Friday, August 12, 2005

New Zealand Tour Diary Part 2

Marcus fell off a cliff.

The cocktail party we’d planned didn’t quite happen. The four members of the crew who’d organised things are sitting around the kitchen devouring several varieties of cheese, wine, olives, crackers, and assorted deli items while trying to stave off the inevitable question: where is everyone? Admittedly, we’d not told them about the cocktail party (an enthusiastically improvised arrangement). And due to the lack of participants, we hadn’t dressed in the glam gear we’d decided on, since four people in regalia is less noble, and more sad. But we’re having a fun and easygoing time, which is strangely different for a trip that has rarely allowed groups of less than eight. It was Biddy’s idea to make sure that today included lots of split groups, and it worked out well. We all went our separate ways, crossed courses midway, stayed in contact or wandered down our own paths.

And now we’re just the four of us, the final quartet, drinking peacefully in the grey post-sunset, wondering where the hell the rest of the group has gone. A call from Rupert confirms that he and Verity are off to dinner, with a house arrival time of 8pm (we suspect this is an optimistic estimate). Later, we get a call from Marcus, who along with Mark and Zac has been bushwalking for several hours. He’s fallen off a cliff.

Prior to this, the conversational tone of the evening has been varied. We’ve mulled over the quality of the wine, discussed tomorrow’s plans, and someone has confessed to a very personal problem, the “very common medical condition” known as furballs.

I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure humans don’t get furballs.

As the discussion proceeds, we discover other speakers suffering from equally obscure “common medical conditions” such as Fill-In Toenails and Parallel Line Epilepsy. Emma gets a phone call and returns to inform us that Marcus has fallen off a cliff.

The Boys from Oz, minus me, had gone to a trail called Paradise to walk for a few hours in the afternoon, and as we learn later, had decided to walk until it got dark and turn around to head back around sunset. This might sound a bit risky, but there’s a strange course to the travels of the Queenstown sun which won’t be unknown to people who live in valleys, but is probably rarely thought about anyway. If you inhabit an area surrounded by mountains, the sun will never set on a flat horizon. Instead, it sinks below a distant lofty range at an early hour, maybe 4pm, without truly leaving for a long while after. As a result, valley-dwellers must be used to stretches of soft twilight that last for hours and hours, only gradually settling into night as the reflected rays of the sun slide up the opposite slope in a brilliant golden sheet. This very slow sunset might do something to the mindset of the valley-dweller, since things never seem to happen suddenly around here. Maybe not.

I suppose it was inevitable that one of the foreigners did something suddenly. As they were on their way back towards the van, Marcus a few metres ahead, the ground gave way a little beneath him and he disappeared. Zac and Mark ran to the spot he’d been standing and all they could see was bracken, with the noise of breaking branches somewhere below. They made their way to the bottom of the cliff, and found that Marcus had fallen a long way. Maybe 10 metres by his own estimation. The first few metres he was falling through bush, but once he’d cleared that he was going head first in open air, and he remembers thinking that he should have hit the ground long ago. That was when he realised how far he was really falling, and what would happen when he hit. He also mentioned seeing his life begin to flash before his eyes, and being annoyed that this replay was so short. Or at least it was cut short when he impacted head and arms first into the side of the cliff and slid down to rest against a log, a sharp shard of wood a few inches from his head. He’d lost his glasses, and his jacket was dangling about four or five metres above him. Just to get some perspective, the distance he’d travelled was around the height of a three storey house.

It’s dark. They have no torch, not even a lighter. They have a camera flash, and it’s eerie, I think, to have to take a photo of someone and then examine it to see if their hurt. I suppose that’s what an X-ray is, though. His neck and spine felt crushed, and he was sporting an open head wound on his forehead which was swelling to the size of an apple. The boys got him up and back to the car, which was still a half hour away. Zac drove back, and they stopped at a petrol station to refuel, which was when the call was made back to the house.

When we heard the news, no one really knew what to think. I mean, we’d spent the week so far playing minor jokes, or stretching tales beyond credulity, but no one really falls off cliffs. Well, Marcus might. It didn’t sound like a joke, but it didn’t make sense either. When he arrived home, he wasn’t on a stretcher, and since he’s pretty tough he didn’t appear to be in agony. But the visible evidence was there, so we got him off to the medical centre to get checked out by a doctor who wasn’t really a specialist in this kind of thing (it was around 9.30pm by this point), and were told to come back the following day for X-rays.

This is half-way through the trip, and it was at this point that I thought I began to feel the stirrings of internal tension amongst the group. We’d been living in close confines, almost always together, for some time now, and had travelled over halfway across the South island along the way. It’s only natural, I guess, that we start to go a bit stir crazy. And it’s not like we’re short of big personalities. I went to bed early. I didn’t have any problems with anyone, but I could feel concerns simmering away in the house and I wasn’t comfortable. I think things have settled, mostly, to the point at which we can, at the very least, go along to get along. My early night was also inspired by drinking a beer and finding a cigarette butt in it. I don’t think anyone will ever kiss me again after reading that.

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