Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gung-ho Guests


At 72, my mother and stepdad are going strong.  There are not many at any age that would choose to live on a boat in small quarters with our boisterous family, put up with our toilets, take showers with minimal water, suffer through seasickness and practically live outside with plenty of shmutz, but Freda and Allan did – and with the greatest attitude to boot.  By the end of the trip, they were pretty much hopping from the dock to the dinghy and the dinghy onto the boat.  They impressed us all.

IMG_0428They tagged on a trip to see us after a whirlwind of a tour in New Zealand for 17 days (carrying pounds of supplies for us along the way, including my new computer and many of the kids’ school books), and yet arrived in Savusavu, on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji fully refreshed. This, after a flight in a tiny plane which would have had me white knuckled.  Yet they got off the plane at Savusavu’s airport far more awake than we were after our long and weary passage from Tonga – we arrived only a day ahead of them. 

Our sightseeing plans with Freda and Allan at first seemed not to be going according to plan.  We had hoped to be able to sail them back to the international airport in Nadi, but the weather was not cooperating and we were unable to leave the anchorage in Savusavu for the first five of their 10 day visit – which meant that there would not be enough time to get them back to Nadi.  Once again, they approached the change in plans without missing a beat, booked a flight back to Nadi from Savusavu, and we continued with alternative plans.

In the meantime, we made numerous visits to the local market, which we loved.  My mother and I chatted up so many of the Indo-Fijian and Indigenous Fijian women who sell their produce, that these women willingly shared recipes for curries and other dishes.  We purchased bizarre foods like bitter melon and jackfruit, and learned how to make delicious dishes out of them.  

IMG_0448During those first few days, we also hired a car and driver and made our way across the island to the city of Lambasa, a major sugar cane producing center and resembling little India.  Along the way, we experienced first hand the lush jungle of the southern side of Vanua Levu in sharp contrast to the dry yellowed flatter grounds of the north side IMG_0454perfect for growing the sugar cane.The day tour found us caught up in rows of hundreds of trucks carrying sugar cane to the factory, a visit to a Hindu temple with a rock that supposedly grows and heals infertility (we were witness to a fascinating ceremony of thus far infertile women making offerings to the rock of fruits and coconut milk amidst an incense filled room covered in colorful garlands), a stroll through the town market, and a wonderful lunch at an ecolodge where all the food is grown on site. 


After the weather lifted somewhat, we raised anchor with our guests on board and headed 50 miles east to Fawn Harbor.  We have found that navigating the waters of Fiji have been our most challenging yet, given the numerous and sometimes uncharted reefs.  In the meantime, and with only slight bouts of seasickness, Freda and Allan marveled at the scenery and, if they had any clue that the repercussions of hitting one of these reefs would be treacherous, they never flinched. 

IMG_0513While anchored in Fawn Harbor, we went to shore at low tide which required us to wade through muddy mangroves – and as usual my mother and Allan found the humor in it and waded along with us laughing the entire way at how disgusting the whole thing was.  On shore we visited two villages, met plenty of locals including some adorable kids, and peeked into a women’s weaving circle.  My mother and Allan got to experience the giving of sevusevu as well (see Danielle’s last post).  They found this part of the visit as interesting as we did – making them such compatible travel mates.

For me, it’s always a treat to spend time with my mother, as her laughter is contagious and her way of viewing the world is always so positive. And of course you always know that your mother loves you no matter what.  Allan always brings fascinating stories of their travels, brilliant observations on every subject and loving welcome fatherly advice.    And we love that he likes being with us, even in such close quarters.  We feel blessed to have such wonderful grandparents for my kids, who love being with them so much – the kids were both a little melancholy after Bubbie and Zaida left.

And when we said goodbye, it was not only sad that they were leaving, but it was also bittersweet as these may be our last guests aboard WGD.  We now enter our final leg of the trip toward Australia. As for my mother and Allan, they arrived home safe and sound – and we are hoping to see them again in a couple of months – but on a different continent.


Currently in Port Denarau, Viti Levu, Fiji 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sevu Sevu

When you anchor in the waters of a small Fijian village, it is customary to do “Sevu Sevu”-the giving of Kava in return for permission to visit the town and use the waters.

