August 7, 2011

Aitutaki-Born to Be Wild

When I crested the hill I came across a couple of hikers, "Have you seen three scooters pass this way?" I asked. The couple told me they had, then hesitated, and asked if their map was wrong, weren't they on a hiking trail?
We were on a hiking trail. And for someone who had just recently mastered the skill of not driving off the road and into the bushes every time I needed to curve to the right, taking my rented scooter up a rugged and steep incline was a tricky thing. Which is why I had fallen behind. But, I thought, as I pushed on through some long grass and over a rocky bit, at least I didn't have that oncoming traffic driving in the wrong lane thing to contend with.
We're stopping in Aitutaki only long enough to let the current front blow through. So for our brief stay here we're trying to pack in as much as possible. On our first night we headed to the pub to watch the NZ All Blacks play Australia on the big screen TV. Although pub and big screen seemed like false advertising. We crowded around a boom box and normal-sized TV, which was set on a table in an open-air hut. Then we began to cheer: for the Wallabies (when our Auzzie friends were beside us) and for the All Blacks (when the rather large and cheerfully drunk Cook Islanders were chatting with us).
Being able to speak English again is a novel thing. I hadn't realized how much thinking out loud I had started doing during the past 18 months. Typically when I'm on my own or with a group we'll talk about what it is we need to ask then try to come up with the phrase. Here I keep getting surprised by the fact that local people answer me while I'm still in the question formulating phase. Which makes me a bit nervous--my questions tend to sound like this: Nine dollars for eggs? Seriously? The beer is cheap though. Maybe we should just live on beer. It's a wonder anyone is sober here. I wonder if there is a cheaper source for eggs...
"Well, it's $17.50 if you'd like a flat of 30."
We decided renting scooters would be a good thing to do with the Connect 4 family. Aitutaki is fairly small (in fact we managed to get around and across it a few times during our day on the scooters) and unlike the eggs, the scooters are affordable ($25 for 24 hours). So we arranged to be picked up at just past nine and as we headed to the scooter place our driver pointed out a few things: the grocery store, the two or three small restaurants, the airport and the dozen or so churches. Then he commented that there would be traffic on the road because with two funerals going on everyone on the island would be out and about.
I am not very good at driving a scooter--as I mentioned. And I quickly fell behind our group. At first they'd double back to be sure I was alive and then they just started waiting when ever there was an intersection (which isn't often). Our first stop was the Ma'rae. We're not sure if we never reached the one the Lonely Planet called "the most spectacular on the island" but the grouping of big stones set into the jungle was hard to get too enthusiastic about--even for the Connect 4s, who had somehow missed out on seeing all of the French Polynesian ruins.
While we explored the rocks (and even wandered into the jungle to be sure we weren't missing something--like a temple, or platform) the skies opened and the winds whipped up. And while we congratulated ourselves for not being out sailing in it, scootering through a storm is not much fun either. So we decided this would be a good time for a lunch break--but as we circled the island--passing one big funeral where the women were feasting under a tent and the men, dressed in suits and ties, were digging the grave (people bury their family members in their front yards, which are often small--which leads to an unusual gardening style) and then the next--we realized that having everyone out attending funerals meant there was no one left to run the restaurants. So we headed back to the boats to see how they were fairing and spent a lovely hour chatting with a German family that were visiting the island and were intrigued by the cruising life.

Our afternoon was spent visiting a giant clam nursery. They grow the clams to about 6" in the nursery then transplant them to the outer motus where they can grow to be several feet across. From there we decided to head to the lookout. It was still drizzly--but enough blue sky had poked through that we thought we'd be able to see the view. But it was late enough in the day that when we hit the start of the trail--we didn't think there was time to hike it so we opted to keep going by scooter.
When I caught up with the others near the top of the hill I found Evan and Maia had crashed when their scooter slipped on loose rubble. Maia was fine, but Evan had some impressive road rash. Even more impressive though was the view. We could see the entire island and surrounding lagoon and reef.
With the wind blowing and the rain drizzling we couldn't help but wish we were seeing the view on a calm, clear day. But when we looked out to see and saw it frothing a way it was hard not to be grateful. Land is a fine place to weather a storm.
A fine place.
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