Back to the Beginning

We are back in the land of changing autumn foliage and endless sporting events. Abraham is back at college; Matiu has taken his PSATs; Dani has just turned 12. Seven is cycling and playing tennis outside while he still can. He and I are renovating my father’s old workshop, turning it into an office so that I can move out of the basement. I have started on the new book. We think, often of our amazing trip, but visions like this:

Pacific islandand this:

hawaiian forest

Have, of necessity, given way to this:

Autumn Lincoln

and this:

yellow maple leaves

If you are coming late to the story and would like to read this blog — an account of our 27,000-mile journey across the Pacific and back — in its entirety, click here and you will be redirected to the first post and, thus, the beginning of the tale. Bon voyage!

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Filed under adventure, Family, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel

Thank You’s All Round

I could absolutely have gone on, or doubled back, or started over. It’s been an amazing journey and I hate to see it end. My children, I know, feel rather differently, but I think even they know what a long, cool trip it’s been. In June they were just suburban American kids who had never been anywhere. Now they’ve traveled over 27,000 miles and seen everything from an active volcano to a live coral reef, never mind all those fascinating piles of rocks….

Dani says his favorite place was the Mangonui pa in New Zealand; Matiu says his was Mo’orea, or, as he put it, “that house.” I couldn’t even begin to pick; it was all fascinating to me. But one thing I do know is that we got really good at traveling. I was filled with anxiety before we left, both because planning is much the hardest part and because, while Seven and I did travel extensively in the early years of our marriage, we have stayed put for more than a decade now. And I really mean stayed put: with the exception of a trip to Nova Scotia in 2002 we haven’t been anywhere in twelve years. So I just couldn’t remember what this kind of traveling was like, and somehow I had gotten the idea that it would all be harder now, that I just wasn’t the explorer I had once been.

But some things, it seems, just don’t change. It’s like that realization you have at some point about your children: that the personality traits you are seeing in them at 11 or 15 or 19 are the same ones you observed in them when they were 2 or 3.

In some ways this kind of crazy traveling was actually easier than my ordinary life. For one thing, I wasn’t trying to do 10,000 things at once. It was just one foot in front of the other: now we eat; now we sleep; now we catch a plane; now we swim; now we go look at something interesting; now we eat again; now we catch another plane….The simplicity of it all was rather marvelous: so single-minded. I don’t know if you can see it in this picture, but there was definitely something of the well-oiled machine about us by the time we reached our last stop.

So, here we are packed and ready for our very last flight home (note: the bags are still in great shape, though the American Tourister luggage tags all fell apart):

homeward bound

Just to wrap up the story, we left Ann and Joel to continue their journey around the Big Island while we made our way to San Francisco to see our friends Tessa and Daniel, who generously put us up while we went through a couple of days of re-entry decompression, and to meet with Patrick Kirch, whose numerous books on Pacific archaeology constitute the backbone of my reading list.

Pat showed us around his lab, pulling out drawer after drawer of amazing objects, including a cast of a little anthropomorphic carving on a piece of porpoise bone about 3-4 inches long — “God belong ol Lapita,” in the words of the guy who found it. Pat has been tremendously generous to me, helping me think through a number of issues and pointing me in the right direction as I feel my way through this new field. So he is high on the list of people I want to thank as I bring this journey to an end.

There are, however, quite a lot of other people on the list. So, starting at the top:

Thank you to the Australia Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts for supporting my writing and enabling this fantastic opportunity for new research.

Thank you to Shelley Madsen at Aspire Down Under who made our incredibly complex travel arrangements. It all went amazingly smoothly and we always had good seats!

babara's houseThank you to Barbara, Katy, Linzee, and Peter for looking after us in Los Angeles. I’ve made a stop at my aunt’s beautiful house in Pasadena every time I’ve passed this way since 1984, and it’s still the best B&B in the Pacific.

Thank you to Rose Corser in Nuku Hiva for help with accommodation and local information. It was especially nice to have a friendly American acquaintance at this early stage of the journey when we were just starting to get things figured out.

Thank you to Bob Hammar in Seattle for the use of his beautiful house on Mo’orea and to Jacques Decottignies for service well beyond the call of duty in sending us the camera battery chargers that we left behind. That was a lifesaver!

Thank you to Marimari Kellum for showing us around her property and telling us about its fascinating history. We hope everything continues to go well with the O Tahiti Nui voyage.

