Monthly Archives: May 2007

I’m All Wet

Posted by on May 22, 2007

Rarotonga

What is the wettest thing in the world?

SCUBA diving in the rain.

It has rained almost non-stop for 2 days and it doesn’t appear to want to let up. Today we went out in the boat and the rain hitting my face hurt when the boat was moving. My body was in water for almost two and a half hours straight. My fingers are still like prunes.

I got to dive in a cave today which was interesting. I also finished my advanced open water certification. I don’t think I’ll be diving for a few weeks. I’ll wait till I’m in Fiji to dive again. Not many spots in NZ and the diving is Fiji should be much better and cheaper.

I hope tomorrow my internet situation is better in New Zealand. I have photos and such, but haven’t been able to upload.

Raro Winding Down

Posted by on May 21, 2007

My time in Rarotonga is winding down. I’m ready to move on. I did two more dives today (Monday) and will do one more tomorrow to finish my advanced certification.

Thanks to all the advice I’ve gotten from everyone about New Zealand. I think I have a base plan of attack for NZ. I’ll have to rent a car obviously. Lots of Kiwis here and many of them suggest renting a camper van. I guess its cheap and common to do. Not like getting an RV in the US.

I’m becoming pretty good at driving on the left. I saw a dog killed about an hour ago while I was on my scooter. It wasn’t pretty. Like Easter Island, they are all over the island running free. It was raining and I pulled over to put on my raincoat when car came past me and hit the dog. I heard it more than saw it. If I hadn’t pulled over, I might have hit the dog on my scooter or maybe the dog might have moved. Who knows.

I’ve been eating in more and more preparing my own means. Its cheaper and more efficient. There really isn’t much in the way of local food. They have an equivalent of Poisson Cru that I tried. They call it Ika Matu. Same thing, still pretty good.

In NZ I think I’ll keep with making my own food. They eat a lot of lamb/mutton there, so I might take adavantage of that and grill my own. It’s not something you eat that often in the US.

My internet access has been spotty and will be till I hit NZ. I’ll have photos of my Rarotonga stay then.

Undar Zee Deep Blu Oshan

Posted by on May 19, 2007

Yesterday I did two SCUBA dives. Unfortunately, I don’t have an underwater camera and I can’t take photos, which is a shame because its some of the most remarkable stuff I’ve seen so far.

We dove off of a boat, which was the first time I’ve done that. I got to fall backwards off the edge just like James Bond. Fun stuff.

My first dive was a deep dive at 30m (about 100 feet). I really go through air fast. I was the first one who had to get to the surface because of low air. The fish and inverts are so much larger than anything I’ve ever seen. I’m used to seeing sea cucumbers in aquariums that are about the size of a cucumber. These were the size of my legs (both combined). I saw a giant clam which was probably 4 feet across. Spiny sea urchins which were the size of a beach ball.

Maritime Reefer

After going back to shore to get the second tanks, we dove down the wreck of the Maritime Reefer at about 20m. Inside the wreck is a giant moray eel known as King Toby. It was very cool to say the least. Once again, I had to surface first because I was low on air. What can I say, I likes me air.

The only sun I’ve seen since I’ve been here was while I was on the boat. Just my luck I’d be underwater for it. If it doesn’t clear up, I might do another two dives and I’ll have 4/5 of my dives for my Advanced Open Water Diver certification done. I did my dives with The Dive Center in Rarotonga. Its run by a German couple and they did an excellent job.

