California Shuttle Bus only cost $24 for both of us to ride down to LA where our plane was to take off. We decided to go to LA a day early just in case anything went wrong. Well, if you’re riding California Shuttle Bus, I would recommend that you do the same. We started our journey at 11:00 with my parents driving us to the San Leandro Bart station to be picked up. The bus was supposed to arrive at 1:00, but not knowing what might happen along the way, we left early and got there a little before 12:00. As we waited for an hour, we watched the homeless man drooling on the bench next to me (he was courteously keeping it contained in a handkerchief), the aspiring young hip hop artist who danced and rapped for the benefit of his fellow bus riders, and several women with chests so large I was uncertain how they remained upright. At 1:15 one of the other passengers called to see what time the already late bus might be arriving. We were told another half hour. So we waited until 2:00 when a not very apologetic man arrived giving us some bullshit about the other bus breaking down. So into the bus we piled. At first I was worried that the air blowing might get a little too cold, but once we both drifted off to sleep and awoke an hour later, I realized that I should not have worried. We were driving through the Central Valley on a bus with no air conditioning. A stop in one of those towns that smells like cow dung brought temporary relief in the form of an air conditioned Burger King. I realized that I must buy french fries or else I would be done in by the smell of other people’s fries. We were told that we would be continuing on a different bus. For a moment the promise of air conditioning was comforting. However, we stepped on to an even hotter bus and proceeded to cook gently the entire way to LA. Missing our next bus by exactly two minutes, we waited an hour for the next one. Union Station in downtown LA was actually quite nice, but, as most things are, it was ruined by the people. As we sat at the city bus station by LAX waiting for our final bus, (this station not nearly as nice), we went back and forth over whether we should just get a hotel next to the airport instead of going out to Manhattan Beach to stay with Adam’s friend Lisa. Finally the bus arrived putting an end to our debate. After being dropped off we lugged our packs for what felt like five miles but I’m sure was not, up to Lisa’s house where we promptly passed out on the couch. 12 hours from door to door.
I awoke to a dog staring me down. We got dressed and took a walk along the beach. We stopped and had breakfast at a little crepe place (La Creperie). If you were to judge how good a restaurant was by how much cheese you get on your food, this would be the best friggin’ restaurant in southern California. I had at least a small block on my crepe. We rationalized the cost to our “strict” budget like this: This is our last day in the United States! We had a terrible day yesterday! (We would use these same arguments later to justify our drinks at the airport).
Before leaving for the airport Lisa took us to dinner at a fabulous sushi place in Marina del Rey. I can’t remember the name, but just look for the place with a huge crowd of people waiting outside. The wait really did turn out to be worth it.
Side note: For those of you puzzled by my use of the words “sushi” and “fabulous” in the same sentence, note that I am trying very hard to add fish into my repertoire of food I love, and thus far, I’m doing pretty well. I still can’t eat things like squid and eel, but I have the major players covered.
After dinner we headed to the airport and dropped our bags (thanks for everything Lisa). We then tried unsuccessfully to implement our scheme to get drunk quickly and cheaply to make our overnight flight more pleasant. The idea was to buy a bottle at duty free, take it to the bathroom and make water bottles of vodka-and-something to drink. However, the bottles that they were selling at duty free were enormous and you don’t get to take them away until after you’ve boarded. DOH! So we had to settle for mediocre yet pricey wine at the Route 66 Bar and Grill served by the bartender who looked like he was going to commit suicide if he stayed there any longer. I can’t really blame him. After three rounds of drinks that we rationalized by reminding ourselves that this was our last night in the country, we had to board, not quite in the drunken state that we wished to be in to get a full night’s sleep.
The plane turned out to be fairly nice – roomy, decent food, and surprisingly good pinot noir. I did sleep for almost the whole flight even if it was a bit fitfully. Upon the serving of breakfast, the entire team of young hooligan soccer players from New Zealand seated in front of us began to throw their pillows and blankets at one another, repeatedly ring the flight attendant call button for no reason, and be generally obnoxious. The flight attendants were incredibly calm about it, but I was one pillow throw away from using my teacher voice.
