Jambalaya and trip in Rotorua (3rd - 7th January 2008)

Thursday, 3rd January 2008: Helbert and I had previously booked ourselves accommodation at a backpackers in Rotorua where we'll be staying during the Jambalaya event taking place from the 4th-6th of January. Jambalaya is a music and dance festival jam-packed with three days of international and national acts, top international dancers, workshops, theatre shows, music & circus performers, market stalls, kids programme, street performance and the most beautiful energetic carnival parade this side of Brazil. I've been meaning to attend this event which is held in Rotorua annually but hadn't end up going so far so I decided to do so this year - sounded like a lot of fun! It was purely coincidental that Helbert too wanted to join me and my salsa friends at the event (he has done the Jambalaya with some Brazilians friends some 2 years ago). Great! :) Costed me $175 for a full pass at the 3-day festival.

It was time for us to bid our kind hosts at the holiday park goodbye and take an easy drive to Rotorua this morning. Thanks so much for the hospitality! We've enjoyed our week in Tutukaka so much!! Photos taken as we left the holiday park:
Our lovely hosts at Tutukaka Holiday Park

The huge marlin at the entrance into the holiday park (and Helbert pretending to reel in the fish!)

I'm not too sure where we were (somewhere on the way to Rotorua) but here are some photos taken at a lookout:

The drive to Rotorua was pretty cruisy - not a lot of traffic surprisingly (perhaps most people have started work today). Rotorua is a town on the southern shore of Lake Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island. You've probably heard of Rotorua before, famous for being stinky town - yep, the whole town smells like rotten eggs, all day long. You DEFINITELY know you are in Rotorua - just take a whiff! Despite the smell, Rotorua is a unique place to visit in NZ. There are lots to see and do in this active geothermal site e.g. taking a walk around the botanical gardens, soaking in hot pools, visiting the historical architecture and Maori marae, geysers, bubbling mud pools etc. Oh, and not forgetting adrenaline activities like the luge, Sky Swing and the Zorb (where you are inside a huge ball and roll down the hill)!

We took a drive around town and stopped by the lakefront for awhile - time to pop open a bottle of cold beer! Checked in to Treks Backpackers around 4pm and caught up with friends, Ramnish and Clare, who had also just arrived not long ago from Wellington. I wonder who Helbert and I would be sharing the room with tonight (we were booked into mixed dorm room for 4 people). Sure hope they don't snore (I'm a light sleeper)...Ramnish and Clare were sharing their room with Ken their first 2 nights and Annie moves in after. Oh, and speak of the devil - here comes Ken!

The 4 of us (me, Helbert, Clare and Ramnish) wanted to go to the luge this evening but they were closed by the time I rang up to make enquires. Oh well, we'll have to do it another day then. We decided to take a walk around town and headed to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. After several trips to Rotorua, I've concluded that this is one of the best cities in NZ offering authentic Japanese and Korean food. There are actually lots of Japanese and Korean tourists here. Hmm, wonder why it's so popular to tourists from these countries when the smell is so not appealling...

After dinner, we headed to the other side of town near the lake to check out the carnival that Ken told us about. Carnival? I had my suspicions that he meant carnival as in a funfair, not carnival as in dance parade (I saw a funfair during the drive around town earlier). Photos of us taken tonight:
Photo taken at the i-kiosk outside the Rotorua information centre

One of the thrill rides at the carnival (funfair)

Ramnish won Clare a stuffed toy at one of the sidestall dart games

We ended the night with a coffee after the carnival and back to the backpackers to shower, unpack and relax before the long day ahead. Oh, and we have roommates now - 2 guys who were working at the event. 2 big guys, I mean. Please, please, don't snore...

#^&*^$*@....!!!!! I woke up at around 2am and just couldn't sleep! One of the 2 guys was snoring SO LOUDLY to the point that his other friend had to hit him with a pillow several times to shut him up - only worked for 2 minutes and the snoring started again! I was so frustrated and at the verge of taking my keys and just sleep in the car for the night. But instead I tried to sleep with my ipod headphones on. Seriously, you don't want to be around me when I'm sleep deprived. And I've to put up with them for another 3 more days??! Oh no...

