Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Entering the Brown Kiwi

Entering the fetid Brown Kiwi guilt and shame overcame me.

When it came to leaving the hot tub we'd shared with 25 wedding guests New Zealand's South Island was bathed in hot sunshine. I'd persuaded four of them to fly to Auckland with me to find tropical beaches but instead of sunbathing we found ourselves in a typhoon.

We should have stayed where we were.

Auckland had nothing on Queenstown - where my 'Lord of the Rings' location guidebook and soundtrack had taken me to Isengard, Rohan, a cross-dressing nightclub and a wedding. As expected it was like Scotland - only on steroids. Everything was familiar but bigger - trees, mountains, glaciers, hobbits - it even rained and had unpleasant biting insects.

Obsessive British conservation alongside 19th century gold and sheep bonanzas has created a land that mixes the Wild West with small town 1950s America, full of pioneering Scots. Unlike the US there's been little subsequent modernisation and so for the anglophone visitor it's a beautiful timewarp where men are men and the country's quiet.

Sadly the 'Brown Kiwi' was the only hostel in Auckland with space for us. The Lonely Planet's "gay friendly" description proved accurate. In pouring rain the only thing to do was to drink champagne at the races in our wedding gear. Remarkably my 4 companions didn't blame me and everyone else won on the horses.

Craig was a forty-something Kiwi who lived in the hostel because "it's a good way to get to know people". Sharing our stinking dorm, reeking of 8 men and their damp kit, Craig seemed particularly keen to get to know Chief, a strapping Cherekoe-Thai-Nigerian-Englishman. Filling up our Wingroad, hungover at 7am, he announced to the petrol station forecourt his top 3 favourite smells: petrol, surf wax and vaginas.

Still ashamed at the enthusiasm with which our week long post-wedding adventure had ended (dressed as dancing girls in Wanaka's only nightclub) Chief gave Craig a wide berth for fear of what else he might learn about himself.

Entering the boy's shower room I found Chief was explaining at length how he had narrowly escaped death in Somalia while working as the Royston Crow's gardening correspondent.

"I knew you were brave! Was that the only time you've found yourself biting off more than you could chew in foreign parts?" asked Craig as he brushed his teeth. As I closed the door silently Chief launched into a tale of Congolese mishap.

Craig finished brushing his teeth and left. I caught the door as it swung shut, gently pulled it to and affecting my best camp Kiwi accent asked Chief, "is it true that in Congo sexual violence is used as a weapon of war?"

"Yes it is actually. Apparently 70% of the world's rapes happen in DRC, although quite how they know that I've never found out. There was an interesting study by Amnesty. Very sad. Awful thing." Chief continued in awkward half sentences, oblivious to the fact it was me, not Craig, asking him questions.

"And did you ever find yourself threatened, sexually, out in the bush?"

"No Craig I didn't, I'm pleased to say, I managed to avoid that sort of thing." Chief was sounding increasingly defensive so I decided to cut to the chase.

"You never experimented on your travels?"

"I see where you're going with this and the answer's no"

"What about in the shower, Chief? A lot of guys find it quite liberating to touch..."

"Fuck off Craig!"

"I'm coming in!" I cried and stuck my hand round the shower curtain.

"If you want to get punched in the face you're going the right bloody way about it!", Chief thundered.

Chief was covered in shampoo and at this point I told him Craig had left a while ago. "Oh right", he said, "you total bastard. I thought I was going to have to fight him off which was going to be tricky with soap in my eyes".

And with that he was off to find himself on the banks of the Ganges.