Category Archives: Oceania

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

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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Filed under adventure, Family, Hawaii, Oceania, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, travel, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Family, Oceania, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, travel, Vanuatu

In the Kingdom of Tonga: Food and Friends

I want to make sure I finish the  Tongan hospitality story, because it doesn’t end with pick up (and drop off!) at the airport or even the loan of the car! On the night before we were scheduled to leave — by which time I should note, we had sussed out quite a number of Tongan systems and were almost beginning to feel like old hands — Sateki and his wife invited us to an umu (a New Zealand hangi), which is to say food cooked in an earth over, at their house. There was enough for about 30 people, but fortunately Sateki has several children (and a cousin turned up to eat as well) so I didn’t think anything would go to waste. Foolishly, we did not think of photographing the spread before we tucked into it, but here is a photo of what it looked like after we were done.

Tongan umu

The pig was fantastic, as was the chicken, the octopus, the salads, a kind of sweet dumpling (which I noticed the children liked), and something wrapped in some kind of (banana?) leaves. There was enough food for about 30 people, but fortunately, Sateki has several children (a cousin came to help us eat as well) so I figured the extra would not go to waste. Here are a couple of photos of the family –Sateki with two of his beautiful children:

Sateki with children

His beautiful and gracious wife, who made the most moving speech of welcome to us — even Matiu, a 15 year old boy, was overwhelmed by her warmth and generosity — and their three girls:

Sateki's wife and three girls

And a picture of the entire family, including the cousin in the back.

Uasike family

I haven’t got everyone’s name written down (my bad; Seven did tell me to make a note and I just didn’t do it), but we’ll get them from Sateki’s sister-in-law. I did have an extremely interesting conversation with their eldest daughter (in red), who appears to be something of a scholar. We left her the first two books in the Harry Potter series; she may still be a tad young for them (and English, after all, is not her first language), but I hope she gives them a whirl. I don’t know a child who hasn’t gotten hooked and it would certainly be easy enough to send the rest  (her parents have only to say the word and we will send them an entire library!!!).

I still really can’t get over how nice — what an inadequate word! — they were to us, and with absolutely no expectation of any kind of reciprocity. It does make you want to return the favor, though, if only you could figure our what would be most useful to give or do…

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Filed under adventure, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Tonga, travel

A Very Quick Tour

Tonga is such a complex place: this incredible hospitality; almost no tourist infrastructure to speak of (they burned the city of Nuku’alofa down in a fit of civil unrest a couple of years ago and there are still places that have not been rebuilt); a lot of highly visible poverty; an enormous number of churches; oh, and did I mention that it’s flat?

The island is like a big coral biscuit, the windward side of which is undercut in places leaving these amazing limestone shelves with holes (and even caves) in them. Up on the western end there are a series of blowholes that are not to be missed where the surf comes roaring up and crashes into these cliffs, blasting up through holes in the surface exactly like a whale. Even sounds like a whale clearing its blowhole.

windward coast Tonga

Here are a couple of shots of what you’re walking on when you get out to the edges of the island (that is where it’s not mangroves and mud):

coral

coral

And here’s what it looks like from another angle:

Tongan coast

We also visited the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, but which I believe is the largest megalithic structure in the Pacific outside of Easter Island. Here it is, with some people we met there for scale.

Ha'amonga Trilithon

This, actually, is what I went to Tonga to see, because until you see something with your own eyes….well, you’re pretty much just faking it.

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Filed under adventure, expedition, Oceania, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, Tonga, travel

In the Kingdom of Tonga: First Impressions

Abraham left us in New Zealand and made the 24+ hour journey home, emailing us from LA to say that he had lost his wallet in Auckland after going through passport control but that the immigration officers had helped him find it. This did not surprise me terribly (either that he lost it or that they helped him), as the New Zealand immigration and customs officers are by far the  nicest we’ve met.

We were all very sad to see Abraham go and wished he could have traveled on with us, but he had to get back to his summer job. We, meanwhile, got on another plane and headed for the Kingdom of Tonga, our very first view of which looked like this:

arriving in Tonga

The people in the lines definitely did not match up with the signs over the lines (the people in the  so-called Special Lane looked exactly like the people in the Tongan Passport Lane, who resembled a lot of people in the Non-Tongan Passport Lane), and somehow we managed to be the last people to go through any of the lanes, though we were by no means the last people to disembark. This, as it turned out, was typical of our experience in Tonga, where we frequently had the feeling that we were missing some crucial piece of information.

