Huka Falls

Leaving Rotorua we made our way to Huka Falls where we patiently waited for the dam release that occurs three times everyday. The river comes to life with each dam release, swelling with whitewater and an overpowering current. It was at the bottom of this river that we had our river boat tour which explained the local ecosystem and brought us up close and personal with a breathtaking waterfall. New Zealand has the clearest, most pristine waters I have ever seen. Piling back into the bus we went up the hill to an art gallery where we witnessed glass blowing and then ate lunch in the Leaving Rotorua we made our way to () where we patiently waited for the dam release that occurs three times everyday. The river comes to life with each dam release, swelling with whitewater and an overpowering current. It was at the bottom of this river that we had our river boat tour which explained the local ecosystem and brought us up close and personal with a breathtaking waterfall. New Zealand has the clearest, most pristine waters I have ever seen. Piling back into the bus we went up the hill to an art gallery where we witnessed glass blowing and then ate lunch in the gardens.

Rotorua!!

The native Maori people have a stronghold in New Zealand culture. From casual slang like Kia Ora to traditional meals, the people of New Zealand have learned not only to coexist with the Maori but () with them. Visiting a village on the fourth day sparks stereotypes of huts or ancient attire but on the contrary the Maori village is a progressive, thriving community that uses its past to grow with the future. They have cars and visit the grocery, but they never lose sight of their roots. The Maori people in Rotorua are surrounded by natural hot springs which has also played a crucial role in the history of their tribe. Although the smoky community seemed a bit odd to us tourists, the Maori people have cultivated resources such as heat and power from them. In fact our cultural meal was cooked underground similar to a crock pot except the slow boiler was in fact just the natural ground temperature. Donice took advantage of the Maori art by visiting a tattoo designer where he had a 30 minute conversation with the tribal tattoo designer and was later gifted with a personalized Maori design. Unlike in America, tattoos in Maori culture are observed with great respect and are individual symbols tied to the family. Meanwhile the rest of us witnessed a dance completed with unique instruments and lots of flaring tongues (a sign of intimidation used during wartime). To finish the day we sat down for some homemade grub; America should definitely consider incorporating some Maori options. Back at the hotel some of us relaxed in our thermal pools, continuing to embrace the egg scent, and explored the streets. We regrouped later in the afternoon to zorb. What’s zorbing, you ask: imagine a life size hamster ball filled ankle deep in water. Now imagine two children inside this ball running down a mountain biking course. Wild is an understatement. You have not seen anything until you see Ben Siegel emerge from the underbelly of a zorb after being tossed and turned on top of Rubes, sliding out like a seal along with an ocean of water behind him. His first reaction of course was to jump back on top of Rubes. But the brotherly fighting has become a motif on this trip. 

Horses, ATVs and fidget Spinners… 

New Zealand is often dubbed the country of adventure and spontaneity. Traveling with three art teachers is always spontaneous, there’s no question about that. Our chaperones see the city for its culture, embracing the people and atmosphere with open arms while encouraging us to do the same. They are not only parents, but friends here to take in all New Zealand has to offer. On the fifth day this wanderlust group of Americans met their adventure: ATV riding and horseback riding. Don’t underestimate the complexity of either, while no horses were harmed that day, plenty of ATVs become quite friendly with fences and obstacles. Just ask Sydney, flipping over your ATV on the practice course is not enjoyable. While some of us gripped the handlebars with white knuckles and gritted teeth (like Kate and Sari), others put pedal to the medal right alongside the experts (like Schuyler). We drove to the top of a mountain, off roading uphill on the south face and overlooked all of Rotorua. Decked out in disposable body suits, special boots and authentic driving helmets we posed for a montage of touristy photos. Meanwhile the horseback riders (Donice, Katie, Alysse, and Lizabeth) followed a similar trail by hoof. This was apparent by the amount of horse poop that splattered the ATV riders and bikes, a nice contrast to the sulfur egg smell. Nevertheless we found our way back to the hot pools at an outdoor spa where we covered ourselves in mud and rinsed off in the thermal pools. I mention outdoor because as luxurious as a spa sounds, running around soaking wet in freezing temperatures can cause a bit of a body shock. Day became night and we made our way to another Maori celebration, enjoying a cultural performance followed by a delicious, smoky meal of lamb and chicken. Our guide appointed the group as honorary tribe members and walked us through a simulation with actors. We engaged in a question session where we openly spoke to cast members about the Maori people and their history. However the focal point of the night were the fidget spinners that Wendell, Kaki, Ben, Isaiah, and (especially) Jack could not take their hands off. Sitting around the table family style, Mark took the role of dad as the boys ceaselessly played with their toys. We capped off the night with a round of Happy Birthday singing for Katie. Hats were passed around as we got the whole room to celebrate with us. While the village had a glow worm cave it was NOTHING like our previous venture. Nonetheless pictures were taken as we took one final look and made our way back to home sweet home, the Ibis. 

Safari So Good!

Jambo (hello) from the Naboisho Concervancy in the Masai Mara! We made it safely to our camp and we have had an incredible few days so far. Upon arriving we were greeted with fresh juice and a cool towel and we settled into our luxurious tents. After an evening game drive, we enjoyed dinner and a bonfire and we were surprised when our guides did a traditional Masai song and dance. After a good night’s sleep, we work up for a sunrise game drive — so dar we have seen two female lions, a leopard with her two young cubs, hippos, a mother chetah with her two cubs, and lots of elephants, giraffes, antelopes, and zebra. The photos below can hardly capture what an incredible experience we are having!

  

Rainforest hike and day 1 at the school

Today we went on a hike in the jungle! We saw so many insects, animals, and plants. My favorite thing we saw was the howler monkeys, because they were so cute. One of the scariest things we saw was the bullet ant, the bullet ant has the most powerful insect sting in the world. There were some cool plants too. For example, “hot lips” are a flower that looks just like bright red lips. I also enjoyed learning about the “monkey brush,”, which isa plant that has little spikes around its exterior so that the monkeys can brush themselves. 
Next, we went to the Chilamate school and got to play soccer and basket ball. the children only spoke Spanish, so we got to practice our Spanish with them. The kids were in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade and they were so cute. 
After that, we cleaned the playground. We swept, raked, and pick out the cilantro plants. I actually found it kind of fun!

 

by Carly Cannon, Mary Ellis Irvin, and Jaxon-Praise Perez