Hello again from the Big Blue!
Funny things happen to people on small islands. Newcomers arrive full of exuberance, declaring grandiose plans and practically sweating energy. Some time down the road, they are sucked into the vortex of “island time” and next thing you know they decide beers at ten in the morning and showers every three days are about as much as they seek to achieve. Don’t worry, this hasn’t happened to us yet, but I don’t think we’re entirely immune.
The national sports of the Cook Islands are lawn mowing, refuse burning, and scooter riding. In front of the most crumble-down shack, you will see a lawn that would make golf course owners weep. Yes, it’s only crab grass but it’s immaculately mowed crab grass. (Prez recently found out that there is a law here concerning lawn mowing, something to do with mosquitoes, which totally blew my fantasy of an island full of closet landscapers.)
As far as burning is concerned, well, those gently swaying palms tend to drop a lot of not-so-gentle leaves. And if you are unlucky enough to have a pine tree on your property – we have several, more about that in another Coconut Chronicle – then the accumulation of piles of long, large, needles is a daily event. To deal with the mess, folks here burn their tree dumpings as there is no place else to dispose of them. They also burn household garbage. The upside of all this burning, is that on a good day, with the wind in the right direction, the plumes of smoke can keep the mozzies at bay.
Scootering is my favorite of all the island pastimes. With petrol at a mind-numbing ten dollars a gallon, (won’t you feel better going to the pump tomorrow?), it only makes sense to have a fuel efficient mode of transportation. “But what about bicycles?”, (they are known as push bikes here), you may ask. I’ll tell you what, next time you’re at the gym, drag a stationary bike into the steam room and pedal away for five or ten minutes, then I think you’ll be able to answer that question yourself.
Cook Islands Tourism has a magazine ad showing two ladies in floral dresses, crowns of flowers on their heads, ambling down a road on scooters, taking up both lanes, and laughing hysterically at something one of them has apparently just said. The slogan is “We don’t need a fast lane.” I don’t think this photo was staged, and the slogan is the greatest truth in advertising I have ever had the pleasure to witness. The speed limit here is forty kilometers and hour. It is seldom exceeded. Scootering is seen, not merely as a means of transportation but also as an opportunity to have a good chat, and it is not unusual to get stuck behind a gaggle of girls returning from work or school, taking up the better part of the road, laughing their heads off.
Upon first arrival, I was shocked and dismayed to see not one person wearing a helmet. Not one! Helmet laws have only made it as far as Rarotonga and they are slow to set in there. I don’t imagine they will make the crossing to Aitutaki until sometime in the middle of this century and by then we’ll have figured out how to clone heads and then it won’t be a problem anyway. I don’t wear a helmet. Not that I wouldn’t, I would, but there are exactly zero places to buy a helmet and my only other option would be to strap a bucket to my noggin, (but they cost $17 each, so forget it!).
Sans brain bucket, I swore I would drive extra, extra slow and careful, keeping my eyes vigilantly open for any signs of danger. I avowed to never scooter like the locals. The locals are crazy, plain and simple. Oh, not for their speed – that’s never an issue – but for their utter disregard for basic road safety. Children frequently ride on the backs of scooters in all manner of precarious positions. Some days it’s like watching circus acts go by. The really small ones, the ones that haven’t learned to hold on with one hand and juggle a set of chainsaws with the other, are simply strapped on with a piece of cloth tied around parent and child. This is the Cook Islands version of the “child safety seat”. And the stuff these people manage to carry, unbelievable. You might see a guy driving down the road with a full load of groceries in his basket, microwave oven under one arm, kid dancing the Highland fling behind him, while he talks on his cell phone and carries on a conversation with the scooter beside him. Insane!
Remember my opening paragraph?
As scootering becomes a way of life for me, I must admit, I’ve grown a bit lax. When faced with the decision of making two trips to the store or simply carrying a laundry basket in one arm, I chose to carry. And there I was, full basket of groceries, two bags of groceries in one hand, and a laundry basket wedged in front of me, scootering down the road, smiling and nodding at the other drivers who smiled and nodded back as if to say, “You got it now! You’re in the club!”
You may gather that I am feeling a little better. Yes, I am, thank you. Not “run a marathon better” but better. The hot-cold switcheroo is now confined to my hands and head, the squeezy-squeezy comes in shorter, less frequent intervals, and the fatigue is starting to lift. (The guilty fish is right in the center of the lot in the following photo.)
Every local here has had ciguatera, at least once often more. They continue to chow down on the fish, treating the poisoning as a kind of flu or something. (I told you they’re crazy). And they all have some folk remedy, all foul tasting, all “guaranteed” to work and have you back to normal in two days. Prez and I tried the boiled leaves of some plant that grows on the property. It was indeed foul. We thought it was helping but then it could have been merely that we were drinking a lot of water and better hydrated. Mr. Boss keeps trying to push his cure – white rum, a raw egg (shell and all), and lemon juice blended together – but we have our limits. We haven’t lost all sense, yet. Mike and Dee, the Kiwi couple who are managing Tauono’s place while he’s on vacation (see photo below), suggested noni juice and that was the most sensible of all the local remedies we’d heard.
Noni juice, for those of you who haven’t heard, is one of those much-touted miracle plants sold to the civilized world for ungodly sums of money. Hey, the natives of the south pacific use it and look how healthy they are! (Never mind that the natives of the south pacific have traditionally eaten a lot of fish, fruit, and vegetables, and don’t even know what “stress” means, it must be the juice!) Anyway, locals use noni juice, which is significantly cheaper here, for a wide range of ills, so we figured it was worth a try. The taste of the noni fruit, in its natural state, has been described as “a mix of shit and vomit”. Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. But, we have noticed a difference since we started downing the horrid tasting concoction.
I’ve felt so much better, in fact, I decided to treat myself to a teeny-weeny martini last night. Bad idea. Very, very bad idea. Sigh.
I guess, about now, most of you are getting ready for Xmas, or Solstice, or a combination of the two. The only reminders we have of the holidays are the decorations in the grocery store and the sudden influx of Aitutakians returning to the island from New Zealand, bedecked in bling-bling, to visit family for the summer break/Xmas. The population has nearly doubled in one week. For us, this means city water slows to a trickle for much of the day and the grocery store shelves are emptying at a faster rate than usual. Yesterday I made sure to stock up, even traveling beyond our usual grocery store to the inland, local hangout, the “Neibaa” grocery store. It was the first time I’d ventured that far, though tales of better selection and lower prices have long tempted me. The rumours were true! I found popcorn! And Tabasco! And laundry soap at half the regular price! Yes, Princess, there really is a Santa Claus!!
Anyhoo, I wish all of you the Merriest of Merrys and the Happiest of Happys, whatever holiday you celebrate this year. Remember to spare a moment for those who do not have wealth, health, and happiness, as all of us – even those of us who rely on a supply ship once per month and are recovering from fish poisoning – have in abundance.
Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!