Articles By Gord
As I see it... An Island Experience, The Cook Islands

November 2009 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... An Island Esperience, The Cook islands

You are a long, long ways from home and you are standing on the gravel shoulder of a road. The heat from the sun is intense, as it has been everyday you've been here. You wonder how many days has that been?

You are wearing a hat and sunglasses. You've slapped on sun screen just to shut her up. You hate that goop. You're wearing sandals and shorts and the lightest shirt you have. None of it's clean, now! But luckily, you're a guy. You don't care.

The buzz of mopeds racing past grabs your attention and you think that's the way to go. Zippin in here or there, bombing all over the island. No worries, no helmet, totally free. You begin to hum Born to be Wild. You stop. She ain't gonna ride a moped.

You are aware that you've begun to sweat. And the sweat inspires you to look down the road. You look for the bus. Your bus. There are only two on the island. One bus runs clockwise and the other bus, your bus, runs counter clockwise. You see no bus, you turn away from the road and survey the field behind you. You are acknowledged by the crow of a rooster. You wonder what's with the roosters? They're all over the place and they start up every morning at three a.m. The field has lots of tall grasses and some sort of crops, there are hills in the distance and there is lots of green, green, green. And there are palm trees. Palm trees, the sight of them makes you laugh. You think of your first day at your resort and hearing a kurplunk. You wondered what it was. More plunks. Each time you look around. Each time you ask her what the hell was that? Then one day you see it. A coconut! They're dropping like bowling balls, from 50 feet or higher. A worker at the hotel offers to get you one, he effortlessly climbs one of these towering palms. For the briefest of moments you contemplate giving it a climb yourself. Impress the little woman. Show her at fifty something or other you've still got it. But then you realize you're not wearing the proper footwear, so instead you take another sip of your drink. Safety first.

It is another day, late morning to be precise. You've smartened yourself up as best you can. You have to because smartening up seems to go hand in hand with a visit to church.

The church is packed, but you're not melting in the sweltering heat, because of a lovely breeze, it's constant and cooling.

You and other visitors sit in the centre, facing the alter. The congregation sits to your right and left and behind you. It is of all ages, men, women and children. They have taken the time to dress, their Sunday best. You've been on Paradise long enough to know that the locals must regard church as something very special cause they're all wearing shoes.

The women all wearing white dresses and these intricate, homemade, homestyled straw hats, called Rito's. She goes on about how beautiful they are. You can't buy them and you're not about to offer to make her one. But just to please her you sort of think about borrowing one. Yeah, that would be the ticket. Borrowing.

You are in church for the congregational singing. And when they begin, the combined forces of their voices render you spellbound. Yes, spellbound! You feel as if you are being carried aloft on their songs of prayer. A hymn that one woman begins, her voice is strong and clear, she is joined by other members, and the music swells. There is a tribal element to their songs, the building, the layering of their music, you want to join in. You want to rejoice. Wow!

The next day there's not much breeze. Today you find the heat oppressive. Or maybe you find it oppressive because you've spent the morning shopping. Well, she's shopped, you've just tailed along behind her. While she looked over trillions of black pearls and tried on different wraps and produced wooden drums and carvings for your inspection, you loitered outside. You figure to the locals, you must look like some sort of creep, or bored. But you are not bored. The creep thing? Well . . .

You haven't quite been able to wrap your North American skull around roosters and chickens wandering through the downtown, the locals in bare feet and that constant roar of waves breaking over the reef. You are still somehow too North American to embrace this pace of life, or maybe it's the lack of pace that has you mystified. You've stopped for lunch at Trader

Jacks. Your beer is icy cold and your first sip turns out to be a pretty serious guzzle. You needed this break. Lunch comes, it's a burger, it's on a plate and it came off a grill and you are relieved. You are relieved because of your luncheon experience of the day before, You had gone on a local open jeep safari of the island which included a traditional meal.

Food cooked in the ground. A pit is dug and a fire started in it, rocks are placed over the flames. While the stones heat, chicken and pork, sweet potatoes and yams are wrapped in damp banana leaves. Your lunch is then placed over the scalding stones, banana leaves placed overtop of lunch and then shovels of earth were thrown over that. While your lunch steams away for the next three hours, you tour. You watch native dances and see magnificent coastline, but always your mind goes back to lunch. You hate dirt. You freak out finding a piece of shell in your egg salad sandwich. You wonder what happens to a pork chop buried under mounds of dirt and leaves. Remembering, you almost gag. But to your amazement, it was perfectly fine.

While you attack your burger, you make small talk with the bartenders and other tourists that have slid onto the stools nearby. Off to your left just outside Trader Jack's five or six school aged children jump in and scramble out of the water. Their play sounds so refreshing, their yells and shrieks are like an invitation and for a moment, you glimpse yourself in their play. It is the best entertainment you could imagine.

You have taken a short flight to one of the other islands. The attraction is to live, play and swim in an exotic lagoon. You have a two night stay on Aitutaki. The lagoon is teeming with marine life. You sit at your breakfast table only inches from the water's edge, you are in shade, still it is hot and while you pick at a plate of breads, bananas and mango you can see hundreds of fish flashing past. You find their presence disturbing. Disturbing, because you are a true blue suburbanite who fakes rugged heartiness, who fakes life in the wild is second nature to you, but secretly prefers to have fish in an aquarium or on your plate than have it gently nudge you in the wild.

The sound of your bus is heavier, deeper than any other vehicle on the island. The sound draws you back from the field, from the coconut palms and as if understanding, that rogue rooster cock-a-doodle-doo's a fond farewell. You climb the few steps into the bus, you find a seat and plop down. From one of your bags comes the sound of shells jostling. She's collected hundreds of the friggin things. You laugh to yourself remembering her delight when she discovered the beaches were a shell hunter's paradise.

You had parked yourself in a lounge chair. You had a drink. A G n' T. It was late afternoon and the sun felt wonderful. You shut your eyes and listened to the never-ending waves. From time to time you looked up. You were checking on her. Checking on her was a good excuse to take another sip of your drink. Clink, clink. The ice was melting far too quickly. You watched her. She drifted slowly down the beach and through the serf. She was so absorbed, she was childlike the way she stopped, stooped down picked up a shell, examined it, truly examined it before tucking it away in a pocket or returning it to the sea. And later, when she excitedly presented each shell for you to see, you thought how beautiful she is.

Your bus deposits you at the airport, you join the check-in queue under the terminal roof. There are no walls. You wait outside, sitting on a wooden bench beneath another palm. You are in a secure area, separated from freedom, from the island, from paradise by a seven foot frost fence. You sit quietly. You don't want conversation. You want to remember, you want to feel everything you can of the past two and a half weeks. You hear the serf, a kerplunk. You study your shoes. You never in your life thought you'd be in the South Pacific. You never thought you'd be so sad, so terribly sad, to be leaving the Cook Islands.

 
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