After landing we crammed into the airport building in Rarotonga and were greeted by an old man singing and playing a ukulele with an electronic drum machine in the background. He kept forgetting the words and stopping so that for 10 seconds at a time you could only hear the awkward sound of the drum machine continuing to drum out time. I can only imagine that this man is not paid for his services, he just comes by every morning and plays, the staff not having the heart to tell him to stop.
After collecting our bags from the one baggage carousel, we were instructed to load our bags into a truck that would be following our shuttle bus to the hostel. OK, a little weird. The woman who drove us to the hostel sounded like a cross between Julia Child and Yoda.
The hostel was at once lovely and slightly disconcerting. It really is right on the beach. Our room is clean with a fairly comfortable bed. The shower is warm and there is adequate water pressure. There is a nice deck that looks out to the ocean. But there are also chickens in the common room (cute chickens with chicks) and in the middle of the night when I went to the bathroom, one of the neighborhood stray dogs was sleeping on the bathroom rug. The refrigerator is an abomination and would be condemned by the health department if they had one. It seems that, like the rest of the island, the hostel owners have a fondness for extraneous quotation marks: “”Do not” take food that does not belong to you.” ““Special” scooter $89.””
After checking into our room, we decided to check out our options for food and drink. Since we are only spending (in theory) a hundred dollars a day between the two of us including lodging, we needed to look for the deals. A walk to nearby establishments was fruitful. Happy hour 4-6 at The Point restaurant! Cheap food at the take away stand down the street! We formulated a plan for the evening festivities.
We found a nice spot on the beach that was “pretty much” in the shade. Both of us neglected to put sunscreen on our backs and legs, so of course we both got sunburned. No big surprise there since we do the same damn thing every time. At 3:50 we set off for the happy hour very hopeful. At 4:01 our hopes were dashed. Happy hour wasn’t as cheap as we thought. There was NO ONE in the bar which was dreary and uninspiring. Sitting outside meant that we would have to stare at the fat tattooed Australians in the pool. So one round and we were done.
Our next brilliant idea after dinner (which was a very good cheeseburger and fries with disappointing ketchup) was to buy a box of wine that we saw at the little market and drink that for the next few days. Unfortunately, the wine A) exploded in the room spraying the floor and Adam’s pants which we had to clean up with newspaper and toilet paper and B) tasted like ass (if ass had a nasty sweet taste reminiscent of something that you just can’t put your finger on). But we drank some anyway sitting on the beach using Christmas mugs from the hostel. Happy holidays!
After passing out (not from alcohol, but exhaustion) at around 7:30 PM, I awoke to the sound of roosters. Lots of them. A cacophony of barnyard sounds. We had been debating whether we should rent a scooter and drive into town to get groceries or rent bikes and do the same. With gas, one scooter and two bikes were about equal in price. I decided on the bikes since I felt that “my fat ass could use some exercise.” Besides, the road was flat, no hills to climb. Piece of cake. As soon as I got on the bike I knew that this was going to be an ordeal. Poor Adam who is physically superior to me in almost every way was reduced to stopping and waiting or riding in circles as he waited for me to puff my way along the road. Unfortunately, the only way I’ll ever catch up to him is if he sits around and eats ho-hos for the next few months while I do an intense triathlon training program. I did manage to avoid hitting any dogs, people, or cars, so I call that success. We debated about which grocery store to frequent. Although Foodland seemed to carry everything that we required, I was partial to Meatco which has a much funnier name. We decided to go to Foodland after all, and we continued to rationalize spending extra money: We’ll spend less tomorrow. It’s an island; everything is going to be expensive…
When we finally made it back I realized that I had just biked for about 12 miles which is 12 miles more than I usually bike in a day. Last time I was on a bike I was in Austria being bribed by the promise of wine if I made it to the next stop. The time before that I was probably about 12 years old which is the last time I actually owned a bike. But all was well. I felt like we had accomplished something as we locked up the bikes and tried to find space in the refrigerator for our weird sausage roll thing that we got for dinner.
Life is good here. All there is to do is lie in the sun and read while water from the lagoon gently curls over the sand next to our feet. Or maybe kayak around the little islands, perhaps snorkel in the ridiculously clear water. Go out at night and peruse the stars that we can’t normally see. I can’t help feeling like we’re going home on Monday, but of course, it’s off to New Zealand. It just doesn’t seem real yet.