Paradise Week 2: Friends don’t let friends frown

Hello
again from the Big Blue!

In case
you missed it in the newspaper, or on TV, the first Aitutaki Summit was
convened in the front area of our new house a few days ago. Delegates from
Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, and the Cook Islands met to discuss and
solve the world’s problems. You’ll be happy to know the event was potluck,
which amounts to big savings for you – the taxpayer.  

The
summit was a rousing success. The following issues were discussed and
satisfactorily resolved:

1. Borat
was a very funny movie

2.
Over-fishing must stop

3. If
you don’t wear a helmet while riding a scooter you must learn to “tuck &
roll”

4. Jim
Carey is not as funny as he used to be

5. My
bruschetta is quite authentic even without the proper bread

6.
Companies which over-package products should be fined…heavily

7. What
is the deal with no alcohol on Sundays here? (That issue was resolved by 2
trips to the Heineken store, which will, in fact, sell booze on Sundays).

8.
Mosquitoes are stupid

9.
Coconut bras are nice looking but get itchy quickly

10. The
jury is still out on Mr.Bean – I think he’s funny but some stupid-head
delegates disagreed. 

Apart
from the lagoon, the best thing about Aitutaki is the people, both guests and
locals. We’ve met some really cool individuals already and have been offered
invites to both Germany & New Zealand. There’s just something about this
place that opens people up and makes them want to be friendly, (for the most
part anyway).

The
aforementioned potluck dinner was one of those moments. We talked and laughed
into the wee hours, (the “wee hours” being about 11pm here), and for one night
I forgot that I was covered in mosquito bites, sunburned, missing my kitty,
cursing dial-up internet, and generally frowny-faced about the state of our new
home. Yes, the ups and downs continue. Oh, by the way, the sunburn was entirely
my fault. It was one of those “up” moments when I went for a solo snorkel and
got carried away because it was so stupidly, fishily, awesome. My bum was on
fire for three days but it was worth it! 

If it
weren’t for the people here, though, I think there would be a lot more “down”. Pamela
and Steve from New Zealand had me in stitches for most of my first week here.
The four of us formed a bike gang, (well, a “scooter gang”, really), and our
cry of “Tigers!” struck fear into the hearts of the locals as we zoomed by.
(Perhaps “fear” is a bit of an exaggeration – “amusement” might be more
accurate.)

Prez and
I have traveled a fair bit and we’ve seen pretty much every level of friendliness.
Baja was the standard by which we judged every other place because we found the
people of Baja so kind and welcoming; but now it looks like we have to raise
the bar a little.  

A few
days ago, Prez hopped on our little scooter and decided to have a looksee
around the island. (I was hit by a minor flu bug and flopped out on the bed all
day). He came across a little bakery and started chatting with the owner. They
were just pulling the last batch of the day’s bread out of their enormous stone
oven and the owner showed Prez around the place, letting him snap photos and
ask questions. Then he grabbed a loaf of fresh bread, cut it open, slathered it
in butter, and invited Prez to join him in a little feast. He also picked some
mangoes and showed him how to eat them the Aitutaki way – you cut off just the
top of the mango and squish and squeeze until the mushy fruit comes out the hole.
Then he sent my hubby home with a big bag of bread and a load of fresh-picked
mangoes…on the house.

That’s
kind of how it is here. Mind you, we are outsiders, so we’re never going to be
accepted fully, but that’s something you come to accept as an expat. At least
the Cook Islanders are friendly and gracious toward us, unlike the residents of
another country – I won’t tell you the name but it starts with a “B” and ends
with “ahamas”. 

Last
week, we were invited to attend a tourism meeting as representatives of Perfect
Beach Resort. As we slapped away the hordes of mosquitoes draining us of blood,
a man and woman from the Ministry of Tourism Cook Islands did their spiel. They
spewed facts and figures, laid out the Ministry’s plan for 2008, and then
fielded questions from the audience. It seems the main gripe here is that
tourism has always focused on Rarotonga and the Aitutakians feel snubbed.

From our
view point, Prez and I thought that everyone was missing the point. You see,
the Ministry feels the best way to promote the island is to bring in travel
agents to see the place, and for Ministry members to travel around to trade
shows handing out pamphlets and CD roms. Hello? When’s the last time you
attended a travel show? The internet was given only a passing mention. How many
of you have either booked travel or researched a destination over the internet?
That’s what I thought. So, Prez is all hopped up about building a website for
Aitutaki. But first… 

He has
to build a website for the Aitutaki Conservation Trust, which we are now
somewhat unofficially a part of. I’ll explain.

Like
everywhere else, Aitutaki is a victim of over-fishing. There are many other
environmental stresses here – septic tanks that leach toxins into the soil (and
then into the lagoon), giant clam poaching, lack of recycling, invasive
species, etc. Sure there are reserve areas protected by law but when there’s no
one to call to enforce the law it’s meaningless. Enter Conservation Mike, (who
Prez bumped into out on the lagoon one day). He’s on a mission to protect the
lagoon, (hooray!), and he’s set up a trust to help achieve this. It’s still
early days and he’s only just planning his first meeting to get everyone’s
input and start forming a plan. I’ve read his proposal and it sounds doable. 

Anyway,
you’ll be hearing more about the ACT in the future, but it made me think of the
tourism meeting. After the meeting I questioned one of the Ministry reps about
what their commitment is to the environment. The answer, in a nutshell, was
“nothing”. I then pointed out that among their facts and figures was the fact
that the number one reason people travel to Aitutaki is for the lagoon. Lose
the lagoon and you’ll lose your tourists, I said, whereupon I was given a whole
bunch of excuses as to why the government is helpless to change things. Ah,
governmental shortsightedness…I feel like I’m back home in Canada!

So, it’s
Sunday and it’s stormy, which is fine by me because I went and burnt myself
again…stupid, stupid, stupid. I know I’ve rambled a bit but I think my point
was supposed to be that we’ll probably make some good friends here. And maybe
we won’t solve all the world’s problems but we might be able to help protect a
little lagoon in the great big Pacific Ocean. Wouldn’t that be nice? 

QUESTION:
Met any cool people in your travels?

Until
next week, (and hopefully on high speed), I hope this finds you healthy, happy
& lovin’ life!

The
Princess

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2 Responses to Paradise Week 2: Friends don’t let friends frown

  1. Cindy says:

    If you don\’t count the security guards at the airport (my last two blogs) on this trip to Florida, then no. 
     
    Mr. Bean is VERY funny and Mosquitos ARE stupid!
     

  2. april says:

    hey sister dear, have you ever thought of writing a travel guide or a book on your adventures? I find writing your blogs each week very entertaining and I am sure any book of your travels would be quite interesting.

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