Day 6: Tourists

by Mary Beth

Determined to do the most touristy thing in New Zealand before they went home, the family visited Hobbiton. They drove their rental car a long, long way, over rolling yellow hills, through fields dry and barren with the recent drought. Sheep lay sprawled in the meager shade of a few desolate trees. The land was parched and thirsting for rain, but the sun shone hot overhead. The family felt solitary; few cars were driving along the undulating roads.

And then they reached Hobbiton. The main information centre was like a small town. There were people everywhere, speaking a multitude of languages, everyone crowding close together; there were long lines of people waiting in the hot sun; cars were meandering slowly through the congested parking lot to avoid pedestrians. A fleet of massive buses sat waiting in the parking lot.

The family got their tickets, and then were loaded on one of the buses with a tour guide. They rode up and down the hills some more. And then suddenly everything changed. The land turned abruptly from yellow and brown to green. It was as if they had stumbled into an oasis in a desert. Everything was alive; every flower imaginable was in bloom; the trees drooped with ripe pears and apples; squash peeked out from under vines on the ground; lemon balm burst from every corner; bees buzzed around the flowers; the grass was green and thick and soft. Birds were everywhere; ducks and quail and pheasants and New Zealand pukeko roamed around the grass or floated on the little man-made ponds. A water-wheel trailing bright green moss turned lazily in the sunshine. There was water everywhere, and everything was lush and green. And of course, every hill had a round door with a little doorstep outside it, often with a table, and pears or apples or cheese or writing materials on the table.

There was a sign that said “please don’t walk on the grass,” in old-fashioned writing. Daddy read it to Annie. She took this very seriously. “That duck is walking on the grass!” she said, pointing to a duck, who was brazenly walking right past the sign. “He is not supposed to do that!”

They walked around the village in the hot sun until they got tired. Then it was time for lunch. They got to eat lunch in a special tent, which had long tables spread with so many different types of food it would be impossible to try them all. There were smaller tables for people to sit at. The family sat at a table. There was a high chair for Cora. She grabbed a fork and started banging it and shouting loudly, because she wanted food immediately.

“This feels like a wedding, Mommy,” Annie said in a hushed voice, looking around her.

Annie loved the food. Or at least, that was what she told her parents, who brought heaping plates of food to the table, and allowed Annie to try whatever she wanted. She had the following food: two pieces of bread with butter; a few bites of cut-up pear; some crunchy noodles. She tried a few other things but decided against them all. Luckily, she had no such problems when it came to the dessert buffet, so she didn’t go hungry.

Cora ate everything that was set in front of her. “MOE! MOE! MOE!” she cried, in between bites, banging her fork violently to make sure her parents didn’t forget about her.

After that it was time to get back on the bus and leave the oasis. The fields felt even more parched and barren as everyone’s eyes adjusted to a world without much green. The family managed miraculously to dodge the gift shop, and then they were on their way again.

They arrived at their new house, tired and ready to relax a bit. Mommy and Daddy smelled a stinky smell, so they changed Cora’s diaper. They thought this would fix the problem. But a few minutes later they both smelled the smell again. The new house was stinky. They checked the toilets. They checked Annie. Everything was clean. Was something wrong with the septic system of the new house?

And then they remembered: they were in Rotorua. The stinky town.

Annie found a Barbie that had a rainbow dress and purple hair and a hot pink car. They were in the closet of the new house. She brought out her own brown-haired Barbie and the two Barbies became best friends, driving around together, going to dance class (they sang very loudly in high-pitched voices throughout their dance class) and then snuggling with Annie in bed. There was a train set, too, that Mommy and Daddy and Cora were more interested in, but Annie did not pay any attention to it.

But the day was not over. They had a full evening planned.

Three minutes away was Te Puia, a Thermal Reserve and Maori cultural center. If their house smelled stinky, the Thermal Reserve took stinky to a new level.

Some of the Maori people, whose families had lived on the land for generations, performed a traditional welcome ceremony for them on their arrival. Then there were some traditional dances and beautiful songs. They taught the ladies in the audience how to do a dance involving a poi, which is a light ball on a rope; the Maori ladies were able to swing them around rhythmically. Cora and Annie went up on stage with Mommy to try it out. Annie had learned these dances a little in school, so she felt more comfortable holding the poi than Mommy. Cora gnawed on the poi until Mommy snatched it away from her. Then the men got to learn the haka, a ferocious warrior dance. Daddy was very scary.

They had a banquet buffet next. There were only about fifteen people in the group, but there were long tables laden with huge amounts of fancy food of all sorts, just as they had had at lunch. Cora was placed in a high chair. She knew what was coming – her favorite thing in the whole world – food! Since her giant lunch, she had eaten a snack of an egg, and also a banana with peanut butter an hour before, so naturally she was starving again. “BUCK! BUCK! BUCK!” she said, holding up the two ends of her high chair buckle and kicking her legs excitedly. Her mommy buckled her in and gave her a piece of bread to quiet her down.

