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Published: November 17th 2005
Relaxin' in Raro
Paradise Inn, Rarotonga
We're back in civilization after doing the Cook Island version of AARP. That would be Atiu (say Ah-choo), Aitutaki, and Rarotonga = Paradise!! But even paradise has it pitfalls and we were able to experience a few. Out of the last 15 days it rained 8! Thank goodness for books, the MP3 player, and yoga! The mosquitoes really LOVE the islands and we returned with a multitude of bites. In fact, all insects love the islands and we were co-habitating with most of them. Our new friends were the geckos, which also lived with us, and did a wonderful job of insect control.
There was no television or internet and only one phone on the island of Atiu. Aitutaki had television but due to a power shortage, the power company turned it off. The one internet cafe was working on snail mail time and the phones only worked occasionally.
All that aside, the islands were beautiful and we had a good time on the tours, hikes, motorbike rides, kayak trips, snorkeling cruise, and island explorations. We did 3 tours which were all very different. On Atiu (population 600) we went with "Birdman George" on a tour of the jungle.
Our favorite "home" in Rarotonga. We especially enjoy the beach terrace and the 3 cats: Trouble, Trouble and Trouble!!!
We saw a variety of rare birds, ate strange jungle food (bird's nest ferns, snake beans, and poor man's peanuts), did a great hike into the depths of the jungle, and had an excellent dinner on a secluded beach.
Also, on Atiu (translate to land of the birds and the insects), we did a very rainy hike to the Kopeka Bird cave. It was a difficult hike over the fossilized coral, which is razor sharp, to the cave. We then descended into the cave, with the guide, to see the small Kopeka bird. This is the only place on earth where the bird lives and it navigates by sonar-like chirps within the pitch black cave.
Atiu has a very unique geology. The coral reef rose out of the water millions of years ago and has since fossilized. Another coral reef developed and now surrounds the island. The beaches are small and few. Most of the people live in the 5 villages which are located in the center of the island.
From the air, these villages and the roads leading to them, look like a starfish carved out of the top of the island. The highlight of the
village day is when the bakery takes the freshly baked bread out of the wood burning stone oven. Most of the villagers and the tourists are there at 10:00 a.m. to get their bread. It is truly wonderful!!
Our first evening there, we went to the ONLY restaurant in town for dinner. The only other couple at the restaurant and at our table were from Wasilla, Alaska. The wife had also lived in Sarasota for 15 years. What was most amazing to us was, we know 6 people who live in or visit Wasilla regularly. It was too weird.
Aitutaki is bigger and more tourist oriented. However, most of it is still in its natural state. It has one of the most amazing lagoons of any island we have ever visited. The lagoon is triangular in shape and is dotted with small islands called motus. Our boat cruise took us to 2 islands where we were able to swim, snorkel, and explore the motu. The snorkeling was fantastic and I think I saw every tropical fish on the fish chart. I saw blue starfish, giant clams bigger than me, and porcupine fish getting their mouths cleaned by blue
The cruise was pretty laid back with the captain playing the ukulele and singing while steering the boat. In fact, it was an entire band, consisting of the captain, the first mate, the guide, and the cook singing "You Are My Sunshine" and other more traditional island songs as we returned to Aitutaki.
On another day we rented a double kayak and paddled out to 2 of the motus. The trip was long, hot, and beautiful. We both liked the experience of being the only ones on the motu.
We stayed at Gina's Garden Lodges which was owned by the Queen of the island. She was a delightful, insightful elder of the island. We really enjoyed talking to her about the politics and the development of the island. She was a charming lady with a wealth of information about the island, the government, and the people.
Now, we are back in Rarotonga and feel like we are back in touch with the world. I can't wait to have some more Ika Mata, which has become one of my favorite island foods. It is fresh tuna that is marinated in lime juice for several hours. Then
Solar run boat in the Muri Lagoon
Site of the vicious parrot fish attack!! Pacific Resort, Rarotonga
it is mixed with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and coconut cream. It is chilled for several hours and then served in a hallowed out coconut shell. It is to die for!!!
One of our favorite things to do in Rarotonga is to ride the local bus. There are 2 buses, one runs clockwise around the island and the other runs "anti-clockwise". In 50 minutes they do a complete circle of the island. You can get off at all the different resorts, restaurants, beaches, or shops. It is a fun ride since most of the drivers have a great sense of humor. It is also cheap, only U.S. $2.00 per trip.
My swimming experience in Rarotonga was a bit tramatic. I waded out into this clear, calm lagoon and was bitten by a vicious parrotfish!! One bite would have been tolerable, but the darn thing bit me 3 times. And with enough force to draw blood! It sent me back to the shore in record time.
The islander's cyclone stories have been especially interesting to us. They had 5 cyclones last season with 3 (Meena, NANCY, and Olaf) occuring within a 10 day period. Cyclone "NANCY" seemed to do
Atiu approach from the air
View of the raised fossilized coral reef
the most damage. Three of the cyclones destroyed our favorite restaurant, Trader Jacks. While it was being rebuilt they were operating out of a shipping crate and called it "The Jack in the Box".
On Aitutaki, the cyclone ripped one of the cruise boats loose from its ropes and it ended up on One Foot Island. That is the island that it goes to every day on the cruise. The owners of the boat were amazed to find it washed up on the shore right in the same place where they usually anchor it. It had drifted clear across the lagoon in the storm and had only 2 scratches on it!!
The best way that I can think to close this entry is to give you a list of our observations of life on small Pacific Islands. This and the pics should give you a good idea of what life is currently like for us.
* you can't buy newspapers or tomatoes because they are "booked" for the locals
* seeing people transport lawn mowers and golf clubs on a motorbike is common
* pigs, chickens, baby goats, and coconut crabs are road hazards
cold showers are better than no showers
* a 1.5 liter of water costs U.S.$2.80!!!
* island air conditioning consists of open windows and a fan if you are lucky
* papaya, coconut, and passion fruit taste amazing
* co-habitation with a multitude of insects and BIG geckos is just the way it is
* food and vegetable options are limited in the grocery store and change daily
* there's no better view than a Pacific Atoll Lagoon
* EVERYONE you pass, smiles, waves, or says "Hello"
We leave for New Zealand tomorrow night. That is a week earlier than planned. The "mozzies" are driving us out. They have chewed on us enough. Our first stop will be in Christchurch on the south island. Thanks again for all that have written. It's nice to get the feedback. So, as they say in N.Z. - Ta for now:-)
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