Friday, 25 July 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Island Self-Portrait.  This scooter side mirror was lying on the side of the road!
Just returned from our 8 day winter break; a mercy dash to a tropical island.  Rarotonga. We had been prior, first with both kids, then the next time, just with our daughter.  This time round, we went on our own.  Kinda like a second or third honeymoon!  The weather was balmy, in fact it was definitely bikini weather for most of our days!  We had a blast riding around the 32km diameter island.  The only ones wearing helmets.  We looked like road-hogs.  No one else bothers to wear them.  The island cops tried to make helmets mandatory  a year or two ago, but the ladies protested and said it would mess up their hair and eis (floral headgear).  So the cops backed down.  Said you only have to wear helments if you drive 40km or more (most zones are 30km zones, with very few 50km maximum zones).

We stayed right on the beach this time.  A place called Tropical Sands.  A Hawaian couple, Rudy and Kanoe run the place and have created a real artistic, peaceful sanctuary.  There is even a whale watching platform to view the passing whales (from August - December). Definitely worth recommending! 
I thought I would divide my Raro Ramblings into 3 categories:  The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

View of sunrise from our deck

Incredible colours and cloud formations

Life in front of the deck
The Good:
Definitely, the accommodation!  This was our first time staying right on the beach and the views were to die for!!  Mike kept on saying we would see whales and I kept on reminding him that it was unlikely as they migrate passed the island later on in the year.  Well, on our last morning, he yelled out: "Whale!"  I thought "yeah?  He wants so badly to see them, he's imagining them!" as I sauntered slowly out onto the deck, just in the nick of time to see the giant back of a whale turning slowly back into the water!  It was possibly a sperm whale, but who knows?  We craned our eyes for the next half hour, scouring the surface of the sea for any more signs of the goliath giants of the sea, but the magic had passed.  Mike was also pleased with himself as he spied dolphins frolicking past.
Kanoe and Rudy
Rudy plays one of his hand-made ukuleles.
Our gracious hosts were from Hawaii.  Kanoe is an artist, who creates wonderful stenciled images around the boutique resort.  The beachfront cabin was tastefully appointed, cosy and comfy.  Kanoe is also a dancer, while Rudy is a musician.  We regretted being unable to see their live entertainment due to Mike being unwell on the evening of their weekly island show.

Mike explores the coral beach.

Oh, the Life!  Such hard work, lying on the deck and reading a book.

Orienting the deck chairs to face the sun.

Plenty of coconut trees to provide dappled shade on the beach.

Peace, solitude and a good read!  What more can you request of a tropical holiday??  I read 1 1/2 books, my normal quota for the entire year!

Artwork on the cabin.

Our little romantic cabin on the beach!  Stairs lead to a mezzanine day bed.
Two sets of our Katikati friends are in Rarotonga on a 3 year teaching contract, so it was fantastic to catch up with them and share some precious time with them.  Very special.  We heard about the pros and cons of island life.  We were entertained every day by 3 herons, one dominant white, one black and white, and one black one!  They fossicked in the rock pools, but each time, the territorial white heron arrived, she would chase off the other two in a wild display of aerial combat.

The Queen of the Rocks
The flowers - oh my!  There are the greatest variety of hibiscus ever!  I took hundreds of photos of the different flowers I saw!  And of course, one of my all-time favourites; the frangipani.  To die for.  Being Rarotonga winter, there were no leaves on the frangi trees, with sporadic sprays of tenacious flowers sprouting out of the tops of the branches.  Lucky me, I could pick them up off the ground and place them all around our beach-front cabin; on the deck, handrails, table, bed etc.  Just for the beauty.  Interior decorating.  Flowers for the soul.  Wish they grew in our frosty backyard!

Stunning frangi flowers.  And coral.

The Bad:
Well, not exactly.  He really was quite beautiful, in an ugly sort of way.  The bad boy of goats.  Surely must have sired every little kid on the island.  I happened to be out walking when I heard a raspy grunting in the long grass.  Walking over to the field, I echo-located him as he grunted, bellowed and moaned.  As soon as he felt my presence, he stood up and started bellowing louder.  Luckily, he was restrained or else I fear he may have attacked me.  He certainly was not happy with me taking his photo.  On his head, he wore the most impressive antlers that would have been quite fitting for an adult-sized buck.   There are stories about him and the troll who ends up at the pokey end of his big horns!  I tried to avert my eyes so as not to challenge or displease him.

Big Billy Goat Gruff

A Truly Magnificent Beast

Glad of the restraint.  He eyed me with disdain.
I am pleased to report that the National Bird of Raro is in short supply at Tropical Sands. Definitely a good case for staying here.  These pesky birds create such havoc and annoyance further away from the beach, that I declared last time in Raro, were I not vegetarian, we would have had Raro-Fried Chicken every night!  They screech and skrawk from sunup to sundown.  But Tropical Sands boasts just a small family group who are very well behaved and not too noisy.  The alpha-male is quite a beautiful cocky guy who keeps a tight harem of meek girls scritch-scratching at his side.
Strutting his stuff....
The coral.  It's beautiful.  A whole beach of the stuff.  But it's also bad.  Because it means that the coral reef is dying off at a vast rate.  The world's coral reefs seem to share the same plight.  Acidic, warm seas with far too much pollution.  Far too many chemicals from all the sun-blocked holidaying bathers.  This beach bears testament to the dying reefs.  The beach is littered with piles and piles of the stuff.  In every shape, pattern and size.  I thought it might be a good idea to bring some smaller pieces of coral back with me and make a necklace for my kids.  I asked my friends if that was okay.  They assured me that it was fine.  But on arrival in New Zealand, they confiscated most of it, warning me that coral is endangered and illegal to bring it in to NZ!!  I tried to argue that the beach is knee-deep in coral but rules are rules and one has to abide by them!  They probably have that rule to stop people diving and breaking off pieces of the sea's coral gems.
Night time temperatures.  Eeeek!  Day weather equals Bikini Weather.  Not so with night!  We were totally unprepared for the chilly arctic blast of Raro night-time temperatures.  We ended up sleeping in our New Zealand travel clothes (merino thermals) to keep warm.  And still we were cold!  Literally freezing!  Lesson to self, when travelling to a tropical destination in their winter season, take fluffy pajamas!

