The Journey Begins

Preparation for the journey to the 8th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture began in August after finding Navigator Travel, a Maori owned travel agency in Auckland, New Zeland on the Internet. By the 17th of September, 2000 I had received an invitation from the owners, John and Steffan Panoho to stay at their home upon arrival in New Zealand. Being one whose leisure and educational travels are generally solitary, I was hesitant at first but finally accepted the invitation.

The month of September was spent buying supplies, getting immunized and perhaps most importantly seeking out a new travel guitar, a sweet sounding Baby Taylor. By the 10th of October all was ready except spraying my clothes to further protect against mosquitos and dengue fever. On the 19th, Chris took me to the airport and unknown to me, my plane to Los Angeles took off late because someone forgot to load the food. I was oblivious as I had settled in for a nap immediately after finding safe storage for my guitar. My traveling companions via CD were Sting and Gabino Palomares (the Bob Dylan of Mexico), Richie Havens, and a collection of Andean music. An eclectic mix, but very much appropriate for this particular journey.

LAX was crowded as usual and my first adventure began immediately, while running to the bus to change terminals my backpack unzipped and my clothes scattered all over the sidewalk and street. Lucky for me they were all in plastic bags because of the disinfectant and were easy to retrieve. I thanked the Lord for ziplock bags. The trip from Los Angeles to New Zealand was 12 hours long. Unfortunately for me the Panohos had expected me earlier and planned a trip to the North Island to see the Vaka (seafaring canoe) that was about to embark for New Caledonia in the tradition of the Festival. As I looked out the window and saw the tops of clouds and the vastness of the ocean down below, I thought often about the conferees who were sailing their way to Noumea across the Pacific Ocean in canoes. As Richie Havens sang of "places remembered and changes" I could see Bora Bora and then the Marquesas Islands below.

With 4 1/2 hours to go we passed Apia, Western Samoa, the site of the 7th Festival. By the time we were 2 1/2 hours from our destination, Rarotonga came into view. The excitement was building, partially fueled by a feeling of "returning" and partially because of the wonderful New Zealand Cabernet that was being served. If you have never flown New Zealand Air, I highly recommend it.

We arrived in Auckland at about 8:30 p.m. and Steffan met me at the airport. Even in the dark I could tell that Auckland is exquisite. As we drove through the hilly terrain I had many panoramic views of the city, a community of 1 million people. Looking down onto its lights reminded me of looking down onto the lights of El Paso, a site that always brings great joy to my heart. I had a wonderful visit with John and Ann Panoho and sipped wine as we chatted and I unpacked the small gifts that I had brought them. The exchange of gifts is an important ritual to observe in the Pacific.

Ann and John at home in Auckland.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

We rose early the next morning to prepare to go to Matheson Bay, where the Panohos have their "batch" (beach front property). After loading up and connecting the boat to the truck we went out to a ranch to pick up more equipment and then on to a local pottery to pick up some decorative ceramic tiles (my first purchase) before heading to the bay. By the early afternoon people were arriving and we spent the rest of the day feasting, getting to know one another and playing songs; my 60's & 70's standards and wonderful Maori tunes. When dinner time came, we adjourned to the big house and as I was about to serve myself John walked into the room and told me to stop. He presented me with two giant lobster tails that had been sent over by the neighbor. John told us that the neighbor wanted him to "give these lobsters to the man that sings like an angel." I was overwhelmed and humbled and it tasted great all the way down.

Family and friends at the Panoho's batch.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

After feasting, Ann and John drove Steffan and I to the airport for our trip to New Caledonia. While I hated to leave this beautiful place and these wonderful people I was full of anticipation. Before leaving I wrote down the ingredients and instructions for making green enchiladas for Ann. As we flew to Noumea we feasted yet again, on turkey, olives, brie, bread, grapes, chocolate and wonderful coffee. We arrived in Noumea late night on the 21st and to our surprise had no transportation to the hotel. We waited for quite a while and watched many participants arrive from the 27 island nations that regularly attend the Festival. They greeted one another with song, dance, flowers, and gifts. A rent car and a much delayed taxi got our group, that was now about 10 people, to the hotel a couple of hours later. At the hotel we were assigned rooms and we all retired for the evening.