Thursday, 5 March 2015

Kia Orana (2) - A Wedding and a Snorkel

On January 10th, 2015, Amanda married Lafoga on a white sandy beach in Rarotonga with a shimmery turquoise lagoon as a backdrop.  All the colours were so intense that afternoon, from the brilliant blue sky and lush green tropical vegetation to the startling emerald of the bridesmaids' dresses. The Samoan men of the wedding party stood tall, strong and proud in white shirts, grey lavalava and beads around their necks.

Amanda, looking beautiful in her traditional white dress, walked with her proud father along an 'aisle' of hot sand, the curved path of which was defined by whole coconuts, still in their husks. Waiting for her, under a white-netting gazebo, was Lafoga, the man she loves and, close at hand, their gorgeous little girl, Amara, big brown eyes taking in all the excitement and happiness.

The ceremony was short and simple with the exchange of lovely vows and, in the evening, we celebrated this bi-cultural union with a delicious meal at Tamarind House, a restored heritage colonial building with a huge expanse of lawn sweeping down to the sea.

Entertainment followed and we were treated to a variety of electrifying Samoan and Rarotongan dancing performances - fast and magnificent to the powerful beat of drums that reverberated throughout the silky warm night sky.

The women, attired in dazzling island costumes, swayed their hips with such speed and energy that they were at times but a blur of colour and exuberance.

Cossack was beckoned forth to dance by an alluring specimen of the female species wearing only a grass skirt, feathery head-decorations and a coconut-shell bra. I did try taking photos of him so he could brag later but he had so well and truly warmed up to the moves by the time I got organised that all I managed to click for posterity was yet another series of blurs, recognizable as my spouse only by the occasional glimpse of his shirt.

The bare-chested island men were impressive too - their dances filled the night-sky with energy, rhythm and fire-throwing. Somehow, the whole universe seemed lit up but of course, we were in fact just partying on one tiny dot of an island somewhere in the middle of a very big expanse of Pacific Ocean.

Into that same night sky we, the guests, were invited to light candles beneath paper-lanterns which we then liberated along with our good wishes and prayers to sail up and over the sea into the horizon.

Two days later we discovered a very different and silent world, this time beneath that turquoise lagoon that encircles Rarotonga. After my clumsy attempts at pulling flippers onto my feet and snorkel-gear over my face, it was amazingly easy to swim over to where a multitude of colourful fish flitted and darted amongst the coral.

It was as if our bodies were effortlessly suspended by the salty water and all we had to do was kick occasionally or gently use our arms to manoeuvre easily from the tiny black and white little striped fish here to the iridescent pink and green lunar wrasse over there to my favourite fish now right in front of me, slightly comical to behold with bright yellow lips and eyes and fluoro-blue headbands.

I wanted to grin at those crazy Picasso Trigger-Fish (later research got me their name) but the snorkel-tube thing in my mouth didn't allow for that. As it was, I somehow got a few gulps of salty water anyway and my mask leaked ever so slightly which meant my eyes stung now and then and I'd have to stand up and empty it out.

But any slight discomfort was so worth it to experience such magic and surely a coconut landing on my head would be way worse?

I remember our last morning on Rarotonga and a friend and I just had to snorkel one more time before getting on the plane back to reality in New Zealand.

In our underwater world, Faye would alert me to an especially pretty fish with the silent pointing of her hands and I would do the same if I thought something special may have escaped her notice.

Of such stuff memories are created.

On the flight home I was annoyed for a few minutes when my in-flight entertainment refused to operate. There was Cossack enjoying some shoot-em-up movie right next to me and my screen offered me nothing at all.

I noticed some other passengers had difficulties as well, so it came as no surprise when, well into our flight, an apology was announced for having to shut down the entertainment system.

You know, it was actually good for me to have nothing to distract me from my own happy thoughts for four hours.

Mr and Mrs Faraimo, thank you so much for inviting us to your wedding. God bless your future.

Jenny and Noel, you have a whanau you can be proud of and we are thrilled to have been able to celebrate with you all.

Aotearoa - my home.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Kia Orana (1) - Greetings from Rarotonga

Kia Orana!

If one gets invited to a wedding on a beautiful Pacific Island just four hours flying from Auckland, one feels duty-bound to attend, does one not?

Upon arrival in hot, steamy Rarotonga, we were picked up at the airport by a real friendly woman with a hibiscus in her hair. As soon as I plonked myself in the van next to her and went to put on my seat-belt she said, "We're in Rarotonga now, dear. No seat-belt needed" and that was my introduction to island-life.

Now, we all know from experience that photos of one's accommodation always look so much better on the internet than when eye-balled in reality but, I must say, the postcard- view over the lagoon, complete with swaying coconut trees, compensated somewhat for the slightly grubby sheets that we are pretty certain saw no washing-machine between the previous backpacker and our turn to sleep between them.

Our friends next door were more privileged than us and got a sponge-thing to wipe their bench with that looked like the spit-out from a shark attack.  The other friend in the hut behind us got a jug but no cord which is funny except if you want a cup of tea.

Cossack's checked shirt got pinched from the washing- line beneath our pole-house but we do not suspect the rather unusual man who reclined in a hammock beneath our quality accommodation and spent hours gazing into oblivion.

