#1 – Rarotonga (wow-o-tonga)

What strikes me first about Rarotonga, as well as the heat and humidity, is how incredibly friendly everyone is.

Everyone, it appears, apart from the women at the rental department at the resort that we have just checked in to.

Travelling with a friend this first week, she decides to head straight there to rent a scooter.

Having initially planned to stay in a hostel, my travel companion for this leg ‘M’, scored us a superb deal on a resort, which we also lucked out on being given a room upgrade, leaving us with a beach view that I can only describe as ‘nice view, too nice for you, son’.

It would probably be fair to describe the whole resort as ‘too nice’ by my usual standards, and there was a distinct ‘dinner wanker’ atmosphere about the place, which we managed to avoid through plenty of cheese, crackers, noodles and frozen veg.

I probably made a few resort faux pas, staying at a place more luxurious then my usual sort of residence:
– Waiting in line for toast at the breakfast buffet, when someone drops a piece of toast straight from the toaster on to the floor. Without really giving it much thought I dive down and pick it up (on the bounce, as I now call it), and enthusiastically pronounce that’s okay, I’ll have that. ‘Really…?’ was the shocked reply from the woman.

– Smuggling a strong mix of drink in to the free hostel buffet, and becoming clearly intoxicated in front of two elderly ladies who were also sitting at our table. (They were also probably wondering why we are taking alternate swigs of ‘water’ and making less and less sense as the night went on).

– Eating unhealthy amounts of food at the previously mentioned buffet. When I returned to the table for my final plate, a small piece of a few deserts, one of the old women commented on the ‘modest’ amount. I later found out from M, that each visit to the buffet the woman had been asking ‘does he always eat this much?’ and slightly more bizarrely ‘So I assume he runs a lot?’. The modest comment was actually an underhand joke, so I’ve got to hand it to the old girl, she got me there. I actually noticed them eyeing me up at breakfast the next day, presumably trying to see me reproduce my form of eating, but sadly it was flash in the pan, once in a blue (cheese) moon sort of occurrence.

I digress – so I had been told a few times that it was alarmingly easy to gain a motorbike licence in Raro, however I hadn’t seriously considered it. Primarily because this was meant to be my relaxing and safe leg of my journey and besides my insurance didn’t kick in until I enter Mexico. So, back to the oversized angry scooter women, just after we had arrived at the resort.

Neither M or myself had ridden a scooter before, and the rental woman eyes up my provisional UK licence (yeah I haven’t got a full one, deal with it), and said all I needed to do was pay $20 at the Police station to get a Rarotongan one. Bizarrely, M – who has a full NZ licence – had to take a test first. I figured $20 was a small price to pay for something as random as a Rarotongan Motorbike Licence, but surely she was mistaken and I’d need to do something beforehand?

Anyway, the test involved a 20 second  run down of the controls, and M jumped, and was instructed to drive around on an uneven piece of ground, littered with parked rental cars and other bikes, not really ideal beginners riding.

She managed at least 3 or maybe 4 seconds before careering off of the scooter as she tried to turn. It all seemed to go in slow motion, as she flys off the scooter and it falls to the floor. I just stare at my feet, and pretend not too watch.. it somehow feels the best thing to do. I also try not to think about my earlier plans of her giving me a backy around the Island.

“Are you sure you can do this” barked the wild animal, further denting M’s confidence in her own scooter ability. To her immense credit, M jumps up, gets back on and stutters her way around the circle. The wild beats seems to lose interest, becoming despondent that M may actually be able to ride it after all.

The beast retreats back to her nest, and mumbles to M to keep going around, which she does with ever increasing precision and confidence. The brute starts to fidget around in the make shift scooter hut – hunting around for scraps of meat I assume – as M pulls up after her 5th or 6th loop.

We look at each other, a little confused what we are meant to do next, as the mammoth shows us a piece of paper, grunting to M while she does it. From this we assume that she has passed the test, and the thought suddenly crossed my mind. ‘Am I seriously going to get on the back of this with her?’.

I’ve always thought if I was going to die/injure myself being a dickhead, then I’d always imagined that I would be the one doing the deed, the predominant dickhead, so to speak. I wouldn’t say I was a control freak, but this just wasn’t feeling right.

We decide that M should ride around for 5 minutes on the road, to see if she feels safe. Which I guess does seem a little odd, but kind of made sense at the time. She returns after her cruise down the road, and I edge myself on to the back. 2 parts anxious, 1 part of nervous excitement and 1 part ‘I know this is not a good decision’.

Believing the town is only about 5 minutes further around the Island, we eventually set off and I try my best not to appear nervous, as to try and calm M, who only 10 minutes previous had flung herself off in Hollywood style.

That was in a field, and we are now on a real life road, like you would see on Police, Camera, Action. In fairness, there is one main road the circumference of the island, with a 50k maximum speed limit, so its definitely one of the safer places to ride. Saying that, helmets are also widely not used in Raro, just to liven things up a bit.

We edge past the airport, having been driving just over 5 minutes, all the while gaining a large collection of traffic behind us, including the Island bus. The pressure of this is understandably getting to M, as we approach our first real turn she nearly loses control and we slide in to the curb. For a second I think this is the end of the road for me(whey), as the scooter grinds against the curb until we come to a halt.  We manage to keep the scooter from falling over, as the procession of people behind overtake. Various signals are made, many of which I think are jovial, (loosely translated as: ‘fucking tourists’).

I’ve recently been sky diving but that was a walk in the park compared with how much my heart is working out after that. Straight out of the top 5 ways to ruin your trip before you’ve even started.

Trying to stay calm, we set off again and make it to the town a few minutes later without any further drama. ‘You did really well to recover..’ I fumble, as we pull in to the police station. Once hopping off I express my delight at still having all of limbs and take a few moments for the heart to chill out.

Queuing up at the police station and I was still convinced that surely my provisional licence wouldn’t work, but I also resolved that I wasnt getting on the back of that scooter any time soon. Ten minutes later, and I’m $20 lighter and with a Rarotongan Bike Licence in my pocket. Absolutely ridiculous!

I test drive the scooter, and take it for ride around before returning back to M and asking if I can ride it back to the resort. She actually seems very relieved at the suggestion, and I get us back in one piece, before promptly renting my own scooter, mainly for my own safety.

The next few days are a huge amount of fun, and I wouldn’t normally recommend anyone renting a scooter while abroad, but it really is part of the Rarotongan experience, and in reality you do need some wheels to explore the island.

Quietish 50km roads, that edge around the island mean they are ideal even for a complete beginner. Stopping off whever you see a pristine beach, taking a dip before jumping back on and continuing to the next place. Rarotonga is an awesome little island, and a perfect week-long getaway. The locals are some of the most accommodating I’ve met, and almost everyone has a smile on their face.

The following 5 or 6 days after the scooter incident are the complete polar opposite to the adrenaline induced idiocy of the first day. Our time is divided between snorkeling, tennis, island trekking, cruising on the scooters and attempting to drink our way through our duty free allowances. (we narrowly failed).

It’s been a fulfilling and yet relatively relaxed way to start the trip, just as I was hoping. While M departs back to NZ, leaving myself and Steve’s business card with 5 days in the States before heading to Mexico, where I am sure it will get a bit more spicy!

Hasta Luego (or as the Spanish say, laters dickbags)

EDIT – #changedsomeobviousspellingandgrammarerrors


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