Vacationing Off The Grid-the internet one

Months ago I made a spontaneous purchase from Air New Zealand and presented it as a gift to my husband for Christmas. A trip to Raratonga. He looked excited but also followed it up with, “Where is that?”


Where is it? The South Pacific. Remote Oceania. You know Fiji, Somoa, & American Samoa? Their neighbor to the south is the Cook Islands, and its main island, Rarotonga. Now independent from New Zealand, they still use New Zealand currency and are a popular vacation spot for Kiwis and Australians. 


For us, it’s a ten hour flight from LA and I was really looking forward to being away from everything. I decided to even take a social media vacation along with my vacation. Turns out I didn’t need a planned social media break, because internet on Raratonga is priced by the MB. So we saved our purchased MB for messages to our kids, no photos, those average about 2.5 MB. Have you ever thought about your every day data use? So many MB.

So what did we do? Sleep. We stayed at an eco retreat with only 6 individual above ground tents or structures. It was tucked away from the main road and the main tourist attractions. The only sound we often heard were birds, roosters, and the rain. The first night we slept from 8:30 pm until 6:30. It’s winter in Raratonga, so the nights are longer than at home. We also took naps whenever we felt like it.

I finished 3 books on the island. It would have been four, but it turned out that one book I bought was missing 32 pages in the middle. I borrowed a book from the small library at our retreat. We didn’t have a radio or a t.v. So books were the extent of my media consumption. The island has two radio stations and we occasionally heard them when in a taxi. We were oblivious to news. If we had really wanted too, we could have looked for it, but we needed a respite.


We also walked and hiked and rode the bus around the island. There is a bus that runs clockwise around the island every hour and one that runs counterclockwise every hour. So if you miss it, it’s a long wait. The bus costs 5 NZ  unless you buy the 10 ride punch card for 30 NZ. If you’re lucky, you will get on the bus with the driver who wears a microphone and sings the whole way.


We did a hike across the island that many people said was a good hike. It was a good hike, but it was also a strenuous and challenging hike. Steep, slippery slopes, across rocks and streams, through narrow passages where you had to climb over and under tree trunks, and down steep ridges with ropes. It took about 4 hours to do it, but we came out of the other side caked with mud, sweaty, but pretty satisfied with ourselves. The view from the top of the hike, by the Needle, was worth it. 

We attended the Highland Paradise show. It’s one of the main shows on the island, the reports have some too. Josie, at our retreat, recommended it to us and said it was culturally authentic. It started with a presentation of the history and culture of Raratonga and then moved forward showing the changes over the years through music and dance. We had a dinner and answered the most popular question from anyone who wasn’t American, So why is Donald Trump popular? I still don’t have an answer for that question. Sometimes they talked so fast, we couldn’t understand their New Zealand accents!

Most of the time I was lazy. And it was great. But along with the hike, we did kayak and ride bikes. So I guess we weren’t completely lazy. Everything was green and lush. Everywhere you looked was green with banana trees, coconut trees, and Pawpaw trees. People were friendly and will offer you assistance if you are walking along the road away from popular tourist areas. 

Rarotonga details:

Flight 

Air New Zealand: the island subsidizes air New Zealand flights from the US because they are actively trying to grow tourism. Which means we got a good deal. 

Stay

Ikurangi Resort

https://www.ikurangi.com/

In the Matavera area, off from the main tourist areas. They focus on sustainable tourism including Eco friendly soaps and toilet paper in the bathroom, and above ground structures to limit the impact of the environment.

Currency

New Zealand dollars, we usually got 1.35-1.40 for each US dollar.

Good to know

Renting a car or scooter is popular on the island. You do need a drivers license for the island, which is like 20 NZ and can be done quickly. Some scooter places were just 13 NZ a day. 

Water should be filtered at your resort or bottled, ask about it.

The island is protected by a barrier that creates the calm lagoon. Muri Lagoon is very popular for water activities, but the best snorkeling is in Fruits of Raratonga. Protecting the beauty of the Cook Islands is important for tourists to consider, so don’t step on coral, it is alive. Wear reef shoes and avoid getting close to breaks in the barrier, where the ocean current can pull you out.

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What’s Good Royal Caribbean?

Ok, so the last post was a list of complaining about my cruise and why it’s just not my cup of tea. So what was good on my cruise?

1. Tapas in the “park”

The cruise ship had a park. With real trees and plants (ok they were small trees). I usually visited it in the morning for coffee while I let my cabin mate sleep in. But one evening, I went to the Tapas restaurant (that costs extra mind you) and had gazpacho and Rosé while listening to jazz. Great way to unwind. 


