Groundhog Day

The Cook Islands parliament building. Honestly.

Around The World Trip: Cook Islands 

Continuing the theme of me going to areas soon after natural disasters (last visited in Thailand), the last week has seen me on the island of Rarotonga, one of the 15 (spread over 2 million sq. km!) that make up the Cook Islands which have just endured 5 cyclones. Despite the name, these are not the preferred destinations of celebrity chefs. I asked but none of the locals claimed to have heard of Jamie Oliver or Ainsley Harriot.

The flight here crossed the International Date Line which isn’t a premium rate phone service for lonely travellers as you may think, but is in fact the point at which the date changes. Confused? As someone who kept forgetting that there is a big time difference between here and back home, I found this a strange thing to go through. My flight from Fiji left at 10pm on the Saturday and arrived at 3.15am… on the same Saturday. As such, it’s my first experience of time travel, not helped by the airhead (get it?) stewardesses insisting it was Friday when we arrived, confusing me even more. They needed a break I think.

So, another Saturday in paradise? Well not exactly. After checking in at 4am and finding it funny that an Irish girl was put in the O room (get it? O’Room – yeah alright, it was late), I awoke to torrential rain that didn’t really stop all day, meaning that my second chance of making something of Saturday was gone, especially as the island has half day closing. The evening saw my first taste of CI logic. The woman at reception informed me: “There is a barbeque tonight. We supply everything – you just bring your own meat.” Er, that’s not really everything is it and aren’t the shops closed?

On Sundays nothing is open except restaurants in the evening. This means that if it’s raining (it was), all there is to do is go to church (I didn’t) or… well that’s it actually. Okay I did manage a brief swim in the turquoise sea in between the pockets of rain, but not for long. Oh dear, but at least it’s a new working week tomorrow, I thought.

So the next day I awoke keen to see more of the island. After managing to catch the hostel minibus (it leaves early if I’m on time, late if I’m early), I had a look at the sights in the capital ‘city’ (well it does have a cathedral) of Avarua. These being seven coconut trees that have grown naturally in a circle (spooky), the Palace of Makea (a large rundown house that isn’t even open to the public – the descendent of some important Maori chief lives there), a tiny museum and the national ‘stadium’ (one stand). Plus loads of churches everywhere. This place appears to only have one post box and there are two bus routes – clockwise and anti-clockwise. The local daily paper only has 8 pages! Unbelievably though, they actually have a TV station as well. It’s not good if you were wondering.

Despite there being little to do, there was unfortunately no chance of sleeping in either, due to each day being announced by one of the many cockerels on the island, followed by a cow joining in for good measure. After the first night out (at a Retired Services Association hall – well, you take what you can get), I awoke to the usual cock-a-doodle-MOO but this time followed by the sound of a giant excavator moving earth around next door. Every time it reversed it made a beeping warning sound making it into a kind of alarm call for everyone still in bed. Yes, I’m really enjoying it here… I decided to give up on sleep and went down for breakie. I noticed I was short of a plate so I asked at reception but the woman told me I had one, pointing to a bowl. When I pointed out the difference she said: “We call them plates. Some plates are flat, some are not.” That’s because THEY ARE BOWLS WOMAN!

Now would be a good time to tell you about one of my room mates, Miles. For those who can remember, he looks a little like Joe 90 and is an intellectual, posh 19 year old. I awoke the next day to Miles reading a passage from the bible aloud, despite not being a religious man. Odd! I thought that it was about time we tried the cross-island trek – maybe the fresh air would do him good. After a swim in Wigmore’s Waterfall (and subsequent mosquito attack) we set off only to turn back after an hour as we couldn’t see the track due to cyclone damage and lack of basic maintenance by the lazy locals. On the way back Miles started to recite the words to ‘Jerusalem’. What are you on man?! And I fell into a stream. Lovely… In the evening I had to endure more intellectual bore chat from Miles and another roomie, Jeff. Miles: “In China I faked being French”. Good for you mate, I thought as I wondered if the walls were strong enough to withstand headbutts.

We managed the 8km trek from the right end the next day (this time with Jeff), but it was a tough 3 hours as the ‘track’, followed for a while by a cockerel, that was equally as bad from the other side. I managed to walk into a wasps nest, looking down at my leg to see a swarm on the attack, giving me 8 stings, the little shits. After this I dropped back a little to let others be the wasp bait and I followed, red-faced, eyes bulging, twitching uncontrollably, post-anaphylactic shock on to the refreshing swim at the waterfall again, pleased to have risen to the challenge, without having to call in mountain rescue. This wasn’t the end of the shocks though as the bus nearly decapitated me with it’s wing-mirror as I hailed it down for the return trip. “It wouldn’t have happened if you had moved” said the driver. Charming… In the evening Miles had a little too much of the free drink and told people he was smarter than them and he wasn’t getting anything from the conversation. That’s it – enough of the baby-sitting. Knobhead.

On the Thursday we had new arrivals check in early in the morning. A great time to wake after a heavy night out? Well, for Miles it was the perfect time for a debate on evolution, Maori rights, blah blah blah. As I tried to go back to sleep the quarry next door kicked into action, followed by, yet again, more cock-a-doodle… MOOOO! So another long day with nothing to do. I tried snorkelling with the hostel’s gear, encouraged by reports of octopus. I saw a few colourful fish swim past whilst the water level rose past my eyes inside the mask. Damn hostel, shit mask.

The evening’s entertainment was a definite highlight; an Island Night consisting of more traditional dancing, but the men were not at all scary compared to the Fijians (I’m sure one of them danced as a lady as well). The women looked pretty good, with more wiggling of hips seen than in a Beyonce video. Afterwards, one of the local women tapped me on the arm to say something. Is this a new member of the Stewie fan club (Polynesian branch)? What can I do for you?  “Can you move out of the way, I’m trying to look at someone.” Oh right. She was massive anyway, so I wasn’t about to argue! Of course the night wasn’t complete without Miles talking to Jeff when everyone was trying to sleep: “Are you in favour of corporal punishment?” I will be if you don’t shut up you speccy twat…

The Friday and final day were written off due to heavy rain, although I did try snorkelling again with decent gear. However, the current was so strong it churned up the sand and I was dragged around the island and had to get out and walk back to where I started. Shame as it’s meant to be great for snorkelling normally.

So after waiting endlessly for the flight it was back on the piss-poor Air New Zealand to experience a freezing cabin and naff food. The meals seem to be getting smaller with each flight. If it continues they’ll have to supply a magnifying glass with the condiments. To LA…

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