|525> Stung by a stonefish in Aitutaki + other South Seas adventures from handwritten archives (1990)|
Aug. 9 [1990—Rarotonga, Cook Islands]
So now I'm in Rarotonga and what a difference! I don't quite know what is, just far more enjoyable. Hard to believe just this morning i was still in Tahiti. I don't know, that place just had bad vibes. At 20 to 9 Coco came out and told me the truck to the airport was leaving at 9. Everything was out of my pack and scattered all over my tent. I did manage to wash all my clothes the day before with soap and even dried them. So i shoved everything in bags and finished packing at the airport. After all, i had 4 hours to kill there. Saw all the same travellers i'd been running into over and over in Tahiti and Moorea. From the moment the plane landed i loved Rarotonga. Just the way people were hanging out super chill, the airport just a little roof, no walls and a bad folk singer in the corner belting out cheesy songs. Immediately surrounded by all these ladies giving me advice, telling me to not stay at Tiare village, "I used to work there, no good." Nice to hear english, and friendly people (as opposed to Tahiti). There was a main hostess woman, the spitting image of Maude (from Harold and Maude) who introduced me to all the various guesthouse owners, not to mention her family and friends, airport officials, etc. Everyone super friendly, they all come to the airport when planes come just to hang out and meet new people. She introduced me to [J], the woman who runs Matareka heights, who was rad so i chose her place. J had to wait around for this british girl [Brit] who lost her bags, so the Maude woman gave me a ride in her car, after dropping off her sister-in-law and showing me around Avarua, driving on the "wrong" side of the road ... a first for me [driving on the left]. Matareka Heights is up on this hill with a great view. When J came back w/ [Brit] (on her motorcycle), she gave me a ride to the store. Loads of fun, J is really cool and knows everybody, everyone is super friendly and they say "catch you later." It's a big 3 bedroom house, each room fits about 3. Right now there is a couple from Holland, a couple from Switzerland, a couple from Canada, a strange writer from Florida, Brit and me .. all cool people, might hang out here a while. I am sitting here watching Cook Island T.V... only 20,000 people in all of the cook islands, yet they have their own TV station, radio station, etc. The TV programming is hilarious, totally b-grade, like home videos. During commercials, people buy ads to just say Happy Birthday to so and so and show baby pictures. I'm thinking of splurging and going to Aitutaki, supposedly one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The only thing is it costs about $200 NZ ($150 US) for the flight there and back and 4 nights accommodation. But there's no other way to go. Since i didn't go to Bora Bora might have to just go for it.
So I'm going to Aitutaki, boy am i siked. Going with the British girl [Brit]. We went to the travel agent together so they assumed we were a couple and booked us a double. There was an awkward moment where we were like, err, we're not really together, but what the hell, i don't care if you dont? Saves money. Should be interesting.. we've been hanging out the past 2 days and she's fun, and pretty too. Yesterday we took bikes down this crazy unpaved road to the store, then cruised around "downtown" Avarua. Went to bookstores looking for books on cook island legends and Robert Frisbie's Puka Puka, recommended by my roommate [Florida] (the guy from Florida) who is a writer who's been all over the south pacific hunting down "strange stories". Can't decide whether he's crazy, i don't think he's actually had anything published. He's a veteran with something wrong with his leg, maybe where he gets the money to do all this travelling. I read one story he left out on the bedside table about a guy from San Francisco who sells his porsche to buy a yacht which he entices his wife to travel around the world in .. quite a normal Hemingwayish story, sum cocaine and Cubans thrown in for good measure, until the last paragraph... His wife is getting increasingly annoyed with him, says she needs some sleep so she takes some sleeping pills and while she is sleeping he takes steaks out of the freezer to chum sharks then throws her overboard. Nice. And i'm sharing a room with this psycho. We've been hanging out all morning cuz it's sort of raining and gray out, listening to Cowboy Junkies and drinking tea. Recovering from last night. Went to the infamous "Banana Court Bar" .. a sign out front bills themselves as the "most famous bar in the South Pacific" .. in a rundown shabby warehouse. No decorations. Empty at first but people started showing up, mostly locals, then a band came on and they were rad. At times like the Grateful Dead or Velvet Underground playing polynesian tunes and Bob Marley covers, ½ in english, ½ in Maori. They even did a Willie Nelson song and they guy did a pretty good imitation, then a not bad rendition of a Dire Straits song. The locals mix their hip-swinging native style in with the regular western stupid way of dancing, quite festive. And then they had a floor show, native dancing in 8 acts, women, then men, then the "little darlings" and then they went out to grab partners (of course singling out the gringos, who were mostly sloshed by this time so didn't matter). Meanwhile people were throwing coins onto the dancefloor and putting bills in the coconut-shell bikinis the women wore... and then the finale, the coconut dance. I was in awe. This huge woman comes out on the dance floor gyrating her hips 100 mph an hour. She had a coconut that she started ripping apart with her bare teeth, totally fearsome. Completely peeled the coconut with just her mouth, something i had trouble doing just this afternoon with a machete. It was awe-inspiring. Then back to regular dancing. People started passing out on the dancefloor, everybody smashed. Guys were trying to grab Brit and thrusting their hips around and the big women were grabbing unsuspecting lone nerdy gringos and viciously dancing with them. We pretended we were together just to avoid getting attacked, all in good fun.
First, i'll describe the room i'm in... rectangular and the walls are lined with these prim and proper couches, perfectly aligned pillows, all in flowery material. A table sits in the middle covered with fruits. All properly arranged. Gideon bibles sit on small coffee tables next to each couch. On the walls are family photos, old black and whites of Cook Islanders, lots of baby pictures. Each frame has a cowry necklace hanging from a corner. The colors and decor extremely gaudy and corny. A young man is taking the food away and replacing it with flower arrangements. This Swiss guy [R] is sitting next to me reading the LP Guide to Cook Islands, he's at the part about Cook Islanders and their cannibalistic practices. He asks 2 innocent looking teenagers, "did you know you used to be cannibals?" They grin and say, "twasn't me, that was them." They read over his shoulder as he reads a 3 paragraph recipe on how they used to cook people. He asks me, what does s-i-n-g-e mean? So i tell him and he reads on, "they singe the meat over an open fire, rotating it on a spear. The—, what means t-h-i-g-h?" I slap by own to show him. "The thighs are the best joint." The Cook Islanders look on with avid interest, asking where he got this book.
