Smells like...

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Friday, January 29, 2010

NO, not that, but close. Rotorua— the whole town— smells like sulfur.  Nigel and I roadtripped it up to Rotorua and Lake Taupo last weekend for a guy's weekend.

On the way we stopped at Lake Taupo to have lunch, which is a huge lake.  We were only passing through because we wanted to get to Rotorua so we'd have time to go to a Maori show that evening.

Lake Taupo wsa nice, but unless you're going to get on a boat, go fishing, or jet ski, there's not much to do.

We then stopped at Huka Falls, which supplies 65% of the hydro-electric power to the North Island. The falls were a brilliant sea-green color. It was quite amazing to see.

We continued on, and we soon knew we were getting close. How did we know? Because we could smell it.  The whole area is geo-thermal, with stuff bubbling up from the ground, and the odor was strong, but bearable.

We booked our tickets for Tamaki, which is supposed to be the best Maori show in the area. After a short nap in the hotel room we booked, we waited for out tour bus to pick us up. And waited. Aaaand waited. Finally, I went into the lobby of our hotel and had the concierge ring the tour, since we were supposed to be collected at 6:30, and it was nearing 7pm.

Two minutes later, we were greeted by our driver who brought us to a central bus location where we boarded a tour bus with some people from other hotels. Our driver was like a warm-up comedian, like you get at a club to keep the crowd interested, and he was actually really great. Being a Maori himself, he told us about the village, or Marae, we were going to, some of the customs, and taught us some Maori words. unfortunately, nothing dirty.

Nigel had done this tour with his family before, but he really wanted me to experience it. He clued me in on something I had to try to do. He explained that each tour bus needed to have a chief as if were a visiting tribe, so when the driver asked who wanted to volunteer, I should raise my hand.

Sure enough, our driver asked, and I volunteered. He had me come to the front of the bus and explained that I was now the leader, and that fro now on, everyone else on the bus had to follow me. I LOVE THIS PLAN!

He also told me that I was to lead everyone into the village where we would be met with aggression, which was the Maori way. They do this to see if visitors are hostile.  He also explained that they would be waiving sharp weapons meant to decapitate people, and that I should not move, that I should stand still and stand my ground.  I HATE THIS PLAN!

When we arrived at the village, I led my "tribe" (consisting of two US Women's Olympic Volleyball players, a couple of Italians, some Ausies, and some Brits — we were so dead...!) into the village where, a Maori warrior came to meet me with a fierce look, armed with a blade.

He did an aggressive dance and then two others appeared, one by one, trying to ward me off. But I stood there and watched (of course, this was all for show).

After seeing that I was friendly, they placed a peace offering on the ground. I took it and they led me and my tribe into the actual village where I met the chief. We greeted each other in the traditional Maori way by clasping right hands together and pressing our noses together.

The village was set up to look like a traditional Maori village from a long time ago, with people carving, cooking, making weapons. We spoke to different tribesmen and women about the culture, and they were all very knowledgeable.

The tattoos on their faces, their Moka's, represent your status in the tribe. The higher up on your face, the higher your status. What determines your status is how much you contribute to the community. Also, the Mokas are asymetrical. THe right side of the face depicts the lineage of the mother, and the left side is the father's.

After about a half hour of walking around and talking to people, we were summoned to enter their "home," or hall, to be greeted in a traditional Maori way with song and dance. We all took our seats and watched them perform. Check out the short video below to see some of what they do!!

Afterward, we were escorted to dinner, a Hangi, where the food is cooked on hot stones under in a hole ion the ground, then served as a buffet. Our Hangi was actually cooked in a pit with a stainless steel lid, but ya gotta change with the times.

Dinner was a feast of all kinds of meat— chicken lamb, fish— and sides like stuffing, salad, cakes, vegetables.  This is how the Maori used to eat every day, with each meal taking up to six hours to prepare and cook. Every day was like Thanksgiving.

After dinner, being the chief, I was presented with a Tonga, a gift— a small carving of a tiki head, which represents wisdom and knowledge and memories.  To paraphrase Mel Brooks, It's GOOD TO BE THE CHIEF!

We then got back on our Waka— our war canoe, technically a tour bus— and our very entertaining guide took us home, but not before making everyone sing songs from our respective countries. I led, since I was the chief, and sang Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. Unfortunately, the only words I could remember while being put on the spot were Sweet Caroline, which made for an interesting rendition.

Nigel honored our driver by singing The Wheels on the Bus.
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