Hello again from the Big Blue!
Big news this week, the Heineken store brought in a shipment of celery! If you didn’t see the report on CNN, I’m here to tell you it was quite an event. Speaking of news, (nice transition, don’t you think?) you may have heard that the Chinese summited Mt. Everest with the Olympic torch. What you probably didn’t hear about was the circus of paranoia and oppression leading up to the summit. I’m often saddened, though not shocked, at the lengths to which people will go to hide their own failings. I’ll return to China later (well, not literally, seeing as I’ve never been there) but first I’ll share some local drama with you.
Before we came to Perfect Beach Resort, we knew one our jobs would be to run lagoon tours for the guests. The Aitutaki lagoon – which, by the way, should be a Unesco World Heritage site – is the attraction of this island. If you come to Aitutaki, and don’t do a lagoon tour, you’ve missed the point.
The boat Mr.Boss was using for his tours worked well for him but for Prez, well, let’s just say it was a little on the primitive side. In his typical, gung-ho, entrepreneurial fashion, Prez instantly saw the potential of the lagoon and the reef that rings in. He convinced our employer to invest in a better quality, more sea-worthy craft and quickly set about exploring the waters surrounding us. What he found was a stretch of magnificent coral canyons populated by numerous schools of reef fish as well as large pelagics such as Humphead Wrasse and graceful Eagle Rays. Better still, this was a playground he could have to himself as no other tour operators ventured outside the reef.
In just a few months, Prez perfected his itinerary. First stop, weather permitting, would be at least one or more of the canyons outside the reef, usually with a visit to Eagle Ray Alley where the rays like to feed and play. Next he’d come back inside for lunch, on one of the idyllic motus, and more snorkeling in spots such as The Aquarium, The Coral Gardens, and The Pinnacles, and, the highlight, the Giant Clam Reserve. The tour takes a full day and guests spend most of it in the water snorkeling, which they love.
Word of mouth has made Prez’s “Adventure Snorkel Tour” the must-do tour on the island. Oh, we get the odd guest who gets seasick outside the reef, or who feels much too far out of their comfort zone, but overall the excursions get rave reviews. The guests are happy, we’re happy, Mr.Boss is happy, everybody is happy, right?
We’re new, we’re foreigners, we’re popular, and that makes us a target for every disgruntled tour operator on the island looking for someone to blame when their business is not as robust as it could be.
There’s no shortage of lagoon tours on Aitutaki and every tour offers something slightly different. Large boats cater to the crowd more interested in looking at the water than being in it. They have ukulele players, games, and cook up king-sized lunches. The medium boats can go to places the big boats can’t, so they can offer more snorkeling but still provide amenities such as sun-cover and BBQ lunches. In the small boat category, of which we are one of only a few members, tours can be more personalized but that does mean foregoing many of the creature comforts of the larger tours. We cater to adventure travelers who want action, action, action, and don’t mind a little rain on their head, or peeing in the ocean instead of a toilet. But there’s a tour for every taste.
Like everywhere else we’ve been, though, you’re always going to find the folks who, for whatever reason, have a business that’s not doing well and want to pin their failure on the ones who are. Months ago we got the wink that some of these scapegoat-seekers were starting a petition against us. And a few weeks ago, the Mayor lodged a formal complaint against us, in Rarotonga. Mr. Boss was questioned regarding our work permits and an email dialogue ensued between us about how to handle this situation.
And this takes me back to China, (again, not literally).
For those who know nothing about Everest, there are two sides from which you can attempt a summit. One side is in Nepal – the side the Ripster and crew are on this very minute – and one side is in Tibet, that hotly disputed Chinese territory. Concerned about protests, the Chinese closed the Tibet side of Everest to all climbers – supposedly until after their summit but now it appears the closure will remain for the season. As much as I disagree with their action, for a multitude of reasons, I suppose I can see their point.
Then they closed the Nepalese side as well, until May 10th. Huh? (Long story). Well now, we wouldn’t want some climber on the summit displaying a “Free Tibet” banner next to the guy holding the torch aloft for Chinese propaganda…er…I mean news. What the Chinese don’t give a rat’s ass about is the fact that Nepal’s economy relies heavily on Everest and the expedition companies who bring in the climbers and trekkers.
Talk about your Grade A clusterf**k. Rules, supposedly set in stone, regarding where climbers could and could not go, what kind of communication systems they could or could not use, and just when they would actually be allowed to climb, changed daily, sometimes hourly, and sometimes no one really knew what was going on at all. Expedition operators had to sign confidentiality agreements (gag orders) or risk being tossed out of the country. And all this on the opposite side of a very large mountain from the Chinese.
Here’s what makes me scratch my head. If the Chinese had just gone ahead and climbed the mountain, without the fufooraw, and even if some climber had whipped out a photo of the Dalai Lama and danced a jig in the background, (unlikely, there’s very little jig dancing done at 29,0000 feet), what’s the worst that would have happened? China’s oppression of Tibet is hardly a well kept secret, not to mention that the world has already, very vocally, voiced their disapproval. There’d be a few blurbs on CNN, a few fists raised in anger, and then we’d all go back to monitoring Brangelina’s latest adoption or Paris Hilton’s latest…well, whatever the heck she’s doing these days (I’m out of touch, thank goodness).
All they’ve succeeded in doing, as far as I’m concerned, is cementing, in the minds of many, their reputation as anti-democratic tyrants hell bent on stuffing a sock in the mouths of free thinkers and duct-taping them closed. And, hey, aren’t the Olympic games about peace?
Until Tibet is free, China will remain a failure as a super power, and no amount of censorship can hide that.
And that brings me back to Aitutaki, (literally)…
What to do about the anti-Prez & Princess campaign? I know my hubby had his feelings bruised, particularly since he’s been working his butt off, on his own time, building a website to help boost tourism to the island. Mr. Boss wrote a three page plea for tolerance and understanding, which we, thankfully, talked him out of sending. Me? I just laughed. I urged Prez to ignore it, keep on doing what he’s doing, and focus on the positive and all the truly good people we’ve met here. For once, he listened to his wife, (oh, come on, I’m just kidding!)
Time judges all. Hard work, a positive attitude, and solid ethics will win out every time over pettiness and greed. And men of peace and goodwill, who value freedom and free speech, will always, however long it takes, prevail over tyrants.
QUESTION: What would you do?
Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life,
p.s. For more info, have a look at the daily Everest dispatches on www.peakfreaks.com and to see Prez’s happy clients just watch the slide show from the pervious post!