Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31st, Happy New Years from Auckland

We celebrated the New Year by spending our evening walking the streets of Auckland and finishing with the fireworks show from the top of the Sky Tower. The Sky Tower looks a lot like the Space Needle, but is approximately twice as tall. You know you are in New Zealand when you are walking down central Auckland and you suddenly see somebody jump from the Sky Tower! We have posted a picture and if you look closely, or simply click on the picture, it should blow it up so you can see the person in the bottom right of the picture that has just jumped from the observation deck. Auckland and Seattle have many similarities; even the city sky line looks similar. We spent the better part of 6 hours in Auckland on New Years night and didn’t meet any Americans. Matter of fact most of Auckland is a melting pot of many nationalities… it was really nice to meet so many neat and fascinating people. Wish we could have sent more pictures on the show and party but the camera ran out of juice. Happy New Years from Auckland! Oh, and tee hee, we got to celebrate a day before you guys!

December 30th, Arrival New Zealand

We lost a day flying from the Cook Islands to New Zealand. Our plane departed the Cooks at 7:40am Monday December 29th, and we arrived 11:00am December 30th Tuesday. Not sure how I feel about losing a day… life is to short. Anyway, we arrived to a lot less fan fare than our departure from Aitutaki. We really thought the New Zealanders would hold signs at the airport that said “Welcome Estebs”. I heard they were really nice to Americans. All is safe and sound in NZ. It will be nice to have a few`days to clean up and get ready for our next adventure. We want to give a big thanks to our friends Steve and Stacey Bean who hooked us up with their NZ friends Jo and Andrew Clements. And a big thanks to Jo and Andrew Clements who are allowing us to use their home for our first 4 days in NZ. This has been wonderful… allowing us to clean up, shop, make trip preparations and gather ourselves before we venture out. There is much preparation as we will be camping the next 10 days while headed to the South Island. We will spend most of January and the early part of February on the South Island and then head back north and spend the last 3 weeks on the North Island. NZ will be action packed for us and we will do our best to keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 30th, The Island Effect

A few quick observations, or opinions based on observation, or possibly opinions based on observations with biases, or probably… opinions, observations, biases, judgments and ignorance. Anyway, here is a brief overview of some things we learned, felt and saw in the first few weeks. These are in no particular order.

We’ve become accustomed to…
• Sand on our feet, on our floors and in our beds

• Humidity

• Instant coffee (Nescafe’ Gold) mmm good

• Not necessarily expecting water to come out of the tap every time we turn it on

• Not expecting to drink the tap water without purifying it first

• Toilets that flush only when water does decide to run

• Major scarcity of food choices

• Creating culinary masterpieces with what’s available (including fish caught, fruits and vegetables growing on surrounding trees and vines)

• Sharing with others / community living – so that everyone’s small amount becomes more than enough

• Driving on the left

• A hot, hot sun that will burn you in 30 minutes even when it’s cloudy

• Expecting to see an aquarium like view every time we put our heads into the ocean

• Warm friendly, interesting people every where

• Geckos and lizards in our room every night (They would rid our room of bugs (it was quite nice really.)

• Warm ocean water

• Being surrounded by coconuts and Germans – we like both very much!

• Being the only Americans

• Learning that the rest of the world actually takes 30-60 days off each year - Obviously America doesn’t have the “Holiday” thing figured out yet.

• Mosquito bites

• Roosters (A.K.A. Cook Island alarm clocks)

• Goats (A.K.A. Aitutaki lawn mowers)

• Pigs (A.K.A. Aitutaki Bull Dozers, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)

