Saturday, October 30, 2010

October 31, 2010 Weather Poem - Unknown

Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.

Thank you Totem, for finding this.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 29, 2010 Weather waffling

Life is trying to teach me something. Yet I resist once again. As the Korean saying goes, I am trying to break a rock with an egg.

We are stuck. I know we must be extra cautious in planning this next and last passage as the Australian coast can generate some narly weather. Sure, fine. But that weather window constantly changes. One day we prepare to leave the following day and then the next thing you know, we're stuck again.... for who knows how long. Yes, the worst part is the uncertain nature of all this. In my hand is a one-way ticket with my name on it, but every time I look at it, the departure date changes. And the fine print says, "the date may change depending on weather conditions..... indefinitely".

Mentally, we're ready. But mental preparation has nothing to do with what weather has to say. The truth is, this has been a part of cruising all along. Arrivals and departures at each port were done with such planning for a good weather window. But now with the end of the trip in sight, patience level is low. This is very hard. I'm raised in a generation and a society in which a few hours' delay in a flight schedule causes an uproar. There's a sense of entitlement that life should pan out the way you plan it. It is absolutely ludicrous. This is the time for those to shine, those who know to let go when the issue is outside of their control. Mostly, I am stressed out over how much work needs to be done on the boat upon arrival in Australia and Mike having a fixed flight schedule leaving Australia. I take a deep breath in and feel how tight my chest is. I ponder over something I recently read:

Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied?

And what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?

Well, I don't know. Like I said, life is trying to teach me something and yet I struggle. This is not the first time I've been in such a place. Whether it is immigration or work or whatever, I've had to frantically hurry up and patiently wait numerous times. I cannot think of a more useless thing than being angry at weather. Look at what the heck we're trying to do..... hop on a plastic boat and cross an ocean. So here we are, we hear of another boat's arrival in Australia, and I think to myself, we will be there, too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 24, 2010 Noumea, New Caledonia

We arrived last night in New Caledonia, our last stop before heading to Australia. As we munch on delicious baguettes and croissants, we are feeling the time pressure and monitoring weather patterns. It seems as though we're always in a rush..... hurry up and wait. But there's a different kind of energy here at the visitor's dock in Noumea, similar to what we felt in La Cruz, Mexico before "jumping". Stories of arrivals and departures include a range of good and bad - blown sails, dismasting, and my worst nightmares, MOB (man overboard). It's no joke. It may appear that we take it for granted, but passage-making is a humbling experience. Another 800nm left.


October 16, 2010 Port Havannah

We are on the west side of Efate island due to weather. It's been cooler and I put on a pair of socks for the first time in six months. It does not seem as though we'll make it to Epi island to see dugongs (manatees). However, we've encountered some fabulous snorkeling sites on Paul's rock and the south end of Moso island. Mike and Jamie are happy about swimming with big fish again. With Totemites, we took a dinghy ride upstream a river. We said hello to villagers tending to their gardens, washing laundry, and naked kids playing in the local freshwater swimming hole. Then we found a giant tree perfect for an adult-size jungle gym just begging to be climbed. It was super fun to feel like a little kid again.

On Moso island, we visited the local school and learned of a conservation program protecting the turtle nesting sites. Managed by locals, one being the village chief's son, it sounded like a success story when it comes to conservation projects. With permission, we joined the three Aussie volunteers and the beach manager on their nightly beach hikes. Although we did not get to witness turtles nesting, we did see tracks and one nesting site. Interestingly, Mike and Jamie have seen more turtles snorkeling in three days than the volunteers have in three weeks.

I could not leave Vanuatu without having the famous kava. We tried making some on the boat with store-bought kava powder, but it only resulted in kavamucil (kava + Metamucil). So at 5PM, we visited the local nakamal (traditionally, men's meeting place). Despite the small bowls, one smooth gulp resulted in instant numbing of the mouth and burning of the back of the throat. Mike called it, "kavacaine". Vanuatu people must be early birds, these nakamals run out of kava by 7PM. We each had three bowls and Jamie and Mike reported no difference. None of us felt any heaviness in the legs as some others report. However, when I returned to the boat, I felt a sense of mellowness that did not affect the brain. I'm sold. I like kavacaine.


October 13, 2010 Bislama

One of the great things about our travels has been the opportunity to tickle that part of the brain that makes you communicate in different languages. Spanish is certainly fun and I must go back to learning it soon. Three months in French Polynesia and the only sentence I can put together is, "Est-ce que vous avez quelque chose pour diarrhée?" ("Do you have something for diarrhea?"). We find ourselves saying greetings and using expressions of gratitude from the previous country we visited. Vanuatu's first language is called Bislama although English is spoken as well. Bislama is an interesting one. You can get a taste of Bislama by looking at public signs: "Pablik Laebri Blong Port Vila" (Port Vila Public Library) or "Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta" (Vanuatu Cultural Center).

Here's another example in a children's story:

Storian blong Mun mo San
Long long taem bifo i bin gat tufala fren
We oli singaotem San mo Mun
Tufala i bin pleiplei tugeta altaem
Wan dei nao

The Legend of Moon and Sun
Long ago there were two friends called Sun and Moon
They always played together
One day....

