ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR: Letter #3
Friday, March 22, 2013
Dear families and friends,
We’ve traveled many a mile since I last wrote, including a trip to Middle-earth and back! We are now in Napier, about mid-way down the north island, on the east coast. Our drive today took us through mountains that looked exactly like our Colorado Rockies. Literally the only difference was the wildlife…or lack thereof. Sheep wandered lazily on every hillside. We did see one herd of deer. Dennis explained that there are literally no natural predators on the island. The most dangerous animal one might encounter would be a wild pig.
We are now happily ensconced at Kennedy Park, a “TOP 10 Holiday Park.” It is quite a large facility, similar to our YMCA camps. Accommodations range from villas and cabins to motel rooms and camping spots. Napier sits on Hawkes Bay and Kennedy Park looks to be the ideal spot for exploring this beautiful resort area and it is definitely family oriented – perfect for our little traveling troupe. There are huge playgrounds, including trampolines (complete with surrounding net) and a gigantic “jumping pillow” that could hold all 44 of us…if we were inclined to try that…which some of us were…but not me, unfortunately for all concerned. There is a pool, basketball court, and petanque (or lawn bowling or bocce, whatever you would like to call it). Robert bought us two basketballs and a variety of bouncy, flying objects, so we are set. We checked out the playgrounds, trampolines and pillow on our way to dinner. And speaking of dinner, yummm! Fish and chips; chicken, stuffing and gravy; vegetables au gratin; sweet potatoes and baked pumpkin; spinach salad; and pavlova and chocolate mousse for dessert
The swimming pool called to us on the walk back from dinner. Charlie, Ben R., Nate, Royce, Logan, Aslan, Matthew B., Mathew G., and Tatianah played basketball. Paige, Caroline, Sam and Chris worked on journals or read. The heartiest of hearty, including Parker, XiXi, Devon, Anna, Quinten, Sanjali, Josh, Sarah, Aitana, Leah, Clarice, Sydney, John, Callia and Mallory jumped into the freezing cold pool, looking for that Antarctic experience we learned about earlier this week! Kate and Cynthia warded off the cold by racing back and forth. Matt F., Elise, Emily, Margaret, Ben S.. and Joey started a Ghost in the Graveyard game, and were soon joined by pool and basketball deserters. Hot showers and bed were looking good by the time we headed back to our rooms after dark.
Okay, back to yesterday and Hobbiton. I will begin by revealing that I am not an ardent “Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings” fan. I did try to watch the first movie in anticipation of this tour. I lasted about ten minutes. I did, however, very much enjoy our visit to Hobbiton. It is absolutely charming, even if you don’t know the books or movies. It probably helped that I was enveloped in the constant, happy chatter of my own little “hobbits” who could not have been more excited to be there. Our guide was wonderful; we were treated to many little stories about the location itself, the construction of the site, and the filming of the movies. In 1998 the Alexander farm was discovered, after an extensive aerial search. The beautiful views and rolling countryside best resembled that of Middle-earth, as described by Tolkien. That was one life-changing knock on the door for the Alexander family!
There are 37 hobbit holes, beautifully nurtured gardens, the pub and mill, and 1.5km of support roads built by the New Zealand army. During filming, there were up to 400 people per day at the site. Everything is still beautifully and meticulously maintained. We were able to go into one hobbit hole, but only look into the door of Bag End. We frolicked under the party tree and imagined what it might have been like to live in the village.
On to Rotorua, with time to check in to the Kiwipaka Lodge before dinner and the concert. Kiwipaka is a youth hostel, reminding us a lot of Deer Creek where we have Concert Choir camp. Except we didn’t have to walk up a mountain to go to the bathroom and shower! The rooms were cozy, not necessarily designed to hold four people and four suitcases, but we negotiated for space with our roommates and it all worked out. Wednesday night’s concert was in Rotorua. Another beautiful concert hall and appreciative audience.
Thursday morning we arrived at the Rotorua Primary School, a charming little oasis in the city. It is a Maori cultural school, dedicated to the culture, traditions and language of the Maori people. The first thing we noticed was all of the children going barefoot, both inside and out! This practice is very connected to their culture, as their bare feet connect them to the earth, the source of their strength and spirituality. The grounds of the school are impeccably kept, with the gym and several classrooms in the open air, covered by large tents to protect all from the sun. The children wear uniforms, as is the case in every school, including large yellow sun hats when they are playing on the field or playground. They were quite concerned with our lack of hats. (We were liberally sun-screened, I promise!) We were led to a large activity room, where the entire school was gathered to greet us. Carefully observing the Maori traditions, we waited outside until the doors were thrown open, then approached the doorway. We stopped in the entryway to watch the traditional greeting, a very powerful chant and dance led by several of the older boys. We were then allowed in the room, boys first. After several more chants and a spoken greeting in both Maori and English, we all received the traditional nose-to-nose greeting. As it came to end of our boys, we heard one of their boys whisper, “Bring on the girls!” He fairly quivered after touching noses with Jordan!
