Hello, one last time, from the Big Blue!
In a week, our South Pacific Adventure will come to an end. To quote The Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it’s been”. I’ve been putting together a musical slide show to inflict on everyone upon our return and it’s been interesting going back to those early days and seeing what sights caught my eye, how enthused I was about everything…I have far too many photos of chickens.
I didn’t want to come here. To clarify: I always wanted to come to the South Pacific but at the time we took this job I was feeling comfortable in Nelson and not thrilled about the prospect of folding our tents, yet again, and venturing into the unknown. Like all great adventures, this one was filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears, triumphs and defeats and a whole lot of self-discovery.
We arrived to a property in need of some serious TLC. As usual, me being the Black Cloud, I saw nothing but messes to be cleaned up and obstacles in our path. I wanted to leave; I wanted my old life back. Prez, being Mr Silver lining, saw possibility and opportunity. I need to thank him, because I don’t think I ever have, for talking me through those first days and overwhelming me with positivity that he may not have even felt himself. Thank you my love.
No sooner did I start to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel than we were both struck down with ciguatera poisoning and once more I wanted to board a plane and fly home. Once again, with Prez’s encouragement, I stuck it out.
And things did get better. We cleaned up and organized to the level we like, we eventually found time to play, and we met some amazing people from all over the globe – some who even came back for a second visit!
It was an interesting time in history to be so far away from the “real world”. We watched through our inverted binoculars as the world plunged into economic despair and faced a potential pandemic. From the nosebleed seats, we cheered as we watched America’s first black president take office. Even on our tiny island, Obama bumper stickers could be spotted and guests breathed an international sigh of relief, as it seemed sanity might finally be restored.
On a personal level, we dealt with sickness and loss, from afar. You don’t realize how far 6000 miles actually is until your dad is in the hospital on oxygen and IV fluids. We bit our nails and crossed our fingers when we heard the news of, first, our dear friend HQ’s cancer and then our friend Gary’s cancer, as well. And, most recently, we learned of “The Legend”, Alex Green’s battle with the big C. We waited anxiously when Mom’s partner, Will, suffered a stroke. We said goodbye to beloved pets of friends, including Willy the elderly kitty, M&M lover, Max, and bad dog Chase. And, of course, there was a goodbye to Emily, who I still can’t write about without tearing up. (I can’t even bring myself to take her name off the tag line of the Coconut Chronicles).
But we also celebrated. Tim Rippel’s successful summit of Everest, as harrowing as it was, “tops” the list. (Pun definitely intended). My sister enjoyed a big promotion at work and our various nieces and nephews continue to delight and impress us with their achievements. There were births and engagements, graduations and new jobs. A surprising amount of stuff can happen in two years.
But returning to the island…
Perhaps our biggest disappointment here is with the lack of concern for the environment. Time and time again we’ve watched this beautiful lagoon, a jewel in the world’s crown, raped and abused. Despite the hard work of many and the dire warnings of the WWF, very little progress has been made in educating people about the necessity of protecting this fragile ecosystem. How many meetings did we attend where some government mucky-muck stood up and loudly proclaimed, “The environment is our number one priority…but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today” or something to that effect? In two years, the “number one priority” has never been talked about.
Pollution, over fishing, illegal fishing and harvesting of marine life, greed, corruption, ignorance, lack of funding, lack of education, you name it, the list of offenses reads like a “how not to manage the environment” manual. The Cook Islands government should be ashamed of itself. Deeply. They are stealing from their grandchildren. Oh, and don’t think I’m letting tourists off the hook either…”but I just took one starfish”. We of the civilized world should know better. It’s time we set higher standards for ourselves.
If I had to pick the biggest “plus” to coming here, it would be the people. Michael Lee and Moana Williams have become two of our very dearest friends and I especially thank Ms Mo for teaching me about what “real” island life is like and sharing my frustrations over one or two glasses of wine. (Well, maybe more than one or two). Jim and Jo-Ann, from Etu Moana, showed us nothing but kindness from day one and went out of their way to promote Prez’s Adventure Snorkel Tours to their guests
Mr Buff made us laugh and still keeps in touch from his new management job down under. Tauono was always there to answer my tiny cries of “Help me!” when I needed fruit for snorkel tours early in the morning. His wife Sonja was ready with armloads of healing turmeric when she learned of my threatening breast lump. Trina and Steve, from the Koru Café, helped keep my dessert cravings at bay, (can you say “Chocolate Bomb”?), and gave Prez a place to indulge his “bad breakfast” fetish…and they are really nice folks, to boot. Mark, from down the road, was always kind enough to let me talk his ear off, (he must keep spare sets of ears at home). Steph and Turua introduced us to Pineapple Lumps, (dangerously good), brought me medicine when I was sick, (and laughed at the faces I made when I drank it), and Turua carved a beautiful paddle for our sister’s 50th birthday, complete with special, symbolic marks. The Kite Center Crew and their friends arrived just when our spirits were sagging and in need of some lift.
