Easter Island

Named ‘Easter Island’ by Dutch Explorer, Jacob Roggeveen who allegedly found the place on Easter Sunday, (some contend that because of the International Date Line it was actually Easter Monday… so it shouldn’t be called Easter Island at all *shrug*), the island has also has had a number of previous names; one of which was ‘Te pito o te kainga a Hua Maka’ – ‘the little piece of land of hua maka’, translated literally as ‘the land at the end of the world’. However the word pito can be pronounced to mean ‘end’ or ‘navel’ resulting in the fanciful translation of ‘the Navel of the World’, which I actually kinda like. Further, it was also at one time called, ‘Mata ki te rangi’, which means ‘Eyes looking to the sky’ – and now having seen the volcanic craters on the island, makes total sense. However, for all that, it is now most commonly known as Easter Island (thanks Jacob!), or Rapa Nui, meaning ‘Big Rapa’ – a rapa being a ceremonial paddle??? which makes no sense. Interestingly, the people here are also known as the Rapa Nui, and their native language is also called Rapa Nui. I dare say when it comes to the term, Rapa Nui, context is king.

Easter Island / Rapa Nui is one of those places that is on most every traveller’s ‘Bucket List’ – their ‘one day I’ll get there’, list of dream destinations. And by all accounts, it is one that many people never get to tick off. Understandably, as it is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world – its nearest neighbours being tiny Pitcairn Island, which is 2,075km away and has barely 50 people living there, half of whom are convicted felons; then there is the island of Mangareva which is equally remote at 2606 kms away, and after that the closest population is mainland Chile which is 3,512kms away. It really is in the middle of nowhere, so I can see why it was once called the end of the world. All this of course, makes it hard – and by ‘hard’, I mean mostly really expensive – to get to for such a small destination.

Cruise ships tend to offer it as a destination on their World Cruise itineraries because of its Bucket List status, and also to break up what would be roughly 15 sea days crossing the South Pacific, but due to it’s small harbour (a narrow channel prevents more than one tender entering or exiting at a time) and the fact that it is surrounded by extremely deep rolling ocean and often experiences a big swell, we have been hearing that barely 1 in 6, or 1 in 5, or 1 in 4 cruise ships actually get to port there (yeah, odd how facts change depending on who you are talking to). Long and the short of it is, that hardly anyone actually gets to go ashore by cruise ship, and we have met a couple of this ship for whom this would be attempt number three – so we didn’t have high hopes of actually making it to port. I’ve been watching the weather forecasts like a hawk for the last week or so, and seeing a suspiciously large low pressure cell, with subsequent storms, move towards the island on Friday and Saturday, and had all fingers crossed that it would have moved on by Sunday when we were scheduled to arrive. So while our tour operator was ‘confident’ the weather would be clement, we were all holding our breath until the Captain actually, said the words: ‘Today, we will be taking passengers ashore using the ships tenders.’ and two thousand people collectively stopped holding their breath.

Sunday morning – bright and clear and just glorious. We were still looking at a 1m – 2m swell which was going to make tendering in a little err, intersting, but thankfully the Captain was willing to brave it. Everyone was up bright and early, and we were all lined up in the Rigoletto Dining Room for our tender tickets around 8am – lucky numbers 322 and 323. Yep, at 8am, already 300 people had picked up tender tickets before us. About 8:15am the Captain announced that local authorities had not yet given clearance to come ashore. By the time around 450 odd tender tickets had been given out, they closed the dining room doors and stating the dining room was full, no more tender tickets would be issued until some of these people were taken ashore – which was seriously bad for the people STANDING in a queue that stretched through the atrium and into the forward stairwell. Once clearance was issued about an hour late at 9am, they started tendering off people who were booked through the ship to go on morning tours (a 3 hour tour through the ship to see only three archeological sites was setting people back $320pp O.o – needless to say many people had made alternative private arrangements). Roughly 25 people from the dining room were being called to fill up each tender with every bus load of Princess Tour people. At 25 people being called every 15 minutes or so, we were siting on our tickets in the 300s and starting to worry we would run afoul of the midday Princess shore tour people who would be given priority! Five calls for only 25 people by 10am and people were getting really restless – and more than a little bit worried*. Eventually, around 10:30am, they called for an entire tender from the dining room, and just shy of 100 people marched out, with big smiles feeling like they had won lotto! We were called just before 11am and we got ashore around 11:30am – which had me a bit worried about what was going to happen to our 9am tour! But there they were waiting for us, Marc Shields from Green Island Tours had assured me that they would wait for everyone who had booked their tour, and thankfully they were good to their word. There were only 14 of us booked on this private tour, and off we went.

