Rarotonga, Cook Islands: Clocking Off

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands: Clocking Off

At 3.20 in the afternoon the clock on the bus taking us from the airport to the hotel reads 9.07.

This could be an early and welcome sign that things here in the Cook Islands -- as in most such balmy places in the Pacific -- run to a different clock.

And so it proves a few hours later when I am sitting in the bar at cocktail hour.

The hotel is heavily booked so we have been advised to make a reservation for dinner. Because we are a large and flexible wedding party, I make a booking for 12 people for 7pm. But already we too are running to island time, so maybe well laze around in the pool-side bar chatting for a little longer and turn up some time after that.

Thatll be okay. Its island time.

No chance: at 6.30 an abrasively cheery woman from the restaurant comes over and says we have to go through now as she needs our tables for other guests later.

I tell her about the 7pm booking and she says with abrupt but smiling efficiency before she turns on her heel, Okay, no rush, just go through in the next 10 minutes.

So . . . the much acclaimed lazy island time can run fast too?

Indeed, and run weird.

It rains for two days straight and in the absence of anything else to do we retreat to our room and the television. The in-house movies are sometimes on fast-forward so Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall jabber away like The Chipmunks and The Big Sleep is over in about 20 minutes. Bruce Willis in something we cannot decipher looks like a sprinter on speed, his small sidekick like a mouse on meth.

Meanwhile outside the minutes drag like hours in the traditional island time way.

My friend from Avarua, the main town on Rarotonga which is little more than a conglomeration of retail outlets and couple of cafes, says hell come around 5pm.

He turns up at 7pm.

A shop sign in the hotel says Open 9 - 5.

DSC00796It opens around 11ish and closes by 4pm. No one worries, this is island time.

Only cocktail hour at 5pm seems fixed and despite the absence of a functioning body clock, now bewildered by swims at dawn and evening walks through tropical gardens, I still manage to make that with diligent efficiency.

The days drift by, punctuated by meals. Time is flexible, two hours can take all day, and the days disappear into one another.

A week later I am in the lobby settling the bill when an Australian approaches the desk. He appears unnaturally tense in this relaxed setting.

He says quietly but forcefully to the woman behind the counter that he really needs to get into the safe in his room. He says pointedly he has been asking for three days for someone to come and prise it open as it seems to be jammed. He says he needs their passports out of it as they leave on Monday.

It is only Saturday, but given no one has done anything about it so far he sees the days slipping away and a problem looming.

The woman says someone will come, and at that moment the security guy who deals with such things emerges lazily from a back office.

The Australian engages him: youd said you be there yesterday and didnt show up, so when can you come and open my safe?

The guy says hell be there in 10 minutes.

The Australian holds his ground: but well be on the beach in 10 minutes, can you come now?

DSC00799The guy doesnt answer and the Australian insists.

The guy says hell come some time this morning.

The harried Australian says, okay I wont go to the beach so youll come in 10 minutes then?

The guy nods and wanders around the desk and into the lobby. They meet on the pathway, in one direction is the Australians room.

The Australian is edgy but trying to be calm, he goes for one final confirmation: so are you coming in 10 minutes then?

The security guy says yes sir, hell be there some time this morning.

The Australians shoulders sag.

The security guy ambles off in the other direction, the Australian goes to the beach.

Our bus to the airport arrives. It is 12.30.

The clock above the driver reads 9.07.

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