Monday, December 13, 2010

Vak Eiva 2010

The only proper way to start would be to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to friends, family and really, everyone!

To the right we have the 2010 Christmas effort - right tropical really!

It is a strange time for us on the island right now. The weather is hot and still, and we hope it isn't still like this in a few months. We keep a close eye on the weather websites and were delighted to note that last week, when we thought is was stinking hot, it really was: 33 degrees and 75% humidity apparently feels like 37 degrees. How true.

School is out, the shopping has been done, Xmas in the Park (island style) is this week along with the staff Xmas party, and the job hunt goes on.

Of course Christmas is less than a fortnight away, and the Advent calendars (kept in the fridge to avoid melting) are providing answers to that age old question 'how long is it until Christmas....?" The family gifts are under the tree (hiding places are few and far between in the house) and the kids are rattling them and wondering...

The chocolate truffles bought in NZ for Xmas eve have been demolished...woops! The brandy snap shells are still in one piece and I have found UHT whipping cream on the island too. The children have discovered Creme Brulee so that is the plan for Xmas day. That and I (Mrs Shah, that is) made Xmas mince pies! From scratch (mostly)!

I blame this frenzy of foodiness on Vaka Eiva - or the fact that it is over, I should say. The week long festival of Outrigger Canoe paddling bought 800 paddlers to Rarotonga from NZ, Aus Hawaii and Tahiti. Add in supporters and families and it would be fair to say the island was heaving! Thankfully Nana came to spend a week looking after the kids, which in hindsight was more relaxing than paddling and paddle-tix (paddleing politics).

Over the week long regatta Michael and I paddled in 12km marathon races, 500m sprints, and Michael in the 32km Round Raro Relay Race. At the start of the week it was awesome to be a part of the blessing of the canoes, with our club vaka representing the Aitutaki clubs. We had to decorate the canoe which was then blessed with canoes from the other countries and Raro clubs.

Saturday - the first day of the regatta had terrible sea conditions, and I had a lot of concern about how my mixed crew would handle those. Michael's men's crew was raring to go, and thankfully by Monday the seas had dropped a bit. Unfortunately their allocated canoe was of an unfamiliar shape and not rigged to suit them, which created stability issues and meant the men never hit their stride. Their time of 1:08 was 9 min behind the leaders brough them in 9th place - a disappointing result for them.

Micheal was the only one of the men's team to race with two teams, and after the mornign race had to rest up for another 12km later that afternoon with the mixed crew. He was concerned about being able to recover but the reality was that he is the fittest in the club, let alone fittest in the more social mixed crew! The 3.30pm Mixed race was delayed ... and delayed as the previous races ran later ... and later. The upside was the rough sea conditions subsided, the downside was watching everyone else have a beer as we sat around waiting to race.

Fortunately ourallocated canoe was the sister to our usual training canoe - very familiar and comfortbale. As it got laterand it became obvious we would be racing the setting sun as much as the other canoes, the race was shortened to 8km, and at 6.15pm we finallyset off with 28 other canoes, chasing flying fish and skirting the breakers on the reef.

Being in a race of 29 canoes was amazing, and we had an AWESOME race. Everyone was pumped up and gave their all, pulling together and cheering each other on. We surfed a few swells, steered a tactical race, holding our line against rival crews and blocking passing maneuvers. We over took our Aitutaki training partners (in yellow, below) and held out an Australian crew over the last 50m for a tough sprint finish. It was a fantastic reslt, and we yelled and cheered and ate pizza in the water as we waited an hour for all the canoe sot be carried up the slipway. We came home in 41min, 6 min behind the leaders and 15th out of 18 in our age group (Masters). We were stoked.

That was really the highlight for us. The Sprints day wasn't the fun occasion we were expecting, with personality clashes and bad race scheduling causing issues. Our men's crew was T-boned by a kiwi crew straying out of their lane for the only DQ of the regatta. That resulted in a late re-race for the men, which meant a back to back for a couple of our paddlers and impacted on the mixed crew (in the very next race). Given that the sprints were a fun extra, and weren't a focus for the club, the tensions were...unfortunate.

The week ended with the Round Raro Relay Race, where crews of 9 take turns to jump in and out of their canoes and chase boats to complete the 32km circumnavigation. The men had been training hard for this event and had a race manager, Mena, from Rarotonga lined up for their chase boat. Mena asked me onto the chase boat to help with drink bottles and crew changes, which unfortunately turned me into an instant tall poppy ready to be mown down. Despite that, Mena and I worked well together and the crew went well for the first part of the race.

For the last half of the race the conditions on the eastern side of the island were sloppier, and fatigue started to set in, resulting in a near capsize ('huli', below). 20 minutes later, just after passing Pacific Resort Rarotonga, the canoe did capsize, and we had to watch 3 crews go past before recovering. At that point, Michael had gotten into the chase boat and suffered from severe cramps. Just as I was about to call in the safety boat the cramps started to ease and feeling returned to his face and hands (!)