We set off across the island for our first stop was Anakena considered the birthplace of Rapa Nui’s culture. According to the island’s oral tradition, Anakena is the place where the founding Polynesian king of the Rapa Nui people, Hotu Matu’a, first set foot on the island – which makes sense, it is a lovely protected bay with a palm lined white sand beach. Anakena is therefore regarded the cradle of Easter Island’s history and culture, and archaeological studies have confirmed extensive occupation of this area from around 1200AD.

Most scholars believe that the moai were created to honour ancestral chiefs and other important people, but there is no certainty as much of their oral history has been lost and they had no written tradition, so it is impossible to be certain. Our guide, Christina, tells us that the moai were built to harness the mana (strength) of the ancestral people and channel it towards the community, which is why all the moai face inwards towards the island’s centre. It was believed that the living had a tangible relationship with the dead who provided healthy, wealth, fertility of land and animals, good fortune etc, so the people would provide offerings and offer the dead a good place in the spirit world. Most settlements were located on the coastline and as such most moai are erected along the coastline, facing inwards watching over their descendants, with their backs to the spirit world which was believed to be in the sea. This period of founding, settlement and growth is referred to as the Ancestor Cult period.

Interestingly, since Easter Island has been inhabited, they have experienced huge population changes. The island was most likely originally founded and populated by Polynesians, who navigated here in canoes from the Gambier Islands (2600kms away) or the Marquesas Islands (3200kms away) around this 1100-1200AD. This is consistent with James Cook’s visit the island in the 1770s with a Polynesian crew member from Bora Bora, when he was able to communicate quite as the Rapa Nui and Tahitian languages have 80% similarity. However, it is also possible that some settlers came from South America – a theory that is supported by the evidence of sweet potato as a historical food source.

Archeologists estimate that the population rapidly expanded to up to 15,000 people by the 1600s, but that the population dropped dramatically over the following century due to: 1) overfishing and overhunting of local sea birds, 2) deforestation (as larger trees were depleted, the people were unable to build seaworthy vessels which sustained their more distant fishing expeditions), 3) predation by a Polynesian rat (which dramatically effected vegetation and crops), and 4) raiding by slave traders in the 1800s! Peruvian sale traders violently abducted thousands of men and women, and when they were forced to repatriate the kidnapped peoples, they unfortunately sent back carriers of smallpox, which further reduced the population down to under 1,500 people. Today, Easter Island has a population of around 5,000 – 6,000 people.

I love listening to the guides and learning about a place, but I tend to digress when I go to writing down what we got up to. So anyway, after Anakena, we took a scenic tour along the northern side of the island, passing some stunning scenery and many small moai sites. The island was once three distinct islands, but approximately three millions years ago, the eruption of the last active volcano joined them together. This has created some truly dramatic scenery and a wild and rocky coastline. The coastline is also dotted with the ruins of platforms that once held moai statutes. At various points during the island’s history, civil unrest saw the huri mo’ai – the desecration, toppling and destruction of moai belonging to rival clans/families. Christina informed us that nearly every ‘pile of rocks’ is an unrestored moai site.

Our next stop was Ahu Tongariki, which has a breathtaking line of fifteen restored moai that stand along the coastline looking over the little remaining ruins of a village. These stone giants weigh over 30 tonnes each, with just their hats weighing between 8 to 10 tonnes. When restoration was started, the platform was shortsightedly started using soil as a base, which of course started to compact and subside fairly quickly, so it had to be redone using a predominantly rock base. As much of the funds for the restoration project came from the UNESCO organisation (the entire island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995), a single moai went on tour to museums around the world to raise funds for these restoration efforts. This well travelled moai also resides at Ahu Tongariki standing by itself near the entrance to this section of the National Park.