• Losing track of time, the day of the week, and world events

December 29th, No One Wanted Us to Leave

Even the locals didn’t want to see us go; they were all out in-force at the Aitutaki Airport for our departure on Sunday, Dec. 28th. Oh, I guess they weren’t really protesting our departure specifically… but they were protesting. You see, for the Aitutakians, Sunday is quite literally considered a day of rest, and a few months ago Air Rarotonga decided to start flying two and from the island on Sundays. This is a big no-no for the people of Aitutaki, and it completely goes against their deep convictions. For hundreds of years they have not done any work on Sundays. (Uh, I’m not sure if Americans would really classify what they do on the other 6 days as “Work” for that matter … hmmm? - but that is neither here nor there.) They take “Day of Rest” to mean just that, I mean you can’t even exert yourself doing things we would consider as R&R - snorkeling, fishing, jogging, or playing tennis (Fred and Kristine learned that one the hard way). So, every Sunday they have a nice little party at the airport to quietly and respectfully protest Air Raro’s decision. The plane only holds about 20 people, and the protesters numbered a couple hundred. Hey, they take their day of rest seriously here on Aitutaki! I kind of liked it. Even though it seemed a bit legalistic, we did admire their conviction and traditions.

December 29th, Sonja’s Spicy Banana Salsa

5 small / 3 large ripe (but not mushy) bananas - Halve each banana length-wise & Cut into thick slices
1 small handful of mint - Thinly slice

(I hate the term “handful” in a recipe; it always send me into a spiral of doubt wondering whose hands are they talking about…does the person have big hands or little hands and are they the “Mound it to the sky until it spills over” type of person or more of the “Less is More, Contented Minimalist” type of person??? Am I the only one that struggles with this subjective cooking term? Anyway, if it helps, I tend to be more of the modest handful type and everyone at Katarina’s birthday party seemed to think my interpretation of this recipe turned out pretty good.)

1 or 2 little spicy red peppers - Remove and Discard seeds, Wash hands, Mince the pepper

(Be sure not to give someone a taste of the salsa using the unwashed fingers that you just used to scrape out the pepper’s seeds; that only results in tears, fire dancing and general agony - not that we know that from first-hand knowledge or anything. Why would you think that???)

1 Lemon - Squeeze juice over all ingredients

Mix and Enjoy

December 29th, Friendly Farewells

I actually got teary eyed as our plane took off from Aitutaki. (And this from the girl that doubted more than once if we should even go on this extended trip!) It kind-of surprised me how attached I had gotten to this small island and our “Matriki Family” in just 11 days – although, I realize that anyone who knows me well probably isn’t surprised by my quick attachment at all. Both Fred & Kristine (our hosts and, now also, our dear friends) drove us to the airport; they are like family now. (I’m already looking forward to seeing them again when they move back to B.C.) Curt mentioned, in his “Friendly Blessing” post, many of the wonderful people that have made their way into our hearts during our stent in Cook Island, but four more late arrivals have joined the ranks of our “Matriki Family” since then and warrant a brief honorable mention… Bernard, Myumi (Yikes, I just relized that I don't know how to spell your name.) – thanks for getting all of us out on the hike, the views where beautiful, and, prior to that experience, I didn’t know I was capable of sweating so much in such a short time frame. Also, thanks for reviewing and advising us on our NZ itinerary; we hope to catch up with you two again while we’re in Kiwi country. Jenny and Simon we wish you many fish, and that you will be able to sleep-in past your “Morning Tea” at some point during your Aitutaki holiday – don’t worry you never woke any of us. Come and give fly fishing in the Northwest a go; you know you’ll have a place to stay with us. And, Jenny, we will let you outline our “Australia Trip” whenever we get that one on the books. –Cheers! Lisa

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 20th, Sea Cucumbers

Here in the South Pacific, you couldn’t take 5 steps in the ocean without stepping on at least 3 sea cucumbers… they are everywhere!!! Someday all sea cucumbers of the sea (maybe a few land cumbers) will unite and take over the world; but that wont happen for about uh… 10 years, so we are all safe until then. There are about 1,250 different types of sea cucumbers. The ones here are black and smooth with sand all over them. Sea cucumbers are real cool because if you pick them up, then squeze, they shoot out a stream of water that you can squirt people with; its very entertaining. If you disturb them to much they puke their guts out literally, then reproduce their organs again. Nice.
Over-n-out m, ma, mad, madd, maddy