But the week wasn't all about paddling. we managed to get some family time in too (and Michael had to work one day of course). We took advantage of the rare occasion of having 3 adults available and arranged a Quad Biking adventure into the inland mountains. With Nana paired with Bailey, Sienna with Jen and Michael with Jamie, the adults had their work cut out. Acting more like mudguards than drivers, we raced up rocky trails, across swollen streams and through huge puddles of muddy water. It was an impressive ride from Lorraine and Jen bearing in mind the state of their shoulders, wrists and bones.

It was nice to be away, but good to get home. And despite training so hard for the paddling, somehow we ar eboth glad it's all over ... on to the next adventure 2011.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A quick trip home...

Here we are, on the eve of Vaka Eiva, the outrigger canoe regatta that we have been training for for the last 8 months. We leave Aitutaki for Rarotonga at 8.30am tomorrow for a week of races (and Other Events) and really, packing awaits.

So paddling has consumed us the last few months; and home school; and the library; and work; and the What's Next question; and of course a short trip for Jenni and the kids to Auckland and for Michael to Australia for his 25 year school reunion.

So here are a few pictures of our stay in Warkworth, which started with HALLOWEEN and an awesome party hosted by the wonderful Garcey Mirus which had the kids all reved up:

We met with the cousins as much as possible during our stay:

And finally made it home with big smiles to meet Michael, 3 weeks after he had left the island on his own trip:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

15 minutes of fame....

About 3 months ago Pacific Resort was lucky enough to host the crew from Maori TV’s Hunting Aotearoa program. The crew were in the Cooks to visit Aitutaki, Raro and Atiu to film a couple of episodes for the program. I did an interview with the surprisingly charming Howie Morrison Jnr which lead the episode on Aitutaki (episode 26 just screened). The crew had a blast, saying it was one of the best trips they’d ever had.

They hooked up with some local characters including the hilarious Peckham Maoate who took them spear fishing for eel, coconut crabbing and CHICKEN TRAPPING – yes a bizarre Aitutaki sport where you put an onion on the end of a very long pole with a noose attached and then try to snare the sleeping chicken 15 ft up in a tree!! Even more bizarrely on Raro the crew went shooting for Fruit Bats, which Howie actually eats bbq’d !!! Taste’s like pigeon apparently.

There’s been lots to tell and I know many people will have already heard the news. I was delighted to get an early morning text to tell me that I had won the South Pacific General Manager of the Year Award at the HM Awards in Sydney. The HM Awards are the premium awards for hospitality and Accommodation excellence in Australia, NZ and South Pacific.

There were as record 1300 nominations for the 35 awards, which were presented at a dinner for 500 in Sydney, with Ray Martin as host. Sadly I couldn’t be there but one of my colleagues accepted the award for me. Sounds like he was almost as excited as I was, with the table of industry folk he was sitting at offering a huge cheer when my name came up.

It is a delightful to be recognized in this way. My fellow GM in Sydney Marcus Tait suggesting this adds 10 – 15% my future salary – now that’s the money!!

Jen and I got the chance to celebrate in advance when on the night prior pacific resort hosted a wine dinner in conjunction with our always friends from Pernod Ricard to showcase their Jacob’s Creek Reserve wines. Chef James designed an exceptional five course dinner and with matching wines I don’t think Aitutaki had seen anything like this for a while.

The Toa Moana Masters Vaka crew helped the dinner numbers by booking the largest table, which coincided with the departure of the women’s #1 stroke, Tanya back to NZ. As if any excuses was needed this meant much excellent St Hugo’s and Steingarten wines were consumed but the killer stroke was the whiskey with Pernod Riacrd supplying bottles of Chivas Regal, Jamesons and The Glenlivet 12 year old to go with coffee…with the expected result.

It was quite a week as the day after that was Michael’s Birthday. The family took an extra day off to get on the lagoon in a much anticipated cruise with Lawton on the Glass Bottom Boat (funnily enough it’s actually the old one from Goat Island). The weather was great and Lawton gave us a wonderful tour both in and out of the lagoon (a first for the kids). The glass bottom gives a great perspective, snorkeling without getting wet…and lunch was a feast with a wonderfully genuine flavour. Big Thumbs up for Uncle Lawton – highly recommended.

Jenni’s month has been all about the school library, with her new designation as Librarian. Jen’s been imprisoned in the stifling heat of the new school library several hours a day sorting, labeling, counting, censoring (no books with dragons allowed at the Seventh Day Adventist school) and getting to grips with the idiosyncrasies of the Dewey Decimal system. My favourite report has been the Bible filled by Author under ‘G’…for God. But the reports are all positive, with our donated mats coming into good use when some kids ACTUALLY CAME INTO THE LIBRARY OF THEIR OWN ACCORD TO SIT AND READ SOME BOOKS – a breakthrough!!

