Sunday, December 31, 2006

Jessi's Dance Recital

This blog entry starts out with Jaydn's new haircut. What a good-looking kid (and cool Idaho shirt, too)!

Last night Jessi danced in a recital, what they call a fiafia, which is basically a night of food and dances from the south pacific. Jessi had a traditional Samoan dress made for their number, and, of course, she looked great in it!

I couldn't just stand there and take pictures, though; I had to get an arm around my sweetheart.

We arrived at the "beach resort" at 7:30 pm, for a show that was supposed to start at 8:30 pm. Of course, it didn't; we waited until 9:30 pm before it started. So, we walked around the resort and stood by the coast until the show started.

Here are Jessi and some of her friends who she danced with. Starting from the left, there's Carol, Hailey, Jessi, and Fua (with a stray dog behind them):

So, we just sat and waited for a while. Apparently, they were waiting for more people to come so they could make some more money. I could sit next to Jessi forever; no worries!

Here's a few other views of Jessi's dress and hair:

Finally, the show started. I got a seat in the front so I could video Jessi's dance. Her dance was about the fifth one in the show.

It was quite similar to the previous fiafia night we've been to a Sadie's. But this one had Samoan drummers pounding drums so loud your eardrums would burst. Besides my ears, it was a fun night.

Here are some shots of Jessi's dance. She stood in the back row, on the far left side:

Another friend took these pictures. I was taking the video below. I think I didn't have quite the right angle, because Jessi is behind the front girl (Fua) for part of the dance. But you still get to see quite a lot of Jessi dance. She did fabulous!

There's also another video of another dance involving a different, rather inexperienced hip-shaker (namely, me). I'm not putting that video on the blog, though.

Remember, when you watch the video, Jessi starts out in the back on the far left. In the middle of the dance, she comes up to the front for a while. Then she moves back to the back again.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Signs of American Samoa

Here are some pics of my favorite government (and non-government) signs in American Samoa:

Here we have probably our one (and only) commercial billboard in American Samoa:

As you can see from the sign below, McDonalds has really taken a keen interest in the safety (but not the health) of the children of American Samoa:

The next sign is much better than the dumb TV commercials where the parent tries to get their kid to realize that "smoking will kill ya" or "you could get in an accident if you drink and drive." No, really?
The next sign doesn't have quite the effect that it should have. First, this accident was obviously minor; I mean, it's nothing but a cheap car that got into a fender-bender. Second, the way the sign is worded, it sort of gives the impression that the cops did this to the car because the driver was drinking ("they're cracking down!"). And third, what an eyesore for Pago Pago Harbor!
Here's a fun one (usually posted right outside a school):
Ouch, this gangsta needs some spelling lessons:

And if you're not convinced, this sign really hits it home:

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Manuia le Kerisimasi!

Christmas Day began with my routine 5:20 am bathroom run in the middle of my sleep (I know you all wanted to know that). Once awake, I realized I hadn't put the presents under the tree. So, without further adieu, ta da!!!!

Not much to shake a stick at, I know. But we don't ask for much; we're pretty content people. Now that I think of it, I don't know what possesses people (like me) to post pictures of their presents! Am I trying to brag or something? People in the states would look at this picture and say, "pft... brag?" In Samoa, we have to hide our presents in the house so they aren't stolen in the rash of recent break-ins in our village (makes me feel like an evil Nephite, trying to hold on to my valuables just in case they happen to disappear). We live in what is basically "Palagi-ville" (White-ville), and my meager law clerk salary is equivalent to a six-figure salary when compared to the average pay of Samoans. Heck, even though it's not a breeze financially for us here, we're considered wealthy by most islanders.

On Christmas Eve we were privileged to be able to bring Christmas packages to a family of destitute children. They lived in the back-roads of American Samoa, in an area where the Tongan community--relegated to second or third-class citizens--make their abode. Even for American Samoa, this was the ghetto.

After giving the presents, I couldn't help but think, "why?" Why are some treated differently than others? Why can't we work together as a community to lift those in need? I know that may be asking a lot from Samoans who are themselves struggling to get by, but everyone can play a part. My trifle gift seemed like nothing compared to their hunger. But I guess it was nice to see their smiling faces.

So on Christmas Day, I was happy that we were content with what we were given. I didn't hear any complaints from any of us. I actually think that our experiences on Christmas Eve contributed to our contentment and joy on Christmas Day. We were all smiles.

