Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

The American Dream

This is a story about home. Actually, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. I suppose that, when one really examines the content of this story, one sees that it is about remembering home when away from home, when in the home of kiwis and sheep, with some particularly homely weather. Got it?

You're lucky they don't play baseball here.

You’re lucky they don’t play baseball here.

New Zealand does not have a rainy season. Anything that you have been told about the country receiving copious amounts of rain in the autumn months is a blatant lie, and the person that has told you these lies has already been tracked down and taken in for mandatory reeducation. If you are in New Zealand in the autumn and see droplets of water descending from the sky, as if dropped by some unseen being beyond the clouds, do not be alarmed, for it is not rain. If it were rain, it would stop after a reasonable amount of time, and not continue for days. No, what you are seeing is not rain. It is something incomprehensible, unleashed for some unknown purpose, perhaps the cleaning of rooftops or the enjoyment of ducks.

Regardless of the origins of these frequently and lengthy cascades of water, many students over at the University of Waikato have taken to staying inside and relaxing as of late. And when one stays inside and relaxes, one visits social media sites. And when one visits social media sites, one sees an inevitable slew of vacation and graduation pictures (Congrats, Class of 2015!). Between the fall of rain that was not rain outside and the shiny, happy pictures posted on Facebook walls, one does not feel particularly motivated to finish out classes.

Occasionally, when I walk outside, and the grounds crew is manning the massive lawnmowers that sweep through the athletic fields, I’ll catch a whiff of that wonderful combination of cut grass and gasoline. Suddenly, I’ll be back at a park in my hometown, where the scent is almost lost amidst other scents, of burgers and waffle cones and maybe a hint of wood smoke. Somewhere close by, there is a band playing, a blur of people gathered right below the stage dancing in a big happy throng. But the band is background noise, an accompaniment to a good conversation among friends, reclined on lawn chairs and blankets, trapped in the throes of summer like the Lotus Eaters, with no need or means of escape. The sun, though already low in the sky, has dipped further in the last eternity, though I could tell no passage of time. Out came the fireflies to take its place, wheeling tantalizingly out of reach. One comes to rest on my finger, and I’m walking to class again, the ground is covered in leaves, and clouds are already blocking out the sun for the fifth day in a row.

But occasionally, on good days, the clouds will part and I’ll do something interesting.

I woke up at four one morning to catch a bus to Auckland. The transportation center where I stood for the better part of an hour was across the street from the Peaches and Cream adult shop, a name that I have been saying with less and less irony these days.

I had come to the city to meet a friend, also travelling abroad, and on his way home from Australia. We had hoped to make our way out to one of the many islands off of Auckland’s coast, but the attendants at the wharf informed us that the trip was closed due to weather.

I can really see how this would be a problem.

I can really see how this would be a problem.

So we chose a different island and set off. Waiheke is primarily known for its wine and beachside houses, neither things that either of us were capable of affording, but we tried to make the best of the horrors of being trapped on a sunny island for the day. Planning a budget expedition was fairly easy, replacing wine with cider and cheese with fries. Part of me would love to return some day and sip wine by the ocean, but until then, I’ll just have to content myself by yelling impotently at the grapevines and stepping all over their nice beach.

Take that, 1%.

Take that, 1%.

But even without the eighty degree weather and enterprising lawnmowers, it felt like I had stepped back into the lull of summer again.

Daydream No. 19

I woke up with my shoes on, hoodie hanging limply over my face. My feet were hanging off of the edge of my bed, but this wasn’t anything new. The University had, of course, spared every expense when it came to beds and their size. Pushing my hood out of my face, I started to kick off my shoes before noticing the wedge of orange sunlight that had made its way past my curtains, coming to rest accusingly on a pile of unfolded laundry. I didn’t need to find a clock to know that I was running out of time. The sun set earlier every day, but dinner was likely almost over.

The dining hall was deserted. Only a few pockets of resistance kept the staff from having a bit of peace and quiet. Still, they were more than happy to ladle me a steaming plate of what they assured me was beef stroganoff.

