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A Year Around The World

First Stop: Rarotonga

COOK ISLANDS | Wednesday, 7 January 2015 | Views [461]

Among the first things I noticed upon my arrival in Rarotonga was the abundance of graves. Almost every property we passed on the way from the airport to the hotel contained at least one tombstone. Although many of the graves were clearly quite old, all of them seemed well cared for. Most were painted a gleaming white. Keeping the graves in such pristine condition in the scorching tropical sun must have been a chore, and most likely indicated that citizens of this sparsely populated pacific nation cared deeply for their dead. Either that, or they didn't really have much else to do with their time other than eat. For the other thing that was obvious during our airport transfer was that people here were big. Very big. Think about the line that forms at any given state fair corn dog booth and multiply their girth by power of your average Chili’s crowd. That’ll give you some idea of the obesity crisis in Rarotonga.

 

The main road that encircles the island is dotted with public service billboards drawing attention the the dangers of diabetes, and I have to say that this seems a far better way to address the obesity epidemic than the American solution, namely, to canvas the country with fast food joints.

 

But I digress. Back to the graves. According to the airport transfer driver, Cook Islands’ law requires that the dead be buried on their own land rather than in public cemeteries. When I asked what people did if they didn’t own any land, the driver said that people had to lease grave sites from land owners. If the grave lease term ends and the families can’t pay for a lease renewal, the bodies would exhumed. She didn’t elaborate on what happened  to the remains at that point. Burial at sea seems like the most likely option. 

 

There is a lot of sea in the Cooks. The nation itself covers an area roughly the size of western Europe. However, about 99% of that area is water. This vast expanse of Pacific Ocean contains only fifteen islands comprising a total land area of less than 16,000 hectares (Side note: I think a hectare is equivalent to couple of acres but I don’t know for sure and the internet connection at my hotel is too slow for me to Google it; My Dad would know). The islands range in population from roughly 20,000 on the main island of Rarotonga to a population of one, presumably lonely soul, on the island of Suwarrow. There are also a couple of uninhabited islands.

 

From the small slice I’ve seen thus far, the islands are postcard beautiful. Soft white sand beaches. Jungle covered peaks. Bathtub warm lagoons. The colors here are amazingly vibrant. Lush greens and glowing blues. The thick air is sweet with the smell of flowers and the ocean breeze sings in your ears day and night. The hamlet of Muri, where my hotel is located, faces four small islets which you can almost walk to due to the shallowness of the lagoon.

 

It’s touristy here, but not overwhelmingly so. The prices of goods and lodging are high and selections, especially for food, are slim, which isn’t at all  surprising given the difficulty of transporting things to one of the most isolated nations on earth. However, fresh caught fish is a great deal if you buy it at the fish market. In our two days here thus far, we’ve grilled our own fish twice, and it was some of the freshest, best tasting seafood I have ever eaten. At the market, we discovered a species the locals call “Moon Fish.” It is just fantastic simply grilled with a little butter or olive oil. I’ll definitely look for it again when I’m home, assuming I can still remember the first days of the trip a year from now. 

Tags: beach, cook islands, fish, muri, rarotonga

 

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