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Published: September 15th 2010
WARNING -THIS IS A VERY LONG BLOG - PREPARE YOURSELF!!!
We set off from Christchurch first thing in the morning and flew to Auckland where we had a nice eight hour wait for our next flight to the Island of Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands. Our flight left Auckland at 6pm that evening and after only 3 ½ hours we’d arrived at Rarotonga airport but at 1am the same day we’d left! This was due to the fact that we’d crossed the International Date Line and managed to claw ourselves a day back! Being part of the Southern Group Islands, Rarotonga is the vibrant heart of the Cook Islands nation, the largest Island and the countries Capital even though it’s only 32 km in circumference! Now our reasoning behind a visit to the Cook Islands is not only to escape the cold winter in New Zealand and get a tan but also to offer our services as volunteers to the only Veterinary Clinic in all of the Cook Islands, the Esther Honey Foundation (EHF). The Veterinary clinic was established on the island nearly 15 years ago and is manned by volunteers who act as couriers by bring supplies over with
Aquarius Hotel Sunset
them. Moving on....
...We stepped off the plane and immediately knew that there was going to be no need for the thermals over here as the intense heat hit us straight away! We were greeted at the airport first by a lovely old man playing his ukulele, singing a traditional song and secondly by Greg the director of EHF on the Island. He advised us that we were going to be put up in a hotel for the first few nights before moving into the House with the rest of the Vets. After a two minute drive we’d arrived at our hotel “The Aquarius”, which was literally across the street from the airport! As it was 1am in the morning we jumped straight into bed and didn’t surface for another 9 hours. When we did rise we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our hotel was right on the beach front, the sea was an amazing shade of blue to match the sky above it. We decided to pay a visit to the EHF clinic to meet the rest of the volunteers, so got Gregg to pick us up and drive us over. The gang at EHF consisted
of an American, a German, a Kiwi, a Slovakian with the rest being Brits. As we were being introduced to the gang, we walked into the operating room to find the vets in the midst of dog leg amputation! After saying our hello’s we started strolling back into town, when Gregg drove passed and told us to jump in. He then told us that we were going to try and round up some stray puppies that had been spotted in town, we were going puppy wrangling! Sadly once we’d made it to town they had already been rounded up by a local shop owner, she handed them over so we could try and re-home them plus they were in serious need of some defleaing! Me and an excited Cerri said goodbye to the puppies and to Gregg and decided it was time to familiarise ourselves with the Island and most importantly get some lunch! So we consulted our ever trusty Lonely Planet Guide book for a nice place to grab a bite, we chose a restaurant called “Trader Jacks” which was right on the waterfront. As we sat down to tuck into our lunch, we looked out to sea and
Just another day in paradise!
spotted two humpback whales, which turned out to be a mother and her calf about 100 metres off the coast, jumping around and slapping the water, it was amazing to see and quite unexpected. After the excitement of the whales we headed back to the hotel to laze around the pool, have a dip, soak up some sun followed by dinner and bed.
The next day was our first day of volunteering at the EHF Clinic, we were up early as a vet’s day started at 8am sharp. Greg came to pick us up and once we arrived we began by becoming more acquainted with the team and the animals that they currently had in their care. Myself and Cerri were team feed and clean, which is pretty self explanatory. Our main task for the day saw us look after the dog which we’d seen the day before having its leg chopped off, the now three legged “Foster”. He had been involved in a car accident and as you can imagine waking up to find yourself a leg short was pretty distressing. We spent the day helping him as much as we could and keeping him cool in the
Billy the Kid!
ever increasing temperature, with main task of the day was to try and get poor old Foster to have wee except he now didn’t have a leg to lift up! I got involved in my first colonic irrigation experience by giving a dog an enema, which was unpleasant to say the least! Cerri opted for a less smelly task by playing with the puppies that had been wrangled the day before. We also treated a fruit bat and took care of a goat that had been brought in with a broken leg. Another patient that was in for care was a cat named “Pibbles”; she had fish poisoning which is a real problem on the island. It’s quite complicated to explain but essentially it happens when animals eat fish from the lagoon that surrounds the island, these fish feed off the algae on the coral which happens to be toxic and in turn poisons the cat or dog. After a manic first day at the vets we retired back to the hotel for some happy hour beers by the pool and watched the sunset; the perfect way to end an evening.
