Well, we are finally on our way! We are now in the Cook Islands and having to get into travel mode with our electronic tethers. Actually, it has not been that hard. Spending a few days without cell service, internet, or WiFi is a good way to shift gears at the beginning of a trip I think. We finally got our WiFi sorted just in time to cry over the U.S. presidential election results. Enough said.
The last couple of weeks before leaving San Diego were a whirlwind which included a lovely 5 day trip up the coast to visit friends in the Santa Barbara and Los Angeles areas. Navigating through Los Angeles made San Diego seem like a breeze! We enjoyed three awesome days with friends who live up on Rincon Mountain, south of Santa Barbara. The weather was hot and sunny providing a good backdrop for surfing, hiking, visiting Ojai, and generally enjoying the incredible views from their mountaintop retreat. It was fantastic to catch up with our good friends Kim and Steve, whom we don’t often get to see. Here are some photos from that time.
After that, we stopped to see a friend in Santa Monica and then went on to spend a night in Burbank with another of Michael’s college friends. Anders and his lovely wife Anki gave us a quick tour, and we took a walk with their dog in Runyon Canyon Park. The views were great and there was a nice off leash dog park! We saw the Hollywood sign along the way and passed all kinds of landmarks. It was an all too brief visit, but wonderful to reconnect with them. Here we are on our walk.
The next day we spent the afternoon in Newport Beach with yet more college friends before finding our way back to San Diego. Here is Michael with some early college roommates. We definitely took the college buddy tour on this trip and it was great!
Once back in San Diego, we spent a fun evening at the opera enjoying Cinderella. The people watching at the opera was terrific, as was the performance!
The following weekend we jetted off to Chicago to attend the wedding of Michael’s oldest niece. The wedding was lovely, the weather cooperated, and it was nice to have a large group of the extended family together. The events were held at the University of Chicago, my alma mater. I had not returned there since I graduated a very long time ago, so it was interesting to see the changes that had taken place at the school and in the neighborhood. It felt a bit like being in a dream – everything was familiar, but fuzzy. I struggled to tug some forgotten memories out of my brain to make the picture come into focus.
Finally it was time for us to be on our way. Since we were to fly out of Los Angeles, we had to get to L.A. from San Diego. This proved to be easier than we thought. I highly recommend taking the train! We boarded the train in Solana Beach and rode it into Union Station in L.A. It was easy and comfortable. Our business class seats came with free WiFi, a terrific view of the beaches we passed, and even snacks and a drink! And no one had to deal with traffic.
In Union Station we transferred to a bus that goes directly to the airport every half hour. This also was easy, and inexpensive at $9 per person. LAX was a bit of a mess, but we got through it all okay. Our gate was about as far out as you can go in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. And then, when we boarded our Air New Zealand flight, we still had to take a bus even further! I had purchased exit row seating for the 10 hour flight to Rarotonga in the hopes of giving us, and especially Michael, whose legs are so long, a little more comfortable flight. It was nice to have the extra leg room, but the seats were slightly narrower due to the tray table being in the arm rest. Still, I guess it was worth it. A meal, a movie or two, some sleep, another meal, and the next thing you know we were landing.
Rarotonga is the gateway to the Cook Islands chain of islands. All the international flights land here. However, it is still a small airport and we deplaned via stairs from the jet and walked across the tarmac. The immigration line wasn’t too bad. We filled out the forms while we waited since the ground crew in L.A. had neglected to supply the flight crew with the forms to give us in flight. Our luggage arrived safely (Whew!) and customs declined to inspect it. Meanwhile, we were being serenaded by an older gentleman playing a ukulele and singing traditional songs in the airport. Not a bad start! Our Airbnb host, Carlo, was there to meet us despite the early hour, for which we were grateful. There was another couple on our plane who also were staying at the Tree House B & B. We waited a while for them and it turned out their luggage had been lost. Oh no! So glad it wasn’t us. Fortunately, it was found in L.A. and sent on to them via New Zealand, arriving two days later. We all piled into Carlo’s van and off we went. Carlo gave us a little tour on our way to his house and also obliged us by stopping at the ATM.
After settling in and unpacking a bit, we went off for a walk on the beach. Since we had arrived just after 7 a.m., it was still pretty early in the day, though it didn’t feel that way to me! The beach was just a short walk down a jungle path and we were there in about 3 minutes. Aaaaah, paradise! Rarotonga has a coral reef that surrounds the island creating a lagoon of varying width all the way around its circular shape. This creates a perfect place for snorkeling and swimming while being protected from the open ocean. Because of all the coral however, I immediately understood why reef shoes were recommended for walking on the beach. Flip flops also serve the purpose. There is white sand, but also many chunks of coral mixed in, which are quite sharp. Waves crashed on the reef, the water was warm, and there was an ocean breeze stirring the palm trees, so we had nothing to complain about. We walked the beach down to Black Rock, a local landmark, at which point I was starting to feel the effects of a rather poor night’s sleep. After a little rest on the beach, we started back. Michael was excited to see bonefish in the water.
At the Edgewater Beach Resort, next door to our own accommodation, we decided to stop for an early lunch and a drink. There is nothing quite like a Piña Colada to make you feel like you are on a tropical vacation! Though usually a bit sweet for me, having one seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Properly fortified, we returned to our rooms for a nap.
In the afternoon, we went down to the beach for a snorkel. The water was clear and warm and we swam down the beach in the lagoon and around various coral heads and outcroppings. There were lots of sea cucumbers and black tentacle-looking things stretching out from the rocks. We saw many colorful fish, some we didn’t recognize, and even a large grayish-white eel! He came out from under his rock and swam around near us so we got a good view. One of my favorites was the bright blue starfish! There were quite a few and the color was so dramatic against the more muted coral and sand. I also saw purple coral and sea urchins. All in all we had a wonderful time. I’ve snorkeled quite a bit in a lot of different places. This might not have been the best ever, but the conditions were pretty darn good with excellent visibility and easy access. After our swim we rinsed off by poaching the freshwater shower at the Edgewater next door, then dried off on the rocks. Later, after a shower and change in our room, we returned to the beach for sunset. It was a beautiful evening and a lovely sunset. For dinner we strolled back to the main road at the end of our driveway and ate at Tumunu, one of the oldest restaurants on the island. It was ok, but nothing to write home about, so I won’t bore you with the details. As you can imagine, we fell into bed exhausted that night and slept soundly.
Since then we have been acclimating to island life and exploring this beautiful place. For now I will sign off, but I’ll fill you in on our adventures with taking the bus, hiking, and a tour in my next post.
Until then, see you down the road!