World’s Longest Blog Post

Friday, March 14

Following up. There are two members of our group who have been 6 and 8 times to the Cook Islands. This means that, if they go to the same school each year, they can follow students through the grades. This builds a real bond between volunteer and student – the kind of thing that can make learning much easier.

It would be nice to follow those students who are struggling and perhaps see how your work makes a difference.


On Tuesday I had a new neighbour (I’m in 23, he’s in 22). Morrie is 82 years old and lives in Auckland. He’s been in the movie theatre business, primarily on the technical side, since 1950. He’s friends with Harry, the owner of the Kii Kii, and he’d come to install a new lens on the digital projector at the theatre (that Harry also owns).

Morrie and I spent quite a few hours over the next days talking about the movie theatre business. I know about Vista Vision, Panavision and other wide screen formats from the 1950s. I could also talk about anamorphic lenses. We had some great talks and I learned stuff. I hope I’m as nerdy and up to date as Morrie when I’m over 80.

Saying Goodbye

Yesterday the staff brought dishes for a goodbye lunch. Mata – the principal – bid me farewell and presented me with a really nice T-shirt and cloth bag.

It was sad leaving Titikaveka today. Last year the goodbyes were very gracious. This year even the kids said they looked forward to seeing me next year. I’m a bit more part of the staff. It’s a nice feeling.

Yesterday I almost committed the gravest sin of any teacher: loosing keys. Caleb, who’s home with Dengue fever, lent me his keys. Since I know my ability to loose anything, I very carefully put them in my backpack.

Of course, when I looked for them, I couldn’t find them. I search and searched and completely unpacked my backpack. Finally, Mata had her Grade 11s searched the classroom. In despair, I told one of the girls to check my backpack. Of course, she found the keys in 10 seconds. I immediately turned them over to Mata.

One of the things I’ve done at Titikaveka was make network cables. For those in the know, they were about 30 meters of Cat 6. This involves inserting 8 tiny wires in a plug. Sometimes I’d spend 3 hours and wreck 10 plugs before I got it right. Today I abandoned one cable as a hopeless cause, after an hour of trying.

Panic #1

I phoned Air Raro (my flight to Atiu) and discovered that I can only take 16 kg of luggage. International flights let you have 9 more kilos.

So, we’re going into weight saving mode:

  • tear the front covers off my pill packs
  • tear out only the articles I want to use in magazines
  • throw out 1 Norwegian Krone with a hole in the middle and shampoo and case from Air New Zealand
  • throw out one of the two reading lamp things that you attach to a book so you don’t disturb the other person. What other person? I’m in a room by myself.

Leave stuff with Global Volunteers:

  • duplicates of medications (how much Imodium does one man need?)
  • a bandana in the colours of the Indian Posse gang
  • bathroom case I never use
  • two books on the evangelical experience in America and the founding of New York,
  • a big, really heavy, beach towel – great towel, but too heavy
  • an extension cord usable in North America
  • an ethernet cable
  • 4 AA and 4 AAA batteries (I haven’t brought anything that needs them???)
  • a deck of Spiderman playing cards
  • 10 pairs of soft ear plugs (again, it would have to be neighbours who were bothered by my snoring – it’s possible, but…)
  • Among the things I’m keeping:
  • the laser pointer that cats really like
  • a nice collapsable cork screw (even though the only wines I’ve seen have screw tops)
  • two different ukelele tuners

The things I’ll leave in a locker at the airport:

  • one of the two passport holders I brought with me (what? do I have fake Swiss documentation?)
  • Three t-shirts. Why wear t-shirts when you can wear Hawaiian shirts and be so much cooler (in both ways).
  • pyjama pants (haven’t worn them yet – was I expecting some kind of party?)
  • a laptop case which I didn’t need because my backpack did well enough
  • sports coat, long pants, dress shirt and tie. Who knows, maybe the government will want to talk to me. Next year I’m going to wear my good clothes at least once because many of my fellow volunteers assume I’m a retrograde hippie. I can clean up real nice.
  • five of the eight pair of glasses I brought with me
  • Euros 9.40 (????)
  • $US58 and change
  • the legs to my hiking pants – I’ll take the shorts (it involves zippers)
  • the watch I got from the School Board when I retired but which needs a new battery.

I’m keeping the razor and shaving cream from Air New Zealand. Unfortunately, my moustache prevents the snorkel goggles from sealing fully. I need to make myself look like a Hutterite by shaving off my moustache. Who said I was vain?

Small Planes

One of the jobs I volunteered for was typing the journal. Every day, one of us is responsible for writing an account of our activities. Since, at 60, I’m the youngest in our group, no one else can type. I got a few entries done earlier, but this morning I polished off most of them. In addition to some having poor handwriting, some reporters went on at length, although there are only so many multiple ways of saying, “we did reading assessments”.

This occupied the time until James came to pick me up and take me too the airport.

Hendri and Raphael are two German dental students who’ve been in Rarotonga for six weeks and will be on Atiu with me for a week. They then go on to Aitutaki for a week. After the two of us talked in the airport lounge for an hour, we got on the 12 passenger Embraer plane (it’s Brazilian and while cheaper than the equivalent Bombardier still has a good reputation).

My backpack is likely over 10 Kilos and quite large. It looked like the front seat would have the most room. However, it’s right beside the propellers. I got used to the roar. What took some courage was the takeoff out of Raro. There are very strong winds and then plane did lots of dippsy doodles. I kept thinking about the people I know who aren’t good fliers.

I’m writing this on the plane and we’ve started to shimmy and shake. Must be time for landing.

I’ve written about this before, but the promise I made to myself a couple of years ago was that I would have adventures. I realized once I was on the plane that being on Raro wasn’t as much of an adventure as it was a year ago. So many things and people were familiar. However, Atiu really feels like an adventure.

First hours on Atiu

The Atiu airport is on the smaller side. However, it does have a luggage delivery system and a ticket counter, although it doesn’t have any walls. We were greeted by floral leis and as usual, mine started wilting right away. Roger, from Atiu Villas was there to pick me up.

On our way to the Villas, Roger gave me an extensive geography lesson. He’s a brilliant man and I think I read someplace that he has a Ph. D. He has some issues with environmentalists.

I’m in a peculiar situation. There is a couple here from Australia, but they leave on Monday. I’ll be the only guest until Saturday. This could make getting tours a bit of a trick, as they won’t take one. However, I’ll need to get in touch with Hendri and Raphael.

I love my little villa. It’s one room, but the construction is impeccable. The villas are all built of trees from Atiu which Roger cut and milled himself. Some of the wood is gorgeous. You can open the patio door and the entrance door to let the breezes blow right through. I may sleep with them open.

I’ll be making my own breakfasts and lunch. I also have to make dinner on Sunday.

It seems like there is bush beer at any one of a dozen locations every day of the week. There’s even one before church and another after church. Since the beer is 9% alcohol, it’s really more like bush wine.

So, if tours, etc. are out, there’s still things I can do. Apparently the morning is the best time, because everyone takes a siesta during the heat of the day. I also think I’d be very happy just hanging out in my villa and writing some scripts. Or reading junk novels.

I could really relax on this island.

So, You Wanted an Adventure, Ron

Yup, I’ve had my first adventure and though there were some tribulations, I’m  sure in time I’ll be glad I went. As soon as Roger got me back my Villa, he said the Anatatikata cave tour was leaving at 3:00 and that would be the only time this week. Anatatikata is where a blind echolocating bird lives and is the site of a grotto swimming pool.

The Australians, Hendi, Raphael and I were the party. Henry, our guide, drove us to the trail head and said it would be about half an hour to get to the caves. This half hour involved scrambling over a dozen sets of old choral that most often did not provide a place to put your foot. Very soon I was beginning to get hot. When we reach the ladder that would take us down into the cave, I was sweating so much that my shirt was dripping.

I didn’t think to bring a water bottle, so Hendi and Raphael were gracious enough to give me theirs.

Down and around we went through the various parts of the cave. Because there was was water on some of the rocks, they were especially slippery. There were stalagmites and stalactites poking me top and bottom. My head took a number of hits and I can’t count the number of “F” bombs I let fly. Henry was good at helping me. When I realized the underground pool was near, I let the rest of the party go on to look at the blind bird that echolocates (I’m not much of an ornithologist).

This gave me the opportunity to rest and drink the rest of the litre of water.

We then went down the the pool. I’m not good at squeezing, so I found it rough going to get into the water cave. Once we got there, boy, did that cool water feel good. I kept ducking my head under water to cool it down. We stayed 20 minutes, then it was time to return.

I asked if I could go ahead so that I would be leading the walking and not feel rushed. Raphael was right beside me and saved me on a number of occasions. We scrambled again over 12 old choral formations. I kept a steady slow pace. I read in an old backpack book that you should walk at  a speed which would allow you got hold an intellectual conversation. I seemed to have chosen correctly.

The next day I had heat rash all over my body. Both of my big toes were sore from scrunching up (I was wearing my sneakers, not flip flops). I had one sore wrist. And my whole body ached.

Before I went on the tour, I suspected that we wouldn’t be walking the groomed trails of our national parks – heck, not even the ungroomed trails. I knew that Disney would not have designed the cave adventure just like he did for Tom Sawyer.

I definitely wasn’t ready for this expedition and I’ve been paid for it the subsequent few days. However, that’s the way adventures go. The unknown can be surprising and hard on the head.

The worst part is that along the way I lost my iPhone. I’ve had it over two years and it’s in pretty rough shape, so I am up for a new one. However, it did have pictures on it I’d like.

In the last four months:

* West Jet lost my luggage going to Honolulu and I had to make a midnight run to a hospital and drug store because my prescriptions were in the luggage.

* I lost my wallet. It’s likely in the house someplace, but even with hours of searching, it hasn’t turned up.

* Air New Zealand lost my luggage.

* I lost my cell phone.

So, I make it World = 2, Ron = 2. I can live with a tie.

More tours 

Sunday afternoon the sane five of us went on George the Birdman’s tour. This is much better, as we mostly sat on benches on the back of the truck. The benches weren’t actually attached to anything and I did need to hang on like crazy, but this is the way things are done on the Cook Islands. They have the safety consciousness of Saskatchewan in the 1950s. In the subsequent years we’ve probably gone to far the other way.

We actually got to see a couple of birds – they don’t seem to always cooperate with George’s schedule. he also pointed out a lot about the vegetation. The trees and plants seem to be either edible, used for clothing, or poisonous. I wonder if poisonous clothing would be an issue.

The tour ended with a traditional meal on the beach.

Monday, 8:00 AM we went on a “coffee” tour. This Atiuan woman has a small coffee plantation which she harvests, roasts and grinds. Her coffee is sold all over the Islands. I bought 400 grams of beans.

And that was it for tours. After the cave experience, I really didn’t have the energy to do much more.

I regret not drinking some bush beer with the boys.

Peace be upon you

For most of the week, I avoided adventures of any kind. I spent all my time in my villa napping, reading junk novels and writing scripts. I also spent a lot of time with the two cats who hung around my villa and begged for food. They were willing to be cute on the off chance I’d feed them. I tried my laser pointer with them, but life next to a jungle seems to have jaded them on technology.

I think I may have lost some weight, because my breakfasts and lunches were minimal. Every evening at 7:00, guests meet in the main lodge for a drink followed by dinner. I’m not sure why, but I found out that the scotch Roger poured for me each evening was a double. The food was very good – tuna, chicken, etc. It wasn’t overcooked like much of the food on the Cook Islands.

I had a lot of peaceful moments. Not a bad experience.

Cranky be upon you

On Wednesday Roger came by and told me that Air Rarotonga had cancelled the Saturday flight and that they had known about the cancellation for three or four weeks. I understand airlines changing flights, but not letting me know soon enough so I could make other arrangements. As I’ve said before, I got my ire up. There’s nothing worse than increased ire. I wrote several emails to the person I’d booked the flight with – since I’ve retired, I’ve specialized in writing letters and emails that try to right injustices. My guy found me a bit aggressive and I found him a bit defensive.

On the other hand, Roger backed me up.

I didn’t get the money back I thought I deserved. Instead, I got an “ocean side” room at the Aquarius right across from the airport. My room made the Kii Kii look luxurious. Although clean, it reminded me of a comfy prison cell.

I’d been to the bar before and it’s decent. My fish and prawn kebabs were good. And I did really like spending my last night beside the ocean. I also got  decent sleep. In the morning I had to wait until the finished cleaning the pool before there was water for my shower.

The next morning (Saturday) I packed my suitcase. I left out some things so the weight can be adjusted before I leave.

I also got ahold of my friend Tyrone. He’s been waiting two months to get up to Puka Puka where he’s principal. The airstrip on the island was damaged and they are still getting it repaired. The Department of Education was going to send Tyrone and four other teachers by ship – it’s about a 4 day trip. However, no one knows when the ship will leave – a number of dates have come and gone. Often times the ship won’t leave until they have enough freight to justify the trip.

By the time Tyrone got to the hotel, it had started to rain. This meant that the market would close early, so I couldn’t go to that. We stayed at the Aquarius for lunch, then headed over to a friend of Tyrone’s, so I could fix her computer. Vaine was a very interesting woman. She grew up on Penryn which, along with Puka Puka, is one of the most remote islands. The plane only comes once a month. She’s an economist, works in women’s rights and made her first film last year. I couldn’t fix her computer, but we did have a good time talking film.

After this, Tyrone left me off at the Kii Kii. James had arranged for me to use Room 5. There is, actually, a room that’s more primitive than my favorite, Room 22. However, it did have a TV and I could, unsuccessfully, try to have a nap.

The Pathetic Fallacy

If you didn’t study English literature, you may not know the pathetic fallacy, which is to equate something nature does with a human emotion. So, it continued raining all day. l think the sky was crying with me over having to leave CI.

Tyrone picked me up at 6:00 and we went out to dinner. By 8:30 we were at the airport waiting for Air New Zealand to open their check-in.

Aside from forgetting my computer (it was charging) and having to go back for it, I made it through the less than onerous security and passport control.

12:37 am, Sunday, March 23rd – Throw people off the plane

We were supposed to board about an hour ago. However, Air New Zealand has a problem. The captain came and told us about it: they need to get 10 metric tons of weight off the plane before they can take off on a wet runway. They’ve asked for volunteers to stay in Raro. I’ve seen a few takers – they don’t look like 10 tons worth. That means they’ll likely have to unload a lot of the luggage to find their bags.

Luckily my layover in LA is 19 hours, so I’ll make my connecting flight. I wonder if they’ll start offering money for people not to take the flight.

2:01 am Nope. They found enough people willing to stay in Raro. I figured for $2,000 I might stay a couple of days. So we got off an hour late, but we didn’t slide of the runway. The plane is packed.

Show me a movie star

I’m not sure what was going on, but even with leaving an hour late, we arrived in LA almost on time. I had a very fitful sleep on the plane and the Air New Zealand food wasn’t quite as wonderful this time around.

I breezed through security, although I was about the last passenger in line. Now I’m at the Radisson LAX. This is probably the nicest room I’ve had in the last four weeks. On the other hand, the burger and mushrooms I ordered from Room Service were, although not incredibly expensive, awful.

I have free, fast, reliable internet – which I haven’t had in a month, so I know what I can do in LA.

I knew I was right.

Roger emailed me to say that the maid had found my cell phone in my Villa. It had fallen under the cushion of the chair on my deck. Now what?


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