. I noticed a few of the dances were a lot like the Hawaiian hula dance. But that's not so surprising because Hawaii is so close, we're actually in their time zone right now. I learned that the islands are divided between 6 tribes, and the whole Cook Islands follows the UK government. We think we saw one of the government leaders because their car was being escorted by 2 police motorcycles, and instead of a license plate there was a crown. Here, they use the New Zealand dollar but they also have a Cook Island dollar. They actually have a $2 coin in the shape of a triangle! There are hundreds of crab holes, and you will always see a bunch of huge crabs running into them. There are also tons of dogs roaming the streets, but most look well-fed. Apparently in Cook Island history, cannibalism was the norm. Everyone had to be on watch so they wouldn't be attacked and eaten. I haven't seen many houses, but from what I can tell the living is more poor, but still ok. It looks like a lot of people bury their family in their yard. Some houses has a mini gravesite with 10 to 15 graves. Some crumbling, and some new and fresh. We are staying on the beach (well, everywhere is on the beach) but I wouldn't recommend the place we are staying at. There are thousands of little red ants EVERYWHERE! You can't set anything on the counter without ants crawling on it. When we opened up the fridge, there were roaches in it, and after setting my bag on the floor, I took some stuff out of it and some bugs ran out. Oh, there are other reasons besides the bugs but I won't go into detail
. The second night here we went to another dance show. This one was sort of over-water with dinner and everything. It was the same sort of dances as in the competition, and it had a story along with it. It was really fun to watch. Even though it's poorer here, everything is more expensive (not nearly as crazy as Australia though!). Most of the food is twice the price. The next few days we stayed in a much better hotel. There were lots of programs and we learned to weave different things with coconut leaves, make flower ei's, and we participated in a sarong-tying class where I was nominated to be the model. I also went snorkeling almost every day at this hotel. In the Cook Islands, because of the lagoon, there is about the best snorkeling you can get. The water is crystal clear and they have all the fish from finding Nemo (well, except Nemo). It was whale watching season, and we got to see 3 humpback whales. One of them was while me and Soph were snorkeling, and it was just outside of the lagoon, pretty close to the shore! One day we got reef shoes, and we walked on the reefs all the way out to the outer reef that marks the lagoon. We also learned to make Ika Mata, which is a traditional Cook Island food. It's just raw fish marinated in lemon or lime juice (with other ingredients like coconut milk) and it's surprisingly good, and probably one of my favorite foods now. We tried other traditional food like poke (a sweet food with a thick, rubbery texture made mainly of bananas) and rukau (cooked taro leaves, similar to spinach)
. We tried paddle-boarding. It was really simple and easy to balance on the boards, but I don't know if I liked it because the wind kept blowing me in all these directions and it was tiring out my arms a lot. But I did get gorgeous views of the lagoon and the island while on my board. We did a cross-island trek, which was hike across the entire island (north to south), shore to shore. It was the most strenuous hike I have EVER been on. We hiked over the mountains in the middle of the island, and it took us most of the day. Hiking up the mountain, some places were so steep we actually had to climb up the tree roots using vines as aids. When we reached the needle at the top, we stopped to eat snacks. There was a rooster at the needle, which was weird because I didn't see any other chickens on the mountain at all. I wondered why he was up there, until I accidentally dropped a cracker and he hopped over and snatched it up. You could also go farther up on the needle, and I did (ignoring the warning signs). It was really scary though. I was pretty much scooching along, clinging onto the helpful chain that prevented me from dropping thousands of feet down. After much scooching, I reached an area where there was just a rope dangling completely vertical to climb all the way to the top. You would have to be a professional rock climber to handle that, especially with no harness or anything. So I just scooched my way back, still clinging onto the chains because the way down was much scarier. I wasn't very scared that I would fall, but I would be terrified watching someone else scooch up there. On the way down the mountain we probably crossed about 20 or so rivers. At first they were fun to cross but then they got kind of annoying. The hike was actually pretty dangerous. When we looked online, all of the websites said "don't attempt it without a guide." We decided to go without a guide anyway. It was dangerous because lots of areas were really muddy, and the trail was a drop off to one side. So one small mistake, a little slip, could cost you your life. I also noticed on both sides of the trails some roots sticking out, and they looked an awfully lot like ginger root. So I did the scratch and smell test, and sure enough, they were definitely ginger. I had no idea they grew in jungles.
For 8 days we are staying in the very remote Cook Islands, on the island of Rarotonga. We would actually only have 7 days here but we pass the international timeline and go back a day. So we leave New Zealand on the 4th and land on the 3rd. This island is so tiny, you could spend a day and walk the entire perimeter. But even though it's tiny, it is the biggest of the Cooks. Only the outer edges of the island are populated because the middle is a range of very beautiful, lush green, and jaggety-looking mountains. Their native language is Cook Islands Maori, and though everyone speaks English they are working at keeping it going. The first night here we were lucky to catch a big dance performance. It is a big event that happens once a year, and is a dancing competition between the islands. It was fascinating how the dancers were all in line with each other, and how fast they could move their hips and legs. The guys would sit in this crouch position forever and just do these really fast leg movements, and the girls moved their hips at a dizzying speed