Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Arrival in Chile and dinner in Santiago with friends

PHIL: Day 72/26 April

This time the LAN Boeing from Tahiti is precisely on schedule, though as before they have run out of champagne. We substitute a good Argentinian pinot noir which seems to ease the disappointment. 

leaving Easter Island
After a fascinating short piece on the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, the controversial movie ‘The Queen’, screened in UK last year whilst I was in Myanmar, keeps me entertained. 

Allie, who saw it on some earlier flight, asks for my reaction and I tell her that I can quite see it being a reasonable interpretation of events ten years ago. 

Fabulous views over the Andes
By curious coincidence it was from Santiago in 1997 that my long-standing Chilean friend Victor Mardones called me in Bristol to commiserate at Diana’s death which he had picked up on CNN whilst the UK slept. 

The approach to Santiago four hours later is a classic skirting of the Andes in excellent visibility, Mt. Aconcagua’s 21,000+ft. peak standing above the snow-covered sierras.


dinner with the family
Out host in Santiago is Victor’s step-daughter , but we spend some time unravelling relationships with the man who meets us. Fernando Silva is the girl’s natural father whose place was usurped by Victor some 20 years previously. 

Sensitivities are evident which restrict our range of conversation to oblique references to Victor and emphasis on Ximena, the shared object of the two men’s affection. 

Fernando, a customs agent, has a magnificent silver Dodge 4WD which he drives with singular lack of finesse resulting in our getting lost several times on the way to his daughter’s house in Alto las Condes.


Santiago is just as beautiful as on my last visit a decade previously. Delicate acer and maple trees line the streets are rich with autumn colours.
on approach to Chile

ALLIE:  
Farewell to Easter island, a flight to Santiago and an evening with Carolina

It’s raining. How lucky we were! The 4 ½ hours flight to Santiago is spent with computer stuff and laughing my socks off reading Bill Brysons book on American habits.

The approach is spectacular: snow-white mountains of the Andes stretch right in front of us. And even the peak of Mt. Anconcagua with it’s 6929 meters the highest mountain in South America is perfectly visible in the evening light.
stunning mountain scenery

On arrival we are greeted by Fernando. Neither Phil nor I do know him, but he gives us a warm welcome and embraces me like an old friend. 

The story here is quite complicated and Phil and I have difficulties in getting the family constellations right: it seems that Fernando is the father of Carolina, the girl we are staying with and the ex-husband of      , who is married now for 20 years to Victor – the Chilean friend of Phil! All clear?
bird eyes view of Santiago de Chile
Carolina lives in the district of Los Condes on the eastern side of Santiago in a nice new house. The interior is very tastefully decorated, the house has a small garden and even a pool. Carolina is my age and has two children, Francesca (4) and Francisco (7). Dinner is ready and we spend a nice evening sipping away delicious Chilean red wine.

But even at the end of this long evening we are still not sure to understand all the family relations. Carolina has a sister called Paulina and they both work for their father Fernando. But where is Carolina’s husband? No sign of him. So is she divorced as is Paulina and their father?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Exciting horse-ride across the Island and climbing the volcano crater

ALLIE: DAY 71: Wednesday, 25th of April

A horse riding tour around the island and a walk up the volcano of Rano Kau

me on Api
Another dire night fighting the dogs, discos and cocks. But a lovely morning and I am looking forward to my horse riding experience this morning. 

At 10.30 I bid good-bye to my husband who isn’t all that keen on wrecking his thigh muscles and drive off with Lionel and the other French couple to a barn. A dark grim looking man with a black scarf around his head greets us ‘Alo!’. 

His name is Peti (not Peeti which obviously means something naughty in local Napa Rui) and he owns 200 horses. 

Peti my guide
Within minutes he saddles the horses and the others all mount their horses leaving me on the ground. I am told that I shall go on my own with Piti on a ‘fast’ riding tour, they would be on a slow tour. 

Moments later I find myself on a little horse called Ape riding up the valley with my gaucho on his stallion behind me. 

