Weekend wetsuits

Boy, time flies when you're having fun! I've been here nearly 5 weeks, and my mid-semester break is only about 2.5 weeks away. People, including me, are starting to buckle down to write essays, prepare for tests, and catch up on reading. I sometimes forget that I'm studying abroad, not just vacationing!

Last weekend was a nice reunion with the Arcadia study abroad group and the program director, Kate--our mother away from home. It was really nice to get out of the city. We left Friday afternoon to go to Waitomo, a tourist destination known for its caves and the "glow worms" that live inside them. Having wolfed down a huge chocolate muffin and sandwich on the ride, I was ready for our bushwalk when we arrived. The place we walked around was a huge forest with moss-covered trees, streams and waterfalls, and lots of cave-like tunnels. (Supposedly very Lord of the Rings...after all of these references, I kinda wish I were into the books and movies.)

After our brief walk, we dropped our stuff at the hostel, said hello to the sheep and pigs, took a bounce on the trampoline, and went into town for a scrumpdiddlyumptious burger. Complete with fries. (Or should I say, "chups.")

Saturday morning, bright and early, we embarked on our caving/black-water-rafting adventure. Clad in already-wet wetsuits and headlamp-equipped helmets, we began our real descent into the cave. Honestly, I could not wrap my head around the fact that I was actually doing this. They walked us out to the entrance, an opening barely big enough to fit a person. Seriously. The first person who said to himself, "Well! That dark hole with water gushing down unstable rock footing looks like a GREAT place for me to hurl myself down" was one crazy Kiwi. After getting over the initial shock (and letting my eyes adjust to the darkness), I found myself trudging through rushing water and lying on my inner tube, trying to squeeze through the 5-inch space between the water and cave ceiling.

I didn't realize how freezing I was until we we came to a stop to learn about the the so-called "glow worms." As our guides told us, they are actually the fluorescent turds (excuse me, "excretions") of the fungus gnat larvae. So, when we finally were in calmer waters, floating on our inner tubes and enjoying the scenic, sparkling view of the cave ceiling (very reminiscent of van Gogh's Starry Night, might I add), we were actually watching these tiny larvae do their daily business. (No wonder they don't tell tourists what glow worms actually are until they're in the cave and have already paid!)

One hot shower and two mugs of hot tomato soup later, we hopped back in the van to go to the cute hostel in Raglan, a beach town known for its surf spots. The American working the desk said he came to Raglan to stay for 2 nights and has been there for 2 years. I don't blame him. The town was quite cute--even with the rain pouring down on us the rest of the day. We ended up playing some very intense card games, feasting on home-cooked spaghetti bolognese (which we all helped make under the direction of our head chef, Kate), and watching Whale Rider while enjoying Kate's pavlova. Yum!

The next morning we headed off to our surf lessons, which meant another day in a wetsuit! My first surf experience a year or so ago prepared me somewhat--I did manage to stand up several times and get a few thumbs-up from the instructors. [Pictures to come later!]  After a couple hours tearin' up the waves, we finally got back on the van, where I nodded off on our way back to Auckland.

When we got home, my two friends (Katie and Stephanie) and I continued what has become our Sunday night tradition--making homemade granola bars. At this point, we don't even measure anything, but just concoct a recipe using oats, cereal, soy milk, an egg, and honey. I've been changing up the combos and proportions every week--sometimes adding peanut butter, sprinkling some brown sugar on top, or mixing in some tasty dried fruit or chocolate. This week's granola is the best one yet!

It was disappointing that the weekend went so quickly, but I got a pleasant surprise Monday after class--a belated birthday present from Yena! I haven't named my new sock monkey yet, so if you have any ideas, let me know!

Until next time,

Ashley

P.S. While searching for some good travel deals, I came across this advert(isement). Thought I'd share it!

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