So me + Brit are at this crazy house run by this family from this island. After a one hour flight on a 16-seater plane we arrived. The only plane i've been on that not only do they weight your luggage, but they weigh YOU! (Some of the islanders are massive). Then they situate you accordingly, some of the women taking up 2 seats, yet they pay the same as me. Seems they should pay by weight! Not to mention all the bananas and oranges they bring. [Apologies to the people i've since told that they charged by weight in the Cook Islands, that became the version of the story i remember as true]. The flight was beautiful, though cloudy and at times raining. Arriving at Aitutaki was intense, a big triangular shaped patch of turquoise blue in a sea of rich dark blue. As we approached, different shades of blue appear, patches of coral, white water washing over the fringes of reef. Tiny one tree islands dot the lagoon. In one corner of the atoll is a fairly large island a few miles in circumference. We landed on a dirt runway with a little shack that says "Sambos Ice Cream" that serves a dual purpose as airport. A sign has arrows pointing in many directions, Los Angeles 3951, Papeete 567, etc. A van hitches up to the luggage cart and just takes it with us to the various guest houses. We arrived to Tiare Maori in this waiting room that i described. Geckos eye us from all over the walls. A sign says no alcohol in the house and to take off our shoes. The lady looked flustered counting to her self and left us sitting for a ½ an hour before i got impatient and asked what we were doing and she showed us to our room, which does have 2 beds. Could've been an awkward situation. The other people coming on the bus were hugging the people that live here and calling them mama and papa. Brit and I seem to be the only ones that aren't related to the family. Strange situation and they have this slightly psychotic religious aura to them, sitting around these chairs and engaging in strained conversation. It wasn't long before we went to "Island night" at the Rapae. Big touristy spread of every food imaginable, fruit, taro root, taro tops (like spinach), salads, raw fish in coconut, milk, curried chicken, roasted fish, roasted meats, etc,... being a vegetarian, Brit only paid ½ price, tho i had to pay full price cuz i ate fish. Yum. The band played while we ate. This old man across from me yelled at the top of his lungs, but i still couldn't hear a word he said. I just nodded in agreement—the old man i met on the plane with a cane and mold on his nose. Seriously, greenish-white mold, and spit drooling off his lip. Before Rarotonga he was visiting friends in Menlo Park that lived on Santa Cruz ave 1157 to be exact [same street my grandmother lived on a few blocks away, where i was before leaving on this trip]. Small world.
After the dinner they had live entertainment, almost the same as what we saw at the Banana Court minus the savage coconut women, and more subdued for tourists. We split across the street to Kino's bar... that place had more soul, series of open-aired thatched roofs. One housed the bar, another the band and others individual tables, full of locals only. The palapa with the band had dayglo neon lights and spraypaint all over. The pattern of entertainment the same, first live band w/ electric guitar playing eclectic mix of rock and folk. [... ] Then traditional dancing, in hula skirts of coconuts leaves and cowrie headdresses. They had lots of energy, the men yelling stuff in Maori and frantically jumping around to the spastic log drumming and chanting, within minutes they were drenched in sweat. Meanwhile we were sitting under open stars taking it all in, when it began to pour. Everybody huddled under the little roofs, which developed leaks all over and people would redisperse to whatever dry spots they could find. And they danced on. The audience participation part came and some tribal guy pushed me on this shy girl and instructed me to dance, and we had to go one by one in front of everyone, and this 1 guy really wanted me to get it right so kept demonstrating how to simultaneously wiggle my knees back and forth while thrusting my hips + waving my arms around frantically around in a sexually suggestive way ... really embarrassing. Brit had my camera, but of course it malfunctioned. All for the better. We danced (western style) after that for quite a while then went home in the rain and got drenched. So stereotypical, get home late, soaking wet, both remove our clothes down to our underwater and wash up, but then we just said good night, i dont think neither of us feel attracted in that way. But she is sweet and fun. She told me she had a fling with some surfer dude in Hauhine that broke her heart and went back to S.F. so was rebounding from that, or "knackered" as she says—a word Brits use to express tiredness after sex. [... more on relationships]
Somewhere in the last 2 pages we went on an island excursion on rental bikes, on these unpaved jungle roads that at times turned very muddy, past all these friendly islanders, everybody stopped what they were doing and smiled and waved. There's more churches on this island then there are houses, dozens of churches we passed, for an island of population of 800. We went up and up til we got to the top of this grassy hill with 2 water tanks with a great view of the surrounding reef. Many shades of blue and grey from the unpredictable and electric sky. I climbed the water tower to have a look and my glasses fell off my shirt to the bottom of the tank. I was contemplating a swim anyway so it was decided. Stripped down and jumped in. We laid in the sun after, on a little strip of metal, and Brit was saying how this was how her fling with the surfer dude happened, on the deck of the ferry to Bora Bora, he offered her a section of his surfboard to lay on and "well, that's how it happened. Under the stars in the south sea." We laid there a while dozing off, but nothing of the sort happened here. Ends up she's a computer science major, so can actually talk about math and science unlike with most people. I'm not sure why i'm not taking this opportunity for a south seas romance, she's intelligent and beautiful and a lot of fun. Guess there just isn't a spark. We allude to the irony of the situation, everyone we meet asks us, husband-wife? Boyfriend-girlfriend? And we keep saying no, we're just travelling together, and they look baffled. Why can't a male and female just travel around and not physically involved without it being a big deal? I guess i'm attracted to her physically, it's just not overwhelming enough, and it would just complicate things. Strangely our travel plans coincide, which is convenient on one hand, but on the other if things went sour it would be awkward running into eachother. I'm still unsure tho, spose i'll just see what happens.
