You can feel the raw power of the earth here. Whether it's in the pools of boiling mud or the steaming fumaroles, this place just feels alien. The Maori have used this site for 800 years to heal wounds and spirits after numerous battles (they were a warring bunch). They have used the boiling water for centuries to cook their food (I'm not sure how you could eat boiled chicken that tastes like sulphur, but that's just a personal preference...) and to wash their babies (not in the boiling parts hopefully). We put our toes in the bubbly mud while the sun sets behind us, hoping the curative powers rub off on us. The sun starts to go down as we walk past the Devil's Cauldron. The black mud has a temperature of 120 degrees C (248 degrees Fahrenheit for all you Americans out there- yes I just googled that), and it creates circles and pops as the steam releases. There are three types of mud here, black, grey, and white - all with their own specific and special "plops" as they bubble up and explode. The cliffs around us steam as the sun goes down behind us. We walk up to Kakahi Falls, the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. The full name of the falls is "O Te Mimi O Te Kakahi" which is translated into "the urine of Kakahi". Poetic.
We head over to the interactive carving house on site to a gruff Maori gentleman who clearly does not want to have these three Westerners carving stuff in his house! We wear him down after a while with smiles and witty banter, and he lets us get our carve on. Whakaro, or Maori carving, is a huge part of Maori culture, and I'm excited to get to try my hand at it. Our new friendly mate hands us each a block of wood. I carve the symbol for compassion on mine http://www.squidoo.com/koru-maori-design - which apparently does not mean compassion, but growth, strength, and peace. Man, I feel slighted. Not only was this guy hateful, he was full of lies too! After we were finished carving and lacquering said carvings, Mr. Friendly gave me one that he had just made - depicting loyalty. Well listen here mean man! You aren't going to make any new friends that are loyal if you keep acting like an ogre you see! As we are readying ourselves to leave, three ladies walk up and I'm thinkin "ohhh these girls better watch out, this guy is not going to be happy to have to help them!" Sure enough, he says "You three will be my LAST for the day". Scary.
At long last, it's time for our mud baths. Clothes off, currently white swimsuits on (they do not stay white), the girls and I slowly lower ourselves into a very hot pool of mud. The silky mud squelches around our feet, and I say a quiet prayer to the volcano gods. "Please keep it down for the next few minutes. I'm not trying to get boiled alive here." This doesn't make much sense as this is a temperature regulated sort of thing, but that doesn't stop my prayers. I just kind of wanted to give a shout out to the ole earth mothers if you know what I'm saying. Respect.
We grab handfuls of the mud and spread it from our fingers to our arms, necks, and faces. We've got twenty minutes in the mud, but no more, as we might overheat we are told. Steam rises around us as the hot interacts with the cool night air, and we become invisible from the neck down in the murky water. As instructed, we have to cool ourselves down now. I slop out of the mud first, and our attendant makes me stand under a shower spicket. He explains that I have to stand under the "cool water" and completely rinse off all the mud - and remain under as long as I can. Cool shower, nooooo problem. Icy daggers hit my head first and I am beyond miffed. This is not "cool water". This is straight from a pipe to Antarctica, don't think I don't know!! I start chattering immediately and might have yelled some profanities at this nice Indian gentleman, but I somehow get most of the mud off and cool my body temperature down.
Into the first of the warm baths. We practically run into the first one, with instructions to stay in this for a bit and then deposit ourselves into the next one. "You can stay as long as you like, we close at 8:30". That guy just messed up. We are staying here allll night. The sun has completely gone down now, and the starts dot the sky. The mud boils behind me, but the glug doesn't interrupt my happiness. I feel amazing in this sulphorous water, and my skin is happy.
For dinner, we pan sear some more steaks and eat more broccoli. The people in the hostel eating noodles and spaghetti sauce probably hate us. That is what you get when you travel with a Texas - meat, meat, meat. She can't get enough - meat or salt. I can't even believe it. I thought I was addicted to salt. Noooo ma'am! Nothin on this one. Dessert, nutella and toast. This tramping lifestyle...pretty choice.