New Zealand food is often severely lacking in primary colors.

New Zealand food is often severely lacking in primary colors.

I didn’t see anybody that I knew, but that was okay. More time to take stock of what needed to happen.

As usual, weekend plans of the past, present, and future came first. The nearby tourist trap of Rotorua had seen plenty of American incursions lately, with our group zorbing on two occasions. As entertaining as it is to discover exciting new ways to get injured inside a soft plastic ball, we had moved on to other attractions in the town.

Zorbing sounds a lot like my trips to the beach: screaming, splashing, and then silence.

Zorbing sounds a lot like my trips to the beach: screaming, splashing, and then silence.

Hoping to see the sorts of sights that cannot be found in America, we journeyed to see a Redwood forest and a geyser. The geyser, however, erupts once every half hour, so it’s really completely different. Located in Te Puia geothermal park, a haze hangs over the area, bringing with it that charming “Rotorua smell” of sulfur and camera-toting tourists. So, in the spirit of promoting travel, I devised a quick review of the park to all of you globetrotters out there*.

*playing basketball is not essential to enjoy Te Puia.

*playing basketball is not essential to enjoy Te Puia.

Downsides: Jumping in the mud pools and asking an attendant for a therapeutic massage is frowned upon.

Upsides: Every rock is a heated seat.

The park also includes a Maori carving school; and the fruits of the craftsmen’s labor can be see scattered around the park’s trails. If you’re in Te Puia and feel like you’re being watched, it’s probably one of these statues. If you hear footsteps, run. If you suddenly experience a feeling of existential dread followed by bouts of extended weeping, you should probably get professional help. Really, I can’t help you there. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of these installations is, so I can only guess that they comes alive at opportune moments to abduct visitors that vandalize or double park.

Meanwhile, in the future, over my steaming pile of grey goo, I considered the redwood forest. Several days in the past, we had hiked through this primordial collection of trees. The forest was lofty and sparse, lacking a lot of the ground level vegetation common elsewhere. The shade of the trees had likely accounted for that, only allowing several lucky sunbeams to drift along the forest floor.

Downsides: Not enough branches to make a treetop village of adorable bear-people.

Upsides: Easy to figure out what kinds of trees you’re seeing, assuming you know the definitions of “red” and “wood.”

Unfortunately, the beef stroganoff had not outlasted the time it took for me to mentally catch up with myself. My time was spent planning for the weekend, in which I could come alive and forget about the whole nasty “learning experience” business. Sleeping became my hobby. It wasn’t particularly destructive to my experiences, at least up until that point. Fall, or “Autumn” as the New Zealanders insisted on calling it, had arrived in full force, bringing rain that led to skipped classes and afternoons spent with a robe and a book.

Because reading a Kindle naked in the dark is less socially acceptable.

Because reading a Kindle naked in the dark is less socially acceptable.

Upon waking up, I’d go through the motions that I described; taking stock of how clothed I was, figuring out how much of the day I’d missed, and looking out the window, where the trees were starting to surrender their leaves, clinging to the few that meant a lot to them. Sometimes, I’d see College Hall’s resident cat hanging around under the dining hall awning, looking a bit disgruntled about the rain and his inability to open the automatic doors. In more ways than one, my stay in New Zealand was winding down.

Home Away From Homecoming

Maybe the Routeburn track, pass sealed with snow, would be inaccessible to us, but we were young and filled with hormones and misplaced energy, and we needed a challenge. After the initial disappointment with the track’s closure had worn off, complete with an afternoon of forlornly looking at the ground and a chorus of “aw, shucks,” we chose a worthy adversary: Mount Roy, a strapping young thing with sheep on its slopes and a stylish fringe of snow at the top.

More and more mountains are going grey early.

More and more mountains are going grey early.

