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Cook Islands


About 300 miles south of Bora Bora lies Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands.  The Paul Gauguin spent a day and a night at sea getting here.  Kongo loved it. A day at sea with rocking and rolling and endless horizons brought back many fond memories of the monkey’s seagoing days in the Navy.  This time he didn’t have to worry about contact reports, engineering status, how much fresh water was available, or fuel states.  He just had to worry about whether or not to have a Pina Colada or a vodka martini.  There were storm clouds on the horizon but that’s for later in the story.

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Raratonga means “down south.”  It comes from a famous Polynesian navigator named Iro who prior to setting out on a journey to the island said he was “going down south.”  So there you go.  Even the Polynesians referred to south as “down” as if you were in San Francisco you would say “I’m going down to LA” and if you were in Washington DC you might say “I’m going up to New York.”  Interestingly, we don’t seem to use similar terms when going east or west.

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Anyway, lush and beautiful Raratonga, looks a lot like Tahiti with high mountains, deep valleys, white sandy beaches, and turquoise lagoons.  When the missionaries arrived in 1823 they put an end to cannibalism and multiple wives.  Yup, these guys were cannibals.  Some of the old timers seemed to be eyeing the overweight American tourists with an appraising eye.  Just kidding … with all the processed food Americans eat we’re probably not organic enough for a true Cook Islander.  Besides, the locals are much more interested in tourist income and eating visitors would tend to dampen enthusiasm for visiting the isle.

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Kongo took a trip around the island in another Land Rover; this one proudly flying a New Zealand flag and traveling on the opposite side of the road from what Americans are used to.  Although the Cook Islands are self-governing they are part of New Zealand.  On back roads the 4-wheel drive truck took us deep inside the collapsed crater inside the extinct volcano that makes up the mountainous core of Rarotonga.

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Like many cultures in this part of the world, the Cook Islands are a matriarchal society.  Of the seven chiefs on the island (one for each village), six are women.  Property passes through the women and they are considered to be the head of the family.  This house belongs to one of the chiefs.

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Our driver, named Mr. Useless (really!) said all they do was lay around and drink and sleep all day but Kongo suspects there was a bit of jealously there.  His wife called him on the phone several times during our island roundabout and he was always nice to her because, he said, she has the land.  When we passed any house that was two stories or particularly nice he would say that a white man with money lived there and married a local woman.  Life can be complicated in the Cook Islands.

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Mr. Useless told us about cannibals, marriage, and land rights in Roaratanga

We passed an abandoned resort that reportedly involved Italians and the mafia and the head people got arrested and everyone else sailed home and abandoned the project.  Evidently it was rather far along because Mr. Useless said a lot of Raratongans “borrowed” all the windows, plumbing, carpets, and just about everything else.

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This beautiful flower is called a “lobster claw.”  It’s easy to see why.

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The port has a blow-up bounce playground where children end up sliding into the water.  There were no lifeguards or supervisors and that is because, Kongo believes, children born in Raratonga are born knowing how to swim.

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This stone post and surrounding rocks laid out in a large square is known as a sacred “marae.”  This is where chiefs would hold court, decide disputes, lead war rallies, and presumably, interview dinner entrees.

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By the time the tour was over the wind had picked up considerably and the sea was boiling with swells and white caps.  Then tender ride back to the ship was a roller coaster adventure and disembarking was tricky but everyone made it safely back from their shore excursions.

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The seas did not abate overnight and when we arrived at our next scheduled stop in the morning, the Cook Island atoll of Aitutaki a full blow was howling.  The captain made the decision to forego visiting Aitutaki and turned the ship north toward Moorea, a two-day sail away.  Heading back into the high winds and seas was unpleasant for many of the guests but not for the monkey.

Hopefully there will be good weather in Moorea where Kongo is scheduled to stay for two days.

Travel safe.  Have fun.

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About Kongo (691 Articles)
Kongo is a traveling monkey owned by a nice man who has a soft spot for simians. Follow Kongo at www.travel-monkey.me and on Twitter @kongomonkey

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