It’s now Friday noon-ish as I type this, and we leave for LA late tomorrow night. The main event of the last couple of days was a guided island tour which, given the 20 mile perimeter of Rarotonga, might seem a little redundant in light of our circumnavigation in our own car the day before. (Traffic here is pretty thin, mostly tiny cars and scooters, and moves within the stately island-wide speed limit of 30 mph. School zones are 20 mph.) But this was not so, and it was in fact quite interesting and a great deal of fun, just us and our voluble driver George, whom you do not see here at left.
George took a number of little back roads up into the hills and spent a lot of time pointing out various plants, which of course delighted Alice no end and put her into a frenzy of point-and-clicking. He was very knowledgable about many of the plants, with odd gaps regarding the ones that the locals themselves found uninteresting: it happened several times that Alice would ask about some nearby bush festooned with delicate, colorful flowers and George would admit with admirable candor, “I have no idea. We call it a weed.”
We also learned about the unusual property laws here. Property stays within a family, is owned absolutely, and cannot be sold outside the family. By “owned absolutely”, I mean that local law reflects property ownership to a degree that would be astonishing anywhere else. Owners pay no property taxes of any kind and can use their property for any purpose whatever; you could, for example, theoretically knock down your tin-roof shack (and their are a lot of them) and lease — but not sell — your land to a developer to build a tall if extraordinarily skinny high rise hotel. You could also bury dear departed Aunt Velma and Uncle Mort in a large ornate tomb in your carport, and believe it or not we saw quite a number of those. In addition to these little onsey-twosy gravesides, there are a large number of small cemeteries on private properties scattered all over the island, all very well kept with lots of flowers, and many with attractive ocean views.
You will note that nearly all of the graves appear to be raised. This is just a local decorative custom (George opined that it was to make sure that Aunt Velma and Uncle Mort stay there); the graves beneath are the conventional 6′ deep.
The law about properties staying in families has some unintended side effects. If a particular family member owns a property that he has no use for but wants to keep, the other family members can force him to sell it to them if it remains undeveloped. So what you see are a lot of unfinished foundations (this counts as “development”) put in place by property owners who have otherwise permanently decamped to New Zealand or Australia, holding the property against their eventual theoretical return and leaving assorted seething relatives in their wake.
We also saw a lot of dogs (indeed, have been seeing them since we first got here). They’re everywhere, mongrelized to hell and gone, and they’re all really relaxed. Despite their ubiquity, they are not actually strays; almost all have owners and return home at night, but simply have the run of the island during the day and seem to be generally friendly… real islanders, all right. There are a couple from down the road that have adopted our hotel beach as their daytime home away from home, chilling out in the sand and playing with the beachgoers. (The hotel staff gently confiscated a 20 lb bag of doggie treats from one well-meaning guest; they don’t want the dogs getting too comfortable here.)
Our tour culminated in a garden where we were served about the freshest island snack imaginable: papaya slices covered in shaved coconut and sprinkled with lime juice, accompanied by fresh-baked banana bread. Every one of the ingredients in front of us had been on the trees surrounding us minutes or hours before. In fact, I opened the coconut myself, leading to the obligatory “Inept Tourist Opens A Coconut” photo op.
Getting the husk off was a first class pain in the neck, as I remembered from my Hawaii days, but the rest of the operation went moderately smoothly. (And let me preempt any snarky comments to the effect that I am holding the machete upside down in the photo. You’re supposed to do it that way, cracking the shell with the dull part of the blade so that the pieces can be prized apart without spilling the juice inside. I spilled it anyway.)
We pigged out on papaya and freshly-grated coconut. That, as it turned out, did not sit so well, and my digestive system rebelled. (Alice was unaffected.) I was an unhappy camper for the next 24 hours, which took care of my previously scheduled scuba dive the next day but was otherwise a bump in the road. We didn’t have anything planned for today so Alice is having a spa day: mani-pedi and something called a water massage, which to me sounds like a euphemism for something that they use to quell a prison riot.
Tomorrow, our last day, is market day in town. We are told that it is quite the diverse and colorful affair, so we are planning on taking the bus into town to visit (that would be the anti-clockwise route). Our flight to LA is a red-eye, departing at close to midnight, and the hotel has kindly allowed us to stay in our room until our scheduled pickup at 9:30 PM. That means that our final day is a full day so we are hoping to get some beach time in — maybe a little afternoon kayak trip around the motu in the lagoon offshore from our hotel. If I get ambitious I’ll write a final journal entry about the day, but otherwise this is it for this trip. We’re in LA for a day, leaving about 11AM Monday and getting home at something like 8PM.
This has been a helluva retirement kickoff, and the list of amazing things that we’ve experienced is pretty daunting in retrospect: scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, helicopter ride over Ayer’s Rock, desert hike through Kata Tjuta, sunset dinner in the Outback, touring the Sydney Opera House, kayaking on Doubtful Sound, hiking on Fox Glacier, train ride across the Southern Alps, playing in a thermal waterfall, tubing 200′ underground through a glowworm cave, snorkeling on a Pacific atoll…it’s just what we wanted, and now we’re ready to return to whatever post-retirement real life is supposed to look like.