2. Hiking in Loterie farm and preserve

So hard, but this was my highlight. I can’t believe I made it through the “not strenuous” part of the hike. It was uphill and downhill, included climbing up rocks and using ropes to pull myself uphill. I was drenched in sweat at the end. This hike requires water (had it), snacks (that too), mosquito repellent (check) and better shoes than I wore. But it made my strawberry sorbet at the treehouse lounge so much sweeter of a reward.



3. Balcony views: Always stunning.


4. Random Dunkin Donut experiences

In the Bahamas, I stopped at a random Dunkin donuts for coffee and a chance to consult the pictures of maps I took (no data). I found the local coffee shop retired group arguing about politics just like everywhere else I have lived. It must be some kind of rule that a group of older men can be found drinking coffee and arguing about things.

5. The Vitality Cafe

On days I worked out, I finished each work out with freshly juiced ginger, celery, cucumber, and apple. It made me feel like I wasn’t  just stuffing my face with bad food.


6. Entertainment: Mama Mia & Comedy 

The cruise ship had a variety of entertainment, but the two that I enjoyed were Mama Mia, which I hated as a movie (Pierce Brosnan should not sing) but enjoyed in this production. I also laughed a lot at the comedy show. It might have been the comedian making fun of the cruise experience that I completely related to, but it was funny!


7. Swimming in the Caribbean Sea

I did swim. And walked along the beach. And watched sailboats and people snorkel. And read a book. And relaxed.


8. Navigating islands alone without google maps

Most of the time data was inaccessible on the different islands. Even if T-Mobile said I  had 2G data, it was pretty nonexistent. So in order to get around the islands I took photos of maps, asked my husband to text me google map images (because texting worked) and relied on the kindness of strangers. On St. Maarten, a taxi ride to Loterie farm was quoted at $30 one way. Which was crazy to me, but I was standing in front of the place where all of the cruise ship passengers disembark, so I walked on until I spotted a van with sign in the window for Marigot. I didn’t know what it meant but I saw a passenger get on, so I hopped on too. $2 to the French side of the island and $11 taxi to the farm. Much better price and I rode with locals around the island. 

On St. Thomas, we rode the safari like van to Sapphire beach. On all of the islands, we realized driving was an adventure. Stop signs? Who needs those when your driver has a horn?

In the Bahamas, our stay was too short for long exploration, so I walked around churches and neighborhoods.

Cruise Ships: Why I am Not Their Target Demographic

Oops I did it again. Sometime I say yes when I should be saying no. I put a lot on my plate and then I say yes to more. Like while working on my final projects for my 6 units of grad school classes, I went on a 7 day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. In my defense, it was paid for already. It’s hard to say no to free.


And it was a cruise. It’s been a while, but I still recall a previous cruise to Mexico that caused me to say I am not a cruise person. But that one was Carnival, and it was only 3 days in an interior stateroom, a booze cruise, right? This cruise was going to be 7 says on Royal Caribbean. To three Caribbean islands. In a balcony room.

What I learned:

1. I still don’t like hoards of people. Buffets are not for me. And I don’t need unlimited alcohol, but I do need good coffee. And the organic, vegan, raw food, or preservative free food lifestyle has very little presence on a cruise ship (the vitality cafe did have fresh juices of your choice-I got celery, cucumber, Apple and ginger most days). Although gluten free diets and vegetarian options are readily available.

2. Excursions are short and hard to do in a way that you feel like you are really enjoying the place. But you can if you do some research in advance.

3. You can get a lot of work done with Royal Caribbean’s Voom wifi. 

4. The gym is a good place for me time. So is the healthy Viatality Cafe, which no one apparently hangs out at besides me.

5. Big boats don’t give me motion sickness like the carnival ship, cars, and trains often do.

6. If you are surrounded by French speaking people, some words you learned 3 years ago will start to come back.

7. Cruising in its current state is not for me still. The waste a cruise ship generates is hard to watch. The amount of resources used to make that much food, that much linen, and that much water usage. Wow. And I saw so many people have the attitude of get more, if you don’t use it, it’s ok because it’s free. I tried to hang up my towel each day, but state room attendants still cleaned my room twice a day and changed my towels and changed my glasses in the room, and changed my linen. Why? I am really curious about all of the recent trips on Adonia with Fathom by Carnival. Will that be the better experience? A volunteer cruise and a more mindful cruise?

8. And finally, the longer I am married, the more I don’t like to travel so long from my husband. We’re so accostomed to each other’s company. A week is long time a part. Who will get my jokes and listen to my annoying opinions and ideas? 

I am home now and headed back to work. Do I regret going? No. I generally try not to see the world in regrets. I learned more things about myself and saw places I have never seen.