Thursday, June 27, 2013

Highland Paradise Do-Over

It all stemmed from a complaint by the Germans. Where it went from there was totally unexpected.

To explain that a little more, we had been on the Highland Paradise Tour a couple night's previous. It was after Pa's hike so we were already a bit on the exhausted side ("a bit" was putting it mildly). We just went with the flow. There was some confusion on our tickets (which were comped by the Palm Grove) and then our tour was cut short to stand in line for a wedding party. Then there was a shortage of food and liquid refreshment (unless you wanted to stand in a really long line) and it was just run with a wee-bit of chaos.

In all honesty, we were too numb to care. It was a free dinner.

Until the next morning when we got a call from reception at the Palm Grove asking about our experience. Apparently another group had complained about the experience (hence, our German friends) and Betsy knew we would lay it out in all honesty. It was out of the blue and we're really not complainers so we just stated a couple of the fore-mentioned facts.

And got ourselves invited back that afternoon.

The owner/Managing Director, Teuira Pirangi, met us and asked us what they could have done to make the experience better. Being owners of small businesses and customer service reps ourselves, we gave her some feedback. The fact that she opened herself to criticism said something huge in the first place!
From there she offered a full fledged look around. We had free run of the place. With three Nikon D300 cameras with empty SD cards, we all took off in a different direction.

"Guilty Rocks"

View from the top

After wandering for two hours, we went back to the assembly hall expecting a bottle of water.  We not only got a pitcher of water (note: with limes), but all sorts of fruit.  Again, we thought this was it.  Until they brought out fresh salad and even fresher tuna.  The tuna was so good, it almost tasted like pork (even fooling my fish eating husband into thinking it was pork.).  Seriously, this was one of the best meals we ate on the island.

All in all, I'm glad the couple complained.  The previous experience hadn't left a bad taste in our mouth, but having Teuira care enough to ask detailed questions and work with us as to how to make the experience better, makes me want to tell everyone that they shouldn't miss the Highland Paradise Show.

Happy Birthday to MEEEEE!

Spending your 29th (again) birthday in a tropical paradise.  Priceless.

Yes, I did shout "Happy Birthday to Me" when I walked out the door and onto the beach - much to my daughter's disgust.  Ha, didn't care.

What a perfect treat!

BTW, my birthday was in March, not as this post is being written, so while you are welcome to tell me Happy Birthday, I will put it in the bank toward next year's 29th birthday.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Snorkeling in the South Pacific

After two schools in one day, we hit the beach! We heard about this place across from Fruits of Rarotonga. Literally, it's a roadside cafe, and across the road is this microscopic "parking lot" next to a spit of sand. Being the good tourists we were, we put on our gear and went for it.

To put this into perspective, we have traveled around the globe for snorkeling. Most of the islands of Hawaii, the Caribbean and now the South Pacific. This was the reason we were here - well, that and the job opportunity, but I digress.

Locals and guidebooks call it the Fruits of Rarotonga based on the fact that it is across the street from the store, Fruits of Rarotonga. In actuality it is called the Tikioki Marine Reserve. It teems with all sorts of life.

Before even going into deeper into the water, the fish were all around.

Note: none of these fish "attacked" Kira - they were just curious.

We ventured deeper. But, wait, I need to back up. Before you set foot into any waters in Cook Islands, you need to be aware of these:

Sea cucumbers. They come close to the shore shortly before they die - so there are thousands. I mean thousands. They don't bite, sting, or hurt, they are just everywhere and it was hard not to step on them (they feel a little rubbery).

Kira liked picking them up.

Some of the fish we saw: Longnose, threadfin, several types of butterflies, sargent majors, sunset wrasse, cleaner wrasse (these tickled), Picasso trigger (these chased you if you got too close to their nest), soldierfish, squirrelfish, groupers, moorish idol, heniochus, bannerfish, trunkfish, parrotfish, goatfish, hermit crabs (galore), blenny/goby, pipefish, convicts, naso tangs, lemon peeo angel, fire coral (stay away from this stuff) and brain coral - just to name a few.

Honkin' piece of brain coral.

Large pieces of purple coral - these fascinated me because I've never seen this color in nature before.

Not a flippin' clue what this is...

Just a side note here: Jeff's job is aquariums, mostly saltwater. His job involves installing, maintaining and purchasing for these aquariums, so really, we do know our fish. We were all in underwater heaven, but, for him, it was like being in a gigantic aquarium.

While these photos were taken at Fruits of Rarotonga, just about any beach is going to give you amazing sea life. One night we went out and stood thigh deep in the water and watch as picasso triggerfish, tangs, puffers and a dozen other curious creatures ventured toward us. The snorkeling was supreme! On Aitutaki, one of the outer islands, believe it or not, it was even BETTER! It is going to be hard to beat the South Pacific for this! JC Imagery - Cook Islands Website

Friday, June 21, 2013

Now On To High School in the Cook Islands

Our third school in Rarotonga, Cook Islands was Titikaveka College. College, wait a minute, I though this was High School. Well sort of. High School is called College and College is called University in the South Pacific. Our daughter wanted to go to school in Rarotonga just so she could say she was in college.