My apologies to those of you who didn't get your gift in a picture with a smile. I was trying to conserve battery space so Jaydn could play his new toy game. But you have nothing to worry about. Every toy received a smile.

After presents were unwrapped, I remembered that we still had a skink (a huge lizard) with its hind legs and tail stuck in one of our sticky-traps that are meant for mice. We found him there the night before, right after I killed two huge cockroaches. Poor guy, he didn't mean to get in the trap. He was still alive in the morning, and I had to do something. I quickly picked up the sticky-trap and dropped it in a plastic bag while the skink was wriggling like mad. I felt really bad, because he was still alive, but felt I had no other choice than to put him out of the house in this fashion. It was this incident that made me realize the inhumanity of sticky-traps--and make me glad there are not human-sized ones.

In the afternoon, we went to a Christmas dinner at the Roth's home. Jay and Carol are good friends, and we had other friends over as well. Everyone (well, mostly the women) made really good American and Samoan food.

Front and center in the lounge chair is Jay Roth, to his left is Carol Roth, then Jessi, to Jessi's right is Steve Nash (not the basketball player), then Mark Hales, and at 3 o'clock is Paul Brown.

In this picture is (starting from top and going clockwise): Fua Nash, Jessi, and Carol Roth (with young Nathan Roth clinging to her side).

We are fast becoming gamers--our family will drop everything to play a good game. Here Jessi and I are playing one of our favorite new games, Nerts. If you think that only "nerds" play "nerts," you're probably right.

The other pastime that everyone on the island enjoys when you're not at the beach and it's too hot to do anything else, is watching a good movie. One that will entertain old and young alike. A movie like "Cars" will do.

As the day drew to a close, and everyone was pooped from the activities (which included, of course, a haunted house put together by Jaydn, Trey Roth, and Sevila Nash--they are our "haunted" house specialists), we received a command Samoan dance performance by the youngest of all of us--Tia Nash, 10 months old. She has become so accustomed to watching her mother dance Samoan dances, that if Fua sings a Samoan dance song Tia will move her body and hands just like she's doing a Samoan dance. It was adorable!

So, for not being with family, this was a pretty good Christmas after all. We can handle the sweat, bugs, lizards, etc. when we have friends here that we enjoy spending time with. Christmas 2006 was indeed one to remember.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Looks Like it's Not Going to Be a White Christmas

Well, here we are, Christmas Eve. And not a lick of snow. In fact, it's greener and hotter today than it was a month ago. In the states, I anticipated and appreciated the four seasons. Christmas was special not only for its special meaning, but because it signified something new.

Here, I gain a different appreciation. In church today, I appreciated something constant--the Gospel. No matter where I go, the Gospel touches hearts and brings us together as one. We really enjoy the Church family. I also enjoyed the fantastic Samoan Christmas decorations in the chapel.

The Samoan seasons are Summer, Summer, and Hotter Summer. It is true that the green can wear on you, just like people from St. George, Utah will tell you that all they see all the time is red.

But actually, the green of Samoa and the Gospel have something in common. Both make me grateful for immortality and eternal life, gifts far greater than any gift we could receive. Life grows constant in Samoa; Christ gave us eternal life. And isn't that what Christmas is all about anyway?

I guess Christmas without snow won't be so bad after all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Longest Two-Lane Traffic Jam in History (at least I thought so at the time)

Today I experienced a major frustration. Governor Togiola gave government workers a half day today. So, at 12:00 pm, I hopped in the car and left for home. I didn't go far before I was in the longest traffic jam I had ever experienced. We drove through Los Angeles at rush hour on the way down here. Believe me, this was worse.

The road from Pago Pago to Tafuna, where we live, is approximately 12 miles. Only two lanes-one going either way. Going 20 miles an hour (the speed limit here on Hwy 1), it takes about 30 minutes to get into town. So why did it take me 1 hour and 15 minutes to go 12 miles?

My theory is that all the non-government workers saw that the government workers were getting off at noon, and they decided to do the same. After all, they normally close shop at 2:30 or 3:00 pm, so what would it hurt to just leave three hours earlier?

Fortunately, it wasn't the stop-and-go that normally wears down a vehicle in 95 degree temperatures. It was just mostly stop. Not much go.

Also, almost the whole drive is alongside the ocean. So that's not so bad.

Samoans really take their Christmas seriously (see Samoan Government Christmas Programs).

Creepy Crawlies

When you've lived on an island for almost five months, you'd think you would have seen everything by now. Cockroaches? Piece of cake. Mice? That's kids play! Poisonous centipedes? OK, you've got me there; I still hate centipedes.