The following day was our day off so
we seized the opportunity to do some exploring around the tropical island we will call home for the next four weeks. The bus was our mode of transportation for the day, except there are no bus stops on the roadside here so you have to resort to waving your arms frantically when you see a bus approaching. Anyways, we flagged down a bus and hopped on until we reached a place called Muri Lagoon which was our destination for the day. A short stroll down to the beach from the road and we’d arrived in paradise. Muri Lagoon is a spectacular spot, where four islands are trapped inside the lagoon and surrounding coral reefs. We hired a snorkel for the day and spent our time soaking up the sun and snorkelling around the lagoon. The clear blue water was perfect for spotting the array of tropical fish that live on the nearby reefs, it was almost like we were swimming in our own personal aquarium. We spotted nearly every fish from the cast of Finding Nemo including a 3 foot reef shark . . . G’day BRUCE! A little sunburnt from our first proper day in the sun we headed
back to our hotel for some more happy hour drinks, when we were joined by another EHF volunteer called Jo aka Jordana Banana. That night was also one of the Vets called Gemma’s birthday so the EHF gang headed back out to a bar on the beachside to watch the sunset whilst sipping cocktails from a Jam Jar, listening to the locals pluck away on their ukulele’s and the ladies dance the night away. From here we visited the Legendary Palace Burger joint for a quick bite to eat before hitting the Roadhouse bar where we sang karaoke with some more locals, except this time they were very drunk locals!
We struggled to get up the next morning after our night of singing with our fellow islanders. Greg picked us up at our usual time and broke the news to us that there had been a big earthquake in Christchurch! We were all quite worried about our friends back in New Zealand but then the worry soon turned to ourselves as Greg then told us that due to the knock on effect of the earthquake Rarotonga was now under an Evacuation alert in the form of a Tsunami warning...
not the best thing to hear with sleep deprivation and a slight hangover! Anyway we still had to get on with our day and look after the animals starting off with feeding and cleaning. Sadly a goat I had helped anesthetise hadn’t made it through the operation so unfortunately my next job was to dig the poor goats grave in the EHF garden! After grave digging I was then handed a machete to “trim” the gardens bushes, Cerri tried to have a go but after a few near misses with her body she decided to retire and continue to play with the animals; that day we had the arrival of the Mystery Machine at the clinic as we had two dogs come into the clinic, the first being Scooby Doo, the second called Shaggy and we even had one little puppy left which Cerri decided to call Scrappy Doo to keep in with the theme! Another highlight from the day was attempting to de-husk a coconut, after a quick demonstration by Greg it was my turn . . . . ten minutes later I had successfully gotten in to my coconut and was munching away, even Cerri had a taste
Black Rock Beach
and was pleasantly surprised that the coconut milk didn’t actually taste of coconut! Thankfully the Tsunami warning was taken off emergency status and that night happened to be Gemma and Julie’s leaving dinner so we all showered and changed into our glad rags and hit the town. We had a bbq style dinner at the open air courtyard eatery, a local favourite Cafe Ariki where I bravely ordered the Islands speciality dish of raw fish which was marinated in lime and coconut juices. Cerri on the other hand stuck to her usual favourite of meat, meat and more meat going with nachos followed BBQ pork. The next stop on our night out was Hidies Bar, on our way over to the bar we passed the Prime Ministers Office which resembled a tin shack and we all thought how lucky our PM was back home living it up at 10 Downing Street. As we arrived at Hidies Bar the place was packed full with locals, tourists and even a stag party who were all dressed in traditional tropical shirts and hula outfits. We grabbed ourselves a drink and hit the dance floor. A local band were playing and it was time
to put ourselves to the test as dancing over here is very traditional, the men wiggle their legs as fast as humanly possible like a cross between the chicken dance with some Elvis moves! For the women it’s all about the Booty Shaking to the rhythm of the music, with a few arm movements thrown in... well it must have looked like we were struggling as we had several locals come over and show us how it’s done and coach us through the steps. This included a local and close friend to Esther Honey’s “SV” who is known throughout Rarotonga for being the best dancer on the Island. After several hours of trying we decided to hang up our dancing shoes and hit the hay mainly because our legs were starting to give way.
