Puké Pub (and payback)

There it sits -- dark liquid salvation. Monteith’s Original Ale. Waiting to rescue her from the bizarreness that is her vacation. She swore she would never let her friend pick their destination again, yet here she sits, in the Puké Pub, staring at a menu that offers “Road Kill of the Day.” For the life of her she can’t figure out where her friend comes up with these places: last year a Ghost Sit at Muncaster Castle, the year before an Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi. She thought this year might be normal, New Zealand, she had actually heard of that. She should have known better, Kelly would never let her off that easily. So here they are, in Pukekura, sleeping in tents (luxury safari tents Kelly keeps telling her, but they are just tents and twice as much as the cabins, cabins where she can close the door and sleep free of mosquito netting) listening to “The Redback on the Toilet Seat” wailing from the old jukebox.

Kelly is out back soaking in the Hot Rocks Pool; but she would rather sit here and let the warmth of the ale wash away the weirdness of the day. And Hokitika. And the Wildfoods Festival. Over 19,000 people had crammed into the pocket-sized town of Hokitika. But it wasn’t the people that had bothered her, crowds she could handle, it was what the people were doing. What the people were eating, and from the looks of them, enjoying. Kelly had purposely not told her what kind of festival this was, she now realized. Kelly knew she was squeamish, knew how she would only eat boneless chicken, knew how the thought of ripping meat from the bone made her gag, knew how the least little pink in her hamburger sent her running to the bathroom. She didn’t know why she was this way; she grew up on a farm where being squeamish would make life difficult. But she was, and Kelly knew this. Yet there they were at a festival celebrating the strangest, grossest, most vile meat she could ever, or would ever, dream of.

Sautéed Hare Testicles, did she read that right? The grin on Kelly’s face said she did. She was starving and this wasn’t looking good. As they walked down the row of booths it became painfully clear what kind of festival this was. Wildfoods Festival. Wild to her meant duck or lamb, neither of which she would eat. Wild here meant sheep’s eyes and possum pie. One booth offered bug larvae, scorpions and huhu grubs. She didn’t even want to know what a huhu grub was, and she certainly wasn’t going to eat one. Yet all around her people were doing just that. She searched for shared revulsion in their eyes, but only found delight. She felt muddled, as if she were watching some strange movie in which she was appearing, but was not a part of. Does not anyone find this strange, that a town would put on a festival like this, and that people would come from all over the world to participate? And there was Kelly, plate piled high, acting as if this was the most normal thing in the world. Her strange friend, she’s often wondered how they have become so close. The next booth offered Bull Semen Shooters. Her father used to buy bull semen to inseminate the cows on their farm. She would cover her ears every time she heard those words, grossed out is what she used to tell her father when he asked her why. Now she could buy bull semen herself -- to drink. Her head was reeling and she was getting sick. The last booth she passed on her way out of the festival offered Fried Cow’s Udder and Bull’s Penis Sausage. Kelly could find her own way back to the Puké Lodge.

And here she sits, staring at the dark liquid, her salvation for the moment, in this pub, in the middle of the South Pacific, trying to erase the images, smells and strangeness of the day; while this guy, as creepy as he is foul, is trying to pick her up. She buys two drinks, hands him both and sends him out back, to her friend, the one who is soaking naked in the Hot Rocks Pool, the one who, she tells him, is “just his type.”

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