He cracks his lariat and chases a few wild running horses around. We jump into immediate gallop and don’t ever seem to go much slower for the rest of our 3 hours tour.

The horses are great! They run without much pressure and their gallop is as smooth as warm margarine. And those primitive looking Rapa Nui saddles turn out to be very comfortable. So there we go, galloping our way along the green hills and into the vast empty countryside of the Island. Piti certainly has taken an eye on me and he thinks I or my riding is great. 
Easter Island has the perfect horse-riding countryside

So he starts telling me that he is looking for a new wife having divorced his Chilean wife. He explains to me all his problems in Spanish (I hardly speak a word but I do understand bits and pieces) and laments that Napa Rui men and Chilean women can’t get along with each other because of  many ‘problema di cultura’.

stopping briefly for fabulous views across the vast ocean
He thinks Europeans are much better! This all makes me slightly suspicious of his intentions. So when we finally reach the steep coast and he invites me to take a look at a cave, my inner warning system runs on full power. 

We climb down to the cave. A few jar bones of whatever animal lay around and I secretly joke to myself that those are the remains of his last horse riding guests. I firmly recline an invitation to take a swim in one of the little water pools and am glad to sit on my friendly horse again. 

a view into the cave - but not more...
We ride back along the coast and through some eucalyptus forest. It’s beautiful. Pite points out a few remains of houses and fallen moais and continues his Spanish conversation about women with me. 

Time passes far too quickly and we realize we have to race back to be there in time to catch the others. The horses are still in very good form and we gallop back all the way. What an adventure!

Finally back at our pension I am so glad to be married to my wonderful English man Phil and not gaucho Mr. Piti! We immediately set off to use the rest of the day to explore the biggest volcano of the island, Rano Kau.
at the Crater

The crater is indeed very impressive. It’s a 200m deep perfectly round shaped whole in the middle of the sharp rim with pools of water in it. 

The views across the rest of the island from here are very impressive. We walk to the rim and catch a view of the two islands that are closely linked to the famous ‘birdman cult’ that was practiced here 400 years ago. 

After the megalith culture of the moais declined at the end of 14th century a new cult was born. 

downtown Easter Island: reminder of the Old Wild West!
Various tribes of the island used to choose their new leader by exercising a special competition: the men had to race down the cliffs, swim out to these tiny islands and try to catch the first eggs laid by the sooty terns that would arrive in early spring. 

The winner was the ‘birdman’ and new chief of the island for a whole year.

On our last evening we return to the German restaurant and have some simple spaghetti Bolognese. It turns out that Hermann even does tours for Studiosus, my travel agency, when groups come to visit the island. 

The food is good, the wine wonderful and we are hoping for a good nights sleep. But alas it’s the same old story: the disco, the dogs and the mosquitoes all start their wild night at exactly 1am! Bon nuit!

 PHIL: Day 71/25 April
 
Phil at the crossroads
There are five types of sound during the night, two soothing and three disturbing. The cicadas and the sound of the ocean are perfect for inducing sleep, but the cockerels, dogs and distant bass of the Hanga Roa disco scene drown them out. 

Why do people in the Pacific islands keep dogs? It cannot be for security, nor is it evidently for love and companionship. 

Why do all the most disturbing sounds happen at night? I guess the cockerels have a job to do, even if some of them seem to have their watches set to mainland time, but the dogs and the disco…..

Allie's wild gaucho at the cave
This morning there is yet another French couple staying at the pension – where does Lionel put them all? 

Allie goes off for her horse-riding session, but still bemoans the unlikely windless atmosphere enshrouding the island which gives her the urge to go ballooning instead.

She returns after a wild ride across the remote west coast with a Rapa Nui gaucho who, amongst other things, apparently talked about his need for a woman and suggested a naked swim in a cave. As far as I can tell she resisted his blandishments but was clearly flattered by the horseman’s attempts at seduction.
 
