Monday, November 28, 2011

Rarotonga - Arriving in Paradise

Rarotonga, Cook Islands
February, 2011

February 13 - 14

We started the travel day with a delicious lunch of baked tilapia, asparagus, corn on the cob, and chocolate cake with strawberries. No, not at the airport...silly you! We travelers had gathered at my niece's home in Redwood City for the “first leg” of our travel to the Cook Islands. Thank you, Robin and Hector!

Mostly because we hadn't purchased all five tickets at once, we hadn't been able to schedule a flight with all five of us (My husband; his brother, Bob; Bob's wife, Karen; my husband's sister, Jo; and me) leaving at the same time from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But, happily, once in LA, we would all board the same flight to the Cook Islands. Which is a good thing, because there's only one direct flight to the Cooks from LA each week! Wouldn't you hate to miss that connection! Yikes!

So, we were dropped off at the airport by said niece and her husband. I think it's safe to say that we were all completely thrilled and super excited at the prospect of this fabulous, two-week tropical adventure to the South Pacific. For Harry and Jo and I, it would be the first time south of the Equator. For Harry and I, it would be the first time west of the United States mainland (This was before our Hawaii trip recently chronicled in my blog).

Jo's flight was two hours before ours, and we waited at the San Francisco airport for our United Airlines flight relatively patiently, we thought. Jo would, in turn, wait patiently for us to arrive in Los Angeles. The weather in San Francisco was stellar – sunny, warm, clear – which we gladly enjoyed.
Bob and Harry, waiting patiently.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
Los Angeles airport was a madhouse, with construction going on and a “do it yourself” attitude. I don't understand the horrible customer service, the surly TSA people, the confusing signage. Air travel is not what it used to be, for sure.

Air New Zealand, however...well, it was simply awesome. The flight attendants were attentive and kind. The seats are comfortable. There's a small display screen on the back of the seat in front of you, so you can watch whichever movie you want, if you want, when you want. Don't like that one, after all? No worries. Choose a different one. Or listen to music. On the free headphones. The in-flight meal was actually delicious. I know! Go figure! Go Air New Zealand!

This particular flight to Rarotonga (which is the main island in the Cooks and is also the capital) is a red-eye. That is to say, it leaves Los Angeles late at night, and you arrive in Rarotonga early in the morning...6:30 a.m. It's a 10-hour flight, so there's plenty of time to sleep after the movie. If you can sleep. Who can sleep when there's so much excitement coursing through your veins? There's a two-hour time difference from Los Angeles.

So, we excitedly looked out the window to see Rarotonga approaching. Well, actually, we were approaching, but you know what I mean. The island is relatively round, surrounded by a lagoon, with rugged peaks in the middle. It's the top of an “inactive” volcano. At least right now.
Day breaks over Rarotonga as we approach.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
It started to rain as we were landing, as it does occasionally throughout the day (at least it does during this time of year, which is summer in Raro). But it had cleared by the time we left the airport on the shuttle, and it was tropically gorgeous (which is to say, hot and sticky) for the rest of the day.

Live music welcomes us to the Rock.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
The airport in Raro is fairly small, and handles the international and inter-island flights. And there aren't all that many of those each day. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a singer, playing island tunes on his ukelele to welcome us. Instantly, you decompress. It's just so nice. We got our luggage (no issues there...yay!) and exited the terminal, where we were greeted by the welcoming committee and given lovely plumeria leis along with a bottle of water. Very thoughtful and considerate. They know you're probably dehydrated from the flight, and they don't want you to get heat exhaustion on your first day in Rarotonga! No, there was no charge for the water. I mean, really, how nice is that? And welcome to Raro, because that's how everybody is. Hospitable. Kind.

The shuttle dropped us off at the house we had rented (Coral Villa, in Titikaveka), where we were greeted by our property's manager, Rongo. She showed us around the place, knowing we probably wouldn't remember half of what she said, patiently answering our questions. We would have lots of contact with Rongo over the next couple of weeks, and she was unfailingly helpful and gentle.

Fresh flowers everywhere.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
May I just say, Coral Villa was exactly as represented (except there was no blender, a shortcoming that was easily remedied). The house was, in fact, right on the beach. The deck was, in fact, overlooking the lagoon. The kitchen was, in fact, completely operational and roomy and well-equipped (except for said blender). The views were, in fact, exactly as shown in the online advertising. And it's a wonderful thing when advertising is, in fact, completely truthful. Isn't it? There were beautiful hibiscus blossoms artfully arranged on the beds and in the bathrooms (2). The entire ambiance just said, “Welcome to your home on the island.”
Rarotonga is small, just 32 km (20 miles) all the way around. There's a two-lane road, paved, that rings the island, and it takes less than an hour to circumnavigate it. It's a lovely drive, but it isn't like it's going to fill your day. It's interesting, though, that after a few days it seems like a long way to go. Go figure.

The snorkeling was not great on this day due to the timing of the tides. There were lots of fish, but the water was kind of sandy, and so not very clear.

We had really good fish and chips for lunch at a little shack by the water near Avarua, and we decided to BBQ some burgers for dinner on the outdoor grill. We were too tired from the travel to go out, and the humidity was wearing us down, as well. The house is not air conditioned except in the master bedroom, and we never turned on the a/c at all. Once the windows were all opened and the fans (fans in each room) were turned on, the house cooled off somewhat. We just needed to get used to the climate, which takes a few days. Especially when you're leaving winter and arriving in the summer heat.
The view from the deck. Come on!
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.

We were surprised that the sliding glass doors had no screens, and we were concerned about mosquitos and all that. Jo thought that maybe it was because it gets awfully expensive to keep replacing the screen doors with all the drunk tourists walking through them. True enough? [We didn't have a mosquito problem, but it's a good idea to pack some repellant, just in case.]

First impressions: Rarotonga is stunningly beautiful, more gorgeous than I was expecting, even though I'd been looking at photographs for months. It's lush and green, with flowers everywhere. It smells wonderful. The pace is tropical. That is to say, no rush. Island time. I'm looking forward to exploring the island. Today, I just want to put my feet up, because they're swollen. Typical for a tropical trip. The rental car's trunk leaks, and there's a bunch of water in the wheel wells. Not surprisingly, it's rusty. I'm thinking the climate has a lot to do with the condition of the vehicle. Most people here seem to ride on little motorcycles and scooters (not surprising, with gasoline at a ridiculous amount per litre). It makes me wince to see the little kids dangling their flip-flop-clad feet loosely, their toes so close to the pavement. The speed limit is low, but still. Surprisingly, most people seem to keep their toes, so... What can I say?

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