Kia orana! Be well and welcome to the Cook Islands!
|the beach behind me in Aitutaki|
I had planned to check a duffel and just carry on a small pack, but ended up needing to bring various additional gear and supplies for the trip (e.g., chartplotter, 5200, duct tape, and batteries), so I needed to carry on a gym duffel along with my small pack. The luggage became a stressor both in terms of sourcing and weight limitations. At 6:00PM the night before I left I was frantically digging through every locker trying to find my big black duffel bag to get packed. It was no where to be found. I had looked longingly at a blue-greenish Patagonia duffel at Fawcetts boat supply just an hour earlier, but thought I had my duffel and could ill afford to spend money on a bag when I need all my funds for the trip itself. But now Fawcetts was closed and I had little choice but to settle for whatever I could find at West Marine. I grabbed a huge gray West Marine duffel I found on sale and hurried back to the boat.
I packed the large duffel and even though I had few clothes and shoes, it seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. Air New Zealand is very strict on baggage limitations and weight and the duffel was heavy and unwieldy. I tried to weigh it on my scale but there was no way to put it on the scale and read it. I culled my stash of 24 Clif Bars down to 6. I pulled out a couple bottles of sunblock and of bug repellent. My clothes and shoes would easily fit in the small gym bag, but I also needed my life jacket, snorkel gear, and foulies. I was very worried the bag would be over the 50-pound limit but it weighed in at just over 45 pounds, so I guess I could have held onto my Clif bars and sunblock after all. As I already mentioned, I pulled an all-nighter packing, organizing, doing laundry, and cleaning. I was literally doing the dishes the last 20 minutes before I kissed my cats goodbye and loaded pup dog and luggage in my friend's car (borrowed for my last-minute running around) and headed to his house to scoop him up as my ride to the airport.
It turns out that while the gray rubbery tarpaulin material the duffel is made of seems somewhat sturdy, the zipper pulls are the absolute cheapest crap you could imagine. At BWI I tried to unzip an outside pocket to stow the shoulder strap and the zipper pull broke right off. On arrival in the Cooks I popped into a restroom to wash my face and brush my teeth and on zipping the bag back up, there goes another zipper pull. Perhaps needless to say, I'll be demanding my money back from West Marine when I get back to Annapolis.
Air New Zealand was a very pleasant and comfortable contrast to flying US domestic flights. I had a preferred seat, but still in basic economy class. Nonetheless, even with my legs fully outstretched only my toes reached under the seat in front of me. I wished I'd known dinner would be served, since I'd have skipped the outrageously pricey pizza and beer at LAX. (But then I'd have missed out on meeting Dan and Omar.) But I ate most of the dinner offering and enjoyed a couple glasses of complimentary New Zealand wine with my meal. I managed to get about 5 hours of sleep, listened to some podcasts, and then they served breakfast. The announcement went something like this: "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Our cabin crew will begin serving breakfast shortly. You have a choice of omelette or fruit plate, served with freshly brewed coffee, assorted juices, and spirits for those of you brave enough to drink them at this hour of the morning."
Monday, circa 8:00AM: I'm currently sitting at the Rarotonga airport. I fly onward to Aitutaki in the afternoon. Our flight arrived early, at 5:30AM, and after clearing immigration and customs I waited for someone to show up at the Air Rarotonga counter to see if I could go ahead and check in and check my bag. He couldn't check me in, but better than that he offered to hold both the huge duffel and the smaller carry-on. I just have to return an hour before my flight to check in and get the carry-on back. Although it's overcast and raining, I'd still like to use this brief opportunity to see Raro, so now I'll be able to much more comfortably bus and walk around the island with just my small backpack. I pulled my foul weather jacket from the bottom of the duffel so I don't end up soaking wet. Prices I've seen so far, just here at the airport, are staggering. About $6 for a cup of regular coffee, about $12 for a sandwich. These are not sit down restaurants, just food stand shacks. I'm glad I ate and had coffee on the flight and I'm currently nibbling here and there on Twizzlers I bought in LA. I still need to find a Telecom office to buy wifi credits, find the immigration office to pay a NZ$25 fee for my approval letter to enter, and hopefully I'll get to walk around downtown Avarua a bit and ride the bus the circumference of the island. Although I turned the cellular function on my phone off, some local carrier still grabbed onto my phone and T-Mobile sent me text messages warning that it would be $.50/text, $4.19/minute for calls, and $15/MB for web/email while roaming. Yikes!
Monday afternoon: I was trying to figure out where to catch the bus into town and a woman from Air New Zealand said it would come around past where I was but then asked where I needed to go. I told her I needed to get to Avarua and pay a fee at immigration. She explained where the office was and then just waved for me to follow her. I thought she was going to show me a better place to wait for the bus but she moved things around in her car and told me to get in. She pointed out where "downtown" mostly started, where I could go to get some wifi credit, where the bus should pass to go back, and then dropped me by the immigration office. I'm very blessed by the kindness of strangers in my life. I had to wait until immigration opened at 9:00AM, and it was the same officer I had had at the airport. I had taken out some cash at the ATM so at least I was able to pay the fee in New Zealand dollars. While she had been somewhat stern at the airport, she softened up as we chatted about the islands and fishing. She wanted to know what the fish I'd been catching, rockfish, was like and how we cook fish. I said most people grilled or broiled it, and she nodded, "ah, same as we do." I think Americans are not that common here because people seemed curious to ask me what America is like and how much it costs to fly here from there. A Kiwi here at the airport made a point to say he likes Americans, just not our policies, and that all the Americans he's met over the years have been good people.