So why would I get grossed out the easiest by plain-ol' maggots?

Yesterday morning I was doing situps when I noticed little worms all over the floor. "Hmm, how interesting," I thought. Then I saw more. And more. And even more.

They were crawling everywhere!! Invasion!!!!

We kind of have a phased attack system when we find bugs in our house. First, we spray them with deadly chemicals. Chemical warfare at its worst. If that doesn't work, we try to sweep them into the dustpan and throw them away. But if they're too fast, we just squish them. You can guess, squishing works the best.

Except when there's 200 of them. I tried spraying the maggots, and it was like they didn't breathe! They were saying, "hah! We thumb our noses at your puny bug spray!" (Maggot noses?) I tried sweeping. They just crawled out.

Their target of choice was the cupboard with the sugar, flour and rice. They climbed and scaled the side of the counter with superb skill, like they were Marines in action. I'd sweep them down, they'd start climbing again. They were maggots on a mission, and I was just a distraction.

So, Jaydn and I resorted to attack phase 3--smash-to-kill. I let Jaydn use the long-range missles. I used the bayonet.

We had to work fast.

Jaydn squished and squished wherever they were, with the fly swatter. I just picked them up in a paper towel, one-by-one, and squished 'em. They kind of "pop" like water balloons. Pretty gross, huh? But if you don't do it, they come right back at you. You can't let the enemy loose; he'll just turn around and stab you in the back!

Apparently, a fly had laid eggs in our garbage. For all you maggot experts out there (and I know you're my most avid readers), you're probably thinking that we don't take our garbage out very much. But then you'd be wrong!

We had just taken the garbage out two days before! But maggots must grow fast in Samoa, I guess. Now we'll just have to take out the garbage every day.

Actually, now that I think of it, they were kind of cute.

Wonder what we'll find next?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dumped On

Yesterday we waited inside the house until we got the slightest glimmer of hope of blue skies. We instantly bolted out the door to the beach, Jaydn's friend Trey in tow. If you remember our old blog entry for Airport Beach, well, we liked it so much we decided to go again.

This walk is not difficult, but not a cakewalk, either. Especially with small kids. With two of them, we had to take our time getting to the beach, while walking over and around huge blowholes formed in volcanic rocks by the unruly ocean waves below.

It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the beach. We scarcely were there for 20 minutes when we noticed a very big, very dark group of rain clouds that filled the sky just to the east of us. Within 5 minutes of noticing the clouds they were on top of us, and we had to leave. We were literally poured on during the entire 30 minute journey back to the car (which actually took longer this time, for obvious reasons). We thought we could beat the Samoan rain. We thought we had picked the opportune moment to hit the beach; that if rain came, we'd tough it out. We were wrong.

We've since agreed that next time we attempt to outsmart the rain, we should go somewhere we can park a little bit closer. Thus ended our shortest beach trip yet in American Samoa.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Disturbing Alert

Yesterday morning, we woke up, made our morning fruit drink, and then I drank down my vitamins with a glass of tap water. I jumped in the shower, brushed my teeth and washed my face/shaved with tap water. Shortly thereafter, I left. Regular morning routine.

I hopped in the car with Mike and we drove to work. Mike instantly asked me if I'd heard. "Of what?" "There's a water alert. ASPA (the power/water company) announced high levels of fecal coliform in the water due to so much rain. So we have to boil our water this weekend if we want to drink it."

I guess ASPA couldn't keep their chlorine levels high enough with so much rain.

What was I to do about the water I had ingested and washed with just that morning? Crazy rain!!

We already boil water to disinfect our dirty dishes. Now we have to boil water for drinking as well.

And it rained, and rained, and rained, all day Friday. I'd be crazy to think the rain was going to go somewhere else anytime soon.

Luckily, a few months ago we decided we needed to buy several cases of bottled water. You remember that rarely-complied-with directive from the Prophet to keep food storage?

This situation reminded me of the year I lived in downtown Seoul, in South Korea. We couldn't drink the water, and had to go get it from a fresh water spring in large water canisters, and cart the water back to our apartment. It was hard work. We could wash dishes in tap water, and gargle with it, but I never drank so much as a drop or two (accidentally, of course). I know a few missionaries who drank more, and they didn't fare so well.

I'm not so sure it was because of fecal coliform, though. Seoul is just a big, bustling, congested, dirty place.

