A day off is a nice thing. One can sleep in, then have a relaxed breakfast, read a newspaper and then stroll out onto the lawn grass and call his buddy to talk about fishing or a game of golf. One can do many things, all of them recreational and interesting, and most importantly, unhurried and therefore thoroughly enjoyable.
Needless to say sort of I heeded to this general line of thinking on the day off. Up at 7 am instead of the usual 5:30, I was checking on the ash cloud status without trying to make a decision in the next 30 minutes, there were full 10 hours for that! Now that’s relaxed. I dared to replace the newspaper reading with reading and replying to E-mail but that is the only diversion from the ideal day off described above that I have allowed myself. So far, anyway.
Breakfast of fruit and toast with some coffee was quite pleasant. Papayas here were the best ingredient for me: I think those are simply phenomenal. If you judge the taste of papaya based on one bought in a store in the continental U.S., it is similar to thinking that beer tastes like Budweiser. Papaya you have on the islands is out of this world. It is aromatic, juicy and simply unbelievably good. Convinced? No? Go to the Big Island of Hawaii, stay at the Keauhou Beach Resort and you will find out first hand what I am talking about (Kona is more practical to reach from the U.S. than Rarotonga if tasting great papaya is your only purpose of going). Of all the places we stayed on the Global Projects I personally think that Keauhou Beach Resort has the best breakfast. It is also included with your stay for no extra charge but it would be worth paying for, actually.
By mid morning I was more or less done with the warm-up part of the day off and ready to go and get sunburned, or pictures taken, or whatever else the big wild out there held in stores for me. Se we gathered with my good friends from Harvard, loaded into what looked like a 1988 vintage Nissan and headed East along the shore of Rarotonga. The car sounded like some front suspension work would not do it any harm and the old tires made me worry a little but it was transportation, and that beats walking for 20 km.
For your information, there are two roads on the island, both go in a circle around it. None cross the island, for its interior is too steep and impractical to build a road through, considering that the furthest you can be from any other point on the island is 10 km.
We went to look for the launching place of the great Polynesian expedition that founded New Zealand as we know it, when 7 tribes launched 7 canoes from Rarotonga, heading south, who found the land and settled on what we now know as New Zealand.
We found the spot with little trouble. It is a small public park, well visible from the main road. We spend some 20 minutes there, just relaxing and taking pictures of the best looking subjects around, which included a local kid, who played on the lava pebble covered beach without a worry in the world. The breeze whispered in the palm leaves overhead and the waves crashed on the distant reef ledge, with only the small ripples reaching the protected shore that we were standing on.
We passed by the Kings Palace. It is uninhabited presently. Last time in 2009 we were lucky to get a tour of the Palace and see its interior rooms, the way the Kings of the tribes lived and visit their burial sites. This time I just stood there quietly for a little while, saying hello in my mind to those who might hear, and bowing my head invisibly again to those invisible ones who might see. Simply put, I just did what is called paying respect to the sacred place that people unknown to you treasure.
Continuing forward we reached the main tourist area on the island. With its several busy restaurants frequented by tourists and locals alike, the area is probably the busiest on the island. I get tired of noise and crowds very easily lately but in the middle of the day it was not too bad. The food at the Trader Jack’s was good and had some unexpected twists that connoisseurs may or may not appreciate, depending on how much beer the said connoisseur would consume before trying, for instance, a salad with a miso dressing or a pot of raw marinated fish with flavorful vegetables. In my personal opinion more beer in this case is better because it makes one more predisposed to fatalistically accept the reality of the meal you have been served, rather than being judgmental.
In another 10 minted we reached the airport, where our familiarization with the island started for the first time over a year ago. With our access cards we walked through security onto the ramp and took pictures of our closed up airplane, then left for the hotel as the Harvards wanted to try going on a horseback ride (which turned out to be completely booked, after all). I returned to my room to look again at the exciting newly updated ash cloud forecast maps. Just as I settled my phone rang with an invitation to take a seat on a small airplane doing pilot proficiency flights for an airborne tour of the island. Needless to say I immediately agreed, called our own pilots and we were on board the small craft in less than an hour.
This 30 minute flight was so different from our procedure oriented IFR operations with the Gulfstream. The small airplane that we flew on took off after what looked like 200 feet of runway, then circled and banked over the blue lagoon, the favorite tourist spot; spiraled up and down over the most beautiful beached on the island and finally over our own airplane at the airport. It was a nice half an hour that gave us another glimpse at Rarotonga from an angle we have not had a chance to see before.