Anyhow, this college is a school of 100 students, Year 7 to 12. As usual, we arrived during break time and were granted free access to any of the students. Being as these students were a little older, they were a little more cautious than the younger students.

I don't know that I'd get any studying done if this was the view out my classroom window.

Rugby is a HUGE sport in the Cook Islands so when a New Zealand rugby player made an appearance, it was a BIG deal.

One thing that fascinated us at all the schools was the camaraderie between the students. We watched this volleyball game in action and when a player would hit the ball wild, the students would laugh, chase the ball and start over. We couldn't help but think how, in the US, the competition is so fierce, that should a play go wild, players would be CRANKY. It was refreshing to see the "non-competition."

We saw one electronic device (aside from the stereo system brought out for entertainment).

After a short question and answer session with students and the principal, we left cards, exchanged facebook accounts, had our picture taken and bid au revoir.

Check out our previous visits to Avarua Primary School and Rutaki Primary School.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Back To School . . . Again

We were invited to visit Rutaki Primary School. It is one of the smallest schools on the island and one of only two Maori language immersion schools. The students (from preschool to Year 6) speak only Maori until Year 3. The principal, Nooroa Ingaua, was very warm in welcoming us and allowed us to take photos from the get-go (which is a far cry from our experiences in the US!).

The morning started with the children coming out of the classrooms to gather under the large tree.

The students read from the bible, first in English, then in Maori as they reinacted Christ's walk to the cross.

I think the little boy second from the left was getting into it a little too much :)

And He has Risen!

The students has a poster contest and awards were given out at the ceremony.

Star fruit form the "Star Fruit Monkey" picked straight out of the tree!

Kira and two students.

And then the first of two absolutely unexpected things that occurred. We were treated like royalty with flowers, hair clips and gifts!

The second thing that occurred - lunch was provided!

We had an AMAZING time visiting this wonderful school! Thank you so much for your warmth, hospitality and cherished memories!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hike Across The Island

Yeah, not kidding on that title. We really did hike across the island of Rarotonga.

It was touted as the "thing to do", the "not-to-be-missed" excursion.

It was a dance with death.

In a hot, humid, muggy, shower.

Okay, I need to back this train waaaaaayyyyy up.

We signed up for the "Cross Island Walk - Pa's Trek" on our third day on the Island. While we knew it was an adventure, I wanted to get it out of the way. You see, my idea of hiking says "Holland America" on the side of it. The Lido deck is my idea of a hike. But when in Rome...

The alarm goes off at 6:30 (are you flipping kidding me, alarm on vacation!?) and we try to sneak in to breakfast at 7:30 (which opens at 8:00). Jeff gets shooed out - "why you in a hurry? always in a hurry" admonishes the Cook Islander running the dining room. Our pick up is at 8:00. This could get dicey as we have no food in our hut (see this as to why there's no food in the hut). At 8:00 am when the van hasn't come, we start scarfing food down. Our ride arrives after we've gotten a decent bite to eat.

We are off.

The van starts up this back road and I'm thinking, cool, we'll drive most of the way. Then he puts it into park and gets out. So much for a drive. We meet Pa for the first time. He's everything his website and tripadvisor have stated.

Here's Kira wondering just what we've gotten herself into. Heck, so were we. This guy was barefoot!

After explaining some of the local weeds and their health benefits to us, he tells us that the bug repellent we have on is poisonous to our bodies. Great. We aren't even at the base of the mountain and I'm gonna die. He hands us a squirt of a bug repellent "his sister makes..." We rub it on thinking, if this is the only thing to keep me from life and a funeral home, bring it on. Now we all smell suspiciously like basil.

We started off at a leisurely pace...

That went downhill (or uphill) from there.

Holy Batcave - only I wasn't saying that; this is a family friendly show.

Over the river and through the jungle was not a song - it was a reality!

The song "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor came into my head more than once because I knew it would be real bad publicity for someone to die on Pa's watch (although he proudly proclaimed a good number of heart attacks had occurred, of which only one person didn't make it - but that was after they got to the hospital).

After a short rest for everyone to get in the same place on the mountain, Pa began pulling large containers out of the backpack he was wearing. The guy had cut up star fruit, mango, papaya (pawpaw) and chestnuts in there. We ate whether we liked it or not - it was food!

Then we were off again. To the top.

And we made it! Bring it on Ms. Gaynor.

Here's proof!

Our buddy the rooster even made an appearance - and then Kira caught him!

Even Pa was impressed.

Then we headed down.

Are you kidding me?!

Her face says it ALL!

We did make it out alive and later laughed about it to the locals (who think Pa is crazy, but don't say anything bad about him). Am I glad I did it - YES. Just to tell the world I did (dang, am I that stubborn?). Would I do it again? No. Sorry, did I say that to fast? Well, letmethinkaboutitno.

I took my basil/sweat/jungle smelling self back to the Palm Grove and jumped into the pool. Sorry I turned the pool green - I humbly apologize.