Then this morning, I was talking with Jaydn while I had my fruit drink. I got distracted, and poured myself some water to drink my vitamins down. And drank it. Oops!

Then I doubled up on my vitamins, said a little prayer, and went about my day.

They don't have these issues in Idaho!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Slug of Fire

Check out these wonderfully scary creatures concocted by the mind of Jaydn:

Scary ghosts--

And the big slug of fire!--

Slugs... and fire... I always thought the two didn't mix very well.

Ghosts, slugs... Jaydn's always trying to scare me. Isn't Halloween over, by the way?

Jessi's Wet Drive

A few days ago, Jessi was coming home from picking Jaydn up from school. It was raining. The roads were like this:
You know it--we've got a car that drives on water!

And don't you love these drivers! When a car is stalled in the road, they don't go around to the left, they drive up onto the sidewalk and drive around on the right! Brilliant!

Here's the intersection. But it looks like the intersection of a river!

Where's the road?

O Christmas Tree

I recently figured out that my camera does not like to take pictures of the Christmas tree. Every time we tried to take a picture of the family by the tree, it was so blurry it looked like we were under water. I know, it's probably the lighting, but I have no idea.

You see? A typical Christmas tree picture. I think my camera is Jewish.

Finally, Jaydn was able to get in a good picture with the tree, in his smiley-face pajamas. So tell everyone good night, Jaydn!


A few days ago, Jaydn decided he wanted to spend his birthday money at Magicland, which is a small carnival brought to you by the same folks that gave you "The Magic Circus of Saaamoooaaaa!" (my co-clerk has information on the Circus on his blog). The Carnival and Circus were both set up at the park across from our home. The Carnival has Christmas music playing while you go on the rides. So I guess it was kind of like, a Christmas Carnival?! MUCH funner than what we did last year, I must say (Twin Falls Christmas Parade? Who wants to stand out in the cold and freeze while they watch other people walk by who are freezing?). Again, this is the weirdest Christmas I've ever had. I mean, does it look like Christmas in our pictures?

Jessi and Jaydn first went on the "Dragon Coaster." After about the first time around, I could read Jaydn's lips, "when will it stop?"

Where to go next?

How about the race car ride?

Or the merry-go-round?

Jaydn was a little timid about going on the scarier rides. I can understand; you know that big one (is it called the tilt-a-whirl?) that goes around like a ferris wheel, but you are in little cars that spin around as you're going around? That one makes me get sick! Jessi took me on that ride during our first year of being married (apparently it's her favorite), and I started throwing up once we got to our next destination--a wedding reception. Let's just say I avoid that one now.

Jaydn would go on the ferris wheel with me, however.

It was a pretty neat contraption they had made--running on what seemed to be a lawnmower engine and held together with household nuts and bolts--it sure was a beauty.

And from the top, you could see, well, at least all of Tafuna and Nuu'uli.

We were lucky. We hit the rides just before--you guessed it--it rained.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Singing in the Rain

Need I say more? It is constantly raining. They say it's supposed to clear up over the weekend, but I'm not buying it. Do I sound grumpy? Nah. Rain keeps the weather cool. Your clothes stick to you so everyone can see your rippling muscles, and you feel like you live inside a humidifier, but besides that, we like the rain.

On Sunday it started raining when we got out of church. We left approximately 10 minutes later, and the roads were flooded. It rains hard! Many of the roads here are not built well and do not have good drainage. So I like driving through swimming pools on the way home, you know? I feel like I'm driving in one of those car commercials where the car splashes through a huge puddle, making a perfect s-p-l-a-s-h through the air just as time stands still. Me and my Echo.

It rained tonight (should I say, "is still raining?") on the first night of the government Christmas singing concerts. Never heard of 'em? Well, here in American Samoa, starting about 20 days or so before Christmas, each department of the government takes an hour a day out of their busy work schedule to practice Christmas carols for these concerts. They get matching outfits, learn the songs AND dance moves, and leave Joe Mama waiting in line at the Tax Office while the workers sing for an hour. I must say, I admire their get-into-the-spirit gung-ho mentality, but is this not a collosal waste of time and dollars? Shouldn't we just leave the Christmas concerts to the churches, schools, civic groups, etc.? Besides, who really wants to hear a bunch of no-names singing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" when it's 80 degrees outside? Hmm...

Well, tonight was the first concert. They have been preparing the stage (which is right across the street from the Courthouse) for a few days now, putting up decorations, PLANTING pine trees that they could put Christmas lights and decorations on for the concerts (they'd never grow here naturally, come on!) and putting up large tents for people to sit under while they listen to the choirs from each department.