Enjoying some fabulous views across the crater
The last afternoon is spent climbing (mostly by car) to the ancient settlement of Orongo where a bird-man cult developed in the 16th century.

horses are an essential part of Easter Island
I have visions of some kind of primordial Lillienthal with feathered wings strapped to his body, but alas, it appears the ‘bird-man’ merely (well, rather more than merely) swam the 2km to a nearby islet to be the first to collect a tern’s egg each spring. 

This feat apparently entitled the winner to his choice of virgins from a nearby cave. Maybe that’s where Allie’s horseman got his ideas. 

As if to re-inforce the Rapa Nui legend an equally wild-looking guide emerges from a nearby crater lake after a swim with his young Australian girl protégée.

Exploring Easter Island with its hundreds of Moai statues

ALLIE: DAY  70: Tuesday, 24th of April

Exploring the island, hiking up a volcanic hill, amazing maois and a magic sunset

Phil at the controls
A pretty good nights’ sleep (except for the dogs!) and a leisurely breakfast with the other French guests makes us feel so much better. 

We set out around 10 am to drive around the island. The distances are not far. It’s only 30km to the farthest end of it. We set out to drive around the eastern coast line.

The countryside reminds of Ireland or Scotland: barren but green hills, pastures with free grazing horses, lines of dry-stone walls and the wild blue sea bashing against the steep cliffs. 

Even the weather could be Irish except maybe for the temperature. We have sun, we have some little showers (but mainly beautiful sun I must say).
horses are the main means of transport

The first settlers to these islands had come from other Polynesian islands around 8000 years ago. At the height of their culture there were about 4000 Rapa Nui living here in ‘Te Pito o te Henua’ meaning ‘the navel of the world'.
one of many moais

After the arrival of the first Europeans the numbers rapidly declined because of disease and lack of resources. 

The name ‘Easter Islands’ derives from the Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeven who first arrived here on Easter Sunday in 1722, shortly to be followed by – guess whom? – Mr. James Cook of course and then by the French lieutenant Le Perouse. 

Chile finally annexed the islands in 1888 and that’s how it is still up today.

Moai quarry
And there is our first Moai standing near the coast facing inland. 

Nobody really knows the answer to all the questions of these huge carved stone blocks, but scientists believe that most of them date back to the 14th century and we used in clan rites. 

As there were quite a few different clans living on the island they started to compete with each other creating bigger and bigger statues as the rivalry went on. 



These blocks were carved from a quarry near the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. Here we find most of the standing Moais.

Phil enjoys the fabulous views and a rest
Some look so tired from standing upright they started to lean forward. Their noses and mouths remind me of the German comedian Loriot. But these statues are 20meters tall and around 200kg heavy. 

People used to move them by using wooden blocks – no wonder that trees are rare now on this island. We climb up the steep sides of the volcano. 

A fantastic view is the reward. Right in the middle of the crater there is a little lake surrounded by reed but from the top of the volcano we enjoy views to nearly all around the island. Stunning!

We are nearly ‘maoied out’ but there is the impressive row of 15 Maoi at the site Ahu Tongariki that we can’t miss. And again we are so lucky. 


With the weather and with the other tourists. When we arrive to the site it’s still lovely sunny and there isn’t a soul about. But minutes later a big cloud explodes and some busloads of tourists arrive. Let’s get on. 

We come to the secluded beach of Anakena. I manage to talk my husband into a swim. The water is lovely and warm. Only a handful of tourists and locals are here to enjoy that peaceful spot. Eventually we drive back through the middle of the island which is covered by some remaining eucalyptus forest.
 
a lonely beach and a refreshing swim

We are soo lucky! We may enjoy the perfect Easter Island sunset. Sipping a beer as sun downer near the Tahai statues we wait for the right time to come. 

Nearly 6.30 pm the sun finally sets as a golden ball right between the five moai statues and disappears into the dark blue sea. It couldn’t be better! What a wonderful day. 

