Category Archives: South Pacific

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

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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Filed under adventure, expedition, Family, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, travel, Vanuatu

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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Tonga to Australia by way of New Zealand (again)

The guys from Quikpoint (where Seven works) asked a while back where Seven was and the answer is, yes, he’s been behind the camera. He’s made a great record of our trip so far, though occasionally something happens to the camera that no one seems to understand (could it have something to do with the children’s light experiments?). This has, however, meant that he hasn’t been in front of the camera as much as perhaps one would have liked. So I thought I’d post a picture of him looking stylish in his new hat:

I have to say it’s been great traveling with him in this part of the world. Everywhere we go it’s, “Hey, brother” and “Where you from?”  And it’s been really interesting to me to have the experience of looking around (most notably, I think, in the Tongan airport) and seeing him surrounded by a sea of people who look just like him — something that does not happen all that often to anyone, really, if you think about it.

A lot of people even in Tonga thought Seven was Tongan and I could see why. I had, incidentally, expected to see a lot of really huge Tongans — they’re so famous for producing big athletes — but the people didn’t seem any bigger there than anywhere else in Polynesia. In fact, Seven still loomed over most of them. His theory: all the really big guys are over in the States and New Zealand playing football and rugby.

I had originally tried to plan our itinerary so that we could follow (more or less) the original Polynesian migration route from west to east, or, failing that, retrace it backwards from east to west. But it turns out that modern air travel routes make that impossible. You can’t fly from Tahiti to Tonga, for example, or from Tonga to Hawai’i. Or maybe you can, but not easily enough to work it into this trip. So we’ve done a certain amount of backtracking. (Dani figured out the other day how many different flights we’ve been on: 8 just getting us in and out and around French Polynesia!).

Tonga was another of these places that is served by a limited number of airlines operating out of a limited number of hubs, so when we left there we had to go back to New Zealand in order to go on to Australia.  This meant that we had a one-night layover in Auckland, where, incredibly, still more of Seven’s relatives managed to find us — we weren’t even in the country for 24 hours! This time it was some of his nephews who were all just kids last time we saw them — kids, I should add, that I was particularly fond of, so it was nice to see how they’d turned out. Here’s a farewell shot of us in Auckland.

Seven's nephews

From here it was on to Australia, where there were still more people to see. I lived in Australia for almost 15 years; Seven was there for about 11. I spent my formative years there as a graduate student; Seven and I were married there; Abraham grew up there until the age of 7 (and had an Australian accent when he arrived in the States); Matiu was born there…Suffice it to say, it was a big part of our life.

We haven’t been back since leaving in 1998 and I had given us, what, 5 days? I knew, heading into it, that it was impossible. But I hadn’t really understood how impossible it was, nor had I understood what the effect of all that visiting in New Zealand, or perhaps just all this travel, would be on the children, who were in a mutinous mood for much of the time.

Two things helped: babies and animals. Our first order of business was a visit to Auntie Mere’s house to see her and her two babies. Mere is the sister who came to live with us in Queensland and moved with us to Melbourne, where she still lives. This was all before Dani’s time and Matiu was too young to remember, though of course she remembers him. Mere has since had two sons, including this little dynamo, who is named after his uncle Tauwhitu, aka Seven:

Little Seven

It took the combined efforts of Big Seven, Matiu, and Dani to keep Little Seven occupied when they came to visit us in the flat we were renting in Melbourne, which was of course not child-proofed. Little Seven is only 2, but can he move! Like lightning, that boy! Reminded me of that escape artist Dani, who was once returned to us by a neighbor when he was just about this age. He had gone out of the house, up the driveway, and down the road before anyone even realized he was missing. My prediction for this child is that he’s going to be a wicked athlete: you should have seen him catch and kick a ball. Lucky, too, because they’re going to need ways to keep him busy. As a wise dog trainer I once knew used to say: “A tired dog is a good dog.” Speaking as the mother of three boys, I would have to say the same is true of energetic toddlers.

The other very successful thing we did in Australia with our boys was to visit the Healesville Sanctuary. It was a beautiful day, with a rapidly changing sky (sun, then clouds, then sun, but no rain) and a stunning landscape of hills and bush and little towns. They’ve had a lot of rain this winter in Melbourne and the countryside was vividly green, which it isn’t often. I had forgotten how gorgeous it all was, and, on the subject of dogs (and babies, ha ha), I had also forgotten how very beautiful this animal was.

dingo

We’d been seeing these mangy-looking dogs all over Polynesia (along with chickens and pigs), so it was a surprise to see how lovely a wild dog looked. This, is, of course, a dingo. In fact, I had forgotten how spectacular all of Australia’s creatures are. Here are a few shots from the Sanctuary. I think you will have no trouble identifying this first one:

kangaroo

One of Australia’s many scary snakes:

snake

One of my favorite birds — the galah — common but spectacular:

galah

A flying fox (aka fruit bat):

A monitor, aka goanna. This thing is bigger than it looks in the picture, maybe four feet long, perhaps a bit more, from tip to tip:

monitor

A koala — unfailingly adorable:

koala

And the ubiquitous pelican, another great-looking bird:

pelicans

Ah, Australia. Such a cool place and we had time for such a tiny little taste of it….

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Filed under Australia, expedition, Family, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, South Pacific, 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