Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Memoriam

Vava'u Kingdom of Tonga

We got the bad news yesterday that my grandmother, Mary-Ann Bird, has passed away. My father, Aunt, and Uncle were bedside in North Carolina after she was admitted to the hospital with a bad blood Bourne infection.

It is interesting the things that come to mind when you think back and remember your time with a grandparent. My most vivid memories are of our yearly winter visits to New Jersey while the parents worked in NYC. I can clearly remember the house, particularly the recliner (the first I had ever seen I imagine) and the crust-less PB&J sandwiches our grandmother would make for my sister and I. Can't imagine anyone other than a grandmother going to such trouble.

I also vividly remember our visits to Bay Head, and the old family house we would all visit. Days were filled on the beach and playing whiffleball or ping pong in the basement. Evenings were passed doing puzzles or playing cards. My grandmother was quite the card shark and she taught us all well. I can still perfectly picture sitting with her, Bob, and Sierra and trying to learn bridge one of the last times we visited them on the shore.

I unfortunately saw a lot less of my grandmother once she moved to North Carolina. Sierra and I spent a week down there one of the first summers they lived there. The lake was still a hundred yards from where it would end up along their back yard. She took us horseback riding and spoiled us rotten for a week or so...the kind of stuff grandmothers are perfect for. Since then I have only seen her during her occasional visits to Maine and family weddings, not nearly enough I am afraid to say.

A few years ago we were told after 25+ years that she never liked her original grandmotherly nickname and would prefer to go by Mary-Ann, but old habits die hard and I am sorry if she didn't like it so much, but to me, she will always simply be my Mimi.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Von-Tupe Family Singers

Vava'u Tonga

We are having a wonderful time here in Vava'u, but a highlight has been our interaction with a family here. We don't actually know their last name, but Coletti and Tupe have 3 daughters (Jasmine (16), Lola (14), & Megan (8)) and two sons (Michael (6) and Douglas(1)) and lead a dance troop that performs with some cousins as well in order to pay for their schooling.

We went to their church last week, and this weekend we had them (and 18yo cousin Falou (sp?)) aboard Visions for a pick-nick. The highlight for them was sailing, swimming, and visiting their cousin (Falou's sister) who just started working on one of the out islands. Our highlight was them singing for us while Tupe steered the boat.

They are quite the talented family. I will also be accompanying Jasmine to her school Ball on Thursday (no idea what to expect there).

We have also had some excellent dives and went whale watching, getting to swim with the whales a bit. A few more days here and then we will head down to the Hapai Group.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Long time no speak

Vava'u Tonga

Gosh, it has been too long since I wrote anything...sorry for the silence. Luckily mom wrote a few days ago so at least you have heard something from us. Things are well. We are enjoying Tonga and the excellent cruising grounds it provides. We went whale watching the other day and got to swim with a mother and calf a few times. They didn't stick around for too long, before moving on, but we did get some nice views. Quite a wonderful day. Also have had some nice dives. Now it is time to try to find this refrigeration leak that seems to be getting worse. I also managed to book my flights to get home for christmas yesterday. I will be stateside from Dec 16th to Jan 12 and hope to see as many friends and family members as possible before returning to NZ.

I will try to write more soon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Va Va Va Vava'u

Vava'u, Tonga

Greetings from the Kingdom of Tonga...We are currently in Vava'u the middle group of the Tongan chain of islands. It is an interesting spot here..great cruising grounds and because of that, home to Moorings and SunSail charter operations so full, full of boats and stuff to do.There are too many anchorages to count and they actually are numbered rather than making us trip up over the Tongan names with more vowels than we know what to do with. Feels rather civilized and American (a mixed blessing in many ways) compared to the other places we have been. Lots of restaurants and we are now running into some of the boats that we saw way back in the San Blas as everyone heads West to spend cyclone season in New Zealand or Australia. It is very protected here with lots of little islands to go explore within this one large bay. Kind of reminds us of Maine(except for the palm trees and warm water!)