Not sure if I wanted to place this one in the Bad or the Ugly sector.  It's probably culturally insensitive but I find it bizarre that one would bury one's relatives in a concrete tomb.  I mean, the actual structures have perhaps, their own beauty, but from a sustainable point of view, they are completely eco-footprint-heavy.  When we pass away, it's a case of dust to dust for me.  Let us nourish the earth from whence we were nourished through our life.  But of course, if we build a tomb of concrete, it will never, ever break down!  Not really a sustainable practice, yet these monstrous tombs litter every front yard on the island!  I am sure that old Maori cultural practices recognized that it was unnecessary to build concrete tombs.  It has to be a modern practice perhaps learned from crazy christian European colonisers.

Then there are the homes that are left to rot in the tropical sun.  Many structures which sit and disintegrate slowly as no-one from that family estate lives on the island to take care of it.  It seems like such a waste!  But I understand that tribal land legality complicate these issues.  Land cannot be sold in Raro.  One has to inherit land, or purchase a lease as all land belongs to the original families and is passed down to surviving family members.  Often there is a dispute and land can lie unoccupied for many years.  One truly bizarre situation is The Sheraton hotel complex.  It defies logic or reason.

A once-treasured piece of furniture rots in the sunshine, on a disintegrating house foundation.

A slow-dying house in Paradise
Wearing helmets is definitely bad!  We did it because we wanted to stay safe.  But my helmet was so manky inside that I wondered if the Billy Goat Gruff himself had been wearing it.  I had to don a head scarf first, before trucking on my protective head gear!  After a couple of days, we got tired of taking our helmets with us where ever we went and stopped at the scooter rental place to enquire if it was a wise practice to leave them with the bike or if they would get stolen.  The rental guy nearly choked, he laughed so much!  He explained that no-one wanted to wear them.  We were the only ones wearing helmets.  So it would appear that we could safely leave them with the bike without fear of being stolen!
Road hog
The Ugly:
Well, this little guy wasn't really that ugly.  Just kinda odd.  There were heaps and heaps of hermit crabs crawling all around on the beach and resort (which is kinda sandy).  Big guys and little guys.  I found them totally entertaining and watched how their tracks criss-crossed the sand every morning in wonderful ephemeral artwork!  When you walked up to them, they would suddenly appear to collapse as they withdrew into their borrowed shells.  Comedian-esque.
Whose your Daddy?
Then there's the litter.  Raro is literally drowning in litter.  It seems like such a shame!  The solution seems so simple you wonder why they aren't doing it.  Curbside recycling.  Monthly group litter collections.  "Clean Up Raro" campaigns.  "Save the Turtles" campaigns.  "Keep Raro Beautiful" campaigns.  Tax the tourists coming in - rubbish tax, to cope with the added burden of their waste.  I took a walk one day, along the inner road.  I discovered that I couldn't walk 3 steps before encountering the next bit of litter.  Squashed soda cans (seems to be the most abundant trash), plastic bottles, household waste - furniture!, plastic pegs, glass bottles etc. etc.  I saw many piles of half-burnt rubbish mounds - garden and household waste smoldering.  Toxic.  Smelly.  Unsightly.

A rusty spanner, old t-shirt and other household waste lying on the roadside.
And then I heard it.  A low rumble.  Machinery noise.  I followed on down the road, passed plantations of papaya, cassava, tomatoes, newly ploughed fields....... until I came upon a sight for sore eyes.  In the middle of agricultural land, there was a huge digger-crane-thingey moving rusty junk into piles.  As I got closer, the reality hit me.  A dumping ground.  Full of rusty old machine excrement.  Remains of human "need" or "greed".  It wasn't a pretty sight.  And I am sure there are more of these sights dotted around the island.
Dumping ground

Old discarded "stuff" which was once useful, I suppose, lies rusting and infecting soil and waterways.
And to top off this section of Ugly, there are my reef shoes.  I had to photograph them.  Mike bought them for me and I swore I wouldn't be seen dead in them!  I like quirky little shoes, different shoes but these are just spongey black things with spikey-soft soles.  But I tried to walk on the coral in jandals - uh, not really efficient at all.  So I put on my Ugly shoes.  Made sure no-one would see me but then I had a change of heart! Total conversion!  I discovered that they were so comfy, I nearly wore them all the time!!  In fact, I am sure they will make  Damn Fine  Ugly Tai Chi shoes!!

So, having ended on a pretty "low note", I guess, I would like to bring us back to the point of departure:  there is much beauty on Rarotonga.  But I think you need to visit within the next 10 years before it is built up to the degree other beautiful tropical destinations have been.  Wall-to-wall condos and hotels.  More Sheratons, Hiltons and Radison Blues.  Bet corporate deals and leases are being signed as I write this.  
Raro is definitely a great place to take a few good books and a pair of Ugly Shoes.  Kick back and Relax!

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