Tuesday, May 25

Sissy to sassy 

I’m not much of what you might call a ‘sporty’ individual, except, I’m a biking maniac. A self-confessed paper tiger and acrophobic, I tend to circumvent looking down, when, say, aloft a tall building; if I marshal up the guts to get there in the first place, that is. ‘Tall,’ in my dictionary, puts the ceiling on ten feet, or thereabouts. But I’ve grown a lot from the debut-on-airliner days, wherein, looking out the window at the Goliath fluffy clouds would send me into such a tizzy-dizzy that I had to be whisked away in thought or physical proximity, whatever worked swiftest; never mind the fact that the person flanking me was at best a complete stranger, bound by no minuscule obligation whatsoever, even if you alluded to it by that proverbial humanitarian spirit, to watch over me.

Anyhow, here’s the lesson that brought about the afore-hyped ‘elevation,’ and pumped up the so-called chutzpah I parade around with these days. Well, standing a few feet away from a solitary lighthouse and looking down a knobby pohutukawa tree on a stark cliff atop the northern tip of New Zealand wasn’t exactly the kind of exercise for a psyche like mine. But I endured it, in all consciousness. This spectacular extremity of the Kiwis’ landscape, I learned, whilst there not too long ago, bears great historic and spiritual significance. The much acclaimed pohutukawa is the Reinga, or ‘place of leaping’ in Maori mythology, where the spirits of the dead plummet off the headland and descend the roots of the 800 year old tree, and go down into the underworld, to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiiki. If only it were that uncomplicated for us lily-livered creatures. Providentially enough, though, my attention was instantly sidetracked by the merging of two mighty oceans, a roaring Tasman Sea and an all the more powered Pacific. The resulting collision was such a maelstrom of waves that it did little, if at all, to nurse the trepidation. But a strange, liberating sense of freedom and space had overcome me by then and before I could take anything in, I got ushered back on the bus, only to be taken on a further exhilarating ride along the vast expanse of what they call the ‘90 Mile Beach.’ Therein, I gathered, the sky-high waves can actually be as unpitying as they seem -- no human that ever tread a few yards into them had come out alive. Neurosis status, you ask? At freezing echelon, by then. Nonetheless, with the ears still resounding the yowling of the deep, an even more hair-raising trip over the shifting sands of the Te Paki Stream followed; and the colossal west coast sand dunes were just round the corner. I had only just taken a good look around, when I was summoned and handed a ‘boogie board’ to lie on, stomach down. Just as I readied my panic-stricken mind for what was to come, the sudden prospect of having to go down that steep sand dune positioned like that, made me bawl my lungs out. I found myself behave like a child that’s being flung into thin air, I wailed and whimpered. But the guide wasn’t going to let me go simply --- it was really de rigueur, he said. He dragged me to a smaller, less daunting mound of sand and backed me up with some good grounding. So what ensued was my real turn to hit the real sand.

I stood there and witnessed many rollovers and mishaps and became more convinced my kismet would be no different. People were being hurled like lumber on planks, and when they’d touched bottom, they appeared to have casually separated from their boogie boards. I was prepared for the absolute pits. Clenching my fists, I lay down on the boogie board, like a goat ready for its sacrificial ceremony. With my compassionate family cheering on and a gentle prodding by the guide, I was sent gliding down...eyes shut, nerves twisted, brain numbed, heart pounding, voice muted, I landed at the base, slightly bruised and utterly exhilarated to be alive.

Surely, you’ve figured how knocked out I was, but droll as it may seem, I did go back and forth on many more rounds. Like all’s well that ends well, it took a few adrenaline-pumping sashays down some gigantic sand eskers to turn me into a daring, outdoorsy freak. Needless to say, my life hasn’t really been the same since. Aside from being a triumphant boogier, I have also taken a crack at a few other activities that are clearly the terrain of the stout swashbuckler in these parts of the world -- skiing, for instance. And just as I’m recounting this, I’m being called on to prime myself for an impending countryside crusade. The phobias, incidentally, have gone on a teensy escapade by themselves --- they’re out flying a kite!

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