Friday, 4th January 2008: Was up around 8am but lazed in bed till 9 before getting up for breakfast and headed to Jambalaya. Didn't sleep very well last night and hope I'll be able to survive today.
The first workshop I did was one taught by Auckland Cuban teachers, Vivio and Greydis. It was a Cuban salsa experienced class and boy was it difficult for me to get the routine into my head. Helbert got somewhat frustrated trying to follow the Cuban moves and walked out of the workshop halfway through! Ramnish and the rest of the gang stayed put until the end of the class - I have doubts I would remember the moves the next time a leader tries it on me.

Skipped the introductory Bachata class and went to check out what else was going on at the festival. There were lots of stalls selling an array of items from music CDs to jewelry to food of all sorts. Came back to the Sportsdome and joined my friends and other rueda dancers for a midday rueda - it was heaps of fun dancing to a small radio with dancers from other parts of NZ. Some of us were in sports shoes and flip-flops but that didn't stop us having fun!

Hmm, the burger stall sells very yummy burgers and you can top up as much salad in your burger as you wish! A hit with most of us :)

Helbert and I attended the Samba Dance workshop conducted by Perola - it was a lot of fun but very exhausting dancing samba pagode as the music got faster and faster! I still find samba on foot difficult to learn. I can't seem to co-ordinate my feet with my bum to the beat!! Sheesh!

There was a dance shoe stall just outside - hmm, should I buy a pair of dance shoes for myself? I've been dancing on normal ladies open-toe shoes (those you wear to social parties or work) and my favourite pair was really worn out and about to snap. Me, Nicola and Antje ended up at the shoe stall trying out the salsa shoes while the boys, Ramnish, Ken and Helbert, watched and teased our girlie shopping habits. :P I finally got myself a black pair - yay, I've got dancing shoes for tonight's salsa party!

Oh, Helbert and I bumped into our 'lovely' roommates from last night while walking around the festival site. Mr Loud Snorer was so apologetic to me and felt very embarrassed for his behaviour last night - everytime he sees me, he would apologise to me! Hmm, wonder if he'll be back tonight...

Everyone went our own ways and later met up at the Circus Tent at 5.30pm for the Forro (Afro-Brazilian partner dance) dance workshop. This was the workshop I enjoyed the most today - forro is easy to dance to, much like salsa but in a more relaxed way. It was fun to dance with my friends from Wellington, and a few new ones I met at the festival. The funniest part was dancing forro without hold your partner's hand but dance forehead against forehead and use your eyes to lead! What a laugh!! :)

We all went back to Ramnish's room again this evening to chat over a few beers and headed out to Nando's Chicken for dinner. It has been a long time since I went to Nando's and surprisingly the food tasted pretty good!

There was a salsa party tonight at the Arena Energy Events Centre from 9pm till late with a band playing at the start. What happened to the band? I think I got there about 11pm but the band still haven't turned up so just danced to a few songs played by the DJ. Helbert and I decided to check out the Circus Tent in hope that they will play some more samba de gafieira songs that we could dance to (heard samba music played on our way to the events centre). Not sure if I mentioned this in my previous postings - Helbert is my samba de gafieira dance teacher and partner, and we've been practising the dance twice a week at my place since November. This would be a good opportunity to practice what I've learnt though the heel of my dance shoes seems to sink into the soil (the Circus Tent was set-up on a park). We waited and waited and waited. 2 beers later and still not our song. Unfortunately we didn't end up dancing because the DJ continued to play funk, soul and African beat music. Oh well, I'm getting tired so I'm just going to go to bed. Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603948585623/detail/

Saturday, 5th January 2008: Our beloved roommates didn't return last night! And I actually didn't get much sleep because I was expecting them to turn up and that kept me awake the whole night!!

