Being from Hawaii, plane tickets are expensive anywhere you go. Traveling to California, the closest land mass can cost upwards of one thousand dollars during peak seasons like Christmas vacation and New Years (I know firsthand, I wanted to go home from UCLA every holiday), so it’s not so surprising that my first adventure outside of the United States didn’t occur until I was 12 years old.
As a sixth grade graduation present, my Grandma organized a weeklong trip to the Cook Islands. We visited two islands, Aitutaki and Rarotonga, went on scuba diving trips, snorkeling adventures, tanned on the beach and rode mopeds around the islands.
Yes, you heard me right, a 12-year-old scuba diving and riding mopeds. The minimum age to be scuba certified is actually 10 years old in the United States (with parental consent) and I was certified at the time, but of course, I didn’t have a driver’s license. The cheerful Cook Islanders handed me over a shiny green moped like I was buying a bag of Skittles at a gas station.
The islands themselves are relatively void of vehicles and many areas off the main road are either surfaced with dirt or gravel. Also, I should mention that they drive on the left-hand side of the road. As many of you world travelers should know, it’s quite a challenge to drive on the opposite side that you’re used to. All is well when you’re going straight, but for a kid with no driving experience of any kind, turning into the correct lane with cars approaching and parents shouting directions can be difficult.
So difficult actually that I ended up facedown in the bushes in someone’s front lawn. Soon, I was surrounded by locals who generously pulled over to help yank the crazy tourist girl and her moped out of the hedge.
With the addition of almost falling off a horse into the ocean the next day, I definitely had a memorable experience visiting a foreign country for the first time; the bar was set high.