Thanks for the nudge Mama! Stories not shared are soon forgotten in this ADD brain….
“It CAN’T be Mardi Gras! It’s not Lent!” That was my mom’s response when I told her about the Mardi Gras Start of Winter Party. “We should be Mexicans because it goes with the Mardi Gras theme!” said my friend (obviously not American). “What do beads have to do with Mardi Gras?” when I suggested buying some in advance. I guess I never really should have thought that there would be anything traditional about this Mardi Gras. After all, it IS June, and it IS held in a small ski town. In New Zealand. Erase your images of jazz bands, floats, and dacquiris.
When you go into the common room at the Erua Backpackers, there’s a pretty ugly old wardrobe against one wall. Seems just like bad decorating….until it opens and someone stumbles out in a crouch. And then another goes in and doesn’t return. When you open it, you indeed see Asland….and around the corner a giant TV screen and a floor filled with limp bodies. Kind of how this weekend felt. Stumbling out of Hamilton and into a land just as strange as (or more than) Narnia.
The Backpackers isn’t exactly a 4-star ski resort. The co-ed bathroom/showers don’t have a place for your clothes. Or a mirror. The multiple buildings and multiple hallways twist around in a 70’s-colored maze streaked with corrugated metal. A bucket on a string keeps the sliding door closed and a faulty lock keeps your bunk room open. BUT….there’s a great fire that’s magically alive every time you walk into the room, several guitars that you can hear plucked from couches and behind doorways, and, best of all, a crowd of quite colorful young Kiwis (the only other group either poor enough or late enough to be stuck with this mangy accommodation).
The good thing about this backpackers though is its accessibility to the town and to the slopes. A fairly short drive through jungly green finds you boarding down glittering white under sparkling blue. The snow wasn’t powder and the runs were hardly deserted, but there’s still the exhilaration of snowboarding in June.
With bright purple knees and a supply of energy drinks pitched out by advert vans lining the road, we prepared for our big night. The Event. With dedication to the theme of our costumes, we donned sombreros, ponchos (aka blankets put under the knife), maracas, and toasted with tequila and Corona. We greeted our Kiwi buddies with “Hola!” and left them with a cheery “Adios!” Then, along with a slew of intoxicated young mates, we boarded the shuttle to take us into town. It began well enough until a guy at the front attempted to cheer the crowd by breaking open a neon glow stick and shaking its glittery goo onto costumed laps. Suddenly, in slow motion, a comet approaches, enlarges, and lands in my eye. Despite my initial panic that I had just lost my eyesight in the stupidest way ever, I was only cursed with a fierce burn for the rest of the ride and rested with my eyeball floating on top of a capful of water.
When we arrive at the little town of Ohakune, there is already a giant queue for buying tickets. “Nah, we don’t need to get them in advance” I remember saying a few weeks ago. That’s OK, people-watching has seldom been as entertaining: pink and fluffy men from head to toe, “the old washed out” and the “new improved” Santas, Bananas in Pajamas, disturbingly-blue Smurfs, cows, sheep, and the tallest Coneheads I’ve ever seen (and saw from a kilometer away). Mardi Gras floats hold nothing over this. Sadly though, after over an hour of costume-gawking we are informed that, actually, the tickets are all gone. We can’t go in. Sigh. Procrastination failed this time.
It wasn’t until we later returned to the Backpackers that we saw the lengths that others went to just to get in. One guy arrived home with a bandage around his head, long-johns, and wooly socks. His story told (with a blush and hangover) was that as they were jumping the fence into the festivities, he miscalculated the creek (dunk) and then smacked into a tree (thwack). Made me feel pretty good about our consolation night of pool and dancing.
Overall, I have to say that this weekend served well as cultural immersion, laughter therapy, and a glimpse into another world. As I woke up in our little bunkroom-for-4 on Sunday, I realized that there was someone actually sleeping in the previously-empty bunk below me. As an unidentified guy sheepishly crept out and gave the room a bewildered glance, I thought: “Don’t worry kid, it’s just the stumble into Narnia.”
Tags: Erua, Mardi Gras, New Zealand, Ohakune