Did I mention that participation is MANDATORY?

Not that they're going to fire you for refusing to sing. A friend of mine just told me he missed his concert. Oops. His department is already hurting for lack of workers, it's unlikely their going to do anything more than a serious "we needed your voice" scolding tomorrow at work. But who knows? Poor nonessential worker that accidentally misses the concert!!

Today, Governor Togiola's invitation to the concerts was printed in the newspaper:

"On this happy season of Christmas, I wish to extend the invitation of your government to you - the people of American Samoa - to join in the spirit, hope and love of Christmas through song and dance as the government departments and agencies come together for a three-night celebration of the sounds of Christmas," the governor said in his invitation released yesterday.

"Every year I look forward to the magnificent talent of our government workforce being displayed at the annual Territorial Christmas Program and I am sure this year, again, that all our special choirs will offer a colorful presentation of songs to celebrate the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ," he said. "I wish you all the gift of faith and the peace of God's love at Christmas."

. . . .

The program will open with a service, of which hymns will be sung by the Territorial Administration on Aging (TAOA) and an invocation will be provided by Fr. Iosefo Timu of the Leone Catholic Church. Deputy Secretary of Samoan Affairs Nanai Afuola Kalasa will serve as master of ceremony.

I wonder, what the Jewish or Muslim or Atheist government worker would do in a situation like this? (Not that there are any in American Samoa, which I seriously doubt.)

This would never pass muster in the states, and herein lies the contrast--the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution arguably does not apply to American Samoa.

No one get me wrong--I love Christmas. I love singing. I even love singing Christmas carols. And I'm about as religious as you get. I don't even have a problem with the government agencies celebrating Christmas. But this is a little foreign to me, that's all--forcing participation. I'm all about freedom. (Thank goodness the Chief Justice told the Governor that the judicial branch would abstain!)

I say this as I stare back at my Christmas tree, lights and all. Tomorrow we'll continue our family tradition of caroling to neighbors and friends. We've even invited people outside our family to join us. Caroling will never be the same after doing it in shorts and a t-shirt.

Hope it doesn't rain!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Adventures in Kiwi Land - Worms that Glow

We got out of Otorohanga as fast as we could. On our way to Waitomo, we stopped in front of an Ostrich farm. Ostrichs are special birds to Kiwis, because they believe that a huge, Ostrich-like bird once roamed New Zealand millions of years ago.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the Glow Worm Caves. So, I have no pictures to show you (they would have been dark, anyway).

The tour guide first took us into a cathedral-sized room in the cave. He talked about the acoustics, which he claimed were "perfect." I've heard that before.

He asked everyone if someone wanted to sing a song in the "cathedral." I must admit, I felt compelled, but Jessi beat me to it. We sang "Silent Night" with a group of people from all around NZ, Australia, etc. Got a pretty gutsy wife, eh? You'd think that this would cause some uneasiness because of the whole "keep-your-religion-to-yourself" thing in the states. But Christmas and Christianity is different down here, or, I should say, NZ is just different.

Next, he showed us a cluster of glow worms. Apparently, glow worms' lives are filled with excitement. They live on the ceiling, let down a feeding line, and try to attract bugs. The feeding line is lit-up, which attracts the bugs. The light apparently comes from their excrement. Wonderful! Once the bugs get stuck to the feeding line, they pull it up and eat. (Hope you're not having dinner right now.)

At a point in their lives, they make a cocoon and eventually turn into a fly with no mouth! Then, they mate, lay eggs, and die of starvation. Doesn't that sound, delightfully, disgusting?

Well, after this explanation, we were ready to get on a boat (which was inside the cave, of course). The guide took us into a huge room that was lit with millions of these glow worms. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I don't really know how to describe what it looked like. Jaydn was eating it all up (he wasn't eating the worms).

The only picture I was able to take was this one, which isn't that bad.

Going from one extreme to the other, our next stop was at the Hamilton, New Zealand LDS Temple.

We hadn't planned on doing a temple session, so we just enjoyed the beautiful day and ate our lunch in front of the Temple. Even just sitting there--with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Christmas songs on the visitor's center speakers--was so peaceful. I could have stayed there all day.

"I love to see the Temple, I'm going there someday..." used to be Jaydn's favorite song.

We next drove into Matamata to see the home of "the Shire" on Lord of the Rings. We were pretty much vacationed out, and were not really disappointed when the gas station attendant in Matamata told us that the only way to see anything is to get with a tour guide ($40 / person). No thanks.