Similarly to lunch, she spent the meal shouting “MOE! MOE!” and eating whatever anyone put in front of her, shoving handfuls of food into her face as if she were starving. Periodically she would swipe everything on her highchair tray onto the carpet. This was a favorite move of hers, and she was exceptionally fast because she had to be – her parents removed all food from her tray whenever she started to do it. So she turned it into a game – how much food could she swipe off her tray onto the floor by the end of the night? The game went like this: Cora would swipe her food furiously onto the floor. Anything that she missed in the initial few seconds would be take away by her parents. Then she would start shouting “MOE! MOE!” again, and her parents, glancing furtively around because there were no other children on the tour, would give her another morsel of food to quiet her down. She would scarf down the food and then demand “MOE! MOE!” until they gave her a few more morsels, and then larger quantities to keep her quiet. She would wait until she had a small pile of food. Then she would ferociously swipe it all off the tray onto the ground and laugh, and start the whole process again. It was wonderful. She was so happy.

Annie glanced at the long tables of food. But why eat salmon and mussels and fancy pasta and squash soup and when you can eat bread? There were baskets of white bread on the table. As her parents ate fancy food, Annie slowly and steadily made her way through the basket of bread, eating only the centers of each piece. She reluctantly tried a piece of corn, but rejected it. Bread was all she needed. And dessert. Luckily this buffet also had a large dessert table.

After that, they were all brought hot chocolate, and the family got into a little tram with three of the other people who were at dinner, to go see the thermal reserve. There were four hot chocolates, because the tour guide was very considerate and wanted to make sure that everyone in the family had a hot chocolate. Unfortunately Cora couldn’t be trusted to hold hers. Dinner had been such a success for her that she was excited about the possibilities for the future. As soon as she was released from her highchair, she took off running around the banquet hall. And then when Mommy carried her, she wiggled until she was put down, and then went running over the pavement as soon as her feet touched the ground. So Daddy had to hold her hot chocolate. Unfortunately Mommy was not able to hold a hot chocolate and contend with Cora, so Daddy had to hold her hot chocolate too. Annie held her own hot chocolate – at least until they got into the tram. Then Annie got bored with the hot chocolate, and Daddy got to hold that, too.

Cora climbed on and off the seats in the tram. Mommy tried to prevent her from leaping out the open areas on each side of the tram. Daddy was trying to manage the four hot chocolates so nothing (and no one) wound up covered in hot chocolate. He finally found a system where he had one hot chocolate in each hand, and two on the floor, one by each of his feet. He used his feet to pin them in place. This only worked, however, as long as Cora stayed away from him. But it was a small place, and Cora did not want to be contained. Like a circus performer, Daddy juggled the hot chocolates, moving them up and down, sometimes stacking them two at a time in a hand, trying to keep them out of Cora’s path of destruction.

Mommy made the mistake of letting Cora try a hot chocolate. It was not clear what Mommy was thinking when she made this mistake. The bottomless pit inside Cora’s abdomen could certainly fit some hot chocolate. She clutched that hot chocolate like it was a lifeline. It was hard to drink, and whenever she drank it she got hot chocolate all down her front, but that was a sacrifice she was willing to make. It was HER hot chocolate and so SHE would hold it, without any help from anyone else.

They drove down into the sulfurous steam and got out to walk around. Mud bubbled in pools like a giant witch’s cauldron and the rocks were caked in bright yellow sulfur.

Cora grasped her cup and looked around.

Eventually Cora found that the hot chocolate prevented her from achieving her full potential when it came to speed, and her mommy was able to sneak it out of sight. Then Cora focused on running. Through the steam, over the uneven brick walkways, up hills and down hills, she ran as fast as she could. She did not have time for pictures.

She agreed that there was scenery to admire, but wanted to admire it up close. This was challenging when their guide was trying to explain the geology and history of the area – the town, built on the collapsed ruins of a volcano; the different Maori families that lived in the area; the geysers and boiling mud and hot springs, and how they were used long ago. Mommy and Daddy would be standing, listening carefully; Annie would be standing nearby, staring vacantly out into space; and Cora would wiggle out of wherever she was, and take off running in any direction – up a hill; towards the boiling mud; she didn’t care. So Mommy or Daddy would have to stop nodding thoughtfully as the guide talked, and sprint after Cora, then grab her (wriggling and shrieking) and drag her back.

Cora thought this was a hilarious game.

At one point they all sat down on some hot benches – concrete benches that were warmed from below – and Cora ran back and forth and round and round on them, moving so fast she didn’t have time to notice they were hot. Mommy put her down on the ground so she wouldn’t fall and bonk her head, and then she put her hands on the concrete for a few seconds. “OT! OT!” she exclaimed in surprise, then took off running again.

Mommy and Daddy got lots of exercise. Surprisingly, no one drank much hot chocolate.

During the three-minute car ride back to their rental house, Cora fell asleep. Her mommy was able to take her out of the carseat, carry her into the house, change her diaper, change her out of her hot-chocolate-soaked clothing, and put her in her pajamas without her waking up. 

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