“You ain’t never had a friend like me!”

I once read a quote about how strange the concept of friendship is. You choose someone that you like and you do more stuff with them than you do with other people – what a strange thing to do when you think about it. In the animal kingdom sociality is actually dominated by intelligence. The more social species require larger brains in order to develop and understand the complex hierarchies within them. The same can be said of humans (although sometimes I really do doubt the intelligence aspect). I used to love comparing friendship groups to a Wolf pack or my Baboon troop; the similarities you can often find are amazing and hilarious.

Over the course of time whilst travelling you start to appreciate the effort some of your friends will go to ensure you remain in each others lives and can enjoy doing more stuff together. In Norway Andy and Alan graced us with a visit and this time we were joined by Vicky – another zookeeper friend who came all the way over to the other side of the world. She and I have one of those strange connections. We have nearly crossed each others paths several times before and when we did finally meet we seemed to want to trust each other despite both of us being screwed over in the trust department many times before. In short she is my “homie” – a great friend who I was very glad to be exploring New Zealand with.

Unfortunately Vix was also travelling New Zealand with another friend who actually reminded us more of a domestic cat; apparently friendly on the outside but with sharp claws she was keen to use when unhappy and a manner of condescending self importance. Keen to be independent despite planning a full trip alongside Vicky she decided to abandon her on the South Island. The first Pete and I were aware of this was a phone call as we were walking back from a beach. Hearing the unfamiliar ringtone of my travel phone Peter looked cautiously at me and said “that can’t be good!” thinking it might be bad news from home. Instead we got a Vicky full of cold and still in slight shock at being left by her so called friend.

She was too far away on the wrong island for a rescue mission but we decided to keep our original plans of a meet up in Rotorua and we would be her transportation to and from the airport etc. It was truly fantastic to see her beaming face as we picked her up, determined not to let the events of the previous week dampen her spirit.

We chatted away as to what had happened and started to form our plan for the next three days as we were in a motel room together and had the whole of Rotorua to explore. Strangely an old friend of my own contacted me stating that she now lived in the area (and i’m convinced I walked past her at one point) but given that our close friendship was somewhat marred by a stream of abusive text messages from her over a simple misunderstanding nearly a decade ago I found it strange to suddenly be back in her line of sight. Friendships are certainly a strange phenomenon and one I fear I will never understand. Why can’t we all just be NICE?!

Peter and I wasted no time at all in introducing Vix to the geothermal wonders we had already stumbled across in Rotorua itself. The steam erupting from the land, forming vast warm foggy clouds of mystery above boiling mud pools along with the stench of sulphur (which i actually quite liked) created a really surreal scene for three old friends to be walking through. There were also hot pool foot baths which were delightfully refreshing and forest walks to explore in between.

Determined to cram as much as possible into our 3 days together we firstly decided to go to the local Maori living village with a hugely elongated and vastly unpronounceable name. It was fascinating walking through it, learning about how the villagers use the geothermal features to their advantage with their very own hot pool baths and steam vent cookers. We even ate some steam cooked corn on the cob – delicious! We got to see a geyser erupt which was incredible and we also made friends with the local tattoo artist who does designs based on your answers to some personal questions. Peter and Vicky got their designs made but we’re both a little more than reluctant to put needle to skin for the full effect. We also made a new friend during this process who would join us for the evening. During travel I have always loved and marvelled at how a complete stranger can become a new friend in mere seconds so we decided to meet up that evening.

That day we also wandered the Redwood forest and once night fell ate vast amounts of beautiful food at a night time food market with our new friend before it was rained off. All in all a packed but fun day with the next promising to be the same. However we decided to unwind by making use of the thermal heated small pool that was situated in our Motel (no disrespect to our wonderful travel car but it was so wonderful to be sleeping in an actual bed with a hot shower whenever you needed it!) As we entered the room where the thermal pool was we were warned how hot it could actually get to. The maximum was 42 degrees Celsius. Having looked at the thermometer dangling in the pool it was reading exactly that.

And so we had to get in in stages. Even just putting my foot in took a considerable amount of will and effort. It was like getting into a bath that you had purposefully run to be “boiling lobster hot” but even hotter. It quite literally took your breath away! After a while all 3 of us where in and on fire and it was not long until we decided we couldn’t quite take it anymore and got out again. So much for an evening wind down!

The next day was a water adventure of a different sort – river rafting! But this was to be on the extreme side. Peter and I had already done black water rafting through a dark glowworm lit cave but this was white water rafting. Within this run lay a SEVEN metre waterfall which we would be rafting down and on the approach to it all three of us were more than a little nervous. All of us on board chanted a little Maori in order to build up courage with me screaming “Kia kaha” which means “keep strong” although I think Peter also shouted something in English as we went over along the lines of “I regret my life choices!” Thankfully we all made it down and remained in the raft although it feels like you’re under water for a life time. The rest of the run was fantastic too with all sorts of get wet opportunities and I think it may well have been the highlight of our time on Rotorua.

The final day brought a horse trek that Vix and I had been hoping to do for ages. As treks go it could have been better. We’d been put on three horses that clearly hated each other and the organisation seemed more about the business rather than anything else. However we still enjoyed spending the time together, reminiscing about old times, experiencing new things and helping to talk through each other’s futures.

During travel there is something incredible about making new and foreign friends in exotic locations but there’s something even better about exploring a place and sharing it with an existing friend. There’s an ease, a familiarity and a history which can make any distant land feel like home again. Maybe that’s why we really call each other “homie.”

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