super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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.




I know what I did last summer* – Rarotonga edition

I was going to write a blog post about the cool stuff I’m hoping to do this year and then it occurred to me I probably shouldn’t ignore the cool stuff I’ve already done so far – some of that, as far as I’m concerned, is very much worth writing about.

Like, for example, when I went to Rarotonga for Valentine’s Day and miscalculated everything and ended up letting the International Dateline eliminate the 14th of February 2011 out of our lives (we left Rarotonga at the end of the 13th of February and, four hours later, landed in New Zealand, where it was already the 15th of February. And yes, C. totally used that as an excuse not to get me a present. But then again, so did I).

That has been, so far, my most amazing experience this year. Why? Well, for one thing, it was a total last minute kind of trip, which I love. Much like the trip to Beijing in 2009 (which shall be blogged about too, just for the record), this was a last-minute spur of the moment kind of thing… one of those situations where you’re munching on your lunch at work, browsing websites, and come across an awesome promotion that you think you’d be silly to pass on. A few days after booking the tickets, we were boarding the flight to the biggest of the Cook Islands.

The first night was spent at the cheapest possible backpackers, which we nicknamed “cockroach palace”. We didn’t turn the light off to sleep, we didn’t even take our shoes off or open our bags, to avoid letting any creepy crawlies in – yep, that bad.

Luckily, the following nights were spent at what I believe to be the most amazing room at the most amazing resort on the island (I mean, it has to be because anything better would just blow up the scale of awesomeness). I ticked off the bucket list two things I’d never done before: snorkeling and kayaking.

The best part of the trip was, without a doubt, the cross-island trek with our local guide, Pa. I know it sounds lame but it was kind of life-changing. So amazing I should probably write a separate blog post about it but, in the mean time, I’ll just say that if you’re going to Rarotonga, you better book a hike with Pa otherwise you’ll be missing out on an amazing experience.

The island, albeit small (you can drive around the whole island in about 45 minutes), has a lot to see. The jungle is filled with little treasures and the beaches are much more beautiful than I could describe to you.

I know Rarotonga is out of reach for many people in the world – and that’s okay, you’ve got other little slices of paradise close to you. But the Cook Islands are too accessible to New Zealand and Australia to justify any Kiwi or Aussie missing out on them. Go. Go now. I tell you that, even if you miss out on Valentine’s Day, it’ll still be the best non-existent Valentine’s Day ever.

* As winter reaches New Zealand, I thought the next best thing about warm coats, hot cups of coffee and comfortable knitwear would be to remind myself of how much I enjoyed the past summer. It is also a good reminder of the good times to look forward to when the next summer comes around. Oh yes it is!