She’s a star that Jen.

So that’s September – Part 1…with Jamie’s birthday on the horizon September Part 2 will surely feature a cake of some sort…standby til then.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Getting wet...seriously wet

Yesterday was quite a day! It had all started well with an early start for our usual Saturday morning training paddle. As prep for the big Vaka Eiva comp in November, we decided it was time to practice in the big waves. We headed out of the lagoon, past the northern point of the island, offshore from the airport. Our stroke and timing was good, power was on and we were riding the waves well. At Number 1, in the front of the canoe, I could tell the crew were pulling well and everyone was feeling good. We had been going for about 90 minutes and had just about reached our mark when….Stephen yelled “watch the ama”. We went up the face of a big wave & came down the other side with a CRASH. The rear iako cracked (that’s arm holding the ama/outrigger), the outrigger popped off & we capsized.

We spent the next very intense 90 min pushing, pulling, kicking, paddling & treading water while Uncle Jnr Maoate used his 15hp boat to tow the fully submerged vaka away from the reef. We temporarily jury rigged the ama and then somehow the 15hp managed to tow the full canoe – which must have weighed around 800 – 900kg at this stage into calmer water. Our steerer Paul did an awesome job coping with the underwater vaka and the tow rope, and got the canoe successfully back around the point.

We stopped to lash the canoe to the support boat, have a muesli bar and a laugh about the morning’s adventure. I never felt in danger – despite the possible consequences of things going wrong. The guys in the crew have amazing local knowledge, skills and strength. We finally made it home safely, 3 hours late, missing shoes, bottles & Paul’s watch. Of course, this being the islands there was time for Junior to go spear fishing where he came up with a nice haul of parrot fish. As we came back through the Amuri Passage the sun was shining and the water was luminescent blue…even chaos is beautiful on Aitutaki. Co-incidentally last night was Stephen’s Birthday so we had the chance for a good laugh and a toast to celebrate the day’s excitement. I think Jen had a moment, about 1pm – when I was 3 hours overdue, where she seriously wondered how she’s come to re-live her Mother’s life!!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Weaving I Will Go

I have been interested in the local weaving for quite a while and decided to get my A-into-G and make some enquiries a few weeks back. I talked to my lovely friends at the laundry who pointed me to the Vainetini (womens group) and Auntie Josie. I told Auntie what I wanted to acheive and the conversation went like this:
ME: Auntie, I would like to weave a mat. Do you have any rau ara (pandanus leaves) available for sale?
JOSIE: (sideways look) Who is teaching you?
ME: I have no teacher, but I have been practicing on Nikau leaves (coconut).
JOSIE: Hmm... ... ... ... I have some tupe (rolls) here, but why don't you start on a placemat? Here is one, see if you can copy it.
ME: (reluctantly) OK, I can do that.
JOSIE: Then I will help get started on your mat.

So away I went and completed a few placemats, having learned about preparing the rau ara from Nanny Tav (soften it by running aver a sharp edge such as timber or a knife), and they went very well. The housekeeping girls were impressed! Meanwhile I had come across a book written in 1927 called "Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)" by Te Rangi Hiroa, a scholar from NZ, which had in amazing detail the traditonal methods of plaiting (weaving).

So with book 'in hand' (on line at NZ Electronic Text Center) I made a start, and then kept on going. The picture with me in it is the completed hatu rua, a starting edge with wefts running both ways. The second picture is part way throught the second row. The third picture shows the completed raurahanga (a length of mat body), with the start of the pae (decorative border).

I took my completed raurahanga (mat body part 1) to Auntie Josie to see during a session of the Vainetini. I sweated nervously as Auntie unrolled my mat in front of all the other aunties who where there working together on a Tivaevae (patchwork quilt). Then it was discussed and examined, while I sweated away.

Auntie Josie turned to me and nodded, "you have done well, very well. The ladies are saying that you have put thew to shame, that you have done this so well and they have not bothered to do any weaving." I was delighted, but somewhat awkward. But all was positive, and I returned the following day to start the border with Josie 1-on1. It was hard work! After 4 hours I returned home exhausted. It is hard to describe, but the pattern emerges on a diagonal, so you need to figure out which wefts to lift at each line to produce a pattern which doesn't appear for another 10 rows. Once you get going it is fine, but challenging.

So the next step is to complete the pae border for this section, then turn it around, split the thick butt pieces into wefts and add in new wefts of rau ara to complete a new raurahanga section which will end in the opposite border.


Jill Of All Trades...

