Sunday, December 4, 2011

Suwarrow National Park, the North Cook Islands...and Intrepid Travellers with Marvellous Manners...

The intrepid travellers. May 2011. (Photo courtesy our crew member)

I have reposted this post (initially written in June 2011)  as I was contacted yesterday by a concerned previous client of the cruise operator who advised that my TripAdvisor comment on Suwarrow National Park and the cruise operator had been removed...

It is a good story...reminding us all to be aware of internet descriptions...and deceptions.

Our "cruiser"  sitting low in the water May 2011 (photo the author)

The minute we saw the boat at the dock in Rarotonga, Cook Islands,  we knew that things were not as we had envisaged by reading about and booking our voyage  at the ship's owners website.

When I introduced myself to the person I had been told was the captain he acknowledged me, didn’t give his name and pointed towards a young woman who was inventoring freight at it was put abroad the boat. She advised us that the departure date was more likely to be before sunset than 12 noon…”it’s island time, and the freight is late”…”you can look around town for a while”…she suggested as we left our passports with the as yet unnamed captain to be processed through the Cook Islands immigration office.

After 7 hours of wandering the two main streets of Rarotonga, enjoying a beer at Trader Jack’s and some internet time at the Telecom office we staggered under the heat back to the boat.  At 5 we were allowed to view our cabin.  What a shock!  The same cabin, or double berth, displayed on the website was ours… reached from the main deck by a greasy, engine oil covered ladder down a depth of about 2 metres.  The heavily enclosed atmosphere, with four bunks, which would be occupied,  outside our non-private entrance, was complemented by the rancid air from the nearby engine room . I hung a sarong over the entrance to our cabin for a semblance of privacy...for us all.
A "nest"?  (Photo the author) 

The cabin bore no resemblance to the glossy photo on the site detailing the standards on board the  vessel. My companion, Damien, was horrified but I assured him we could manage and I would try to make a little “nest”for us to call home for 14 nights.  My optimism would be sorely tested.

Shortly after we were joined on the main deck by our fellow passengers.  We were a mixed bunch, representing Australia,  New Zealand, England, Canada, Japan , America and Switzerland. Our ages,we would learn, ranged from almost 70 to 29.  We were to  bond together as intrepid travellers, united in our anger and disappointment at the condition of the boat and the arrogant and non-communicative approach of our captain. Later we would also be united in the fear of danger presented by a vessel which was at the very least hazardous, if not obviously unseaworthy.

We all knew something was amiss when the captain “addressed”us on the main deck, advising us, randomly, of the safety equipment on board the vessel.  He then told us of the water shortages which could occur and informed us of the ritual of a “naval shower”and the preferred option for the male passengers to pee over the side of the boat.  The one toilet/shower room, about the size of an aircraft toilet, was for the use of the 12 people on board.

Under a beautiful sunset we departed Rarotonga for the isolation of two and a half days at sea before we would reach the island of Palmerston.  The sea initially seemed quite calm but the vessel, being a badly weighted catamaran,  tossed up and down and side to side.  Seasickness was shortly an unwelcome cloud of darkness for most of us.

Eating that evening was out of the question for most of us.  Fortunately as it turned out.  The “rations”that the captain had supplied were meagre we were to learn.  In the fresh food department there were two cabbages, 6 or so tomatoes, 6 carrots, about 5 papaya, some bananas, potatoes, oranges and onions.  Otherwise, it was 6 packets of  frozen vegetables, 2 kgs of frozen minced beef (the expiration date was June 2010), 6 kgs of frozen chicken pieces, some frozen loaves of bread, some soft drink, cans of vegetables, numerous cans of tinned meat and some Asian dried noodles, rice and pasta.  For 12 people for 14 days.
 http://mannersandothermatters.blogspot.com/2011/06/palmerston-atoll-beautiful-island.html

The wonderful people of Palmerston giving us a beach seafood "barbecue" (Photo the author)

But we survived.  On arrival on 30 May in Apia, Western Samoa our vessel was boarded by the customs, immigration and health authorities.  After initial inquiries, the vessel was declared unfit for passengers and senior authorities were called by the various officers to the wharf.  After giving our various statements, we were able to go ashore, many of us wishing to kiss the ground.  We were safe, but exhausted and some of us wounded by gashes, grazes and bruises from the never ending swell as our boat was tossed like a cork in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean for 14 days.

http://mannersandothermatters.blogspot.com/2011/06/suwarrowisolation-manta-rays-sharks-and.html

 Suwarrow,  May 2011, photo a crew member)

As a group we were indeed intrepid travellers and we became great friends, bonded in our resolve to stop the cruise operator ever operating another passenger voyage. And my 14 days with these wonderful people was a testament to the Confucian saying…”All people are the same; it is their habits which are different…”

The beauty of Suwarrow 

Not only did I have the opportunity to see selfless consideration and manners among my fellow passengers and our one crew member each day, but the generosity of the island people  I met was a joy I will never forget.




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