Like French Polynesia is the place for people from France to get away to somewhere tropical, Rarotonga offers a getaway for the likes of the Duke and Duchess of York and their growing brood. Day after day we are asked: “Are you here on holiday?”
“Yes, sort of; only I must climb a tire every morning.”
Rarotonga has some tantalizing “holiday” options: kite surfing camp, scuba diving, snorkel tours, bicycle tours. Stand up paddle boards (SUP) seem to be all the rage. Your options range from a simple SUP rental to SUP Yoga. (Sure, you can paddle while standing up, but can you paddle while lighting your throat chakra in triangle pose?) You can even rent a Night-SUP with cocktail service complete with disco lights installed in the bottom side, to light the lagoon beneath you.
I wish we could give you the full tour of these exotic options, but we did our six month budget assessment and found we are running approximately $200 over each month. So, no Disco-SUP-Cocktail night for us. (More on the budget in a boring follow-up post for those of you who care.)
We enjoyed the cross island trail that took us from one side of the island, to the top of the “needle”, through a jungle with giant ferns, ending at a waterfall pool with crisp cold water and a hive of mosquitos. We met the Trail-Rooster, who is apparently always there, and I named him Ned. I hope it sticks.
We circled the island many times on our scooter with its rear tire continuously leaking air. Where we found baby pigs, beautiful scenery, and the Prison Craft Shop. No "holiday" would be complete without stopping in at the Prison Craft Shop.
We enjoyed art galleries, the company of strangely colored lady bugs, and strangely shaped coins one of which has Queen Elizabeth on one side and a Tiki with a penis on the other.
Every other day or so, we would find ourselves with our toes in the sand and a ginger beer in hand enjoying beautiful snorkeling, warm sun or a beautiful sunset.
We joined the locals at the Fisherman’s Club to watch the All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Team clobber Argentina. By this time, Phil and Laura had departed for a new location, leaving us to try to understand rugby all on our own. Try as we might, we just couldn’t figure out the purpose of the “Scrum.” Every now and then two groups of thirteen men pile together, some with their heads squeezed between their buddies thighs, to engage in what seemed like a group version of “bulldozer.” Eventually, the ball pops out from the middle of this pack, and everyone carries on trying to score their “try”.
At half time, Andrew sidled up at a table next to some folks cheering voraciously for New Zealand: “Do you know anything about rugby?”
The man and woman turned to Andrew, mouths agape, as though he had just insulted their mothers. Indignant, they gasped, “Uhg, Yes!”
“Well, I’m American…” and before Andrew can say another word, I hear our new friends say “Ohhhhh!” suddenly understanding Andrew needed help. Our friends start with the basics, explaining it is called a “try” when a team scores points. They explain the Scrum is a sort of penalty situation. (Yeah, I would feel penalized having to put my face between my teammates sweaty thighs.) They explain how turnovers happen, and why they kick away sometimes, but not others. They explain why the man who is squashed under a vicious tackle (wearing no manner of padding at all) struggles to stick his arm out with the ball out for the picking until his teammate grabs a hold and runs away. Etcetera.
The All Blacks were fierce Rugby endurance machines and outlasted their opponents through the end. I like watching Rugby, but my favorite part was watching the All Blacks scare the pants off the Argentinians with their Haka (the Maiori war cry/dance) at the beginning of the match. Rugby players shouting, stomping, throat slashing, and sticking their tongues out in unison, just like the Islanders who threatened Captain Cook and his merry band of sailors hundreds of years ago. Fierce. And scary.
Instead, we saved our budget for the fun that sets Rarotonga apart: the food. Now, I don’t want to complain, French Polynesia was beautiful, but for being related to a country that is so serious about it’s food, French Polynesia is like the red-headed food step child. In French Polynesia, the menu always includes the following options: Steak and Frites (with thin, undercooked, chewy steak), Chow Mein, Chicken breast with vanilla sauce, Fish with vanilla sauce, a baguette filled with Chicken Chow Mein or if you prefer, ham and cheese. Their pizzas are always made with baguette dough, making them a bit mushy, and their hamburgers were also made with baguette dough, making them so chewy that the hamburger would spit out the backside. I’m sure at the fancy resorts you could get a salad and maybe vegetables on the side of a fish filet, but vegetables were limited to the following: carrot, cucumber, cabbage, onion, potatoes, garlic, and maybe, if you are lucky and it’s a good day, bok choy. I wrote this off to the fact that they are islands in the middle of nowhere, but so is Rarotonga, and it offers a smorgasbord of tastiness.
We enjoyed a white table cloth lunch at the second of three original Rarotonga buildings. My island vegetable lasagne was rich and delicious made with spinach, taro root, and mushrooms layered in tomato sauce, marscapone, and mozzarella. And, will wonders never cease: a side salad with wild greens, a bit of carrot, papaya, tomato and a mustard vinaigrette. The view from the restaurant looked out onto a beach and the beautiful sea.
We ate at an amazing Indian restaurant, twice, and I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take pictures.
While grocery shopping, I found this most beautiful head of celery as big as a tree. I thought it was only $7.99, but it turned out to be $22.99 worth of beautiful celery as big as a tree. So, the vegetable selection was good, and we had at least two rounds of cream of celery soup aboard Sonrisa.
Every Saturday, there is a morning market where you can find all manner of delicious food, like Gyros, roasted pig or goat, fruit smoothies, waffles, and a whole selection of breads (not just baguettes!)
Every other night, there is a night market with thirty little tents serving all sorts of delicious meals like curry, Thai beef salad (THAI!), clam chowder, salt and peppered fried squid over slaw. Again, I was too distracted by my roasted pork belly with fresh green peas (not canned), purple sweet potato, taro, and bread with butter to take pictures.
And, just like with the cafes and the fish and chips, every hamburger spot boasts that they offer the “Best Burger in Rarotonga!”
And to be fair, these people really do know how to do burgers. The beef was high quality ground beef, the buns fluffy and covered in sesame seeds. Apparently, New Zealanders prefer their burger to include not lettuce, onion and pickles, but instead lettuce, egg and pickled beets. So, I had to try that. Their “chups” are thick potato slices, not string fries. Their ketchup is tasty, but different. We believe it is spiced with cardamom in addition to, or instead of American ketchup’s typical garlic powder and onion flavor. Even the kitty will set aside its ego to beg for this burger.
And then, there is this monstrosity.
Phil did eat this entire burger. It did not fit in his face of course, but as Phil instructed: “you just can’t think about it.” As the rest of us ate our more normal sized burgers, Phil made his way through taking the corn-on-the-cob approach, side to side, and washing it down with an L&P.
“What’s an L&P?” I ask.
“Well, it’s from New Zealand. It’s lemonish stuff.” Laura replies.
“No…I don’t know, it’s just good lemonish stuff.” She explains.