|A week in the Cook Islands will not change your life. But it will ask you to question - I think even more than an ice-storm - why you live in a place like Maine. Paradise is a funny place. The experience of a place you thought would be a paradise inevitably turns out to be an experience of something quite different that what you imagined. If I was Adam and Eve, stuck in some garden, looking at the manicured foliage, and twittling my many thumbs I'd be downright ready for some knowledge to expand me, too. On the other hand, the garden didn't have an emerald lagoon, a stack of good books, and a grocery store.
Keep in mind that we landed about one week after the last of five major cyclones hit the island. There had been wide spread damage on the island, and although there was no loss of life on Rarotonga, there were fatalities on some of the outer islands. By the time we arrived, however, the weather and the island's beauty seemed to be recovering in fine fashion.
We spent our first few nights away from the beach on a hill overlooking the westernside of the island. The place was very nice, albeit a little pricey for us, and exorbitantly expensive compared to our time in Central America. Since our 'hostel' in LA was free, it was shocking to spend more than fifteen dollars for a night, let alone what we ended up paying. It doesn't take long, though, to re-adjust yourself to a new economy. The Cook Island's uses the New Zealand dollar for its currency (by far the coolest money yet). In addition to the new currency, the floundering US dollar, and a bit of economic-shock, everything in the Cooks is doubly expensive for the simple reason that all products are shipped from the mainland. At the fish n chips place they charged us 10 cents for kethcup packets; that is, 10 cents per packet! Well, we don't begrudge them, it's simply the facts of the situation, but it did make us realize fairly quickly that the three weeks we had set aside for our South Pacific soul-searching project was a bit on the ambitious side. We had also hoped to travel to some of the other islands in the archipelago, but again due to the erradicate nature and expense of such excursions, we had to cross that of the to-do list and re-write in the 'next-time' column.
After trimming our stay down to a more manageable size we also decided it would be silly to spend any more time up on this hill while the turquoise lagoons below laughed at us. By good chance, and with the help of our Swiss compadre Didi (not relation to Dana), we found Vara's beachside accomodation. This place turned out to be cheaper than our previous hostel and was right on the water at Muri Beach, one of the most popular swimming beaches on the island. Perhaps due to the recent storm Vara's was unusually vacant and we were lucky enough to be in the short company of a nice gang of internationals. Everynight we shared happy hour pints with the crew down the beach at a 'fancy-place', and everynight when happy hour was over and the honeymooners came out for their four course four star meals, we waddled back to Vara's to cook pasta and sauce.
During the day we enjoyed the sun and Jon finally had a positive snorkelling experience. In fact, the snorkelling was out of this world good, and we only had to walk about 2 km down the beach. The water was crystal clear and we saw hundreds of varieties of fish, starfish, eels, and coral. We found nothing to complain about during these days, and Rarotonga is a paradise like we've never seen. For a couple of days we rented a motorscooter and had a fun time cruising around the island seeing the different beaches and exploring some of the inner island.
It is worth noting that when Mandy and I were planning this trip, and whether it was a bad day at school or a day when you just didn't want to wait on another table ever, Rarotonga acted as our motivation. When we were saving money and debating some purchase or other, we would use the cover of the Lonely Planet Cook Island guidebook to stay the wallet. When we had to get up in the dark in February to scrape the ice of the car before going to work, Rarotonga was a way to fight the cold. So when we were finally wading in the green waters in the lagoon; our sun burning brown it was a good feeling. As I sit at the computer writing this, it is still a good feeling..