Stayed in bed till late morning. There weren't any workshops I was interested in (well, there was the LA salsa workshop that I was keen to attend but the original instructors for the workshop pulled out of the festival last minute - what a bummer!). At 12pm, the gang met up at the events centre to watch the Jambalaya Theatre Show titled The Journey - it was a show performed by most of the intructors and performers. Very nicely choreogaphed story of dance and music from the different continents/countries - I really enjoyed the show! The forro performance was spectacular where the female dancer was dressed like a rag doll and pulled out from a suitcase! Yes, she was small and flexible enough to fit into a travel suitcase. Oh my god! And she was thrown and bounced around just like a rag doll!!

Hung around at the festival site for lunch (ooo, the chicken kebabs were nice too!) and everyone went our own ways again doing different workshops. Helbert and I went back for another Forro workshop and learnt a few new moves. It was very amusing when a lady (who was, I think, admiring the way we danced) asked Helbert how close does one need to know the other to dance this close together. We couldn't help but laugh as we continued to dance :) Well, lady, it's one of those things when you get comfortable with your own self and not be afraid to dance close with whomever you partner with (especially Latinos who dance very close). Besides, you'll find that it's easier to dance in close proximity that an arm's length apart - trust me, I know what I'm talking about ;)

Met up with Ken on the way out who joined us in town to watch the Jambalaya Parade. The 3 of us got ourselves a nice outdoor table in a bar and had some beers while we await the procession to arrive on our street. Some of our friends were in the 1-hour parade - Ramnish, Stacey and several others. Reminded me a lot of the Cuba Street Carnival parade I was part of last February. Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603948686087/detail/

Dinner tonight was with Helbert, Ken, Antje and Nicola at a nice Thai restaurant in town before heading back to the events centre for another night of salsa partying.

Sunday, 6th January 2008: Those guys never returned to the room but sometime in the middle of last night (or early hours of the morning), another chap whom Helbert and I had met at the festival site came in to our room and slept there for the night (thankfully he didn't snore).

Ok, I think I said that too soon...True, there was no snoring to wake me up but the fire alarm was going off so often from 6am onwards that everyone in the backpackers were jolted up from sleep so many times! Bloody hell - can't I just get 1 night of good sleep??

Didn’t do much today as none of the workshops were of interest. At 1pm, Helbert and I met up with the rest of the bunch at the Circus Tent to watch the Suspend Circus Cabaret Show. It was hilarious and an amazing circus act. Wow, that woman in the Tissu act sure has strong muscles to perform the aerial contortions! Ooo, and did you see the hot blond in the German Wheel act - got us girls drooling :P I'm sure some of us wouldn't mind if he completed his strip...hehe...

Well, that was the end of the Jambalaya for me. Frankly, I was somewhat disappointed perhaps because I had expected it to have a lot more interesting workshop and participants (it was quite empty). Hmm, I think the decrease in participants has a lot to do with the NZ Salsa Congress and Jambalaya now split into separate events (there used to be just Jambalaya). I think this is likely to be my first and last Jambalaya.
Finally, I can cut this green band off my wrist (we had to wear it throughout the event the past 3 days) - was getting annoying!

Ramnish, Annie, Clare, Stacey, Helbert and I later headed to the nearby Polynesian Spa Hot Mineral Bathing & Spa Therapies for a dip in the hot pools. I've never been to the hot pools before but Ramnish was raving about it endlessly - I had to check it out for myself! We went for the $20 per person deal to the Adult Pools & Priest Spa (the cheapest of the lot) where it was only for adults, offering a choice of seven hot mineral pools to dip in, six with views of Lake Rotorua.

In our swimming attire, we started off at the large deeper alkaline pool (38 degrees Celsius) - ooo, hot, but nice...Couple of minutes later, we moved on to the three Priest Spa pools (39 to 42 degrees Celcius) which offers special thermal bathing in acidic water from the Radium hot spring, long renowned for its therapeutic properties. Hmm, I'm not sure if dipping in the pools really has therapeutic properties - the pools didn't look very clean to me (lots of strange-looking green stuff) plus the place still stinks like the rest of Rotorua. Though I have to say, the hot pools seemed very popular with the Asian tourists (I'm not talking about me) - loads of Japanese and Koreans around when we were there. Guess beauty is key! We continue dipping from pool to pool for an hour, changing to less warmer waters towards the end.