Saturday came and it was our day off so we had a bit of a lie in to recover from the night before and then decided to hit the local’s famous Saturday market in Avarua town. The sun was out and we strolled into town with fellow EHF volunteer Jordana Banana, upon arrival we were engulfed in Cook Island culture with numerous amounts of stalls
EHF gang minus me!
selling everything from fruits and vegetables, to sarongs, to black pearls and souvenir t-shirts, we had a browse around the stalls and treated ourselves to a fresh fruit smoothie for breakfast. Cerri indulged in a huge warm waffle covered in chocolate and ice cream... extremely healthy! We then found the EHF stall where Greg, Framey and Mims (two volunteer vets) were sitting. We had a quick catch up to see what happened to the animals that were in overnight and saw how the donations were going. We were then distracted from the stall as a local dance group were about to put on a traditional dance show, so we all gathered in front of the band stand and watched the performance; we had never seen so many bums wiggling at once! The dance group were dressed in traditional colourful, feathery costumes and had girls and boys of all ages taking part. After a bit more wandering around the market we headed back to the Hotel as we were moving into the Vets house later that day, so we had to do our least favourite job of packing the bags again! We arrived at the EHF house and settled in, which
resulted in Cerri taking over the wardrobe with her huge amount of clothes and shoes! The House is in the village of Nikao and is pretty basic but it has everything we need plus it’s in a great location. At the house we have a resident dog called “Mama” and two resident cats “Orlando” & “Craig”. We changed into our swim suits and decided to hit the beach which is just across the road to work on our tans and to do a bit more snorkelling. This particular beach hosts the mysterious Black Rock (Turou) which is traditionally believed to be where the spirits of the dead commenced their voyage to ‘Avaiki’ the after world. Whilst snorkelling we saw a large, bright blue star fish and a massive puffer fish about the size of a basketball! After a few hours Cerri started to resemble the colour of a lobster so we headed back to the house to freshen up and apply the after-sun. That night we settled down early to catch up on our sleep by reading our books and playing cards with the EHF gang.
We awoke from our first nights sleep in the EHF House to the
sound of the nearby rosters making their morning racket. The day started with the usual morning chores, but as it was a quiet day we were left to our own accords and would you believe it, it started raining! We didn’t come all this way for rain! We spent the majority of the day playing cards, starting up the EHF book club and went to pick up a stray dog from Muri Lagoon who I’m aptly named “Gassy” after a rather smelly ride back in the car with her.
Another day off for us followed, meaning that we’d had more days off than actually volunteering, Happy days! There was a lot of excitement in the clinic that morning as a litter of puppies had been brought in to be looked after, and we all know how much Cerri likes the puppy dogs! We borrowed the clinic bikes and cycled into Avarua town centre, some 6km away. The sun was shining with a light cool breeze which should have made for a pleasant bike ride apart from the fact that I’d only gone and picked the dodgy bike, which seemed to behave like one of the bicycle’s you get at
Aquarius Hotel Sunset
the circus, you turn one way and the bike goes the other! Anyway we made it into town safely and decided to have a wander around the local museum and library, which turned out to be really interesting. Did you know that the vast majority of Apollo space shuttles, on the plummet back down to earth actually land off the coast of the Cook Islands, including the famous Apollo 13? We purchased a mask and snorkel set to save us hiring one all the time and stocked up on food at the local supermarket. Working as a volunteer at EHF has its bonuses not only do we get free bread from the bakers and free eggs from the farmer but we also get discount at the local supermarket, Happy days again! That evening we went to the local Hash House Harriers meeting. The Hash House Harriers is a social club, where they basically set out a treasure trail and race to the finish by either running or walking followed by a cheeky few beers to finish. There are also nominations of the week, which entails people having to down drinks with a toilet seat over their head... they call themselves
drinkers with a running problem! We took part but decided to ease ourselves in by joining the walking group. That evening we were on night watch acting as surrogate mum to one of the puppies we named “Sausage” as he was looking a bit worse of wear, so we had to get up every couple of hours to feed him with through a syringe, burp him like a baby and make sure he was still breathing which luckily he still was!