IMG_0416Kava is a root that looks like twigs wrapped around each other.  It is ground into powder, seeped, and strained to make a brown, muddy, dirty tasting water-like drink that numbs and tingles your tongue.  The men drink it traditionally to socialize until about three in the morning.   It tastes really horrible so they guzzle each cup down in one gulp.


When you enter the village to do “Sevu Sevu”, someone will ask you if you are looking for the chief.  They will show you the way.  When you get there, you sit on the ground in a circle with him (sometimes accompanied by his wife and/or children).  You are not permitted to wear hats or sunglasses, are supposed to clap once when  the Kava is given and three times at the end of the ceremony.  The rules make it sound really strict, long, and sort of scary.  We’ve done two Sevu Sevus by now and they are IMG_0499about two to five minutes long.  The chief says a couple of words in Fijian, welcomes you to his village, and then you all go home.  One of the chiefs was wearing a hat and his two-year-old son was wearing one that said “Go Vodka” and we ended up talking about the rugby cup.

It really isn’t that bad.  It’s a great cultural experience and you generally get tours around the village and meet lots of locals.  But remember: DO follow the rules.  Even if the chief doesn’t follow them, try to make the best impression you can.


Viti Levu, Fiji

Where the Savusavu Market Leads

Who would think such a busy market would have peaceful laughing and chattering that leads you to surprising places? In Savusavu, Fiji, the market is full with excited Fijians and Indians wishing to sell produce to you at decent prices. The fresh smell of fruits and vegetables mixed with the dirt smell of kava make your mouth water. I’ve been to many markets but this one has the most interesting vibe and had the best outcome.

At the Savusavu market there is a very generous Indian woman named Suruj.IMG_0520 My mum, dad, sister and I came back to her every time we went to the market, chatted and bought produce. She gave us recipes for curries and after the fourth day she invited us to her house for dinner. Thus the next day at around six o’clock we were picked up by her husband named Kishore and their youngest daughter named Akansa, four years of age.

Ten minutes later we were warmly welcomed into their home. To show our appreciation, we gave all of the girls, including Akansa, Poonam, nine years of age, and Pooja, ten years of age, art supplies. The boys, Kishore IMG_0525and Shivam, twelve years of age, got ‘WhatCha Gonna Do’ shirts along with a bottle of wine, and Suruj got lotion.

After about fifteen minutes had passed, the headmaster or principal of the local school came by as well as some of Suruj’s and Kishore’s relatives. They had heard we were coming for dinner and they wanted to meet us. It made us feel very special.

We all went outside to pound kava shortly after everyone arrived.IMG_0523 Kava is a root you gnaw (or guzzle after it is pounded and mixed with water) which numbs your tongue. Kishore’s younger brother put the kava root into a hollow stump. Then he took a five foot metal pole and pulverized the kava. Once the kava was somewhat fine, we took it to the kitchen and ran it under water through a t-shirt and into a bowl to filter out the pieces. VoilĂ ! You have developed kava, or as they call it, ‘grog’.

All the men had grog. They drank and drank even while my mum, IMG_0535sister and I ate dinner. We ate with our right hand because the custom in India is to wipe after you go to the bathroom with your left hand. I’m not sure why, but only my family ate along with the kids, but no one else ate while we didIMG_0538.

At about ten o’clock we said thank you and we headed back to the boat. We went to bed thinking happy, exciting and amazing thoughts as we all dozed off. I never thought a market could bring such a great experience.


-Harrison in Fiji

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Highlights of Tonga

Tonga prides itself on many things, including being the only South Pacific country never to have been colonized by a foreign entity.  It is also the first place on this planet to reach tomorrow.  It certainly has a different feel to it than all the other Polynesian spots we've been to so far, but I'm not quite sure if it's because of those factoids, the mix of ex-pats in the Vava'u islands, or because it is run by absentee royals and nobles (many of who live in the Bay Area). 

Unfortunately, we had only a short 10 days in Tonga (Kingdom of) and therefore only had enough time to cruise the Vava'u group of islands in the north, completely skipping both the Ha'apai group and the Tongatapu group with the capital Nuku'alofa.  We loved the fact that Vava'u's numerous anchorages were numbered rather than named - who can pronounce those places, anyhow?? Unlike anywhere we've been in Polynesia so far, this is a true cruising ground, where you can hang out in one spot for most of the day and still have time to make it to the next anchorage in just a couple of hours.  The area is beautiful and the cruising is fabulous. 