Thanks to all of Seven’s family in New Zealand: to Rina, whose recent loss we feel profoundly, for making time for us; to Bill and Wati and Liza for driving all that way just to have lunch; to Boboy and Piripi for coming to see us in Paihia; to Anaru, Justin, and Bianca for finding us in Auckland; and to everyone else who made us welcome. The kids were amazed not only at how many relatives they have but at the warmth with which they were embraced wherever they went.

Thanks to Ana, Sateki, and Fine Uasike for astonishing hospitality in Tonga. We will hope for an opportunity to repay you in kind!

Liv, Neane and TobyThanks to Liv, Neane, and Toby in Melbourne  for a beautiful day at the Healesville sanctuary, a fabulous lunch, and general comradeship and good company. We’ll hope to see you back in Cambridge before too long.

Thanks also to Anne, Hilary, Elliot, Mary and Chris for making time to catch up on our absurdly short flyby of a visit; and to Mere for breakfast, among many other things. I wish we could have spent more time with all of you.

Thanks to Matthew Spriggs and Stuart Bedford in Vanuatu for showing us such cool stuff, and to Geoff White in Hawai’i for putting me in touch with Pat who put me in touch with Matthew.

Thanks to Pat Crosby, who hasn’t changed a bit in all these years, for a delightful dinner party, and to Meleanna Meyer for ducking out of something else to come. It was great seeing you both again.

Dani at Volcano

Thanks to Sam Low for connecting me with Laura Thompson, and mahalo to Laura for a chance to meet some of her family, for dinner, and, especially, for the generous loan of the Volcano house (here is a picture of Dani enjoying the microfiber sheets).

Thanks to Scott, Lauren, Danielle, Suzette, and Melissa in Kailua for dinner and friendship over many years. It was great to see all the girls so grown up, I only wish Abraham had been there too. Next time!

Thanks to Ann, Joel, Isabelle, and David for doing all the Big Island planning and for meeting up with us just when we needed it most. And to Ann’s aunt and uncle, Myrna and Lowell, for extending their warmth and generosity to include us; we feel that we too have family in Hawai’i.

Finally, thank you to Tessa, Isabelle, Benjamin, and Daniel, whom we have missed ever since they left Cambridge, and who housed and fed us in Los Altos with characteristic generosity and grace.

Last, but by no means least, thank you to my brother Elliott, my sister-in-law Debbie, my niece Rachel, and my mother, Dorothy, who held down the fort for 8 weeks while we went gallivanting across the sea. I could not have done it without your connivance and I appreciate everything you did to make this trip possible for Seven, Abraham, Matiu, Dani, and me.

Aloha nui, everyone.

 

 

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The Big Island is Amazing

Back when Seven and I lived on Oahu we were much too broke to go touring around so we never visited any of the other Hawaiian Islands. This time we thought we should do better, and we decided to go to the Big Island because our friends Ann and Joel — with whom we have for several years spent a week in August on Cuttyhunk Island in Buzzard’s Bay (a little closer to home) — have family on the Big Island they were planning to visit. So we thought we’d catch up with them there for the very last leg of our long voyage.

My reasons for choosing the Big Island had therefore little to do with what I thought I might learn there (though, of course, every island is interesting to me) with the consequence that I was quite unprepared and absolutely amazed by what I saw.  Like, for instance, these fantastic petroglyphs!

Not all of which may be terribly old. Apparently the site is still used (or was recently) by Hawaiians who, like many Polynesians, bury a new baby’s pito (or umbilicus) somewhere special to ensure a long and good life. Some of these markings have to do with that practice (the circles and divets, particularly), and I have no way of knowing which are recent and which might be old. Still the turtles and figures and even, I thought, a stylized canoe, were all extremely cool.

But the Big Island is amazing for so many reasons, not least because it is a window on an earlier geological stage of many of the islands we’ve been visiting. As I found myself saying over and over: This is what all the islands must have looked like when they were young. All the other high islands I’ve seen are remnants of volcanoes, shards of the cone or the crater’s edge worn down by millions of years of wind and rain. But what’s amazing about the Hawaiian chain is, of course, that it includes an island that is still in the process of being formed!

