Dearest correspondants, we have been to paradise, and we can say–it is really quiet there. We left Rarotonga on Air Rarotonga (The Airline of the Cook Islands) on an Embraer Bandeirante 15 passenger turbo-propellor. This is a decidedly different experience than flying on a 767. For one thing, you have to turn sideways to walk down the aisle. There is no bathroom and it is really loud, also the plane has stomach rending dips when it enters storm clouds–not for the feint of heart. Fortunately, our flight was only 50 minutes. (Air Rarotonga flies to some of the outer islands like Penryhn in the same planes–4 hours!).
Aitutaki is stunning island, part volcanic and part coral atoll. Its Lagoon is 100 sq. miles with about 10 uninhabited islands (motus). The water is that impossible, too good to be true turqoise color you see in glossy travel brochures. The second day we took a lagoon cruise (Kit Cat Cruises) which was wonderful. We rode a party boat out to different islands, snorkelled with 30-different fish, saw giant (3-foot) clams, and ate delicious roasted fish (tuna and marlin). Unfortunately my sunscreen washed off on one of the snorkeling trips and we got bad sunburns. Ouch.
I was already nursing a pretty bad foot infection so this didn’t make me feel much better. But we all must soldier on…
Aitutaki has only 1900 residents, which is about 500 less than our guidebook says and it seems like a lot of the businesses have left. There were only 2 food shops, 1-2 general stores, 4-5 restaurants, and that’s about it. The economy is very informal. If there is something you need or want, you mention it to someone who lives there and they will help you find it, if they can.
I rented a motorbike which was generally a fun experience as there are very few cars on the road, and those that are there generally drive about 15 mph. It was fun, until one day I started riding down the road, waving at all my new friends. They were looking at me rather oddly. In fact one guy was mowing his lawn and stopped just to watch me. I thought this was strange because I had just talked to him the day before (he was the boat driver on our cruise). Anyway, I found out why they were looking at me so strangely. When I reached the top of the hill I was facing an uncoming motorbike, closing in fast. Closer and closer, this strange game of chicken. What was his problem? As he got about 10 feet away, I realized… Oh shit wrong side of the road. I quickly switched over and fate was postponed.
On the second day Cheryl and I met the government minister of the island. A nice, politically minded old fellow he reminded me of my paternal grandfather for some reason. Perhaps it was their mutual fondness for Polo cologne?
Aitutaki television… What a great thing. The TV is basically shown at the whim of the guy who runs the television “station”. Basically all he shows during the day is pirated Australian telelvision ABC (sometimes). At night he plays whatever pirated movie strikes his fancy. One night it was High Crimes with Ashley Yud. One night it was XXX with Vin “tough guy” Diesel. The movies are of the shaky camera, CamCorder-in-the-back-of-the-movie-theater variety. The best part is that if he doesn’t like the movie, he will stop in the middle and change to a different one or back to ABC!
ABC has some poisonously infective TV jingles. One in particular, “Gold Coast Queensland, the greatest, this is as good as it gets” got into us like a virus.
The ABC coverage of the Bali bombings was interesting because it seemed very much like the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There were people with missing signs for their relatives, desperate to find them, but you knew they would probably not be found. We watched the reaction of the Australians change from shock to grief to anger. The amazing thing was the speed with which it all happened. The entire emotional response took about 7 days. On the seventh day the first 2 news stories were about a minor political election and some scandals.
Aside from the abovementioned, we just hung at the beach and avoided the sea slugs, which look like dog turds in the water and are about the same consistency.
We are now getting ready for our trip in a couple of days to Fiji! onward!