Motus are tiny, usually uninhabited, islands – sometimes only piles of sand with a few palms – that build up around reefs or islands in the South Pacific. (Most of the sand is probably produced by the chewing and evacuating of parrotfish crunching up the coral.) When I’m shivering in the cold and dark of a New England winter, motus and the Robinson Crusoe fantasies they engender, are what I dream about. So, I was happy to roam the motus in the lagoon of Rarotonga.
You can walk to two of them at low tide, and though they’re each only about an acre in size, tramping around under the palms with the geckos among the coral rubble and coconut husks made me want to go right back and re-read An Island To Oneself. (Actually, Tom Neal wrote that book during years alone on Suwarrow, one of the other Cook Islands, an atoll – a reef ring with motus on its edges and a central lagoon – hundreds of miles north of Rarotonga). Suwarrow’s now off limits to all but visiting yachts, but I’d recommend the book since a hermit’s life on a South Seas atoll is still a powerful relaxant on days when your blood pressure is up and you’re wondering why your boss is such an irritating buck-toothed monkey.
The first day tramping across Motu Tapu was the best. Not only did I discover a coral rubble field loaded with fish, but, as I was strolling across the island, along comes a French woman chattering away to her boyfriend. As French women are wont to do, she doffed her top and strolled around in the splendiferous altogether with that wonderful (or infuriating, depending on your perspective) Gallic attitude that she would teach these unsophisticated dolts the proper way to traipse around on a beach - the French way. I know I’m getting old when things like this happen, though, because my first thought twenty years ago when I was a spunky dude would have been Oolala. This time my first thought was Yow! This woman is a red-head. Those things are just going to freckle right up in this bright sun. And sure enough I could see half a dozen English firemen waiting a hundred yards down the beach with handfuls of sunscreen, anticipating just such an emergency. Always concerned for the public’s welfare those firemen.