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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cooked in the Cooks - A Blast from the Past

It’s been a busy few months with trips to Europe, New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands and Mexico, but now I’m home for a while.  My next major trip is not scheduled until  early July when I’ll be travelling to
Pamplona to run with the bulls.  Instead of wearing the white outfit with the spiffy red sash I’m thinking of wearing my Olympic torch outfit.  That ought to turn some heads!  And the torch will come in handy for pushing my way through the crowds.   It’s a GAdventure tour and I think there might still be a few spaces open if you want to join me.

I was contemplating on what to write about until then.  My friend, Wayne Cox, suggested I should revisit some of my very early travel adventures – reminding me that not many of you were on-board for those.  I thought it might be interesting to look back and maybe add some perspective and pictures to them. 

A little Perspective:

 A little over a decade ago I hadn't travelled anywhere for nearly thirty years – and that was the last time my wife travelled with me (until this past February) declaring one trip (our honeymoon) was enough to last her  a lifetime.   The highlight of that trip (or low light depending on your perspective) was me getting lost in a bed & breakfast on the French Riviera and ending up in bed with the inn keeper’s 15 year old daughter.  (It was dark – I lost my way coming back from the bathroom).

For the next thirty years I was busy raising a family and earning a living.  My wife was ill and hospitalized for extended periods of time and I found myself thrust into the unwilling role of a single parent.  It was tough on all of us, but we all somehow managed to survive and come through the other side.  During that time any thought of travelling was more foreign to me than a trip to the moon.  It just didn’t exist.

About ten years ago I found my life had somehow changed:  My wife was home and on the road to recovery from the depression that had dogged her for decades.  (She has written an amazing book on her journey which I hope will be published some day).   Both my children had survived my cooking, graduated from University and had jobs.  I had settled into a long running TV series that seemed to require my attention less and less with each passing year.

My daughter found herself between jobs and took a “part time” job with WestJet, a start-up airline.  After six months she informed me that as a parent of an employee I qualified to travel cheaply – not only anywhere they flew (which was only in Canada at the time), but on a whole host of other airlines. 

She suggested I travel soon as she wasn't sure how long she’d be in her part time job – her chosen occupation being radio journalism –a career that was about as relevant today as being  a “fireman” on a diesel train.  Her part time job eventually turned into a full time job where she happily works today in management.

When I boasted to my friends and co-workers about my potential travel opportunity the conversation usually went:
“So I could travel almost anywhere for next to nothing.”
“So why don’t you?”
“I could if I wanted to.”
“So why don’t you?”
“I don’t want to.”
…and so on until my daughter pointed out she might not always be working for an  airline - if I ever was planning to use the privileges I’d better get on with it.

Suddenly, the corner I had been painting myself into got smaller. Any excuse I found for not travelling was quickly dismissed by my colleagues.
“I’m needed at work,” I pointed out.
“We work better without you. It will be quicker and quieter without you around.”
“What if I get trapped and can’t get home?”
“We’ll take up a collection.”

Finally I gave in. I was thinking of going to Hawaii on Aloha airlines (now defunct), and checking their Website I found the plane continued on to the Cook Islands. That sounded a lot more exotic than Hawaii. Besides, I’d always wanted to travel to the South Sea Islands.  All I had to do was stay on the plane a little longer.

However the thought of travelling alone, and not knowing a single soul was truly terrifying.  I’d be like Mr. Bean on Vacation: All by myself on the beach muttering incoherently to myself.

Then I had a great idea.  I noticed there was a TV station on Rarotonga. I emailed them saying I would love to see how they produce television there. I was thrilled when I got an email from the manager who not only owned the TV station, but also owned the radio and newspaper as well. He’d be thrilled to show me around. He also had  a brand new motel that I get stay in.

I always wanted to go deep-sea fishing, so I found a fishing company in the Cook Islands. The fishing charter was owned by a couple originally from Squamish BC – just up the road from me.   Not only would they arrange a fishing trip but they’d have me over for dinner!

So suddenly from not knowing a soul in the Cook Islands I had two new friends, a fishing trip, a dinner invitation and a cheap place to stay. It was going to be a great trip. What could possibly go wrong? Just about everything! To begin with I planned only to be gone 10 days.  Due to unforeseen circumstances the trip dragged out to over two weeks! It was my first (and not last) to the uncertainties of travelling stand-by.