So, intrepid adventurers that we were, we trekked downtown to rent a car to bring us there. Our eventual mode of transportation was a magnificent beast dubbed “El Cheapo” by the rental company. We had seen other iterations of this teal stallion rolling around town, but nevertheless, we were taken in by its litheness, occasionally functioning radio, and an adorable horn that sounded like a squeaky toy. Its license plate even said, “EWW.” Nevertheless, it transported us to the foot of Mount Roy without incident, a tiny, yappy terrier in the shadow of the various Saint Bernards of the parking lot.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, we were unprepared even for this hike and ran out of water. I’m willing to admit that this may have been partially my fault.

To be fair, we did get free tickets to the ice bar for buying all of that soda.

To be fair, we did get free tickets to the ice bar for buying all of that soda.

Skilled survivalists that we were, we melted snow for water while continuing to subsist on the tried and true diet of peanut butter and jelly. This mountain was slightly less brutal than the last, with massive spiders and leeches traded for sheep dung and an old couple that embarrassed us by hiking really fast.

Fueled by prune juice and raw determination.

Fueled by prune juice and raw determination.

Still, we made it to the summit, scoffing at the smaller mountains around us and blanching at the much larger ones off in the distance, their peaks undoubtedly resounding with peals of laughter we could not hear. We were surrounded by a cradle of stone and ice, clouds drifting past us, or even below us. El Cheapo was a single greenish pixel far below, but it was a car, a man-made thing, not allowed to revel in this vastness that only exists at the top of the world.

Apparently, weather equipment gets a pass.

Apparently, weather equipment gets a pass.

The walk down was far more pleasant, the clouds clearing away to reveal the sunny, grassy trail beneath our feet. With sweaty clothing and broken hiking boots, we headed back to Queenstown. It was no alpine backpacking trail, but hey, it made for some good pictures.

We returned to Hamilton to find a school given new life. Returning students swapped hugs, stories, and, in some cases, spit. The break had left me drained, and two weeks of cheap fast food had made me resolve to improve my dietary habits. My room still had a shelf full of junk food, which made me sick just looking at it. I knew that I needed to get rid of all of that food if I was going to start down the path to a better lifestyle.

Naturally, I did this by eating all of it over the course of two days. Suck it, Dr. Oz.

I may have spent the last few weeks in a financial and occasionally literal free fall, but immediately after our return, LVC celebrated Dutchmen Day, a chance to forget about classes and enjoy inflatables, food, and… well, mostly just those things. Not to be deterred, we expatriates made our own Dutchmen Day. Gas station candy bars were our good food. And in place of inflatables, we went zorbing. For the uninitiated, zorbing is the practice of hurtling down a hill in a large beach ball filled with water. Naturally, the most entertaining variant on the “human pinball” formula is a track where an entire group can experience the ride simultaneously, in the same ball. In a confined space, this led to an afternoon of gurgled swearing, tangled limbs, and apologies for the unexpected and uncomfortable physical closeness.

Pictured: a plastic sphere of emotion.

Pictured: a plastic sphere of emotion.

Walk it Off

Sleep on the floor of the Melbourne Airport. Wake up. Check in. Dash through security. Sigh in frustration as you encounter even more security. Don’t get distracted by the duty free liquor. No, I don’t care how good that two for one deal is. Realize you still have four Australian dollars to spend. Realize that candy is far too expensive for that. Find a vending machine. Pay $3.50 for a bottle of apple juice. Pocket the fifty cent piece. Impress your friends with the fact that you’ve managed to transport a coin the approximate size of a manhole cover. This is how you properly return to New Zealand.

This coin, now used mostly for exact change, was in its prime used as a discus for hunting, sport, or gladiatorial combat.

This coin, now used mostly for exact change, was in its prime used as a discus for hunting, sport, or gladiatorial combat.

Getting to my proper destination, however, was a different story, resulting in a far different trip to Queenstown than I had anticipated.

New Zealand is big on these silly rules referred to as “bioquarantine laws” by those sorts of people that want to sound threatening, particularly those with trivial things like Ph.D’s and biology degrees. Anyway, it was this manner of folks that impeded my progress in the Auckland airport, hunt up on the tent that I had been dragging around Australia, useless since our camping trip.

