My time in the beautiful Cook Islands is up, and with it, my time travelling around the world, with just my wits and my backpack.
Ahead of me was a 24 hour flight from Rarotonga to London, via Los Angeles. Thankfully, my flight was late in the evening, so I had a full day to relax at the guest house, and also had the advantage that y body clock would let me get some sleep on the flight to LA.
The busker who greeted us as we arrived in Rarotonga was there to sing us a farewell song. In the intervening week, I’d learned a bit about him. His name is Papa Jake Numanga, and he was originally a worker at the airport, who would dart back into the terminal to welcome the arriving tourists. Jake Numanga has been at it for thirty years, and has, barring sickness, greeted or said farewell to every international flight into and out of Rarotonga.
Jake Numanga was honoured at a tourism awards dinner in 2011 with an award for “Most Outstanding Contribution to Tourism”. He was called to the front to receive his award but it transpired he wasn’t there, having ducked out during the dinner to meet another flight. Such is the man’s dedication to what he does!
So it was with a song to lift my spirits that I left the Cook Islands, stopping off after an eleven hour flight in LA for a few hours. LAX is a horrendous airport, so the prospect of sitting there for five hours filled me with more dread than sitting in a tube for eleven. It was made pleasant by a good conversation with some newlyweds who were on their way to Italy on honeymoon.
The next flight was another eleven hour slog to London, via the Arctic Circle. At this stage, I was actually really excited to be going back to see friends and family. I was also looking forward to seeing England again in the height of summer: after my trip, being in England seemed to be quite exotic.
There were certainly more clouds in the sky than I could remember seeing in the past few months. Whatever else, I knew I’d be getting used to clouds again.
And that’s it! Fifty-Eight days to go around the world in twenty-four flights through eight countries. The result is a metric tonne of happy memories and new friends. This trip was as much about fulfilling a long-held wish as it was about getting the travel bug “out of my system”. I fear I may have achieved the opposite – I now have dreams about travelling through South America from tip to tip, and then onto Antarctica. What’s life without dreams, eh?
The inevitable question I’ve been asked on my return is, “What’s your favourite country?”. I don’t have a straight answer to that, but I can definitely see myself going back to Japan to “finish” seeing it: I really only scratched the surface of that fascinating country. I would dearly love to revisit the Cook Islands for the pure pleasure of being in the Cook Islands.
One thing I learned to treasure during my travels was curiosity, a quality so easily lost in the slurry of work and commuting. I can now see what Chesterton was getting at:
“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton
For now, beneath London’s clouds, it’s time for a new set of adventures.