We spent the next four days working and getting more accustomed in our role as veterinary odd jobbers. Every single day was busy and our tasks ranged from going to the pig farm to try and restrain a pig which had a rectal prolapse, very messy! To taking care of a dog named “Tuna” who had suspected Tetanus, which is very rare in dogs. We also treated two dogs that been involved in car accidents called “Miki” and “Nahla”, luckily neither dogs need any amputations. Cerri also nearly lost one of the patients, a dog called “Milo” when he decided to make a run for it but fortunately for Cerri and the rest of the team all he
wanted to do was go for a swim at the nearby beach! In addition to that mayhem we had a visit from the Police who wanted to do some training with their sniffer dogs, this involved a line up scenario where they planted drugs on one member of the team and set the sniffer dogs upon us. Furthermore “Mama” was given a bath after she decided to have a roll around in the compost pile after killing a wild chicken on the front lawn! My favourite cat “Pibbles” made a recovery from her fish poisoning and went back to her owners, it was a sad goodbye as she reminded me of my cat “Jade” back home. We also had the fluffiest haired puppy in the world in to be defleaed; this puppy also had the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen. Cerri popped to the local medical centre as her toe was playing up again to pick up some more drugs, whilst I decided to try and sit through a male dog castration operation, I did feel a little light headed on several occasions and left the operating room now and then for a bit of fresh air but I persevered
Struggling through a operation
to the end. As it was coming up to EHF’s clinic 15th anniversary on the island a special event was to be held, the “K9 9K Race” and with my artistic skills I set about designing a poster to advertise the event.
It wasn’t all work and no play though as during the evenings we took part in a number of activities, the first being joining the locals for some traditional dancing lessons at the auditorium. A trip back to “Trader Jacks” to try their famous cheesecake for dessert. Cooking and eating a Breadfruit, to put it bluntly it wasn’t nice and we won’t be doing it again! On the Friday evening we had yet another leaving do as two vets Becky from the UK and Brian from the USA had finished their stints as volunteers and we were joined by their replacements in the form of Beatriz from Spain and Kristyn from USA. Brian is possibly one of the craziest and funniest people we’ve met so far, he kept everybody at EHF entertained throughout his stay so it was only fair that we saw him off in style. The night started with Burgers at the FBI cafe followed
by an Island night at the “Staircase bar”, in which our new friend SV was performing in. The dancing was entertaining and they put on a great show all dressed up in their traditional costumes and ripping open coconuts with just their bare teeth. After several beers and cocktails we headed to the “Whatever Bar” to dance the night away, showing off the new moves we’d learnt during our dancing lesson earlier in the week, in particular Mims and Jordana Banana were cutting some shapes on the dancefloor!
The Saturday saw us back at the market but this time myself and Cerri were running the EHF stall. We took along “Gassy” the stray dog we had picked up from Muri Lagoon as we hadn’t found a new home for her during the week. After a short debate we decided to change her name to “Rosie” as we thought people might be put off by her alias and it worked as we managed to get her adopted during our stint at the market. Now I’m not proud to say it but we took part in some child labour during the day, as we managed to recruit a few local kids
Jet Blasting anyone?
to go round the market selling calendars on our behalf, this also worked a treat as they managed to sell all but bar one calendar. “Mama” also came along for the ride and spent her morning picking up as many pieces of scrap food as she could find, she’s a bit on the tubby side and we now know why! In the afternoon we went snorkelling again, finding lots of tiny hermit crabs, we took a stroll along the beach and climbed the Black Rock to watch the sunset.