Getting my luggage was bad. Getting my luggage through customs, trying to make sure that no folks in hazmat suits were called in over my hair conditioner, was worse. So, by the time my gear was given back to me with the bashful admission that sometimes, a tent really is just a tent, my flight to Queenstown had departed.

A popular recent trend amongst wayfarers, globetrotters, and other miscellaneous world travelers is to post a picture from a campsite, in this case, the first thing that the photographer sees upon waking up in the morning. The following was, more or less, my first view of the day for a portion of the week.

Elsewhere, the peaks of Escalator Heights gave way to the flatlands of Starbucks.

Elsewhere, the peaks of Escalator Heights gave way to the flatlands of Starbucks.

Queenstown was, despite the cold, the lack of beach, and the mountains, an odd sort of parallel to Cairns. Both were certainly towns that catered to tourists, though in different ways. Cairns is very much similar to the beach towns of the eastern U.S, despite not actually having a beach. Walk down any street in the town, and you will likely pass an infinitely repeating sequence of souvenir shop, cafe, and liquor store, like Cairns was built to house a reboot of the Truman Show. Seeing the same few knickknacks and t-shirts is always proof that you’ve stumbled someplace that is slightly too eager to take your sweet, precious tourism money.

There’s a lake down in Queenstown, but relaxing by the water is probably low on the list of priorities for visitors. Take the normal tourism town shop lineup and add camping store to the mix, and you’ve captured the fundamental difference between Queenstown and Cairns. It’s the kind of place that appeals to adventurers, not the kind with swords and battleaxes but the kind with cumbersome backpacks and, dare I say it, dorky pants.

See Exhibit A. (on right)

See Exhibit A. (on right)

Nevertheless, Queenstown has a sort of charm that Cairns lacks. Going to Queenstown is, as one of my group members put it, like stepping into a little Christmas town. All of the elements are there. Snowy mountains provide a picturesque backdrop. The outside of the town is all quaint lodges and cottages. Further towards the center of town, candy stores churn out confection after confection, tempting the passerby to purchase more fudge than they know what to do with. Elves, their faces cherry red from the cold, trundle down the streets.

Unfortunately, there was less caroling and more grumbling about souvenir prices.

Unfortunately, there was less caroling and more grumbling about souvenir prices.

We wouldn’t be in Queenstown for long. The Routeburn Track was calling our names, beckoning us to venture into the frozen mountains, surviving only with our wits and a jar of extra crunchy peanut butter. On the other hand, Mother Nature writes her own itinerary, and she’s a big fan of tagging along with you and then not paying for gas or food.

Things that the LVC students are no longer allowed to do in Australia

#1: Give out Gympie-Gympie leaves as a skin care product at all.

#2: Wrestle any crocodile longer than 8 feet.

#3: Tarantulas are not a suitable substitute for an alarm clock.

#4: Cross out the “duty” in the “duty-free” sign and run off with eight liters of whiskey.

#5: Emus do not make decent riding animals.

I can dream, though.

I can dream, though.

#6: Whistle Men At Work’s “Land Down Under” more than once a day.

#7: The Australian national motto is not, “Your Money or Your Life.”
-Nor is it “Apply More Sunscreen.”
-Or anything ever said by Steve Irwin.

#8: Kangaroos are not decent boxing opponents.

#9: The Gympie-Gympie is not a joy buzzer.

#10: The road less traveled is sometimes less traveled for a reason.

#11: No playing tic-tac-toe on a blue ringed octopus.

#12: In case of fire ants, do not stop, drop, and roll.

#13: Emotional baggage does not count towards the 30kg weight limit.

#14: There are no “good kinds” of car accidents.

#15: Australia is not “proof of a cruel and uncaring god.”

#16: The alligators do not need to be freed from the zoo.
-Not even if they’re American alligators.

#17: Garlic is not an effective defense against vampire bats.

#18: No telling cobras to “say it, don’t spray it.”

#19: “Running faster than you” is not a good plan in the case of an animal attack.

#20: Lizards are not Pokemon, and you should not try to “catch them all.”

Not even if you color them with Magic Marker.

