First Steps in Rarotonga



October 7 – 12

No words can really do Rarotonga justice. The island is a blot of ink, 11 kilometers wide in the middle of the Pacific. A couple seconds before landing, all you see out the window is that endless drape of ocean, and then out of nowhere land grabs the plane from the air and sets you down on an airstrip smaller than any you’ve ever seen. The sun is intense, exotic trees and flowers populate the horizon and the only mountain range stands a tall, green giant.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Jo and Odette, a Cook Islander – German couple living on the island. Their property was given to them by Jo’s grandfather, and stretches several hundred meters out into the hill beside their house. Priya and I were given a private room with two beds, basic information about the island and our upcoming work here. Quickly, we became acquainted with the other ‘inhabitants’ of Jo and Odette’s property;

  • Ley is a great Aussie from Sydney in his mid-twenties travelling around his parents’ country (the Philippines), Malaysia and now Rarotonga. Just like us he works for Jo and Odette in exchange for food and a bed. We get along quite well and work together almost every day.
  • Billy, Cocoa, Oscar and Bingo are three goats that live here on the homestead and munch away at the grass all day. Bingo is quite friendly and appreciates a pat on the head, while Billy will snatch your food and spear you with his horns every time you get near. I hate Billy and he hates me, it’s a work in progress…
  • Lulu! This big and beautiful pig lies next to a mountain of empty coconut shells waiting for her next meal while letting the sun lightly brush her thick brown skin. She weighs around 200kg and easily eats half-a-dozen coconuts, rests and countless bananas every day.
  • A LOT of chickens, chicks and roosters just running around all day.
  • Fatty, Action Man and the Nameless Cat do nothing all day but enjoy the island life. This means finding a warm spot to sprawl across, being fed kitten food and enjoying the tropical sun every hour of every day.
  • 10,000,000,000,000 mosquitoes.

After 3 days of travel, we were understandably tired, and so the two of us ran to our beds for a peaceful haven of rest under its comfortable cushions and covers. After a full 12h of sleep, we were on our feet and ready to twist the neck of the rooster that had climbed onto the veranda to scream into our bedroom window.

Our arrangement is one thousands, probably close to millions, of people make every year. We work around the house and the property for about 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, and in return we are given 3 meals a day and a good bed to sleep on. It’s usually a very good deal for both the hosts and the “workawayers” because it means we get to sleep and eat for “free” and they get to have people to order around to help with whatever for the week. In addition to this it’s also a great opportunity for cultural exchange and learning about people and yourself.

Quickly, we learned that working in the Cook Islands was going to be very physical and most of the time under a harsh sun. This first week it’s been weeding the farm, breaking and burning rotten wooden structures at the back, washing the local Baha’I center to prepare it for a paintjob and prepping/waterproofing a container Jo bought to put some tables and chairs from their Tea House.

In only one week, it feels like we’ve learned about an entire new continent, culture and people. And rightly so, from coconut bread baked in a cylinder tin can, the Maori language to the island lifestyle, everything here is different. Hitchhiking feels normal, almost natural. It’s how someone waiting for their motorbike practical test (like me) can get around easily and for free. We’ve met so many great people, always locals, more than willing to take us for a ride to town or to the beach, while in Europe, according to basically everyone, the person picking you up will 100% most definitely be a rapist/kidnapper/psychopath. Breaking this seemingly insignificant yet terrifying barrier is scary but rewarding. Everyone knows each other since there aren’t that many people on the island, and it’s extremely rare for there to be anything more than the occasional petty theft or a drunken fist fight on Rarotonga. In Priya’s words, “This is the place you go to when Trump becomes president or a nuclear war breaks out”.

The beaches here are full of pearly white sand and a variety of seashells. Since the Cook Islands are still being “discovered” by tourists, Rarotonga’s beaches are deserted and private beaches don’t exist. Kayaking, snorkelling, windsurfing and diving are some of the most popular activities offered by the local shops on the beachside, and you can always find some small desert island in the middle of the lagoon to go to for a quiet nap under the sun.

In town, you’ll find everything from sea-side bars, a local market, Mormon churches to even a small cinema which plays movies for 2-3 days max. as most people on the island will have seen them after a weekend. What’s sure is that every café, restaurant and bar offers a breath-taking view of the ocean and the mountains.

We’ve met quite a lot of people already from wildly different backgrounds and roots, people who’ve travelled all over the world using alternate means like Wwoofing or workaway from a couple of Chinese girls writing for a journal to a Czech bartender wandering through Asia and Oceania.

Unfortunately, this trip hasn’t been all ups; last week I woke up in the middle of the night unable to get up. My head hurt like hell, my throat was burning, my nose completely blocked and my joints extremely sore. Odette reassured me that it is quite common for Europeans coming all the way to the other side of the world, as my immune system isn’t used to the tropical weather and the changes of temperatures between the plane and airports hasn’t helped either. She told me it could be my body catching up, Zika or Dengue Fever. I haven’t seen a doctor yet as I’ve been feeling much better over the past 3 days, but I will if the symptoms come back. Odette told me that apparently Zika and Dengue have been on the island and in Oceania forever and they haven’t been causing any real damage, let alone microcephaly. But hopefully, it’s just my body pressing the reset button.

Because of a new law on the island that makes wearing helmets obligatory for anyone under 25 (I was obviously going to put one on anyways mom don’t worry) I’ve been forced to find a motorcycle helmet before I can finish my practical test at the police station (which involves a slalom between a few cones) and my theory (where the police officer comes around and gives you the answers). I’ve found a bike I can rent for 50 NZD a week, about 30 euros, and helmets usually go for a dollar a day.

So far, our off-time has consisted of kayaking around the lagoon, trying out some of the restaurants around the island, walking around town, late-night movies at home and swimming in the gorgeous clear-blue waters of Rarotonga. We’ve got a lot planned for the next weeks so we’ll make sure to post pictures and stories as soon as possible, but unfortunately limited internet makes it hard here to be connected (although that’s also been nice, to get away from the grid a little bit.) One day, we met with Sonja, the owner of a botanical garden in Aitutaki, another island in the Cook Islands, popular for its beaches and lagoon which usually rank in the top 5 in the world. If we can find appropriate prices, we might be able to either take a plane (15 seats, scary!) to the island or hop on a cargo ship for an overnight ride in pacific waters. If we go, it would be this weekend or next week, and we’d come back to Rarotonga probably in a few weeks, but as they say here it’s best not to plan. We’ll just see where the winds take us and whether we’d like to stay on one island or the other better.

Until next time,

~ Skander and Priya




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