Basically Tonga is made up of four main island groups. The first one, the Nuias is the most northern one and we stopped at Nuiatoputapu on our way from American Samoa. The island was isolated and relatively poor even before it was hit hard by the Sept. 30, 2009 Tsunami. (9 people died, most homes and gov't offices destroyed). 800 people live on the island, and there might be two dozen paying gov't or commercial (bank) jobs here. The rest send weavings to relatives on the big islands, and some money flows back. There is also subsistence farming, fishing, etc.

We volunteered to do some of the building of the small prefab homes that the Red Cross from Australia has FINALLY gotten here. The village men were thrilled that we had a battery powered drill - as there are no drills on the island - and making holes and tightening bolts was our role. They had been driving successively larger nails before to pass carriage bolts between 2x4's.They have been living in tents and tin shacks for the last year!! Very difficult to fathom what a tent would be like in rainy season (I think they get 100's of inches a year rainfall) and they would be sharing said tent with 10-15 other people as families are large! We complain of recessions and hardships caused thereof...what a joke in comparison.

We had one bad night in Nuiatopatu. After a really nice Mexican dinner aboard our boat with a couple from Mendocino as they went out to leave we found that their dinghy had come untied and disappeared into the dark of the night. Unfortunately Gram had been the one to tie it up so of course we felt quite responsible. Bill, Gram, Steve and Marjula took our dinghy out in search of it with flashlites and the next disaster hit...the lights apparently stirred up these fish called needlefish and one jumped right thru the front of our dingy putting a big hole in it before lodging itself inside said chamber. They limped back and we declared it a 2 dinghy night. Luckily Steve and Marjula were incredibly Zen and gracious about the whole thing and will just use their kayak until they finish up in Australia in a few weeks. We have somewhat patched our dinghy and can also limp along till we reach New Zealand. Bad luck continued to haunt us with 3 more breakdowns after having had a wonderful maintenance free few months. When we tried to leave the next day we found that the windlass was broken so had to juryrig a way to get the anchor up. That has since been fixed without a whole lot of problems...just a day of labor. Just before we got into Vava'u we landed a HUGE fish. Had a very hard time reeling it in and just before boarding it (when we found it was about a 120 lb tuna) it broke the reel-hopefully not ending our marvelous fishing career- and broke free. Last(or so we hope) in the series of karmic paybacks was upon leaving the main harbor of Niefu to head to one of the outer anchorages we had an exhaust flow alarm followed by engine overheating. Had to shut down immediately and kind of float back to a mooring to work thru that one. So lots of maintenance but we believe all is now well and our bad luck played itself out.

The passage from Niuatopatu to Vava'u was relatively short...about 180 miles so just a short overnight. It was pretty raunchy as they have all been lately. I think that it has been recently declared a La Nina year which brings increased trade winds and we are definitely feeling strong highs and strong winds...winds alone not so much a's the seas that they kick up that make passagemaking a rolly and uncomfortable event. I am pretty psyched tho' as that was my last overnight. I am going to fly from Tonga to New Zealand and a friend of my friend, the other Johanna, who lives in NZ is going to meet us in Tonga and be part of the delivery crew with Bill and Gram. I will be able to stay with Sharon the female part of the couple while Ralph does this sail. After making 12000 + miles I am not feeling like a wimp to bail out of this last long and generally tough leg.

We have been having alot of fun easily moving from anchorage to anchorage here and meeting up with other boats for water activities, happy hours, group dinners and few meals out. We saw a wonderful dance performance by a bunch of kids from the village of Pangiamotu. They perform to collect money to pay for schooling as it costs quite a bit for even a public education here. I think they said they hoped to raise 5000. to pay the tuitions, books, etc for these 10 kids. While there we were invited to join that family yesterday for their church and Sunday lunch. Beautiful rich voices filled the space and it was especially interesting as they place the people in the choir thruout the church making the good sounds fill the place instead of coming from the front. The family we went with and ate with were wonderful and we got to speak at length to Coletti the mother who also is the teacher/leader of the dance troup. She and her husband Tupai seem really ambitious and work at a resort as well as doing crafts and farming to well provide for their 5 kids. The kids are so well mannered and helpful and were a joy to watch. Jasmine is 16 and a track star as well as an ace student. Lola is 14, Megan 8, Brian 6 and Douglas 17 months.Very cute kids and we hope to be able to catch another of their performances this week.