I have to report that we did not quite make it to where the hot lava is flowing into the sea, but it hardly mattered since there are distinct and obviously comparatively recent lava flows everywhere you look: A’a lava — the sharp, broken kind that is supposedly called a’a because that’s the sound you make when you walk on it (I wonder if this is etymologically correct, it is what everybody tells you…):

aa lava

and pahoehoe lava, which is smooth and sometimes  almost shiny:

Here is a photo of yours truly sitting at the edge of what I think was the 1992 flow in the National Park that reached the ocean and cut off the road.

me and the lava

We also paid a visit to the volcano goddess Pele’s home: the Kilauea crater, which was emitting large clouds of poisonous gas and steam (which were blowing away from us fortunately)….

kilauea

…and glowing magnificently red and orange at night!

kilauea at night

There were also more marae (or heiau as they are called here). This is the one at Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook’s career came to an abrupt and unexpected end:

heiau at Kealakekua Bay

Cook was killed by Hawaiians who had mysteriously welcomed him not long before. (Note to those who are interested: for a fascinating debate on the meaning of these events see Marshall Sahlins v. Gananath Obeysekere; other interesting writers on the subject are the anthropologists Nicholas Thomas and Anne Salmond and, for sheer elegance of storytelling and prose, the British historian Glynn Williams.)

But, for me, the absolute high point, and indeed one of the most moving moments of this entire trip, was the glimpse I got of the Hokule’a, the first Polynesian voyaging canoe to have been built in perhaps 800 years and a vessel I have been reading about for years. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this canoe; it was the one that sailed from Hawai’i to Tahiti on the first attempt to re-enact the ancient voyages and thereby demonstrate experimentally how it might have been done.

Hokule'a

Here she is being towed out of the harbor,

hokulea

and here is another canoe called the Makali’i which was tied up nearby:

makali'i

We were particularly pleased to see this one because Makali’i — in its Maori form as Matariki — is Dani’s middle name; it’s a widespread Polynesian name for the Pleiades. Hokule’a, incidentally, is Arcturus, Hawai’i’s zenith star.

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Back in the USA: Hawai’i

It’s not easy getting from one Pacific Island to another: it seems you always have to go somewhere else first. Getting from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus (which is just the next archipelago over) requires a 3-hour flight back to Tahiti and then a 1.5-hour flight back in direction you just came from to Rangiroa. Likewise, Tahiti to Tonga requires that you fly way south to New Zealand and then back north to the latitude you just left (only a bit further west). It’s all about hubs, apparently. Plus, we are being told that fewer and fewer airlines are flying the Pacific’s less common routes; though I don’t think anyone flew Tahiti-Tonga even in the good old days.

Leaving Vanuatu was another case in point. Our next port of call was Hawai’i but we couldn’t go straight there, so we stopped for a night in Nadi, Fiji. For the uninitiated, one of the peculiarities of the Fijian language is an unindicated nasal: thus “Nadi” is actually “Nandi” — “d” should be sounded as if it were “nd” and “b” as if it were “mb.”

Here we are boarding our plane in Port Vila…

leaving Vanuatu

And after this there appears to be a gap in the photographic record (all we did in Fiji was eat and sleep; no, I lie, Seven watched a game of rugby on the television in the bar) until we were confronted — rather shockingly after the places we have  been — with this:

Honolulu

What can I say?  Waikiki and Honolulu in all its glory. The kids were very excited to be returning to America, though I think Seven and I had a little bit of a feeling that the end of the journey was upon us — no more foreign currency, no more curious food. Though, to be fair, there were still some dramatic new sights ahead of us on the Big Island.

Honolulu is another one of those places that, for us, signals “return” rather than “discovery.” It was wonderful to see some of our old friends — dating back not just 12 but nearly 20 years to the time when I was a post-doc at the East West Center.  The irony of our stay, however, was that despite having lived here for a whole year (it’s not that big a place) plus the fact that Seven worked as a — wait for it — AAA dispatcher, we got lost every single time we set out in our rental car. We couldn’t find the road to the old house where we used to live; we couldn’t find the shopping center; we couldn’t find the street we wanted in Makiki; we couldn’t find the entrance ramp onto Highway 1; we couldn’t, in the end even find the rental car agency! We did find everything eventually, but we sure drove around in circles a lot.

Part of the problem I think was that we were staying in Waikiki, a part of town we had never been very familiar with (being, you know, kama aina) and also one that is filled with one-way streets. We stayed in a tiny condo with a great view at the Ewa end of Waikiki, here is what it looked like from the lanai:

view from lanai

That roof to the right is some kind of Army Museum that we did not manage to visit, despite the alluring helicopter that was parked outside:

army museum

We also made an abortive attempt to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, arriving just after the last tour had left. We did get the kids to the North Shore for shave ice (which they said was not as good as it was cracked up to be; though we later found excellent shave ice in Kona) and Seven and I made several trips to the International Market for bead bracelets…

market place

to which I have become addicted….better than vodka I suppose….