I feel that I could live here. It’s such peaceful place. All those horses grazing freely around the island, some gauchos riding on them even in the middle of town, the lovely temperature, the bashing sound of the sea, the open countryside… but it’s miles from anywhere and alas too expensive!
what a magic sunset!

PHIL: Day 70/24 April

the statues are everywhere on this island
Today is our chance to drive a hired 4x4 (well, a Suzuki, anyway) around the main archaeological sites on this small (24km long) island. 

There were apparently four days of torrential rain just before we arrived , evidenced by washouts of the deep red laterite soil everywhere, so we are fortunate in having a day with mostly sunny skies and only the occasional dark cloud and spots of rain. 
exhausted and nearly as stone dead as the moai

Indeed it is perfect for recording the massive brooding statues which are much more numerous than we expected. 

Although there are a few tourist minibus parties our visits are fortuitously timed such that we are almost alone everywhere. 

From Hanga Roa town we drive anti-clockwise with many stops including a climb of Rano Raraku crater lake.

the crater lake

 
quite a rough sea
We notice our ‘patron’, Lionel, who is taking a small group round in his Pajero which has a broken starter motor, parked off the tarmac. He can’t get started so we tow him, me driving in reverse, using a very short webbing belt, until he jump-starts the car on the main road. 

Then on to Anakena Beach where, against expectations, the water is warm enough for even me to swim in. Bracing against the waves I contemplate the horizon beyond which lies South America some 3900km away to the east.

A girl we met in the Cooks reported that each sunset on Easter Island was watched by ‘the whole population’. 

strong as a rock
Well she might more accurately have said ‘every tourist’ as we discovered when Allie’s plan to have a quiet beer at the moais on Mahanua Bay to watch the sun go down dissolved into what looked like a minor concert audience ringing the five silhouetted statues on the shore.  

A trio of thoughtless giggling girls  fail to note that the other 70+  camera-bedecked spectators want a clear shot of the moai and the sea and languidly stand blocking the view, but nevertheless the atmosphere is almost preternatural.


a gorgeous sunset

A nice day on Moorea island and a long wait for our flight to Easter Island

PHIL: Day 68/22 April

This very aeroplane had a fatal accident killing
 all on board only days later!
Baguettes and apricot jam for breakfast. Very French but missing the chocolat chaud or real coffee I remember and love. One of the Frenchmen tells me Nicholas Sarkozy polled most votes over Segolene Royale, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and some ‘green’ I’ve never heard of.

In the manner of such puzzling European contests,however, there must apparently be a re-run in two weeks because there is no overall victor. 

Air Moorea can put us on a flight just 25 minutes after we arrive unannounced at their tiny terminal.
runway on Moorea
The whole procedure is a delight by comparison with today’s general security-heavy procedures. We just walk onto the apron and climb on the venerable Twin Otter. 

No x-ray, no ‘banned liquids’, no baggage checks. Not even a safety briefing. Just aviation as it should be. Mind you I guess Tahiti doesn’t have too many tall towers to fly aeroplanes into. The flight lasts exactly 5 minutes at 500ft across the intervening azure sea. 
Allie has the chance to look over the (sole) pilot’s shoulder – another rarity these days.
 
welcome to paradise!
Within 20 minutes we are installed on what is probably the best beach on Moorea and Allie is off snorkelling. We spend an idyllic 4 hours or so in and out of the crystal-clear water – even better than the Cooks – before walking the 3km or so to catch the ferry for return to Papeete harbour. 

The walk is a struggle in 30+ degrees and humidity in the 80s. The ferry is a welcome relief from the airless heat of the shoreline but delivers us into Papeete’s heart which can only be described as soulless. 

Architecture and style of any sort is almost completely absent which we find surprising for a French territory.