December 19th, Fishing Stories

Ok, this one didn’t get away. This is for all my fishin’ buddies back home… You guys know who you are. And please, can somebody from SVA send our blog address to Nate and Katherine Toby. Nate will appreciate this post, and he’s one of my fishin’ buddies. Thanks to Fred my captain and coach we landed a beautiful 26 pound yellow fin tuna. The experience started as an invite from Fred Friday morning. He asked if I wanted to join him for an evening fish. Of course I replied “Absolutely”. This was a great experience. Taking his 20ft skiff outside the reef and several miles into the ocean to a spot called minor “FAD”. A “FAD” is a Fish Attraction Device. The locals take out 5,000 to 7,000 feet of ultra strong cord and attach it to a big weight. The weight anchors the fad to the bottom of the ocean and along the top is netting and a wood boom. Only about 30ft long, the netting and boom support small fish life and protection from predators. Anyway, birds and sea life are attracted to the “FAD” as a feeding ground. You see, every once in awhile these little fish venture out of the fad and get preyed upon. The yellow fin, marlin, and other game fish like to hang out around the “FAD” and feed. So Fred and I ventured outside our beautiful lagoon into the big blue. The South Pacific ocean is really amazing, the visibility can be 200-300 feet in the open ocean, and I’ve never seen a blue like that in my life, and can’t really describe it. We fished in water that was 5,000 feet deep. Basically we were trolling around the “fad”, using 40 pound test, with a 30 pound leader that was about 3-4 feet long. We fished with a simple 4-5 inch long flat fish that resembled a small fish in the area. We used about 300 feet of line, and fished about 6 inches to 5 feet below the surface. Yellow fin are major predator fish and like to hang out about 200-600ft below the surface. Once they spot prey they shoot toward the surface and attack. Just like a missile. Sometimes they are moving so fast they can’t put the breaks on and launch 10-15 feet out of the water. They are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, and it’s not uncommon for them to rip off 600-800ft of line once they hit the lure. My fish was not on the aggressive side, but still took about 20 minutes to land. Fred made it clear that they can spool you easily and there is absolutely nothing you can do. You can guess that we fish with very large reels with “lots of line”. Long story short, we landed the fish (It was a pretty nice size -about 26 pounds), and came home as tuna conquerors. Later that night we enjoyed the Ahi of our labor; it tasted amazing! It was a thrill being in the middle of the South Pacific fighting a yellow fin tuna, with the warm tropical breeze blowing, nothing around us but a small island in the distance, and 5,000 feet of Pacific blue below us. Fred mentioned that if the engine broke down, we might drift into Hawaii in a few months, but the chances would be slim. At one point in the day, Fred told me about a story months ago when his wife hooked a yellow fin, and just as they were getting it to the boat, a very large shark broke surface, swallowed the yellow fin, and disappeared as quickly as it struck the fish. Just after this story Fred snagged his lure on the “FAD”. I eagerly told him I would jump in with the mask and go retrieve it off the “FAD”. Suddenly, my senses came to me and I remembered the story from earlier in the day. As Fred told me how amazing it is to swim in the deep ocean and peer down 200 feet into the deep blue, I was quietly remembering the story and politely told Fred he could have the honors and I’ll man the boat… I get another chance to fish with him in a couple days, maybe I’ll take the plunge.
On a side note, Maddy and I went out with Fred and a group of people “outside the reef to snorkel”. I must tell you how proud I was of Maddy to jump in and snorkel in the deep ocean. We spotted several large turtles and many amazing fish beneath us in about 25-40 feet of water. All of the other people on Fred’s boat got sea sick, and were a little nervous about the open ocean. Madelynn was by far the brave one, and the swells didn’t even bother her! Cheers to Maddy, the brave one!