Although it’s only 11 years ago since I took that trip it was the Stone Age when it came to the internet.   Windows XP had just been released!  Any sort of internet was hard to find in the Cook Islands then . There was no broadband – only dial up - and everything was slow and expensive. It cost over $15.00 just to send a couple of emails. 

Contrast that to today, where internet and wifi are so ubiquitous people complain if the connection isn’t strong enough to Facetime  or Skype! 

So here’s the first two entries of.....

Cooked in the Cooks

November 17, 2003

Well the trip started off a bit rocky, what with finding the dead rat in my new runners - thank you cat for the going away present. The trip was long - but uneventful. I managed to clear American Immigration in record time.

“Good morning, sir.”
“Not really. I found a dead rat in my runners this morning.”
“I hate rats!”
“Me too.”
“Go right ahead, sir.”

He didn’t even ask me where I was going or for how long, or what I do. The fact that I was a fellow member of the “I Hate Rats Club” was enough.

After 14 hours I arrived in Rarotonga. The TV Station manager's

sister who runs his “motel” was waiting for me at the airport. We stopped for a beer or two at the Fisherman's Club on the way back to the motel. The motel looked better at night after a few beers than it did in the morning. First of all, it's right on the highway so I get all the moped noise all night long, and it seems to be situated in the middle of a herd of wild roosters who don't seem to know or care when dawn is.

The bathroom's interesting - no mirrors. In fact no mirrors anywhere. I also haven't seen the TV manager or his sister since the sun came up. Makes me a bit nervous. I'm going to the market to buy a lot of garlic!!

I spent the morning in the little main town.  During my walk into town everyone slowed down and offered me a ride. People here are very friendly. I had to go to the Police station to get a local driver's license. They tell me that in all the years they've been giving road tests only one guy has failed. Don’t want to be number two so I passed on the Moped for now and got a car. The steering wheel appears to be on the wrong side. Probably going to find a few more surprises about driving here.

I'm going to spend the rest of the day looking for more suitable accommodation.

I've booked four days at Aitataki (one of the other island). While I was booking there was a cancellation and I've "lucked into" a whole house right on the beach! I can’t wait to see it!! Hopefully it will have mirrors. (I wonder if I still have shaving cream on my face - people have been looking at me rather strangely).

Contrary to my friend Dave Billman’s predictions they haven't dragged out the big black pot yet. 

November 18, 2003"I am a KING in the land of Mopeds!"

Well things are looking up. Despite my friends warnings about driving here, I have rented a spiffy Suzuki Sprint. 
I am a king in a land of mopeds! The entire Island now knows me the moment I step into the passenger seat of my chariot and look for steering wheel (It's on the left). 

I manage to sve face by muttering about my driver not showing up and disgustedly getting out of the car and walking around to the other side of the car. I get in, belt up, carefully check over the wrong shoulder, signal my entrance to traffic by turning on my windshield wipers (they are on the wrong side of the steering wheel) and launch out into traffic in 4th gear (the gears are reversed here – you have to use your left hand to shift). The mopeds swerve out of my way as soon as they notice my windshield wipers come on. I'll have Whole Island trained before I return home.

I thought the island seemed rather large, and was impressed that they have not  one - but two airports here, until I realized I had circled the island twice!

Last night I couldn't find a restaurant open so I stopped at a fried chicken place. I now found out what happens to chickens that stray on the road. Let's say the chicken got his revenge later that night and leave it at that.

Yesterday I also went back to the Fisherman's club for a beer (well ... maybe 2 - okay 3). An older lady came over and began chatting me up. After 20 minutes I discovered she was the same lady I had emailed about a fishing charter. She's invited me for a feast of Fanny Bay Oysters at her home on Saturday - Her husband just brought them back from Vancouver Island. Is there an "r" in November?" Better keep the Imodium out for that too!! 

I have now moved out of the Rooster Palace. I am on another side of the island at a place called the Daydreamer. Things have definitely improved! It's very up-scale (comparatively) and my host is a Kiwi named Bruce who likes to drink Beer and talk and talk and talk.....


The Infamous "Don't Mention the Pigs Incident!"

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