Woke up and went to church (it's Sunday). Sounds weird to say that, but i went for the singing, which was incredible. Sat with the school kids in a mish-mash of uncoordinated uniforms, some in bare feet, some sneakers, some sandals, led by 4 women in uniform in cowboy hats carrying 4 flags—the New Zealand, British, Cook Islands and the "Boys and Girls Club" flag. Each was handed to the priest who placed them on the altar. The people would spontaneously start singing beautiful hymns with no cues. The acoustics were great and the sound full and rich, deep bellowing male tenors and whiney nasal big mama altos that sounded a lot like Bulgarian voices. Mixing church singing with native influence. All in their sunday best, women in big wide-brimmed hats and white dresses. Everyone jolly in good spirits. Most of the sermon was in Maori. Then a choir sand which sent shivers down my spine, men with heads tilted back and women rocking and swaying back and forth, some with kids in their arms, the harmonizing rich fill. Gotta get a tape of this stuff.
After church explored the southern part of the island by myself on foot while practicing harmonica. Through mangroves and jungle amidst falling coconuts (3-4 close calls, within ~20 feet) and crabs running to their holes. The grass grows right up the aqua-colored lagoon and even into the water. Incredible views of the outer "motus" and reefs. Went inland and saw some "maraes", a field of large carved stones, tho all the carvings had been defaced, destroyed by missionaries. Found a ripe papaya tree and ate the whole thing. Yum. Got stuck in the rain and massacred by mosquitoes. These 2 local boys followed me around for a while. Met this couple catching crabs from their holes with a fishing pole that came all the way from Alaska on their Yacht. [...]
Brit is gone as well as [E and R]. It ends up E is a travel writer for Moon publications. So he gave me lots of tips about Fiji and P.N.G. and Indonesia. Seems like a dream job, they pay all his travel and he goes to places like this and waits for travellers like me to tell him about places we've been or stayed (he takes notes when you talk to him). Once again on my own. We spent the last day on the outer island tour. Went on a boat with 4 other people out to Motukitiu where they dropped us off for a few hours. The trip was spectacular, like a giant aqua swimming pool, the lagoon is about 20 sq km and varies in depth, up to 25 feet, but mostly around 5-10 ft. The wind was very strong and we were getting pounded with waves, totally drenched. Brit looking like a drowned rat, told me she was expecting a calm joyride. Walked around the island, Brit was really into snorkeling so went out on my own to the reef (where 10 foot swells pounded on the other side). Didn't see anything spectacular, except a large Moray, otherwise the usual assortment of tropical fish. The current was strong as i could swim, like snorkeling in a river. It was a lot of work.
Came back and opened a coconut on a blunt stick and sharp rock. Best coconut i've ever had. "Reka". F and M (2 girls at the guesthouse) say that's how you say yum in Maori. Then our guide took us to "One Foot Island" .. so named because of a legend where a father and son were escaping fierce warriors. They got to this island and the father carried his son on his shoulders to a tree which he climbed. They came and killed the father but assumed he was the only one since there was only 1 set of tracks. All sorts of things like that here. Some rock down by the wharf you're supposed to step on to avoid getting hurt. Then they cooked us a delicious lunch of papayas, oranges, bananas, coconut, tomatoes, bread and parrot fish, which is very tasty. Reka. One Foot Island is too beautiful for words. It has wild cats on it, which eat rats and geckos, and who greedily drank a liter of water from my pouch as fast as i could pour it.
Came back to the guest house and said our goodbyes with F, M and R, who have basically adopted me as their big brother and demand piggy back rides all the time. We picked a whole bucket full of frangipani flowers to make necklaces. They would climb away in the branches, that would break under anyone else's weight, and throw handfuls of flowers at me which i had to catch. If i hurry up i might make sunset.
Today was walking and picture-taking day. Walked around the north part of the island with a side excursion of 2 km out to the reef (in the water) and 2 km straight up the highest mountain on the island—all in all, walked 23 km, about 13 miles on sand, coral, rocks, mangrove swamps, airstrips, reefs, cliffs, and mosquito-infested jungles, and a village with singing children. Woke up and it was pouring, not like these daily showers, but torrential downpour. Cleared up finally and it was low-tide so i decided to go out on the reef. In front of the guesthouse there is a sandbar and coral ridge going out almost a km to the reef. I walked all the way out without even having the water go above my knees. This was the same place the Italian guy stepped on a stonefish yesterday and is in the hospital. He is okay, but it will take 4-5 days before he can walk. I had my trusty reef shoes tho, thick-soled plastic shoes, and there were sea cucumbers everywhere, which supposedly you can rub on if you get stung (or so i was told). I walked to the reef and it was incredible. Walking in clear shallow water with tons of coral and bright-colored fish. Didn't even need to snorkel. Every once in a while are narrow channels running through the coral for the water to drain. I came across a fisherman chasing fish into nets and spearing some. Right as i walked up he speared a parrotfish.
After that i headed north, kept running into the other Italian, by lava formations, by a stonefish (he's the one who's friend got stung), by bleached coral beaches with many shells, all the way around the corner to Aitutaki resort hotel, accessible by a footbridge. The way back i went on the road, stopping to eat coconuts, all in all drank 3 and ate a whole one. I'm getting very efficient at husking them with my bare hands, but i had to hurry if i saw in one place or the mosquitoes would attack. Then i had to run to get away. I went up to the top of Mt. Maungapu where there was a splendid view of the whole surrounding lagoon and island for 360°. Legend has it that the Aitutakians went to Rarotonga, for they originally had no mountain and they stole the top of Mt Raemaru by sticking their spears in from all sides and chopping the top of it off then carrying it back intact in their canoes. To this say Raemaru has a distinctly cut off flat-topped appearance. Anyways, i sat on top of Mt Manugapu for quite a while waiting for sunset but it got cloudy on the horizon and became dark gray so i came back (I was so thirsty that at the top i climbed the only coconut tree in the area to get a coconut. Reka!).
The mind is a coral atoll. The dreaming soul is the dreaming lagoon. The confining skull is outer reef. The coral itself is the brain tissue in which thoughts of all colors, shapes and sizes dart in and out of the folds of coral. A ship is an invitation to freedom—the old schooner blown by the wind, but susceptible to sometimes cruel tumultuous dark blue sea. The wind does not always blow lightly. Sometimes it takes you nowhere, just in circles at hundreds of miles an hour, throwing you into cold dark hell. The cold dark blue tugs greedily at your mind in surges sending white froth over the barrier and int the aqua-blue safety. Low tide is a calm dreaming mirror, high tide wakes you with waves of new reality. The island body lies in harmony with the liquid mind, surrounded like a moat by its buffering presence. The island teems with life, its own ecosystem, all in balance. It breathes the air and drinks rain. It tries to look into the lagoon to understand its dreams, but only sees blurred blobs and swirls. It's complacent in the tropic sun and under south sea stars. In the middles lives the volcano, time bomb waiting to explode from within, destroying everything, even the lagoon. The baby is a barren but fertile mountain. It's skull is soft but the ocean will soon harden it and fill its surrounding lagoon. Coconuts wash ashore and take root. Birds fly in.
