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Rarotonga to Auckland – Day 7

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Today was our last day in Raro. Checkout was at 11AM, and our airport shuttle didn’t leave til 3:30, which left us with four and a half hours to kill. We decided to head into town for lunch, figuring we could easily eat up two hours this way. We went down to the bus stop and waited for almost an hour, before wondering if perhaps the buses were not running on Sunday. Around this time a taxi pulled over (on a side note this is the ONLY taxi I had seen on the entire island) to see if we might like a ride. We asked him about the bus situation, and he said that he thought they were running but informed us that everything in town was closed on Sundays. We thanked him, and began walking down the road to see if the nearby cafe was open instead. The cafe was closed, as was every other business we passed, so we decided to head to the resort where the wedding was held, as the restaurant there was sure to be open.

The restaurant was indeed open, and to make things even better it was happy hour, which meant two for one drinks. We enjoyed a nice lunch and an even nicer view of the ocean, colored a spectacular shade of blue by the cloudless afternoon sky, then walked along the beach back to our hotel. We spent the next few hours relaxing on the beach and reading while we waited for our shuttle.

After arriving at the airport and checking our bags, we walked over to the security checkpoint (everything before this point is outdoors). Before crossing through the security line, I noticed a small line forming to my right in front of a window labeled “export tax.” A bit confused, I walked over to the window to ask the lady what the export tax was for. Apparently export tax is a tax you pay simply for having visited a location. It’s as if to say “thank you for visiting, we hope you enjoyed our island, now shell out $55.” One might imagine that pumping money into the local economy for a week was enough, but one would be wrong. $55 is no small fee, and this honestly was a bit of a slap in the nuts on the way out the door. Once the tax was payed, a the sticker announcing the fact was appropriately affixed to my ticket, I made my way through security,

In order to board the plane, we had to walk out onto the runway. This is a familiar scenario when flying on a small prop-jet, but a bit of a strange case when boarding a gigantic 777. I parted ways with Christine, who somehow had found herself in the first class cabin, and found my seat in the back of the plane. Apparently I was seated in the crying baby section, having 8, yes count them EIGHT babies, all crying, within 3 rows of me. Then there was the guy across the aisle of me who apparently bathed in Hugo Boss cologne, I’m not overstating this, within five minutes the back of my throat and nostrils burned from the smell! The couple next to me were the saving grace. A lovely pair from somewhere in New Zealand that I couldn’t quite comprehend through her thick accent. I was prepared to deal with all of these minor annoyances, that is until the guy ahead of me very forcefully slammed his seat into full recline. Now as I’ve said before, I have a small love affair going with New Zealand Airlines; however, their seats seem to recline much farther back than any other airline I’ve ever encountered. This would seem to be a plus at first, that is unless you’re the guy behind the guy with his seat recline. So sitting there, surround by screaming children, choking on Hugo Boss, and now with a crotch-full of seatback, I decided it was time to move! I said G’Day to my mates in the adjacent seat and found a new seat in the very back of the plane. I’m happy to report the rest of the flight went quite smoothly. It’s also worth noting that we crossed the international date line, so while we left Rarotonga at 5:30PM on Sunday, we arrived a few hours later at 8PM on Monday. Kind of a weird feeling..

We landed safely in Auckland, made it through security, managed to find a rental car, and made it to our hotel incident free (minus one minor ding of a traffic cone), all while driving a mazda-3 with a right-handed steering wheel, WOOH! Tonight also marks my first internet connection since I left the states 7 days ago. So for now I shall sign off and prepare to catch up on emails…

Rarotonga – Day 6

Every Saturday there is a large farmers market in Averua (the capital city of the Cook Islands) on Rarotonga. Being a huge fan of farmers markets, this was an opportunity I was not about to pass up. We waited for the bus into town, and once again were scooped up at the last minute by a passerby headed in our direction. This time he was a very kind old man driving a small pickup truck. We hopped in the back, and had a beautiful ride into town. The farmers market was absolutely packed! It appeared as though the entire island had turned up (and that probably isn’t too far from the truth). We spent the next few hours poking around the various booths, and sampling various foods. I had a pork roll with apples and gravy which was pretty damn amazing. After the farmers market, we made our way back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon doing a whole lot of nothing..

