a 3-meter waterfall.  I was picturing, you know, waterfall, straight down.  Wasn't at all.  Just rafting over (and around and through) a bunch of rocks, and getting wet, and -- when we were done -- looking back and noticing we'd started out 9 feet higher than we were now.

Now, I'd been in the back of the raft, sorta opposite Kelvin.  (Which was good, 'cause that way I heard the commands.)  Kelvin at this point comments that one person in the raft isn't as wet as everyone else (and I'm pretty soggy and think, "Surely he can't be talking about me") and he says, "So I'm going to take their paddle..." and at this point he takes my paddle (and I think, "Uh-oh") and he directs me to the front of the raft.  (At this point, the other raft sails by, and the guide says to me, "Don't feel bad; he always picks on the pretty ones."  And I think, "Something tells me that is little consolation for what is about to occur.")  Kelvin tells me to sit my ass down (see?) in the front of the raft, facing backward, and to hold on to the ropes in front of me.  Cautiously, I do this.  He then orders everyone to forward paddle.  They do, and drive the raft back into the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall.  A huge torrent of cold water comes over the front of the raft, drenching me.  I scream (which you do when cold water pours down all over you) but I'm smiling and laughing with everyone else.  And Kelvin says, "Did I hear you say, 'Again'?"  And I'm thinking, "No, you most definitely did not," but he orders everyone to forward paddle again, and this time keeps me under the water while it pours on me for quite some time. 

White Water Rafting (2 of lots)

Kelvin taught us all necessary (and hopefully unnecessary) commands:  front paddle, back paddle, left back, right back, hold on (put paddle to side and hold ropes with each hand), watch the rock (keep both hands on paddle, but hold rope with one), over left, over right, and get down.

Interesting note on the "over" commands -- they involve moving to the other side of the raft and "putting your ass in front of the person on the other side."  Kelvin used "ass" as a perfectly normal conversational word.  I've noticed that, in general, Kiwis aren't as hung up on "bad words" as we are.  (Back in Queenstown, an ad for the Canyon Swing included the quote, "Even my shit was scared" -- and I thought you'd never see an ad like that in the States.)  And (get this) -- on normal commercial television, they show R-rated movies without bleeping out the naughty language.

ANYWAY, Kelvin teaches us all the commands and I am gratified to learn I am not the worst person on our raft.  Some others have a hard time grasping which way to paddle when (and one has a bit of trouble with just grasping the paddle).  Actually, I like to think my form didn't totally suck -- back in the funyak, my guide had given me some tips on my paddling technique.  So yay me.  Confidence is a good thing.

We toss our raft onto the river (and boy do I like these adventures where you DON'T have to hike forever to get to the starting point) test out some of the commands, make sure we won't actually kill ourselves, and meet the other raft -- we're rafting along with a raft from another company.  It's all men in that raft (ours is 3 girls, 2 guys + Kelvin), and their raft and paddles and helmets are all bright and shiny while ours show real signs of wear.  And while normally this would give me some concern, very early on I realize that *I'm* in the right raft -- 'cause it all comes down to the guide, and you really want someone who has run this river a bazillion times and knows exactly what he's doing, not the new guy with the bright shiny raft.

White Water Rafting (1 of lots)

I was s'posed to go white water rafting the next day, but when I checked my confirming email that night, the company said I was the only person who had signed up for that river, and they couldn't run the trip without more people.  I should ring back later that night and find out.

I rang at 9:30 (while munching on some nice fish & chips -- wrapped up in newspaper and everything!) and found that, yes, there were sufficient numbers, so I'd be rafting.  I set a wake-up call.  (I did a test one, first.)

I was with a company called River Rats, and a guide called Kelvin, on a river called Rangitaiki.  It was rated a 3-4, which meant, in this case, a perfectly good 3 river with two "solid 4" rapids.  At the beginning.  OK.  Never been rafting before.  There were four others in our raft, and only one of them had been rafting before too. 

When we're getting changed into our wetsuits (and life jackets, and spray jackets, and helmets, and boots), I notice that everyone but me is wearing Tevas.  My Tevas were back in Auckland.  I'd considered bringing my Teva reef walking shoes, but River Rats' website said they supplied wetsuit boots, so I decided against and was wearing my sneakers.  Felt a little out of place.

Now, I'd lost/misplaced my sports strap for my eyeglasses.  (It had served me well on the Canyon Swing, but I really hadn't seen it since Christchurch.  It might be in Auckland, or I might have lost it in Fiji.)  I didn't have one for Black Water Rafting.  I'd been trying to buy one in Rotorua since I got here, and nobody had one, although a nice man offered to engineer something for me out of picture hanging wire.  (Around my head?  Er, no thanks.)  I asked Kelvin if he had one I could borrow.  He did not.  He asked if I had shoelaces.  Aha!  I ended up using a shoelace (and loaning my other one to another woman for her glasses -- yay for not wearing Tevas) -- I double knotted it on each stem of my glasses, tying it so tight the glasses couldn't move down my nose -- then doubled knotted the ends to each other behind my head.

Black Water Rafting (2 of 2)

The water flowed through the cave pretty slow, and it wasn't very deep.  I was the last in our train, and I had the sneaking suspicion that our guide was just walking through the water, towing us by the first guy's tube.  We just relaxed and watched the pretty glowworms.  For the first part, I even kept my glasses on.

Then there was this little jump which we all had to go over individually (and backwards) and at that point, my glasses got tucked into my wetsuit.  (And when I went over it, my tube and me went under water for a few seconds, and I came up coughing, and hoping I hadn't swallowed any of the organisms growing in that icky cave water.)  The glowworms were out of focus from then on, and actually looked equally impressive as little blurry dots as they did as little clear ones. 

A few times, we broke the train up and turned to face forwards, and propelled ourselves through the cave individually -- by pushing off the cave walls or paddling with our hands.  There was one really cool bit where we went through a very low, very narrow section of cave, and it made me feel all explorery to push myself through there. 

