In Flagstaff, there was a guy named Nate Avery who had a saying “Best Life Ever.” He had a love of the outdoors and life in general. Sadly, he died young, but the phrase persists and is a good mantra for all of us to consider. Our favorite trail in Buffalo Park, the main loop, is named after him.

This saying also applies when you have a crappy flight schedule that gives you a 10-hour layover. More on that later.

I actually slept pretty well despite the non-Four Seasons hotel and my general apprehension of returning home to the COVID-19 craziness. Plus, I know most of you really wanted an update on my sleep.

It really helped to have a nice evening with Jason and Cynthia yesterday. Helped calm us all down. That, and the boring cricket game can put anything into perspective. We got up around 5:30, lounged about and then caught the 6:30 shuttle to the airport for our 8:55 flight to Rarotonga. The airport was generally not that busy, but Air New Zealand had a swanky business class check-in lounge that allowed us to avoid being too caught up in the crowds. We were all on edge for sure.

We checked in and then headed up to the business lounge to get coffee and some breakfast. They had these little “hash browns” that were more like tatter tots. Susanne and I ate more than we should have, but they were super yummy.

The BBC had some frightening statistics about how inept the US has been in preparing for the pandemic. South Korea actually seemed to understand disease and vector control, but not the US. Sigh.

Susanne went to go get some more tater tots and saw that the departures screen said we were boarding in 15 minutes. What?! That’s way early. Then I discover that they had changed the flight time from 8:55 to 8:15. Well, glad she didn’t know this earlier or she would have been less than amused that we caught the 6:30 shuttle. Oops, that was cutting it a bit close. I finished my coffee anyway, just like The Dude would have, and then we headed to the gate.

We boarded the plane and headed toward this dinky small island in the Pacific called Rarotonga. I finished “Where the Crawdads Sing” on the flight. Great book, BTW. Rarotonga, according to the always accurate Wikipedia:

“is the most populous of the Cook Islands, with a population of 10,572 (census 2011), out of the country’s total resident population of 14,974. Captain John Dibbs, master of the colonial brig Endeavour, is credited as the European discoverer on 25 July 1823, while transporting the missionary Reverend John Williams. The volcanic island of Rarotonga stands over 14,750 feet (4,500 meters) above the ocean floor. It is 32 km (20 miles) in circumference and has an area of 67.19 km2 (26 square miles). At a depth of 4,000 m (13,000 ft) the volcano is nearly 50 km (31 miles) in diameter. Te Manga, at 658 m (2,140 ft) above sea level, is the highest peak on the island.”

In other words, it’s tiny. It takes about 45 minutes to drive around it.

Blurry view of Rarotonga from our 777

We had built a solid plan to utilize our 10 hours in Rarotonga. We were going to rent a car, go snorkeling, have dinner at the best restaurant, and then come back to the airport, shower in the lounge, and enjoy a fancy tropical drink.

As we landed, it was clear “tiny” is a good description. We got off the plane into the small, hot, and humid airport. We made it through customs and headed over to recheck our bags to LA and then head out for some tropical fish viewing.

The dude at the Air New Zealand desk said we couldn’t check in until 8:30 pm. Dang. Kink in the perfect plan. Hmmm. No worries, we will just keep the bags in the car. So we haul all of our junk back to the Avis office and get our car. The dude was super nice and friendly. I asked him about the the best places to snorkel and whether there were any showers. He said there was a marine reserve near the Rarotonga hotel that was great and had a public shower. Yeah!

He said that we needed to make sure we  kept our receipt for the gas since we only had the car for a day and probably wouldn’t drive enough to make a dent on the gauge. Tiny.

We drove out to the snorkeling spot. It was gorgeous. Beautiful white sand beach with the classic aqua colored water of the inner lagoon.

