Friday, 25 May 2012
Wake Up and Smell The... Myrrh?
I believe that in life, everything (barring those few buttons on the TV remote that do nothing) has a purpose. New Zealand's purpose is to make every other country in the world look boring and ugly in comparison. I've moved on to the south island now and, despite my previous impression that the north was the most beautiful place in the world, it looks nothing more than a hole now I've seen how amazing the south is. In all honesty, though, I'm beginning to ever so slightly miss the plain and boring after a guide book I was reading described the town I was staying in as "still volcanically active, with Mt. Ruapehu often having a hissy fit". I don't know if it's my sheltered upbring in England, but I personally would describe a volcanic eruption with language a little more colourful than "hissy fit"... (Although, this is a country that, instead of bright lights, alarm bells and barriers at rail crossings, has a tiny notice advising you to 'look out for trains'). On the other hand, a volcanic eruption might warm things up a bit as New Zealand is one of those confused countries that have their seasons mixed up and as a result it is winter in May. This wouldn't have been such a harsh blow had I not left the only jacket I owned in a town several hours away, thus forcing me to buy the only thing I could afford to compensate - a bright yellow, hideous jumper from a second hand shop. It was only $4.50, and it keeps me warm, but, in short, I look like an absolute knob. Also, yellow is definitely not my colour. At best, I suit various shades of anything dark, but yellow really takes the piss. In an attempt to sweat out my mourning, I went on a little climb to the geological centre of New Zealand. Why the geological centre of New Zealand couldn't have been somewhere flat I do not know, but instead of getting over the loss of my jacket I was instead faced with the grim reality of how unfit I actually am whilst I scaled a hill that even the most expert of mountain goats would have struggled with. At least, that was my immediate impression, but I was forced to re-evaluate the size of said hill when I was joined at the top by a group of primary school children who practically skipped up. They were pretty good company though and I enjoyed listening to them have a debate about whether or not there was a town in America called UpTheBum... (There isn't, I Googled it). The unfortunate thing about New Zealand is that all of the places worth going to happen to be at the top of a huge hill. I climbed over 400 steps the other day to get to a good lookout and was greeted by a sign that read: Lift your heart in wonder! If anything, I felt mocked. It'll be a wonder if I have a heart left after all this, nevermind the ability to lift it. Despite my many attempts at leading a normal life, I found myself last week spending the night in a hostel that had been converted from an old convent. My main reason for staying there were the cheap rates, but I also thought it might be a little fun and quirky. Incorrect. It was neither fun nor quirky and had undergone such little change from its time as a convent that I actually questioned use of the word 'converted'. The walls were still lined with oil paintings of Jesus and Mary and there was an unmistakeable smell of myrrh in the mornings, faintly mixed with the scent of the 4000 cats that lived there... Having been brought up a Catholic I'm used to a certain amount of guilt tripping but I can't say I was too comfortable going to sleep underneath a tapestry that bore the words: Confessional - a place to repent, Father and God would always relent, a sinner would enter and come out clean, sinner to saint, every person's dream. Despite all the Christian paraphernalia, something I found most unchristian was the woman behind reception trying to charge me an extra two dollars for bedding. I was so indignant that I insisted I would be perfectly fine with the complimentary bedding, a decision I later regretted as it itched like mad. (Although I may have just been burning with the guilt of every non-Catholic thing I've ever done - the list is quite extensive). This hostel was also pretty stingy with its electricity, something I discovered as I was plunged into darkness mid-shower. After the initial (and, admittedly, highly irrational) panic that I had gone blind, I realised that the lights were motion sensored and was thus faced with the dilemma of either showering in darkness and risking some kind of accident, or getting out of the shower and risking being caught by a stranger doing a weird, naked dance. I'm sure there are less dignified first impressions, but I felt that that would be particularly humiliating... After surviving my stay at chez Jesus, I packed up and moved on to the next town. Unfortunately, I missed my bus - not because I was late, you understand, but because I was so absorbed in my book that I didn't realise it had arrived and it left without me. (I know, I should not be allowed to travel alone). Anyway, I refused to stay another day and had my first hitchhiking adventure in New Zealand. After persuading a bus driver to drop me near a main road I caught my first lift with a widowed farmer named Dave who had already picked someone up further down the road - Jo, the harp playing stripper from Edinburgh. (She told me she was a stripper later, not being sure whether Farmer Dave would have dealt with the information). Dave drove us for a while and then dropped us in the middle of nowhere and our next ride was a young chap named Ben who determinedly squish us, backpacks and all, into the smallest car known to man and then spent the next two hours talking only in Thai and German accents and driving through the mountains at no less than 100mph. If I hadn't been so sure that my life was about to end, he'd have been quite the entertainer.