I awoke at 4AM (a mere 3 hours after falling asleep) to the playful wails of a young blonde boy in row 34. He wasn’t crying, he was merely sharing his excitement for Thomas the Tank Engine, which was playing on the small screen installed in the seat-back in front of him. This wouldn’t have been a problem, I mean who doesn’t get excited over T3E, except it was 4AM, and he was expressing said excitement by cheerfully screaming some 3 year old garble at the top of his lungs. Then, after successfully managing to wake the entire rear section the aircraft, he quietly lied down and went to sleep.
I decided this might be a good time to stretch my legs and use the restroom, so I wearily made my way toward the back. I spent the next 10 minutes or so waiting for the bathroom, which appeared to be in use, to free up (and slightly dreading the aftermath of whoever might have been in there for such a long time). After another few moments had passed, a woman very casually strolled right past me, opened the door to the lavatory, and went inside. It had apparently been open the whole time, and between my drowsiness and the dimly lit cabin, I had simply failed to notice. To add the somewhat comedic situation, the new occupant proceeded to take another 10 minutes before exiting the facilities (luckily I was able to enter safely afterwards).
A few more hours past, in which time I slept about 30 minutes, and we started a somewhat bumpy descent into Rarotonga. It was pitch black outside, but I managed to see a few shadowy outlines of trees as we bounced onto the runway. We stepped off the plane into a balmy 68 degrees, a much welcome change to the cold and rather dry climate of the aircraft. Upon entering the small terminal, we were greeted to some very beautiful island tunes, played by an old man with a guitar (mind you it was 6AM at this point). We cleared customs, and were promptly greeted by the staff of our resort, who adorned our necks with some very lovely smelling lei’s.
Our resort was only about a 10 minute drive from the airport, and we arrived just as the sun was starting to rise. Being on the West side of the island, we weren’t able to actually watch the sunrise, but, after checking in, we decided to take a stroll along the beach anyways. The beach was composed of rough, white coral sand, and was littered with pieces of fossilized coral and what I assumed to be volcanic rock. The water was crystal clear, and warmer than anything I have ever felt before. We walked for about ten minutes, and just as we were about to turn back, we saw Jay and Amy (the Bride and Groom of the wedding that Christine had come to shoot) standing next to a suite about 100 feet away. Apparently their resort is only about a half mile down the beach from ours. After saying hello, we made our way back to our hotel, did a bit of unpacking, and went to find breakfast.
Almost everyone on the island drives scooters. Being as we had no real means of transportation, we set about finding out how to obtain a scooter for the day so we could explore the island. As it turns out, you had to make arrangements with the rental company, who would pick you up at your resort, then take you into town to the Police station, where you would need to apply for a temporary permit to drive the scooter. This was all well and good, except for the fact that it was raining outside, and didn’t show any signs of letting up. After debating whether to chance the weather and go ahead with our scooter rental anyways, a sudden downpour made our decision for us and we decided to take the bus instead.
A few minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive at the stop in front of our resort, a small truck pulled up alongside us; inside was an older man and his young son. He told us that he was heading into town and asked if we would like a ride. Seeing as it was raining, we graciously accepted his offer and climbed into the truck. The man introduced himself as Wooly (at least I believe that is what he said, it was a bit hard to decipher with his thick Maori accent), and his son as Danny. It’s worth mentioning that Danny was standing (not sitting, not strapped in) on the front seat of the truck with his arms around his fathers shoulders as we drove. As we drove toward town, Wooly took a few detours from the main road so that he could show us the local school, college, stadium, and a few other local buildings. After our brief tour, Wooly and Danny dropped us in Avarua. Although it is smaller than most (if not all) U.S. neighborhoods, Avarua is the capital city of the Cook Islands. It has a grocery store, a few banks, a number of small cafes, and about 6 dozen black pearl shops (black pearls seem to be the biggest sales item in the Cook Islands). After grabbing a bite at Cafe Salsa, we wandered around town a bit more then caught the bus back to our resort.
After catching a nap, we wandered down the beach to a neighboring resort to join the wedding party for a welcome reception at their bungalow. When we arrived the festivities were already in full swing. Everyone was sitting outside around the jacuzzi drinking a blended concoction that Jay (the groom) called a “Pain killer.” The next hours were spent sipping drinks and enjoying good conversation. It’s worth mentioning that most the members of this group were Ivy leaguers who, for the most part, were now working in the medical industry. At first I was a bit uneasy about “crashing” their party, and feared that I would be intruding on their celebration, not to mention being a bit concerned that I would have absolutely nothing of interest to share with a group of people from such a different background from my own. These fears quickly diminished as Jay and Amy, who I can safely describe as one of the most carefree and inviting couples I have ever met, took care to make me feel welcome (not to mention never letting my cup of Pain Killer get less than half emptry). Later in the evening we all attended a buffet style dinner at their resort which included a show displaying traditional song and dance of the Maori culture. I can’t really describe how thankful I am to these people for being so welcoming, and for letting me, a complete stranger, partake in what is one of the biggest moments of their lives.
Beyond the wedding party, the general feeling of the people of the Cook Islands has been quite overwhelming. Never have I come across such genuinely happy and kind-hearted people. Their welcoming smiles and positive attitude leave you feeling full of warmth and ease. This is a much welcome change after traveling in countries such as Brazil, where I felt as though I constantly needed to have my guard up. I’m currently feeling a bit more hopeful that there are more genuine and kind people in the world than there are cynics and swindlers. I hope this is a theme that continues throughout my trip.