super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


4 Comments

Hiking the cross-island track with Pa

The other day, while sorting out folders in the external hard drive, I came across the pictures of the morning spent hiking the cross-island track in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) last year. It is still one of the best hikes I’ve ever done and I remember that morning like it happened last week (sadly, it didn’t), when we made our way up to Te Rua Manga (commonly known as The Needle), through luscious South Pacific jungle.

We got picked up from our hotel early in the morning by Pa with his friend Susan, in Susan’s car. It was about 8AM and we could already tell it was going to be another scorching hot day. “So I read online the hike is supposed to take about four hours,” I said to Pa while Susan’s sports car drove on the only road on the island. “That’s if you do the suicide trail. With Pa, it’ll take you two and a half hours,” he replied from the front passenger seat, while I tried to get over my issue with people referring to themselves in the third person. As we drove through the village, it became fairly obvious that Pa is a local celebrity, given the number of “hey Pa!” and waves we saw. “Pa coming through! Pa coming through!” he kept shouting out the window, as Susan’s sports car zoomed through all the scooters on the road.

We had biscuits and water in our backpacks but Pa told us there was no need for any of that. That same morning, he had gotten up and smoked some fresh tuna himself and had also made us smoked tuna sandwiches with freshly picked lettuce and apple. On an another container, he had packed us up some bananas and starfruit (or carambola).

Pa recommends sturdy walking boots for the hike – and we quickly learnt why, as we started the steep 400m climb through intricate roots. Our guide, however, did it in jandals, even though, as he told us, he prefers to do it barefoot.

The track was much steeper than I had predicted and, in some places, there wasn’t much of a track at all. In some parts of the hike, there were so many little tracks going off in all directions that it made me wonder how anyone managed to do the trek without a local guide. And yet, carrying the lunch of the two sort-of-fit-but-not-really westerners behind him, Pa climbed up to the Needle and then down again, always at the slow but steady pace he had warned us about in the beginning. We made a few stops when he told us about the fauna and flora of the area, as well as many stories of his over 4000 times on the trek. We made our way through intricate roots – “they are your staircase” – and sweetened our way through the jungles with fresh guavas right off the trees.

He is, as he describes himself, “a spiritual man”. And also a herbalist, natural medicine guru, an endurance athlete, and fluent in several languages. He told us about his years away from the island, living in Germany and about his many children, scattered around the world, living their dreams. Always looking ahead, Pa told us of those who didn’t survive the trek and those who were so transformed by it that they returned to their countries but are still in touch with the guide on a regular basis. He told us about the famous TV personality in New Zealand, who hiked the track on the first day and, seeing Pa wearing no shoes, decided to do the same. And then proceeded to book two other cross-island treks in that same week.

That morning with us was Pa’s 4011th hike to the Needle, known in Rarotonga as the point of male energy. The Dalai Lama considered the Needle one of the eight remaining energy points in the world. Years ago, Pa led the Dalai Lama and his monks to the base of the rock, where they buried an urn with the 900-year-old remains on an ancient master. Pa pointed us to the urn, hidden under a fern.

From the top, the panoramic views show you an infinite sea and how the rugged jungle shapes the island. “I’ve pissed on each one of these mountains,” says Pa, pointing at all the high peaks in front of us and somehow managing to take away the poetry of the moment. “What about the Needle? Have you been right at the very top?” C. asked, looking at the sign saying “climb at your own risk” and the chain next to it. “Pa has climbed it 22 times! But I don’t go that way,” says Pa, looking at the chain. He points at the gap in the middle of the rock, hinting that that’s where he starts his climb. “Do you wear any climbing gear?” C. asks, later telling me he could tell what the answer would be. “Climbing gear? I wasn’t born with any gear! Pa climbs with a grass skirt,” he says, and then laughs, knowing damn well his answer is entertaining for his newfound white friends.

But then there was silence. It lasted a long time as we sat up on the top contemplating the views. I was the one who broke it after a while, when I had to ask him if he realised how lucky he was. I didn’t mean just him, I meant every single person living on that island. With his back leaning on the Needle rock, his eyes looking right into the sea, he said: “Having travelled to other countries and lived in other places, yes, I know exactly how lucky I am”.

If you’re visiting Rarotonga, make sure you get in touch with Pa for one of the best eco tourism experiences of your life. He lives up on the mountain but comes down to take people on the track about three times a week (he opened an exception for us and took us alone on a Saturday, even though he normally takes people in groups and only during the week). For more information or to make a booking, click here.

 

Advertisements


1 Comment

Hiking up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s tomb

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
 

We only had one day in Apia (the capital of Samoa, on Upolu island) before catching the ferry across to Savai’i so the list of things we could see there had to be very limited. On top of that list was seeing the house where Robert Louis Stevenson had lived, as well as the place where he was buried, on top of Mount Vaea.

With no time to waste, we landed in Samoa, picked up our rental car, dropped our bags at the hotel (which we chose partially due to its proximity to this particular attraction) and headed straight there. We didn’t make it into the house (now a museum) but accessed the bush track that leads up to his tomb through the museum grounds anyway.

It was an incredibly hot and humid day and our bodies, still very much used to winter, weren’t coping very well with it. The hike is not long but it is fairly steep so we were glad we had taken plenty of fluids to keep us going. You can choose the short and steep track or the long and supposedly easier one. We chose short and steep because, really, we just wanted to get up there and be done with the hiking part of it.

After a brief moment of panic, when we had to stop for me to regain my dignity and stop crying because I’d seen a big black lizard staring right at me (remembering it now still makes me a little shaky, if I’m honest), we started the steep climb.

Having what felt like a hundred mosquitoes choosing me as their dinner for the day on top of the hill meant that we were only there long enough to take a few photos and admire how lucky RLS is to be forever resting facing those views from the top of the hill (and he didn’t even have to climb it himself!). He loved Samoa and Samoa loved him back – and still does. The name Stevenson is everywhere, proving he’s still a very important part of Samoa’s life.

The day was cloudy and we even got some much welcome rain on our hike back down so I can only imagine how much more spectacular those views must be on a clear day. Not a bad resting spot, Robert Louis. Not bad at all.


Leave a comment

Throwing coconuts into blowholes

 

The Alofa’aga Blowholes in Savai’i are one of the coolest things to see in Samoa. The whole visit takes only a few minutes but the blowholes are pretty impressive, even on a calm day like the one when we visited, last Saturday.

I’m no expert on these things but the internet says these blowholes are among the most impressive in the world and who am I to doubt the internet, right? We didn’t have much time and had to make a short list of the shortlisted things to see in Samoa but I’m glad we included a visit to this place.

We visited the blowholes during my Saturday of doom – I was sick the entire day (and by sick I mean I felt like I had gone to Savai’i to spend my final day). It’s surprising I even remember seeing these, since I don’t actually remember everything from that day.

Still, I marveled at how high the water goes when it roars through the lava tubes and, most of all, I marveled at John’s braveness as the old Samoan villager threw coconuts into the blowhole, only to have them spat out in his direction just a second or two later. His timing was impeccable and he always moved to the right place, which makes me think he’s quite experienced at it.

The blowholes can be accessed through the village of Taga, in South Savai’i. You will pay a small access fee to one of the villagers and can then park very close to the blowholes.

We had the company of some village kids who no doubt see this phenomenon all the time but still stood near us while we watched it.