At the end, there was a big drop, and the company had installed a waterslide, so we just slid down it.  Then we hiked out of the cave back to the van.  They drove us back to base camp, where they had warm showers, hot tomato soup, and nice warm toast waiting for us.  A nice touch.

Black Water Rafting (1 of 2)

OK, so Waitomo has itself some glowworm caves.  OK, so they're not really glowworms.  They're arachnocampa luminosa (and yes, I do feel like Hermione levitating a feather every time I say that) and we're talking about the larval phase of a fly-type critter that gives off this bioluminescence in order to attrack prey.  (Yes, I was awake during the filmstrip.)  Whatever.  They're in caves and they glow blue-green and (since the caves are really dark) pretty much all you see are hundreds of blue-green lights all over the ceiling of the cave, and if you want to call 'em glowworms, go ahead.

And you can see them by walking through the caves, taking a boat ride through, or "black water rafting" -- which is riding an inner tube.  ("Grab a tyre the size of your bum," our guide memorably told us.)  I had signed up for the latter.  My reservation was with a company called "Waitomo Caves Float Through," which was, actually, a rather more accurate description of what we did.

Of course, suiting up was half the fun.  We put on:  wetsuits (already wet, and really hard to pull on), wetsuit jackets, wetsuit booties, gumboots, gloves, and helmets with lights attached to the front (kinda like miners wore).  And boy, if that didn't look ridiculous enough, then we each grabbed the aformentioned bum-sized inner tube, and tramped across a farm to the cave entrance -- while some cows had what sounded like a really good laugh at our expense.

There were six of us, and once we finally got in the cave and in the water, we formed a chain.  Imagine sitting on your inner tube with your legs kicked up on the tube of the person in front of you.  You're holding the feet of the person behind you, and leaning back on their legs for a nice view of the glowworms.  Excepting the whole row of you are moving backwards. 

Would You Believe? (1 of 2)

Next morning, I had a shuttle at 7:45 for Waitomo Caves.  A package deal that included black water rafting.

I'm paranoid about waking up on time.  Since the new watch has no alarm, I have to rely on other means of getting up.  There's a clock radio in my room.  I do a test alarm on it and I'm not happy with the results -- when there's only one station and it gets lousy reception, a clock radio is of minimal usefulness.  Thinking I wouldn't likely wake up to the dulcet tones of static, I set a wake-up call for 6:30.  I was almost tempted to try a test wake-up call, but convinced myself I was being paranoid -- it was an automated system and it would surely call me back.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke up at 8:07, having missed wake-up call AND the shuttle to Waitomo.  Strike that.  Imagine my pissed-off-ness.  I called down to the desk and expressed my emotions.  Front desk clerk immediately put me in touch with the manager, who knew who I was, as he'd tried calling me three times when my shuttle came looking for me.  Seems the problem was my phone.

While I tried to dick with all the buttons on the phone to figure out what was wrong, the manager rang back the shuttle company to see if they were still in Rotorua.  They weren't.  Meantime, I discovered the problem was the phone's VOLUME.  Which had been turned down to ZERO.  Exactly why you'd put a volume switch on a telephone (and not mark it, and leave it slid down to the equivalent of "mute") I don't know, but this was obviously the source of my problems.  I couldn't believe that I'd made the connection at Auckland, met my bus for Tamaki, and somehow got f'd over by a freakin' PHONE the next morning.

Would You Believe? (2 of 2)

Manager worked out an alternative plan where I could take a DIFFERENT bus to Waitomo, use my black water rafting reservation that had been set through the original company, and pay the original company the one-way fare back.  (I had booked with this company because they were the only one that ran a bus back to Rotorua late enough to complete the whole trip in one day.)  Which I did.  Whole thing ended up costing me $20 more than I'd originally intended, and I'd sorta wanted the hotel to pony it up 'cause it was their stupid phones that caused the problem -- but it was only like $13 American, and the manager really DID work his ass off to get me to Waitomo that afternoon, so I chalked it up to just another one of those random vacation expenses, and vowed to do a practice wake-up call from then on.

Tamaki Maori Village (2 of 2)

Everyone employed by the Village was of Maori heritage, and everyone seemed to take very seriously both the cultural history that they were preserving and presenting AND the fact that the village was a major tourist attraction.  (Everywhere I went, people asked me, "Did you do Tamaki yet?")

Our bus driver got us all doing a sing-a-long on the way back to town -- English language stuff, not Maori.  He was a real hoot.  At one point, he drove the bus into a roundabout/traffic circle and started singing, "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" and just kept circling the roundabout until he had finished the song.  I couldn't stop laughing.

Final note on Maori culture -- I couldn't help looking at this without playing compare and contrast with the way the Australians relate to the Aboriginals, and the way the U.S. relates to the Native Americans.  (We've all got indigenous peoples.)  I'm sure that relations between the Maori and the New Zealanders of European descent weren't always rosy, but (at least as far as what they've allowed the tourist market to see) they certainly seem to be headed in the right direction.  I think the thing that impressed me the most was something my whitewater rafting guide said (a couple days later) -- he was talking about a recent resurgence of Maori pride and interest in Maori culture by Maori youth, and he said that Kiwis are starting to recognize the importance of "New Zealand culture."  Now this dude himself was a white guy, and I was impressed by the way he considered Maori culture to be New Zealand culture, and sort of claimed it as his own.  Spiffy. 

Tamaki Maori Village (1 of 2)

Every major hotel in Rotorua has some sort of Maori cultural performance -- the one at my hotel involves much song and dance, every night, around the pool. 

I went to Tamaki Maori Village -- an attraction created by a couple of brothers who wanted to take the Maori stuff out of the hotels and put it back where it belongs, in the hands of the Maori on their terms.

Overall, I thought it was a great experience.  Words like "classy," and "respectful" leapt to mind.  It didn't feel like "Maori culture on parade" but instead felt like a group of people of Maori heritage who were trying to get in touch with their roots and preserve their culture, and share it with us in an educational and informative way.

We were welcomed to the Maori village with a traditional welcome, then walked along this little "village" area through the trees where there were pairs of people practicing things like tossing sticks back and forth, or throwing around them little string things with soft balls on either end.  Then we went into a meeting house for a cultural performance, and finally into an eating hall for dinner, a hangi (food cooked underground -- just like the Fijian lovo).