[at this point i had to switch to writing with my left hand for reasons which will become apparent, here's the actual page:]
[+ in case u cant read it:]
Hmm, lets see if this works,... Legible but this could take a while, but i've got lots of time. So yesterday i decided to try my luck fishing and boy did i catch a big one! I walked out to the reef taking much precaution against stonefish. I even stepped on one, but i had my trusty reef shoes on. Even so, scared the shit out of me, threw me off balance and my shoe came off. Whew! Close call. Also saw 2 jellyfish. So i was worried about them too, when suddenly a big purple cloud appeared between my legs. I must have jumped clear out of the water. I was on edge. It was only an octopus that i had frightened and scared the ink out of him. Fishing on the reef was fun. They have big cuts in the reef that go down deep and bound with all sorts of fish. The only problem is that they kept breaking my line. I only had 6 lb line and the coral was sharp. The tide came in so i went to fish off the jetty. The jetty is essentially a bulldozed mound of rocks. I wandered out to the end (the middle part had been washed away). I threw in my line (rolled on a rusty beer can, using snails i picked off the rock as bait), and sat drinking a coconut, and suddenly caught a grouper with a huge mouth. But what was i to do with it? Let it rot in the hot sun? So i went to make a little pool to put it in. I checked first with my foot, dragging it across the surface. I was damn sure nothing was there, and it was about an inch of water, right off shore. But obviously i'm writing this with my left hand ... i started digging when—gotcha! I couldn't fucking believe it. Immediately there was a tremendous pain in my ring finger. I looked down and started digging with my foot and sure enough, there he was under 2 inches of gravel. Still wriggling to bury himself further. Come to think of it, he's probably still trapped there. I should burn him alive (the islanders eat stonefish). Anyways, i didn't pay much heed to the advice "don't panic".. stuck on a jetty in stonefish-infested waters. I immediately grabbed a black sea cucumber and rubbed it on the wound, a remedy some local told me the day before. I contemplated just immediately cutting out the whole wound or sucking the poison but i wasn't familiar with this poison and didn't know, what would happen if i had it in my mouth? I took off my shirt and wrapped it around my arm as could feel the pain shooting up my arm. I made it to shore. I must have looked like a madman, blood streaming from my finger which was turning black and purple before my eyes, the other arms twisting it off , stumbling, drenched in sweat, wincing in pain, my arm involuntarily spazzing out and mumbling "hospital, stonefish". At this point things were taking on a certain dreamlike quantity and my memory of it is very vague. I was put on the back of this guy's moped. He was very distraught that it was so slow going up the hill. I got off the bike and went into the hospital, felt like i was losing consciousness. Everything was getting darker on the edges. I remember thinking this is what it must feel like to die. Reality in a series of concerned faces. It wasn't me that was talking or walking. A nurse came in and put a tourniquet on my finger, and then said there was nothing else she could do. For what, the pain? Or my life? Then this woman in plain clothes came and told me the hospital had no medicine but that she could take to her house where her father (a medicine man) could use traditional herbal medicine. I was like, sure, anything to stop the pain. It was unbearable and was making its way up my arm and had reached my elbow. So i got on the back of her motorbike and she took me to this shack in the jungle up in the hills. It was hard to even hang on. They led me into this dirt-floored kitchen while she blurted out orders to the rest of the family, all in Maori. They're english was not very good. The "medicine man" wasn't home, but she knew what to do. A kettle was put on to boil, a kid was sawing a branch of the chipani (in english, frangipani) tree. The one that has the jasmine-like flowers they make necklaces out of. A piece of foam was thrown outside in the drawing yard and i was told to lie down. Immediately i was covered with like 50 mosquitoes. I didn't even care, I'm sure they would die from the poison. They threw a cover sheet over me. The whole family was there, grandma, grandpa, their 9 children and their army of little kids—friends, neighbors, ½ of them lying on the floor next to me massaging me from head to toe, wiping the sweat, swatting the mosquitoes away, singing and generally just trying to cheer me up to keep my mind off the pain. And it worked. There hospitality was not to be believed. This large woman came in with a needle (with the thread still attached, nice homey touch) and began opening the wound. Obviously not the most sanitary conditions, unsterilized needle, and they would just wipe blood away with the sheet i was laying on (on the dirt floor), but i wasn't complaining. The pain of her sticking the needle into my finger and gouging was almost a relief compared to the poison. They kept telling me to cry, that most people do, even grown men. Boiling water was poured into this pot. The bark from the frangipani had been stripped away and the green part grated into this milky goo which they wrapped in a sock. She then soaked this in the boiling water then wrang it out in the wound, prying it open. This went past the threshold of pain to the point where it was almost smoothing. The race was on. The frangipani began chasing the poison up my arm. After a few times of this i just stuck my finger right in the white cloudy mixture until i could no longer tolerate the pain, careful not to "cook" it. After about 10 minutes the pain receded down my arm and was concentrated in my hand and fingers. They were still not satisfied and said that pain should all be gone. With concerned, confused and earnest faces they held a sort of family conference—everybody looking at my hand and trying to decide if there was a second hole or whether i should go back to the hospital. I was moved around in the meantime to this quiet bedroom to see if i could sleep then onto the living room couch. Everybody was running around giving me more and more pillows. Grandma joked that they would break my neck with pillows. Through all of this she had been caressing my arm, giving me backrubs and even massaging my legs, and telling me stories even though i didnt understand what she was saying. The final verdict was that the stinger must have gone very deep. So they got the needle and put the kettle back on and got another frangipani branch. She dug her way into the swollen purple finger oozing with blood, pus and poison. By this time my hand and ½ my