December 17th-21st, Aitutaki Cook Islands

There is a place in the South Pacific that is everything you think of in a tropical paradise. Aitutaki, a motu lagoon, formed by an extinct volcano. Aitutaki is in the Northern end of the Southern Cooks Islands. The Ocean is azure and turquoise blue in the lagoon, and deep crystal clear blue outside the lagoon. The motu is surrounded with smaller uninhabited islands and crystal clear water. Pull up Aitutaki on the web and you get a great arial picture of the island in images. The sand is powdery white, and the reef is loaded with many colorful fish, eels, urchins, beautiful coral heads and more. The girls can walk 20 feet from their beach hut, put a mask and snorkel on, and be exploring the underwater world. The temperature is mid 80’s each day, and in the night about 75. We have had gorgeous sunsets from our beach and beautiful lightning displays on the horizon at sunset. Being so far from any cities, and no mega resorts are aloud on this island, there is a night sky that is piercing clear. You see stars and planets that only the center of the South Pacific will allow. There are no dogs on Aitutaki, as they are banned. Something about a King who’s son was bitten several hundred years ago. Anyway, there is a law banning dogs. It makes for a very peaceful experience, not that dogs are bad, as we own one, but the dogs on our last Island, Rarotonga, were a bit aggressive from time to time. Although, mostly playful. We have crabs scampering around the beaches, beautiful birds and sounds we have never seen or heard, and fresh fruit hanging from the trees. All of our consumed fruit (bananas, paw paws, passion fruit, mangos, coconut, avocado, bread fruit and limes) can be picked from the grounds we reside on. Most of these we simply pick and eat with one of our meals. Or, if we can’t find anything on the grounds we can simply walk down the street and find a fruit tree or vine in the jungle, or off the side of any road. Most fruits are abundant in supply; we only need to wait for some to ripen. We often trade fruit with others staying around us, or are given fruit from somebody on a daily basis. While writing this Peter and Jane stopped by with several mangos and a coconut. Curt’s Ahi tuna served all the guests (4) staying in the other two huts next to us, and we still have more tuna to serve our Swedish friends on the December 23rd. 26 pounds of Yellow Fin can be stretched a bit. We can walk down the beach and venture in to local peoples gardens and buy produce directly, and tea and cake may be offered in return. The people on Aitutaki are beautiful and friendly. This place really is quite amazing, and special. I’m sure there are many other remote islands in the South Pacific that are similar, we are simply really thankful that we get an opportunity to experience it as a family and see this one first hand. If you are fortunate enough to visit this place someday, or a place like it, find a hut on the beach with a local family, as it should only cost you about $25-$45 USA a night. Sure your water/plumbing may only work half of the day, you may need to put up with a few geckos in the room, and the humidity might catch you a little of guard, but you can’t beat the living, people and the life experience.

Maddy's nugget of wisdom #18: When going under water make sure to hold your breath.

