Wednesday, November 30

Manihiki pe'e at Te Maeva Nui

I've recently been taking video of this year's Vaka Eiva (outrigger canoeing) Festival.
It was another big success with teams from Australia, New Zealand and this year for the first time Canada as well as the local paddlers.
Haven't had time to edit the video yet and I'm about to head to New Zealand for a week or so and I won't be able to get anything done until I get back.
So in the meantime here's a look at the Manihiki dance team performing their pe'e (traditional chant) at this year's Te Maeva Nui cultural competition.
By the way, Cook Islands News is once again being updated weekly and the archived papers from this year are now available so if you've been missing out on what's happening in the Cooks check it out now.

Monday, November 21

The Turama festival on Rarotonga

Turama takes place in the Cook Islands on 1 November each year when Catholic priests bless the graves of deceased loved ones and local parishioners take time to remember and pray for the souls of those who have passed on.
All Souls Day is actually 2 November but it is now customary for Turama to take place on the eve of All Souls Day.
The main focus is of the event is the Catholic cemetery in Panama and in the days leading up to Turama families clean and decorate the graves. In years gone by everyone used fresh flowers and plants but artificial flowers are becoming much more common. You don’t get the beautiful scents that were once part of the ceremony but on the other hand the decorations last much longer and don’t make such a mess later on.
Most people still put candles and tea-lights on the graves but even in this the twenty-first century is making its mark with fairy lights twinkling here and there.
Then as the sun goes down the graves are sprinkled with holy water and the choir sings.
In many places in the world cemeteries are gloomy, sombre places but here on Rarotonga at Turama people come together and remember the good times as well as the sadness of loss.

Wednesday, November 16

Cambodia Highlights - Phnom Penh

After we crossed the Cambodian border near Chu Doc (see this post) our river boat, the Mekong Pandaw, continued slowly upstream and reached the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh at about 6 the following morning.
The Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet here so the width of water was not (just) due to flooding.
The city’s had a chequered history; well the whole of Cambodia has come to that. It’s been invaded by Vietnamese and Thais on many occasions and the Vietnamese burnt Phnom Penh to the ground in 1772. The country only still exists because it became a French protectorate in the 1860s.
Because it was razed by the Vietnamese there are no really old buildings in Phnom Penh but there are certainly some very ornate and impressive ones thanks mainly to the French. The biggest and best of these is the Royal Palace which is actually a large area containing lots of pavilions, pagodas, stupas and memorials. The National Museum is another example.
The excursions organise by Pandaw included a cyclo tour of the city (cyclos are bicycle ricksahws) and also a visit to Choeung Ek Genocide Museum (The Killing Fields) and Tuol Sleng, Security Prison 21 (S-21). Choeung Ek was sad; over 15,000 men, women, children and babies were killed there, mostly bludgeoned to death to save bullets. Not all the bodies have been exhumed and to this day, after heavy rains, fragments of human bones and clothing come to the surface. These victims were trucked to the killing fields from Tuol Sleng torture centre, a place so grim and depressing that we couldn’t stay for long and didn’t take many photos. This wasn’t a pleasant excursion but these places are part of Cambodia’s recent history. Many of the people you see in the streets survived the Khmer Rouge years and most of them lost family members either worked to death in the fields or in places like that.
It’s not all palaces and temples.
We were supposed to spend one day in Phnom Penh but river levels were so high because of the floods that our boat was unable to get beneath some bridges. The itinerary changed and we had an extra day there; gave us a chance to get a bit of much needed exercise (the food on board the boat was very good!) walking around town and visiting markets.

Friday, November 11

Rarotonga’s Sevens in Heaven

It’s been going for over twenty years and Rarotonga’s international rugby sevens tournament, held every November, just keeps getting better.
This year we had 16 men’s teams and six women’s.
Some were overseas clubs while others were local with top notch imports and we also had a couple of outer island sides.
In the men’s competition College Rifles, Te Ara Wheka and Porirua Magic were all NZ club sides while imports included ex All Blacks and current Super Rugby players like Rene Ranger, Lima Sopoanga and Robbie Fruean.
The Titikaveka Titans women’s team was stacked with soon-to-be-capped Black Ferns players (the Black Ferns are the women’s equivalent of the All Blacks). College Rifles, last year’s cup winners, returned as did Hastings Rugby and Sports women while newcomers Ponsonby Fillies played here as the Rebels. Local sides Avatiu Motor Centre Eels and T&M Crushers also had some exciting imports including Kiwi league women stars.
One of the really nice things about this tournament is the way overseas stars play in local teams so our boys and girls get the chance of playing with, as well as against, top class players.
The standard of women’s sevens in particular has improved dramatically. It’s always been popular with spectators but this year the skills and athleticism were noticeably better.

After three days of exciting and sporting rugby the final results were:
Men’s Cup: College Rifles beat Tauae Bulls 26-5
Men’s Plate: General Transport Tabusoro beat Vonnia’s Viking 22-12
Men’s Bowl: Nga-Mat Flying Dragons beat Araura Enua 14-5
Men’s Shield: Te Ara Wheke beat Porirua Magic
Women’s Cup: Titikaveka Titans beat College Rifles 17-5
Women’s Plate: Rebels beat Hastings Rugby & Sport 19-5
Women’s Bowl: Avatiu Eels beat T&M Crushers 24-5

As usual, the off-field activities were as much fun as the on-field. The costume competition for groups and supporters saw some amazing outfits – people put a lot of effort into dressing up and having a good time.
This year’s theme was ‘Shuffle it at the Sevens’ so of course there was a shufflin’ competition for kids and others.
I have to confess that I didn't know shuffling was a sort of dance. Mind you, I’ve seen people doing it but didn’t realize it had a name.
Well, you’re never too old to learn something new.

Wednesday, November 2

Vietnam Highlights – the Mekong River

In October 2011 South East Asia suffered heavy monsoon rains and a couple of typhoons, Nalgae and Nesat. They brought even more wet weather to the north of Vietnam and caused considerable flooding in the south.
Thailand is still suffering the after-effects from the monsoon floods.
Along the Mekong in southern Vietnam, river levels were extra high and water covered vast areas, inundating rice paddies and destroying about 10% of Vietnam’s harvest.
On our journey on the RV Mekong Pandaw up the Mekong River from My Tho to Chau Doc and the border with Cambodia we saw flooded fields, semi submerged trees and stilt houses with water almost to floor level ( the week before we arrived the water level was even higher and houses had been flooded).
The river looked like liquid mud but maybe that colour is normal – the Mekong flows through many countries (Tibet, China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) and carries silt and debris from the Tibetan plateau to the delta in Vietnam.
Flooding is a regular occurrence although this year it was far worse than usual, but life revolves around boats and floating or stilt houses so life was going on as usual when we passed through.
Purist s may deride tourism but it does help the local economy. Villages we visited are regular stops and are reimbursed by Pandaw, and when local handicrafts were available we and our fellow passengers bought souvenirs (except in the case of homebrew rotgut whisky with snakes or scorpions in the bottles).
Yes, we bargained but I’m sure the local tradesmen had the better of us; they looked quite happy and so were we as we departed with our purchases and that’s what bargaining is all about.
Good fun.