Back at the airport following a very summary walk around the capital , a delay of nearly five hours in our LAN-Chile departure to Easter Island is announced. After hanging onto the ‘fleapit’ as long as we could without incurring further cost or the wrath of the 150kg madame we suffer the inadequacies of the Faaa Airport terminal for six or seven gruelling hours., Tahitien children, clearly not under any parental control, play Ben Hur with baggage trolleys in the airport concourse. We shall be glad to leave this scruffy, expensive and frankly uninteresting outpost of domestic France.

on board the twin otter
ALLIE: DAY 68: Sunday, 22nd of April

A trip to Moorea by plane and boat, Papeete downtown, waiting for Lan Chile

We decided to fly across with Air Moorea to the little island of Moorea. It’s just 30km from Tahiti but supposed to have lovely beaches and beautiful landscape. The flight in that little ‘Twin Otter’ is great! No security checks, just walk onto that aircraft, take a seat and off we go. The cockpit door is widely open and I can watch the pilots movements.
views to Moorea

No safety briefings, no stewardess to check the correct storage of bags – wonderful! After only a brief 7mins we land on Moorea. Steep mountains rise from the centre of the island, everything seems to be much more laid back then on Tahiti.

approach to Moorea
It’s only a short walk to the beach and that’s where we stay for the next couple of hours, swimming, snorkeling and watching the locals at their Sunday out. 

Most of them just sit in the shallow water, sip a beer and listen to their stereo recorders. To my surprise I see a wide range of brazen display of naked breasts. That would be against the law in the Cooks but here the French ‘laissez-faire’ mentality has obviously taken a firm place in society. Not that it matters to me. The sad thing is only (as in most such places) that it’s always the most wobbly and fat women that tend to show the world their bodily parts.

The snorkeling is great. Crystal blue water, some nice corals and colourful fish. Before we ourselves get roasted like barbeque chicken, we leave the beach and walk the 3 km to the port. On the way we stop at a little fruit shop and enjoy some delicious Three big boats are waiting in the harbour, we take the slow one that will take an hour to cross the straight back to Tahiti. It’s a relaxed journey on the sun-deck.

Do you want to hear two really important travel tips? If you want to safe lots of money and stay happy, don’t go to Tahiti and don’t stay at ‘Chez Fifi’!
Papeete on a Sunday surely must be the most desolate and boring capital city in the world. 

All and everything is shut and the houses don’t reflect anything of the traditional charm that some of the other French colonial towns do have like for example Luang Prabang in Lao. 

Even the catholic cathedral is a disappointment. At least the tourist brochure has the guts to admit the fact that this city is not worth more then a quick drive past it to the airport. We do exactly that.

heading back to Tahiti on the ferry 

Back at Mrs grumpy Fifi we refresh ourselves with a shower and a little doze before we go down to the airport at 8pm only to find that our flight to Easter Island is delayed by three hours and not due before 4 am! 

Spend the last 2000 doncs on two beers and a horrible tasting pizza whilst waiting 2 ½ hrs for our check in. 
The airport is a scandal. Except for this cafeteria there is no proper bar, the internet café is shut and the toilets look like they haven’t been cleaned since Captains Cooks first arrival.
Finally check in with Lan Chile and a long wait.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Flight back to Auckland then out to Tahiti, crossing the International date line for the 3rd time!

ALLIE: DAY 67: Saturday, the 21st of April (and Sunday, the 22nd)

A long day on Air New Zealand flying out to Tahiti via Auckland

Another poor night with only 3 hours of sleep. Dreamt about a balloon fiesta with folks from all over the world. The sad thing though was – like in real life – non of the flying happened due to unfit weather! (later we hear from Andy Nicholson that they had the most fantastic weather and flew every slot on their meet in Methven, South Island!)
flight out to Tahiti

Drive to the airport, drop the car, and check in our flight back to Auckland at 4.40am! What an ungodly time. And what ungodly security checks. Have forgotten about these stupid new rules. A fierce looking fat security lady starts to check all my belongings as thoroughly as if I was Bin Laden in persona. 

She finds my lipstick, deodorant, hand crème and tooth paste and throws it all in the bin. I am so annoyed! But when you ask for these stupid plastic bags (in which you are supposed to put all this kit) you can’t buy it – and the aircraft doesn’t provide you with new toothpaste and hand crème of course!