During the cultural performance, there was a lot of explanation.  We were told that the Maori kids used to play games like the stuff we'd seen outside -- tossing sticks back and forth faster and faster for instance -- and these games were meant to prepare them for being warriors later -- quicken up the reflexes, strengthen peripheral vision, things like that.  THEN we saw this stuff in action in a high-speed performance.

(And I thought, "Damn, if the Maori and the Fijians ever went to war, the Maori would clobber the Fijians.")

Arriving in Rotorua

This all makes sense when I see my gate.  Once I hand off my boarding card, I enter this covered walkway which is outside on the tarmac.  I pass signs that say things like, "Gate 42" and point toward a little gate in the fence around the walkway.  Beyond which is a small plane all ready to go.

There's a guy in a pilot's uniform walking a ways ahead of me.  He turns off at my gate and walks up the stairs into a little 19-seater.  There's a sign at the gate that says "Passengers not permitted past this point without a representative of the airline," so I just stand there like a good little girl.  A minute or two later, I see this arm waving out the door of the plane and waving me over.  Pilot welcomes me on the plane, and I fly to Rotorua on one of them planes where everyone has a window seat.

I'd asked my hotel how to best get there from the airport.  They'd said to take a shuttle.  I had ANOTHER tight connection here -- My flight arrived at 5:55, and I was supposed to be picked up for a Maori dinner between 6:30 and 6:45, so I needed to book.  I had wondered if I'd catch a shuttle.  I shouldn't have worried.  The Rotorua airport is not a big place.  "Baggage Claim" is this corner in front of the airport, where a guy drives up trailing a rack with all your bags on it, and everyone just grabs their own.  A Supershuttle guy is waiting nearby, waiting for everyone from the flight to get their bags and find transport.  I hit the hotel at 6:20 and check my bags -- figuring I could check in after the Maori dinner.

I wait for the bus.  And wait and wait.  Seems there was a HUGE tour group going from my hotel, and the Maori place had told THEM 7:00, without ever telling me of the change in pickup times.  So I'd rushed that bit for nothing.  No problem.  Better that than the other way.

Finishing Up The Impossible Connection

So.  Land at 4:15.  Run to immigration and clear it before my bag has come off the plane.  Wait by the conveyor belt as thought staring at my watch would make the bag come faster.  Ultimately it does.

It is around this time that I realize I never took my camera (that encompasses not only the camera but: the roll of film I'd been shooting since Queenstown, three more new rolls of film, and a waterproof camera I'd bought for rafting) out of the checked bag, so I've probably killed all five rolls of film.  I only hope the screening machine in Nadi isn't up to Strict U.S. Film-Killing Standards.

Get bag and clear Customs.  "Do you have any food?"  "No."  (Finished the candy bar on the plane.)  "Got the hiking shoes?"  "Threw 'em out in Fiji."  (Also true.  You'll recall I hiked in my flip-flops.  Which began the trip a brand-new green fabric but were now saturated with Fijian dirt.  I figured I'd never get them clean and therefore never get them thru the Agricultural Hold, so I tossed 'em.)  "Welcome to New Zealand."

In the International terminal, there's a check-in for connecting Air New Zealand flights (yay).  But it says if your flight leaves within 45 minutes, just go to the Domestic terminal.  I'm at about 40 minutes.  (boo).  Grab my belongings and start the stroll over to the "Interterminal walkway."

By this time, I'm sure I'll make it, and I do end up at the counter a good five minutes before my flight actually boards.  The Air New Zealand rep is adamant that I check the rollaboard, and when I ask to go in to free my film, she says not to bother because they don't screen bags going on flights departing from that wing of the airport.  Weird, but whatever.

The OTHER Impossible Connection

Man, sorry to cut off like that mid-story, but you should just TRY to get internet access in Rotorua.  Here are my attempts in chronological order:

1.  Internet machine in hotel -- lets me read email for two screen names, then refuses to communicate with AOL anymore so nzforme can't sign in.

2.  Use internet cafe down street for hour and a half till she kicks me out.

3.  Next morning, try to use internet cafe again.  Get midway through entry below, take a moment to think while I am holding down the shift key, and end up turning on a function that (a) freezes all the keys and (b) can't be turned off by the lady who runs the internet cafe.  I hit "save" and run off to my next activity.

4.  That night, go to the cafe to try to finish up.  She's closed.  Apparently she lost her connection earlier that day, all the customers walked out, and she shut down early.  Although she had access now, and I was clearly an available customer, she preferred to stay shut.

5.  Went to internet cafe next door.  It was open enough, but its version of IE was too old to support journals.

6.  Went back to hotel internet machine.  Turned it off and rebooted it.  It only let me in AOL via, which didn't support journals.

Which brings us to today, and a brand new internet cafe.  Lets all hope, shall we?

Friday, December 12, 2003

The "Impossible" Connection

So...  my flight from Fiji to Auckland will arrive at 4:05.  My flight from Auckland (to Rotorua) leaves at 5:15.  In the interim, I will have to:  clear immigration, clear customs, run to the Domestic terminal (a ten-minute walk -- they have a shuttle but it only runs every 20 minutes), check in for the Rotorua flight, and get to the gate.  Not impossible, but not easy.

I try to stack the deck in my favor.  I know from previous experience that they will only allow me 7 kg of carry-on baggage, so there's no way to carry all my stuff (which, although in two small bags, is together upwards of 12 kg).  So I have to check a bag.  I decide to check the small duffel because I can run better with the wheeled bag.  I pack everything light in the wheeled bag (so it will be under 7 kg) and all the heavy stuff in the duffel.  The only exception is my camera and film -- which I put in the wheeled bag 'cause you're not s'posed to send film through the checked bag x-ray anymore.