It drizzled, rained, and misted most of the morning so I was glad to have my foul weather jacket and its hood to keep me dry. I walked the length of downtown a couple of times, window shopping, getting a credit for 150MB of data for NZ$10, taking photos, and checking out Polynesian Tattoo. (Hey, it's a souvenir that doesn't take up space on the boat.) As I headed back toward my starting point near Boogie's Burgers, My path intersected with a floppy-haired glacierologist who had been sleeping in the seat next to mine waiting for our flight from LA. I made a comment about our having made it a long way from Los Angeles and we began chatting and walking. We ended up sitting down for lunch and a couple of hours flew by before I knew it. He was taking a few days in the Cooks before heading to a conference about Antarctica in New Zealand. Small world that it is, he is also a trail ultrarunner, though surely faster and more accomplished than I. It was fun to hear someone else's passion for that kind of running and now that the sun has come out, hopefully he's enjoying a hike up into the island. I had to get going and he needed to get to his hotel, so I gave him a card and told him to email me sometime. Hopefully, he'll drop me a note about some great trail race adventure he's having and perhaps fate will have us bump into each other out on a run someday. I really have to remember to register for my Seashore Nature Trail 50K when I get back to Annapolis.
Wednesday, circa 6:00AM: As soon as I landed in Aitutaki on Monday afternoon we had to head to the dock and move the boat out into the little harbor because a ship would be coming in with supplies and the container barge would need the dock. A Swiss cruiser also needed to move, so we helped each other tie off sterns to coconut trees ashore and drop anchors off the bow. At one point we needed to shuttle back and forth by dinghy and the Swiss guy got out of his dink to get on his boat and move it. Suddenly I realized I was the one who had to shuttle the dink back to the other shore. Except that I've only rowed my old dinghy, and never ran a tender with an outboard. So I was pretty much having heart palpitations as I would push the tiller the wrong direction and turn the throttle handle too far or too fast and was zig-zagging haphazardly around the tiny harbor trying to get the hang of it and get over to the boat. It was embarrassing and a little scary, but the captain said it was the best way to learn--on someone else's boat!
We finally made it to the little house by the beach where we're staying for $10 a night until Sunday, when we have to be out. If the boat isn't ready to go at that point, we'll at least have to have it in shape to stay aboard. Yesterday morning I finally managed to get a shower. I don't have to worry about the hot water running out since there isn't any to begin with. I definitely wasn't going to stand under the cold water when I didn't have to, but it wasn't too bad. Today I will try to use a solar shower as well to have some warmer water to rinse off with, but I don't think the solar shower will have much time to heat up since I'll be heading out for a run at sunrise and need to run though the shower an hour later. The day yesterday was full of running around in a borrowed truck getting groceries, dropping things off at the boat or the house, and seeing the entire perimeter of the island. Groceries are very expensive and the selection is very limited. Prices varied wildly; a cabbage was NZ$5.50 at one store and double that at another. Only one place had cheese. I saw blocks and blocks of Colby at another shop and got excited, until I saw the sign that said "Cheese is NOT for sale!" We picked up a bicycle that I'll use to get around. Today we have a lot of work to get done on the boat but I really need to get a run in, so the captain will head to the boat to get started and I'll bike down shortly after so I can get in a run. Down at the dock there should be wifi access, so hopefully I'll be able to post this! Not sure I'll be able to include many photographs (I've taken a lot), since the wifi access is by data not time. It was $10 for 150/MB credit from the Telecom shop. So, the video I shot and lots of photos I've taken may not get posted up here until later. Rates are still high but better in Tonga, and at the end of the trip in New Zealand I think access and prices will be more akin to the US.
Wednesday, circa 10:00AM: Managed to get in a good 6 mile run this morning, take a cold shower and walk 40 minutes to the dock. The bicycle seat was a couple inches too high to be remotely tolerable, and I have hated being on a bike ever since a bad accident in law school. So, I hoofed it, and happily spotted the place that sells delicious cheese bread, so that fueled the later half of my walk.
Wednesday, circa 1:30PM: At last! Internet at last! It is incredibly difficult on the iPad to post photos. The blogger app lacks a lot of features I need but in Blogger via Safari, when I try to insert a photo or video it doesn't "see" any of the ones on my iPad. Arrgghhh! So, I'm going to try just putting a lot of photos in a stream in "the cloud" with a link for those who want to check out the photos. I'll try to have that in the next post.
NB: Please note that I try to get comments posted quickly (they are moderated due to the amount of spam comments that come through), but there may be significant delays while I'm out here due to my limited internet access. So, don't take offense if a comment takes a while to post.
For now, I'll leave you with this. But let me assure you, it isn't all fruity rum drinks and palm trees on this trip. Stay tuned...