Not even if you color them with Magic Marker.

#21: No inviting anybody back to your place if you’re living out of a car.

#22: White water rapids are not the “express route.”

#23: Just because you have buns does not mean that any anaconda wants some.

Nicki Minaj has never been so wrong.

Nicki Minaj has never been so wrong.

#24: A full minute of stunned silence means, “What did you just do?” and not, “Please continue.”

#25: Living in the wild does not obligate anyone to drink their own urine.

#26: No hunting for animals at night in residential neighborhoods.

#27: No clogging other people’s snorkels with sand anything.

#28: Just because George of the Jungle swings from vines does not mean you can.

#29: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are not “a part of a balanced diet.”
-No matter how many you eat.

High Tide Rising

The majesty of nature only stays majestic as long as you remain free of bug bites and sunburns. After that, it’s only a matter of time before you need a shower and a bed in a location that doesn’t carry the risk of malaria.

So long, Cape Tribulation, and thanks for all of the crocodiles. We’re headed back to Cairns.
Of course, there’s more to our rainforest story than that. I haven’t told you about the best thing about the trip.
No, it’s not camaraderie or friendship. That’s dumb. I’m talking about stars, not glow worms, but giant balls of gas floating somewhere out in space. Our little slice of sky, without any light to interrupt it, let us see all the way to the Milky Way. I watched several stars jet off on their merry way to oblivion, making a wish each time but mostly just staring in slack jawed awe.

So, with a song in my heart and a song on the radio, that one by Avicii that played about once every ten minutes, we drove back to Cairns to meet four others, fresh from Sydney with their own stories to tell.
When we met our fellow Americans, they were fresh from their own trip to the rainforest, where the brutality of the wild could be viewed from the comfort of an air conditioned bus. Luckily for them, there was still plenty of time to experience nature the way it was intended: while screaming and running.
Our first trip was out to the Great Barrier Reef, in the midst of a minor storm that turned the deck of the boat into a nonstop drunken dance party, complete with that one guy vomiting in the corner.

The reef was just as rough, fish tossed to and fro along with all of the hapless snorkelers. Underwater was far different, with the relaxing quiet punctuated only by the Darth Vader noises of the snorkel. The fish, distressed as they were by the weather, were less than happy to find a gangly intruder in their midst, but nonetheless stuck around for a photo opportunity with this long armed newcomer.

Is it a great white shark? Not sure if it's great, but it's definitely white.

Is it a great white shark? Not sure if it’s great, but it’s definitely white.

Speaking of the weather, the storm had riled up the briny depths quite fiercely over the past several hours, and took its salty vengeance on our boat, a poorly timed wave rocking the vessel and flinging a member of our group down a flight of steps. Ironically, she had been told to go downstairs to recover from a bout of seasickness, which remained an issue even after she had been transferred to the rear of the ship, repurposed into an emergency triage for the sick and wounded.

The meeting on our ship's staircase was far less romantic.

The meeting on our ship’s staircase was far less romantic.

And so, Australia claimed another victim, leaving a network of bruises as a grim reminder of Neptune’s wrath. We angered no more sea gods after that, instead slinking back to our hostel to lick our wounds, apply lots of aloe, and snorkel somewhere else the next day.

On the other hand, towards the end of our stay, we trekked up the Crystal Cascades. No, we didn’t just go up to the waterfall, take a few selfies, nod somberly at the majesty of nature, and then leave. We took a route up the rocks and past thunderous cascades, white water rapids, and soaring cliffs.

And here I thought that the only soaring was going to be done by me.

And here I thought that the only soaring was going to be done by me.

Once we reached the top, we were greeted by the largest waterfall we had seen yet, but sadly, we had no cameras with which to photograph ourselves. I mused that this was what the trip was all about, making memories instead of taking one cool picture after another for social media, until one of my friends went back the next day and did exactly that. Oh well. There would be plenty more to silently appreciate down south…

Far Afield

Cairns is a town sitting on the edge of nowhere. With wilderness and mountains on all sides, it continues the grand tradition of the Wild West, of frontier towns serving as the last bastions of civilization before the housing developments and liquor stores are consumed by jungle, or desert, or whatever nature has managed to defy the determined progress of mankind. A sort of manifest destiny scenario, in which pavement keeps moving until it hits ocean, with nobody ever quite sure when the process needs to end.