I check in for the flight.  The nice man is not able to check me in for the connection because Air Pacific and Air New Zealand are not partners.  He also makes me switch bags -- I must check the wheeled one because the limit for flights OUT of Fiji is 5 kg.  At my request, though, he moves my seat to the front of the plane (so I can outrun everyone to Immigration) -- although I have to give up a window for a center seat.  He also volunteers to check my wheeled bag through to Rotorua, but since I'll have to pick it up to clear customs in Auckland, this isn't exactly a big time-saver.

I get to the gate at Fiji at the flight is delayed 20 minutes.  I think, "Game Over."  Well, not OVER, but way more difficult.

In the air, we make up ten minutes of the delay.  We arrive at 4:15 (says my new Fijian watch). 

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Getting Out of Fiji (2 of ?)

The woman gives up -- says the ATM is broken.  Now we have to get in line at the bank branch.  I need 7 Fijian bucks.  I'll be DAMNED if I'm paying a cash advance fee for that.  I look in my wallet and see a NZ $20.  I ask if I can just change $10 of that.  (Bank of NZ and all that.)  Sure, she says.  She types on her computer and says she can do it.  She opens her drawer and says she doesn't have a NZ $10 to give me change.  She says she only has twenties.

"Do you have two twenties?" I ask, "'Cause I got a fifty."  "No," she lies.  I'm telling you she is lying -- I SAW two twenties in there when she said she only had twenties.  But she says she only has one, and no tens, and nobody else in the entire branch of the freakin' BANK OF NEW ZEALAND has another $20 or a $10 bill in New Zealand money.  "Fine," I say, not wanting to miss my flight, "Change the whole damn thing."  Now I have about $40 Fijian dollars to my name.

I go to the departure side of the airport and check in.  The nice man at Air Pacific tells me (are you ready?) that my ticket already included the departure tax, so I don't have to pay it.

Oh, but look at all the Duty Free shopping I can do with my Fijian money before I go.

Ended up spending $35 Fijian on a new watch.  It has no alarm and is only "splash resistant" but I figure I'll need to tell time during my tight connection.

(The story of which will have to wait, because this internet cafe is closing down at 9:00 p.m.)

Getting Out Of Fiji (1 of ?)

That was pretty much it for the cruise.  We put the engine on shortly after that and cruised back to the marina.  When I got back to my hotel, I did some laundry and wrote the first few Fiji entries in the journal.  I also dove into the swimming pool.  Twice.  (Hey, I had two swimsuits I wanted to get the salt water out of, and this seemed like the quickest way.  Rest of the hotel guests musta thought I was nuts.)

And now...  the rip off that is known as Fiji Departure Tax.

Everything I'd read (EVERYTHING... including the shit my travel agent gave me) said that you had to save 30 Fijian dollars (cash only) to pay the Departure Tax when you leave at the airport.  OK fine.  When I'd used the internet that night, I used everything but my last 30 Fijian bucks and a little random change.  (With other countries, I don't mind taking spare currency home 'cause I figure I'll prolly go back again sometime -- but I just didn't see myself hitting Fiji again, so wanted to end this at zero.)

Next morning, I go to use the internet and learn (dammit) that, although the SHOP takes credit cards, their internet usage is cash only.  I end up about 7 bucks shy of the departure fee.

No worries.  The guy shuttling me to the airport says we can stop at the Arrivals Side of the airport, where there is a cash machine.  My flight is leaving in an hour -- figure I'll just pop up, get cash, and we'll drive to the other side of the airport.  Riiiight.

There's a long line.  And the line isn't moving.  Because the ATM is out of service.  We're told it's 'cause the woman from the bank branch (Bank of New Zealand) to which it is attached is refilling it.  We wait five minutes.  Ten.  Someone from the line just goes to the counter and gets a cash advance on their credit card.  I'm still waiting.  (So is my driver.)

More From Fiji (5 of lots)

Next morning, we woke up early -- we wanted to leave at about 7:00 so we could get some sailing in.  The wind complied this time, so we packed up all our stuff, loading it into the longboat (smacked my knee a THIRD TIME), and piled onto the ship, waving goodbye to our little island home.

I found myself a piece of deck, spread out a towel, and had a lie down -- I love feeling the motion of the ship and letting it just rock me.  The crew guys were playing guitar and singing.  It was this great style of playing where they sang the right melody and played the right chords -- but the actual strumming had the same island-influenced rhythm no matter what the song.  It's a weird world where "You Picked a Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille," "Yellow Submarine" and "Bad Moon Rising" all sound the same.  (Our crew guy from the night before was serenading the Englishwoman with a version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" that had verses like, "Oh when the brandy/it makes you randy..." and "Oh when the kava/makes you a better lover...")

We stopped for a snorkel which I did not want to partake in.  I was three for three in smacking my knee on the longboat, and was happy to give it a pass.  Besides, I had made a SERIOUS TACTICAL ERROR in swimsuit shopping.  I had purchased a one-piece because it's more flattering to my figure.  What I'd forgotten was that I'd be wearing the damn thing under my clothes all day ... and how much FUN going to the bathroom is in one of those -- when you have to virtually undress just to take a pee.  I'd decided that morning there would be no more swimming for me, and was wearing actual underclothes under my clothes, rather than the swimsuit.

And then we dropped anchor while the longboat took the snorkellers out to a reef.  And a couple passengers noticed that since we'd dropped anchor, we were allowed to jump off the boat again.  And that was the one thing I hadn't done the day before (because I was wearing flippers) -- and I thought, "when the hell am I gonna get another chance to jump off a sailing ship?" so I ran to the head, changed my clothes, and jumped off that boat, screaming like a little girl all the way into the water.

More From Fiji (4 of lots)

That night, we had a "lovo," a feast where the food was cooked for hours under hot rocks in a pit.  Tasty stuff.  (The chicken came out dry, but the pork was delicious.  Also a local sweet potato, which tasted suspiciously like our regular potatoes.)

This was our last night on the island, so we had a bonfire on the beach.  A lot of the passengers (including the young college-aged girls who'd just wanted to party) turned in early.  About 8 or 10 of us took our drinks out to the bonfire and just sat around it and talked. There was a full moon that night which was REALLY BRIGHT whenever the clouds cleared -- of course it would be, there was no ambient light from the village to lighten the view of the heavens.  (There was talk of a late night skinny dip were the moon not so bright.)  It was great and I didn't want to leave.  I finally turned in just shy of midnight -- by that time, there were only five of us left out there:  the four passengers who were travelling alone, and one crew guy.