We travelled further around the island across the Peninsula Polke to the Rano Raraku, which is a small crater of an extinct volcano which served as a quarry for the islands moai creation. This unique site shows us how the moai were made. Literally carved out of the rocky mountainside, the moai are in various states of ‘emerging’ out of the sloping sides of the volcano. A head here, a head and torso there, they scatter the landscape of the quarry site. The moai were carved here right out of the slopes, then set upright – by lifting a bit, wedging the gap with rocks, lifting some more, adding more rock wedges, more lifting, more rock wedges etc., until they were upright. Once standing, they would be carved further to add more details to the eye sockets, ears, and tattooed backs (the black and white eyes made of obsidian and coral were not added until they were in situ). From here, the moai were ‘marched’ (much as one might ‘march’ a refrigerator across the kitchen floor) to their final resting place which in many cases were many, many kilometres away! Modern researchers have recreated the ‘marching’ of a moai to prove this is how it was done – it took two teams of thirty men to march a moai and keep it stead. An unbelievable amount of manpower went into creating and moving the moai.

We had a bit of a poke around the handicraft markets here, and tried some local frozen yoghurt which was much appreciated given our ship had given us a forecast of 24C but which turned out to be more like 34C. We had been walking for about an hour around the quarry in the stinging midday sun, up and down about 25 flights (according to my iPhone) of uneven rock steps and gravel paths to see the moai quarry. Definitely not for the mobility impaired!

After this little break, we had a bit of a gorgeous drive to our next stop in Orongo village. We went hurtling past amazing coastline listening to local music on the stereo. It was a bumpy, uncomfortably fast drive over roads with potholes big enough to lose small children in, and by the end of it I was beginning to suspect our driver, (who remained nameless and who, throughout the whole day, never responded to my attempts to say hello or thank you), may not actually have a license. Eek!

Set on the edge of an extinct volcano, Orongo is a 16th century ceremonial village. The village consists of distinctive circular shaped buildings constructed with flat slate bricks and slabs cut from the volcanic rock found in the area. This area is also covered in petroglyphs carved with mythical bird-man creatures, depictions of Make-Make (god) and with fertility symbols. Orange was also once home to many slabs of slate covered with indigenous paintings – which unfortunately were all pilfered by visitors to the island in the 1800s… some of which are in the British Museum, where all good things seem to end up.

With diminished resources, and the island overpopulated, a warrior culture started to emerge and the era of the Ancestor Cult ended, making way for the Tangata Manu Cult – the Bird Man Cult. These warriors known as matatoa gained considerable power as the shift in the concept of mana, (strength and power), shifted from being invested in hereditary leaders and was reappropriated by the Bird Man leaders. The Bird Man Cult apparently began around 1540AD, coinciding with the last of the moai period. The cult believed that while the ancestors still protected their descendants, they no longer did this through the moai statues but rather, through humans chosen by the Bird Man competition (yeah, even as I write this it sounds… you know).

Anyway, apparently the god responsible for creating people, Makemake (I could be wrong, but is that the same God who fished New Zealand out of the ocean?), played an important role in deciding the Bird Man leaders. The competitions for Tangata Manu started around 1760 and went for over 120 years. The actual concept of the Bird Man was probably brought out with the original settlers, as thee petroglyphs depicting Bird Men on Easter Island are similar to those found on Hawaii.





The competition itself? Well, this occurred each year in spring from the village of Orongo, at the Motu Nui islet. The young men of the island would scramble down a ridiculously steep and rocky cliff, swim a mile though shark infested waters, to an island offshore where a particular sea bird called a manutara (aka the Sooty Tern), was known to nest, stealing an egg, tying it into a bandana onto your forehead and swimming the mile back and then scrambling up the same inhospitable cliff, presenting it in one piece to the chief who would then declare that the gods would continue to look over the village.

Directly behind the village of Orongo is the incredible Rano Kau volcano crater. It is unbelievably beautiful. Standing on the edge of this crater was not unlike standing in front of an Alaskan glacier or the Grand Canyon – the enormity or the place and the natural grandeur of the site is truly something special and was somewhat unexpected as Easter Island is predominantly known for it’s ancient statues. Just breathtakingly spectacular!