"I might be a bit late. There's a three whale pileup along the interstate."

“I might be a bit late. There’s a three whale pileup along the interstate.”

Huh? What was that? What did I do in Australia? Oh. Right. Yeah, I’ll get to that.

To sum it up in a single sentence: I appreciated nature and its vast marvels until I really, really itched for a movie and a bucket of KFC.

I also itched because of my multitude of bug bites. You see, though we had landed in Cairns, we did so mainly out of a desire to camp out in the Daintree rainforest for a week without showers or anything to eat that wasn’t peanut butter and jelly.

That’s not to say that the trip was unenjoyable; I really was amazed at the diversity of spiders that found their way into my tent.

This one is known to the scientific community simply as, "that thing."

This one is known to the scientific community simply as, “that thing.”

What I soon discovered was that the animals of the jungle were quite keen on avoiding humans, though my traveling companion was just as excited to capture every single lizard that he came across. Fortunately, there were much more exciting activities than lizard wrangling to occupy our time.
As would be expected from a place called Cape Tribulation, the landmarks are often given similarly depressing names, such as Mount Sorrow. The folks in charge of the national park had been kind enough to carve a trail up the mountain, though that trail only usually ranged from “narrow” to “vague suggestion.”

Turning every few minutes into a game of "spot the trail before nightfall."

Turning every few minutes into a game of “spot the trail before nightfall.”

In five hours, we made our way up the slopes of the mountain, sweating our body weight and fending off the occasional enterprising spider that had built its web across the trail.

"It'll be worth it. Wait until you see the meat on these guys."

“It’ll be worth it. Wait until you see the meat on these guys.”

By the time we got to the top, we had opened, consumed, and sweat most of our water supply. Marveling at the wonder of nature was our itinerary for the summit, but the child like wonder was quickly replaced by the dread of having to slither back down.
I’d like to think we left some part of us on that mountain, some semblance of civilization. Even our clothes were muddy and scratched by the plants that reached across the trail. At the very least, I know I left some blood on that mountain. Those leeches are persistent.

At least they don't ask you if you've eaten recently.

At least they don’t ask you if you’ve eaten recently.

The Last Will and Testament of Ryan Jones

This document was written in response to a thorough Internet search concerning the venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, and people that can be found in Australia.

I, Ryan Jones, being of sound mind and body, do declare this document my last will and testament, written in preparation for a holiday (if one can call it that) in Australia. In the event that this document is recovered, likely next to my mangled body, do not attempt to read it. Run. Retreat to a safe distance, and from there, assess the situation and notify my next of kin.
Chances are, whatever hellspawn has done me in is still in the area, and has likely not satisfied its lust for human blood.
Further action to ensure that the area is secure may be necessary, and complete immolation is an acceptable and encouraged course of action. At this point, you may attempt to retrieve my body. If it is damaged beyond recognition, feel free to scoop up my remains with a shovel, trowel, spatula, or whatever implement is most relevant to the nature of the situation.
Now that you’ve hopefully completed whatever grisly work needs to be done, let’s talk about the circumstances surrounding my death. I’m not entirely sure what has become of me, but really, the amount of ways that misfortune could have befallen me in this part of the world are diverse and prolific. For instance, if I went out trying to fight say, a great white shark, it would sound a whole lot more heroic and interesting than if I was bitten on the ankle by a passing death adder. Please use some flourish when describing my last moments on earth. Sure, that whole “crying at a funeral” business is very traditional, but I’ve never been one to follow trends. Instead, I’d like dozens, no, hundreds, of mouths agape as you recount the way I wrested myself from the shark’s jaws, suplexing it onto the ocean floor before finally succumbing to my injuries. I fully expect the women to swoon and the men to listen, teeth clenched, in awed silence.
It is up to you, dear reader, to craft a memorial that will really blow the lid off of this figurative casket. In fact, if you are able, I would like you to compose a three (3) act rock opera detailing my life, my exploits, and my eventual demise at the hands (fins?) of a shark three sharks.
By now, you’d probably like to know what I’ll be doing with my somewhat limited wealth and property. If you have to ask, you’re probably not getting anything. Eight of my closest friends and family have already received pieces of a map. Whoever collects all of the pieces and arrives at the specified location first will receive all of my worldly possessions, and some of my otherworldly possessions as well. Dividing everything out is such a pain.