Rarotonga – Day 5

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Today was another extremely lazy day. I awoke rather early, thankful to find that I was not hung-over from the wedding party last night (thank you B-12). The entire day was juggling act of napping, reading in the hammock, and strolling the beach. In the afternoon we wandered down to a neighboring resort where there was rumored to be a large octopus living under a rock not far offshore. Armed with tortillas, we made our way out into the water and began tossing little near places where we felt an octopus might like to hide. We never found the octopus, but we did see loads of fish, who greedily ate every bit of tortilla we presented. On the way back to our hotel, we were joined by one of the local island dogs (there are scores of them wandering about the island). There was nothing particularly special about this dog other than the fact that he loved to fish, and by fish I mean jump into the water, attempting to pounce on every fish he saw. He was never successful, but it was fun to watch nonetheless. I nicknamed him “Kingfisher.”

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Rarotonga – Day 4

Today started with another morning run/yoga/swim session. I woke around 7 and hit the beach straight away. I once again ran all the way down to the black rocks, and quickly plunged into the ocean; the cool water was a welcome relief after brisk the run down the beach. After completing the second half of my loop, I hopped back into the water and began poking around the reef to see what I might find. I saw crabs, rather creepily, crawling vertically along the slick rock-face to my immediate left. There were a number of fish, none of which I could name, but they were quite beautiful up close. I also saw sea-urchins, sea-cucumbers, and a number of large starfish in a shade of dark-blue that I have never seen before. After about 30 minutes of wading around, I came upon a rather open area in the reef. The water was clear and only a few feet deep. I plunged my head into the water and began to swim. At this moment (not being able to see a thing with my eyes shut), I realized that I have never been able to swim with my eyes open. I’ve had contact lenses since I was 12, which was an obvious preventative, but even before that, I had never been able to open my eyes while under water. It always puzzled me how people could. I mean, I realize that our eyes are essentially covered in salt water, so logically it shouldn’t be an issue, but the whole concept was just very foreign to me. I had lasik surgery over a year ago, so the contacts were no longer an issue. I was officially out of excuses. Without a moments hesitation I plunged into the water and forced my eyes open. At first there was a very minor sting in my eyes, and everything was very blurry, but I could see! I popped my head up for a breathe, then dove back down for round two. Things looked a bit as they would if I was not wearing my contacts (before my surgery), all fuzzy and out of focus, but I could make out shapes and colors, this is cool! I spent another 15 minutes or so working on my new found ability before hitting the sand and finishing my run I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon lounging in a hammock underneath a palm tree, reading Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk, and taking in the day.

Around 3:30 I through on a pair of khakis, a light-blue linen shirt, and my flip-flops, and started my walk down the beach to the neighboring resort where Jay and Amy’s wedding would soon be taking place. I arrived at their bungalow about 15 minutes later, where Jay quickly trained me in the art of the “Painkiller;” I had offered to play bartender so he could relax and  focus on more important things. After a few drinks, we all made our way to the beach where the wedding was about to begin. Christine handed me her wide-angle camera, and asked that I snap a few shots as Amy made her way down the aisle (I accidentally left the camera in Manual mode which resulted in a large number of blown out pictures, oops).

Just before Amy made her way down the aisle, the sun peaked out from behind the clouds, casting a single ray of sunlight down on the ceremony, and creating the most picturesque backdrop that you could possibly imagine. The ceremony was beautiful. Short, laid back, and beautiful. After the vows, we all made our way down to the sand, where Christine happily snapped pictures of the newlyweds, along with the entire wedding party. It was fun watching such a great group of friends, sharing in such a memorable event. Once the photo-session wrapped up, we all made our way over to the dining area, where we shared a great meal, heard some great toasts, watched fire dancers performing the sounds drum circle, then danced the night away under a star-filled sky.

I know I’m probably getting a bit repetitive here, but I really can’t say enough, what a great, welcoming, and kind group of people they were. At one point I found myself chatting with Jay’s mom Inga (or Ingred, I’m terribly embarrassed, but I was never able to catch her name with 100% certainty). Here was a woman with stories. She’s in her 60’s, still running marathons, and full of more energy and life than just about anyone I have ever met. So in the middle of our conversation, she says that I simply must come visit her and her husband in Santa Monica. How they have a home right on Ocean Avenue, and they would absolutely love it if I came to visit, and even if their not home, there will be maids there watching the house and that I should feel welcome to simply come and stay and enjoy their home. Now, keep in mind that I have only just met all of these folks 4 days ago, and have only had a few brief conversation with Inga, and even less with her husband John, yet here she is inviting me to come visit them at their home. It was very touching, and I honestly hope to have the opportunity to take her up on that offer someday.