After this it was off to Ahu a Kivi – the site of the only moai that face out to sea. This ahu (altar/platform) has seven 14’ tall moai, which are said to represent seven legendary young explorers who set off to sea to find new lands. They appear to look out to sea, but as was traditional placement for the moai, they once overlooked a, now ruined, village that was between them and the cliff – so they while they appear to be an oddity because they look outward, they were place to overlook and protect the community like the other moai.

Visiting Easter Island has been an amazing experience and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to be here. So much of the place was new and exciting but which also felt oddly familiar in a mishmash of similarities and contradictions… the rolling slopes with rich lush green vegetation dotted with domestic livestock felt like driving through New Zealand’s, the long dry stone walls felt like England, the rocky volcanic coastline with the sea crashing not the rocks could (but for the temperature) be Iceland, the evident islander cultural influence was similar to all the Polynesian islands of Fiji or Tonga or PNG, the circular slab construction of Orongo village was reminiscent of the circular slate slab contraction of pre-viking settlements in northernmost Scotland, the moai themselves are somewhat reminiscent of the odd statues found at Nemrut Dagi in far eastern Turkey, and the Rano Kau volcano crater could be a twin to the Wolf Creek meteorite crater in central Australia – so while this place is absolutely unique, I strangely found myself finding comparisons to other places I had been.

I will never forget this place.


  • tangata-manu – bird-man
  • hopu manu – competitor, servant
  • matoto’a – warrior chief
  • ariki – king
  • pora – reed float
  • ao – ceremonial paddle (long)
  • rapa – ceremonial paddle (short)
  • motu – islet
  • ana – cave
  • manutara – Sooty Tern
  • tapu – taboo, forbidden
  • komari – vulva
  • keho – stone slab
  • hare keho – slab house
  • Make-Make – god
  • ahu – stone altar/platform

*For anyone cruising to Easter Island – if you are fortunate enough to actually port here, I think it is wise to remember that the crew have a really difficult job to contend with. The port authority is none too welcoming, historically the Rapa Nui people have not had great experiences with outsiders, from being kidnapped and sold into slavery to having to deal with western diseases wiping out their population – somehow this has translated into being somewhat contemptuous of tourists. They are not as welcoming as other island nations and seem both happy to gobble up the tourist dollars, while not being overly happy to see the tourists at all! They allow only one tender at a time to enter the little port at Hanga Piko and tend to make life difficult for the cruise ships in particular, perhaps because we are not filling the island’s meager accommodation offerings.

We were held up for some hours before getting ashore and while I heard from one of the officers of the security staff how grateful she was that Australians are so laid back about these things, and how appreciative they were that we collectively have a ‘Oh well, what will be, will be’ attitude towards delays that are beyond our control; when they knew they’d have faced near riots on other ships for these sorts of circumstances… there are of course always exceptions to the rule!

This morning the Captain in his usual midday address thanked everyone for their forbearance during yesterday’s trying tender process, but also took what I thought was an unprecedented opportunity to dress down the few upset people who were ‘rude and abusive’ to the staff. It is quite unusual for a Captain to even let us know that people were complaining about anything, let alone publicly address them for poor behaviour, and I believe this is indicative of the frustrations felt by the crew who were doing their absolute utmost, under difficult conditions, to get us all ashore for this potentially once in a lifetime experience. My cap is off to every single one of them… not only do I feel lucky that our ship actually managed to port at Easter Island when most don’t, but I am immensely grateful that the Captain and the crew persevered in dealing with uncooperative shore authorities to try and get us the best experience possible. Kudos to the Sea Princess and her crew.

Tahiti should be nice

We have sailed two days to get to Tahiti, our next stop and were greeted this morning with heavy skies and rain.  It looked pretty miserable out there.  As we sailed into the harbour, we could see quite a lot of flotsam in the water, and the ocean was looking brown…  yes, brown!  Uh-oh, this isn’t good.

Shortly after this we get a message over the PA system from the Captain telling us that the island and areas surrounding Papeete has just experienced two days of extremely heavy rainfall, that has caused severe flooding, landslides, roads washed out and houses destroyed.  The Captain said they would be docking in Tahiti, but that all the ships’ tours were cancelled as the locals were dealing with the severe flooding.  He would advise us if we could go ashore after discussions with local officials.