Helbert and I then drove to Skyline Skyrides Rotorua to do the luge but the others didn't join us (think they went for dinner instead). We've been there before but wanted to return to record a doubling ride down the scenic track (during a trip to Queenstown previously, we were able to ride downhill on the same luge with Helbert steering and me recording the ride - it was crazy!). I've done all 3 luge sites in NZ and Rotorua has the best (and longest) track! Three separate concrete sealed tracks wind down through the redwood trees. The scenic track (and also your compulsary first track) has viewing bays at great locations for taking photographs and allows for a leisurely trip down whilst enjoying the panorama.

Helbert and I went for the Sky Swing and 5 x Luge package inclusive a gondola return trip. "What is a Sky Swing?" I asked Helbert after we've paid and was inside the gondola on the way up. "THAT!!" he replied, pointing to a gigantic ball hanging on ropes between two huge aerial columns. WHAT???!!!!! Helbert laughed so much at my facial expression as I sat quietly all the way uphill in fear...I should have known better when travelling with him - we always end up doing at least 1 adrenaline rush activity (super scary stuff like bungy or something) and the Sky Swing was the one for this trip. Breathe in...and breathe out...

The Sky Swing is a thrilling and exhilarating ride, 50 metres above ground level and reaching speeds of up to 120kph. We were strapped on a harness on the roundish swing that had a video camera attached to Helbert's side. Once securely strapped, the swing was lifted up...and up...and up! (I can still feel the adrenaline rush even at this moment that I'm writing about the experience) As Helbert wanted to record the whole event on his videocamera, I was made responsible to yank the release cord. Oh my god...it felt as if I was to yank us to our doom...

I closed my eyes as I yanked the cord but nothing happened. We were still hanging! "Pull harder!" shouted Helbert and I did...and ZOOM! we went swinging at speeds of I don't know how fast. Obviously fast enough to suck out all the air in Helbert's lungs at the sudden drop - he went totally silent. Oh, but it was good fun, feeling such a rush of adrenaline (and fear)! It was only the initial drop that was scary and the remaining time was just us swinging until we slowed down. The bungy was way more frightening than this, that's for sure! Hehe…we really do all sorts of fun and crazy things together!

After the Sky Swing, we continued on to complete our 5 luge rides. There weren't many people around this evening and we were probably the last 2 customers - we pretty much 'owned' the track :)

Unfortunately doubling was not allowed so we couldn't record our ride on the scenic track and neither was the Advanced nor Twilight Luge tracks available this time round (we had done both before - the twilight track allows you to ride at night). Still, we have heaps of fun racing each other downhill and Helbert making skid marks on the concrete tracks (his wheels smelt of burnt rubber) or bumping my luge to annoy me. :P A rabbit hopped on one of the tracks as I was riding and Helbert and I nearly crashed against each other because I had to brake! Get out of the way!!

I was feeling a little down because we were heading back to Wellington the next day but all the fun activity this evening got me grinning from ear-to-ear! :)

Dinner tonight was at a nice little Japanese restaurant which interestingly played bossa novas as we ate. Ooo, my feet were itching to dance samba de gafieira!

My wish to dance tonight was granted when Ramnish texted me to say that some of the salsa dancers were heading to The Grumpy Mole for a small salsa party till midnight. Sweet! Helbert and I headed over around 11pm and I had fun dancing with friends. It was a wonderful way to wrap up the 3-day event in Rotorua before our journey home tomorrow. Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603948779603/detail/

Monday, 7th January 2008: Sigh...all good things have to come to an end...it was time for everyone to head back to Wellington today. Back to the normal routine of Monday-Friday work. I wasn't looking forward to going back but hey, I've got to face reality sooner or later!