forearm was swollen to the point that the skin felt like bursting, especially the fingers. They said 1 of the reasons it wasn't working was the nurse back at the hospital had put the tourniquet on too tight. After the second session i felt much better and fell into a sort of sleep/dream like state. Everybody was outside chattering away in Maori and laughing, telling stories. I woke up and realized i was in this strange house looking at family pictures and many pictures of jesus hanging on the cross. The son standing guard at the door announced i was awake and they rushed about preparing food. 1 of the daughters came out with a platter of food then leaned over virtually pouring her massive breasts into my face then gave me a coy smile and introduced herself as M. She retreated to the corner where her and her sister giggled and sat smiling at me. The rest of the family was there too, all watching me eat. There was a big plate of greasy chicken, breadfruit, bananas, tomatoes, banana, taro and areu root [arrowroot— which googling now is supposedly good for poison and blood-clotting] pudding— all garnished with flowers and with water. Grandma was at my feet saying "eat boy eat".. not only were eating utensils not the custom here, but neither were napkins. I began greedily devouring everything in sight, scooping the pudding with my left hand and even eating the chicken [i was vegetarian at the time] so i wouldn't offend them This made them very happy, though every time i paused to take a breath, grandma kept saying "laitu" which i guess means "keep on eating". They were not satisfied until i finished, all eyes upon me. The woman that did the surgery walked in and said something in Maori, which i'm guessing was "didn't you give him a spoon?" but they looked at me very efficiently scooping handfuls of pudding with my left hand, and said something which i'm guessing was "he seems to be doing just fine without" or "maybe they don't use them in his country" and they all laughed. M came back once again and launched her breasts into my face, smiling the whole while, and took away my dishes. So here i was lying in this strange house with many eyes upon me, both hands dangling helplessly in the air, 1 covered with blood and pus, the other covered with grease and pudding, and my face covered with chicken grease, sweat and mosquitoes, and still feeling a great deal of pain though of a different, tolerable kind. It was now just numb and incredibly sore. My hand still looks like the Michelin tire man's hand and i cannot move any of those fingers. They did finally bring me a bowl of water to wash up with then they called the guesthouse where i was staying and within seconds "pa" (everybody here is "pa" or "ma") who is actually grandpa, was there, like a concerned parent. And to top it off they flat out refused any sort of payment, kind of situation where it would be an insult on their hospitality to insist. I didnt have any money on me anyway. Their only request was that i gave "ma" a kiss, she came and patted my forehead and did likewise. Talk about a contrast between American "hospitality".. i told them this was the best hospital i'd ever been to and they all laughed (not sure they got the pun). So pa took me back to the guesthouse of invalids—ma's still sick (itch all over) from eating a poisonous fish one of her guests gave her, M and F both have a flu of some sort—surprised the whole family doesn't get it as they all sleep in the same bed—and the Italian guy that got stung 2 days before me is still bed-ridden. I went to visit him and he was still comatose, just back from a few days in the hospital. He seemed a little peeved that i was in good spirits thought i'd just been stung just hours before. Not to say that i'm still not in pain. All i can do now is wait for the poison to leave—they said weeks, but i think it is improving a lot already. I've drunk at least 5 liters of water since and can feel the poison as i urinated, unless it's psychological. This morning i took a shit and all this bright orange oil came out. Cool! I was fascinated.
Back in Rarotonga. Things here are quite different then when i left (at Matareka Heights). Brit is here, but down in the main house. There are about 10 people here, i already know all of them, people i have run into elsewhere. The 3 beach bum swedes that knew me with Dengue fever in Moorea are here and know me as the one arm dancing fool. Y—the big Paul Bunyan like German who runs a bookstore is here, "stuck here" as he said, after a wild night at the Banana Court he missed his flight. The only way home is to fly first class with a layover in Tahiti for 3 days. Tough life. Florida is still here, insane as ever, always boiling water but never drinking [unreadable] and he cant let a second pass without their being shitty background music on [?] J and C—the Norwegian couple—are still here, wild as ever. I got back yesterday and we all went out for another night at the Banana Court. The placed was packed, everybody plastered, hollering and hooting it up. [wherein i describe night in too much detail ...] we had a great time people watching, meeting all sorts of people, locals and travelllers from all over the world. I would spot a guy from across the room and bet Brit a beer he was California and sure enough he was a surfer from San Diego. Blown away i was from Santa Cruz, but disappointed i didn't surf nor have ganja. Got up this morning and Brit was gone. Didn't do much today except read the cliff notes to Ulysses. Well the sun is setting reminding me i have a dinner date with this couple from Sweden, P and S.
Lost a day somewhere. Yesterday I went to church for the adrenalin fix from the singing. The old rustic church. I was standing leaning against the wall then went to sit down and a large chunk (5 lb) of the wall came crashing down with me. It made a tremendous noise which was followed by a silence in which every pair of eyes were upon me and my arm still in bandages. Then everybody burst out laughing. It was definitely one of the more embarrassing moments of my life. I left a few dollars to the restoration fund as i left. My last few days here have been lazy ones. Reading, writing letters, hanging out in front of foodland and Trader Jack's [the inspiration for Trader Joe's?]. By now everyone in this town knows me. If not as the swollen-armed stonefish victim, then the church destroyer. And i still run into people i saw in Moorea under the influence of Dengue fever. Finished Jack London's stories about Capt. Grief and his South Seas adventures. Piracy, romance and crazy shipping adventures on all these islands around here, some familiar. Food to feed the imagination. Now i'm 100 pages into the Book of Puka-Puka, Robert Dean Frisbie's account of living on a tiny atoll by himself. Other than that playing cards and socializing with all these crazy people.