Raro update

Posted by on May 18, 2007

  • I now am the owner of a Cook Islands drivers license. I kid you not. Likewise, I rented a scooter for the week. A good move. NZ$100 for the week. A bus trip is NZ$4 one way and a taxi is like NZ$40 one way. Its really fun to ride. The license makes a great souviner. The drivers test consisted of “do you have $10?”
  • I’m going SCUBA diving again today. I need five dives to get my Advanced Open Water Certification. I’ll do one or two here, then maybe 1 or 2 on Fiji. I should be done by the time I leave the Pacific.
  • I went to a island night at a night club last night. They had a local Polynesian dance team and band. It was pretty entertaining and only NZ$5 for the cover. It would cost a lot more at a resort.
  • I had one beer last night. A New Zealand beer called Steinlager. It was the biggest beer bottle I’ve had in my life. Probably bigger than a 40oz. It was NZ$5 for the bottle. A good deal for a bar.
  • The weather is still overcast. Not much rain or wind, just overcast. I got a few ideas for video I’m going to pursue that are all indoor. They will be fun. You’ll see.
  • On a related note, I think I have someone back in the good old US of A who will be doing video editing for me. This will allow me to just go nuts getting footage. Expect a several week delay between when I shoot something and when its online. ie: the blog and the video will not be in synch.

Last Thoughts on French Polynesia

Posted by on May 18, 2007

Before I get too far away from it, I should add that I did not hate my brief time in Tahiti. While it was expensive and it did seem to overwhelm much of the experience, there were a few things I did enjoy.

  • Poisson Cru. Before I left the island, I made sure I was able to have some of the National Dish of French Polynesia. Its basically raw fish in a coconut/lime sauce with vegetables. The one I had was cucumber and onion. It was very good. So good, I’d like to attempt to make it at some point while I’m on the road. I’m while technically a polynesian dish, I’m surprised you don’t see it at sushi restaurants. It would not be a stretch for them to make it.
  • Le Truck Many of the islands of French Polynesia have a form of transportation known as le truck. Le truck are sort of flat bed trucks with benches on the back and covers over the benches. They drive set routes like a bus, but they’re private. They were far and way the cheapest thing in Tahiti. A trip from the airport to Papeete was like 130 XPF, which is like US$1.50. A taxi ride going from the same spots was about US$30. They’d stop anywhere on the road where people were waiting and would drop you off anywhere on the route you wanted. There were a lot of them running, so many they would leapfrog each other as they picked up passengers. I saw one with a bunch of passengers at a gas station filling up. (The price you pay I guess…) You never had to wait more than a few minutes for le truck. The next time I ever here anyone talk about the evils of private buses running routes, I’m going to bring up le truck. Good service and cheap prices. I can only imagine what they’d cost in a place that wasn’t as expensive.
  • Roulottes These are basically lunch wagons. The people that run them set up mini restaurants out of the trucks. At night, they all come together at the harbor in Papeete and set up an impromptu food court. They have tables, table cloths, and the whole works. In the day the area is totally empty. At night…..instant restaurant row. They will set up small kitchens with gas powered grills, fryers, etc. Steaks, fries, pizza, crepes, and the above mentioned poisson cru. It was almost like being at the state fair.
  • The women. There was a story I once read on how when Captain Cook arrived at Tahiti, the men would trade nails and other metal goods for sexual favors from the women on the island. Eventually they began ripping apart the ship for nails. (That might be where the term “getting nailed came from”). The women of Tahiti are beautiful. No doubt. Many of them had something about them which made them look like sisters or cousins of each other. (I’m sure someone has done a study of genetic diversity on island populations. It would be interesting to read) Also, everywhere I went that sold post cards in Tahiti, were post cards of topless women. I’ve seen that no where else in Polynesia.
  • Black Pearls I’ve always thought that black pearls where way cooler than white pearls. French Polynesia leads the world in production of black pearls. They’re all over. They are also produced in the Cook Islands. If I buy one, I will probably buy one there because everything is so much cheaper.

New Zealand Help

Posted by on May 17, 2007

It appears that I’ll be staying here till next Wednesday, then leaving for New Zealand for two weeks.

While I planned on visiting New Zealand, I didn’t plan on visiting this soon. As it turns out, this will probably work out for the best as I wont need to make a return trip to New Zealand.

The problem is, I haven’t done much if any research on New Zealand. I have a week to figure out what I should see during my stay. I have two weeks but I could always stretch it out a bit.

I’m assuming I’ll have to rent a car, else getting around will be near impossible.

Here is what I need from you: What should I see in New Zealand? (the Lord of the Rings tour has already been suggested, thank you)

I know there are fjords and penguins on the South Island, but I don’t know where.

