I survived the transit across to Aitutaki! There has been quite a swell and a lot of movement but I managed to sleep through the majority of it; I was only sick once, man, am I grateful.
This morning we jumped on the inflatables to come into Aitutaki. Due to the Esparanza’s size we aren’t able to come into the reef and it’s too deep to anchor off it so the ship has to drift off-shore for the duration of our stay. The captain assures me this is safe. A beautiful warm reception in Aitutaki, greeted by the locals, tribal leaders and church ministers, we were gifted Ais (Maori word for Lei) and then had a formal ceremony of speeches. People were so happy for us to be here. To finish the ceremony off an 11-year old girl, Te Ata, read a beautiful poem in Maori (variation of the native language in The Cooks, we all came from the same place!) about climate change and about enjoying today but remembering tomorrow. We were fed a banquet and entertained with traditional Cook Island dance, I got asked to dance with two young boys, that was hilarious.
We then set off on what I’ve been looking forward to the most, groundwork on Aitutaki. I met Papatae, an elder here who has witnessed real changes in his 82 years. He was a fisherman in his day and talked about the amount of fish when he was growing up, how it was easily accessible and abundant. Now, he says, there is nowhere near as much as there once was. He also told me that just last week his daughter had brought to him a mango, he found this very odd as it is not common for mangoes to be ripe at this time of the year.
A team from the Cook Island tourism team including two climate change ministers are also travelling on the Esperanza with us and will be going on to Pukapuka and Samoa. They took us to see some adaptation systems that have been put on people’s land around Aitutaki, including water tanks. The water tanks are very important because during the warmer months there is often no rain and drought-like conditions are becoming more prominent. This of course affects food crops and security. Tupuriki and Poturu, local retired residents of Aitutaki, invited us into their beautiful home. They grow star fruit, bananas, mangoes, chillies and a whole lot of other fresh produce. Tupuriki in particular says that he has noticed the summers are a lot hotter and winter months a lot colder. They fed us a lot of fresh fruit; nothing like produce coming straight from the tree!
It’s been a whole lot of learning again today and just more proof that now is not just the essential time but probably the last chance for us to speak up and ask our government to help out our Pacific neighbours. I keep re-iterating that we have to remember these luscious islands are suffering from our irresponsibility and ill-treatment of Mother Nature. A lot more groundwork tomorrow, we’re embarking on a sea trip to witness coral bleaching due to the change in sea-levels and changing water temperatures. Thank you all for your support again, it’s amazing to be doing this together.
Love & light –