Well while the Southern Cousins have been freezing themselves in NZ & Australia, we have had a few nights where the blankets have come out and we have even had to shut the windows. Then here we are today and it is bikini weather again! The kids have been making excellent use of the swings that Michael has hung from a plank nailed between two coconut trees. It is great to have another option for them.

It is nice to know you have a few feathers to your bow, but I hadn't realised that hair-dressing, teaching, weaving, writing sponsorship letters, desktop publishing, IT consultant and repairs, team uniform coordination and logo development were amongst them (at least not simultaneously).

Paddling has segued into steering for me, with a few tuition sessions from some of the 'uncles' and a heap of time on the water. Things have come pretty naturally and my crew have been complimentary. They aren't muttering about crooked courses or crashes anyway (except for one unfortunate incident in the lagoon during my first steering attempt in a sprint race, when I rode our canoe outrigger up the hull of another canoe!).

This culminated in a nerve-wracking session outside the reef, where
  1. It was the first time I have paddled outside the reef
  2. It was the first time I have navigated the Arutanga(main) passage, which is known for it's rather nasty temperament
While I made Uncle Jnr Moaote steer on the way out, when we were in the swells and paused to watch a large sea turtle, he jumped overboard and back I went to the number six seat. So off we went, concentrating VERY hard, trying to read the wind and swells, the safest but closest we could get to the reef, and all without slowing the canoe down too much.

At the turnaround we started to run with the swells, where nearly everything I had learned in the last 4km was thrown out the window, as the canoe behaves quite differently running with the waves. We had one minor gasp from the middle of the boat as we ran off one swell and started to pull away to the left it a sharp turn, but a quick correction meant the ama (outrigger) didn't leave the water, so quite safe after all. Jnr was keen to get me anticipating the swells to do some surfing, but that was really one bridge too far - next time maybe!

Once we got back to the reef, Uncle showed some tough love and made me steer back through the reef break. Stay left---not too far left---DON'T go right---here comes the wave---we need some POWER--- MORE POWER!!! Later they told me that the passage was pretty calm really, and it was pretty flat, but the currents are something else. I felt as much adrenaline as during Cyclone Pat, but I felt exultant to bring my crew safely home.

Michael has been doing a lot of training outside the reef, culminating last week in a 2.5 hour paddle south, past the end of the reef and towards Rarotonga! They saw some whales and turtles and by all reports it was a great paddle.

So on the rare night we aren't paddling, we are hiding out and recovering at home. I have been playing a bit more with my camera and lenses and my new tripod, and have the following to share from our lovely front yard, the Aitutaki Lagoon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Birthdays, Visitors and Paddling

Well good grief, we are late bunnies this month. Too much paddling I'd say. When we are not on the water paddling (on alternate nights) we are establishing the Oe Vaka Aitutaki blog, editing and uploading regatta photos and compiling race results. The rest of the time is spent with correspondence school and work.

May/June has been a slow month for tourists on Aitutaki - due mainly to the misconception that the island has not recovered from the cyclone. The truth is that the place is looking great. The has been remarkable recovery in the vegetation and everywhere is looking green. Local fruit and veg is coming back and the weather has been superb for the last 2weeks - glorious sunshine, cloudless skies and perfect 25c - 28c most days. With the clear days the night time temperatures have dropped so the early morning scooter riding locals are now wearing overcoats, scarves and beanies!!

But while work has been quiet, the Shahs have not. Of course there was a birthday at the end of May (and the discovery of a few more grey hairs) and an impromptu visit by Nana Lorraine and cousin Harrison. They came for a week with a weeks notice, and it was lovely to have them. The kids especially enjoyed having Harrison to play with and went wild. Coincidentally there was a regatta on the day of Jen's birthday, so she was serenaded all day long. Michael organised a spread at the Fishing Club in the evening and we partied all night long. (Thanks to Nana the baby sitter)

The following weekend, after our visitors had left, the Vaka Maevatini regatta was held over two days. It was the first time this new, annual regatta had been held, and we were happy to be a part of the organising and the paddling too. Saturday saw the long distance races - 12km, 6km and 4km, as well as a traditional warriors welcome and canoe blessing which was awesome. Michael's Masters Men's team won their 12km race in 1:04:33, also being 2nd in the Open Men's category. After vowing not to do any distance races, Jenni ended up doing 2 x 4km races with the Masters Women (1st) and Mixed Masters (2nd). Prizegiving that night was one of the best nights we have had on the island, but the sore muscles and hangovers on Sunday (when Michael had to work) were just awful.

On Monday we had sprint races for the V6 (6 man canoe) and V1 plus some V1 distance races. Jenni spent most of the day doing timekeeping, while Michael's races ended up bunched together in the afternoon. None-the-less, Jen's crew won the Masters women in a tough race, and Michael took a 1 second win with the Masters men. There was another prizegiving, but we took off early with the kids.

Since then, it has been more of the same and more of the same.