Sincerely, (is that how you’re supposed to end these things?)
Ryan Jones

Author’s note: though this will has proven irrelevant upon my safe return to New Zealand, I stand by everything I said about the sharks and the rock opera. As you know, the maps are still out there as well. Happy hunting!

Across the Pond

Once upon a time, there was a country so beautiful that people flocked to it just to take in its gorgeous expanses of nature. This was a gentle country, like something out of a storybook, filled with babbling brooks, friendly animals, and people with smiles on their faces.

They don't know who you are, but they want to be your friend.

They don’t know who you are, but they want to be your friend.

Whether admiring the rolling, pastoral landscapes (the inspiration for many a masterpiece), or sleeping under the stars, anybody visiting this country is absolutely enthralled by how peaceful and safe it is.

We’re not going to this country. Instead, we’re going to…


Tune in for the next several days as I map out my travels across the only country in the world that is living, breathing, and biting proof that whatever deity in charge has a venomous sense of humor.

The Devil His Due

It’s been a month. Since February 21st, I have gone surfing and camping, hiked through a volcanic valley, visited a neighborhood of Hobbits, spent more money than I care to admit on obviously essential items, and caught a seagull.

However, at this point in the process, we’ve settled into a routine. It’s almost like-dare I say it-we’re attending a university. We eat. We sleep. We watch The Walking Dead.

The parallels that can be drawn are painfully obvious.

The parallels that can be drawn are painfully obvious.

There was a mountain once. We wanted to visit that mountain. That mountain is now comprised of papers, notebooks, and coffee rather than the much more traditional stone and earth.

But hey, we did end up mucking around in a cave, so that’s pretty exciting. Let’s talk about that, shall we?

You know you’re in a tourist town when shops simply sell “New Zealand Related Items.” So, after purchasing our weight in postcards, shot glasses, and fridge magnets, we made our way to Waitomo caves. The name “Waitomo” can be roughly translated to “water running through a hole,” which is about as good of a description of our time there as it gets.

Oh, and there are stars, not millions of miles away, but meters away, glowing to attract mates, so that they can reproduce before their tragically short lifespans are over. The constellations are a lot less romantic when one realizes that Orion is totally trying to get it on with Libra. Chances are, Ursa Major is going to be talking about it on Monday. What a gossip.

"Come here often?"

“Come here often?”

As far as my own photography goes, I don’t have a whole lot, and what I do have is mostly dark video footage of me stumbling and cursing. So this account of the caves is a lot less “show” and a little more “tell.”

A weekend later, and we found ourselves at Hukanui Marae, a Maori encampment dedicated to maintaining tradition, and, occasionally, educating hapless international students about their culture. Suffice to say, there was singing involved.

This may very well have been "I'm a Little Teapot," for all we knew.

This may very well have been “I’m a Little Teapot,” for all we knew.

Anyway, the main event of the weekend was learning traditions such as the Poi, which would be a lot like hacky sack if the sack was on a length of rope, and the Haka, an intimidating war dance which was undercut by my scratchy voice, courtesy of a cold.

"Give him some time. Maybe coughing up blood is part of the act."

“Give him some time. Maybe coughing up blood is part of the act.”

Also, there was a meal about every hour or so. The Maori really know how to serve guests, and the food far outclassed the catering at the University, most of which is carbs, some of which is hard enough to be used as a weapon.

The traditional war potato is often overlooked by history.

The traditional war potato is often overlooked by history.