*I know I’m going to forget someone so please forgive me if you’re reading this and wondering how I could have forgotten you!
Special thanks must be given to Mr & Mrs Boss – Mathias and Riki Hagen – for giving us the opportunity to come here and for handing over their “baby” to us, to take care of for these two years. Running a small resort, especially on a remote island, is both a labour of love and bloody hard work. It isn’t easy to trust complete strangers with something you’ve put your heart and soul into but they did just that, allowing us the autonomy to run Matriki our way and to make changes we wanted. Lots of folks could never put their egos aside long enough to do that, so my hat is off to both of them for letting us be our own bosses and trusting us with their business. (Oh, and for the occasional delivery of much-needed steaks!)
I’m going to thank all of our friends back home in person but special credit is owed, as always, to the guy who works behind the scenes, (and doesn’t even read these Chronicles), and takes care of all our “stuff” when we’re away…Chris Bennett. I don’t know what we did so right to deserve a friend who consistently takes on the thankless chore of collecting our mail, depositing cheques, carting around our belongings, fielding phone calls, dealing with our million-and-one favours and all the petty nonsense no one can prepare for when they leave the country. He is in the highest order of friends and we owe him more than we can ever repay.
And of course, Pat & Joyce Roney, Paul and Wendy Kozak, our family, (especially Mom and my sister, Kelly), Tim and Becky Rippel, Liz Meyer, Helmi & Fred Braches, Deb & Ron Macatumpag, Meg and Dennis, Gavin and Jo, and all the other people who have given us support while we’ve been away are owed hugs and kisses and crates of juicy, ripe, mangoes. We couldn’t have done it without you!
To our guests, who we now call friends, we can’t wait to see you again, wherever in the world that may be.
Now, forgive me while I dive into the deep end for a moment…
Spending such a long time away from the hubbub of the civilized world, gives a gal time to do some serious soul searching. I came to Aitutaki looking for nothing, expecting nothing, but what I found was everything…what I found was me.
I am ashamed to say, it took me this long to leave behind the life I knew prior to May 2003, when we quit the film business and moved to another tropical “paradise”. No matter how many times I told myself I was OK with giving up everything, the truth is I really wasn’t. I liked having enough money to eat out whenever we wanted, I liked having a big house for friends to come and stay in, I liked the freedom of my own paycheque, I liked the freedom of being able to go to the gym six days a week, I liked not worrying about bills or price tags, I liked almost everything about that moneyed life and, secretly, I mourned for it long after it was gone.
Living here, you learn to cope with living without. There’s no choice and everyone, with few exceptions, is in the same boat. If the city water pump goes down, no water comes out of the tap and there is sweet-love-all you can do about it. No petrol? Oh well. It doesn’t matter if you are the GM of the fanciest resort on the island or the guy who spends his days watching the grass grow, no petrol means no petrol and you just have to put on your big girl panties and deal with it. With an already miniscule inventory of supplies on the island and constant shortages of staples such as cheese, milk, rice, bread, etc, it wasn’t long before all of my paradigms made an enormous shift. Now? I get excited about a new flavour of ice cream or a head of broccoli in the shops, when the DVD I rented isn’t a badly pirated copy it’s a good day, when water comes out of the tap, (both hot and cold), it’s like winning the lottery, being cool enough to wear socks is bliss, getting anything in the mail from home feels like Xmas, going out for a meal is a treat to be savoured whether cheeseburger or filet mignon, even the tiniest things have become luxuries.
For the first time since our U-Haul pulled out of Cornwall Place, over six years ago, I feel as if I’ve finally left that life behind. It feels good.
In many more ways, I’ve shed the burdens of civilization. When we first arrived here, I would panic if a guest saw me in the morning, before I had a chance to change out of my pajamas and fix my hair. These days, I’ll happily stroll down to the beach, in my old pajamas, hair askew, cup of tea in hand. No one really cares. I wonder why I used to worry so much? It’s not about not caring about my appearance, it’s about caring what’s underneath more. I’ve come to enjoy early mornings. I’ve actually seen sunrises. Really, I have. And I look at time, in general, differently. There’s just no rush for most things. It’s OK to slow down.
I’m forty now. I like me at forty. I like my life. We all end the same way, whether kings or peasants, so why not enjoy the ride?
A year from now, after re-acquainting myself with winter, after once again taking high speed internet and bubble baths for granted, and letting time paint over the frustrating details of island life, I will look back and really miss Aitutaki. This is where I found myself again. Some people plant sprouting coconuts here to mark their time on the island. Me? I will plant a piece of my heart and hope it will continue to be nourished by the land and water and people that helped it grow
Until next time, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life! Meitaki. Thank you.