[@ which pt i switch back to my right hand (though i'd gotten pretty good with my left by then)]
Yah, back to the right hand. Albeit my ring fingers is sticking out rather feeble and purple and red. And the skin is peeling off the swelling stretched the skin to the max. The guest house went through a change of clothes. [J and C] and the Swedes and Swiss all left on Wednesday. In place came [T]—a big German. Despite looking a meathead jock kind of a cool guy, we go fishing at night and play 750 (as opposed to 500) and he has good taste in music. But i spend most of my time with the swedish couple P and S. Today to the beach, yesterday to the library. Cooking nice dinners and of course nights at the Banana Court. [details on what i cooked for everyone] Finally got around to riding around the island. Stopped in at Rick Wellands studio ... sort of Gaugin of the Cook Islands (or at least wants to be), his paintings are on all the banknotes. He was working on a piece when we went in, this one, as well as most, a nude polynesian woman. He asked me to critique + show'd me a bunch of his paintings. He's from L.A., moved to Rarotonga 28 years ago. We launched into a political discussion which turned into a discussion about Ba'hai (which he is) that lasted a few hours. [then i went on about Ba'hai]. Walked on the reef today, which was scary. Expecting to step on a stonefish with every step. The other night we went out at night which was really freaky.
Another night at the Banana Court. I just cant get over that place, Cook Islanders sure no how to have fun (albeit plastered). It's usually the tourists that get idiotically drunk, but not here. Had the pleasure of going w/ T (the German, who i have officially dubbed "the Rooster" because of his prowess with women. He all got dressed up in a silk shirt, cologne and all that. Me in a grimey T-shirt, jeans (have to wear pants to the b.c.) and my plastic reef shoes. Bought [Rooster] a beer and he drank it in one swig, then slammed the mug down expecting more. I was eyeing the only girl in the place that looked somewhat interesting when she came over and asked P to dance. He said now but i did. So she settled for me—[A] from Seattle. Not my type though i asked her to dance again later just for something to do. But i was more interested in people watching. Nerdy tourist men, standing awkward by themselves until a local girl would go stand next to them. Me and S would make bets as to the next move. By 11 the place gets so packed you cant even go to the bathroom. Bumping into drunk people staggering to the loo, but they always smile and start a conversation. One guy in the bathroom turned to talked to me and was peeing on me, don't think he even realized it, was just being friendly and drunk. Running into the same people i've met in Aitutaki or Tahiti, or Moorea, all starting to blur together, cant remember who i know from where. Everyone hooting and hollering and socializing sitting on the toilets, but not using them, chugging beer and preparing themselves for the world of girls and staggering out again. So Rooster is telling me about these girls and how he thinks they are "in style" when they come over and introduce themselves and Rooster acquires a smile that wraps around his head, he knows he's good looking. These girls are Maori but from New Zealand and Australia and rich fashion plates, married, one of them to a rugby player. I didn't even get involved, way out of my league, tho i did think one was cute. The Rooster though was working his charm. I danced with S since P was not into dancing. Then Rooster comes out with the one i thought was cute and right away starts making out with her on the dancefloor. P, S and I ditched that joint and went to get take-away crab-stix. Rooster didn't get home til 6 a.m. He's very proud of his sexcapades and "fucking his way around the world".. but at the end of the day he writes off his "good luck with women" as bad luck, says things like "women will be the death of me." Tough being beach master, sort of feel sorry for him. Sort of nice, not the redneck he pretends to be.
Last night (saturday) we decided to try entertainment of a different sort. I've got this weird thing about going to the reef at night so i talked J into taking a few of us. She's my hero, she always comes up to the guest house bringing us local gossip and food. Something about her style and mannerisms, the way she talks, that i really enjoy. But at the same time seems she has so much potential and she manages this guesthouse for some rich white guy that she doesn't get along with (she's open about all this) [more gossipy stuff]. She took us (Me, Rooster, S and P) to the reef in her mother-in-laws rusted out car. I could see the road in a hole at my feet, reminded me of [my car back home—a 66' VW Bug that also had a hole so you could see the road beneath you]. The air felt alive, smell of gasoline and fish, the warm night air rushing against my face. Then walking to the reef, a funny 5-some we were. J leading the way with her bright gas lamp in one hand and a machete in the other. She bad big boots on she could move quite quickly but the rest of us were scared shitless with every step. Trying to keep up with her and the light. Then we came across a stonefish right in the path we were walking in which didn't do much to alleviate our fears. J just continued right over it, the stonefish didn't even budge with the passing of her big wellies. The others thanking me for my stupid idea and wondering why we didn't go to the Banana Court or stay home playing cards. J was definitely not fearless tho. She was just scared of eels and other things, not stonefish. Everytime someone would say "look at this" or "what's that" she would shriek and jump on the nearest rock and says "what's what?" Followed by laughter. So damn cute, trudging along whacking fish with her machete and then tossing them back to me, still twitching. She would severe their heads perfectly. Then she saw a big eel and shrieked and fell backwards in the water, managing to keep the gas lamp above the water. She jumped on the nearest rock, her wet pareu hiked up her thighs, yelling at me to watch out and i was in no state to take this calmly. Then she would laugh hysterically. By the time we got to the reef the tide was coming in, waves washing at our feet. Unsettling knowing you are a km from shore on the reef in the dark knowing you have to walk back, or swim. Fearing disaster with each step. But we walked along the reef for a while trying to find some net her brother had put out earlier. She had managed to whack a dozen or so fish and even grabbed a few with her bare hands. When Rarotongans catch fish they bite the heads off to kill them rather then the normal method of whacking their heads. She was telling me about a cousin that did this with a small fish and it slipped into his mouth and got lodged in the back of his throat, and it's not easy, she told me, to pull a fish out when it gets lodged like that head first, still squirming. Soon the water was up to our waists. Rooster blurted out in pain that he'd been stung. J looked at his foot and said don't worry about it, a sea urchin. "Just hold a candle to it, it will dissolve." The rooster didn't seem thrilled. We managed to snag an octopus which i had to hold. It was on a spear, but kept squirming and wanting to crawl up my arm. Other than that our fishing trip was highly unsuccessful, but made coming home enjoyable.