One of the anchorages we spent 2 nights at had some of the best snorkeling we have done. It is called the Coral Garden and was just that. Many many varieties of coral, all different colors and shapes and really just beautiful. We are so happy to be back into the water after a couple of weeks of little to no swimming. Have had one good dive here with lots more on the radar...there is just so much to do that it is hard to fit it all in. We hope to get on a whale watch boat later this week...we saw one great tail fluke as we went between anchorages but would love to get out to the open water for more and possibly even a swim with the whales. Did hear them singing when we snorkeled the Coral Gardens and that in itself is quite magical.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Did you miss me?

Niuatoputapa, Tonga

Been a bit of time since I wrote last and alot of miles covered. Left American Samoa on 8/15 for a 12 day trip home to help get Zak off to McGill. It was way too short a time at home and I am so sorry to have not seen everyone I would have liked to connect with. I did however have a few choice visits with those near and dear and had some wonderful time with my beloved grandaughter (she changes so rapidly that visiting with her was very key) Zak and I had a great time in Montreal and I feel like he is in a perfect spot for him to explore this new phase of independence. He was pretty independent the past 9 months but had sister and then grandma very close by...this is the real deal but I feel like he is ready to fly!! I LOVE Montreal and it's energy and am totally psyched that we will now have the excuse to go there a few times a year. Also means we will see more of our brother and sister in law and kids in Vermont as it is a perfect stopping point or they would be able to meet us in Montreal at times perhaps. They treated me to a wonderful birthday meal and mini-celebration when I stayed there on my way back.

I had 2 days in Palo Alto with brother Eric and Katie and Lily and Alyson as I flew East to West. Arrived for Aly's 21st birthday which was fun to help celebrate. What a lovely young lady she has grown into!! Did not see that much of Lil as her social schedule is rather full but she looks great and is the same smiling girl she has been her whole life. Got in a nice visit with my childhood best friend Evvie and also a short but sweet visit with longtime surrogate father Sid (Sierra was born in his 2nd home in Inverness some 35+ years ago). All in all it was a perfect way to break up the trip back to Samoa and really made the travels so so much easier than the trip from hell of 2 redeyes to go home. My friend Janet Spurr was on vaca in Hawaii so she was able to meet me there and travel back to Samoa with me for a short but sweet 4 day visit with us.

What we arrived to in American Samoa was pretty awesome. Every minute of every day was filled with activities planned by various members of the village of Fagasa (Forbidden Bay) where the boat was anchored. Bill and Gram had made great inroads into the REAL Samoa and we were hosted by this village in a most remarkable way. There hasn't been a boat here in years and years and their curiosity was only rivaled by their generosity. The nature of the Samoan culture is family is all important and family extends to many generations, cousins,and even strangers like us. We were fed and taken all over the island to see their favorite places. They gave us gifts and extended so many courtesies that it was almost embarrassing. So many parts of the island are still trying to recover from the tsunami that devasted the place last Sept. Many people lost everything and it is only because of the extended family thing that they have been able to recover. We had one really fun lunch out at a place called Tisa's Barefoot Bar and were able to learn alot of the history of the island and it's people from Tisa's son Jason who was there for a month or so. He generally fishes out of Alaska but comes home each year to spell someone else from the responsibilities of the restaurant. Sili,one of the chiefs of the village of Fangasa made us an UMU which is the traditional barbeque that is cooked in the earth. It was an amazing feast and quite a feat to watch. His "boys" (sons and nephews most likely) did the whole thing. They do not eat with us, the guests but stood over us fanning us to keep flies away and heat at bay...a bit uncomfortable for the likes of me but again part of their culture. The respect and reverence that the young people show their elders is pretty amazing and really a shocking counterpart to our American ways. Very well behaved and very curious about us as palangies (foreigners). Before the umu we had gone to the school that our friend Evelyn was principal of and repeated the slide show that Bill and Gram had also presented to the school in Fagasa. We were amazed by the interest and knowledge of the world we have just travelled by these 5th, 6th and 7th graders. Also had the honor of taking Sili to the next bay (Massacre Bay) in our dinghy to allow him to pay respects to his departed auntie who is buried there. It was a lovely beach and we had a picnic lunch and did a bit of swimming and snorkeling.

