We planned to spend as little time as possible in Rarotonga and it was just as well, because the longer I stayed the more Truman show I felt. The plan was to arrive from Atiu late morning into Rarotonga and leave for Auckland at about midnight. It was not to be.
At the airport they announced the plane to Auckland was cancelled, because the pilot was sick. By this time I was a bit caffeinated as I had known I would be up all night (I don't sleep much on planes). The announcement that the flight was cancelled left me a bit excited; I am told I was 'all over the place' and 'talking all the time to everyone'. We queued up to have our fates decided for us.
There is always such a diversity of response to perceived adversity. We met three European back packers who were thrilled to be staying longer in Raro and especially to be put up for free in a resort. We gave them our left over vego pizza and they were thrilled with that too. Then we were accosted by Panini Man. He was furious about the cancelled flight and actually waved his arms around and pointed and shouted. He proclaimed that he had been forced to eat two paninis and drink a beer, and that was $31 dollars he would never get back. Wow. I imagined devious Cook Islanders holding him down, feeding him paninis and beer, and extracting $31 from his wallet. His plump sad wife looked on patiently.
When it came to us, I used my caffeinated state to employ the old Jedi mind trick. We had come from no accommodation and the back packers we had stayed in previously was not to be recommended. I focused my mind into a laser pointer of will, and silently projected 'Edgewater Resort, Edgewater Resort'. The person behind the counter said 'I will see if I can try to get you into the Edgewater Resort'. Whoah! It worked! These really are the droids you were looking for! We had not been overlooked.
Then came several long weird days at the Edgewater Resort.
There were activities. There was crab racing (don't ask). There were Island Nites. There were drinks with amusing umbrellas in them. There was a gift shop. It rained. Day by day there was no news about when we could be rebooked. We talked to others who were part of the now-famous Virgin Offload. They were all disgruntled and trying to get home to sit exams and go to sports tournaments and get back to their jobs. We met one couple who had been placed at Edgewater who found it just impossible there, just not their sort of place at all. Their own accommodation had been too expensive for the airline to cover. The woman just broke down with the awfulness of it. She cried and cried and cried and finally they went back to their previous place. When we met them next she was on a social media crusade against the horror that is airline offload.
I became withdrawn by the peculiar liminality of our situation. I imagined being at the Edgewater Resort for years and years, like Hotel California, sitting at the same table with the same drink (with its amusing umbrella), becoming a small ghost. I would die there and nobody would ever sit at that table again. I would just gradually grey out into the rain. I would write the great Cook Islands novel - which would be about an honest and deeply religious policeman who returned from the mean streets of South Auckland to his home on Mauke, only to be caught up in a terrible conspiracy involving murder and corruption in the very heart of the tourist industry. The novel would be discovered under my bed and published posthumously, to great acclaim.
We did stuff of course, went for walks and so on. During our previous stay we met up with a couple of Kiwi teachers on a contract to teach for three years. They had that terrifying world weariness of ex pats. They were well over Rarotonga. The locals were just unstable, they had funny names and they didn't seem to care about the right things. And they were fundamentally lazy, honestly, you just can't think about what will happen to your work after you have gone. You employ a gardener, and as soon as you turn your back they just stop work. They don't cultivate anything. They don't even care about their own arts and crafts. All the real work is done by foreigners.
So when we went walking we often commented on this. Whenever we saw cultivation we commented on the lazy sods who had clearly never done anything. You grow taro in swamps, for example. To grow taro you make a swamp, and then after you have cultivated the taro you have good land you can drain and plant things like tomatoes. It all looks a bit like work to me. We also commented on local people who were somehow overcoming their inherent laziness to do things like mow their lawns and trim their hedges. And we even saw a local woman going for a run. Now, that is a real proper western style legitimate activity because it involves expensive brand name shoes. Running without expensive brand name shoes isn't really running - it's just rushing around. It's probably even running away from something. In fact running without expensive brand name shoes is practically criminal.
Three days later we were among the lucky ones. Thanks to some ferocious lobbying from my travelling companion, and many international phone calls, we were on a plane. Others remained stranded in paradise, eating from their $50 a day vouchers and stressing about work and the costs of the cattery. But we were back in the cool of a New Zealand Spring, having enjoyed more than we bargained for.