The rest of the crew was back in the main hut -- singing, dancing, and drinking kava.  (Just crew.  They weren't entertaining passengers; they were having their own little party.)  The crew guy with us explained that Fijian villages (as opposed to the big cities) have no alcohol, so kava is the drink of choice.  (I was told kava: made you sleepy; made you fertile; was an aphrodisiac; and was a muscle relaxant.  All I noticed was it made my tongue tingle.)  He also said guitar music and dancing was pretty much all they did to have fun of an evening.  I reconsidered my earlier evaluation of the crew not enjoying the "welcome singing" thing twice a week -- I think this crowd DEFINITELY liked making music.

Crew guy went back in to bring out a plate of leftovers for us.  By this time, I'd mentioned in passing that I was Jewish, and when I snacked on some pork, he said, "You're Jewish; you shouldn't be eating pork."  I figured this was not the time for a discourse on reform Judaism and my decision not to keep kosher, so I grinned my evillest grin, popped the pork in my mouth and said, "That's why it's so much fun."  He went back in for a second plate.

More From Fiji (3 of lots)

After the ceremony, the village puts on a show -- we turn around on the mat and are facing an open square.  The villagers (maybe 30 of 'em -- all adults) come out with guitar and some rhythm instruments and sing and dance for us.  Some of their singing is pretty darned good -- they got some nice harmonies going.  The dancing is nothing difficult -- the women just take teeny little steps side to side -- although the men did some battle-type dancing which was interesting if not affirmatively entertaining.  At one point, they dragged us up to join them in the conga-line type dance.  One of the locals says, "Shake it; don't break it" and it cracks us all up.

The thing I couldn't get over were the costumes.  They all had matching sulus and the women were wearing bright pink or blue satin shirts -- at least, they looked satin.  They looked hideous and didn't really fit in with what we'd seen of Fijian attire.  But what got me was they were pristine.  These shirts were the cleanest thing we'd seen on the island -- certainly cleaner than any of the "clean" washing we'd seen drying in the sun on the lines.  I figured the cruise ship must have laundered the damn things and brought them in just for performances.  I mean, here's the cleanest thing these folks have to wear -- probably better than their Sunday best for church -- and its an ugly costume they wear when putting on a show for the tourists.

After the show, we stood up and they villagers all came by to shake our hands like a massive receiving line.  Once the line finished, we looked at the square and it had been magically taken over by the "shell market" -- about 15 women had set up sheets with hand-made wares for sale.  Mostly shell necklaces.  Nearly everyone bought something.  (I didn't--but had contributed to the collection box in the church.)

We got back on the longboat (I hit my knee AGAIN) and back on the ship, which we took back to our island.

More From Fiji (2 of lots)

We get to the village and our public relations officer leads us into the center of the village to the church.  We all sit in pews and he stands in front and tells us all about this village -- their religion, their health care, their education, their jobs, their family life, etc.  Let me sum up:  They're poor.  There are a couple hundred people in this village and they are dirt poor.  With pride, the public relations officer points out that each little hut has a little box on the side -- that's because the cruise company gave them enough money for each house to have its own little generator, so they actually got electricity.  They send their kids to school at a village on the other side of the island; they get rudimentary health care (immunizations) over there; and near as I can tell, the main source of money for the village is the money the cruise company gives them in exchange for them putting on their kava ceremony for us and letting us look around their village.  (And we did get to look around.  Dirty washing hanging on lines.  Village seemed to own one little boat between them.  One family had caught a sea turtle they were boiling up for dinner.  Poor.)  I find out later that the cruise ship hits this village once a week (the 4-day cruise hits another village) and that the company basically auditioned villages to see what they could offer to determine which ones would be visited.  I felt weird -- it was this really odd combination of hating the crassness of making an entire village put itself on display and at the same time accepting that this was something the village was willing (even eager) to do in order to get the cash.

We leave the church and are brought out to sit on a big plastic sheet sitting on the ground in the center of town.  The chief is there in full regalia (grass skirt, lei) and we sit politely (with our knees covered) and partake of kava.  Nice dignified ceremony.  Kava was almost tasty.  (One of the draws of this village is that it has its own water source -- nice fresh spring water.)

More From Fiji (1 of lots)

(I'm in Rotorua at an internet cafe that appears to have a solid connection -- last night's attempt to update the journal failed miserably -- so hopefully, I can finish up the Fiji stories and get caught up to day.)

So, after the swim, we are to get ready for the village.  Now, we'd been told we needed a locally-purchased sarong ("sulu") for the village.  This isn't entirely correct.  All we needed -- as we'd been told the night before -- is SOMETHING that covered our knees:  Sulu, trousers, really long shorts, anything would do.  We also needed a shirt that had sleeves (i.e. covered the shoulders).  We hadn't been told to pack one of those -- this was a problem for some.  I saw a few people making their way to the village wearing sulus and T-shirts that said "Captain Cook Cruises -- Fiji Islands" on them.

We'd also been told, by the way, not to wear hats to the kava ceremony or take pictures of any kind.  So I left my hat and camera on the ship.  What we HADN'T been told was that the kava ceremony was ten minutes of our trip to the village -- and that afterwards the village chief would actually be POSING for pictures with us.  Oh well.  No pic of me in front of the kava bowl.

Back to chronological order -- first thing we do upon arriving at the island is ...  no, actually, the first thing *I* do upon arriving at the island is smack my left knee against the motor when getting out of the longboat.  The bruises on that knee from the glacier were just healing along quite nicely until this, and this was not helping.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Fiji! (10 of lots)

(Time for a quick email check and journal entry before I run to the airport.)

Two things I forgot to mention in the earlier entries.  First, was that morning, we had a 7:00 hike around the island.  Which, oddly enough, I participated in.  We hiked to the highest point of the island and took some lovely pictures.  Also saw the water collection tanks where my shower water baked in the Fiji sun. 

