Declaration of Independence

We are staying another day in Rotorua so that my wounds can heal a little before moving ahead. My shoulder is seriously sprained and we had to cancel some of our upcoming plans. Good and not so good, it's all part of the adventure.  Everything is awesome.
Back to business: 
[Always a few days behind]

Peppertree Lodge has been surprisingly nice except for the paper thin walls. Not an exaggeration. The girls in the room next to us giggle a lot. I think they squeezed about twenty little kids into that four person room. What could be so funny at 6:30 am? Shhh, I'm trying to sleep. It's no use. Up and at them.

Bryan, the owner, is a chatterbox. He talks a lot and goes on crazy long tangents. I strain to hear him over his gold tooth. Is it gold or is it just rotted? I can't tell. He's friendly though and full of information, a most helpful voice to an exhausted traveler.
He caught me sitting in the lounge typing on my phone. 
"What would you do without your mobile phone?" he asked. "I was away for five years and never contacted home once."
I stuttered, my typical response to an unexpected confrontation: "Uhhh, huh, well ...". I tried to explain that my phone was my modern day journal, "I'm not even connected to the internet!" He shook his head and moved on. I sat there feeling like a silly American traveler. I am.

We decided to hike to Haruru Falls, a 2.5 hour walk from our hostel. The Maori believe that a water monster lives in the lagoon beneath the falls.  When we told Bryan about our plans he smirked: "Have you ever seen Niagara Falls?"
"Yeah..." [where is he going with this]
"Well it's nothing like that."
His discouragement did not disturb my excitement. There is a monster at the end of the trek! No way I am missing that. Bryan said the hike time estimate was based on how long it would take an old granny and a two year old child to walk there. From the office, I grabbed a map with a black dotted line through a large area of green. I think green represents forest but I could be wrong. We packed some snacks and left.

I just used the nicest "public" restroom ever. I convinced the guy at the Maori Treaty Grounds to let me use the bathroom in their main building. Birds and light and slate and wood and sandblasted glass and shadows.

We continue on our walk. The trail is beautiful. Everything exists here -- jungle meets rainforest meets New Zealand travel guide meets Upstate New York meets California. Familiar ... and not at all. The birds sound like an army of jack-in-the-boxes and I think there might be pterodactyls circling in the sky. Something is making lots of swooshy wing flapping noises in the canopy above.

I don't know why I feel so tired. That sucks.

About 3/4 of the way in we arrive at a boardwalk that crosses a mudflat and weaves through a sea of mangroves. Life and death stagnate in the eerie brown sludge.  I feel like I'm in the Neverending Story: Artax, nooo!

The hike goes on forever. As much as I love endless beauty, I just don't get it. I keep asking, "an old granny and a two year old?" Not likely. The landscape is constantly changing. We are moving through an earth science textbook detailing the climate zones of the world. It's seventh grade, illustrated.
Finally, we turn a corner and hear the roar of the falls. Haruru means "big noise" -- its grand entrance is fitting.  We arrive at the top, a perfect spot for picture posing. The roaring falls explode into the basin below, undoubtedly waking the water monster. Luckily, the monster is kind, shooting two rainbows from its mouth to meet the sky: 'Hello! Hello!'

Denise and I decided early in the trip that we would never go the same route twice. It was already 3pm at the falls and we weren't sure we could make it back through the forest before nightfall. In sticking to our declaration of independence, we headed to the main road in search of a bus or cab back to town.  We stopped to ask someone where to find the bus: "At the top of the hill there's a dairy." Not exactly a bus but it's now our new destination.
We walk up.
And up.
And wonder very loudly if this was a good idea. No, no it was not.

The restrooms are the grossest ever. TV monitors showing the security camera footage hang above the sink.  I cringe to question the level of privacy in the bathroom.

We asked the clerk if there was a bus or taxi into town. He blinked and fidgeted for a long time before explaining that it was his first day and he didn't know nothin. How about a phone book or the number for information? He stood there utterly confused and rustled some papers. Understand at this point we are at the top of a gigantic hill, nowhere, many kilometers from town. A woman in the store tells us to walk -- it's not too far. Really, ok. Yeah, less than an hour. Great. And a covered walkway. Easy. So frustration leads us to take the short [long] walk back.

As we are getting ready to go, I wait for Denise on a bench outside.  I am approached by a young girl on a bicycle.
She asks if I am going for a walk --  yes, I am going for a walk.
She asks if I am on holiday -- Yes, I am on holiday.
She asks where I am from -- I am from California.
At this point Denise is by my side and says she is from Florida.
Denise: "Have you heard of Florida?
Girl: "Is that where the queen lives?"
Denise: "No."
Girl: "King?"
Denise: "No."
The conversation continues for another minute before the girl is swept away by a few of her friends.  I cannot explain how much the walk home sucked. It SUCKED.
Walkway? No.
Sidewalk? No.
Shoulder? No. 

[The next part of the story will not be blogged. Sorry. Sometimes things are better that way]. 

Haggard and cranky, we walked into a Thai restaurant and ate like an old granny not wanting to waste a crumb of food and a two year old with eyes bigger than her stomach.