That's the written form. In spoken form, one would ask, what's the communication like? It happened to be in a public bathroom that I engaged in a conversation with a local woman. After a couple of minutes into it, I realized she was speaking in Bislama and I in English. I believe the look on our faces changed as we both understood and accepted that we were speaking different languages. But interestingly, we smiled and continued on. It is true that a significant percentage of our communication is nonverbal. I appreciate the importance of a smile when interacting with people. Although languages may differ, when it comes to communicating about which fish is safe to eat in a certain bay or how to cook an unfamiliar root vegetable, it just all seems to work!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

A month aboard IO in Fiji

Fiji. Images of paradise come to mind and rightfully so. We spent one glorious month on the Northern and Western islands of Fiji and could have spent another year without hesitation.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

october 11th, 2010 a small fish in a big pond

I am a small fish in a big pond.

Vanuatu. Anchored position: S17 34 E168 12

I do realize that we are floating in the South Pacific Ocean which is the biggest pond of all, but during most of this trip, with the exception of Suwarrow atoll, I have been one of the largest predators on the reef looking for a meal. Of course, there are always reef sharks and, without fail, the more sharks the better the fishing. However, here in Vanuatu, the game has changed slightly. We are anchored in another pristine bay with the usual assortment of palm tree lined white sand beaches and 28 oC turquoise water. Our morning routine consists of waking early and heading out with the boys for our morning swim/spearfishing in hopes of procuring supper. Tonga was heavily overfished and was hard to find a fish big enough to eat. Fiji was better but still, large fish were few and far between. Vanuatu abounds with monsters. When I say I am a small fish, yesterday I got in the water and within thirty seconds I was six meters away from a fish the size of a fridge! I was face to mouth with a Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) measuring well over two meters long and in excess of two hundred kilograms! The reef shark's mouth is not that big and supposing one bit you (so unlikely) it would just do that - bite you. This grouper, however, could have easily engulfed my entire torso in one gulp. I was so amazed at its girth that I just floated there and stared at it. Oddly, it moved away from me despite the fact that I was in no way a threat to it.

Today Jamie and I were on the reef for a total over five hours and were within meters of a 1.5 meter, 40 kg Buffalo Head Parrot fish (Bolbometopon muricatum), a 2 meter, 180 kg Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulates), five white-tip reef sharks, a 2.5 meter Gray reef shark, and three Spotted eagle rays. The highlight was a half hour before sunset. The light was angled in the water in such a way that it made the beautiful streaked wavy "god" light. I had just begun a 12 meter dive over the edge of the reef when I was startled by a spotted eagle ray approaching fast over my right shoulder. My startle caused it to startle and fly directly into a 2.5 meter white tip reef shark, which in turn startled and bolted off into the distance. I surfaced to find Jamie laughing because he had witnessed the whole scene. He then pointed out a one-meter-long Coral grouper and we both followed it from a distance to see where it would stop. I lagged behind a bit and when I had swum the last 30 meters to Jaime, I found him jabbering and gesturing like mad. I finally got out of him that a two meter, 200 + kg Yellowfin Tuna had just swam within meters of him. To top it off, while motoring back to Totem and IO in the dinghy, three dolphins approached the dinghy, so we jumped in and briefly swam with them before they took off. What a day!

I have felt guilty for not blogging in months. I think it is because that "sailing the South Pacific" has become a bit routine. Believe me that I do realize how awesome this experience is. Soon enough I will be back in office-traffic land lamenting our return, but for here and for now, our daily routine has become normal and therefore does not seem spectacular enough to share on a daily basis. Our repetition consists of a long boring sail for days and days ended by a stressful approach to land. When you are most weary at the end of the sail, you get to immediately deal with the Immigration and Customs to check in a new country. "No, I don't have Cholera", "No, there are no rats aboard with Cholera", "And No, nobody died on the passage from Cholera" etc. We go to the ATM to get out a new set of funny money, and try to remember the conversion "was that a thousand dollars or a thousand Tong for that hamburger?", "No wait, we are in Vanuatu now, so that was a thousand Vatu!" I used to get excited about using new currencies in different countries; admittedly it's getting to be a bit of a blur. We see new shaped faces and hear new languages while spending the new "pesos" to get provisions. Then it's off to find the best anchorage based on where I think the most pristine reefs (i.e. farthest from people) and spearfishing might be. We then explore every coral-head in the area, hike, explore and investigate. Then re-provision for the next passage and check out of the country. Begin the long, boring/terrifying sail to next island group, and repeat!
This will all end soon. Way too soon.


Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4th, 2010 Venus

We are on our way towards Vanuatu. I've been able to read and cook with the usual amount of discomfort and minimal swearing. I looked at the night sky and Venus, my friend, is as bright as I've ever seen her. The moon is hidden tonight so Venus' light takes over and reflects on the water surface. It is absolutely beautiful. It occurs to me that passage making is one of the few times when we experience no light pollution. The night sky.... the milky way.... it is so special. It would be perfect if it wasn't moving around so much. I would like to see the night sky like this on land. Where do I need to go, the north pole? Or the south pole? Then, with a big SLAP, a spray of saltwater touches me and I immediately turn grumpy. Sigh.....


October 2nd, 2010 Leaving Fiji

The following is a poem written by Totem:

Oso & IO, our comrades divine,
We know that our happiness is also thine,
Those who call parting sweet sorrow don't know
The circles of life in which we cruisers flow.

We know there's a time and a place - a boat
We just have to wait and we'll all be afloat
At an atoll, islet or a bay
Sharing a sunset and rehashing the day
So when you hear GayJo or Rummy or Hoy
You'll know fellow travelers are coming to play.

September 30, 2010

Our time in Fiji is coming to an end. This was a month full of unexpected events, many sayings of bula (hello), moce (good-bye), and vinaka (thank you). We did not expect to meet a Korean cruising couple heading to Korea. Blue Chip was the boat name and we were happy to meet each other. Nor did we expect to have a feast with Oso Blanco and Totem at a Korean restaurant in Namaka. Yummy!

In Yalobi village on Waya island, we met with the chief and presented kava for sevusevu. He clapped his hands in a sideway cupping motion and chanted something in Fijian which included the words "Canada" and "Vinaka (thank you)". We went for a hike one day with Totem and Syzygy. After the hike we learned that it would cost us ten Fijian dollars per person fee for our guide. As much as we felt that it put a damper on the experience, I had to think about this for a while. In many of the places that we have visited so far, many people have told us, straight up, "We are poor". Although we don't consider ourselves rich by any means and as much as I hate to be associated with the term "yachties", we are perceived as such. As stated in a guidebook I was reading, it is true that charging fees for tourist attractions such as traditional dances or walking to a cave or waterfall is common in every country. I also agree that it is one of the few ways that villagers can earn money and it is ecologically better than selling their forest or marine resources. But maybe it's the dirtbag in me.... ten dollars seemed a bit steep for a fee.


September 27, 2010 "A Big Bula!"

In one of our encounters with a Fijian, I have been thinking of a man named Marika. Marika has been working as a pest-control person for the last 11 years in the islands of the Yasawa group and the Mamanucas. In our conversation about Fijian culture and people, Marika talked about the fact that it takes a while to break the ice with Fijians. Despite the fact that English is the official language, they are very shy about speaking English to foreigners. This is because some Fijians don't want to make mistakes in front of their fellow Fijians and be ridiculed later. In a one-to-one conversation, it is easy to talk in English, but in a group, some people become shy about speaking English. (This is similar to Mike's experience in Korea. One-on-one, the effort to converse in English was greater; but in a group setting, no one would speak to him and he thought they were ignoring him.) Marika said that "a big bula" is just the way to break the ice. Bula is "Hello" in Fijian and it means 'health'.

As he became comfortable with us, Marika shared his observation of tourists. As he made hand gestures of a busily moving thumb, he said, "They're all so addicted to their ipods or blackberries no matter what they're doing. I took some people to see the land in my car, and I can see them all working on their little blackberries or whatever. They seem to live in a small world." So he thinks we live in a small world because we are engaged in our electronic gadgets. When I inquired about the conservative dress code in Fiji, he said, "The white people came and said we need to cover down to our ankles. We were all naked before that. A few years later, they come back wearing bikinis. What the heck." Then he proceeded to comment that foreigners like to "work out" but ask for a safety harness when an opportunity is given to climb up a coconut tree. "We use our arms and legs. What safety harness?" All right, I'm not a big fan of tourons (tourist + moron) who sit by a pool when the soft coral capital of the world is ten meters away. However, I thought his observation of tourists was perhaps unfair and that it was unfortunate that his encounters with foreigners only consisted of the selected population of tourists.
Since we don't have fancy iphones or ipads, we pulled out our monster Macbook and showed him pictures of ourselves climbing mountains. Limestone, sandstone, granite, glaciers; helmets, harnesses, ropes, gear, puffy jackets; big boots. Mike said, "Before we came here, we used to spend lots of time in the mountains. Now we are spending time in the ocean to learn about being in the big world." Marika seemed to acquire a new sense of respect for this and nodded his head.

When I asked Marika where he recommends we go in Fiji, he said, "To see real Fiji, you have to go to the Lau group. To recharge myself, that's where I go. Here, you go to the islands, they are interested in your money. In the Lau group, they put Fiji in your heart. They want to put Fiji in your hearts. You know what moce (pronounced "mo-thay") means? It means, 'we will meet again' and it also means 'we will never see each other again'." He placed both of his hands on top of his chest as he said this. I felt that he was very genuine in his love for Fiji. The Lau group is a group of islands on the easternmost Fiji and considered to be less touched by tourism. For cruisers, boats have to check into Savusavu, obtain a cruising permit, then retrace back and beating into the wind to visit these islands. Most boats with certain time schedules, like us, are not thrilled about turning back. I know we are missing out. However, this year, perhaps I can justify not going there as there is a dengue feaver outbreak and that would not be good anyway.