When you leave to travel for a full year, it comes without saying that at one point during the trip a special day will sneak up on you. And what better place to celebrate ones birthday than in beautiful New Zealand?
It was a day filled with incredible gifts, starting with us awakening to one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen.
Well, once we had cleaned off some of the fog on Mr. Lennon's steamed-stained windows that is. The night before we had been to celebrate St Patricks day at an Irish pub in Tauranga, one of many such pubs spotting the country where you could almost believe to be in Ireland for the celebration, but had made sure to drive around until we found a nice, fairly hidden parking spot right next to the beautiful long white Papamoa sand beach before falling asleep.
My first gift was hence starting the day with a sky filled in colours so intense they almost reflected in the sand. My second gift came a few minutes later, as I pulled on my improvised 'running clothes' (a pair of silk pyjama shorts! - thanks Jessica, a black top and a sports bra) and set off for a long barefoot run. My goal was to run until the end of the beach and then turn around, but after some 5'000 steps, I gave up and decided to head back to where Nuno was patiently waiting together with a surfer's dog who had adopted him while his master was out surfing. A true gift that I treasure even more so now when I'm back running in Geneva, where I can only dream about this kind of barefoot runs on the softest of sand and in the cleanest of airs available to me so freely in NZ.
My third gift of the day, came from my mummy who gave me money for 'a special experience'. Little was she to know what I would chose to use that money on... However, that experience is for a later blog entry. Suffice to say that it involved great emotion, great views, and was perhaps the last thing my mother would actually have wanted me to use the gift money for.
My fourth gift was from the best travel partner in the world. Well, in general I would say. Right at the moment when I was to use his gift, after some days spent with our feet sunk into the stinking sulphide water in Rotorua, I believe I was considerably rethinking his greatness. At least for a moment.
Hence we find ourselves in Taupo.
This is the home of NZs biggest lake and a big centre for trout fishing, so much that it is actually considered the trout-fishing capital of the world!
Ahhh you say: 'So you got a trout-fishing experience as the fourth gift? Well that's understandable then, that you were starting to rethink Nuno's greatness as who would want to go trout-fishing for their birthday?'
And although you are indeed right, I would have had to seriously rethink his greatness, or rather his knowledge of what I like to do and who I am, if he would have given me such a gift. But don't despair. Nuno hadn't actually lost his greatness, it was rather that his crazy side was acting up. Once again.
My lovely gift was in fact a bungy jump!
New Zealand is afterall the cradle of bungy jumping. So what better place to try it out? And Taupo has a fairly famous jump with a splendid view over the mighty Waikato river. And a small drop of a mere 47 meters!!!
It didn't sound that high actually when we read about it while driving down there. Compared to jumping out of a plane it's nothing for example. However, once we had arrived and walked onto the platform, looking down, I had to swallow down a few gulps and started to seriously reconsider the whole business.
This place was high, high up in the air. And the only thing that would keep me from falling head first down, without bouncing back up again, was a small cord?! Yeah right. Right?
Well, I still had time to back out as we had yet to pay. However, since we had arrived in the late afternoon after having driven the whole day, it soon came down to 'now or never'. At least for this Taupo jump as they were soon going to close down for the day. Ok. Let's do it! Or? Yes, let's. 'Are you sure?', Nuno asks before handing over his credit card to the girl at the desk. Last chance to backtrack for me... Yes, I'm sure!
A few toilet runs later, and it was time to go onto the platform and get geared up. I was to go first as it was my birthday gift, I was more scared, Nuno wanted to make sure to get a picture and he had done this whole thing before. Cheater.
The guys working up there seemed professional. But fast. Wait a second, why are they so fast? What had happened to the Latin American slowness that I'd gotten so used to? Where was it now when I really needed some time to work up my courage? Fast, however, didn't mean that they were neglecting any security points as two guys double checked that the first guy had fastened everything correctly. But boy were they efficient. Everything was done, all was triple checked and fine. I was led like a prisoner with cuffed feet on a pirates ship onto the plank...well or to the edge at least, and instructed to just let myself fall forward. Not to jump, just fall.
No way. How does one just fall? How???? This is not happening to me? What am I doing here? I could possibly just take a big leap out and have it all over with. But letting myself fall forward? Every muscle in my body was contradicting this very possibility.
The instructor counted down for me. 3...2...ONE!
Nope. I was still standing on the 'plank', probably shaking like a little leaf. As he was a nice instructor, afterall, he informed me that I could still back out if I wanted to... Of course, no money back.
I was looking desperately for Nuno. Where was he? Why was he so far away? Ah, he was following his perpetual search for the best picture of course. Not so easy on this one though.
Another count down.... And you find me standing in the exact same spot. No way in hell. This was just not working. But I wanted to. I really wanted to experience such a controlled jump. I love thrills. Love to do semi-crazy things under controlled forms. It wasn't like Nuno's gift was a complete insanity. He actually knows me very well. But this falling forward? Just not happening.
The instructor was starting to get a bit impatient. It was the end of the day and our two jumps were to be the last ones probably. If I would ever jump that is!
So he suggested that he could push me slightly in the back, if I wanted, to give me just that little needed push to make the required movement forward. For some strange reason I found myself acquiescing. Me, miss control freak, having someone else push me?
Holy shit. WTF. Help!!!! Aoooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
Bounce. Small bounce. Tiny bounce. Bbbbbooouuunnnnceee and there I manage to grab onto the pole in the boat that is stretched out to me by the cool captain (not the pirate one of course, as he was left standing all the way up and already busy preparing for Nuno's jump, but the nice saviour captain sailing this river in the sole goal to catch crazy bungy jumpers and bring us back to shore).
So much stress. So much indecisiveness and in 10 seconds it was all over.
I spent some 5 minutes, at least, trying to make the fall. Panicking ever so slightly. And about 30 minutes before that running to the toilet, jumping up and down by nervousness, wondering what I was doing. And then I finally made the fall and before I could register any real feeling except for a big scream, it was all over and I was already bouncing up and down like a spider having fallen from its web, seeing the beautiful view from an upside down angle.
I would later find out that many people take up to 30 seconds before regestering anything when faced with a violent change of environments/situations. When it comes to bungy jumping, I'm definitely one of those people. Only later did I manage to think about what I had done. That I had actually done it. I had bungy jumped, in New Zealand, attached only to my feet and I had survived! Feeling slightly disappointed that my arms hadn't even hit the water, while Nuno got half emerged during his jump. Never sure if the instructor had indeed pushed me, or if just the thought that he was going to push me had been enough for me to make the fall. I just can't recall feeling his hand on my back. But what does it matters. I did it! Quite an amazing experience and such a good birthday gift for this slight adrenaline junkie.
And filled with adrenaline we were. So much that we decided to take on the forces of evil the next day. But that story my friends, is for another entry.