One night we attended an entertaining dinner hosted by a friend who works at at UH Press. I think my favorite moment came when, after describing with much comic exaggeration how the University of Hawai’i had declined to hire me back in the 90s, I discovered that almost everyone else at the table was a faculty member in the department in question. We also had an extremely kind invitation to meet various members of the Thompson ohana (no relation to me unless extremely distantly), whose generosity was rivaled only by that of our Tongan friends, and saw some old friends (NZers) who have three girls just about the same ages as our boys. Dani and Matiu were so shy they practically had to be dragged out of the car; mercifully there was a pool table, so no need to make conversation…)

I think what they enjoyed most though was the absolutely wild wind at the top of the Pali — which is the razor sharp ridge at the top of the pass from the leeward (Waikiki) side of Oahu to the windward (Kailua-Kaneohe) — it was like being inside a wind tunnel, as you can perhaps tell from the hair:

pali

And, finally, here they are in another characteristic posture: poor things, we had the only decent bed and they were relegated to couch cushions on the floor…

dani and matiu sleeping

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Vanuatu II

Apart from the archaeology, which was our entire reason for being there and which was spectacular, our stay in Vanuatu was kind of quiet. We were staying on a little island just off the coast and a few miles out of Port Vila. Here is a picture of us waiting to go out on our first night there:

Mele villageand here is what it looked like in daylight from the boat:

Hideaway Island

After all these weeks in the islands, Seven had kind of a negative reaction to being in what was unambiguously a tourist resort — where all the workers were locals and all the tourists were white. To be sure, this is not the first place where this has been true (the Marquesas, for example); but there was something about this place that made it more inescapable somehow.

ferryman

Maybe it wasn’t even this divide so much as the fact that we have, for the most part, not been surrounded by lots and lots of other tourists, and there is something about the idea that all these people have just come here to soak up the sun and drink cocktails that is kind of dispiriting. I honestly don’t know why this struck him (and me to a lesser extent) so much harder here than, say, Mo’orea, which is filled with tourists, except maybe that in Mo’orea we weren’t staying with them…

Getting in and out of town was a bit of a production involving first a boat (see above) and then a bus. From my point of view this was fine, as it gave us lots of opportunities for curious conversations. One morning I sat next to a schoolteacher who kept instructing the driver to stop and pick up little boys, who were clearly otherwise going to be left by the side of the road!  He was the one who explained to me that some of the children go to school in English and some go to school in French. No one goes to school in Bislama, seemingly, though everybody speaks it…

The resort’s secluded setting worked well for our boys, however, who by this time are beginning to burn out. We did get them out to the market one day, and they did do a lot of snorkeling in the marine preserve right off the island (which, incidentally, had live coral unlike everywhere else we’ve been — Seven said it was magnificent, like an underwater flower garden). But most of the time they spent picking up and practicing this useful skill:

Matiu playing pool

more pool

In which, of course, they were being coached by their father…

seven playing pool

I, on the other hand, whiled away the hours as I have elsewhere, though, I have to confess, I am not doing anything very productive here…

me reading

…reading not some foundational archaeological text but — wait for it — Dani’s copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Note to those who are following along — we have now sent the first 6 books in the series to Fine and Sateki’s eldest girl, who, according to her auntie, is reading them aloud to her brother and sisters. I might have to drop her a line now that I’ve re-read book 6 and suggest that she keep that one to herself…too sad for small children if you ask me).

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Making the Turn: East to Vanuatu

We have made the turn. After a whirlwind visit to the lovely city of Melbourne, we flew north Brisbane and, for the first time since leaving Boston, turned east. With this leg we were also headed into completely unknown territory. Tonga was an experience, to be sure, and much of French Polynesia was new to us, but (with the exception of Australia) it has all been Polynesian and reasonably familiar by comparison with the place we were now headed to on…

air vanuatu

Vanuatu is at the eastern edge of the western Pacific, west of Fiji and Tonga and therefore outside the Polynesian triangle. It has a fascinating, complex culture and is a favorite tourist destination for Australians, but the reason we were there is that it is also has one of the most important archaeological sites in the Pacific.

I have been lucky more than once on this trip and the Vanuatu leg is just another case in point. Matthew Spriggs and Stuart Bedford of ANU have been working a site at Teouma since 2004 which has yielded some of the most spectacular finds of Lapita pottery anywhere in the Pacific. They are now coming to the end of their work there and had expected to be finished by the time we reached nearby Port Vila. This was a great disappointment to me because I was really dying to see an archaeological dig, and particularly this archaeological dig, but there was just no way I could get us there in time. Then, quite unexpectedly, they had to suspend work for a week and that pushed their departure forward so that I could just make it out there before site was bulldozed over.