Can’t sleep, so watch a movie on Beatrix Potter and start writing an article on Student life in Nanjing. Browse through Auckland’s ‘Weekend Herald’ and find some quite amusing articles. Since there is nothing else to report on this third flight across the international date line (yes we are ahead now again it being Sunday the 22nd!), I will tell you a bit of my findings:

I start with the real facts, the 2006 census figures for New Zealand. Now it somehow tells you that Europeans are declining as an ethnic group in this country but when you look at ‘new arrivals’ it still shows England being well ahead of every other nation. But be aware, the Chinese are coming.  147.570 new Chinese to the country closely followed by Indians (104,583). Of all the pacific people the Samoans are the largest group followed by Cook Maori and Tongan. And where do most Kiwis live? Of course the area of Auckland, then Wellington and thirdly Nelson. Enough statistics for now? Alright, let’s move on to more exciting facts of life: SEX
 
crossing the International date line (again!)
Here are the latest statistics of good or bad lovers: the least frequent in ‘doing it’ were the Japanese with 46 times a year (no wonder since they either sleep or work), the most frantic lovers are the Greeks with 164 times (a new Olympic record?). I couldn’t find either the Brits nor the Germans in there, but I guess they must be somewhere in between. Now, the shortest sessions seem to have the Indians with 13,6 minutes, the most relaxed are the Nigerians with 20,3 minutes. So Paolo Coelho’s ‘eleven minutes’ isn’t topped yet – at least statistically and nationally.

Sex being closely related to fitness, so I move on to an interesting study done by Bristol (!) University about regular exercise (no I don’t mean sex this time, the study refers to running!). Out of 1158 men in their middle-ages (great expression!) the study found that ‘those who exercised regularly were less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over time.’ When I mentioned this fact to my ‘you-go-running-I-stay-in-bed’ husband he just said, “so what about sex?” Yes, but that doesn’t count according to this study, I countered. But since the study couldn’t proof  any ‘mental health benefits’ by daily exercise, Phil insists on his theory that ‘Sport ist Mord’ (sport is murder) and rather sticks to his heath idea which means to ‘inspects the inside of his eyelids’ whilst I go out to do my murderous deeds.
 
our 'shed'
The last story I tell you before my brain collapses on this flight is the fact that the Brits are getting grumpier every year but that the Danish are indeed the most happy people on Europe. But the most miserable Europeans are the Italians and the Portuguese! Now why is that? The study argues that happiness depends largely in a persons trust in government and society and has nothing to do with the stereotype perception such as being rich or living in a sunny country. So if you are Italian, Portuguese or Brit, put on a big smile and say “cheese”! Good night!

Arrive at 4pm at Tahiti International Airport. What strikes us first is the heat, what second how expensive everything is. After finding the whole airport absolutely
shut including the information desk (where in 24hrs we still haven’t seen a single soul), the bank and the airline desks, we try to find ourselves a bed for the night.
all a bit grim for such a praised tropical island

The Lonely Planet recommended “Chez Fifi”, a little pension just 150m from the airport for it’s cheap rates and “immaculate cleanliness”. But what we find is a real shocker: a young french guy shows us the only double room they have got which is a tiny box with a rotten dusty fan, barred windows and shared bathroom.

The whole lovely outfit costs 6800 cfp (ca. 60 €). We have to pay with ‘the lady’, an unbelievable fat lady sitting there draped with only a bikini in her scruffy kitchen strapped to an oxygen mask (no wonder her lungs won’t receive any of it by a natural passage) and demanding another 6800 cfp to extend our stay until the next evening. Wow! Welcome to Tahiti!