"Who am I?", his vacant eyes seemed to implore but I truly think his identity may have washed away with a coconut on the tide.

I got a nasty little burn on the second day. Cossack didn't do it on purpose, I hope, but as I stepped off the back of our hired scooter, he happened to align the very hot exhaust pipe with my left leg. When I heard from another tourist that a scooter-burn is also known as the "Rarotonga Tattoo", I sported it with pride. Pathetic, I know, but that is what I have been reduced to in middle-age.

Our first meal didn't exactly endear us to the local cuisine or standard of service. Worse still, it was me who insisted our group of friends go to that particular takeaway-heaven bang-smack on the waterfront. It was called "The Flying Fish", or something like that, and recommended to me by my friend, Hsirt. (I spell names backwards when I don't wish to embarrass someone in print)

But Trish, we forgive you because that evening provided us with so much to hoot about later. For instance, Dana's hamburger- bun was mouldy and thank goodness for torches, I say, because that is how she detected the problem in the dusk which was settling over our outdoor picnic table.

Dana politely pointed out the dubious blue-greenish spots to the young woman serving us who calmly took her plate away, replaced the bun but returned the meal minus a piece of fish which could well have flown onto another customer's plate, hence the name of the place.

Dana couldn't politely point out the missing fish because it wasn't there to point at, but she did mention that a piece of fish should be there where it wasn't. The helpful young woman took the plate away again and returned in due course with a substitute piece of fish which was happily consumed.

Cossack and I were ever so grateful to have got our fish'n chips right at the beginning of the evening when staff could still see customers. When darkness fell, it was definitely "out-of-sight-out-of-mind" and several of our group didn't get their meals at all. So, when we noticed that the shop was being shut up, they asked for a refund and got it very matter-of-factly, like this was just another part of their bewilderingly amazing service.

The hungry ones amongst us returned to their resort for a feed. Thank goodness I redeemed myself the very next day by dragging us all into the 'Salsa Cafe' which was lovely, clean and efficient. According to Barry, the seafood chowder was delicious and I savoured every sip of an excellent coffee while Coss slurped a fruit-smoothie up a straw.

It was hot over there but not unbearably so - in fact Cossack and I seldom used the ceiling fan at night but our friends next door had theirs whirring constantly, they told us. During the daytime we all got a delightful breeze in the face from zip-zapping everywhere on a scooter and not having to wear a helmet.

Our dear friend, Margaret Mary, got a car to use while in Rarotonga as she, for some reason, didn't fancy being the third person on one of our scooters. She refused to cling to our number-plate RAE 563 with her 75-year old legs flapping behind in the wind so her niece, Fern, kindly organised a rental-car.

It looked like a car -it was black and had wheels and one put petrol into it - but didn't behave like any car I have ever been in. Sure, Margaret Mary loved her new transport because, as the driver, her seat had some padding but when she took us for a joy-ride, our buttocks and the rest of us, bounced up to Pluto and back with every little bump we drove over.

Apparently there were no shock-absorbers and I can vouch for that because nothing in that car was able to absorb my shock and suspension levels.

The windscreen was cracked and any given window would either not wind up or refuse to wind down. Then, one night, this rent-a-dent, rust-to-bust, heaven-help-us vehicle chose to go on strike outside a nice restaurant at a resort.

I was about to pronounce it officially dead, kick it goodbye, and hitch-hike back to our accommodation in the dark but of course it spluttered back into life after some secret lever was discovered and tugged at.

One has to do a few touristy things when on holiday so naturally, we booked an Island night which consisted of a delicious meal - raw fish and sweet potato, papaya and all that - followed by utterly sensational dancing by troupes from several different Cook Islands. The colour and energy was incredible - it made even an unmusical soul like me want to dance or bang a drum or strum a ukelele but I didn't as I hadn't consumed an enormous Margarita cocktail like one woman at our table.

But, even during magical moments like that island-dancing, I was super-alert to all evidence of discrimination. Why, for instance, were our five bottoms plonked on plastic chairs while everyone else in the entire complex sat on beautiful woven-cane chairs? Just to prove we didn't care in the least, we laughed a lot.

Then there is the sad story of the $23 wooden-duck I purchased at a Rarotonga gift-shop for my mother. It was ever so lovely and Cossack had no right to roll his eyes upwards when I showed it to him later.

Of course, I declared my duck to customs like a good New Zealand citizen but how was my honesty rewarded? Yes, you guessed it - my duck got confiscated at Auckland airport despite my flashing a fumigation certificate under the customs man's nose.

"That certificate means nothing to us - look at these roots around the duck's middle here- I detect SOIL!", said the man and he poked mercilessly at my duck with a stick..

Cossack and I refused to pay $33 to have my duck chemically-treated but I must have looked tragic enough for the man to promise me he'd give her a fine farewell. All I could imagine was my duck being heartlessly roasted in a incinerator along with a mountain of other unwelcome flora and fauna.

But, on the way home in the car, we all talked about the good things that happened during our week away like snorkelling in a turquoise lagoon where colourful fish darted all around us and delighted our hearts.

And oh, flip-a-mouldy-burger! I forgot to mention Amanda and Lafoga's fabulous, and I mean FABULOUS, wedding which is the whole reason we went to Rarotonga, for goodness sake!

Next blog, OK?