Second is that my waterproof watch gave up the ghost.  You remember -- it's the watch I bought JUST FOR THIS TRIP -- a cheap little kids' Timex that was waterproof and had an alarm and (I'd hoped) would survive for less than a month.  It did an excellent job snorkelling, but during our lovely swim, it fogged up.  And this wasn't like the OLD Timexes that kept running once fogged up -- this was a sign of impending doom.  First, it's little digital readout got confused about the time (told me it was three hours later than it was, then decided it was 7:77).  When I tried hitting buttons to make it work, it died altogether.

I contemplated a burial at sea, but ended up just trashing it at my bure that night. 

Having no watch is going to make my "impossible connection" this afternoon EVEN MORE EXCITING.

Stay tuned.

Fiji (9 of lots)

I gotta say, the Spontaneous Ocean Swim was probably the best part of the cruise.  I put on some swim fins and paddled out into the clearest bluest water ever.  There was no need for snorkel or mask because there was nothing to see -- no coral, no fish, no seaweed, no sea critters of any kind -- just perfect blue waters as deep as imagination.

Everyone else came in -- some walking down the ladder and others jumping off the side of the ship.  Once we realized the crew allowed us to jump off the ship, people starting jumping off higher and higher places (ohh!  that railing in front!  that'll give us a few more feet!).  Then the crew got into the act, with one guy climbing up the rigging (we weren't allowed THERE) walking over to the edge of the yardarm (is that the word?) holding up the sail, and jumping off from there to the cheers of everyone in the water.

Someone had a rugby ball and a crew member dove in with it and organized us in a impromptu game of keep-away.  The whole thing was just playful and silly and fun (and cool and blissful) and I loved every second of it.

... and now, I have to get my laundry out of the dryer and get some dinner, and this store is going to be closed when I get back, so I'll have to continue the saga later.  I have a very tight airplane connection to make tomorrow, but HOPEFULLY I'll end up in Rotorua in time for a Maori cultural experience that I can then compare to the Fijian one I'm going to write about next.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Fiji! (8 of lots)

We'd been issued flashlights for walking back and forth to our bures, and tiki torches ("Fire Equals Life") lit the way to the toilets.  Upon returning to my bure for bed, my flashlight caught a spider walking around just inside the door.  Up until this point, I'd been a good little girl and took off my shoes when inside my bure (to keep the mat clean).  At that point, though, I thought, "to hell with this," and wore my little flip-flops until I was safe in my mosquito-net cocoon.

Next morning, we were offered a last-minute snorkel -- seems the crew spotted some manta rays cavorting nearby and offered to take people out to see them.  I'd had enough of the salt-water snorkelling, so lounged around sunset beach on a hammock when everyone else went.  (As our public relations officer said, "This is Fiji.  You don't have to do what you don't want.")  I think I made the right call -- a lot of the gang ended up getting bit or stung by some unknown sea critters.

That day, we were supposed to sail (not engine, sail) over to another island to see a real Fijian village (and have kava!  Yum!) but we didn't have any wind so we were sorta just sitting there in the water.  Someone said it was kinda hot, and asked the crew if we could go someplace for a swim rather than have the boat just float around aimlessly.  Crew agreed, powered up the engines, and took us to a spot a distance away from the village.

Fiji! (7 of lots)

That night, after community dinner, we had a mock "kava ceremony" as we'd be experiencing this the next day.  Now, I'm still not entirely clear what kava is.  This because the "public relations officer" who was explaining everything to us had (1) a really strong accent, and (2) a gentle lilting way of speaking that made me want to fall asleep -- the combination made it impossible to completely follow anything he said in its entirety. 

Here's what I know.  Kava itself is a beverage.  You make it by taking... something... (taste-wise, I'd have to guess something in the turnip family, but that's just a guess) beating the crap out of it, putting it in a cloth bag, and then kneading it (through the bag) into a bowl of water.  You end up with water that is ucky looking, and has a slight, well, rancid, taste to it.  You drink it out of coconut-shell cups.  It is served in a ceremony -- something to do with welcoming visiting chiefs.  Kava ceremonies, near as I can tell, are what Fijian villagers put on for visitors.  Someone on our boat had been to a bunch of villages, and she'd been drinking that stuff everywhere -- because, you see, it is impolite to refuse a bowl of kava.

OK, so we all taste-test our kava.  (I look at the community bowl it is prepared in, the community cup it is drunk out of, the fairly dodgy-looking towel it has been kneaded out of .. and I think, yeah, glad I got that Hep A shot.)  We are told that after you drink your kava, you smile, and I can't help having one of those "Survivor" eat-disgusting-food-for-immunity flashbacks when I'm forcing a smile after downing that stuff in one gulp.

They also taught us some Fijian dancing -- a couples dance (I danced with one of the crew) which is kinda cute--you stand beside your partner, hold hands behind your backs, and walk forward (or back) swaying your hips together; and a variant on a conga line in which you just... held on to the person in front of you, walked to the beat of the music, and tried to shake your booty.

Fiji! (6 of lots)

In the ocean on my beach were a couple of the college-age backpacking girls.  I pulled up some ocean next to 'em and had a chat.  We could not have been more different -- I wasn't like them at that age, and I seriously doubt they'd grow up to be me.  They had dumped their boyfriends in order to go travelling. Had been on the road for months.  Only thing they missed about home (the U.S.) was Mexican food.  They told me how they'd "hooked up" with guys from so many different countries on their travels (and then confided that they counted it as "hooked up" if the guy kissed them -- they didn't want me to think they were "sluts or anything").  They liked taking rides from strangers.  One of them said that the bad stuff you'd get from the one guy in fifty (and it is one in fifty, she said knowingly) that is trouble doesn't outweigh the fun you get from the other forty-nine.  (I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying that, from my work in the criminal justice system, I'd suspect there were lots of crime victims--or their families--who wouldn't agree with her on that.)  They had no jobs (later regaling us, with glee, about how they just walked out on jobs they hated, leaving customers just standing there), no cars, no responsibilities, and wouldn't have it any other way.  When I told them how different my life was from theirs, one of them said, "Don't feel bad.  Sometimes I wish I was old and settled."  When I mock-cringed, she said, "I didn't mean it that way."  And I thought, "Yes, you did.  The same way I mean it when I think, 'Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be young and stupid.'"  But I said, "I know you didn't," and smiled and swam off, thinking I was as happy to be me as they were to be them.