We did a couple of songs for them, including our traditional greeting, the handshake. We them taught them “Monkeys in the House.” They knew the nursery rhyme “Five little monkeys,” so learning the song was easy and we had a great time. They then taught us the movements to one of their songs. Watching them work together so easily, with no regard for age, gender, or language differences, was beautiful. After the singing it was snacktime for them and they invited us to join them. Our kids followed their new friends, hand in hand, back to classrooms, and the staff went to their staff lounge, which overlooks the entire campus. After snacks it was playtime, with many running, jumping and climbing challenges issued and met. Caroline’s favorite moment of the tour so far is when three little girls grabbed her hands, eager to show off their school. Emily and Callia loved the sweetness and sincerity of the nose-touching greeting. Cynthia and Mallory were moved by the powerful music and commitment of even the smallest child as they welcomed us to their school. Kate loved the joy and abandon with which they “twisted the night away” with us.
It was heartwarming to watch…and one of the most rewarding and special moments of any tour, from Colorado to New Zealand and everywhere in between. Saying good-bye was very difficult. We enjoyed our first meat pies for lunch, and have now added this tasty item to our baseball game “barkers” list. They’re going like hotcakes!
SUNDAY, March 23, 2013 1:30 P.M. Trying to catch up!
We’re so busy making music and having fun that I’m having trouble keeping myself (and consequently, you) up-to-date! Please don’t try to keep a time-line of events, because I’m jumping back and forth between days and cities. Not to mention the ever-changing tense inconsistencies. If I sound confused, I probably am. Tour is always it’s own little bubble of a world where I am surrounded by happy chatter, beautiful performances and unforgettable experiences. There is very little contact with the outside world – I hope all is well there – and most of the time we’re not entirely sure what day it is. But I digress. Again.
A CORRECTION, while I’m thinking about it: In an earlier missive, I mentioned that we were graciously introduced by a representative from the American Consulate, and I included the wrong name. My apologies to Mr. James Donegan, who not only introduced us, but stayed for the entire concert and joined us back stage at the end. Thank you again, Mr. Donegan.
We spent Thursday afternoon visiting the Te Puia Thermal Reserve and Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. As you travel around Rotorua, you can’t help but notice steam rising randomly out of the earth. The area is rich in thermal activity and hot springs. At the Thermal Reserve we watched the bubbling hot mud pools and an erupting geyser – not nearly as large or predictable as Old Faithful, but impressive none the less. We learned how fiber is made from the flax plant and watched the interns learn the art of wood carving. The waka (canoes) and weapons are all beautifully and intricately carved, depicting years of tribal and family history. Our guide, Hua, introduced us to the Haka, a warrior’s first line of defense against an enemy. I am not sure I can adequately describe it, but here are instructions for you to try your own Haka, should someone be threatening your tribe: Your face must be colorfully tattoo’d with lines and designs representing your family history; you will need a beautifully carved spear for…ummm…spearing, and a flat, sharp paddle for slapping and scalping; open your eyes and mouth as round and wide as possible; stick out your tongue as far as possible, and then even farther; let out a gut-wrenching scream as you strike a threatening pose. Add a Maori chant of power and confidence and do this with all of your friends and family, and you won’t need to go into battle – your enemies will be on the run!
Thursday evening we continued our Maori experience at the Mitai Maori Village with a traditional Hangi feast of New Zealand lamb with mint sauce, chicken with gravy, riwai (potato), kumara (sweet potato), and stuffing. Yes, stuffing. Just like Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, yes, and several incredible salads and desserts. Before dinner we walked through the bush to a Maori village where we learned about the ancient customs and traditions through a beautiful performance. Each of the warriors had tattoos showing both their family and cultural heritage. We loved the displays of weaponry and combat, coupled with the grace and beauty of the poi dance, culminating in the haka finale. We then walked further into the bush to see the warriors paddling the waka (warrior canoe) down the stream, and then on to the Fairy Spring and the glow worms. We were invited to sing for the warrior king, and chose to bless the evening with our own “Blessing.” Following dinner, when the spell of the sacred performance was long gone, we had everyone in the room up rockin’ and rollin’ with us!
Friday morning, on our way to Napier, we stopped at Huka Falls on the Waikato River for a JET BOAT RIDE. Yes, you heard me. A real JET BOAT RIDE!! In groups of 12, we donned the appropriate rain and life-vest gear, climbed into the jet boats and had the ride of our lives. As you can well imagine, it was not a quiet ride! Our jet boat captain explained that the boats were actually developed for riding the Colorado River. We felt very proud!
It is now Sunday night, and we have arrived safely in Wellington after a six-plus hour drive down the island. We had sack lunches, then a delicious ice cream stop along the way, topped off by a very elegant dinner at Osterio Del Toro here in Wellington. This city is in an amazing setting, tucked between the waters of Cook Strait and the mountains. Stunningly beautiful.
Life is good here on tour. Wish you were here!