We are warned no to go downtown because it’s elections in France and of course here. And indeed, the whole town is out on a rally waving banners, shouting and making noise. It all looks really dodgy to us. The choices for dinner look grim: there is a Chinese take away and a few street shops with grilled meat. We are lucky to find a little pizzeria called ‘Frederic’s Creperie’ and enjoy some really tasty Flammkuchen and real cidre. From opposite of the street we can hear the church choir’s whole hearted singing but in front of us the rowdies rally down the streets. What a weird place. During the night we battle the dogs, some bugs, low flying aircraft, noisy cars and a ringing mobile phone.

PHIL: Day 67/21 April

After a confusion over which of her two passports to present on departure Allie is stopped at the pre-flight security check by an officious lady officer who removes several small items of toiletry because they are not in a sealed clear plastic bag. Allie is boiling about women in positions of power becoming control freaks – coincidentally reading in the NZ Herald about a Chinese woman recently hassled by a female NZ  Immigration officer in a similar fashion.
 
arrival in Tahiti
Allie discovers an article in the same paper about sex habits which indicates that Indians sexual exploits take 13 minutes and the Greeks have sex 136 times per year but, perhaps fortunately, neither the British nor the Germans feature at the extremes

In Auckland during our two-hour turnaround we find we are missing an opportunity to go on a free trip with a balloon to Syria and that Andy Nicholson had six flights in good weather at Methven in South island, NZ in the days after Hamilton. As if to emphasize our frustration the smoke around Auckland harbour is going straight up into an almost cloudless sky. Talking to mum back in Bristol we learn that the UK is continuing the beautiful spring climate it has been enjoying for almost a month now. Ah, well….
 
the harbour
The aircraft on our flight to Papeete is an ancient (well, at least 15-year-old) Boeing 767 with no laptop power offtakes and even with ashtrays (almost a historic item now) in the seats and loos. The Chief Steward consoles us  by commenting that by 2010 it will have been replaced by Boeings new 787 ‘Dreamliner’, but this is not much comfort as we try to catch some sleep in the hardly-reclining seats.

On arrival we plan to try a ‘Lonely Planet’ recommendation for a pension near Faaa Airport as we don’t want to be too far away for our late night departure for Easter Island. It will also be handy if we decide to fly to Moorea Island for the day. Allie runs the 150m or so up to the property in question and reports that they have a room. Things begin to fall apart, however, as we check in with the ‘patron’, a part-Polynesian lady who must weigh 150kg and is so fat she has a nasal canula to help her breathing. She grumpily charges us an extra day’s fee because we want to leave at 7pm next day. I beat her down but only by a small amount.
 
at least a nice sunset
The house seems to be occupied by an assortment of Frenchmen and mixed-race children of varying ages and uncertain relationships, a big dog and three turtles.Our room, a cramped double sharing a bathroom with a long-haired sun-bleached man in his 60s who seems only to wear a thong around the house. The combined ceiling fan and what passes for a light hangs uncertainly as if suspended on the cobwebs which envelop it. It rotates slowly and creates no perceptible air movement. The sagging bed is covered with a miniscule sheet of uncertain cleanliness.

We decide to go out locally for food after one of the residents warns that downtown Papeete is likely to be a bit lively in the run-up to tomorrow’s French Presidential elections. He proves right as dozens of trucks bearing different political flags roar past us horns and music blaring whilst the Sapeurs Pompiers look on with blue lights ablaze. There is little choice except dirty-looking roadside vans serving chicken legs and a tiny shack which turns out to provide excellent flammkuchen (which Allie loves) and Breton galettes (black wheat pancakes) which I haven’t eaten since a visit to Mont St Michel when I was 16. All this we wash down with equally unexpected cidre bouche, also from Brittany.

a grim pub but better than nothing
Back at the pension the air inside is stifling, the neighbourhood dogs are barking, and trucks thunder up the steep hill outside.We anticipate a bad night so Allie takes a pill on top of the bottle of NZ wine we have brought to encourage oblivion on such occasions. All is well until at 4.15 her alarm rings followed 45 minutes later by the local cellphone provider sending me a text reminding me I was in their territory. By now the cockerels are crowing all around, waking the dogs from their short respite.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Back to Roratonga! Exploring the spiritual heritage of the island

PHIL: Day 66/20 April.