Evelyn is this amazing American who had lived in Samoa since she was a teenager and is married to the high chief of Fangasa-Lilio. He is one of the kindest men we have met and has such a quiet yet strong and powerful presence that being with him was really cool. We went out our last night there to a dance performance and really enjoyed our time with the two of them. Love the way the men dress up in nice shirts or even ties and jackets and then a lava lava which is like a wraparound skirt! And then there was David ( a fellow who also has been here from Mass. for many years) and his Samoan wife Fui. They had us to dinner, had us to breakfast and gave us many gifts which we will cherish forever. They also drove Janet to the airport after dinner on Thurs. and stayed with her in the line which i am sure was very helpful for her as the chaos at the airport was rather extraordinary in my experience. Fui and David still have two sweet kids still at home who giggled and smiled whenever we spoke to them. We were gifted an AVA bowl (which is a bowl for Kava, a traditional drink of these parts) From what I have read it is drug like in its effects and I wonder when we will get to try out our bowl! It is a beautiful wood piece with 10 legs and will grace our vanity once we put some pads on the feet...

We had hoped to stay for church on Sunday so that I could experience the singing and togetherness of the service but weather dictated a rather abrupt departure on Sat. early afternoon. So off we were, headed 200 miles to our next port and a new country. It was a horrible sail...the worst of the trip according to Gram who actually got seasick but with 30 knot winds at least it was very fast. Arrived in Nuiatoputapu (most Americans call it new potatoes when pronunciation gets their tongue) the northernmost island in the Tongan chain yesterday at 11am...only 22 hrs after leaving Fangasa. We lost Sunday in the process as we have now crossed the international dateline.
Looking forward to going ashorethis morning and getting our first taste at Tongan culture which we have heard is very similar to that of Samoa. Guess for me I will just keep being Queen for a Day...that is how they make me feel!!! Hope to hear some news from abroad as any of you find the time. We were happy to hear that Earl missed the US of course and wonder what else besides fall and apples Sept will bring.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fanned in Fagasa

Fagasa, Amerika Samoa

He have had an amazing time here in the village of Fagasa (Pronounced Fang-a-sa'). The week before mom returned we did lots of work, but found the time to give a presentation to the local 6th, 7th, & 8th graders. They loved it and now we are famous, being called by name all around the village and even in Pago Pago on occasion. We were also invited to a BBQ on Saturday and went to church again on Sunday. We were all ready to leave the Wednesday before mom got back and meet them in Apia, but Sili made us an offer we couldn't refused as he wanted to show us around and have an Umu in our honor while Janet was here so we stayed. Sunday night Sili took Bill to pick up mom and Janet Spur (a sales-rep friend of Mom's). Monday we were taken on a tour of the western side of the island and had Evalyn and Lilio over for cocktails. Tuesday we gave the a presentation to Evalyn's private school children (amazing kids really) and then came back for an Umu. This is the traditional hot rock cooking method. We had BBQ'd meat, and veggies from the umu including breadfruit, bananas, and the most amazing food I have ever had, taro leaves with coconut milk which I can't remember the name of, but is truly amazing, like the best creamed spinach you could ever imagine but without any of the strong spinach aroma. Of course the most mind-blowing part is that as you eat, you are fanned (to keep cool and to keep the flies away) by "the boys" (untitled men in the family). Once we were done eating, Sili, his wife, and cousin ate, and then the boys eat what is left with plates of food taken to other elders in the village. It is slightly uncomfortable being served this way, but it is their custom and they are happy to have visitors and therefore the opportunity to practice their culture.

Janet left after a dinner with David (from Mass) and his wife Fusi (Fagasaian). Today we went shopping and now are at the school enjoying the internet. We got permission to leave quietly on Sunday after church so will be prepping tomorrow for our departure to Nuatapatupu (New Pototoes).

Wednesday we went to Tisa's barefoot bar to snorkel and have lunch and then on Thursday we took Sili to his Aunt's gravesite at Masacre Bay, about 2 miles by dingy. He hadn't been there in 10 years or so and we were so happy to give back to him as he has been an amazing host to us.