Part three: Rarotonga

Today we are finally leaving Hawaii. I can’t believe I just said that, considering that we are in the island paradise! We have been delayed just one day but the tension of the project is high enough that people I talked to all say, it feels like we have been here a week. If only we didn’t have to keep going. Anyway – on to the next adventure.

We are on the ramp in Kona, preparing to depart. We drove the rental cars onto the ramp and parked next to the Gulfstream, piled up our bags by the airplane’s tail and worked inside the Gulfstream for a while when the folks from Air Service Hawaii came over and picked up the cars. I had the strangest feeling when the caravan of cars left the aircraft and we stayed on the ramp: it was like there is no coming back, we are now on our own and the only way for us is into the sky. This feeling lasted for a few minutes, then faded, replaced by more mundane responsibilities like making sure people along the route are appraised of our changing schedule. We took off at 1 pm and turned South. There is nothing there as far as most people are concerned but we were pretty sure we know where we are going.

Sunset over the Pacific on the way to Rarotonga
Sunset over the Pacific on the way to Rarotonga

I feel so sorry for people who could not see what we saw on this flight. The clouds were fantastic, puffy cumulus here and there replaced with rows of the same, stretching for hundreds of miles over the endless, vast open ocean. Then the ITCZ came, with layered, flat and ominous looking cumulonimbus, towering in the distance to more than 30,000 feet. We actually hoped for more since in January 2010 we saw those anvils in the ITCZ reach 55,000 and more, but this time the clouds were rather small but beautiful nonetheless. Then came the sunset. You could not pay to get the views like we saw: the towering cumulus, penetrated by sunlight and raining sometimes, with scattered anvils here and there, and us doing vertical profiling between 1,ooo and 28,000 feet among all of that provided for absolutely spectacular views. I think we took probably a thousand pictures among the crew, and probably none of them do the real sight justice. This was one of those moments where you just stay quiet and watch in awe, wishing for the moment to last just a little bit longer.

We landed nearly two hours past the sunset, the pilots guiding the Gulfstream in the dark by the instruments. We ascended to 47,000 feet before starting down, trying to reach the lowermost stratosphere but it was another 5,000 feet above us. The airplane was so cold at high altitude that upon descent, water condensed on the outside of it everywhere and could be seen as streams and fans of droplets scurrying across the windows in the blinding beams of the landing lights. Of course, once we landed and the door opened a similar fate awaited also everything else in the cabin, too but to a smaller degree: we maintain the cabin temperature at about 18ºC in flight.

Not too many people in the United States know about Rarotonga, it is more popular with people Down Under. In effect, it is a mirror of Hawaii, located at about the same latitude of 21° South as Hawaii, which are at 19-21° North, although Rarotonga is much smaller being only 20 km in circumference. Last time we stopped on Rarotonga it rained like there is no tomorrow, only with short breaks that were long enough to drive around the island to see it. As small as it is, Rarotonga is beautiful. Even if it sounds cliché, the island does look like an emerald in the sea when viewed from the air. It is very green and steep in its inner part, surrounded by the 18 carat gold of the sandy beach on the outside. From the bird’s eye view, its lush vegetation hides the traces of human habitation fairly well, and you will not see a megalopolis sticking out like a sore thumb, as you would on an approach into Honolulu for example. It leaves the impression of a relatively unspoiled tropical retreat, if such things still exist in this world. Whiffs of smoke rising here and there from people’s burning branches and garbage spoiled the smooth flow of exalted reflections a little bit but the smoke is fairly easy not to notice. A little more difficult not to smell on the ground, but doable too.

Actually, the smell of burning coconut and palm leaves is something that will instantly pull up to the surface your long forgotten memories of the Pacific islands should you smell it once. Don’t you agree that smells have this ability to instantly extract associated memories? One day I will write more about this.

The Guardian
The Guardian

There are quite a few places to stay on the island, and they all are fairly expensive, especially if you want such luxuries as it being  quiet and air conditioned. Probably the best of them all, the Rarotongan, is an authentic-looking but thoroughly modern resort, greets you with a glimpse into the roots of the Polynesian history with its Guardians by the entrance. The statues could intimidate or offend a closed-minded puritan but oh well, the Polynesians rightfully don’t care. The hotel will take loving care of you (and you will pay for it), and the people there are very supportive and friendly.

If you are lucky enough to know someone who knows others, you may get a chance to glimpse into the island’s rich and fascinating history and culture. It may not interest a casual vacationer who is there mostly to relax on the beach and leave the life’s worries behind for a week. For me personally, it is different. When I visit the old houses of former kings and their grave sites the spirits of the past seem to be there for me, just beyond some thin veil, looking down. I can spend hours just walking quietly through such places, and never get tired, and feel some kind of a connection with the past, feel sadness for the greatness that is no longer, and its connection with the present. I better stop freaking you out. But it is true, I guarantee you. All those things are there, and you can feel them too if you only let them into your heart by stopping thinking about yourself and your own precious current moment in life. There are bigger things than that around us.

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