On the main island of Vava'u, the town of Neiafu seems to be a similar to what Cabo may have been 20 years ago - quiet, a few bars that can get quite lively at night, a few restaurants, but mostly locals.  It's still considered an out of the way destination for Kiwis and Aussies who are the most common tourists here.  We loved it.

If ever in Vava'u, here are the not-to-be-missed activities:

1. Swimming with Humpback Whales.  While this activity was pricier than we what we've stuck to as a rule (remember that we are not on a one week vacation - this is our life so must keep to a budget) and at first felt more touristy than we like to experience, our friends John and Hinano in Rarotonga convinced us that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  We were not disappointed, and in fact this will likely go down in our never to be forgotten memories. You don't actually 'swim' with the whales, but rather snorkel around them (or them around you). 

2. Jason's Cultural Bike Tour.  We headed out for 4 hours on bikes through the backroads of Vava'u, visiting a women's weaving circle, a local farm, an archeological site (that needed much love), lunch at a local family's home, and a school.  We got a great sense of the local flavor by heading through villages that we otherwise wouldn't have gotten to, especially because Jason as our guide speaks Tongan (which not many expats do). And because Jason speaks Tongan, he was able to teach us a lot about the flavor of Tongan society.  We learned so much about life in Tonga and the Tongan people along the way from little tidbits that Jason shared with us.  It was thrilling to learn that Jason, who is originally from the Bay Area, is an alumni of Camp Tawonga, which Danielle and Harrison went to. We enjoyed his company so much that he joined us for Friday night dinner too.

3. Wednesday night at Tongan Bob's.  Throughout Polynesia there is an age-old practice in which a family without enough girls chooses one of its sons to help with the women's work.  These boys grow up dressing like women, and at some point around puberty can choose to continue living like women. If they do so, they conitnue as a normal part of everyday life, at the grocery store, or serving you at a restaurant.  As you can imagine, the missionaries tried and tried to do away with this practice, but clearly were not successful.  On Wednesday night in Vava'u, some of these men, donned in the sexiest of outfits, put on a show at Tongan Bob's.  It's quite a site.

4.  Snorkeling the coral gardens near Anchorage 16.  We had to swim over a reef (sometimes in only 2 feet of water) and over the breaking waves to get to it, but the coral was spectacular, not to mention the fish.

5. Mariner's Cave.  Thankfully we were able to visit this cave with our whale watching guide, as the entrance is under water (although it is now marked with bright pink paint on the rock wall just above the entrance).  It was a little nerve racking swimming the 15 feet under about 3 feet of water to get inside, but once there, it was beautiful.  It's a large cave with light coming in from under the water.  Mist forms for a few seconds inside, dissipates, and then forms all over again.

6.  Surprise visits with friends.  When we arrived, we found our friends aboard s/v Imagine were still here and had some great times with them - David took the kids skurfing through the anchorage, we had a fun night of karaoking and wii'ing (rock band no less), and a bonfire dinner on the beach.  Then, Piko and Britannia pulled into Neiafu when we hadn't expected to see them again after departing Rarotonga.  I wrote about that in my last blog.

I'll have to post photos another time as I'm running out of time.

Written about 100 miles form Savusavu, Vitia Levu, Fiji - but must keep out here for another day and a half as checking in on a weekend costs more than triple overtime...
At 9/3/2011 13:32 (utc) our position was 17°29.84'S 179°45.72'W

Why so silent?

You may wonder why, at times, we blog daily and then at other times you don't hear from us for what seems like weeks.  The answer is simple. Internet. Technology.  Frustration.  Aaargh. I promise never to complain about internet in Mexico ever again.  We never knew how good we had it.

Don't get me wrong.  A large goal for this trip was to get unplugged.  But I'm not sure we really wanted to be that disconnected.  Internet in the South Pacific has been challenging to put it mildly, even with a booster.  Uploading photos for us is a chore because it's been so slow - and that's when we've had it. Or our computer batteries die and it's not time to charge our machines.  And let's face it, Michael's 'jobs' aboard Whatcha Gonna Do have him taking over the internet whenever I might have a moment to get online.  When I don't have internet, I don't have email addresses either.

