A Raro Life is a chronological recollection of stories from the six months I spent living in Rarotonga during the 2021 Covid lockdown.
I’m on the beach, reading.
This is tradition now.
Bottle of water, Kindle, the sun.
It’s not the prettiest beach, but it’s my beach. Three minutes walk. And always empty. I have the same spot each morning. Under the first coconut tree.
Engrossed in my book, I hear a voice.
I look up. A girl is waving. Sarong. Big sunglasses.
“Oh. Hey. What’s up.”
The Swiss girl from my kitchen.
She walks over.
“I’m gooood, how are you?”
Frenchest of French accents.
“Just…reading. What’s goin’ on?”
“I’m going to take a little swim!”
She stands a few metres away, looking down at me through her sunglasses. Asks what I’ve been up to. How I like the island.
I tell her I’ve been doing … nothing. And the island’s great.
Then, finally, as if we’re friends now, she sits down beside me.
Her name is Amandine.
“Like Amanda,” she tells me, “but French.”
As we start talking, I realise she has so much to tell me. All her friends have left. Her boyfriend is in Australia, and their borders are locked. Nobody is allowed in, nobody’s allowed out. And I guess, being here for this long on this small locked down island, you don’t meet so many people. I’m the only new ears she’s had in a while.
“Do you have plans for later?” she asks. “If you like, there is a sunset party. At Vaiana’s. Just down there. I think most people on the island will be there! So we could go there, meet some people, have a little drink, listen to some music? What do you think?”
A party. I hate parties. Two weeks ago, you couldn’t have paid me to go to a party. But now, my skin looks half-normal. I feel okay. And I know this now – on the road, alone, you have to say yes. You have to see things, do things. Give yourself a chance to fall in love with a place.
“Sounds fun. What time?”
“It starts maybe two. But we can go at four! Do you have a bike?”
“That’s okay! We can walk! If it’s okay for you …?”
“It will take maybe forty minutes. It’s not too far for you?”
I laugh. She has a lot to learn about me.
“I think it should be okay,” I smile.
She smiles back.
“So I’ll see you later!”
She gets up, walks off. Into the ocean.
Four o’clock comes.
I go to knock on her door, but she emerges right as I get to the doorstep.
Long, red dress. Interesting choice, for a beach party.
“Looking lovely,” I tell her.
The walk is pleasant. She plays tour guide the whole time.
“Nice place to watch the sunset,” she says, as we pass the Edgewater Resort.
We walk past the bakery. “They sell Spanish rolls for a dollar,” she smiles. “Really good!”
We pass a little path onto the beach. She stops.
“Have you been to Black Rock?”
I shake my head.
“Oh, I have to show you! Let’s go down here, we can walk along the beach.”
After fifteen minutes of shelly beach, we get there. For some reason, I’m surprised that Black Rock is … just a big black rock.
“People come here to watch the sunset,” she tells me. “Sometimes, you see whales. Down there, it’s a good place for a little swim!”
That seems to be her favourite word. A little swim. A little drink. A little walk. Everything is little, just like in French, everything is petit.
We walk another fifteen. Arrive at Vaiana’s.
It’s a gorgeous beach bar with tables scattered on the sand. There’s a DJ in the booth slamming tunes, so loud I can barely hear myself speak. The ocean is like glass, the sand powdery white. Postcard quality. Amandine spots a friend. He’s a thin Indian guy, dressed sharp with slicked-back hair and a friendly grin.
We go to his table. Handshake.
Shanks is an interesting guy. He’s the finance big dog at one of the resorts. Standing with him at the table, shouting at him over the music, and my island mocktail, I learn a lot about the island. Who owns what. Where the money comes from. Where it goes.
Standing there talking about the rich people on Rarotonga, we manage to pass hours. The sun sets. Beautiful. The beach gets drunker and drunker. It’s dark. There are kids running around, among people dancing on whatever drugs, among families eating fish and chips, among people drop dead inebriated.
“My friend is coming,” Amandine says to me, tinkering on her phone.
“Oh, he’s so great! You will love him.”
An hour later, she points.
“Here he is!”
He’s maybe fifty, in a worn tee, long wavy hair, like Jesus. Asian Jesus. Spectacles. He doesn’t really walk, he shuffles. Small steps, like he’s making sure he doesn’t stand on anything.
Amandine introduces us.
Kamil is soft-eyed, soft-spoken. But the first thing I notice about Kamil, he’s inquisitive. Asks lots of questions. But not stupid questions. Wise questions. Well-thought-out questions. He doesn’t ask what I do, he asks why I do it. He doesn’t ask where I’ve been, he asks where I would like to return to. I also learn, he and I are not so different. Just from different eras. A man who spent his life travelling all over the world, and then again, and then again.
I also quickly learn, he and Amandine are tight. Inside jokes. Finishing each other’s sentences. Total BFFs.
“I want to eat,” Kamil says.
“Here?” Amandine asks.
They turn to me.
“Have you been to Trader Jack’s?”
Trader Jack’s is a popular restaurant bar in the centre of town, right on the water. Apparently, one of the Rarotonga’s flagship spots, but with closed borders and no tourists on the island, it’s quiet. We walk in. Every table is empty. Kamil and Amandine march right to the corner table on the balcony. They know all the staff. The staff know them.
“Try the sashimi pizza,” Amandine says.
“Yes, it’s good,” says Kamil.
“But it’s small,” says Amandine.
“It’s not that small,” says Kamil.
“Yes,” Amandine says. “I know it sounds a little strange, but it is very good! I’m sure you will love it.”
Because she says it in a French accent, it sounds convincing.
The waitress comes.
“I’ll have the sashimi pizza …”
Amandine gets a drink.
Kamil orders the nasi goreng, but then asks if he can talk to the chef.
The waitress goes and gets the chef. The chef comes out.
Kamil says something about more spicy, less oil, not so oily. The chef nods. Then walks off.
I raise an eyebrow.
Mister VIP over here.
Finally glad to be out of the deafening party, I relax into my chair, the ocean breeze. Amandine and I both sip drinks, while Kamil talks.
Kamil likes talking. Thankfully, after having travelled so many years, to so many places, he actually has interesting things to say. He talks about Iran, and Indian billionaires, and Malaysian banking. And then, after the nasi goreng is gone, and the sashimi pizza (delicious as promised), and an hour of Kamil’s stories, we finally get up to leave.
Kamil covers the bill.
It’s one a.m.
We get into Kamil’s car.
“Have you been to Muri, Brendan?”
“Oh, we have to show you.”
“Now?” Amandine says.
“He’s never been!”
“It’s dark Kamil. He won’t see anything.”
He starts heading toward home.
On the way, we see two shadows by the side of the road. They have their thumbs out.
“Hitchhikers,” Kamil says. “Shall we get them?”
“Of course,” Amandine says, as we drive past.
“Too late,” Kamil laughs.
“No, you have to!!”
Kamil pulls over.
I turn and see them running towards the car.
They lean in the window.
“We’re heading to the backpackers. Next to Beluga.”
They’re two young guys from Europe.
“Yes of course,” Amandine says, as if it’s her car, and the two of them cram in beside her.
As the five of us chat away, I find myself feeling at home once again. Five strangers from different countries, driving along in the middle of the night in a faraway place. I thought I’d never live this life again, but here I am.
Right back where I used to be.