Now that we’ve been away from Rarotonga for a couple of days, I can reflect on a few things.
The island: The island itself is about 24 km in circumference and is completely surrounded by a lagoon that is great for snorkeling in most places. We went out twice in the area right outside of our hostel and found lots of different fish, eels, starfish, etc. The water is cooler than I expected; definitely not Bay Area cold, but not really warm either. All of the houses, shops, and restaurants line the perimeter of the island while the interior is thick with trees and vegetation. There are no roads through the island, only around it. There is a walking trail that goes across the island, but we didn’t get around to exploring that. The way to get around the island are the buses – one that goes clockwise and one that goes “anti-clockwise.” We never did try the bus which you can flag down anywhere on the island.
The people: It seems that most of the businesses on the island are family owned and operated. All of the people we met were amicable, if not downright friendly and helpful. My favorite person that we encountered was a guy who was working at one of the small convenience stores near our hostel. It was Gospel Day, a holiday on the island. Everything in town was closed, but the small stores were still open. Unbeknown to us, it is illegal to sell alcohol on Gospel Day. However, the lovely man at the store sold it to us anyway since he didn’t know what the hell Gospel Day was, and as of yet, “No one had justified it to him.”
What really struck us about the island is that it doesn’t seem to have the kind of poverty that you see elsewhere. I mean, we were only there for a week, but the entire time we were there we never saw a homeless person, never saw anyone begging for change, never saw anyone hawking trinkets on the beach. We saw one police car the whole week. It definitely had a different feel to it.
The dogs: The island has a bit of a stray dog problem. Actually, it’s difficult to tell which dogs are strays and which have homes as it seems that everyone lets their dogs run free. All of the dogs are medium to large – no small dogs are surviving in this world. Several times as Adam and I were walking down the sidewalk two or three dogs would just start following us as if we were taking them for a walk. They were fairly persistent even when we told them we didn’t have any food. On one occasion two dogs that had followed us before found us again at the beach and came to sit with us for a while. They were all very sweet dogs and I wanted to grab each one of them and hug them and pet them, but I restrained myself.
The sky: Ah, the sky. On a clear night we walked out to a point where there was very little light pollution and just looked around at a different night sky. There was Jupiter shining brightly, there was the Southern Cross, the Zodiac, all spread out nicely for us. We had the laptop with us with the star program that Adam downloaded which allows you to see the sky exactly as is it wherever you are, so we could pick out and name the constellations that we saw. Supposedly in Australia it will be 100 times better – zero light pollution, no clouds, no obstructions. But this was pretty damn good. Almost the whole time we were out there, though, there was this faint and kind of eerie singing coming from somewhere nearby. It was a woman’s voice and it didn’t sound like there was any accompaniment, just one woman singing for a long time. It was barely audible, but it kind of freaked me out. Of course there is a reasonable explanation for it, but when you’re out in the dark by yourself, your mind tends to wander back to those ghost stories that you heard as a kid about the woman who drowns in the sea and returns each night to sing her children to sleep. You know what I’m talking about.
All in all, Rarotonga was exactly what we wanted it to be – a relaxing way to start our odyssey. I got through seven books while we were there which is huge. If you want a sweeping epic a la Thomas Pynchon, I highly recommend Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet. I also really loved Alexander Smith’s A Summer in Skye, but I don’t think I would appreciate it as much if I hadn’t been there. Surprisingly, I also really got into The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon who was a 10th century lady in waiting to the Empress in Japan. Oooh, oooh, and if you want an amazing story that you can read in a few hours read A Man Without Words by Susan Schaller. I couldn’t put it down. And since, as Chris Tucker says in the movie Friday, “It’s Friday, you ain’t got no job, you ain’t got shit to do,” I didn’t have to.