Monday, March 28, 2011

An Amazing Race

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 5)
My tube of muscle rub has expired.  I don’t mean simply that the date imprinted on the crimp has passed, I mean, like really expired.  Like it’s completely ineffective.
That is the most important realization I had after last Saturday’s “fun.”  Actually, it may be the only realization I had, considering that my brain was as tired and as sore as my body.
“The Amazing Race: Ukaurmpa Edition” had been a dream of Toni’s for two years.  Saturday saw that dream realized.  Events like this are rare enough that we jumped on the chance to do something fun as a family.  We prepared ourselves for the toll that stressful puzzles, decisions, and challenges would take on our pre-existing relationships.
Twenty teams showed up at 8:30AM for preliminaries.  Teams (including memorable combinations such as “Elmo’s Biggest Fans” (four high school senior girls wearing Elmo t-shirts, “Café con Leche” (two expats from Spanish speaking nations and two Americans who speak Spanish with them) the “DoReMi’s” (a music teacher and his family), “Smoking Hues” (two fathers and their sixth grade sons, the team name created from their two last names), “SMACK 1” and “SMACK 2” (two teams of four women each – all of their names starting with S, M, A, C, or K) and “SMACKED” (four of their husbands)) signed in and had team pictures taken.  Rules, route markers, detour and roadblock signs were displayed and explained.  And the first wave of ten teams departed with their initial clue envelopes at the 9:00 start time.
Fifteen minutes later, after a just-in-case bathroom break, the second wave (which included “The PEAS”), took off.  We rushed into the shade of a tree to tear open our envelope.
The clue referred to “going bald” or “needing a new do” and “Milky white” who was “mooing at you.”  That was a tad bit obscure, and we weren’t really sure what hair had to do with a cow, but rather than asking for help from spectators (which was allowed), we, the independent, self-reliant team, tore off down the road toward the cow from whom we get fresh milk twice a week.  As we approached (not seeing any sign of a route marker), Paul reminded us that there are actually two cows on center, and the other one is located at the home of one of the other ladies who cuts hair. 
That made sense, so we turned around and made our way quickly (we’d stopped running as soon as we got away from the cameras – ha!) to these people’s home which lies at the bottom of a long hill.  They were hosting their Saturday morning café (the subject of a future “Fun in the Remote Highlands of PNG” post), but no route marker.  Knowing we had the huge hill to climb, I decided to inquire rather than continue our failed self-sufficiency test.  We were informed that we were not the first to try their house (turns out, about eight teams came to their house that day), and that “Milky White” was the name of a paper-mache’ cow in a high school play a few years back.
Yeah, like how were we supposed to know that?
So, we trudged back to the high school.
Yes, I said BACK to the high school … to the prop room that stands just a few yards from the starting line we had jogged away from so energetically fifteen minutes earlier.
It had been a long fifteen minutes.
Unfortunately, we did not successfully complete the challenge at that stop (finding a marked black ribbon hidden among the rows of costumes inside of a 12 minute time limit) and, in addition to the 15 minutes of confused roaming, the 10 minutes waiting for the team ahead of us to finish the challenge, and the intense ribbon search, we absorbed a 5 minute penalty.  We had now used up 42 minutes of our allotted four hours.  We’d used 18% of our time on the first 8% of our race.
Fortunately, the other eleven pit stops were not as difficult for us.  The only other one we did not complete had to do with bean counting (literal bean counting), and no one else accomplished it either.  Using sampling theory, we did come up with the closest answer of all the teams that attempted it, but alas, not close enough to avoid another 5 minute penalty.
The location clue we received at the prop room was a photograph of someone’s front door.  This led us to a roadblock where we had to choose someone who was “really hungry” to attempt the challenge.  “I mean really really hungry.  I really mean really really really really really really really really hungry.”
Well, on any given day that describes our son exactly, so, thinking he would be downing a dozen bananas, he agreed to take the challenge.
He wouldn’t let us talk him into any more challenges for the rest of the day.
Before he even unwrapped the foil-covered plate, we caught a glimpse of the hand-made poster-board “menu.”  It included such delicacies as “squid snack,” white jelly fungus, sardines, sago, lychees, jellyfish, and sago grubs.  Yes, grubs.
Our team took the three minute penalty for changing participants.
And Paul took one for the team.
The lychees turned out to be a fruit, sweet and rather tasty (I took his word for it) but having come out of a can, slimy and unrecognizable prior to being ingested.  The sago tasted like cardboard; no surprise there.  The grub (beheaded and fried just that morning by a brave 15-year old girl) he popped like a pill and downed with half a glass of water.
I didn’t ask for any more descriptions.
He said he didn’t feel sick, so we trudged on.
Our clue led us to a home where strains of “Eye of the Tiger” were wafting from the closed curtains of the living room.  When it was our turn, we entered to find that we had ten minutes to learn a dance, and then we would be judged on how well we performed it.  Suffice to say, we passed the test and did not receive a penalty, but two pit stops later, when given a Detour choice of “Assembly required” or “Performance inspired,” we chose to assemble.  (A good choice from what I hear because, among other things, we didn’t have to try to pantomime “Argentina.”)