Sunday was upon us and what better way to start your Sunday than by paying a visit to church. Now neither of us are particularly religious people and no we weren’t just going to church because we’d heard they put on a great spread afterwards, we were going because we had read that their unique style of gospel singing was meant to be amazing. The Aorangi Church was a real mix of the old with the new, the outside of the church had been made out of coral centuries before whilst inside the church they had a PowerPoint presentation being played on projector screens! We got there just as the
Staircase Island Night
service was about to commence as the church bells were being rung by the Pastor, we walked into the quaint church behind the local Brownies, Girl Guide’s and Scouts group and took our seats on the top balcony. The service began with a song and we were automatically surrounded by beautiful voices, it was quite spine tingling; as Cerri even got goose bumps and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was a very interesting theme this week being about your Fears, Loves and Hates with many songs throughout, including one where the men and women had a kind of sing off against each other, the winners seemed to be the ones who could sing with the most passion and the loudest! With the service coming to the end we had worked up quite an appetite and were accompanied by the rest of the church goers to the school hall right next door. As soon as we stepped into the hall our faces lit up as we spotted the gigantic table laid out with plenty of food. After the Pastor had blessed “what we were about to eat”, we dug in! The amount of
Who has the bluest eyes?
food was over whelming and everything on the table was homemade, myself and Cerri’s plates were filled with delicious savoury bites, pastries, cakes, sandwiches and even sushi! The local Pastor then welcomed us all again and thanked us for joining him in his service, he then told us a little bit of history about the church and said the missionaries from London first came to the Cook Islands and built the church with the local natives back in 1883. With our bellies well and truly full we headed back home and changed into our swimming trunks to soak up some more sun on the beach. For the evening’s entertainment we took part in the sport of Jet Blasting, now Rarotonga being such a small island the runaway is practically on the beach! In Jet Blasting you literally stand at the end / beginning of the runway and await a plane to come in to land, the plane will fly only metres above your head as you are blasted by the engine jets. It’s actually pretty scary seeing a plane flying directly towards you!
Monday morning and back to work, Cerri and I were on consultations for the morning. We
saw a few cats and dogs that came in with minor injuries, we treated them and sent them on their way. During the afternoon shift Cerri helped out Greg with some of the administration work which had been piling up and I put my GCSE art to the test again as I have been asked to come up with some sketches for a children’s story book that is going to be published throughout the Island’s about “How to care for your animals”. That Evening was the celebration of EHF’s 15th year providing care to animals on the islands with the “K9 9K Race”. This special occasion was a joint venture between EHF and the Hash House Harriers. The Harriers main man “Slacker” aka “Bruce Forsythe” had organised the food and beverages with the rest of the team setting out the course for the race. At 5.30pm the starting pistol went off and so did we, I say we but Cerri was the official photographer / Film Producer for the EHF website and didn’t partake in the race spending most of her time by the sausage sizzler stand! 5km into the race and all I wanted to do was lie down
Me & Brucey
but Jordana Banana my running buddy kept pushing me till the end, where I even mustered a sprint finish for the cameras! I then collapsed for a bit to catch my breath before joining Cerri for an ice cold beer and sausage. The Event was a great success, raising lots of money for EHF and plenty of food for the animals.
It’s been an amazing two weeks so far - let’s see what the next two weeks bring....
Ben & Cerri’s Tip of the Fortnight - If you are a resident of Rarotonga and your cat or dog is yet to be de-sexed please contact the Esther Honey Foundation by telephone on 22336 - This service is FREE of charge but Donations are always appreciated. See www.estherhoney.org for more details.
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