December 8th – 21st, Friendly Blessings

We were hopeful in what this trip would teach us, what encounters we may have along the road, and what friends may be placed in our way. After two weeks we have been blessed and rewarded with many truly amazing friendships and acquaintances.
First, we have had lunch with Martha Enu (Leader of YWAM ministries in the Cook Islands). The day involved meeting her family, having lunch, and touring their new YWAM facility and building project. They are in the process of building and awesome conference and lodging facility that will support around 100 missionaries at a time with a bookshop and café for the local community to hang out at on a daily basis. The land lease, given to them by a Rarotongan Resident (truly a blessing/miracle), is on prime Rarotongan realestate - a beautiful beach on the south the side of the island. Eddie and Martha are incredible people, and have a passion for people.
Next, we met the “Swedes”, Per and Katarina Andersson, and their three kids. They invited us to a beautiful dinner at their rental home, where we had a wonderful evening talking about travel, relationships, kids and our respective home countries. They just happen to be on a very similar trip venturing to the Cook Islands then on to New Zealand. It’s amazing the similarities we had as families. In addition, their two girls 10 & 13 years old got along wonderfully with our 10 & 13 year old girls. Huh, who would have known? We are so happy to be able to reciprocate their hospitality by throwing a B-day bash for Katarina on the Island of Aitutaki December 23rd. It should be a blast as we have fresh Yellow Fin Tuna (Ahi) to serve that Curt caught, and we found a local islander to make a Coconut Lime Cake.
Finally, we have had a great time getting to know Fred and Kristine, our host and hostess at our current accommodations on Aitutaki. Fred has taken Curt out to catch his first Yellow Fin Tuna. Fred and Kristine were nice enough to prepare some of the fish, “Sushi Style” for us that evening. We had a wonderful time in their home listening to their stories and getting to know them. They are quite the adventurous couple, having met doing stunt work for movies and TV. They’ve lived all over the world, are full of life, great stories and fun. Kristine is an award winning writer and is currently working on a fantasy adventure novel that has all of us expectant for its release. Fred, well Fred has done just about everything Curt wants to do.
But that is not all, we have had time to get to know “Simon the photographer,” from England, he is the type of person that you like instantly and would only like better and better the more you got to know him. Such a fun and interesting guy! “Frank the engineer,” from Germany, he looks 22 but is really 35 and is enthusiastic about everything he sees and does. He is as well travelled as anybody we know. “Jan and Peter,” from Sydney Australia, they are the “Grandparent figures” of our crew here on Aitutaki. They are currently staying in a hut on the beach next to our girls hut. They have big hearts and a thirst for adventure and are always teaching useful and healthy tips about life and travel. “Adrianne,” our proprietor at Tiare Village, was very accommodating and gracious. “Christian the Doctor,” from Austria, was quite a nice young man. He was travelling for 3 months before he starts a 3 year residency to practice Oncology. “Dave the Crane Operator,” from England, turned us on to the island dance competition and island night on Rarotonga as well as lots of general information regarding the Cook Islands. Dave knows the Cooks well after returning here year-after-year in his travels. There are many other friendly people and faces that have not been mentioned, but have added richly to our experience.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 16th, Our Swede/Sweet Friends

A few days ago we met 2 Swedish chicas at the pool. They liked me so much they invited me over for dinner. (I brought my family too so they woudn’t feel left out.) The Andersson family consist of a Mommy (Katarina) a Daddy (Per) 2 girls (Klara and Blenda) and a little boy (Nils). They are all real cool and nice. The oldest girl is 13 like me and she is pretty awesome. She taught me a whole bunch of useful words like “Strunpor” which means socks. I can also say “watch out for that cheese” which is…. I don’t know how to spell it, but you pronounce it “ce oop far` then esta” I think. Oh yah, and pig is “Gris.”
Over-n-out madhizzle fo shizzle

December 15th, At Home Abroad

My heart is at home anyplace where I have friendships – the specific location can change (as it has many times in my life) but for me, where I know and am known that is home. It is this personal characteristic that I struggle with the most amidst travel -especially extended travel. Rarely is there an opportunity to move beyond surface communication – “I would like the iced tea and the house salad.” “Which way to the museum?’’ etc. etc. I see all these amazing places and all these amazing people, but so often, there is no connection to the people we interact with. It leaves me wanting. Wishing I knew better how to connect to those around me.
Because this lack of connection is so often the norm, it makes it that much more special in those moments when a friendship is formed and there is an opportunity to move beyond one sentence transactional communication! Today we had two such opportunities. Talk about a red letter day for me!!!
The first happened over poolside chat with a family from Sweden that is staying at our same accommodation. They have three children, Klara, Blenda and Nils, and their two girls are our girls’ same ages. We discovered that our families are likeminded in many ways, and that their travel route and ours’ follows almost the same basic plan. They are on an extended trip as well, traveling next to Aitukaki and then on to New Zealand! We sat for over an hour around a picnic table discussing where we had been and where we were going and how we got to this point of extended travel with our families. It was so wonderful to have a conversation in the middle of Rarotonga with a family from the other side of the world from us and find that we had so much in common. (Thank God they speak English though, because our Swedish is non-existent.)
The second was with Martha, a missionary whose name I found in a YWAM directory and had exchanged a few emails with before leaving WA. In one of those emails, I had asked her if our family could be of any help to her and their YWAM work while we were there in Rarotonga. Of all the things she could have asked for, she requested that we bring chocolate chips and diapers if we had room in our bags. So even though I had planned on “Helping” her, it was Martha who helped us more. She picked us up from our first accommodation and helped us transfer to our second place on the opposite side of the island. And then today, she made us lunch at her house and let us do - a much needed - load of laundry while we ate. All of this is something any of us would do for a friend, but how often do you see people go to this type of effort for a family that they hardly know??? It was such a blessing and a gift for us to have that “Normalcy” of talking and laughing around a kitchen table with another family over lunch and laundry.
Most of the time, there is a space that defines and separates tourists from locals, visitors from residents, and travelers from other travelers – everyone moving within there own routine not wanting to disturb the others. But anytime that natural barrier is bridged, those are the moments, and the stories, and the memories that create the heartbeat of travel for me.
Kia Orana, Lisa

December 14th, Maori Church and Hermie Farms

First we woke up and had some good breakfast. When we got ready for the day, we drove down to a big church in the middle of town. On the outside it was all white. It had two stories and we sat up in the loft. Lots of the local people brought fans, and I wished I had one too. Most of the ladies wore very fancy straw hats, and woven into the top of each hat was a shiny oyster shell. They were all different and all very pretty. Everyone seem like they were friends and were happy to be there. We recognized some of the songs they sang even though they sang in Maori sometimes. The minister spoke to everyone in Maori (he must have been funny because sometimes they all laughed), but all we understood was “Oofa-boota-bata-tacata boo?????” So I don’t think I learned much about God from that. Then we went to the store and got a LOT of groceries and then we drove home to put the groceries away. Madelynn and I jumped in the pool because we were sooooo hot from church, and mom and dad made lunch. After lunch we went down to a beach called the Fruits of Rarotonga. It had a dock in the middle of the water that we swam out to and jumped off. Then we went to another beach where I found a lot of hermit crabs. I dug deep into the sand and made a fort for the Hermit crabs. Mom and I looked and looked and found more and more Hermit crabs to fill the fort with. We probably put 25 or more crabs in the fort. It was a “Hermie Farm!”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 13th, Market Day!

The day after Friday and the day before Sunday, we went to the Saturday market. I think markets are pretty sweet, and if you have never been to one, you are not complete, and to complete yourself (because you can’t walk around incomplete) I suggest you find one and go to it. The market here was particularly sweet because there were dancers and it smelled really good. Lisa and Curt (my awesome parents) bought some bananas (those were the best bananas I ever had)and some paw paws. I got a freakishly cool dress - skirt thing that can transform into hundreds of other dresses and some shirts, but uh… I don’t like any of the shirts.
Over-n-Out da Mad Skillet (A.K.A. Maddy)

December 12th, Children’s Dance Competition

Te Eiva Kuki Airani International Children’s Dance Competition – Cook Island National Auditorium
Our new friend Dave from London told us about an island dance competition. We thought, “Sweet, let’s go!” So that night we went to it. During the competition, there was a little girl and she was so scared coming out on stage that she almost cried, (she was the youngest performer too - probably 6) but when she started to dance, she was AMAZING!!!! She was probably one of the best out there. She could shake it!! We call her little-bit; she is so cute! In the Maori dances there are a few things that the dancers try really hard to be good at…for the girls: it’s shaking your booty really fast and for the boys: it’s shaking your knees really fast. (I know it sounds kind of weird but true!) Then after intermission I fell asleep.
McKenna - Merry Christmas!

December 8-12th, Tiare Village Hostel

Our first four days on the Cook Islands have been spent on the North Side of Rarotonga at the Tiare Village hostel. We have a little A-Frame “Chalet” that looks more like something out of a Grimm Fairy Tale than a South Pacific jungle. Our front porch, strung with clothes line and pins, doubles as our “Dryer” for our perpetually damp clothing and towels. Inside, our kitchen has a mini-fridge, a hodge-podge of dishes, pans, cutlery and lizards. A 2 burner propane cook top – surrounded by burn & singe marks that tell of past culinary endeavors gone awry – takes up more than half of the counter space in our little kitchen. There’s not one item that matches another, but it’s kind-of nice to be reminded that I really don’t need any more than this cozy space provides.

The Chalet has 3 bedrooms that can be rented out separately or, as in our case, a family can take over the whole place! Upon arrival, Maddy quickly called dibs on the single bedroom downstairs and McKenna “Named & Claimed” the big attic loft. This left Curt and I with a small closet-like “Ward & June Cleaver Style Room” with two separated single beds opposite the attic loft. Not the height of romance here in the South Pacific – but this is a family trip.

Outside our Chalet – as well as throughout Rarotonga – there is a constant cacophony of “Cock-a-doodle-dos” because chickens are everywhere! I like the sound; it reminds me that I’m someplace other – other than home, other than what’s normal to me. Another inescapable quality of the topics is the super high humidity. It’s been the hardest on McKenna - our child whose internal heater enables her to jump into Glacial fed lakes in the early spring and wear t-shirts in the snow. She’s compensated nicely though, by practically living in the water. Tiare Village has a 10’wide x 4’deep pool and everyone staying in the poolside efficiency units knows her really well by now. Maddy’s affinity to Raro grew exponentially upon her discovery of pigs, pigs, and more pigs. Fewer in numbers than chickens, but almost as popular as dogs, her favorite animal is a popular choice here.

We opted not to get a vehicle during our stay at Tiare Village and consequly, have done a LOT of walking. Good exercise, good to get to see the off the beaten path view of Rarotonga, but not the most popular choice with our kids. The girls have been really good sports though and haven’t complained much at all. . (For 10 & 13 I think they are exceptional and well beyond their years in their adaptability and willingness to try different things.) One lady thought we were from France because we were walking everywhere, and for a few brief moments, the allure of being thought of as French almost made walking seem like the “Coolest” mode of transportation available! Those moments were brief, however – for the record, I did say, “Almost.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 10th, Cook Island Education Day

Today we will explore the capital of the Cook Islands, Avarua. Avarua just happens to be on the Island of Rarotonga. In a nut shell, the Cook Islands are made up of about 15 islands, volcanic in origin. The Cooks are sandwiched in between Tahiti (to the east), and Tonga and Figi (to the west). There are literally thousands of islands in the South Pacific, and we are happy to get to enjoy a few of them on this trip. The economy of the Cooks runs off the New Zealand currency; however, they are not governed by New Zealand. (This was one of the reasons we chose to visit the Cook Islands - the favorable exchange rate between the US dollar and the Kiwi dollar.) After a little “Home-School” time this morning we’re heading out to the Cook Island National Museum and Library, The Cultural Center, and The Pare O Tane Palace of Makea – every student loves a fieldtrip! (Plus the indoor activities will give our now reddish NW skin some time to recover from yesterday’s excursion.)
We walked 5 miles in the blistering tropical heat, leaving pools of perspiration in our wake, in order to get to the museum; then when we got there it was closed! :( :( That’s worthy of two sad faces; I mean our Maori education is at stake. So I guess we will just have to remain ignorant of their culture and customs. (Sorry, Mr. Talmadge; I tried so hard.)Over-n-Out - The Mad D

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 9th, Water Therapy

Ok, what else do you do in the South Pacific after 29 hours of travel? Come on, you swim in the 85 degree ocean until you are lobster red! WARNING: You might want to dawn your sunglasses to look at our chaulky white Seattle bodies. We swam all day and jumped off "Black Rock" into the Rarotongan coast. The lagoon was a beautiful azure blue, and the waves were banging off the reaf in the distance. It was a good day.

December 8th, Missed Target

You know those storms I talked about yesterday; well, they got the best of Air New Zealand. And this is saying a lot about the severity of the storm, because everyone knows that NZ is known for its thrill seeking, adventure enthusiasts. You know the storm was bad if a Kiwi pilot was scared off! Our pilot tried to land several times in Rarotonga, but it was storming so bad that he diverted to Tahiti. It was kinda fun trying to land in that junk, but when the pilot twice says he can’t see the runway due to hard rain (C.P.F.R.), so we felt really good about the 1 hour and 30 minute diversion. Hey, it’s all in the adventure, and now we can say we’ve been to Tahiti!
The sky last night from the airplane was amazingly beautiful as we were cruising at about 30 thousand feet and the tropical storms were lighting up the sky below us over the Pacific Ocean. God created an amazing world! We could see a beautiful bright orange moon above and a raging lightning storm below. Hopefully we will head back towards Raro soon, but we’re not sure if the weather is going to cooperate today. We patiently sit in the plane grounded in Tahiti. Our camera ran out of battery power mid-plane ride, so we can’t take any pictures of Tahiti – too bad. Ahhh, we will just sit here and take in the beauty from the tarmac. Cheers-
No worries, we finally did arrive Raro about 5 hours after our scheduled arrival time, but - who's counting??? - we're on island time now. The weather broke and the pilots high tailed it for Raro. Upon arrival we grabbed a refreshing drink, did some quick grocery shopping, and walked to our accommodations.

December 7th, SPNZ Launch

N-I-C-E! (Bouma’s, I know you are laughing.)
We awoke to a cold, gray and rainy December Northwest day. Typical weather for this time of year, and exactly the kind of day I (Curt) wanted as we took flight for the South Pacific. We were all a little groggy but ready to roll. 8 full bags of luggage and 4 carry on pieces. Bringing the camping gear along made for quite a haul. This by far is the most we have ever packed for an air travel trip. We will end up camping about 25-35 days in Kiwi country. Everything was smooth today, besides Maddy coming down with a little cold. The flight was on time from Seattle to LAX, and our flight from LAX to Rarotonga is scheduled to be on time. The biggest excitement today was eating junk food (Burger King and McDonalds), and getting slightly lost at LAX; however, with an 8 hour layover it’s difficult to get bent out of shape over getting lost – time was on our side. Since we will be making 90% of our meals and shopping local markets, I told the girls to savor those last few bites of junk food.
We are currently hangin’ out in LAX and ready to hop on our 10:15pm flight to Rarotonga. We are scheduled to arrive in Raro at 6:30am on Monday, Dec 8th. Should be exciting the next few days on Raro as a large depression of tropical storms are headed into the islands. They are expecting strong winds, large thunderstorms, heavy rain, and possible minor flooding. Nothing serious, but it is the start of their rainy typhoon season (summer season). Rarotonga and the outer Cook Islands only average about 1 Typhoon a year, unlike the US that can see 10-20 cross the Atlantic during Hurricane season. They call them Typhoons in the Southern Hemisphere vs. Hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere, and evidently they rotate the opposite direction of our Hurricanes. (Have I thoroughly scared you yet, Mom? Honest, that’s not my intention.) I’m looking forward to highs in the mid 80’s and lows in the mid to upper 70’s. The ocean temp should be in the low to mid 80’s inside the lagoon on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
A quick thank you to Clint for so graciously offering to take us to the airport and launch us on our adventure this morning. Also, thanks to Tanya and Stacey for helping with the car thing the night before, let’s call it “Lighting the fuse!” And to Monty, Marty and the SVA staff, thanks for letting Lisa off the leash during the busy season…you guys are the best!
Ok, I’m told we are boarding for Raro, so I wish you all the best and please keep us in your prayers for our health and safety on this trip. The Esteb ladies are already missing friends and family…I haven‘t even given it a thought though… it must be the guy thing. –Over and Out