I've had this recurring dream that i go skiing, at least a dozen times in the past 6 months. Not so much the skiing aspect, but i always dream about the act of getting there, driving up, taking the lift up, etc. Maybe it has to do with building potential energy? At one point yesterday i had mgh = (60)(9.8)(588) = 360,000 newtons of potential energy, climbing Te Kou, Rarotonga's volcano. Though there wasn't much of a crater left at top. After 3 unsuccessful attempts at Maungatea and riding up the valley on my bike, i stumbled across the trail to Te Kou. Not as planned, but what the hell (the book says 5 hour hike and i was already 1 or 2 pm) past frantic wild chickens that squawk and fly quite far and high, past a fruit bat eating a papaya, wading through swampy sludge, following rivers, then straight up this sheer dirt slope of rocks and overgrown plants. Luckily there were lots of roots to grab onto and pull myself up. Towards the top it gets so steep there is a system of ropes to pull yourself up by. It was well worth it. Though not quite the highest peak (588 m and Te Manga is 653 m) it is right in the middle and has a good view. A jaded jugged uncut emerald sticking out of a giant blue-icing birthday cake, with aqua, white and tan frosting fringing the edges. There was a small grassy field on top. I laid down and slept. Judging by the overgrown plants and spider webs nobody had climbed this in months. I was covered in sweat and mud, the sun scorching, the grass full of bugs and other crawling creatures and the air full of flies and mosquitos and buzzing things, but i didn't care. I went down through the crater to the other side. There was a river running through it. The crater more of U-shape [here's actual page, showing contrast now writing with my right]:
The river began almost at the top, and i'm sure was the highest feeder river on the island, the source. I was in the cradle of this isolated gem of the world. The other side of the crater had a radio tower—solar powered—for the post office to send telegrams. I carved "Derek 9-26-90" in the tower, wondering if i would ever return or if anyone i know would cross my path (or follow it up an insane dirt cliff). From there i could see "the needle" .. a large spire jutting out of a mountain top. Yesterday i did that hike with the Rooster, P and S. It was easier but much longer as it was a stopping point for going across the island. We had trouble hitching back as it is supposedly against the law here, but finally got a ride with a NZ Maori + her kids in a tiny Subaru, 7 of us crammed in.
Now I am reading Best South Sea Stories by Somerset Maugham, London, Michener, Stevenson, Robert Dean Frisbie, Melville and others. Besides all the typical south sea-faring boating and desserted island yarns, they all seem to have a pattern—desperate and romantic men isolating themselves on atolls in search of something they never find. They only find loneliness and boredom. They are also for the most part racist, granted most were written at the turn of the century. They call themselves alone or the island desserted if they are the only white person on an island with thousands of natives (which of course he hires to clean up after him, and i say "he," cuz these are all stories by and for men). Another common thread is this trend of going to a polynesian island and marrying polynesian women, and always talking about the white race being superior despite the women being hot. "The Black and White" by Eugene Burdick made me realize how different polynesians must be to tolerate life on small islands all their lives, as if embedded by now in their genetic makeup or just learned behavior? Can you unlearn this by moving to big cities on continents? He says polynesians learn how to do things 1 way and don't bother to learn alternatives. They cook fish one way, dance one way and make love in one way, "for them sex is not really an act of love, it is a way to break the tedium, a way of breaking the monotony of endless beautiful days." There are complex shell and flower arrangements they learn to make in one identical way that they've been doing for 400 years. This seems contrary to logic. Seams the sameness of daily life would make people more creative in finer details. Or does this lead to unhappy craving for something different? That westerners experience? It is hard to say how much of this true since the advent of christianity and television, sure J—like any other small town person in America or wherever—enjoys quite a bit of small talk to bide the time. But Florida is even worse. The gecko moves across the wall it is silent. I'm sipping coffee. I can see the ocean. Zen. I'm starting to know the airline schedule by heart. We can see the planes land from here. The loud booming noise of planes comes as a relief, spells excitement. It could mean new backpackers (tho rarely does, still up here w/ Florida and Rooster). A butterfly darts about the garden aimlessly. When J pumps water up here the hose shakes and moves around like an alien monster. The other day we saw whales thrashing about right off shore. Swimming on the surface and thrashing their tails. Maybe they are overwhelmed by the vastness of the Pacific, exercising their freedom of speech. Endless days of blue broken by a reef, which it cannot enter. No wonder they seemed pissed. [...] In all these transient friends i feel a need for a permanent thread.
I should go to Penrhyn just so i can send people letters with those stamps. [i had a page of stamps in the journal which i'm not sure what happened to, used them in art here + there]. Went to island night at Tamure resort on wednesday with P, S and the Rooster. The food wasn't so great, but the dancing the best yet. The log drums loud and tight, the singing in harmony, and the dancing, well-rehearsed and energetic. I forgot the name of this troupe but they were the best. Most of them were from Manahiki—beautiful people, and really into it, even tho mostly tourists watching. And of course i got picked for the dance contest, by some charming woman that held my hand the whole time. P and Rooster also got picked—the women ransacked our table. Particularly embarrassing because they introduced you before, had to say where you were from, etc. First i had to dance this long slow number, just me and my partner. For some reason i was the only one that needed to do the long slow one (she said because i was American). Then we all did one of these short fast numbers, couple by couple. Some of the other guys were hilarious to watch. Bending over like they were taking a shit and nervously wiggling their knees. It was all very embarrassing, moreso for me cuz i was probably the only sober one of the lot. This contest was somewhat official because they rejected people and narrowed it down to 3 each of men and women, and the "California dude" (me) proceeded to the semi-finals. I wasn't too surprised when i won as the other guys were terrible. As a final act i had to go dance alone (my punishment for winning) then all the female dancers surrounded me and closed in all thrust their hips + bumped me on the butt and hips from all sides. Ok, that part was kinda cool.