It was a tremendous experience. Unfortunately for Seven, he had to stay back and mind the children, and I didn’t take any photos because I wasn’t sure I should. But it was absolutely phenomenal. While I was standing there they pulled a 6-inch piece of pottery out of the ground that — I was reliably informed — was 3000 years old!

Lapita, just fyi, is the name given to the ocean-going culture that is thought to have moved rapidly out of island southeast Asia and into the western Pacific some 3000 to 5000 years ago eventually reaching Tonga and Samoa. As such, they are understood to be directly ancestral to the people who colonized Polynesia proper. Lapita sites are identified by a particular type of pottery with a range of decorative styles that correlates pretty directly with age, the most elaborate being the oldest.

Fortunately, Seven and I did get a chance to go together to the National Museum of Vanuatu the next day.

National Museum

There Stuart and a couple of the guys who work with him showed us a number of spectacular pots, both fragments and reconstructions, which were just being packed and shipped off to an exhibit in Paris — the first of its kind! Here is a picture Seven took of the example that is in the museum along with the accompanying text, which is also interesting for its several translations.

Lapita pot

lapita text

There are a vast number of languages spoken in Vanuatu (including a couple of Polynesian languages, one of which was spoken in a village near where we were staying, as we discovered on the bus ride out there). But the three official languages of the country are French, English, and Bislama, which is not that hard to decode when written but pretty darn hard to understand when spoken fast. Children apparently go to school in either French or English, but I could never figure out how people decide. Mostly people spoke English with us, even on the few occasions on which I spoke French to them :).

The people of Vanuatu are as varied as the linguistic scene suggests and I clearly have to do some more research to find out who they all are and what they speak and where they come from and all of that. But for now I’ll just leave you with a few random shots taken in and around Port Vila. Here are some musicians at the airport (this time it is a guitar):

musicians in the airport

And here are a couple of pictures from the market:

Port Vila Market

market port vila

A couple of street scenes:

port vila

truck  port vila

And a bunch of the workers going back to the mainland by boat:

boat Mele

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Melbourne Revisited (but barely)

Seven and I really wanted to show the boys everything about Melbourne that we remembered from the old days. But there’s just something deeply flawed about this idea: kids never want to see the places that are meaningful to you. Why should they? They enjoy discovering places, but they don’t want to revisit places they’ve never been.

So, although we did insist on dragging them to the Vic Market, I don’t think they really appreciated it. They were sort of okay with the fruit and veg; they might have liked the deli section if they hadn’t already been a bit cranky; they hated the meat section; and they only discovered all the non-food stuff when I was so irritated with them that I refused to let them look around.

We had thought about driving the Great Ocean Road, or maybe heading out to the Dandenongs, or even just going to St Kilda, but no, they opted to stay in the flat in Fitzroy watching videos and eating takeout. As we say — whatever. This was where they developed their flashflight photography fetish:

dani with wings

dani

But, lest you think for a moment that this was a kid thing, here is their father throwing a couple of lightning bolts…

Seven

It turned out that their exhaustion (which is what I think this was) actually liberated us to do the thing I really wanted to do in Melbourne, which was to catch up with a whole lot of people I hadn’t seen in years — and even then I only saw about half the people I’d like to have seen. So, I spent most of my time sitting in restaurants talking, which is a very Melbourne thing to do (especially in winter, which is what it is now). We did in passing catch a glimpse of some of the parts of Melbourne that have changed, like this curious-looking thing, which, however eccentric, is still an improvement over the Gas & Fuel building that was there when we left.

federation square

Here is another quite characteristic shot that suggests how “smart” a city it is. I thought it seemed smarter than ever — more and more clothing stores, more and more restaurants, more and more money apparently. (Australia, btw, seems not to have experienced the recession into which we and everyone else in the world were plunged.)

melbourne

So, you may imagine how glad I was that I had carried my black jeans and my cowboy boots all the way across the South Pacific and thus did not have to appear in track pants and sneakers on the streets of Carlton and the CBD.

There were also, of course, many things that hadn’t changed. Although we did not bother to revisit any of the (many) houses we once lived in, Seven did pop down to the old Dart headquarters. And I was amused to find this photo among the ones that he took.

bikes

I couldn’t quite decide if this was a little skip down memory lane — back to his many years as a Melbourne bicycle messenger — or a hint of what he’d like to be doing. Seven did bring his tennis racquets along on this trip (they’ve gotten about as much use as my cowboy boots), but the bike was out of the question…though I think he seriously considered it….

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