Before wrapping up my post, I have to give a shout-out to Liz and Chad, one of the funniest, and most well-suited couples I have met in a long time. I wanted to give a plug to Liz (aka Gossip Whore) who is a celebrity gossip blogger for yahoo: omg.yahoo.com These two kept me laughing for most of the trip, and I hope that we are able to stay in touch!

Rarotonga – Day 3

Today I awoke to the first blue skies I had seen since departing San Diego 3 days ago, and I must say it is a much welcome change! The rain finally took its’ leisure and decided to let the sun shine through for a bit. It’s incredible how drastically the temperature can change with just a bit of sunlight. WIth nothing major on the itinerary for the day, Christine and I decided to head back over to the beach on the opposite side of the island for a second round of oceanside dining followed by a bit of kicking back and relaxing on the beach. For those of you who have been following my previous posts, you might be starting to see this whole “kicking back and relaxing” bit as somewhat of a trend; you’d be right. The thing about Rarotonga is there isn’t a whole lot to do. There’s the beautiful ocean, which brings some breathtaking views, beaches for lounging, snorkeling, diving and swimming. Beyond this there’s a few touristy activities you can partake in such as taking a guided 4WD tour through the inland of the island, taking a cruise around the harbor, or visiting a local spa. And that’s really about it. This leaves an enormous amount of time for strolling along the beach, sleeping, reading, eating, and just enjoying the day at the slowest pace you can muster. Forgive me, I’m getting a bit off topic. I almost forgot to mention Lynne.

Having no other immediate means of transportation, we decided to once again take the bus to the other side of the island for lunch. About 4 minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive, and in seemingly routine fashion, a white van with “Hash House Harriers” painted across the side pulled up next to us, and a man with a rather respectable handlebar moustache popped his head out and asked if we’d like a ride. He made the same offer to the kiwi couple posted up along side of us. We greatfully accepted and jumped into the back of the van. Once inside, the man introduced himself as Lynne (not sure how exactly sure how to appropriately spell that when referring to a man, so please excuse me if I’m wrong). After a round of introductions from the 4 of us in the back, I asked Lynne about the Hash House Harriers sign on the side of his van. I have heard about the harriers before, and had seen an advertisement in the local newspaper for their weekly run the Monday after we arrived, so I was a bit interested in hearing more about their group. Apparently the H3 (I don’t think anyone actually calls it that, but I’m lazy so that’s what you’re getting from here on out), is an international group with local chapters in cities around the globe. It’s basically nothing more than a running club with a drinking problem (or crossed with a social club if you wanted to be a bit more polite). They meet for a weekly run (about 5-6km according to Lynne) which reaches its completion at a local pub, where they reward themselves with a few beers and some socializing. Lynne went on to explain that this week he, along with a number of other organizers, were holding a week-long triathlete event on Rarotonga (today being the final day/event). WIth the island having only one main road that is essentially a 30km loop, and some incredibly warm ocean waters, I couldn’t imagine a better place for such an event. Getting back to our ride, Lynne mentioned that he was actually heading the opposite direction, but still kindly drove us all the way to our destination without so much as a though. Mind you, Lynne is not a local islander, he is originally from New Zealand, but has been living on the island for 7 years now. When asked how long it takes to get to get to a point where you can truly let go and get into the snails pace of the island, he smiled and quickly responded “8 years, but we’ll see…” It’s easy to see why people fall in love with the islands. The sense of sincerity, generosity, and overall kindness is enthralling, and truly like no where else I’ve ever been. I can only hope that I will find more places in my life with people who share this sentiment, and place an equal amount of aspiration that I will personally carry some of it with me going forward.

Later in the evening we once again joined the wedding party for dinner at Jacks; a nice seafood and pizza restaurant located on the harbor in town. The food was amazing. Christine had the coconut crusted mai mai (see also Mahi Mahi), and I had the Traders Supreme pizza (sausage, pepperoni, black olives, onion, shrimp, cheese, heaven). Once again we ended up seated directly beside Jay and Amy (the bride and groom). They, along with their entire wedding party, have been so kind and welcoming, that I truly feel as though I’ve known them for years. I can’t say enough times how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to share the week with such an amazing group of people. I truly hope that I am able to stay in touch with all of them in the future.