Fiji! (5 of lots)

I get my own hut, or "bure."  It's a one-room thatched roof cottage.  I'm not sure what it's made off.  It looks like something out of "Gilligan's Island" -- you know, how the walls were all made to look like they were woven out of dried leaves, but you KNOW Ginger and Mary Ann couldn't have woven a freakin' hut.  The bure walls looked (outside and inside) like they were just woven, but that clearly wasn't the case.  The windows (one in each wall) were wooden planks in wooden frames (being braced open by another piece of wood) so the walls of this building had to be more substantial.  Perhaps wood.  (I peeked beneath the woven mat on the floor and saw a concrete foundation.)  Anyway, certainly primitive and basic, but also certainly adequate.  Small bed, but with crisp white linen, mosquito netting, and a fresh flower sitting in the center.  For a closet, there was a bamboo pole hanging across the top of one of the interior corners of the bure, with a few plastic hangers.  I unpacked (which took all of 30 seconds) and went for a swim.

Fiji! (4 of lots)

We're off to our "village."  It's six hours away, running the engine.  (Yay engine.)  We stop along the way for a snorkel at a reef.  The reef is beautiful -- lots of colorful coral and fish.  The ocean is a beautiful blue we just don't get at our side of the Pacific.  It's also saltier.  You float REAL easy in it, but it tastes horrible.  (The two things I hated most about scuba certification were:  salt water up my nose and salt water in my eyes.  So the saltiness of the ocean was notable.)  After the snorkel, we swam back to the boat -- which had seemed too far away, but wasn't.  (For what had to be the third time this trip, I actually thought about my lack of depth perception -- which was surprising because I *never* do in daily life.)

We get to the village where we'll be staying.  Picture a pretty small island with two beaches on opposite sides ("sunrise beach" and "sunset beach" -- tell me this isn't just like "Survivor") -- on each beach are ten huts.  In the center of the island, between the two beaches, is the big community hut (when we first walked in, an Aussie guy says, with perfect American accent, "Welcome to your first tribal council").  On the way from the community hut to each beach is a little ... bathroom area, consisting of a counter with two sinks, a row of four toilet stalls, and another row of three shower stalls.  (Each toilet and shower is behind its own little wooden door for privacy.)  There's no fresh water on the island -- the cruise company ships it all in, and it is supplied down to these little bathroom areas.  It's only one temperature.  Signing up for this cruise, the one thing that worried me the most was taking icy cold showers.  There was nothing to worry about.  The water bakes in the hot Fiji sun, and the showers ended up quite warm.

Fiji! (3 of lots)

So, we pile on to the boat and take stock.  There are thirty-one passengers and a crew of about 7 (with maybe 6 more at the village).  The crew are all local.  The passengers all aren't.  We're all from English-speaking countries, with the exception of a couple from Germany (and the husband speaks English -- the wife nods a lot).  The rest of us are from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia and South Africa.  The passengers run the gamut age-wise, with several passengers who look to be grandparents -- although the crowd definitely skews younger, in the direction of college-aged, backpacking-through-the-world, seeing-Fiji-on-a-budget travellers.  (To my surprise, I am not the only one travelling alone.  There's also an early-20's guy from the States, a recent college graduate gal from Australia, and a single grandmother from England.)  On a safari-style cruise like this, it is inevitable the people start making "Survivor" jokes (and they did), but looking around, I could definitely see pretty much all of your Survivor "types" in our group of 31.

The ship itself is a sailing ship (Arrrr) conveniently armed with an engine.  As a rule, the passengers hang out on deck.  Below, there's a little area where we can get tea (in the literal sense, not the English sense -- they got a pot of hot water, some coffee mugs, some tea bags, some milk, and a "community spoon"), and below THAT are the toilets (with little plaques reading "Gentlemen, please be seated"), the kitchen, and a little room where our (substantial) luggage is stored on bunks.  The little room also houses an air conditioning unit, so when things get toasty, some of the passengers can go down there, push some bags around, and sit in a relatively cool climate.

When we board, the crew (with the exception of the captain and engineer) is standing there welcoming us with a song.  They've got a couple guitars and a smaller stringed instrument (ukelele?), and are strumming away, singing in Fijian.  Sounds pleasant and cheery.  I can't help but think, though, that these guys do two cruises a week, and they must get sick of putting on this "welcome show" every three or four days. 

Fiji! (2 of lots)

Next morning, I'm up bright and early to catch the shuttle van to the cruise.  Now, you may recall (sorry, if I was on a better internet connection, I'd actually link to the entries) my concern over packing correctly for this "sailing safari."  I was told to bring a "soft kit bag" that remains on board, a "small overnight bag for the village," and, among other things "reef walking shoes."  I ended up buying a midsize duffel ("soft kit bag") and a smaller duffel ("overnight bag") and I had to drive to the next county to find reef walking shoes (as they aren't readily available during November in Los Angeles)
So, I packed up everything in both my duffels, although I wasn't entirely clear which items went into which duffel.  (I mean, I'd need sunscreen both on the boat and in the village.  What to do?)  I ended up resolving it by just shoving the smaller duffel into the larger one and figuring I'd deal with it on board.  I mean, ultimately, I didn't bring more than a mid-size duffel worth of stuff.
I show up at the marina for boarding the sailing ship and am freakin' amazed at the quantity of luggage my fellow passengers have brought.  They got bags not ONLY the size of the small roll-aboard I left at my Fiji hotel, they also got bags the size of the BIG HUGE MONSTER SUITCASE I left in New Zealand.  I mean, they're bringing on this three-day sailing safari the same amount of stuff I brought for two weeks in New Zealand.  The mind boggles.  (Some people used their roll-aboard bags as their overnighters for the village -- they looked awful silly dragging those bags out of the longboat into the surf at the shore.)  Am I the only one around here who follows directions?
... gonna log off now to deal with the laundry.  I'll be back in a few.  Just so as not to keep you in suspense, the "reef walking shoes" I had driven all over town to find... stayed in my bag all trip.

