Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Scared Stiff

After a long and winding drive through some rather pointy mountain ranges and having at last seen some sheep - hurrah! (All I had seen so far were cows which just didn't seem New Zealand enough..) we arrived in the very weird spooky town of Napier. Napier gets raved about because it is the worlds best, or one of the best examples of an Art Deco city. I was imagining pastel prettiness but maybe it was because the weather has just put on a very nasty turn, maybe it's because the wind howls off the black sand beach and the ocean crashes in ominously with nothing between it and the coast of Sth America, maybe it's because the whole town sits on a major faultline which resulted in a devasting earthquake in 1931 or maybe it's because Ed and have choosen to stay in an old prison where they used to hang people......

Yes, maybe it's for the last reason that I'm freaking out. We are staying at the "Napier Prison Backpackers" which is in NZ's oldest prison that was only decomissioned in 1993. Just to add to the drama the prison is located on a huge lonely cliff overlooking the ocean with a few derelict looking houses nearby. Delightful! When we arrived we were faced with an enormous granite wall a la something out of "Prisoner" and a huge wooden door. After buzzing the door a cranky looking guy wearing a beanie pops out with a gruff "What do you want?" errrr to stay here we reply.

Walking in it quickly becomes apparent that not much as been done to the place. I guess there not that much difference in terms of need from a prison to a backpackers's a place of mass accomodation, people sleep in bunks, need somewhere to shower and somewhere to go and eat but in terms of pleasant ambience it has very little. In terms of atmosphere it has an abundance, though not the kind I prefer.

Ed and I are staying in the cheerily named "psyche ward' which has the classic prison dunny in the corner of the room and a lovely view (though the wire mesh) into the yard quite close to where they used to hang people. The psych ward is located near the conjugal visits room, the lock up and the suicide room. Lovely! Other dorm rooms still have the original bunks and gang graffiti on the walls. It's like the inmates simply moved out yesterday and the backpackers moved in bringing a few hippie batik throws and some cushions for good measure.

Last night was out first night and I was totally petrified. Having stayed down in the (equally) creepy town all day I was guzzling as much booze as I could and dragging my feet before we finally made our way back. Back through the massive wooden doors, back through the grim courtyard, past the mess hall, along a creaking corridor with darkened cells on either side, creaking down a lino floor to finally arrive at our psych ward. I curl into bed squeezing my eyes tightly shut and virtually try to climb inside Ed cause I'm so scared. Not that he's much help I think bitterly, he'll be blissfully snoring shortly after looking around our room smiling and saying that he likes it cause it reminds him of boarding school.

Lights off and I lie sleepless occassionally opening an eye half expecting the ghost of some mad person to be looking at me. Outside the wind howls over the cliff and the ocean pounds onto the shore. Amazingly I fall asleep.......

Quick complementary tour of our prison home in the morning was interesting but I'm not sure how much it has helped me settle in. On the tour I discover that 4 people were hanged in the courtytard (3 were Maori) and that their bodies are buried against the wall standing up so they could never "rest in peace". In fact pregnant women and children under five are encouraged not to go into the courtyard as the Maori believe they are too vulnerable to all the evil in the place.

I also learn that a guard was bashed almost to death in a room near ours and that a backpacker in a room 3 doors down from ours reckons that one of the condemed men appeared as a ghost and tried to strangle her. Great! Looking forward to walking past that cell on my way to the psych ward tonight.

Other funnier stories were about the trustworthy prisoners who used to wriggle out of their cells, climb over the huge fence and go out partying down in the town. They got away with it for 7 years before they happened to go to a party that a couple of off duty prison wardens were at. There are the exercise yards with punching bags and weight machines and the marks where the yard had to be separated because of the two rival Maori gangs who were bitter enemies. Their graffiti is all over the place, as are the girlie posters and cigarette ads that are stuck on the walls of the cells.

One more day here and of course one more night.......we are heading to the Vineyards this afternoon so I might just have to get tanked before I can face another night in the psychward.


Blogger frank said...

"psyche ward" as in Cupid & Psyche? or like as in souls and spirits 'n that? or psyche-otic?

11:29 PM  

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