Saturday, November 25, 2006

Aitutaki Lagoon

The plane to Aitutaki was a tiny one and we boarded it feeling quite excited by our excursion. The flight was only a 40 minute one and we were looking forward to looking out at the end of it over the apparently beautiful lagoon which is what draws most visitors to Aitataki. Unfortunately, all we could see out of the plane was thick cloud and we groaned as the pilot announced heavy rain. Never mind, we still felt excited about being there. We were greeted off the plane with a man with lots of umbrellas and a bus to take us to the airport. As soon as we were on the bus we were at arrivals. They were obviously very scared about anyone getting wet. The bus took us round the back so we missed the welcome to Aitutaki entrance with someone handing out garlands. We have yet to receive a garland despite seeing lots of people wearing them. We are trying not to sulk about it. The obligatory ukelele player was singing his welcomes and despite the torrential rain everyone around me seemed in good spirits.

Our accommodation was a thatched hut overhanging a white sandy beach with (of course) clear blue sea. In a break in the rain we made a dash down the road to find somewhere to eat. We didn’t find anywhere and the rain caught us out. We slunk back to Puffy’s, an empty, open sided restaurant next to our accommodation and sat looking like sorry, soggy and lonely individuals munching on our fish and chips with the rain lashing around us outside. We hoped the rain would abate for the next day.

Our hopes weren’t granted and the next day the wind and rain continued. We got taken around the island on an “island tour”which took about half an hour. The island is smaller than Rarotonga. There are no dogs on the island and I asked the lady why. She looked to the heavens and gave a small smile and said everyone asks that. (That’s because in the accommodation in the information it says, “ask someone why there are no dogs on Aaitutaki!” I expected her to relay a magical story related to her ancestors, but she merely said “because they are dangerous. They bite people.” Feeling conned with this explanation we continued with our tour, on the way back stocking up at the “supermarket” which is like a corner shop at home.

The next day the weather had improved very slightly so we hired the moped which was free for a day with our package. The girl showed me how it worked and watched unsure as I wobbled, stop, starting around the lawn. With her back turned as she returned to her desk I jetted around like a pro. Honest. I told Tim I was ready and he clambered on the back looking slightly nervous. As I wobbled off down the road he ordered me to stop, let him off and come back to get him when I could ride it! I could ride it when he wasn’t on it. It’s a bit difficult when there’s a heavy weight on the back.

With the hang of it, I collected Tim and we sailed off down the road....with old and young locals whizzing past us on their mopeds. We had a great day pootling round the island, waving at locals and admiring the scenery. The island has a very long airstrip with a road running parallel to it. It was quite windy when we travelled down this seemingly never ending straight road. I was concentrating on not being blown off the bike and trying to breathe through the wind whilst Tim was no doubt clinging on for dear life when he suddenly shouted, “this is just like in Top Gun!” (You know the bit where TomCruise is riding his motorbike at full speed next to the runway with his love interest hanging on the back) Oh yeah, it was uncanny, except I was Tom Cruise and Tim was love interest!

After our day of Top Gun action we went to a local bar, The Crusher bar. When I say local it was local. Approaching it we could see it wasn’t very busy but the people that were there, of which there was about 7 or 8 were all seated around one table. As we walked in their heads whipped round to see who these strangers were. The barman shook our hand before he served us and then invited us to join the table. I felt so uncomfortable at first. Imagine the scene. 7 or 8 people all seated around who know each other well, bandying jokes and conversation about... and 2 people who obviously know nobody, grinning away like idiots whilst occasionally shifting uncomfortably in their seats and talking to each other furtively about anything they can so as not to look too uncomfortable. It felt a bit like walking into a small villages pub at home where everyone knew each other and everyone else that wasn’t there. It turned out to be a nice evening though and we were made to feel welcome. A few of them were ex pats from New Zealand or Australia but had been there for years. Tim recognised the man sitting next to me. It was Don Silk. We had read an article about him in the plane on the way over to Aitutaki. He is something of a local character and had just written a book. He was a really lovely bloke with interesting stories including one about how he and his mate bought a brothel. The two managers were there who had just taken it over and one of them was explaining how he wants it to be a local bar for local people. I felt a bit paranoid at this point, but I don’t think he was hinting that we weren’t welcome. At least I don’t think he was. We left the bar promising to return the next evening for a night which the manager promised is the most happening night where everyone lets go. Apparently Fridays is the beginning of a long weekend for most islanders and we were told that alcohol is their way of letting go. We were told repeatedly that that was the island way. I kept thinking that’s the way of a lot of the world.

The next day we went on a lagoon cruise. As I said earlier, the lagoon of Aitutaki is the main reason most people visit. It is reputedly one of the best in the world. The weather still looked ominous with cloud hanging over and wind, but the lagoon was really beautiful with amazingly blue, clear sea. We sailed out on to it and after awhile stopped at a reef for snorkelling. I know I keep saying it and it is probably getting a little boring hearing it but the water was so clear!. The coral wasn’t great, but we saw lots of lovely fish, including trigger fish which I love. They are really bright and pretty and have comical faces.

After the snorkelling we headed to One foot island where we spent a relaxing few hours. Our guide explained the traditional roots of the name, but I won’t go into it here. The island was stunning. After a lovely lunch of B.BQ fish we walked out into the sea on the massive sand bar. It looked like people were walking on water. The water was so clear and all around, the sandbar stretched into different shades of blue sea. We had our passport stamped at the “post office” after which we headed to another lovely island for a short while.

A lovely day was rounded off nicely with an Island night. Again, this was included in our package. Island nights are regular occurrences in the Cooks and attended by locals and tourists alike. We joined another English couple and an Austrian couple and helped ourselves to the generous buffet which had been prepared. We couldn’t identify most things. I had quite a lot of salad that night. There was something which looked like raw liver which was in fact banana pudding so I decided to try that. Everyone looked at me expectantly as I tentatively tried some. It was OK, quite rubbery but it did taste of bananas.

After the meal, drumming started. I am a sucker for drumming and this was great. It was really intoxicating. They played for a while before the dancers came out, complete with traditional robes. The girls costume consisted of coconut bras, grass skirts and flower garlands. The men wore grass skirts, and leg warmer things. The dancing was great too, moving to the drums and the uplifting singing. There were really young dancers too who seemed to love it and it was great to see that that was the case. Before they had come on they could not be set apart from much of the world’s youth really in adidas joggers etc. Apparently adults are happy that the tradition is kept alive still and I could see why.

I get the feeling that people in the South Pacific like a bit of cross dressing. (Remember Fiji) as some men came out dressed as women and did the female dance to much laughter. Tim was happy because he got a kiss of off one of them!

We were the last to leave the island night and Tim and I suggested to our group that we head to Crushers. They agreed and we headed off down the road past the goats and drunk drivers (it’s not illegal there!) We arrived to lots of vehicles outside so it looked like the banging night we’d been assured was happening. However, on walking in we were confused as to who all the vehicles belonged to as the bar wasn’t busy at all. The D.J was in one corner and a few people were squashed up against the bar, but that was it. We saw our new friends from the night before who looked quite happy to see us and with friends too! We all started to dance to the bad music which was quite painful, but eventually more people joined us. I think the locals were bemused by all our dancing as we looked like we were bad dancers at a wedding. We were equally bemused with them too as some of them looked like they thought they were gangsters. We couldn’t believe it when the bar and D.J shut up at midnight on the dot. It had only got going at about 11 pm. Everyone was very obedient at leaving straight away too (except us lot who sat on a bench outside so we could finish our drinks).

All in all we enjoyed Aitutaki and were glad we went. It is a very beautiful place. It was a shame about the weather, but you can’t control that. We enjoyed ourselves with some help from some local characters.

No comments: