Seven Selfish Reasons to Become a Cook Island Global Volunteer

It seems that this time of year we feel compelled to create and/or read lists–the ten best movies, the thirty best female vocalists of the decade, five foolproof ways to lose weight, eight helpful hints you can’t live without.  So, I figured I might as well jump right onto the ol bandwagon with MY list.  LIke Letterman, I’ll do it as a countdown.

7.  WAKE UP EVERY MORNING TO THE SOUND OF THE OCEAN

The KiiKii, your home while volunteering, is right smack dab on the ocean.  But then, just about everything in Rarotonga is right on the ocean–the island’s interior is completely mountainous.  If you have trouble falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, you need to bring earplugs!

The KiiKii Motel

The KiiKii Motel

6.  HANG OUT WITH THE OWNER OF RAROTONGA’S ONLY BREWERY

Yes,  Global Volunteers’ country manager is indeed the owner of Matutu Brewery. And, as a Rarotonga resident, James knows everything of importance, like where to get the best pizza I’ve ever tasted!   That’s where we were heading right after our brewery tour.  Pizza and beer, what could be a better ending to a volunteer’s day?

James, giving us the brewery tour

James, giving us the brewery tour

5.  MAKE WONDERFUL NEW FRIENDS 

The  nicest people become Global Volunteers…take a look

P1030526 P1030524

4.  LEARN TO DANCE

It seems like everyone on the island sings and dances.  Those in the know (like us volunteers)  catch the professionals practicing the routine they perform at the local resorts.  There is also a show every Saturday at the outdoor market.   Here’s a 30 second clip  of my favorite dancers.  Check out the expression on the little girl’s face, second to the left.  Watching her always made me smile.  

3. EXPERIENCE A DIFFERENT CULTURE

Cook Islanders are gracious, friendly people who welcome visitors to their island.  Family is everything to them.  As a volunteer you become a member of the extended family, sharing food and laughter.

Best of all, you learn to appreciate “island time” and a life style that is safer, slower and friendlier than what you might have been used to.   You come home more relaxed and more aware of what really matters.

Teachers at Takitumu

Teachers at Takitumu

2.  ENJOY  UNSPOILED BEAUTY 

New Zealanders in general, and Cook Islanders in particular, are in tune with nature, and care about preserving the environment–and it shows.   No billboards, no litter, no traffic jams–just flowers and mountains and ocean.

Hiking up one of the mountain trails with Niki

Hiking up one of the mountain trails with Niki.  Check out the size of those leaves!

another beautiful sunrise

another beautiful sunrise

1.  FALL IN LOVE 

Look at these beautiful faces–how could anyone NOT fall in love?   P1040264

What a wonderful way to spend three weeks!

 

It’s not ALL work…

Although Global Volunteers work a full week, we have weekends and evenings to enjoy our surroundings.  To be tax deductible, however none of the fee we paid can be used for off duty activities, and the organization can’t make leisure arrangements or recommendations.

This is not a problem if you are lucky enough to have someone like Robyn in your group.   A “returning” Cook Island volunteer, Robyn was a fantastic resource.  During her stay last year, she discovered Air Rarotoga’s day trip to Aitutaki.  P1040027

It didn’t take much for her to convince THIS group that would be a grand way to spend a Saturday.

Back: Willy, Robyn, Larry Front: Dave, Sally and Niki at the Avarua airport, waiting to meet Paul, our guide.

Back: Willy, Robyn, Larry
Front: Dave, Sally and Niki
at the Avarua airport, waiting to meet Paul, our guide.

We got a great view of Aitutaki and the surrounding motus from the plane.

P1040034
Paul took us on a quick tour of the island, which allowed us to feast our eyes on some very luxurious accommodations!

The pool at the Pacific Resort

The pool at the Pacific Resort

The rest of the day was spent snorkeling and visiting various motus.

Our vessel -- and did you notice that beautiful white sand?

Our vessel

While we were sailing, the crew entertained us with songs and stories.
P1040181

Our captain and his helper.  It wasn't even "take your kid to work"  day

THEY don’t need an official “take your son to work”day.   Our captain with his helper.

Last Christmas, Willy’s wife Niki bought him an underwater camera. I’d say he put it to good use, wouldn’t you?

George, the giant trevally.  The leg on the left gives you an idea of George's size and how close he came to us.

George, the giant trevally.  The leg on the left gives you an idea of George’s size and how close he came to us.

Another photo by Willy--the giant clam

Another photo by Willy–the giant clam

I didn’t see “Survivor: Cook Islands” when it aired in 2006, but once I got home, I watched the video. I wasn’t interested in tribal councils or challenges. Nope. I just wanted to enjoy all the spectacular background photography. Die-hard fans might recognize some of the sights. The show’s opening shots were very much like our view from the plane.

What is left of the Survivor campsite

What is left of the Survivor campsite

Big deal--Ozzie captured a bird.  Even I could have caught THIS guy.

Big deal–Ozzie captured a bird. Even I could have caught THIS guy.

We were starting to get hungry from all the snorkeling and touring. Fortunately, unlike the “survivors” we didn’t have to catch our food.

P1040139

Lucky for this guy, we had better options.  

Lunch was part of our package, and what a lunch it was!
P1040167
Robyn clued us in to a special feature of the tour…getting our passports stamped at “One Foot Island”, so called because it is shaped like a giant foot. Its real name is Akaiami Motu. Paul taught the CORRECT pronunciation:  “eye-k-yummy”.
P1040178
It was SO worth the $2!

My passport

My passport

Time to head back.  Another great day, with wonderful friends, in a beautiful corner of the Pacific Ocean.

These hotel "rooms" are over the water.

These bungalows extend over the water, and for a mere $1,20o per night, it could be all yours.

A perfect memory for a snowy New Jersey day!

Long Live the Queen!

Timing is everything in life, and Vaca 139’s was perfect.  How many other Global Volunteers got to watch a Rowing Regatta AND witness a Maori coronation?  Not many, I assure you!

As one might expect, the coronation took place at the palace. So what comes to mind when you hear word “palace”?

You ready?

I took this picture from the bus (I DO love those bus rides) the day before the big event. If you look closely, you can see the red plastic chairs that were being set up on the palace lawn for the expected guests.  Not quite Buckingham Palace, but a whole lot friendlier and far more inclusive.

The Palace

The Palace

As mentioned in an earlier post, there was a bit of disagreement over the line of succession, and protesters were anticipated. Not to worry–these guards were ready!

The guards

The guards

Okay, so maybe this protest wasn’t quite what you might have envisioned either. No riot police, no gas masks, no picketers with signs. In fact, if Willy hadn’t made friends with a Maori lady who translated, I would have figured that the shouting we heard was all part of the celebration.

The Maori are very inclusive, so all were welcome to join in the festivities. Old…
P1040364
young…
P1040354
Islanders…
P1040381
Visitors from the good ol US of A.

Willy and his new friends from Utah

Willy with his new friends from — can you guess? The white shirts are your hint. Utah, of course.

Climbing on walls, trees, chairs, the stage — all was allowed, as everyone tried to see over the crowd to catch a glimpse of the queen.
P1040351
And here she is, dressed in gold, regally listening to the man serenading her.  I’m not revealing how I got that shot, but remember, climbing WAS allowed.
P1040397

Isn’t it fascinating to see the juxtaposition of tradition and technology?

Tribal costume, complete with headset

Tribal costume, complete with headset

Cell phones, ipads, microphones--all capturing the action

Cell phones, ipads, microphones–all capturing the action

Sharing food is very much a part of the Maori culture, and this event was no exception. An enormous pig was presented to the queen. Sorry, I wasn’t able to get a shot of the pig–all I could see were the tops of the heads of the several men it took to carry the beast over to her. Not a very compelling image. So, instead, I took pictures of the “take out” packages that were being prepared for all guests.

Coconuts, chicken, pork, sweet potatoes, etc all packed into these biodegradable containers.  We could learn a lot from the Maori!

Coconuts, chicken, pork, sweet potatoes, etc all packed into these biodegradable containers. We could learn a lot from the Maori!

This will give you an idea of how massive an undertaking it was to feed the crowd.

Long tables filled with food

Long tables filled with food

Full disclosure, I haven’t gotten the hang of videoing under the best of circumstances, and this event was a challenge to capture. BUT the singing was beautiful–the crowd quite colorful and entertaining, so if you would like to experience the queen’s entry or listen to the flag raising ceremony, just click and make your way over to YouTube. You’ll feel as if you were there, after imbibing a large quantity of wine perhaps. Or maybe you’ll need to drink some first to flow along with my camera!