Archive for April, 2005

Give me just one more night…

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Rarotonga

’cause I’m going back home tonight. SLO home, not NZ home.

Happy isles

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Rarotonga

Raro’s a happy place for a tourist, or at least a happy-go-lucky place. It’s small, there’s one main road around the island, with one more a bit further inland and that’s about it. There is one bus that goes clockwise and one that goes anti-clockwise and for the most part it doesn’t really matter which one you take – you’ll get round the island to where you want sooner or later, and it all works on island time anyhow.

Muri beach

So this is how it works – find a beach you like and veg out, when you get fed up with it, walk over to the road, wait for the bus in any direction and in the meantime stick your thumb out. You’ll get a friendly ride in minutes to take you to the next likely looking spot. Stop as needed for coffee/food/shopping/… Repeat until you do the full circle.

After this it’s time for a bit of evening rest and relaxation – the island life can be strenuous – watching the sun go down, and then, hey! it’s party time with the locals again, tonight the place to be is the Banana Court. Weeeeeeeeeeee!

No rest for the wicked

Tuesday, April 5th, 2005

Rarotonga

Every night is a party night here. OK, every night is a party night in all tourist places in the world, the difference here is that the locals are at it every night as well. In fact, the locals outnumber the tourists in most places. And the place is so small, you start to see familiar faces after a couple of nights. I wonder how they ever get anything done?

Monday nights are party nights at the RSA. Yes, you got that right. The RSA. What is usually a sombre or at least a somewhat geriatric bunch elsewhere, parties it up big time on Raro and the RSA is the place to be on Mondays. And its a fun place to be (aren’t they all around here), and once more, its about 50:50 in the locals:backpackers contest. Its a refreshingly different place to be, too – flowers to be tucked behind ears by both sexes, fa’afafine abound (always slightly weird to someone who’s lead a sheltered life like me), polynesian dancing,… and the locals are just as into it as the backpackers, happily emptying the huge bottles of Vaka lager.

It’s those very big bottles of Vaka lager that make Tuesday a great day to lie on the beach and ponder the deeper meanings of life and when that gets boring, put on a mask and snorkel, lie on the surface of the sea, and ponder the goings on in the depths below. The Rarotongan Beach resorts feeds the fishies living in the reef every day and there are more fish than you’d care to shake a stick at. Just stay away from the Triggerfish.

Measured in Churches per Metre…

Monday, April 4th, 2005

Rarotonga 

While the island is small, my leisurely stroll yesterday got me nowhere, so I borrow a bicycle from the hostel and set off to circumnavigate the island (sounds impressive, eh?). The first thing that becomes obvious is – they don’t mess around with their churches here. Granted, if I was a missionary, I’d much rather come here than say go to some cannibal infested, disease ridden jungle somewhere else, but come on, enough is enough.

To put things in perspective – Rarotonga is about 32km in circumference. There are about 5 old, impressive and photoworthy churches dotted around the island, which you’d think would be enough, a church every 6 kilometres, right? Wrong. These are just the ones that look nice – one is built out of massive blocks of coral, most of them are missing roofs, legacy of the cyclone season, and all look appropriately atmospheric. On top of these, they’ve got the catholic cathedral in the main town, Avarua, followed by some three other catholic churches strategically placed around the island. Enough? Not yet, this is where every christian sect in the world has its outpost, so, close on the heels of the catholics, come the Seventh Day Adventists, with, as far as I can tell, three huge churches and centres. The Mormons have two, the Jehovah’s Witnesses one. All of these are just the ones I found on the 32km long main road around the island and we’re still not done. I count at least another 10 obvious and biggish churches belonging to all manner of christian sects I’ve never even heard of. And THEN, to top it all off, every village, hamlet, population centre on the island, has its own little village hall/church. Lost count? I have. Barring some unfortunate island with an even bigger missionary infestation, I am prepared to bet that Rarotonga (population around 8000) has the most churches per inhabitant in the world.

Well, credit where its due, and to balance the churches out, they might have a lot of churches, but they’ve got even more statues of Tangaroa, well hung local god of fertility, spaced around the islands. Come to think of it, three-legged Tangaroa must’ve been a major factor in attracting the missionaries. Nothing like an overtly sexual pagan idol to bring in the brimstone and hellfire crowd. For a while, the missionaries even had the upper hand – Tangaroa was mainly depicted sans treasure, but Pacific culture has reaffirmed itself in recent years and Mr. T is once again proudly on display.

Islands of the God-Botherers

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

Rarotonga

Books about Polynesian islands often have titles along the lines of “Islands of Paradise”, “Happy Isles”, etc. all the better to perpetuate the myth of these islands being a happy, trouble free paradise, full of earthly delights (which I presume does not mean tending your wee cabbage patch), and pleasure.

Well, I presume that they are indeed paradise, and that there are indeed earthly delights to be found here, but for the time being, it is Sunday, the Lord’s day. Which makes it all the more evident that for as long as my kind of people have been coming here in search of tropical paradise, an altogether less fun bunch of people have been coming here as well, preaching about paradise elsewhere (well, I guess the grass is always greener, huh).