The clue for Pit Stop #4 was a photo that took us back to the high school.  Paul had to sink 10 baskets from somewhere beyond the top of the key in a certain time limit.  He just made it, and then retrieved our next clue from a plan full of whipping cream … using only his face.
The kids were jealous and insisted on cleaning off the zipper baggie before it went in the trash.
It took a couple of minutes to figure out that the bold words in the otherwise very bizarre clue were an anagram for the name of one of the youth hostels.  It was at this location that we chose “Assembly required” and after finding twenty-four plastic eggs that had nails inside, I built a box using some wood and every one of those nails.
Pit Stop #6 required that we sink a plastic golf ball in a makeshift “hole” (made from half a margarine container) in eight or fewer swings of a club.  Everyone had to hit at least one time. On the eighth hit, a four inch putt, the putter caused the ball to go airborne and bounce off the top of the butter tub.  (I won’t say who that was, but considering that that person had ingested jellyfish, fungus, and a grub on our behalf, we didn’t hold it against him.)
We had to start over three times, with hitting the ball out of the fence, and into a flower bed being the other two no-no’s that sent us back to the tee.  We narrowly avoided a penalty as we sank the putt just seconds before the time limit was up.
Our next clue sent us to a home where our roadblock card said (sorry in advance for any offense that may be taken here), I quote, “Choose the one person on your team who really sucks!”
I ended up having to draw a huge bowlful of jello through a straw.  About half way through, I noticed that the rules didn’t say anything about having to swallow the jello, so when I asked, I was escorted into the house (so other teams wouldn’t get wise) and given a spittoon.  Yay for spittoons.
At pit stop #8, we found 100 plastic knives sticking blade-first into the ground in a space that measured, by my best guess, 800 square feet.  Again, a time limit was imposed for us to find the one knife with a painted blade.  Only one knife (per person) could be out of the ground at any time. I don’t know which was worse … crawling around on hands and knees or bending over repeatedly.  I did both. 
They both hurt.  :)
Once the embellished piece of cutlery was located (I think it was the 98th knife we pulled), we were given our next clue.  When we arrived, we again had a choice to make … either a 2- or 3-person challenge.  The route to this pit stop had been all uphill and the kids were worn out (oh yeah … waah, waah, waah) so it was up to the aging, but ever faithful parental units to choose the “two” option.  I was blindfolded and Paul directed me, using only verbal instructions, through an elaborate obstacle course while the kids sat back and casually enjoyed cups of lemonade.  (Had one child been willing to make it “three,” then two blindfolded team members would have been required to erect a tent based on the verbal clues of the third person.)
Pit Stop #10 was where we encountered the beans.  We figured, being “peas” we should be able to conquer some lowly “beans,” but, as described above, they conquered us.  We should have chosen the “paper caper,” whatever that was.
Pit stop #11 found Paul and I volunteering to be the participants again.  I told Paul I would be the one blindfolded because he did such a great job of leading me around the obstacle course earlier.  (I meant it, too!)  Turns out, the obstacle course this time was his face.  The lipstick broke in my hand, so I smeared it on with my fingers … between his lower lip and his chin. 
I won’t describe where the rest of the cosmetics landed; you can look at the picture.  At least the wig ended up perched on the top of his head.
With Paul’s face so bedecked, we hurried to our final pit stop.  “Cemetery Hill” is, as you might guess, a hill.  With a cemetery.  Beside the cemetery is a steep foot path that takes those fit enough to scale it from one section of housing to another.  (I’m pretty sure I made my parents climb it, as part of their introduction to life here.)
The rules were that all team members had to climb up the hill … on hands and knees.
Which brings me back to the expired muscle rub crisis.
I focused on the ground as I plodded my way up the steeply-graded slope.  My family had reached the finish line and was cheering me on when I decided I had to stop and rest for a minute.  I looked up to see that I was in exactly the same place that I, when I first started climbing the hill (on foot), had to stop and rest: about 2/3 of the way up.  I laughed out loud at the coincidence, and then forced myself to finish, all the while staring at the grass.
Having completed all twelve pit stops, it was time to return to the high school and jump on the mat indicating our team’s arrival.  Instead of the Amazing Race logo, the plastic mat bore a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh.
But, hey … whatever works, right?
With our penalties added in, our final official time was four hours and one minute … good enough for an 8th place finish and the t-shirt prize that came with it.
Not bad, I say.
I have to give some kudos to two of my students, Andie’s classmates, who tagged along with us … for the entire race!  They were our own personal cheering squad, even going so far as to make and wear a sign that said “Go PEAS!”  E and V, you rock!
My twelve year old described Saturday as “one of the best days of [her] entire life!” 
And as for the toll of stress on our family?  I’d say there was little to none.  The four of us worked together surprisingly well and, thanks to the hard work of many people here, enjoyed a day of “fun in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.”

1 comment :

  1. Oh wow. I don't know if I would have survived THAT ordeal, but it sounds like a blast. BTW, Raymond loves lychees. Grubs, not so much.


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