Posts tagged ‘John Wayne’

Aitutaki: “Surviving” in one of the South Pacific’s most desirable destinations

Really, CBS? I used to feel sympathy for the cast of Survivor, having to battle the elements, construct shelter and scrounge for food. But after visiting the motu ( a South Pacific word for little island) where the 13th season, Survivor: Cook Islands, was filmed, I’m thinking about applying.

Surviving? Seriously? This idyllic motu, one of 15 in Aitutaki, is truly one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been around the globe a few times. Even Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, calls it “the world’s most beautiful island.”


Aitutaki’s 8 by 10-mile coral lagoon is stunning with literally hundreds of shades of blue. Sure, it hasn’t succumbed yet to mass tourism and it takes a while to get there. From L.A., ten hours on Air New Zealand and then an hour hop from Rarotonga. But neither is much of a chore. Applicants for Air New Zealand flight attendants must come from Super Nice People Academy and the 48-minute, nearly-always-on-time flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki is reminiscent of air travel before 9/11. No one asks you to take off your shoes or get there hours early or submit yourself to embarrassing pat-downs. In fact, the flight into the miniscule Aitutaki airport is nearly as gorgeous as a Monet water lily and certainly a lot less expensive.

I supposed the fact that Aitutaki’s golf course is only nine holes, doesn’t have a phone and that stray balls sometimes land in either the lagoon or the airport runway could be considered a hardship, but any one of Aitutaki’s hotels or guesthouses can arrange rentals and tee times.

I’m not sure where the Cook Island “Survivors” bunked before starting their outdoor challenges, but Aitutaki has a fine selection of five-star resorts including Pacific Resort and Aitutaki Escape where I had one of the best massages of my life, outdoors, next to crashing waves while a chef prepared an amazing three-course meal.


While in Aitutaki, I visited several motus: Honeymoon Motu, Heaven (it’s aptly named), One-Foot Island and, yes, Survivor Island, although it’s officially called Motu Rakau. . Bishop’s Cruises (nearly half the people in Aitutaki have the surname Bishop) even took us to Motu Akaiami with a small museum (very, very small) with exhibits from the old Coral Route.

Operated by TEAL (the forerunner of Air New Zealand), these Coral Route flying boats famously hopped from one South Pacific paradise to another in the 1950’s, back when flying was an elite, wealthy-man’s only sport. John Wayne, Cary Grant and Queen Elizabeth II, to name just a few of the Coral Route “Survivors,” enjoyed chefs, white linens, full silver service and, in Aitutaki, Polynesian dancers and cocktails served on the white sand, palm-fringed beach where the museum now sits.

My favorite Aitutaki motu was probably Tapuaetai (AKA One-Foot Island), the world’s only “deserted island” with its own post office. Lagoon cruises often stop there for lunch so passengers can mail letters and get their passports stamped with a giant foot that now dwarfs all the other “countries” in my passport. Depending on the tide, you can walk so far out on a sandbar (in pictures from One Foot, I resemble Jesus when he got out of the boat) that your party could easily mistake you for an errant sea bird or an insignificant dot.


Two years after “Survivor: Cook Islands,” One Foot Island’s beach was even chosen as “Australasia’s Leading Beach,” not exactly a resume builder for “roughing it.”

So, call it what you will, but “surviving” in Aitutaki with its crystal clear lagoon, archetypical tropical islands and New Zealand savoir faire is something I’d volunteer for any day.

Phil Collins “remembers the Alamo”

In his home outside Geneva, Switzerland, Phil Collins has pictures of himself with Nelson Mandela, the Prince of Wales and Robert Plant. But the one he values most is the painting of himself standing next to the ill-fated defenders of the Alamo.

Painted by Gary Zaboly, a noted historian and author who is co-writing a book about the Alamo with the seven-time Grammy award-winner, its called “Travis’s Line” and it hangs in Collins’ basement/museum. In it, an imagined depiction of the Alamo’s American garrison in 1836, immediately before the famous battle, Collins is wearing a military uniform alongside 184 19th-century American frontiersman.

Collins, who says he has been obsessed by Davy Crocket and the Alamo since he was a young boy, has one of the world’s largest collections of Alamo memorabilia including hundreds of cannonballs, a pouch once owned by Davy Crocket, a certificate proclaiming him an honorary member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas and a receipt signed by Alamo commander William Barrett Travis for 32 head of cattle to be used to feed the Alamo defenders.

Collins has served on Alamo history panels alongside professors and other notable experts and regularly shows up in San Antonio to hobnob with Alamo groupies, one of whom told him he was one of the defenders in a previous life. Carolyn Raine, a documentary producer, lecturer and Native American cookbook writer, took it upon herself to let Collins know that he was the reincarnated Alamo messenger, John W. Smith, the red-headed horse courier whose nickname was El Colorado and who later became San Antonio’s mayor.

Although he has gotten a lot of flack about it, Collins, like most kids of his generation, watched Fess Parker playing Davy Crockett on TV and pestered his parents for coonskin caps and toy rifles. The former Genesis’ drummer’s first solo performance, in fact, when he was barely 5 was of the famous theme tune “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

This year, during the 175th anniversary of the battle made famous by John Wayne and, yes, Pee-Wee Herman, Collins agreed to play a free concert, but city red tape prevented it from happening in time for the March 6 commemoration, a yearly reenactment honoring the Texas heroes.

With or without Phil Collins, it’s a great year to visit San Antonio and the 18th-century mission church where Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and 188 others waged their famous last stand against the Santa Anna’s Mexican army. The most famous historical site in Texas, the mission has been restored to its original glory and offers tours, relics of the past and a gift shop with such memorabilia as John Wayne beach towels, chocolate Alamos and serious history books.

And while you’re there, don’t miss the San Antonio River Walk with its cypress-lined paths that wind past boutiques, galleries, outdoor restaurants and now, with the addition of the Museum Reach, a new 1.3 mile stretch of river walk, several of San Antonio’s best museums including the San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the old Lone Star brewery. Unusual art installations, native plants and waterfalls line the Museum Reach which culminates at the former Pearl Brewery that has been turned into a culinary wonderland with a weekly Farmer’s Market, unique restaurants and the opening of the third branch of the Culinary Institute of America.

Colonial Spanish days comes alive at San Antonio’s five 18th-century missions and, after snapping a photo of yourself in front of the Rose window, you can wander La Villita, San Antonio’s first neighborhood that has been converted into boutiques, jewelry shops and restaurants.

For more on this city that has captured Phil Collins’ heart, click here. Or contact the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800.447.3372.

And if you don’t see Phil in person, you can hear his narration on a 13-minute “Alamo Diorama Light and Sound Show” at the History Shop near the former mission at 713 E. Houston St.