The day after the Tongariro Crossing, I planned to put my feet up and do some laundry and finish the Ian Rankin novel I’d started.

Yeah, like I would actually do that on a clear day with Mordor beckoning. I mean, dude, Mordor!

The laundry and DI Rebus would have to wait. Even though it was cloudy and overcast and generally gloomy, I decided to head up to Mt. Ruapehu. I got too late of a start to try for the summit, but I figured there must be some other trails I could try.

Again, the weather gods love me. Way more than the dating gods or the finance gods, but that is another matter.

As I drove up to the ski field on Ruapehu’s west side, the clouds parted like the Red Sea for Moses. I had another gorgeous, clear day (and later, as I descended, the clouds closed in again immediately… I felt bad for the 90,000 people on the Tongariro Crossing that day, because they only had a couple hours of sun and clear sky and little to look at but each other).

The Whakapapa Ski Field was closed for the season, obviously, given the lack of snow and all. Because it’s a Maori word, by the way, it’s pronounced “Fuh-ka-pa-pa” (in Maori, “wha” is pronounced like “fuh”). Say that out loud. The more childish among you can go ahead and giggle… for a couple weeks last season they were selling t-shirts that said “Whakapapa – your mama did!” and I really wanted one but, alas, someone complained and they stopped selling them before I could get my hands on one.

Anyway, although the ski field was shuttered, they were still running two of the chair lifts for sightseeing. That sounded like a grand idea to me, especially since there was an hour-long hike from the top of the upper lift to a ridge with great views.

The actual hike was a bit more challenging than I wanted, with lots of bouldering and steep, deep, lavalicious black sand and scree, but it was short enough that I didn’t mind too much. And the views from the ridge were indeed amazing.

As I started back down, I fell into step with a couple who’d also been on the ridge. I asked them to take a picture of me and Karl recreating a famous scene (well, famous in my head, anyway) from LOTR, since the scene was filmed on the side of Ruapehu. I sensed a German accent, but not quite, in the guy. I asked him where he was from and he told me “Germany.”

Ooh, a chance to speak Deutsch! I started babbling away happily for a couple minutes. He and his girlfriend claimed to be LOTR fans but had no idea that any of it was filmed there (seriously?? And you call yourselves fans?!?) so they wanted to know where all the locations were.

They started to walk ahead as I lingered for one last look at Mt. Doom and… it’s funny how the brain works. Because, without trying to eavesdrop, I realized I could understand what they were saying to each other… only they weren’t speaking German. Or English. My brain was like “hmmmmmmmmm… words different language, but still me understand…why this?”)

Oh my God, they’re speaking Russian!!

Before I could stop myself, I called down to them, in Russian, “oh, you speak Russian too?”

They stopped in their tracks. They shut their mouths. And they stared.

“You speak Russian.” the guy said, in English. “Why?”

I continued on in Russian, explaining I’d lived in Moscow and not really appreciating how uncomfortable they both looked.

“Are you a CIA agent?” the guy asked.

Typical f’n paranoid Soviet response. If an American speaks a foreign language, nevermind more than one foreign language, she must be a spy. As if.

“I’m a pastry chef!” I said merrily, only then seeing how freaked out they were. For some reason, this made me even more gleeful.

To be honest, I miss speaking Russian. For the last several years, the only individual I spoke it to regularly was my Russian dog Wiley. And he understood. Really. Since his death, never having a reason to speak Russian is a reminder that he’s gone, which makes me sad.

Anyway, a deeper glimpse into my psyche than any of you needed. I got out of the guy that he and his girlfriend were actually from Tajikistan, no doubt descended from ethnic Germans that Stalin had shipped out en masse to Central Asia. They were really reluctant to speak to me more. It was like pulling teeth, and I know it wasn’t because my Russian is that bad. The guy said they decided not to walk down then, they were going to stay put for a while. I shrugged and kept walking. Every time I looked back, they were staring down at me. And they weren’t smiling.

Just one of the reasons I giggled all the way down the Chair Lift of Mordor.


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