Any advice would be helpful. I am usually without Internet and I don’t have a NZ guidebook.

*Oh, I have yet to take more than 2 photos on Rarotonga. Rainy and overcast.

Change of plans

Posted by on May 17, 2007

I think I’m going to go to New Zealand next.

I think that Fiji is turning out the be the real hub of the Pacific and most of the places I want to go to in the Pacific seem to fly in and out of Fiji. However, to get from Rarotonga to Fiji, I have to fly through New Zealand. I’m not sure it would be worth it to land in New Zealand and go to Fiji only to have to go back to New Zealand again, especially if I don’t need to do any future routes via New Zealand.

The only problem with going to New Zealand is the weather. Its winter. I have no clue what winter in New Zealand means to be honest. (Perhaps someone out there could give me a clue and compare it to winter in Minnesota) I’m certainly not prepared for cold weather, but a jacket and some other purchases should make me good to go. I’d probably want to rent a car for most of my time in New Zealand, but I haven’t really done much research on New Zealand yet. Amy is trying to help me make an efficient travel route through the rest of the Pacific, which is not an easy thing to do. Time in New Zealand should make that easier.

I ♥ Rarotonga

Posted by on May 16, 2007

Any guilt I had about leaving Tahiti earlier than I planned melted away the moment Rarotonga appeared in the window of the plane.

Geology
Like all Pacific islands, Rarotonga was created via vulcanism. You can think of islands on a continuum from the Big Island of Hawaii down to coral atolls. The Big Island is an active volcano with new land being created. Because it’s a geologically young island, there has been very little erosion and very little coral reef formation. Mauna Loa, the most active, is a classic shield volcano. As you look at older and older islands, their peeks get smaller and smaller and erosion creates dramatic valleys. Look at the next island over in Hawaii, Maui, and you can see exactly that. Peeks second only to the Big Island, but much more erosion evident, and more reefs than you will find on the Big Island.

Rarotonga is a small island which still has some evidence of the volcano which once created the island. The erosion of the volcano is very evident here. Valleys, cliffs, and needle formations are the most prominent features on the middle of the island. Unlike any of the main Hawaiian islands, Rarotonga has a a reef which is well developed and surrounds the island. As a result, there is a beach which surrounds almost the entire island and a lagoon area of about 200 yards from the beach to the reef where the water is relatively calm. Most of the surf breaks out on the reef and not on the beach.

As a result, you get the classic south pacific island white sand beach with palm trees lining the sand.

Just looking at the island, you can see how this island will one day (maybe a million years) become an atoll. The volcano will erode away and sink, the reef will grow, and all that will be left is a ring of coral and sand.

*Fun Fact* The theory of how atolls were formed was developed by Charles Darwin on the same trip to the Gallapagos where he developed his theories of natural selection. The Gallapagos, like Hawaii, are volcanically active and he was able to observe how the islands changed at they went away from the volcanic activity.

Government

The Cook Islands issue their own passports and have their own currency and stamps. They are in a state of “free association” with New Zealand. This means that New Zealand is responsible for their defense and foreign policy, but they are not part of New Zealand per se. They are not 100% independent and do not have their own seat in the UN, like other Pacific nations like Samoa, Nauru, or Micronesia. I’m not totally sure what New Zealand gets out of the deal. The US also has a country that is in free association with us and most people probably don’t know it: The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. (CNMI) The US free association compact with CNMI is a total scam, but that’s another post for another time.

The Cook Islands parliament building is on Rarotonga across the street from the Airport. I think they only meet briefly a few times a year.

Their currency can be exchanged 1-to-1 with the New Zealand dollar and both currencies float around freely on the island. All of the cash I got from the ATM was New Zealand dollars. I don’t know if the Cook Islands have a paper bill over $3.

One interesting thing about their coins is that many of them appear to be non-circular. I have come across a $1 coin that is almost circular with a wavy edge, and a $2 coin that is a triangle.

The exchange rate is about NZ$1 = US$0.75, which is a historic low for the Dollar.

