Raratonga - rrrrather !!

Trip Start Jan 27, 2006
Trip End Sep 09, 2006

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Flag of Cook Islands  ,
Saturday, July 1, 2006

We miss Raratonga in the same way Frank Lampard misses open goals. Every time we think of it.

I mention this national humiliation only because we watched Fat Frank miss the proverbial cows arse with a cricket bat for the last and most important of his 148 attempts in a tiny hut 20 yards from the beach at 5am in the morning. And that was the only blackspot of our stay.

If it hadn't been for our pre-planned meet-up with Cath (more later in the LA section), we would probably still be there. Malcolm - our wonderful, eccentric, raffish, demonstrably posh ex-pat island guardian and friend - warned us during one of our 'over-refreshed' conversations in Trader Jacks Bar, "Careful you two, I came here for a holiday and didn't step back off the island for 11 years !"

But more of Malcolm later.

It wasn't a hit-by-the-thunderbolt love affair, though. Having spent 5 weeks in the freezing bloody cold in New Zealand we bounced off the plane like two dogs chasing a stick. Into rain. Soft, warm, tropical rain, but rain nonetheless. Never mind, the people were beautiful and friendly, a little chap in an Hawaiian shirt serenaded us through customs (as he had done for EVERY plane for the last 15 years we found out later !) and we were staying at the aptly named Paradise Inn. Aptly named for the island: not the accommodation. Frankly it was a bit shabby and full of Australian teacher-training students who had spread out into every available space.

Before I go on, a word about our antipodean friends. Australians call us Whinging Poms. The cheek of it. In all the time of our travels we have come across one Aussie couple, just one, who could be said to have an untarnished view of the world around them. Every other Aussie we have met has been either rude, racist or a first class complainer. The students were no exception. Whilst sitting on the veranda one evening watching the Pacific roll in, we overheard them whining about their assignments. On a Pacific Island, working half a day at a time, for two weeks, funded by their University. Oh, the poor dears !

Australians love to beat the English. Well fellas, hands up, you've beaten us again - gold medal-wearing whingers.

But we do have to thank them really. As a result of their stay, we could only have the room for 3 nights (we had originally booked for 10 !), so the owner had kindly arranged with a friend of his on the island to book our remaining time in a little bungalow on nearby Muri Beach. The Pacific Gods and all their little helpers had smiled on us. What a stunner of a place. Tranquil, unspoilt, private and secluded with a veranda just a flying-fish-jump from the sea. Eight nights of sheer heaven.

Raratonga is tiny. It takes 45 minutes to completely circum-navigate the whole island on a 50cc scooter. And when the sun comes out it is also utterly beautiful. Lush green mountains, tiny villages, white sand and a shallow azure coral fringed lagoon so full of tropical creatures that even the local wild dogs had learnt to fish. And apart from ride our scooter, take long walks down the beach, read our books and do the odd bit of snorkelling or kayaking the days simply drifted by.

Most days we would just potter around on the scooter - did I mention the scooter already ? I kept imagining myself as Sting in Quadrophenia - wind in my hair, sunglasses on, the epitome of cool with a beautiful chick riding pillion. Well that was right up to the moment I forgot how to work the bloody thing and ended up in a hedge !

On the middle Sunday we decided that we should really do something, so we got churchy. What an astonishing morning we had. Arriving at church on the scooter (did I mention ....?) we peeled off our rather fetching emergency ponchos (the rain was back) and stepped inside the pristine, simple, coral white Church of Avarua. As if to mirror the building the congregation were perfectly turned out in white suits, linen dresses, straw hats. Magical. The choir, singing local hymns in native Maori, was breathtaking. Absolutely breathtaking. The sheer beauty of that first moment stunned us, bringing tears to our eyes.

Spurred on by this, we vowed to witness more of the Cook Island culture. A couple of nights later we booked ourselves an 'Island Night' featuring local food, music and dance. Peeling off our emergency ponchos (again), we parked the scooter (no hedge mishaps this time) and made our way into the restaurant. As luck would have it our table was at the back so this meant the dancers were not likely to pick us for ritual humiliation in front of our peers. The downside of this was that we shared our evening with Austin and Danielle (all American, all white teeth, gee whizz and Stepford smiles) and an indescribably boring Englishman called Keith (I think)and his partner (not for much longer, if she has anything to do with it from the looks she was shooting at him). Luckily for us, the meal arrived quickly, shortly followed by the dancers who were fab - all jiggly hips, grass skirts and coconuts shell bikinis.

And thats about it. Apart, of course for Malcolm (surname withheld on his request, but it is very double-barrelled) - the owner of the Central Motel, Treasurer of the Raratongan Library and ex-husband of a tribal chief (honestly). We met him because we needed to find accomodation for a couple of nights Between Paradise Inn and the Beach Bungalow we and ended up at his hotel - named no doubt as it was in the centre of the bustling (!!!) capital city (pop 2,000)

Malcolm is the black sheep lovable rogue twinkly eyed uncle we all wish we had tucked away in the family. Charming in a Lesley Phillips type way (who was actually at the first of his three weddings along with Sid James and Hatty Jaques), he has a heart of gold and a penchant for the ladies. He was and will remain one of the loveliest people we have met on our travels. He adored Sam, of course. There are too many stories to mention but the one we loved the best was his meeting with Prionce Edward, who had come to the island as representative of the Queen a few years before. Malcolm - as part of the welcoming party - was standing in line at the quay as the wet-weekend-royal attempted to engage him in conversation. On hearing that they shared a common past in the Marines, Edward asked Malcolm how he got on. Straight-faced, he replied, "I finished my training, Your Highness".

And that is it. Our last night was spent waiting an hour or so for the check-in staff to arrive at the airport for their evening shift. This is called Island Time. Normally, we'd have been frantic, but hey .......... After check-in, we sauntered over the road and out of the airport to the Ex-Servicemens Club for a last pint of Cook Islands Lager. A fittingly relaxed end to an almost horizontal fortnight.
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