There’s a lot of talk on Rarotonga about “Island Time”. At first glance, the idea is about an easygoing attitude to punctuality. I suspect it’s a conceit aimed at tourists escaping the rat race for that ephemeral week or fortnight. Mostly things run “on time” here. I discovered that “Island Time” is really something quite different, but more on that later.
After visiting the market on Saturday, Jose and I discussed what we might get up to next. We’d heard that church services in the Cook Islands were particularly beautiful, with fantastic singing, so we planned to go on the Sunday morning.
The church was a couple of miles down the road, and our guesthouse supplied bicycles for free to its guests. Everything was set until the rainstorm hit. A couple of the other guests remarked that this nasty weather had blighted their week. Things weren’t looking promising in paradise! We missed the church service as we sheltered in the downpour, so I’ve taken the liberty of linking to someone else’s video so that you can get an idea of what it is like.
We gingerly ventured out on our bicycles towards the church, a relatively modern-looking building. From both the outside and the inside it looked pretty unremarkable, but you can see how sulky the sky looked that day, and the mountains in the background.
Between two flagpoles next to the church was this stone. I found the Maori language interesting, so I thought you would too. Incidentally, the church was opposite a bay where it is said that a fleet of seven canoes sailed to find New Zealand.
We noticed that the church had its next service at 5pm, so we thought we’d kill a little time and cycle around some more. I nipped down to a dive shop near the church and booked myself in for a dive at Pacific Divers the following day. Almost across the road was a large sign pointing down a track promising good food, so we cycled down and found a cafe with lovely views overlooking Muri Bay.
The Mooring Fish Cafe is built out of a shipping container and is sited next to Captain Moko’s Fishing Charters. I’m not a huge fan of fishing, but I’m definitely a big fan of fish, as you might have guessed. The container was staffed by Jill and Mata, both incredibly charming and friendly. Jill is the owner of the cafe and the spouse of Captain Moko, so the fish is fresh off the boat each day, and their signature dish is labelled “FOB”.
They recommended the mahi mahi sandwich, and I took them up on it, along with a smoothie. The sandwich didn’t take long to arrive, and was served in bread that reminded me of turkish flatbread, along with a home made mayonnaise dressing. It was delicious and filling. Good, simple, clean food that made you happy.
Jose tucked into a spicier version, along with a coconut, which also went down well, and soon enough, Jill and Mata wandered out to join us to for a bit, and we got chatting. Among other things, we had a question answered that we hadn’t thought of yet: “where do Rarotongans go on holiday?” The answer is Aitutaki, an island about 45 minutes north by plane. Although the weather hadn’t been optimal today, it was pretty clear that we were in paradise or close, so this Aitutaki place must be something special. Jose mentioned that he was already planning to go there, so we started scheming.
It was clear that Jose had done a lot of thinking about this already, and as we discussed options, a couple walked up towards the cafe talking excitedly with a local fisherman. This turned out to be Captain Moko himself, and we got to know the couple. Karsten and Dani, who came from Germany. Captain Moko related how they had just landed an 85kg catch: not a fish, but a kitesurfer who had steered too close to the fishing lines. As I talked with Karsten, we realised that we’d both by chance booked to dive with the same dive shop the following morning – I’d already met my dive buddy!
Karsten and Dani were tucking into their own lunch, and Jilll brought out a raw fish dish called Ike Mata for me and Jose to try out. I think it was tuna this time, marinated in lime juice, chillies, spring onions and coconut milk. It was absolutely delicious. We stayed for hours, chatting with our new friends, and realised that it had gone 5pm already. We rushed off to the church, but for some reason the advertised service wasn’t happening.
With food and a welcome like that, I became a regular visitor at the Mooring Fish Cafe, and one afternoon, I was invited to come back for sunset drinks with Jill, Mata and their family and friends. On reflection, this is how I realised that “Island Time” is more than a joke about punctuality, it’s really about taking your time over things, and with people. It’s not about looking at your Blackberry every few minutes or worrying about being somewhere else, but about enjoying the moment, the company of others, and being generous with you time with others. And this, I think, is what life should be all about.