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We debated what to do with all the valuables. We decided to leave them in the car hidden as it didn’t look very sketchy on Rarotonga. We grabbed the gear, locked the car and headed to the beach.We decided to leave the key with our towel and shoes on the beach in Susanne’s shorts and headed out. The fish were super friendly, even in the 2′ feet of water we were in near the shore. Susanne looked uncomfortable. I asked if her mask was leaking. She said yes. We swam a bit further. She still looked uncomfortable. I asked if it was that the key was on the beach. She said yes. I swam back and got her shorts with the key safely put in a ziplock bag in a pocket. No problem. I would just put them on and the key would be with us.

Like all inner-lagoon snorkels, it is very shallow — four feet at its deepest. The visibility was great for the environment and fish life was really good. Coral too!

We swam around for about an hour until Susanne got cold. She headed back and I kept snorkeling. I saw a really cool Moray Eel. They are my favorite.

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Mr. Eel

We washed off at the beach. The ziplock bag was full of water and the key was soaked. We decided to drive a bit down the road to a nice beachside bar to have a drink and just chill for awhile. I tried the key — it was dead. Oops. Luckily it was cheap car and you could use it the old fashioned way also, but sort of makes you miss the days when soaking your car key didn’t matter. The restaurant was fully reserved for dinner and only had fries or pizza to eat at this early hour (we had fries, given the prior less-than-tasty pizza in Auckland), but that sounded good to us and how could we complain about the view. They also had one of our favorite Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. And it was cold.

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A happy happy hour

There were a bunch of dogs running around the beach having a good time with each other and with the kids swimming. We both commented on what a wonderful life it must be for a well taken care of island dog.

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The life of an island dog

We still had some time before dinner, so we decided to cruise around the island and just check it out. The most popular way to get around on the island is by scooter and you can see why. The max speed limit is 50 kph and there is really only one road which took us about 35 minutes to drive around.

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The Waterline restaurant

After we circumnavigated the island, we pulled into the Waterline restaurant. It was 6 and our reservation was for 7. We figured we could squeeze in anyway. After all the emailing back and forth, they didn’t actually have our reservation and she told me that they didn’t have beach tables because some cyclones had wiped the area out. She pointed to a nice table that was right on the edge of the deck and said we could have that one once the sun set a little further. It was an amazing spot!

There was a family of 5 from Nevada that was sitting near us and we chatted a bit. They had added a week to their trip to get out of the US. We had a really nice vegetable fritter with a raita sauce. Yum.

The sun got low enough and we moved to the table at the edge of the deck. Wow. The sunset was gorgeous as we had our main dishes — ahi and a seafood platter. They had some very muddy weird part of the scallop on the plate that neither of us liked too much, but the rest of the dinner was quite good.

A Filipino dude showed up and started playing guitar and singing. He actually had a really nice voice and sang a lot of classic songs like Beattles, Bread, BeeGees. We ordered a passion fruit cheesecake for desert and just enjoyed the music and the waning light of the day.

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We drove back to the airport and checked in. It was pretty hot and humid and it did not look like they had a lounge and certainly not one with air conditioning. Bummer. I was not looking forward to being all sticky and gross on our flight to LAX. Thankfully, it turned out that there was one! Yeah!

I stood in the shower enjoying the cold water running down over me for way longer than I should have, but it really felt heavenly.

The plane was late so we ended up not leaving until 1 am. Ugh. Both Susanne and I were exhausted. We got on the plane and I popped an ambien. I was so tired, I was asleep before the plane took off. Susanne woke me up and helped me convert my seat to a bed. I fell back to sleep.

We landed in LA and both of us were not looking forward to navigating the LAX airport. We were wondering how crazy it would be and whether there would be long lines. The customs areas was chaotic, but the lines didn’t seem to long. There was no screening at all which seemed weird. We made it through without too much trouble, but the tension from all the people was palpable.

My sis picked us up and we buzzed off to Santa Barbara. We were so grateful that she picked us up.

We arrived and were really happy to see our girl.

Tomorrow we drive to Flagstaff.




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