Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dockside in Denarau

**No under-aged children consumed
alcohol in the taking of this photo
"Would you eaten by a shark or a crocodile?"
"Would you rather... eat fish eyeballs or fish liver?"
"Would you rather... be lost at sea or left on a deserted island?"

Last night, we sat around a table with our friends, Theo and Wanda, playing a game of 'Would You Rather' with the kids.  It made for some good laughs and very unusual Happy Hour conversation.

If you ask any sailor the question, Would you rather... be tied up to a dock or be out at anchor?, most, if not all of them, would say, "Out at anchor," without missing a beat.  There are a lot of reasons for that.  When the boat is at anchor, it faces into the breeze, providing free air conditioning through the overhead hatches, even in the warmest of places.  Privacy is another real perk of anchoring out, as is peace, quiet, less bugs and plenty of space.  Docking is definitely not high on the list of favorite, stress-free boating activities, and just watching another boat come into dock can be quite stressful (but highly entertaining) even for the onlooker.  Marriages have ended as a result of docking squabbles, I'm sure of it.  However, there are times when one needs to tie up to a dock, and for us, that time came last week, as Mark was expecting a battery delivery.

Field Trip nestled alongside the dock
On the dock, most of the perks of anchoring are turned into negatives - no privacy, no breeze, no peace and quiet, tight spaces, and possible pest infestation.  However, as we were tied alongside the dock in Port Denarau Marina, I tried to focus on the positive side of things.  After all, we've been in marinas where people have been docked for YEARS!  Creating their own little floating neighborhoods with dock parties instead of block parties on Saturday nights and full blown vegetable and herb gardens growing beside their boats!  Being dockside isn't all that bad!

Our neighbors on the dock - a booze cruise out to an island, always ending
with a parade of drunk tourists weaving down the dock by sundown.
Keeping a log of voltage as we charge lithium batteries
Our reason for coming alongside was primarily to pick up a shipment of lithium batteries and remove the lead acid batteries we'd be replacing.  Mark (with Michael's help) has been working non-stop on getting the boat ready for the lithium installation.  To say he's been obsessed would be putting it mildly.  I've attempted to listen attentively as he shares the ins and outs of it all, but I have ultimately had to ban the "L" and "B" words from the dining table and Happy Hour conversation.  It's felt a bit like living with Rainman.  "I'm an excellent driver... Dad lets me drive in the driveway on Saturdays... 5 minutes till Wapner!"  I am in awe of all that he has learned, but what I wouldn't give to talk about something besides batteries, voltage, amps, and lithium!!

Maze of wires that only Rainman could decipher!
My two trusty electricians!
The mad scientist checking voltage to ensure equal levels in each cell 
All of this might be the reason I created a very long to-do list while docked!  I wheeled my little rolling bag full of laundry back and forth to the marina laundromat over and over for our first three days on the dock.  Bed mattresses got vacuumed, mattress pads and pillows got laid out in the hot sun to air out, spice drawers and cabinets were organized, and food inventory was taken.  Maybe Mark should incessantly talk about boat projects all the time!  It seems to get me quite motivated to be busy!!
Organizing and inventorying spice drawer
While the boys were twisting wires, the girls were learning how to twist soft pretzels!
(I guess the spider was supervising. You never know who'll be in the kitchen offering a hand!)
From Port Denarau Marina, I could catch a yellow bus into the city of Nadi for $1FJ to do grocery shopping at the supermarkets and the vast fresh market.  Then I could take a $10FJ cab ride back to the marina instead of hauling everything back onto the bus.  This was the perfect opportunity to stock up on the heavier items we needed such as boxed milk, juice, drinks, canned items, etc.  One afternoon after teaching school, I hopped on board the bus alone to get some of the bulky provisioning done.  I also needed to buy large bags of rice, flour, and sugar which I'd be dividing up into 1 kilo bags to give to the people of the Lau Island Group.  Once the batteries arrived, we'd be looking for the first weather window to sail southeast to the remote islands.  Many of our friends had spent weeks anchored near these same villages and say it was some of the richest experiences in all of their Pacific travels.

Usually, the bus goes straight into town, but I had inadvertently hopped onto one that was taking the more local route.  In our travels, we've learned to just go with the flow.  I knew I'd get to the markets eventually, so I sat back to take in the experience.  As I glanced out the window, we passed many of the high end resorts - Westin, Radisson, Sofitel, and Wyndam.

The luxurious pools of the Westin.  Under the thatched roof is a hot tub!
At each stop, local folks wearing their resort uniforms, just coming home from work would board, saying "bula" to friends sitting nearby.  Once past resort alley, the driver turned off onto a bumpy, dusty road.  The scenery changed dramatically.  There were no more pristinely kept flower beds or grand hotel entrances.  No more palm tree-lined golf courses.  Instead, set back from the streets were the homes where the workers lived.  Laundry hung on the lines.  Small children played among chickens and papaya trees.  Flowered fabric hung in glassless windows of one room huts.  The air was pungent with the smoke of outdoor cooking fires.  This is where the people of Fiji lived.

Daily life in a Fijian neighborhood
Dust billowed into the bus windows at each stop, and I felt privileged to have this glimpse into true Fijian life.  I listened to their Fijian language - friendly greetings between neighbors, the giggling of ladies as they shared gossip, the quiet murmurs of a sleepy, sweaty-headed toddler on his mother's lap.  Suddenly, I was in no rush at all to get to the markets.  

In contrast, Port Denarau is a touristy area.  Tour ships come in early to pick up jet lagged visitors then return them a few days later, always sunburned and exhausted.  The marina is surrounded by souvenir shops, tour operator stalls, taxis, buses, and restaurants that cater to the tourism industry.   Yes, there is even a Hard Rock Cafe.  Did I mention it was touristy???

Again, this negative also has its positives.  A stage is situated in the middle of the shopping area, and each night various performers offer a cultural show to the resort guests.  We've gotten to see fire walkers, fire dancers, hula dancers, and traditional Indian dancers!  Each night is free entertainment!

Fire dancers twirling kerosene-soaked torches
We've also enjoyed having restaurants so close by.  I've been spoiled with not having to plan and prepare meals.  Of course, we don't eat out every meal, but after a long day of cleaning and wiring, Mark and I welcome the option of picking up a pizza or sitting down to a hot Indian curry!  For lunch, we've found fantastic $2 FJ beef or chicken roti and $4 FJ spicy chicken pies.  Can't beat that!

Everyone pitching in to take advantage of the dock water!
"Mom, are we tourists?" Elizabeth asked as we zigzagged between vacationers, rolling our laundry bag behind her like the others were rolling their suitcases.

"Hmm.  I don't know.  What do you think?"

"I don't think so.  Because we kind of live here.  I don't think we're tourists.  We're cruisers."

"Yep.  I think you're right.  We are cruisers, but it's nice to be tourists sometimes, too."

So, now it's your turn.  Would you rather... sunset or sunrise?  Here's a Fiji view of both.  You choose!

Sunrise from the dock
Sunset at anchor in Blue Lagoon

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Off the Charts in Fiji

Checking in with carefully weighed luggage!
Our flight arrived back in Nadi, Fiji on Friday morning.  Weary, after a red-eye flight, we all clambered back aboard Field Trip, stepping over the eight duffle bags full of “stuff” we’d brought back from the states.  Our weariness dissipated, though, when we realized how many friends we had around us!  I’d assumed that everyone would have moved on from Port Denarau, continuing in their travels to Indonesia or exploring other parts of Fiji.  We were all very excited to reconnect with our ‘boat friends’ whom we’d missed so much!  Even jet lag couldn’t keep us from enjoying a happy hour that same night.
What a wonderful way to be welcomed back!
While we were catching up over Fiji Bitter Beer, we found out that our friends on Exodus and Breeze were planning to sail out the very next day to meet up with our friends on Lumbaz.  At first, I thought it would be impossible to think of leaving the next day with them, remembering the stacks of luggage that needed to be unpacked and stowed, but our desire to be back with some of our favorite families won out.  After all, the luggage surely wasn’t going anywhere!  The next morning happened to be the Saturday Fresh Market in town (the largest market day of the week), so we hopped in a cab, re-provisioned our produce and refrigerated items, and were underway by ten o’clock!  So much for taking our time to get settled in!
Everyone was heading to an anchorage just off of the Manta Ray Resort in the Yasawa Island Group to the west of Nadi.  Much of the waters in Fiji are uncharted and reef-scattered.  When planning the passages, we have to overlay the satellite images onto the existing charts and plot our course from there.  Then we make sure there is good lighting and plenty of time to get anchored before the sun is too low to provide adequate visibility.  No wind meant we had to motor most of the way, but our jet lag and land legs appreciated the calm passage.

Heading into uncharted waters

The charts for Fiji are notoriously wrong.  Our entrance into Viwa here shows us crossing land.

The first morning we were there, we headed to a pass to swim with the giant Manta Rays who come to feed on the numerous krill and plankton found in the current.  It wasn’t long before the enormous creatures came gliding by right below us, their mouths gaping, and wings gracefully moving them along.  On a few occasions they would wow us with a barrel roll, exposing the bright white of their underside as they fed.  What a privilege to swim so close to a majestic, peaceful giant of the sea.  None of us wanted to get out of the water, and with our new full-length wet suits, we kept warm enough to stay in the water for nearly two hours with them!

Fijian Birthday for Elizabeth

It had been a year since our special birthday celebration for Elizabeth with the sweet family on Maupihaa, near Bora Bora.  Now, she would be turning ten somewhere in Fiji.  The other boats had heard some stories of the dogfish tuna one could spear off the coast of an island called Viwa, the westernmost and lowest in elevation of the Yasawas, which was enough motivation to navigate the super-tight entrance pass and make do with the barely-there anchor holding (thin layer of sandy gravel atop hard, flat rock).  All four boats put out extra chain with our anchors and some even wrapped around rocks to get holding.  Then we dressed in our Fijian chumbas and sulus to go ashore for the sevu-sevu ceremony with the island’s chief.  There were seventeen of us in all - eight adults and nine children.  We were our own sailing village!  Many of the island children ran to the shore to greet us with warm smiles and shy hellos, excited to see so many visitors at once!
Navigating between shallow reefs and a shipwreck to enter Viwa Island in the Yasawa Group
Waving hello to our welcoming committee!

We all brushed the sand from our feet as we entered the ceremony hall and a quiet respect fell over the group.  Each father presented the yangona (root used to make traditional kava drink) and the chief gave his blessing and granted us permission to join his community.  After the formalities, I mentioned that it was Elizabeth’s birthday, and the school children who surrounded us sang a special rendition of “Happy Birthday” especially for her.

Entering the ceremony hall to meet with the chief for the sevusevu
Happy long life to you, happy long life to you!  Happy long life, dear Elizabeth! Happy long life to you!

Next, a young man was asked to show us around the village.  He walked us along the well-kept narrow paths between houses constructed of straw, concrete, wood, and tin, Brightly colored laundry hung on the lines strung in between.  Folks popped their heads out of the doorways to say “BULA!” as we filed by, and little children skittered along behind our processional, so excited to be part of the tour.  The village was neat and orderly.   The houses were arranged in an organized grid pattern unlike any village we’d seen.  In the aerial shots we had viewed to navigate through the pass, we were struck by the planned layout of this village.  All the houses faced the same way, and the paths provided access to each one in a very logical way.  Their HOA must really be on top of things!

Hanging laundry with this view wouldn't be too bad!

Before sunset, we all piled back into our dinghies and met up on Field Trip for cake, cocktails, and yet another rendition of “Happy Birthday”, this time with a Spanish version tacked onto the end, thanks to the multilingual Lumbaz crew!  As all of our friends sang together, I was overwhelmed with the many dear families we’d connected with along the way, some who’d even helped us celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday a year ago!  The Pacific crossing has given us long-term friendships that I never thought possible in the sailing life.  And this experience together has created friendships that will last a lifetime.  I imagine Elizabeth trekking across Europe when she is in high school, visiting all of these wonderful folks we've met while sailing - British, Spanish, Swedish - I'll want to go, too!

Our international birthday party!

The following day, we took the kids to shore to interact with the schoolchildren who were out on a two-week holiday.  Meanwhile, the men went spearfishing outside the reef, and a few of the women opted for some quiet snorkeling around some of the reefs.  Rumbling stomachs brought us all together for lunch again.  Our anchorage places us next to raised coral cliffs along the shoreline where the local children stand, watching and waiting for their visitors to come out again to play!  So, we have a continuous audience watching our every move.  I guess they got a bit impatient, because somehow, the play moved from the beachfront to the transom steps of our boats that afternoon!

Fijian children enjoying their holiday!

Making new friends!
The kids were all smiles when the guys got the dinghies set up and took them tubing through the anchorage at top speeds!  From our boat deck, I watched the kids hooting and hollering as they held on for their lives, screaming, “Faster, faster!!”  I imagined them going back to school in two weeks, standing up in front of their classmates and retelling of their high-speed adventures with these crazy cruising families.
The smiles say it all!
It was obvious that they loved the company, which made it even harder the following morning when many of them stood on the cliffs and sadly waved to us as we pulled out.  The calm winds had created perfect conditions for us to transverse through the tedious pass once again.  So with little notice, we had decided to raise anchor and set off for our next stop, leaving no time for formal goodbyes.  
In many ways, I was nervous coming back to Fiji.  Sitting in the living room of my mother-in-law’s home, I realized how accustomed I’d become to American life in the two months we were there.  How quickly our schedules had filled up, our lives had become rushed, and our standard of living had swung back closer to where it used to be.  I saw a boat friend post a photo of her kids sitting in a grass hut, on palm mats, talking to a Fijian family and I was struck by how detached I was from that scenario, when we could have taken a similar photo only months prior!  As I sat on an over-stuffed chair drinking iced water, I wondered if I could go back to that.  Part of me was really enjoying the air-conditioning and the consumerism!  Did I want to go back to that?  Was living off the charts something I would choose?  At that time, I could have named a million reasons why we should’ve stayed, because I didn’t want to say goodbye.  But now that I’m back, there’s no question that this is where we are meant to be right now.

Sailing Families from Sweden, Spain, Canada, California and Colorado!
Sailing Sisters - Me, Sabina, Deanne, and Genie

Our life has found its rhythm again.  This morning I’ve been writing out my month-to-month lesson plans while Mark is adding more solar panels outside.  The kids took the paddle board to the beach and are with nine other boat kids, setting up tents, planning meals, and building the bonfire for their beach campout tonight.  It's good to be living off the charts once again.
A hike to the top for a beautiful view!

(Special thanks to our boat buddies on Breeze, Lumbaz, and Exodus for sharing photos with us, many of which were used in this post!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Making Connections

Of course, one suitcase was lost in transit!
But was delivered the next day.  Phew.  
It was getting dark in Fiji the night we arrived to the airport shlepping our carefully packed and weighed luggage.  I’d filled a few bags with finished schoolwork, acquired souvenirs, and the kids’ prized rock and shell collections to bring back with us and leave in the states.  Mark was happy to see the excess weight leave the boat, and I was glad to make space for whatever treasures we’d find in future travels.  We had decided to visit home in the summer months, so that we wouldn’t have to buy warm clothes or deal with cold temperatures and winter germs.  Visiting in the warm summer months also meant less bulky clothing items to pack, which would prove to be VERY important at the airport.

At the check-in desk we had a run-in with the ‘baggage nazi’ who made sure we weighed each piece of luggage and even made each of us place our carryons in the tiny metal measuring frame.  We hadn’t expected such strict check-in, but luckily, with a bit of juggling we were able to get it all worked out by and shrink-wrapping two suitcases together to count as one bag. Somehow, we avoided getting Mark’s backpack weighed, which would have easily exceeded the 15-pound limit with two laptops, kindles, and the iPad tucked inside.  If you are traveling on Fiji Airways anytime soon, make sure you read their baggage requirements and adhere - they don’t mess around!

Window view descending into the clouds over Los Angeles

The kids were wired for the first two hours of the flight - surfing through the tv channels and munching on snacks.  Michael had to push every button he saw before he could sit still, but Mark had no trouble settling in.  He was sawing logs less than 15 minutes after takeoff!  When Michael, who was sitting beside him, had to go to the bathroom, I had to lift him up over his slumbering daddy to avoid an accident!  Elizabeth wanted to watch The Hobbit, but I told her she’d have to sleep first.  After just an hour she awoke asking, “Can I watch it now??”  Oh my.  Luckily, she fell back asleep for 3 hours and still had time to watch the whole movie before we landed. Eventually, everyone got some zzz’s and I was even able to doze here and there.

Catching a few zzz's during our layover in LAX

In LAX, we met the grown children of some of our dear sailing friends, Theo and Wanda, who happened to be flying home on exactly the same flight we were on.  Then we gorged on California Pizza Kitchen and I got my Starbucks iced green tea fix.  Ah, it was good to be back in the land of American food!  

Indulging in Giordano's Stuffed Crust Pizza while visiting Chicago - only in America!
As we waited for our next connection, I found it strange to hear so many American accents in one place, and enjoyed not being the foreigner for once.  But even Elizabeth noticed the disconnect among the bustling passengers.  “Mom, everyone’s just looking down at their cell phones!”  It was odd to see so many people in one place not speaking to or even acknowledging each other.  

As much as I wanted to dive into Facebook and Instagram, I resisted the urge and started a conversation with a new mom sitting next to me instead.  Her stroller was loaded down with every gadget her little one might possibly need on the flight, and she was trying to time the next feeding to coincide with take-off.  Oh, how I remember those days and am SO glad to be out of that pack mule, plan-for-every-worst-case-scenario stage of parenting!  As we walked toward our next flight, I had to smile.  The kids were pulling their own rolling backpacks (a traveling MUST for us are the Jansport versions that fit perfectly under the seat in front of them).  Meanwhile, I was carrying my small daypack and NOTHING ELSE!  My conversation with that new mom had brought me an enlightened perspective and newfound thankfulness in the midst of our grueling 24-hour travel itinerary. 

Our time away has helped us resist many technology temptations because we don’t have access to internet or television in so many places, but our time here would really put us to the test.  I wanted to maintain the disconnect, but I also found myself wanting to get plugged back in.  It would prove to be a real struggle for each of us to keep our noses pointed anywhere other than at a screen.

But this trip was all about making connections.  Logistical travel connections, learning connections, and heart connections.  That’s the connectivity I was hoping for in our trek back home.  Thankfully, our flights have gone seamlessly so far, and we have had wonderful opportunities to connect in our learning and relationships.  Here are just a few of the memory making moments we've been blessed by...

Our cross-country extravaganza would bring us
through seven states from the east to the west coast! 

First stop was to Great Grandma's wall of generations.  Oh, the stories she had to tell!

Cherokee ladies weaving belts much like
the ones we saw in Colombia

Learning about the sacred legends of the eagle
feathers in the Cherokee culture

We watched the inner workings of an old mill house run by a water wheel,
and even bought some freshly ground cornflour!

Michael was intrigued by the 3D printers that kids were using at a summer tech camp put on by our friends, Steve and Debbie, of Table Top Inventing

Elizabeth learned about her teeth X-rays from her Poppy during our dental visit,
and even helped to make my bleaching trays in the lab!

NERF war!!

Bowling with cousins

And more family silliness with family!

Girl cousin time enjoying the Indiana sunshine!

Even celebrated Fourth of July with a good 'ol American parade

And the U.S. adventures continue...