The Challenge Begins

Friday, January 19, 2007

Our dorm. Summer camp, anyone?
I met Lauren at the McDonalds and met the rest of the group not much after. We loaded our stuff into two separate vans, divided up, and hit the road. It’s cloudy and overcast and raining and beautiful all at the same time. Looking into the country, it feels like a larger Hawaii or a scene from Jurassic Park. The hills are capped with old forest, sometimes massive stands stick out from the plains, and always the hills are chased by further hills shrouded in the mist. The driving on the left hand side isn’t quite something I’m adjusted to quite yet, but luckily I’m also not driving. Quite yet. Today’s post is short because we’ve not done much yet, but we drove for about three hours to Waitomo with an hour stop for groceries and just visited. It’s very pretty here and I hope tomorrow is clear so that we can get a better view of the panorama. But I should get some rest to recover from the fact that it’s now Wednesday night and I’ve only slept 15 minutes since Sunday night. Which itself was a short sleep. Tomorrow, rappelling and black water rafting. Apparently the cave is lit with glowworms.

Doug shows us how it's done.
OK, today is now tomorrow. It’s down under, you’ll have to get used to it too. I’m going to be writing from the future a lot. We woke up in the morning and I had my first ever peanut butter and jam sandwich, which was a lot more delicious than I imagined. I would never have tried it were there honey around, but I’m glad there wasn’t. Then, it was off rappelling while the other half of the group went black water rafting. The walk there was nice and scenic, as you’ll hopefully be able to tell from the photos, and the actual abseiling was cool too. I mean, it’s not a rush other than the initial part where you throw yourself over the edge and hope your knots are done right, but it’s still nice to be there and look around as see how fast you can descend.

All it takes is a leap of faith.
We broke for lunch and then it was off black water rafting. Which sounds extreme, but it really isn’t. We just made our way into a cave with some inner tubes and floated along. There were indeed glow worms, although they’re not really worms at all but maggots. I guess they glow to attract food onto a sticky little tentacle which they then reel in and munch on. My dad would've loved it. We sat in the sun because, if I hadn’t mentioned, it’s a beautiful day (+31, I heard) and so what the heck. I still can’t believe how much little things like the treed mountains can keep me staring at them, they just look so untouched, like little chunks of rainforest in the sky.

I was on cooking duty that night, so I helped BBQ the chicken and slice tomatoes. I sat with one of the Laurens, who actually seems pretty cool. Then, I used my Canadian talents as furnace starter (which, admittedly, are none) and got the hot water working for our little campground. Basically it’s a wood stove, so really, it’s just starting a fire, but hey, it was MY fire. Which helped with the dishes I was doing pretty much single-handedly.

Comet McNaught breaking up over New Zealand
This was because we got distracted midway through by some oohs and ahhs and people running for cameras and went outside to discover a comet streaking for the horizon. I’ve never seen a comet before, so this was a definite thrill. Apparently, another star lover on the trip said that it starts with an “M” (I just googled and discovered it's McNaught) and is so visible because it went close enough to the sun for the heat to help break it apart. And if that wasn’t enough, I have to tell you that the night sky I saw on this little island was like nothing I’ve ever before seen. The milky way was practically raining down on us, there were stars from horizon to horizon (tonnes of them), and you could actually see two blurs in the sky that we suspect were Andromeda and some other galaxy. Plus satellites and shooting stars and all the usual fun stuff. Amazing, and this is only day two.

The group of us ready to go spelunking.
We kicked off the next morning at 7AM with a little spelunking, or caving, or whatever you’d like to call it. It was intense, a lot more about really caving and a lot less handholding. I’m pretty much only typing this portion with one finger because every other muscle in my body is aching. We wedged, stretched, pulled, rappelled, climbed, jumped, crawled, and made our way through over 2km of underground cave (called Lucky Strike) before emerging from a grueling end into the sun. I went with the two Laurens, Dustin, and Katie, who pretty much are the older crew. By which I mean that they’re 22-25 and 29. The drive there was beautiful, the tea stop was great, and accidentally winding up at a dead end after working so hard to get through were all just what I’d wanted. I was very, very sore and tired after, and that's a good feeling. A hard day's work. Or something. We came back, had dinner, and then I walked with a few of the others into the surrounding hills. Something I wouldn't dare do in Australia, but apparently there's nothing to worry about here. We climbed a few hills and I showed off my new spelunking skills, then headed into town for a beer or two before calling it a night.

We finally leave Waitomo tomorrow and I’ll hopefully find a phone and an internet connection – I still haven’t called home! And I have to wish both my parents happy birthday, so it’s even more important, although I’m sure they’ve figured out that I arrived here fine. Hope everyone is doing well at home and talk to you soon.

Waitomo Photos


Anonymous said...

Hey Dean,
This is Mariah so you know so keep that in mind. Here at home we have been wondering why you haven't called or e-mailed or blogged us yet. I don't know if you got my e-mail or not but you should call and set up dates when we can go on ichat we are really wanting to see what it will be like with you because you are in New Zealand going to Australia, so you are practically on the other side of the world. Anyway i guess I have to go now so i'll hopefully see you on ichat but if it doesn'twork from here to there...... see you next year. love ya, Mariah.

Dean said...

Hi Mariah! The reason I haven't called much or emailed is because we're so busy doing tour stuff and we only have a short amount of time in the places, plus we camp a lot. There's not really any internet or even telephones where I am lots of the times. It will be easier once this tour is over. For now, I read all the emails and it takes a while to get back to the next cafe and send a reply. Also, the internet is really slow here. I almost iChatted with dad but the internet cafe server crashed.

We'll get it working, and I'll try to call you, but usually any free time I have is in the evening which is too late to call you. Right now I have to do this quickly, go for supper at 7:00, and also do some grocery shopping for the next two days of breakfasts, lunches, and suppers. And then I have to pack my backpack again and go to sleep early because we have breakfast tomorrow at 6 AM and then a full day hike. And then kayaking. It'll be cool.

OK, gotta run. Say hi to everyone and I'll send my email replies when I have a get to the next town.

Miss you guys!