It's raining + P and S left so Florida moved down there. The Swiss guy and German businessman are both back and a new Swedish guy who has done nothing but sleep since he arrived 2 days ago. These 2 feminists from Seattle but then immediately left cuz of an emergency back home. This Canadian girl T arrived as well as M—the German girl i met at Hiti Mahana in Tahiti. She was surprised to see me here as i told her i would only be here a week (and that was a month ago)[i think i had extended my plane ticket two weeks to recover after Dengue Fever and my stonefish incident]. She is very good looking so of course the Rooster didn't waste any time. This morning he woke up (alone) grumbling something about "innocent angels". They went to the B.C. last night. I woke up at 3 a.m. from a dream i was in a smoky blues bar in Chicago, only i could still hear the music in delirium, then i heard drunk people reciting bad poetry and laughing like jackals. I sat and listened to this dumb-ass guy (sounded American) until finally figured i'd give him a piece of mind, went out + asked them who this guy was, and they said he gave them a ride home and after his coffee i'm sure he'll leave. I said do you realize people are trying to sleep and he replied that we were all on vacation. He had a point. I was kind of intrigued by this asshole. While he was outside peeing on the flowers T told me he was the ex-prime ministers son, i.e. the son of Sir Albert Henry, the Nixon-like old crony who refused to leave office when his term expired and basically established himself as a fascist dictator until he was ousted in 1978. And this was his son. T said he had been following her around all night and wouldn't leave her alone. He came back, this pompous obscene fat man with a big red nose and a lock of hair combover in front like a rooster, hiding his insecurity from having a receding hairline. He said he was the skipper of a tuna boat and reeled off all these yarns until T told him he was full of shit and he got all defensive. Kind of guy that had the mentality of a 6-yr old + had probably never been scolded before, a spoiled only-child of a crazy fascist dictator. T gave him one of her Canadian cigarettes under the pretense that he leave after + after much persuasion he left. He ordered T to walk him to his car and she looked back at me over her shoulder with a look of terror and helplessness as he put his arm around her and pushed her outside. I left like a concerned father making my presence known in the window to make sure he didn't touch her (against her will). By this time i was wide awake and everybody else asleep. I sat up and read "The Voyages of Captain Cook" after finishing "South Sea Stories." More of the same shit [....] I dunno, white man have been tainted by civilization, there is no going back to this primitive savage state. Reminds me of the Zen/Taoist paradox. There was an interesting account tho, by sir Aurthur Grimble about how Samoans catch octopus (the big ones). They would work in pairs, one as human bait, the other as the hunter. The human bait would dive down (with rope around his waist, and eyes covered so octopus wouldn't rip your eyes out) and let the octopus grab onto him. His buddy would then dive down and get the octopus, easy to do since his attention was focused on the other guy. They'd swim to the top and the "bait" would roll over on his back so the other guy could bite or stab the octopus in the head to kill him. Talk about trust, if your friend fucked up you'd die. Tearing yourself from the grips of an octopus would mean losing your skin in those areas. The account of Capt Cook's voyages were fascinating. Those were the days when you could travel around unknown waters discovering new places, peoples, plants and animals. What a trip that must have been sailing into the harbor here in Rarotonga and being greeted by fully tattooed and armed Maoris who had never seen white men before. And talk about discovery, he brought illustrations, geographers, naturalists, botanists, etc with him on all his trips. Gazing at those illustrations i can scarcely imagine what it must have been like. Things sure are different with the advent of photography, tho photos are still not representative of the actual experience.
Same old shit. Rain. Banana Court on friday night. Church on sunday. [one detail about Rarotonga that i forgot to note in my journal, but remember, is that one sunday per month the police would go around the island and shoot stray dogs + then they would barbecue them + invite everyone to this festive event for free dog meat.. a way to keep the feral dog population under control, while also providing a free meal. I went to 1 of these, but never had the courage to try dog meat (tho i would a few months later in Indonesia)] From the outside, the spinning wheel looks like a blur. When you ride on the rim you can see the spokes. I didn't even want to go to B.C. but Rooster was dropping hints like T wanted me to go to the Banana Court, who i guess is hot, but i'm not into her. The kind of person that throws around new-age lingo like A.C.O.A. ... as everyone should know what that is (adult children of alcoholics). The slightest bit of encouragement and i'm sure she'd spill her guts + then i'd really be stuck with her. People shouldn't just let loose in front of anyone & tell strangers how their father used to beat them. [more about drunk debauchery at B.C.]
My writing interrupted by glares from the Rooster. I was the last one left in the living room and i could tell he was planning a midnight rendezvous w/ M. Sure enough, after i went to sleep i hear the door open. Can hear talking in hushed tones in the dark. Yesterday i decided i need to start working out. I biked the 32k around the island in about an hour then 100 sit-ups and push-ups. [...]
Sitting here watching T.V. .. culturally enlightening. Boring constitutional festivities, followed by dancing, etc. but then they did this skit about a guy who goes out in his canoe (made of palm leaves) to the reef to fish. Somehow he manages to rack his balls on the reef, screaming in agony for 5 minutes. As a cure, this woman needs to chew on his testicles. At first he is reluctant but gives in. This is on prime time TV! On stage a guy lays on his back screaming while this woman has her head buried in his hula skirt between his legs, feigning chewing noises.
Yesterday i went to the beach with T and M, who even tho she is sleeping with Rooster (according to him) is dropping hints to me, laying so close to me that our arms touch even though there is plenty of room on the raft, and looking up i see a breast in my face (both were topless). M keeps saying she likes me, but I dont know in what way and i don't think i like her in that way back. I mean, again, she's fun and pretty, i just can't bring myself to have such a fling, which is maybe part of why she likes me. [27 years later + i still have never had such a fling just for sex]. She thinks everything i do is funny, she sees humor in things i don't even notice. We started the day off with the intention of climbing Te Manga, the highest mountain. But we only had one bike so tried to share it. We tried many positions that led to some hilarious breakdowns but nothing comfortable—on the handlebars, crossbar, sitting on my lap while i pedaled, etc. We couldn't get started without cracking up + falling over into the bushes. Eventually we tried her sitting on the seat with me pedaling standing up, but it got to be very tiring on my quads and it didnt help she kept tickling my waist, almost peed my pants trying to keep it under control [a metaphor for the more general goings on?]. We followed the creek for a while and then it started to get steep. Through bamboo forests, finally about ½-way up we had to abandon the operation as the trail essentially disappeared and it became very steep. Instead we found papayas, bananas, oranges and coconuts and had a picnic on this big rock. The sun was out so the beach seemed a better option—news update. I just talked to J and she told me that skit was a true story. The guy fell on the reef and got sea urchin right in the balls. The only way to relieve the pain is to suck. So yah, went to the beach. I rode and M hitched, a race that i won and got a free coffee. She passed me, but then her ride stopped to pick up some chickens. We met T there. I was whining about walking out to the raft because of stonefish so M picked me up and put me on her shoulders and carried me to the raft. Quite the Amazon woman! Then i played harmonica and she sang Oh Susanna in German.
[to be continued .. next stop, Fiji]
|524 <( )> 526 > Halal meat, patented medicine, prepaid street cars + pencils inside out|