Fiji! (1 of lots)

Whew.  Back from the cruise.  I wish I was taking notes -- there was so much that I wanted to write about -- I hope I remember it all.  Right now I'm sitting in the little shop in my hotel that has internet access, listening to a bopping little ditty called "My Fiji Is Your Fiji" blasting over the radio ("We will tell the world around us/Fiji is the place to be"), waiting to put my load of laundry in the dryer.  Oh, and the world is rocking back and forth slightly.  I don't get seasick (apparently), but I do get "land sick" once on solid ground after all day on a boat.

So, we left off last time in search of a sarong and towel.  I found them at the OTHER shop in the hotel (the "designer" shop).  I bought a really lovely sarong (fire engine red) and a really overpriced towel.  I'm telling you -- the sarong was $25, and the towel was like $30.  (I also learned the exchange rate.  One U.S. dollar buys about $1.70 Fijian.  Which basically means the sarong was reasonably priced, but the towel was a total rip off.)  But what am I gonna do?  I need this stuff.  And the lady in the shop helpfully points out that it's Sunday, so all the shops in town are closed (even if I was gonna brave walking into town alone to try to find a cheap towel).  So I ponied up the cash.  (Dinner was cheap.  It all balances out.)  For spending more the $50, I got a free "mystery souvenir."  Turned out to be the crappiest plastic keychain EVER.  Leaping dolphins on it, says "Fiji."  It's huge.  Totally impractical.  I had a friend with whom I used to exchange tacky souvenirs -- whenever we'd travel we'd try to find the cheapest, tackiest thing we could to send to the other person.  When I opened the package, I immediately thought of her.

Saturday, December 6, 2003

Quick Greetings From Fiji

Greetings from my hotel in Fiji!

Where internet access is four minutes for a dollar.

(That's a Fiji dollar, but still.  The exchange rate isn't good enough to make THAT good.)

Where the road signs for a speed bump ahead just say "road hump," which I'm sure cracks up every American that visits.

Where the little shop sells all sorts of Fiji crafts and clothing, but NOT the sarong and towel I need to purchase before my cruise tomorrow.

Where (wonder of wonders) I was actually MET AT THE AIRPORT! 

(By a nice man with a "pottery lei" for me and everything.  "Everything" in this case meaning a big booklet of vouchers.  I think I have more vouchers than days I'm spending here.  I got a voucher for every car ride.  Wonder if I can get a voucher for a towel and sarong.)

Where the whole country seems to be populated by American Senior Citizens. 

(OK, no.  Just my plane here, and around the pool at my hotel.  I expect there to be younger people on the adventurey cruise.)

Gotta run.  Daylight's a-burnin' and I need to find the Fiji equivalent of a Target.

Friday, December 5, 2003

24 Hours in Christchurch (4 of ?)

During that ten minutes, a pair of Aussie women came by also wanting a punt ride.  Nice man whispers to me, would I be willing to share my ride with these ladies and he'd give me the difference in price back?  Why yes, I would.  So ... beautiful ride down the Avon seeing tress and flowers and duckies (lots of ducks -- very cute they way their little webbed feet flail around when they dive their heads into the water) while leaning back and listening to the punter explain all the different trees and flowers and species of duck.

Punt guy also pointed out the location of the rose garden, and said now was a lovely time to see it as the whole thing was in bloom.  (December.  Southern Hemisphere.  I'm getting the hang of this.)  I still had time after the punt ride so went for a stroll over to the rose garden, and it was magnificent.  Over 100 different breeds of rose, and, yeah, all in bloom.  Either on bushes or climbing trellises.  Just beautiful.

I'm flying out of here at 8:30 tomorrow morning, so won't be seeing any more of this really charming city.

A note on journalling for the next few days.  I'm heading to Fiji tomorrow afternoon, where I will be doing a three-day "soft adventure" cruise on a tall ship.  (I promise to say "Arrrr" at least once.)  I've got a night in a hotel in the city on either side of the cruise.  I don't know whether I'll find internet in the city, but I'm certain I won't find it on the cruise.  So... I'll definitely be incommunicado for three days, and might be for five.  If I don't write from Fiji, I'll catch up in Rotorua.

24 Hours in Christchurch (3 of ?)

Today, on my one and only day in Christchurch, I started off by going to the International Antarctica Center.  (Billed as the "World's Best Antarctica Attraction."  Was only after I left that I thought, "Exactly how many Antarctica attractions ARE there?")  It is quite nifty as the touristy section is actually located on the site of a real International Antarctica Center (New Zealand, the U.S., and Italy teamed up on it -- and they send their research teams to Antarctica from this center near the Christchurch airport).  It had all sorts of hands-on exhibits (feel the cold of a snow and ice storm!), but what I liked the best was stuff related to the real research centers in Antarctica.  The New Zealand center sends back one digital photo each day to the museum -- sort of a photo journal -- and it was just amazing to see life in Antarctica via photos and a single line of text per day.  (And you could also ride in this all-terrain vehicle they use in Antarctica.  The ride itself was kinda cool, but somehow I was more impressed by the fact the vehicle itself was autographed by Sir Edmund Hillary.)

My "average Kiwis" from dinner the other night said that if I only had one day in Christchurch, I should see the gardens (it is called "The Garden City" and all).  OK.  Got back from the Antarctica museum and figured on a stroll through the gardens -- better yet, they had punt rides down the river that ran through.  (The river is the Avon.  Christchurch is also called "The most Southern English city.")  I walked over to the boathouse and spoke with the nice man about getting a punt ride.  The problem was that they had a two-person minimum and, if you didn't notice, there's only one of me.  I didn't really want to pay double for a punt ride, so he offered me an in-between price.  I agreed, and waited ten minutes for the next punt to return.