I have been Zorbed. Which would explain why I’m now peeing blood.

November 22, 2008

Further travels around New Zealand with Sis, my travel agent sibling visiting from Canada.

We’re in Rotorua. Or, as the rest of New Zealand likes to call it, Roto-Vegas.

Fenton Street is shoulder-to-shoulder motels/hotels/motor lodges/backpackers. The city is one big tourist trap constructed around thermal hot spots. The tag line in the visitor guide is “Feel the spirit.” More like smell it — the pervading odor is that of sulphur mixed with rotten eggs and poured into your gym socks. If someone farted in Rotorua, how could you tell?

We’re not staying on Fenton Street. We’re booked into the Duxton, a sprawling, wooden pile located some 15 minutes outside Rotorua, on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. I ask at the desk if there is a shuttle into town. Our host smiles and says no, but he can ring a taxi. A 15-minute cab ride? Yeah, right. Just as soon as I win Lotto.

This is my third visit to Rotorua. I know how the Sheep Show works at the Agrodome and am still sucked in when audience members are urged to jam a hunk of freshly-shorn wool over their noses and inhale. Sheep stink! Which probably explains why they’ve never really caught on as household pets. Well, that and the whole cud thing.

During past visits, I’ve also guided the wheeled luges down the tracks stretched across the flanks of Mt. Ngongotaha. Except this time Sis and I decide to challenge the Advanced route. I’ve barely started my downhill roll when I’m nearly clipped by a teenage girl a little too eager to squeeze past. This will never do. I pass her in turn and then tailgate her friend all the way to the bottom. Revenge is sweet. And, yes, it is mine.

Sis does not pass anyone. In fact, at one point during the descent, she actually comes to a complete halt. This is nearly impossible to do, considering the angle of decline. Besides, stopping on the track is probably discouraged. Unless, that is, you have a fondness for luge enemas, provided by the next rider to come screaming around the corner at full speed.

Sis did not stop on purpose. But she did notice a sign about a camera on the course — so deep-pocketed lugers can purchase photos of themselves in action — and so sat up nice and straight and smiled brightly all the way down. Good for the camera. Bad for momentum.

Having survived the luge with all sphincters unviolated, we visit the Tamaki Maori Village. I have also been here before and continue to shake my head at how the impressive Maori culture and history and warrior fortitude have been watered down into little more than dinner theatre for the tourists. Who then proceed to titter and giggle during the official welcome, which features a fright-inducing display of bulging eyes and thrusting tongues.

It’s meant to be intimidating — “We’re going to suck the marrow out of your bones while you scream for mercy. Unless, however, you happen to come in peace.” — but I think it would be more effective if Maoris still practised cannibalism. One tourist roasting in an underground oven would soon quiet the rude laughter. Most of which, by the way, is provided by Americans. Most of whom, by the way, would shoot you dead if you dared titter/giggle during the singing of their national anthem, or guffawed during a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Which brings me to the Zorb, a Rotorua attraction I had yet to cross off my list of things to do.

How to describe the Zorb? Hmmm. Well, basically, you’re confined inside an inflatable plastic sphere encased in another, larger inflatable plastic sphere and then rolled down a hill. It’s as simple — and as brutal — as that.

You have the option of Zorbing wet or dry. The former involves donning your swim suit and wriggling into the inner sphere where a shallow pool of water awaits. You then pretty much slosh all the way to the bottom.

The wet version of Zorbing resembles a rolling waterslide. Except at the end, where you slip out of the Zorb’s hatch amidst a rush of water. Then it looks like you’re exiting the birth canal, complete with placenta.

Sis and I decide to go dry, if only because we have no desire to be born again. Plus we don’t want to drive around all day with wet swimsuits steaming up the backseat.

Big mistake.

There is no sloshing involved with the dry run. Unless you count the way your brain slops around the inside of your cranium like so much dirty dishwasher. Instead, you are strapped to a seat, positioned with your back to the slope, and off you go.

This is how it feels: I’m going to die and then I’m going to puke!

This is how it looks: blue-green-sky-grass-blue-green-sky-grass.

This is how it sounds as you bounce down: Ugh-ugh-ugh-ugh-ugh. One grunt emitted with every impact of the Zorb with the ground.

One of my seat straps smacks me in the face with every flip, and my head is constantly snapping back to slam against the skin of the inner sphere.

It isn’t so much a ride as a rolling, bouncing torture chamber. It’s the Spanish Inquisition encased in bubble wrap.

The ride ends when the Zorb slams into a wooden fence at the bottom. As far as efficient braking systems goes, this one leaves plenty of room for improvement. The final impact feels like Muhammed Ali has just punched my left kidney. I now understand how a crash test dummy feels.

There is no simulated birth to my exit. At least that would have had a certain style and grace. Instead, in an effort to regain my shattered equilibrium, I actually drop to one knee. All captured on camera. All available on CD for only an extra $25. Because everyone should have a photo of themselves grimacing with pain, clutching their side and looking as if they’ve just emerged from a large, spherical blender.

But I survived to Zorb another day (next time: the wet ride) and my wife the nurse assures me the bruises will eventually fade.

And so I can now lay claim to having been Zorbed.

I am, officially, a Zorbonaut.

Now, take me to your leader. I may need one of his kidneys.

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