Only as we leave do I realise that the language of the Cooks is a version of Maori, and accounts for the close association between New Zealand and these islands which was re-inforced when they became a protectorate of NZ early in the 20th century. 
A close link between the Cooks and New Zealand
All Cook Islanders have automatic NZ citizenship and most of the businesses in the islands are run by Kiwis. Even the currency is mostly NZ, though there are some curiously-shaped coins (including a triangular $2 piece) peculiar to the Cooks.Another south Pacific oddity is the proliferation of churches – especially the evangelistic strains. 

Every other building on the island seems to be a place of worship.The LMS certainly started something when they first reached this fertile territory in the early 19th century.

It is raining unseasonally as we touch down in Rarotonga but we elect nevertheless to hire a rusty open-topped Daihatsu (which in Kiwi style we christen the ‘Silver Shitter’) to drive round the island during our 20 hour transit, into which Allie fits her obligatory swim whilst I sit on the sand with a Hawaiian beer. 

Later we ran into the San Francisco aged hippie lady who encouraged us to go to an island dancing competition in Avarua later in the evening.

When we reached the venue, however, the lady with the lei on the door said the start would be delayed because not all the teams had arrived. 45 minutes later we were still waiting and so decided to cut-and-run  to get some sleep before our 0300 wake-up for the flight to Tahiti via Auckland. A night of wild weather and I wonder if our flight might be delayed.

ALLIE: DAY 66: Friday, 20th of April
                     
Return to Rarotonga, a scenic drive around the island and fare-well to the Cooks

on our way back to Roratonga
We try again to board the Saab 340 to fly back to Rarotonga and this time we are on the list! Great. Land exactly after 40min but in drizzle. What sort of a Polynesian weather is this? 

It had rained heavily all during the night in Aitutaki and now here as well? Anyway, we hire a little jeep (it’s silver and so we name it the ‘silver shitter’ just as Andy Nicholson had named his old car!).
But it does it’s job and we drive back to our previous hotel, the Paradise Inn.

After searching town for more efficient internet cafes (which indeed there are) we do a drive around tour of the island. It’s only 30 km round-trip and even with stopping at churches, beaches (a quick but wonderful dip), a little waterfall, a coffee and the airport for Phil to take pictures it only takes us 2 hours.

It’s incredible how many churches there are. There must be at least 30 churches of all denominations on this little tiny island. 

There are the seven-day Adventist, the church of the latter day saints, the evangelistic churches, the Catholics and God knows who else. People really seem to be very religious. As I enter a shop to buy some drinks a local walks in and greets the shopkeeper with “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, Amen!”.

Some of the churches date back the 19th century. They have thick white stone walls and are surrounded by large cemeteries. Actually the whole island and every household is full with graves. There are some really interesting ones with hand-painted decorations, heart-shaped and full with plastic flowers (a bit of a strange thing in a tropical country, but maybe the real flowers don’t keep long enough here).


A huge cruise ship has docked at Avarua harbour and the little town is flooded with fat Americans. “Darling, do you think we have enough time to look into this souvenir shop? I’d love to have some of those gorgeous black pearls, aren’t they wonderful, love?”

I escape by walking along the back lanes of the town finding the memorial stone of the first missionary preaching the gospel here (dating 1848) and a cinema starring ‘Casino Royal’ (James Bond),’ The Invincibles’ (about American football) and a kid’s movie called ‘The Invisibles’. That’s it.

Back to our room and the patio to work on some more writing and watching the hideous cruise ship leaving. Later on we are back to ‘our’ pub, the Traders Jack. It’s heaving with expats starting their night out at the bar. We hear that next door at the dolphin’s club there is the final dancing competition of the senior dancers of Rarotonga. We are very tempted to cut our night short and watch, but then the dances haven’t yet turned up even though the show is already 40minutes late and we decide to hit our pillows. It’s a very early start tomorrow.