People

They drive on the left and use Australian/NZ electrical outlets. (imagine US plugs bent inward at 45 degrees).

Its a polynesian country. The people are culturally and linguistically similar to those I met on Hawaii, Tahiti and Easter Island. I know I’ve encountered “Kapu” in the same context and spelling as you see it in Hawaii.

Everyone seems really nice. No resentment towards tourists whatsoever. When I arrived, I had a problem with my reservation. I walked from the airport to town (not that far) and some random stranger stopped to give me a lift. Hitchhiking is legal and very safe.

Everyone speaks english, usually with a New Zealand accent mixed with a polynesian accent. The degree of mixing can vary considerably.

Favorite sport seems to be rugby. Higher obesity rates here than Tahiti and Easter Island, but not as high as Hawaii. (Polynesian obesity rates are something I’ll address in a separate post some other time)

My Diggs

I’m staying at Rarotonga Backpackers. They have two facilities, one on the beach and one just up the road on the hill. I’m currently staying on the hill. Its a bit cheaper and the beach was full. The couple that owns it is very nice and they had an excellent BBQ last night with lamb and swordfish. The other residents are from all over, but mostly New Zealand and Australia. This is their “cold” season now and I guess this is the busy time for the Cook Islands.

Its a very nice place with a great location and super cheap. Something is usually going on every night. Wednesday night is an organized trip to a local bar. Fun.

If you ever fly to New Zealand and get a chance to stop over on Rarotonga, for the love of God do it. From what some people have told me, its only $150 more to do a Rarotonga stay over, especially if the dollar should ever rebound in the future.

Mc Donald’s Uber Alles

Posted by on May 15, 2007

If you notice the categories I use for posting items, I’ve added one for Mc Donald’s. In each place I visit that has a Mc Donald’s, I’m going to write a separate post giving a brief description of their menu, prices, and other things I find different.

Why would I do this? Why would an American go all the way around the world to eat at Mc Donalds?

Good question.

Because Mc Donald’s is the cultural equivalent of the compulsories in figure skating.

Let me explain….

In figure skating, they used to have the compulsories. That is where the “figure” in figure skating came from. In addition to the performance which they designed, everyone had to do a series of “figures” in the ice with their skate. Everyone had to do the exact same thing. It was an equal basis on which to evaluate skaters which didn’t have any artistic component. It was just ability.

I wanted something I could find in most every country that would be slightly different, yet similar enough to make comparisons, and see if those difference can be used to illuminate the differences between places. A compulsory for countries if you will. Something to use as an easy to understand proxy for something very complicated: culture. The obvious choices were international brands: Coke, Pepsi, Mc Donald’s, Mercedes, Nestle, etc. Not all of them are American brands. In fact, being American was really irrelevant to what I wanted to do.

We like to think of Mc Donalds’ as an American company. In a way it is, but in reality its a global company that happens to be headquartered in the US. That is not a small distinction. It was hard to find any differences in Coke products other than packaging. The formula might be a bit different in places, but that’s hard to really show. Most consumer goods companies (Nike, Addias, etc) didn’t have much difference in product between countries other than their advertisements. Cell phone manufacturers pretty much sell the same phones and its sort of hard to compare unless you buy a phone everywhere.

Mc Donald’s was the easy choice. Its ubiquitous and every locality does it a bit different. They have some things which are the same everywhere (chicken nuggets, big mac) and other things which are unique (Spam and rice in Hawaii).

I have no particular love for Mc Donald’s. I’m not going to eat at every Mc Donald’s, or even most of them. I’m also not anti-Mc Donalds however, nor am I an anti-globalization zealot.

So here is the first Mc Donald’s review: Papeete, Tahiti.

A large Big Mac combo was 890 XPF or about US$10. I went all Pulp Fiction and ordered a “Royale Cheese”, which seemed like a smaller version of a quarter pounder. The fries and drink seems about the same size as one in the US. The fries did have “Voted best fries in New Zealand” on the package. The only thing on the menu which I saw which was unique was chicken wings. Plain old chicken wings.