In order to fully understand our Tongan experience you need to know that my niece is a kindergarten teacher in California and that her mentor teacher this past year was a Tongan woman named Ana. Now I have never met Ana, though I am hoping to catch up with her in San Francisco on the way home, but I did call her for advice some months ago when I first decided that Tonga should be on our itinerary. She was extremely friendly and helpful and suggested, among other things, that we bring a jar of peanut butter for Dani so that he would have something to eat. What I didn’t realize — what none of us realized —  at the time was what it would mean to have a Tongan contact once we actually reached the Kingdom.

We arrived about 8 pm — it was dark, and we were hoping to be met by someone who would take us to the place where we were staying. But when we finally emerged from the airport there were not one but two people waiting for us. The first was the driver from the hotel; the second was Ana’s brother-in-law Sateki, who was making his — wait for it — second trip to the airport that day. Apparently there were two flights in from NZ that day, the first of which  had arrived at 2:30 am, and not knowing which of them we would be on, he met them both!

This, however, was just the beginning. After dropping us at our hotel, Sateki drove all the way back home (about 40 minutes) and then returned in a different vehicle which he was giving us to use for as long as we were in Tonga. He and Seven then drove back to his village, Sateki pointing out the landmarks in the dark and Seven memorizing the turns — left at the China Aid sign, left then quick right, left again, past two villages — through a landscape that looks something like this in daylight:

Amazingly Seven succeeded in finding his way back to us by about 1 o’clock in the morning.

By then it was Sunday morning (early) and it turns out that EVERYTHING is shut in the Kingdom of Tonga on Sundays. I do not, by the way, recommend scheduling a Saturday night arrival for anyone considering a visit to Tonga; we, of course, had completely failed to grasp how closed everything would be. There are no stores, no tourist offices, no rental car agencies, no banks, and most importantly almost no restaurants open on Sunday. Had we not had the use of Sateki’s car, we would have been sitting in our bungalow getting hungrier and hungrier — not to mention thirsty since you can’t drink the water in Tonga (you can’t, by the way, drink the water in most of Polynesia) — until Monday morning. Again, this only dawned on us slowly, but over the course of the next couple of days we realized what a lifesaver the loan of this vehicle really was.

Here’s a shot of the place where we did, eventually, find a meal at the westernmost end of the island:

Sunday lunch

This was a sort of  “resort” and at first it looked more or less recognizable, but even here we seemed not to really get what was going on. Here is a picture of us waiting in what we thought was the restaurant — we had by this time ordered food, though admittedly off a rather confusing menu  from a girl who didn’t speak much English, while the few other people who came and went only ever seemed to have drinks…

waiting for lunch

An hour and a half later, we discovered that what we had ordered was lunch, not breakfast, that it wasn’t served until after 1 pm, that it was served in another place entirely, and that it consisted of yummy but completely foreign foods, not one of which we could even tempt Dani into trying. I tried to explain to him that the round purple starchy slices were just a kind of sweetish potato and that chicken was chicken no matter what it looked like, but he wasn’t having any of it. Seven, however, was ecstatic over the feke (octopus) in coconut cream, kumara, and something we think might have been cassava. Not for the last time did I wish I’d brought the peanut butter like Ana recommended…

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Filed under adventure, expedition, New Zealand, Oceania, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, Tonga, travel

The Last Uninhabited Land

New Zealand is certainly an interesting case in the great Polynesian migration story. Settled last and so different from all the other islands in climate, flora, fauna, etc. that it must have come as a real surprise. I begin to see the significance of a detail in the stories of Kupe the explorer, who is said to have discovered Aotearoa — see the following plaque from the monument atop One Tree Hill.

plaque on one tree hill

Kupe returned from New Zealand to report that although he had sailed right round the islands he never met with another human being. The only inhabitants were birds.

If you think about how big New Zealand is, and how resource-rich compared with many of the Pacific islands, it really would have been remarkable to have come upon it, so late in human history, and find it completely unoccupied. Nor is it surprising to find a mention of the birds, which in the absence of competitive and/or predatory mammals, had evolved in some pretty spectacular ways. One species of moa was said to be 12 feet tall.

I’d really have liked to have made a pilgrimage to Wairau Bar, where they made the first major discovery of materials from the so-called Moa-hunter period; the earliest phase of Maori settlement of New Zealand. But I guess I’ll have to come back to do that because, you guessed it, we still have more family members to see.

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Filed under adventure, expedition, New Zealand, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel