2015 is great … trust us!

Happy New Year everyone!  2015 is awesome.  And for most of our readers back in Canada, you’ll just have to take our word on that.  We’re 16 hrs ahead of you.  In fact, we are in the 1st time zone to greet 2015 (well, 2nd actually but New Zealand is on daylight saving time, so we’re same time as the 1st).
We’ve ended up at a couple campsites in NZ with loads of young campers, and came to a free campsite last night right beside a lovely lake, so expected a pretty boisterous night – I had my earplugs ready in the tent.  What we found here is a gem … not too crowded … older folks …  it started raining around 11PM chasing everyone into their RVs so New Years was very quiet (we heard a couple of whoops from the RV closest to our tent). 

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There are birds EVERYWHERE here, so raucous birds are what woke us up this morning.
Our NY’s eve was brought in with a couple of drinks and a couple of card games in the tent.  Kaia won our game of “onze” by a long shot, then we played “halv tol” – a Danish card game traditionally played at 11:30PM on New Years eve (halv is half, and tol is 12 … half 12 (11:30)).  Kaia won that too – this must be a good omen for her 2015?!

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the "give and take" round of halv tol

We recounted stories to the kids of earlier years’ NY parties where we’d put back the clocks a few hours so the kids would think they were up at NYs.  Kaia then told us the first time she stayed up till midnight was a NYs at friend Emma Booth’s house.  She was disappointed to learn then that this was one of those moved clock parties :).
We’re off to the volcanic hotspot of Rotorua today for some hiking.  We’re looking forward to continued learning and adventure in 2015 and are sending our best wishes to our readers far and wide.  2015 is awesome but we won’t tell you what happens so not to spoil the surprise 😉  

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Atop St Paul's rock, looking out over Whangaroa harbour on the Pacific St side of the north island.

Yvonne, Kaia, Jake, Cam

Farewell to Fiji

Our fantastic Fiji holiday was coming to an end, so we packed up the tent — it had been so nice to sleep in the same place for over two weeks!  Henry hosted a final kava night and we had a lovely relaxed evening with him and his cousin Conrad.  With help from Rhonda and Henry, we got booked on the “Y2”, a smaller (and cheaper) boat that makes the run from the Yasawas to the “mainland” once or twice a week.  It is used mainly by locals, and those who traveled with us had many bags full of land crabs to be sold at the market in Lautoka. 
Soon after sunrise, Henry, Rhonda and Ben took us across the channel in their boat, where we transfered all our bags (including a couple from the beach clean-up) onto the Y2.  It left at about 7:30am.

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Saying good-bye to Rhonda, Ben and Henry. Moments before they caught a giant trevally!

The Y2 was certainly smaller, slower and louder than the Ocean Dreamer (the boat we arrived on), and when the sun hit, was it ever hot!  We were served tea and crackers in the morning, and a lunch of chicken, noodles, and veggies.  Apart from eating, we mostly rested during the 6-hour voyage, or tried to keep our eyes on the horizon to avoid becoming seasick! 

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Lunch on the Y2

About an hour out of a Lautoka, the passengers on a small boat were waving at us in some sort of distress.  When I noticed they were waving gas cans, I realized they were out of fuel!  The crew of the Y2 threw them a line and towed them into port.

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An overloaded "Bula Sia" being towed behind the Y2.

Once in port, it took some persistence to get a rental car.  It seems that most places (except for the big-name companies at the airport) will not accept credit cards!  Since our insurance is dependent on us paying for the rental with VISA, we really couldn’t budge on that one.  So, after having no success at Singh’s, we contacted Classic Car Rental who agreed to take payment on the credit card.  We had decided to rent a car in order to see some of the countryside of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island (which is surprisingly big!) 
We spent a couple of hours in Lautoka.  First, we visited the market where we thought we’d buy a pineapple because the price looked so good to us.  After paying, we realized that it was actually the price for a stack of 4 pineapples!  The bananas and mangoes were cheap, too.

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Lautoka market

Jake had expressed the wish to spend some of his money from Gramma on a “bula shirt”, a floral-patterned shirt that is popular throughout the Pacific.  Since every store had a different selection and Christmas deal, we ended up going into at least a dozen shops before Jake settled on which shirt he wanted to buy.

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Jake in his new bula shirt.

Then we drove out of town in search of budget accommodation (preferably near the beach, since we had become spoiled during our stay on Tavewa!)  We found the Bamboo Hostel, and stayed in their dorm.  They have a beach, restaurant, hammocks, wifi, and happy hour.  What else could anyone need?
The next day, we drove down to Natadola Beach (like I said, we had become beach snobs).  On the way, we passed dozens of little mango stands, many sugarcane plantations, and were intrigued by the small gauge railway that ran along the side of the road.  Apparently it was used during colonial times to transport the sugarcane to processing facilities.  Then it was back to Nadi to drop off the car at the airport and board our plane to Vanuatu. 

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What a fabulous introduction to island life and Melanesian culture we had in Fiji!  Vinaka, vinaka to our wonderful hosts! 

Yvonne
     

La peche a Fiji

Henry aime BEAUCOUP faire la peche.  Il aime la peche a la traine, le lancement, la peche a la mouche et la peche a la ligne a main, et il est un expert en chaque sorte.  Il fait la peche depuis qu’il est tres jeune, et maintenant, il a une entreprise de peche a la mouche (flyfishfiji.com).  Beaucoup de gens le nomme le meilleur pecheur dans tous les iles Yasawas!  Donc, il est evident qu’on irait pecher quelques fois pendant notre visite.

Notre premiere sortie de peche etait le troisieme jour de notre visite, quand on est alle pecher a la ligne a main.  C’est la peche sans canne a peche, tu tiens la ligne seulement, et tu la tire de l’eau en utilisant tes mains.  C’est la mode la plus efficace pour attraper les poissons de recif, car l’interieur de leurs bouches sont durs, donc tu dois tirer fort et vite pour les attraper, ce qui est difficile avec une canne a peche.

Avant de sortir dans le bateau, il fallait trouver de l’appat.  On a creuse dans des trous dans le sable pour attraper des crabes-fantomes,  ensuite on a enleve leurs jambes et les a mit dans une boite.

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Je sais, c'est un peu cruel.

On est alle dans le bateau a une place ou il y avait un recif a peu pres 12 metres sous l’eau.  On a mit des morceaux des jambes et des corps des crabes sur nos crochets et on a descendu les lignes dans l’eau.  Il fallait laisser descendre la ligne jusqu’au fond, la monter a peu pres un pied, et attendre.  Quand on sens la morsure d’un poisson, on doit tirer sur la ligne tres fort pour fixer le crochet dans sa bouche.  Ensuite, il faut seulement tirer jusqu’a ce qu’il est sorti de l’eau.

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Il faisait beaucoup soleil!
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Kaia a attrape le premier poisson de la journee, un "clown wrasse".
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Mon pere a attrape un "brim".
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J'ai attrape un "triggerfish", mais il etait tres petit, alors on l'a remit dans l'eau. A peu pres une heure plus tard on l'a vu flottant sur la surface car il etait encore gonfle d'air a cause qu'il a remonte d'une profondeur tres rapidement. Heureusement, la plupart des poissons n'aiment pas le manger, alors il serait probablement sauve.

Il semblait comme si a chaque 30 secondes, quelqu’un disait: “J’ai un poisson sur ma ligne!”,  Mais les poissons sont tres vites, et la plupart du temps, ils reussissaient a prendre l’appat sans etre attrape.  Il fallait remettre des morceux de crabe sur nos crochets tres souvent.  Quand meme, on attrapait beaucoup de poissons!

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Un poisson-chevre.

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La variete est incroyable!  Quand on avait fini, on a attrape plus que 10 poissons, mais on a garde seulement les 5 plus grands pour manger.  Les plus petits ont ete remit dans l’eau ou utilises comme appat.  Ce soir la, on a mange beaucoup de poisson!

A presque chaque fois qu’on allait quelque part en bateau, on avait des cannes a peche pour la peche a la traine.  On a senti quelques morsures mais malheureusement, on n’a jamais attrape un poisson en faisant cela.

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Henry peche a la mouche du bateau.

Une fois, on est alle a un petit ile de sable pour pecher.  Henry a attrape un petit trevally geant (ca ne semble pas comme ca fait l’allure, mais trevally geant est le nom le l’espece de poisson).

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On visait toujours pour un enorme poisson qui pourrait nous nourrir pour quelques journees.  On l’a jamais eu pendant notre visite, mais regardez ce qu’ils ont attrape quelques minutes apres qu’on a dit au revoir et sommes partis sur le bateau!

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Maintenant, le nom "trevally geant" fait de l'allure!

Jake

The Navatua caves

Rhonda, Henry and Ben were determined that we go to the Navatua caves, an hour boat ride away from Tavewa. Near the end of our stay in Fiji, we realized that we hadn’t been yet! Every day seemed too windy for the boat ride, but on one of our very last days on Tavewa, we decided that it was either go in the wind, or don’t go at all.
The boat ride was extremely wavy, which was actually quite fun! We went past a few resorts and villages along the way.

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An hour later, we were there. There was a small entrance fee, then we entered the limestone cave! Mask, snorkel, waterproof flashlight and GoPro (underwater camera). Let’s go.

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Watch your head!
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Apparently, one of the scenes from the movie "Blue Lagoon" was filmed in this cave!
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The big limestone chamber

There were a few otherpeople there when we arrived. Henry and Rhonda had told us about another cave attached to this one, one where to get in, you have to swim under a rock for a few seconds, then come back up. Ben was very excited because he had only done this once before, and he was looking forward to doing it again. My family was very anxious! Even though you’re only under for maximum five seconds, swimming under a hanging cliff and coming back up in a very dark cave was definitely out of my comfort zone! Henry went first. When my turn came, all I could see of where I was going was the beam of light from Henry’s waterproof flashlight. I was quite scared, but I took the plunge. Henry’s hand on my head guided me to a safe place to come back up. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be! As Jake mentioned in an earlier entry, when my Gramma’s cruise visited the caves, she went into the next cave as well! We were very impressed, Gramma!

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My mom swimming into the dark cave

Next, we explored that cave. There were many nooks and crannies in there, so we spent a long time looking in corners and finding chambers and stalactites.  We sang together in an echo chamber.  The waterproof flashlights were very important! There aren’t any good pictures, so I’ll put one in to show you how dark it was.

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Ben with Rhonda under water, exploring the dark cave

Getting out of the second cave was much easier than getting in, because you can actually see where you’re going!

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Rhonda swimming back out

Then they showed us another, smaller chamber, and by then I was much more comfortable with diving down under a submerged rock wall and coming back up.

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I'm diving in the first cave here.

What a great spot! We had so much fun there. The Navatua caves were definitely a highlight for all of us!

After the caves, we went to a beach for lunch and some snorkeling.

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We're drinking coconut juice- YUM!

Before heading home, we visited the village of Navatua across the channel.

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Navatua: a typical Fijian village

We brought Kava as a gift. Some local girls showed us around.

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The very new primary school for the village. Up until then kids 4 and up had to board on the other side of the island Monday-Friday.
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The big (yellow) hollowed out log is thumped with a smaller log when the chief wants to meet everyone at the community center. My dad was curious about the sound and wanted to try it, but then realized that would be a bad idea.
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The only source of electricity in the village was from one solar panel at the community hall, so all the phones charged in one spot!

The villagers were very friendly, and the chief gave a long thank you speech for the Kava we brought. When we were saying goodbye, we got our first Christmas greetings of the year, in the first week of December. It’s refreshing to see communities that celebrate Christmas without all the consumerism. We trolled for fish on the way back to Tavewa, with no luck. We had an amazing day, but it would have been better with fish for dinner!
Kaia

Fiji water washes up on the beach

I would bet that most of you reading this blog have seen Fiji bottled drinking water in a store near home.  

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In the departures area of the Toronto airport on our first flight out on Sept 2nd we saw a whole row of the very attractive Fiji water bottles lined up in a store.  To me, the concept of single-use plastic drinking water bottles is rather preposterous, except in some limited situations.  All the oil and chemicals and energy to make the plastic … then you pay to purchase water (sometimes more per litre than gasoline) …. then what happens to the empty bottle? And that’s assuming the water was bottled somewhere close by.  What’s the carbon/transportation footprint if the water was bottled somewhere REALLY far away … like, say, Fiji?  We noted in Toronto that day that we’d have to investigate more once we reached Fiji.
Yvonne mentioned in her last blog about finding a pile of plastic bottles on the deserted beach we  camped on during our kayak trip.  In fact, along the tree line of that 50m section of beach, we pulled out between 50 and 100 bottles!  Most of them were water bottles.  And of those, a pile were Fiji drinking water bottles.  Read the label of the Fiji water bottle, and it sells itself as water from beautiful, natural Fiji.  So the irony of finding these bottles littering the gorgeous beaches of Fiji is not insignificant.
A couple of days later we visited some caves and did a picnic lunch on a deserted island.  Gorgeous beach, but the seaward side of this island too had hundreds of plastic bottles mixed into the driftwood.

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so beautiful at first glance ...

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OK ... what exactly do they mean by "safe"?
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I'm guessing that the marketing whiz who cooked up the greenwash label on the back of this bottle that we found does not spend much time walking along the high shore part of a Fijian beaches.

Fijian beaches are still absolutely stunning.  And unless you poke around the top of the beach, you could miss the plastic debris.  But the kayak and cave beaches got us a bit worked up about plastic bottles in the ocean, so we decided to explore a bit more.  Rhonda had the idea of engaging the local kids in and around Tavewa island in beach cleanups which would serve the secondary (and perhaps more important) cause of education.  Henry says that there isn’t much awareness in villages about the disposal of plastic bottles, nor is there any recycling or waste management infrastructure (beyond digging a hole in the back yard).
We wrote emails to Fiji water, Coca cola (who sells most of the soft drinks in Fiji) and the 2nd biggest bottled water company in Fiji (AquaPacific), asking them what they do to help people properly recycle their bottles.  We also asked them if they would take the bottles off our hands for proper recycling if we could get them to mainland Fiji (in Lautoka).  Fiji Water & AquaPacific brushed off the emails, saying that they would accept only their own bottles if we brought them to port, and that otherwise we should check in with the resorts to see what they are doing.  Fiji water is by the way owned by a company based in Los Angeles.  At least Coca cola responded, saying they would
accept all plastic bottles for recycling, and would even pay an incentive for their bottles.  I asked how they recycle them, and learned that they ship them to Hong Kong!  On a side note, we learned later that a company in Hong Kong is starting to make diesel from plastic bottle recycling  ….
We decided to put our money where our mouths are and clean up the beach closest to Henry’s house.  In a stretch of beach about 150m long, we found about 3 garbage bags full of bottles.  Doesn’t sound like much, but do a bit of mental math … 3 bags from 150m, and there are probably hundreds of km of beach in Fiji ….!!!

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such a beautiful beach!

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The million dollar question of course is “where do all these bottles come from?”  This really is a two part question.  First, from how far have these bottles come?, and second, how did they end up in the ocean?  To answer the first question, we separated our bottles into 4 piles:  Fiji water, coca cola (and their subsidiary drinks), Aqua Pacific, and all others (labels and come off many of them).

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Fiji bottled water
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coke, fanta, sprint (yes, not sprite) etc
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unknown, but some likely Fiji water & coca cola

From this we made the conclusion that on our beach, most bottles entered the ocean in Fiji.  As to how they got in the ocean ….  we really have little idea.  We know some come from villages, because we saw them around villages.  But Fijians in villages do not drink Fiji drinking water.  So some are being dropped by tourists … some likely blow off ships … some blow in from mainland resorts and towns … who really knows?
Rhonda and family neighbour Merle will pursue some cleanup after Christmas (all kids are back at home) and are ordering some large bags from coca cola on mainland Fiji.  Hopefully it will spawn off other similar projects. A recent email from Rhonda suggests that even the more promising responders (coca cola Fiji) are dragging their heels in terms of getting the proper collection bags to her, though. 
Clearly, the problem of plastics in the ocean is HUGE.  Thanks to my friend Tony for passing this link to me for a recent Toronto Star article on larger problem of ocean plastic http://torontostar.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/iphone/homepage.aspx#_articleb8313a9a-442b-4e39-8a7a-75218fd4aeca/waarticleb8313a9a-442b-4e39-8a7a-75218fd4aeca/b8313a9a-442b-4e39-8a7a-75218fd4aeca//true/plastics
The authors’ conservative estimate indicates there are more than 5 trillion pieces of floating plastic in the ocean – that’s more than 700 pieces per each of the world’s 7 billion people!  The floating islands of plastic that have formed in the Pacific ocean are well known. 

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The carbon associated with the production and distribution of plastic bottles is enormous. 
Solutions are emerging.  Recycling infrastructure around the world is improving.  We watched a “Ted talk” on Youtube at Henry & Rhonda’s where a call is made for a global deposit system.  Very few jurisdictions have these in place, mostly because of a strong lobby against from the single use plastic bottle companies.
I have a sense that consumers are slowly realizing the impacts of plastic bottles, and looking to see how far away it was bottled.  Really … how the heck did Fiji bottled water end up in Canada?  Like we don’t have enough clean water in Canada?
But we have such a long journey ahead before we can walk beaches without stumbling over plastic bottles.  I always do a mini unit on the impacts of plastic drinking bottles, but I think I will pursue the issue of global plastic pollution even more next year in class.  And we’ll keep an eye out for plastic as we swim and snorkel from other beaches/countries on this journey.

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by eco "twist", do they mean that their plastic ends up littered around the ocean and on beaches?
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always good perhaps to remind ourselves what is at stake ...

Cam

A local recipe for fun on Tavewa

The Fiji islands, and Tavewa Island in particular, is paradise for kids who like to build and invent stuff.  With trees to climb, wood and leaves to build forts and rafts, and fruit to eat and smell, it’s all you can ask for to be creative.  And for almost 3 weeks, Ben, Kaia and I did exactly that.  With 3 projects on the go, we had lots to work on and have fun!

First, we built the Rocky Ray raft.  On our very first day on Tavewa, Ben and I were swimming when we found a log.  We brought it into the water and started to play on it and try to stand on it.  That gave us the idea to build a raft.  The next day, we started by putting some logs side by side, and some thinner branches across them.  We found some of Ben’s cousin Sammy’s half-surfboards lying around, and he said we could use them.  Henry helped us find some vines that can be used as rope, and tied it all together.

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We even found an anchor we tied a rope to, and also made a little safety throw rope with a piece of wood.

When we were finished building it, we poled it around for a little test ride.  It floated, but water came up past the surfboads, and it sank lower on one side.

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Henry said it needed more floatation underneath.  So the next day, we went to the windward side of the island to get some bamboo.  We remodeled it a bit and added more vines to hold it together.  This time, it floated quite well.  We took it round for a little ride few times, but it didn’t get used very often in the end.

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We called it the Rocky Ray because it's flat like a ray, and the end of one of the logs looks a bit like the head of a dog, so we named it after Sammy's dog, Rocky.

Our next project was the Tropical Turtle Treetop Resort of Tavewa.  In a great climbing tree by the beach in front of their house, we found a few places we thought would make good resort rooms.  We gave them some privacy with palm leaves, and put in some sticks and logs (pretty hard to get up into a tree!) to make arm and back rests.  We kept adding little bits and pieces to improve it over the 3 weeks, but the final product featured the most luxurious Angelfish room, the second best Barracuda room, the third best Coconut room, the Damselfish deck, the Bristleworm bridge and even the Triggerfish toilet!  We were planning on offering Rocky Ray raft tours to our guests as well, but one night, the waves must have been pretty big, because in the morning, the logs were washed up in different places down the beach, and all that was left was the anchor on the bottom!

Some usual pastimes were playing card games like 99, Quiddler or Dung Deck (a game about animal dung), playing Lego, and we’d have some fun with a giant land crab when we found one.

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A dangerous playmate!

But by far and away, our best, most creative project was the Stingray Smell Buffet.  It all started when we were trying to explode a coconut by roasting it on a fire.  It didn’t work, but when we took it out of the fire and smashed it against the ground, it actually smelled really good!  That gave us the idea to make a restaurant where instead of eating, you smell.  The 4 parents were invited to the opening night.  We had 3 dishes that we passed around one by one.  Kaia served her “local leaf smalad” (salad+smell=smalad) as an appetizer, Ben served the roasted coconut as the main course and I served my lime fruit and leaf dish as a dessert.  They were served in coconut shells or in a clam.  After they had smelled them all, we asked for feedback.  We took their advice and were back at it again the next day.  Some new ingredients were added and some less important ones were taken out.  Kaia roasted another coconut, this time a bit less “on the burnt side” as they had recommended to us.  We got even better reviews the second time.

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Every time before smelling, we'd have some entertainment for them!

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My dad was served up in the Angelfish room!

On the third day of the buffet, we switched the format.  Instead of serving them what we already made, we prepared a “Make your own Smalad Buffet”.  We harvested all the kinds of nice smelling fruit, leaves, roots, nuts and flowers we could find, put them in coconut shells and made labels for them.  This time, we gave the parents each a coconut shell and they could put in whatever they wanted to make their custom smalad.  There was lime, grapefruit, mango, curry leaf, camphor root, passion fruit and much more.

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We had a mashing stick at the end of the buffet table to make it smell more.

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That time went really well!

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2 days later, on our last full day on Tavewa, we had our closing meal.  This time, we made a menu with all the ingredients, then walked around taking their orders.  We found out how many servings we needed of each ingredient and went to harvest them.  We made the bowls a bit fancy too!

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From building rafts to making resorts to preparing smalads, it’s so much fun to make and do stuff on Tavewa.  And who knows, maybe our idea will end up in the Solomon Islands some day!

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We set our smalads adrift!

Jake

Kayaking and snorkeling in the Yasawas

Just touched down in Auckland, NZ.
The captions  for the Christmas blog posted yesterday  did not come through.  They’re there now.  We’ll post a few more stories from Fiji, then tell you about our fascinating time in Vanuatu.
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Swimming and snorkeling were almost daily activities during our stay in Fiji.  And there was no shortage of new reefs to explore right around Tavewa.  The fish were plentiful and the coral was exquisite.  Rhonda and Henry made sure we went out for a night snorkel with flashlights, and also got to see the large coral ‘bommies’ where she and Henry had their underwater wedding ceremony 10 years ago!

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The electric blue fish were easy to spot! Camouflage is not their specialty.
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Jake is diving down to get a closer view.
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"Lettuce-leaf" coral
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a giant clam
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It's another world down there!
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During the night-dive, Henry picked up a sea-cucumber that immediately did it's defensive reaction: to spit out its spaghetti-like respiratory system! Don't worry, it will go back to normal.
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Two of the more bizarre forms of marine life we encountered.

Rhonda, and especially Henry, have been involved with kayaking in the Yasawas for a long time.  In fact, on their property is a storage shed full of kayaks and other equipment used by South Sea Ventures, a small company that offers guided kayak trips with stops in local villages.  Their tourist season runs from about March to September.  We were eager to get out on the water and planned an overnight trip to circumnavigate the island of Natacawa Levu (the one with the school we visited).  Most of the island was, at one time, part of the Catholic Mission that ran the school as well as a coconut plantation. 

Camp food was organized and packed, and we rolled up our tent and bedding to bring along.  We set off after lunch on November 30th in a flotilla of 3 doubles and one single kayak.  

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Just setting off from Tavewa. Sun protection was a must!

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We paddled to a lovely sand beach surrounded by thick forest.

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the perspective of a hermit crab
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With a few minor renovations, this shade structure (made of local materials by earlier picnickers) was great.

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One type of tree there drops “helicopter” seeds a bit like maple keys but with two wings — they were fun to play with.

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Another activity was collecting purple shells.

Of course there was great snorkeling around the beach and Henry knew exactly where to take us depending on the tide.  We saw beautiful table corals, soft corals that would change colour when touched, and a wide variety of reef fish.  We didn’t manage to catch any, but luckily Rhonda had brought chilli for dinner which was heated over the campfire and enjoyed with a cold can of Fiji Gold!

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Henry and Rhonda, our hosts.
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We struck gold!

We watched a spectacular south pacific sunset and fell asleep to the lulling sound surf.

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Cam is really getting artistic with the photos now: a fire and a fiery sunset!

Next morning, we went snorkeling again before continuing our circumnavigation.  The last thing we did on the beach was to clean up the plastic bottles and shoes.  Yes, shoes!  I cannot believe how many flip-flops and crocs are washed up on beaches.  The plastics are a terrible and growing problem for sea life.  We didn’t have a good way to carry or dispose of the dozens of bottles we found, so I am embarrassed to admit that we burned them.  With a bit of research later, we realized that that was not the best choice as lots of toxins are released if the fire is not at the ultra-high temperature of an incinerator.  Anyway, after the kayak trip, we were motivated to find out more about recycling and disposal of water bottles in Fiji.  Cam will write about that.

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What to do with all this waste?

We stopped at a village on the other side of the island where Henry’s cousin (Mathias, I think?) and his family live. 

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Mathias wove a basket of palm fronds and gave us a gift of mangoes.
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Local fruit in biodegradable packaging was strapped to the kayak.
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We played "duck, duck, goose" with the kids in the water.

We continued around the island, stopping every now and then to rest our arms, stretch our legs, and swim.  Everyone we met along the way seemed to offer us fruit!  We got back ‘home’ mid-afternoon.  What a great way to get re-acquainted with sea kayaking, something Cam and I hadn’t done since our pre-kid days out on the west coast!

Yvonne

We wishem yufala wan gudfala Meri Krismiss

Yes, we wish you all a Merry Christmas from Vanuatu.  The blog title is Bislama, which is a pidgin English.  Yufela – you fellas … gudfela  good people.
Update Dec. 26th: We tried to post this yesterday on Christmas day but we’ve had virtually no internet access.  We just arrived back to the capital city and we’re back online.
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We are on the Vanuatu Island of Epi and we are having a WONDERFUL Christmas day!  FYI, we are 16 hrs ahead of you time-zone wise.  We’re going to bed Christmas day while you’re just waking up Christmas morning.
For the past 4 days we have been staying in Lamen Bay – a really warm, welcoming, laid back village of about 400 people. There is one little guest house in town run by a family (dad Tasso runs the show) who really took us in and made us part of the community.  We originally had planned to travel to the south end of the island on the 24th, but the one guest house there is not really near the local community, and we heard that Lamen Bay was having a carol singing night at the church and a big community lunch, so it was an easy decision to push our trip across the island back a day to spend Christmas with the village.
Christmas Eve, after a big fish, yam, cassava & rice dinner we went to the church where the entire community (including those from the other 2 Christian churches) had gathered.  Tasso sat us in the front row, and we were welcomed in the opening remarks.  Tasso said that they had never had tourists stay in Lamen Bay for Christmas before.

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The candles were in bamboo shells, for a lovely effect.

 

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Most of the carol tunes were easily recognized Christmas carols, but all but one were sung in Bislama, which unless spoken slowly is pretty hard to follow.

 

After many carols, skits, a few poems and a short story, it was time to light our candles (everyone had brought one).  The gathering looked so fantastic.

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That’s Tasso our host on Kaia’s right

 

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The choir and the rest of the community then sang “O Holy Night”, and when they got to the “fall on your knees” part I thought the roof of the church would lift off. I just about fell on my knees, and have goosebumps now just thinking about it.

 

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People were invited to exchange candles and greetings with at least 5 other people; that’s what Kaia is doing here.

 

That was then followed by the most energetic round of “We wish you a Merry Christmas” I’ve ever heard, then we recessed out of the church with our candles into the star filled night singing “This little light of mine …” with a little twist “let it shine over Lamen Bay”.  A 15 minute walk brought us back to the guesthouse where we had a little starlit swim before bed.
We awoke to find that Father Christmas had indeed passed through Epi Island (Kaia and Jake’s ecuadorian hats were full of candy and banana chips!) then were greeted by Jake’s gift of “smalads” for all of us.  Jake will explain more about these in a subsequent Fiji blog entry, but simply they are dishes of things to be smelled – not tasted.

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a smalad with a card and Lamen Bay shell garnish

 

We then headed to the ocean to wish the resident sea turtles a Merry Christmas.  The water was crystal clear, and we’d see 3 or 4 at a time, and a couple of the more relaxed turtles let us dive down to touch their shells (we had never tried to do this before).

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Jake is giving the turtle a little Christmas scratch behind the neck.

 

Tasso and wife Legon had prepared a big breakfast for our family and theirs, and had decorated the dining room with balloons.  Kaia says they really know how to do breakfast in Lamen Bay because we had pineapple, pancakes, lemon meringue pie, cake and cookies!  She says she’s going to learn how to make lemon meringue pie for next year’s Christmas breakfast.
Following our family tradition from home, we did our gift opening after breakfast.

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No Christmas tree, but we had a lovely shady tree to open gifts under.

 

Gifts began with a surprise presentation by Kaia and Jake of a song they wrote and sang for us.  For each verse they held up some accompanying artwork (included below).

They typed in their song earlier today …

Swim The Falls (sung to the tune of “Deck The Halls”)
By Kaia and Jake Douglas

(Costa Rica)
Ride the zipline ’till you vanish, ooh-ooh-ooh ah-ah, ooh-ooh ah-ah
Swim and surf a learn some Spanish, ooh-ooh ah-ah…
In the current, learn to dive, ooh-ooh ah-ah…
Turtles by the ocean side, ooh-ooh ah-ah…

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(Galapagos Islands)
Boobies dive into the water, a-a-a-a-a-a-a lava
Feral goats, they have to slaughter a-a-a… lava
Victor walked barefoot on rocks called a-a-a… lava
Penguins, sea lions, and hawks and a-a-a… lava

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(South America)
In the land of llamas humming, humm humm humm…
Little cute guitars, they’re strumming, humm…
Inca ruins, long bus rides, humm…
Potatoes on the mountainsides, humm…

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(South Pacific)
Swim at falls and caves and beaches, ba-na-na-na-na, na-na, na-na
Check your boots for worms and leeches, bananana…
Gorge yourself on mango, lime and bananana…
We have had an awesome time, ba-na-na-na-na, ba-na-na-na-na, ba-na-na-na-na, na-na, na, naaaaaa!

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We loved it.
Gifts were very modest this year, of course.  Jake, Kaia and Yvonne were given new Vanuatu shirts while I was given a new DVD that describes the story of a tribe on one of the Vanuatu southern islands (Tanna) that is trying to hold onto its cashless, clotheless, traditions in the face of growing pressures to modernize.  Kaia had sweet treats for Yvonne, me and Jake.  The to/from card that Jake made for me was priceless.  A week earlier we had trekked into a VERY traditional village on Santo island, where 99% of their needs are met by the surrounding forest, gardens and streams.  Including men’s loin cloth “malmals” which are made from the inner bark of a tree.  I went “native” and dressed only in a malmal for 2 days.  So here’s the card.

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Lamen Bay celebrates Christmas day with a huge community lunch feast.  Men prepare stew and rice while the women make pudding and vegetables.  All are welcome at no cost, and that included us!  The whole community eats on mats on the ground.

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They had an MC and sound system set up, and at the end, we were asked by our host if we’d be willing to say a few words. We took turns at the mic, describing our impressions of the village and their Christmas and their warm treatment of visitors.

 

We said our goodbyes around 3PM and drove the 25km (1.5 hrs) to the south end of the island.  We split the cost of the trip with some folks from Lamen island who were driving down to purchase a cow to eat the following day.  They call the 26th “family day” … which speaks volumes about their priorities.  We told them about our “boxing day”, and they looked a little bewildered.  On the drive south we passed many beautiful little villages, all celebrating Christmas with games (lots of tug-o-war) and communal meals.

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we caught up with Father Christmas in a little village along the way! K&J in their new Christmas shirts.

 

We arrived at the Epi Island Guesthouse in Valesdir around 5PM – we’re camping on their beach.  Lovely sunset. (followed by a surprise downpour …. sure wish we had put the tent fly on before that 😦  ).

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Here we are about 10 minutes ago under their beach shelter, eating our fire-cooked spaghetti Christmas dinner. It might not be turkey, but the moon is shining and the surf is loud. We’ll take it!

 

We send our best thoughts to all our family, friends, and anyone else who has stumbled onto our blog.  We hope you feel some of the warmth and good will that we do right now.

Cam, Yvonne, Kaia and Jake

ps.  we fly on a little 10 seater plane back to capital city Port Vila tomorrow PM, then onto Auckland New Zealand on the 27th.

pps. here is a travel-inspired twist on a carol for you …

12 Days of Christmas in The Douglas Family
By Kaia Douglas

On the 12th day of Christmas, my travels gave to me,
12 llamas humming
11 sea lions playing
10 dollar hostels
9 juicy mangoes
8 countries so far
7 hour bus rides
6 fishies swimming
5 golden WiFi passwords!
4 heavy backpacks
3 beds to sleep on
2 much kava
Visit 1year1family1world (.com)!

Merry Christmas from Vanuatu!

Fantastic Food and Fruit of Fiji

Rhonda is a professional cook. She and Henry own The Mountain Range gourmet food & catering company in BC. She is also a camping guide and cook, so she can make great food with limited access to stores, by planning ahead and using local ingredients. She made awesome pizza, pasta, salads, dahl and pappadum, and much more. Once Henry made taro leaf mixed with coconut milk: YUM! Taro is a root vegetable similar to yams, but you can eat the leaves too. The fresh veggies have to be ordered ahead of time and make the 6 hr journey on the weekly run of the Y II boat (but they are expensive).
For breakfast, she sometimes made French toast, yoghurt, or fresh bread, once Henry made Bannock bread, but one thing was always there: fresh fruit!
On our second day on Tavewa, we went mango picking. In that area, it was the end of the mango season, but there were still A LOT of mangoes. I thought that you have to pick the mangoes off the trees, but instead you pick the ones that aren’t rotting off the ground.

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When I picked one up, I had to make sure that it wasn't a fruit fly's feast!
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Heavy bag full of juicy gold (mangoes)! (we actually picked 3 bags that day)
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We made mango jam one day! It took lots of mangoes and time, but it was worth it!

The mango jam went great with fresh bread and toast. Freshly cut mango was a favourite on cereal! I’m not really a grapefruit person, but those Fijian “Poor man’s oranges” (what they call them there) were delicious! So were the limes, oranges, passion fruits and pineapples. Local, delicious, juicy and healthy. They also keep you very regular at the outhouse!
When Henry was growing up on Tavewa, his family made their living from a coconut plantation. They sold the dried meat (copra). My favourite part about coconuts is that you can get so many different kinds of food from one nut! If you get a very young coconut, you get nice jelly and juice. Then the juice ferments and becomes fizzy. Then it dries up and becomes hard meat. You then grate the coconut to get the shavings.

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Me scraping the coconut half

Steps for coconuts
1. Find coconut on the ground. Shake to check for juice inside.
2. Husk coconut by whacking it on long pointy stick.
3. Cut coconut in half using machete.
4. If coconut is young, pour juice into a glass. Then spoon out jelly.
5. If coconut is dry, scrape out meat using coconut scraper.
6. Use in cooking or enjoy on its own!

I think I got pretty good at scraping coconuts by the time we left! Coconut was great in cereal, bread, smalads (Jake will explain in upcoming blog), and much more. In a village we visited, we bought some cold pressed coconut oil, which the locals use in their hair and also cooking. It smells delicious! We learned from Rhonda that coconut is very healthy. You can see why climbing a coconut tree is a good skill to have if you ever get stranded on an island! A source of hydration, nutrition and deliciousness.
Another local Tavewa food: Heart of palm.

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That night we ate salad with heart of palm. Henry cut the heart from a tree he chopped down that day.

Tavewa is a place of fresh fruit and delicious food. We definitely did not go hungry! One thing I know is that fruit in Canada will never be the same after having the real thing in Fiji. Bon Appetit!
Kaia

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Yum!

The Grog Blog

Ever heard of the drink “kava”?  We hadn’t either, until my friend George told me to “be careful with the kava” before we arrived in Fiji.  Kava is a drink made from the root of the kava plant.  The plant grows to about 2-3m in height over 3 to 4 years, then is cut off and the root pulled up.  The root is peeled and  chopped into small pieces.  Some varieties are then dried into “chips” then pounded into a powder, while others are pounded fresh into a fine pulp.  The powder or pulp is put into a fine mesh bag (like a big tea bag) and massaged in water (rain water is best) in the large wooden kava bowl.  After about 30 minutes, kava is ready to drink.
In Fiji, kava is a very social activity.  Traditionally it was only a drink for men, but women are now included around many (but not all) kava bowls.  Kava actually looks like mud water.  And its taste is unique.  You feel like you’re drinking part mud part something else that is hard to describe.  Many Fijians, even those who drink it regularly, don’t really like the taste.  So why do they work so hard to grow, prepare it, and then drink something not so yummy?  Kava root has sedative properties.  It gives a warm, relaxed feeling, and helps one fall asleep and stay asleep.  Henry and cousin Conrad explained to me that it also had the advantage over alcohol that it does not make anyone aggressive (no brawling!) and leaves no ill feelings the next morning.  Kava is an important ingredient in western pharmaceuticals in anti depressants and sedatives (I’d give more details here but I have no internet right now and I can’t recall what Rhonda shared with me.)

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A very young kava plant
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Kava root for sale in the Lautoka market
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Each family would have a large, solid wood kava bowl. Coconut shells are used for cups.

Kava is served usually around 6PM – always before eating.  All participating in the kava sit on a bamboo mat in a circle.  The host or some other man is responsible for mixing and serving the kava.  He passes a coconut shell full of kava to the eldest man first, who drinks then returns the cup.  The next eldest is served next, then down the line.  The host drinks last.  Relaxed conversation unfolds.  After some time (10 minutes?) anyone who is ready for another cup claps their hands once and says: “Taki!” to signal the kava host.  Another round is served.  After finishing the cup (it has to go down in one go … no sipping!) you clap two or three times to indicate your appreciation of the kava.  The evening unfolds slowly; conversation and comraderie are the key ingredients.  You don’t have to take part in every “round” of kava, but it is considered a bit rude to leave before the bowl is empty (nobody explained this to me the 1st night … so after a couple hours my legs were a little sore so I said thanks for the kava then went for a swim.  oops …).  The second time we drank kava at Henry’s we sat for about 3 hours. Conrad entertained us with his ukelele.  After the bowl is empty, participants say a few words to honour the kava, then eat a late dinner.  Then off to bed.

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Henry is hosting the kava here on one of our 1st nights. He is dressed in a traditional "bula" shirt and a "sulu" (wrap worn by men).
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Conrad (Henry's cousin) is seated across from Henry to the left. He likes to drink a little kava each night.
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mom's 1st bowl
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Not everyone has that look on their face after their first try of kava!

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Jake wrote about our evening with mom’s cruise as it anchored in Blue Lagoon across the bay from Henry’s.  As part of that evening, the crew prepared and served kava on the beach.  It was lovely as many of the crew were musical and they sang while guitars and ukuleles strummed out some local and some well known songs.  All this while the sun was setting.  Then followed up by that amazing lovo feast that Jake described.

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Henry is enjoying a bowl here with the crew of mom's Fiji Princess.
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Visiting children are invited to try some kava. They are typically given smaller shells. Jake and Kaia didn't really like the taste, but liked the overall experience.
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the appreciative "clap"

Kava is grown and enjoyed all through the South Pacific.  It is almost always included as the gift or part of the gift to the chief when visiting a village.  We stopped at a little village near the fantastic caves (Jake mentioned them … more on them in a later entry) we journeyed to, and Henry presented kava to the chief’s representative.  This gift was considered appropriate even though the past chief was Henry’s 1st cousin and Henry knew most in the town quite well.  The receiver of the kava gift spoke at some length (in Fijian) about how much they appreciated the gift and our friendship.

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We sat in community hall of the little village when presenting the kava root gift. The large bowl is ever-present there, though we did not take kava as it was still early in the day. This is the only community center I've been to that has a wooden floor purposely covered with sand!

Any time I mentioned to a Fijian that we were going next to Vanuatu, they emphasized that the kava there was not the same, and that it was much much stronger.  In Fiji I may have had 10-15 cups over an evening, and actually felt virtually no effect (not even sleepiness, actually).  And I recalled friend George’s warning “careful with the kava”.  Well … we’ve been in Vanuatu for a while … and drank their kava.  More on that in a Vanuatu blog entry!

Oh, and if you’re curious about the title of this blog entry … Fijians refer affectionately to kava as their “grog”.  And I, for one, quite like the taste.

Cam