Helbert and I were up early and was ready to go by 9am. Said our goodbyes to Ramnish, Clare and Annie and started our slow drive back to Wellington. Most of us were heading back today in different cars and times; Annie was staying on for another few more days for a salsa course. See you all in Wellington! Drive safe!!

I had previously picked up a brochure of a trout and wildlife park in Rotorua so Helbert and I decided to stopped by to check it out. It was called Paradise Valley Springs, Rotorua’s favourite trout springs and wildlife park. Quite a drive through the hills and farm to get there. Hadn't occured to us that there would be farmland in Rotorua city - interesting. Costed us $25 per person to visit the park.

Paradise Valley Springs consists of several enclosures to explore. We started off at the African Lion pride where several of these lions were basking in the sun. Every day at 2.30pm, the exciting Lion Feeding Show enthralls visitors as they get to see the immense power and strength of the lions. It was only 10.30am so we won't be around for the show but I assumed it was a show where the lions fight for their food.

Did you know that you could pat lion cubs here? Yep, that's right! The park has two 10-month-old lion cubs, Hana and Ben, and boy were they HUGE for their age!! Their keeper had just fed them before visitors were allowed to pat them. I don't think the cubs enjoyed being patted - they seemed sleepy after their feed and couldn't be bothered to move even when shoved by the keeper. Oh my, the paw of the cub would do some serious damage - it was bigger than mine. They even weigh much more than me!

I only touched Ben's paw and quickly retracted my hand from the side of the cage. I don't know - the idea of touching a wild animal makes me a tad frightened that it might attack. Helbert, on the other hand, has no fear and was happily patting a very annoyed Hana, who all of a sudden decided to move, and scared the hell out of Helbert! Hahahaha - it was so funny and I think I caught it all on tape :P In the midst of all this, he accidentally bumped a little girl who was next to him and made her upset (Helbert somehow has a track record for making little girls cry on trips).

Paradise Valley Springs has its own natural freshwater spring, Te Waireka (meaning 'sweet water' in Maori). Flowing from deep underground at a rate of 60 litres every second, this pure water provides a never ending supply to the trout pools, coffee shop and water bottling plant on site, Paradise Pure. It was very fascinating to see how the bottling machine worked from the viewing window, filling up the bottles with water, sealing and capping them.

We then continued exploring the rest of the park, walking through the native bush setting, passing by varieties of animals found wild or farmed in NZ, native birds and trout pools along the way. Flowing through Paradise Valley Springs is the Ngongotaha Stream, the major trout spawning stream for Lake Rotorua and Lake Rotoiti and approximately 20,000 trout spawn in this stream annually. The trout are totally wild and are free to come and go as they wish. Hmm, the trout in the stream swims against the current whereas those in the pools swim in schools going slowly in a gigantic circle (makes me dizzy watching them go round and round). I wonder why they do so...There is also an underground cave where swallows nest, and you can observe Rainbow, Brown and Tiger trout at eye level. It feels like you can reach out and touch them! Some of the fish must have fought with each other - some were partially blind, others had frayed fins and tails, and a few looked as if swimming with a slouch.

It was a good thing we bought packets of animal food at the information desk because we got to feed the animals (well, except for a few that had clear signs outside its enclosure NOT to feed the animal). Eiks, I tried feeding a few animals - the birds pecked on my palm while the cute billy goat I fed salivated all over! Oh, but its tongue was so soft and ticklish! Photos taken at Paradise Valley Springs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603926290403/detail/

Helbert and I have been very fortunate that the weather has been kind to us most of our trip. It was pouring heavily driving back to Wellington - I want to go back to sunny Tutukaka!! I had a fantastic trip travelling with Helbert. We'll have to do this again soon! Tomorrow will be a day to relax, unpack and for me, back to work on Wednesday (Helbert has another week off - lucky!). Welcome back to Wellington! Can't wait to climb back to my queen-sized bed and get a good night's rest :)


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