Going to Sunday mass on Rarotonga is apparently the tourist thing to do, even if you’re the weddings and funerals type of churchgoer. Any church will do, and believe me there’s many to choose from. This place draws missionaries like cheap booze draws backpackers. Going to church on Sunday here is supposed to be fun, exotic, inspiring, different, picturesque and generally worth even your heathen while. Oh, and did I mention there’s free food to be had afterwards? Big points on the backpacker rating scale.

rarotonga_20050403_0003.JPG

But even free food doesn’t drag my hungover heathen soul to church – if Sunday mornings are God’s own time, Saturday evenings tend to be on the other end of the scale. The locals are friendly and hospitable, the local brew isn’t too bad, and what’s more every single soul on this tiny island seems to be down the pub. So, coping with the ravages of the Coco Club, I set out for a leisurely stroll, to see how Rarotonga coped with the ravages of cyclones Nancy, Hetta, Meena, Olaf, Percy and Rae.

Crossing the line

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

Nadi – Rarotonga

It seems innocent enough at first glance, and it seems perfectly logical as well. Well, it’s neither. Yes, deep down in your sensible self you feel that it all makes sense and that all is well, but on the surface, having the same day twice is the funniest and weirdest thing ever. What’s the big deal you ask? Who cares about two days in your life having the same date? Well, nothing’s the big deal, and nobody cares about the date, but it’s still a pretty cool thing to experience. You waste away all of one Saturday, then hop on a 3 hour flight, and lo! thanks to the international dateline, it’s the same Saturday from the beginning all over again.

Or, if I was very pedantic, it’s still Friday the day before when I get to Rarotonga, as it’s still before midnight, which somehow makes it all even better. At first glance Rarotonga must be a boring place, as it looks like the whole island has come to the airport on Friday night to live it up and stare at the new arrivals, but as it turns out, it’s just that the airport is tiny, and since there’s not many flights in and out of Raro, you get the full turnout of hotel shuttle buses and the likes for every single flight.

Anyway, Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook islands, or at least the most famous one. It’s all of 32km around, of volcanic origin and surrounded by a coral reef. Around 8000 people call it home, and live a life of leisurely “island time” ease. And coming from NZ, there’s a perpetual feeling of familiarity as well – the Cook islands might be an independent nation, but for all practical intents and purposes they’re an outpost of New Zealand. The paper money is kiwi dollars, the supermarket has exactly what you’d expect to see on the shelves of a kiwi supermarket, and there are more Cook islanders living in Auckland than there are living on the Cook islands themselves.

Saturday is market day in Avarua, the capital town of the Cooks, so off I go to get a taste of the island life and more importantly, the island food – I’m starving. Well, not for long, I fork over 6 NZ dollars for a meal of chicken curry, taro and kumara, expecting a tiny plate of food, you know, the sort you get at cheap food stalls the world over. Instead, I am faced with the daunting prospect of having to beg the kindly old lady ladling out the food to stop. It’s not the lady that’s daunting, it’s that not getting as much food as you can for your dollar goes against the very grain of my backpacking body. “Shush! I haven’t even given you the taro or the kumara yet, bro” the lady tells me, before finally handing over enough food to feed a rugby scrum. The Cook islands are actually quite a bit on the expensive side, so this amazing amount of food probably represents the best value meal I’ve ever had in my life and it’s pretty tasty too. It does go a long way towards explaining why the islanders are twice the size of your average caucasian, and I don’t mean that they’re all fat either.

How good a value the market food stall was becomes painfully obvious when I wander into the supermarket to stock up on some food for the next week. Some pasta, a loaf bread, tomatoes and an onion set me back what feels like the GDP of small African nation. Why oh why isn’t the market on every day?

The shopping done I waddle over to the bus station to catch a bus home – at least navigating around the island will be easy, Rarotonga has one main road around the island, and all of two buses. The simple life for me…

Wasting away the day

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

Nadi
In honour of my last day on Fiji, I spend all of Saturday lazing around in the shade next to the pool, pretending the real world doesn’t exist, and safe in the knowledge that I can waste away all of Saturday on Fiji, and then, thanks to the international date line, get to waste the same Saturday all over again on Rarotonga tomorrow.

Omnia mea mecum porto

Friday, April 1st, 2005

Nadi
Seen one tropical island resort, seen ’em all, so I’ll pass on the Yasawa group, no matter how fabulous the resorts and the beaches there. I’ll save them for when I have more money than sense, and really want to hide away from the world for a week and be bored out of my skull, lying immobile on a beach. So, to while away the time, souvenir shopping’s the order of the day. Or at least that’s what I set out to do – the only thing that strikes my fancy is a real, honest-to-god kava bowl, but they’re big and heavy and I’m already lugging all my worldly possessions across the world here, so there’s just no room for a kava bowl. or realistically, seeing how my stuff already weighy in at a hefty 60kg + carry on, there’s no room for a toothpick, so souvenir shopping is off. Which is a relief as the only thing fijian souvenirs seem to excel at is excessive price and tackiness.

A baggy of kava root is tempting for a minute or so, but I don’t know if it’s legal or not in the Cooks, the States and Europe, all of which I’d have to smuggle it through to get it home, so that’s off the shopping list as well, no biggie seeing as how it’s effects aren’t much of a biggie either.