And then my computer died.  The good news is that my computer died just in time to have my mother and stepdad bring me a new one, and they all arrived two days ago.  We are now loading up the computer with all the software and files we need.  In the meantime, Michael started having problems with his computer.  That means no computer available for use at all.  Imagine that.  I had a blog ready to go on his computer setting out the highlights of Tonga but now it's gone, so you'll have to bear with me as I catch up.

I am now sitting in an internet cafe in Savusavu Fiji, paying for internet at a strange terminal in which the Shift key gets stuck.  But I'm connecting and feeling great about it.  I am silent no more.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Coffee Time on WGD

Who would have thought that Coffee Time aboard Whatcha Gonna Do would be so much fun?

At one time, Michael and I were trying to avoid coffee, trying to stay away from acquiring a physical addiction. Our friends aboard Britannia, Amanda and Krister, convinced us we've been looking at it all wrong. Coffee is a great pick-me-up in the morning, they said, and there's nothing wrong with having a cup or two in the a.m. Besides, coffee contains anti-oxidants.

And so we partake.

Two of my most memorable days of this trip involve Coffee Time with Piko and Britannia aboard WGD. The first was back in Taha'a in French Polynesia, when, on a rainy day (our biggest non-stop downpour to date), the Laurens and Krister/Amanda came over at 10 a.m. for what was supposed to be a cup of hot coffee. We added baguettes and French cheeses, and as time went on, we made a large pot of lentil soup. The party ended at 5 p.m. We watched back-to-back movies about global warming (An Inconvenient Truth together with The Great Global Warming Swindle) and followed that with a heated debate about whether in fact our oceans are melting and the the world as we know it is coming to an end. We're still not sure.

Two days ago, being the day we left Tonga, was the second such get-together. Piko and Britannia came over for a hot cuppa and crepes (with carmelized onions and cheese, or bananas and chocolate, no less!). This time the conversation centered around what we are all going to 'do' once we get back to real life. It was quite personal, emotional, intense and amazing all at the same time as we focused on each one of us individually to talk about our dreams and our fears. The party ended at 3:30 - only because we had to finish up the provisioning before heading out on our passage. This may in fact be our last get-together for quite some time as Piko and Britannia are heading to New Zealand from Tonga in a few weeks, while we continue heading west for Australia. We've vowed to rendez-vous again when we are all on the same continent for some more extended 'chillaxing' together. The Pikos and the Britannias are like family.

Friendships are grown fast and intensely when you buddy boat, reminiscent of my childhood camp days. There's lots of love and laughter, sharing of ideas, dreams, boat parts, skills and food, to name just a few. And of course coffee.

Coffee is a beautiful thing.

En route Tonga to Fiji
At 9/2/2011 13:39 (utc) our position was 17°53.33'S 177°45.96'W

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

So long Tonga...

We just left Tonga late this afternoon en route for Savusavu Fiji by way of the Lekamba Passage. We hope to be in Fiji by Monday morning (Sunday in North America) in time for Barb's mom and step dad to arrive and spend about 10 days with us. We were originally going to leave tomorrow but due to light winds over the next few days and then strong winds building we decided to leave a day early to be sure we get to Fiji in time for our guests. Plus, not that we are superstitious, there is a big superstition about departing on a sailing voyage on a Friday. So it all made sense to leave a day earlier. We said final farewells to our great friends on Piko and Britannia who we have buddy boated with since leaving Mexico. They will be spending about three weeks in Tonga before heading to Fiji and then on to New Zealand while we head to Australia.

We had a great time in Tonga. The highlight had to be swimming with humpback whales. Yes, we went on an outing with had us get into the water with these giant animals. We had the spectacular fortune of swimming with both a mom and her calf. The calf was very inquisitive and would swim up to and around us. At times these whales were no more then 10 feet away. This was truly a "bucket list" activity. There are only, I believe, three places in the world where you are able to swim with these animals and Tonga is one of them. People fly in from all over the world to spend a week out experiencing swimming with these giant animals. Pictures to follow.

That's it for now.

enroute to Fiji
At 9/1/2011 08:14 (utc) our position was 18°33.38'S 174°26.23'W

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