I had to get this picture, out of the car, of Jaydn eating a chocolate ice cream outside the gas station.

Jaydn makes eating chocolate ice cream an art.

It was apparent to us that our vacation was at an end. We made one last attempt to see volcanoes in Devonport, which is part of Auckland. But, again, Jaydn just wanted to play on the playground.

Jessi, however, was excited to eat at Pizza Hut (which, mind you, had almost 20 different kinds of specialty pizzas--why can't we do that in the states?). Jaydn had a Happy Meal, and, you guessed it, "Mambo No. 5."

We made one last trip to the grocery store, dropped off the rental car, and got a ride to our hotel for the night. We were running out of New Zealand dollars. Thank goodness, we had just enough to pay for our room.

We woke up early--at 4:30 am--to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. First, I paid our departure tax. They charge you $40 to leave New Zealand. Only problem was, I had just spent my New Zealand dollars. Luckily, I had enough US Dollars and Samoan Tala to pay it off.

Then we got in line to get our boarding passes. At the desk, the attendants asked if we had proof we were going on to Pago Pago, American Samoa. I told them that AS airlines don't give that to you, you have to check with them when you get to the airport. She told us "so sorry, if you don't have proof, you'll have to buy a return ticket to NZ if you want to leave." What!?

We scrambled to find proof. Who could we call? It was 5:30 am! On a Saturday! No one was awake! I was just about to make a phone call, when I remembered! They did give us proof! Man, I felt sheepish. I just hate airport stress!

We made it back to Samoa! Stepping onto the runway was amazing! We actually missed the heat!! It only took us about 20 minutes, though, before we were wishing we had some cool weather again!

We met the same kids in the airport during our layover, and received the same pleas for money. We only had 10 Tala, which we used on a large bottle of water. Must have budgeted well, because we came home with practically nothing!

And we're happy to be back. Although it was strange to call American Samoa home from New Zealand.

Well, that's our New Zealand trip in a nutshell. It is a beautiful place. On the trip, Jessi told me that if I ever have to work in New Zealand, she'll be happy to live there. Wo, slow down now! We're only on vacation! Or, as the Kiwi's called it, a "holiday." (Every time I heard someone ask me, "havin' a good holiday, mate?" I'd think, "what's the holiday?" It took me so long to realize they were referring to our vacation!! One of the hotel owners at Moana Lodge in Wellington told me that "vacation" is not a word used in New Zealand.)

Adventures in Kiwi Land - The Long Drive

If this face tells you anything, it would be that we were in the car for a while after we left Wellington.

We switched drivers occasionally. Jaydn sat behind the passenger side, and from his limited view he could snap pictures of the driver on the right side of the car.
Weird, huh?

Jessi drove the majority of this seven hour drive from Wellington to Otorohanga, which is a hop away from Waitomo, our destination. I felt bad, because this was the road with the best scenery, and the worst road conditions (some of the drives were downright scary). It is in Otorohanga (a mouthful) that we made our next stop on this leg of the amazing race.

Thank goodness for the scenery. When in NZ, you are never at a loss of "ooh"s and "aah"s. It all looked like we were driving through LOTR territory. While not an amazing picture, the drive looked something like this for the whole way:
Sans the continuous rainbow, of course.

I got a nice picture of Jaydn and a sheep.
The picture is kind of misleading. Sheep outnumber people in NZ by, what, probably 10 to 1 or more? They even had a whole section of the Te Papa museum dedicated to all things sheep. You can bet I was thrilled.

We also drove by another waterfall. Usually, you'd think the waterfall is the beautiful part of the picture. Here, it's the surrounding scenery that makes it nice. Typical New Zealand.
And if you're wondering how Jaydn was for this really long trip, besides "Mambo No. 5," you couldn't really ask for a better child to travel with. His maturity and patience is well past his age.
You're probably wondering what new hotel I picked when we were in Tongariro (OK, you're probably not). But I'm going to tell you anyway. We stayed at another backpackers, only this time it was a real dandy. Our room consisted of two sets of bunkbeds. That's it. And there wasn't much room besides (of course there was no bathroom, are you joking?). By the way, when we opened the door, the owner's cat was sleeping on one of the top bunks. Nice.
Oh, and from the looks of the picture, a kid was already sleeping in one of the beds when we opened the door. Wait--that's our kid.

You've probably noticed the name of our room by now.

Make no mistake, this was no Beverly Hills.