People were pretty good about this news – unlike the last time I missed a port, which was in St John’s, Canada due to a severe storm and the (primarily American) passengers grumbled and complained like you would not believe, at being told that it was unsafe to take the ship through the middle of a North Atlantic storm with 24 foot waves.  On this occasion, many people went down to the cruise director asking if they could go ashore and volunteer with flood recovery efforts, which I thought was a wonderful response.

Eventually the Captain came back and told us that the French High Commission had declared a state of emergency and that the port of Papeete was closed – no crew or passengers would be allowed to leave the ship.  We had supplies to load, including fuel, so the ship would be in port all day as planned, though there was one more hiccough to be navigated.  We were scheduled to leave at 11:30pm, but the power station was out and the fuelling system was running on a back up generator, so instead of pumping fuel into the ship at 130 tons per hour (is that a lot? it sounds like a lot) we were taking it onboard at only 80 tons per hour and this was going delay our departure by four hours.

The long and the short of it was – we all had another sea day, in port.  There were some additional hasty activities added to the schedule and many of us spent quite a lot of time up on decks looking into the town feeling pretty useless.  Those of us from Brisbane were particularly sober; it was not so long ago that our own city was underwater and we know all too well how awful and dangerous flooding can be.

We went to sleep that night with the ship not rocking – which felt seriously weird after two weeks of being lulled to sleep by the rocking of the ship.  I have to say, I am really liking this Captain – he kept us all informed and has been daily sharing more and more information about how the ship works and the things that are going on behind the scenes.

The next thing on our agenda is scenic cruising near Pitcairn Island (effectively another sea day with a  bit of a view) and then on to Easter Island.  If we don’t get into Easter Island – and we are told that barely 1 in 5 ships do, due to the weather conditions and the fact that the island has only a floating pontoon to tender to, then we may end up with 15 sea days in a row… right now we are up to our 5th sea day in a row and it already feels like a fortnight!




Ten years ago today, I found myself fronting up to start the first full time job I had had for nearly a decade working for a company I didn’t even remotely try to hide by calling it ‘Goliath’ on this blog.

Something like this is not ordinarily remarkable, but it coincided with a very difficult moment in my life… my father had just passed away from Motor Neurone Disease, and by ‘just’ I mean, yesterday – the day before I started this job, and my entire family was upset and stressed as all fuck.  There are posts about how conflicted I felt about taking the job in light of my father having just died, and how I didn’t want people to think I was a heartless baggage for going to work the very day after he passed away, but I also felt quite strongly that Dad would not really have applauded me for sitting around crying and passing up a job opportunity, when we were three years expecting his death…  As I said, It was a messy, emotional, stressful and fucked up week.

So on the Monday morning that I was starting that job, January 22nd 2007, I fronted up to a high-rise building in Roma Street for the start of four weeks of orientation/training . There were lots of geeky looking guys in my training group, who all seemed to know way more about what we were supposed to be doing there that I did.  I, on the other hand, was hired for my ‘customer service skills’, they figured (rightly or wrongly?!) that they could teach me the technical shit.  So there I am in orientation, feeling guilty about being at work and not at home with my family who were all still crying their eyes out, feeling a bit dazed after having spent all the previous day calling friends and relatives to let them know that my father had passed away, and feeling somewhat overwhelmed as a lot of the technical stuff they were teaching us was going over my head in my ridiculously stressed state.

On our morning tea break, I had to tell the instructors that I was going to need some time off on Tuesday afternoon to go to the funeral home, and the whole of Thursday off to go to the funeral, and they both looked at me like I had sprouted a second head and asked if I should even be there… unbeknownst to me, as soon as I walked away from that conversation they put bets on that I would go home that evening and never come back.

But come back I did, and I persevered through what was an extremely difficult week – both on the home front and the new work front.  After a few days, it became apparent to me that there was a stupidly tall guy with a deep voice and enormous hands, who had a slightly familiar look about him that I couldn’t quite place, who really seemed to know what he was doing.  I mean, the trainers were giving us information and then confirming with this guy that the information was correct.  ‘yaleman’ was his name, and I couldn’t understand how one of the ‘newbies’ knew what the hell they were talking about or why the subject matter experts, who were teaching us all these systems were deferring to him on their own training materials, but self preservation kicked in pretty quick and I decided I needed to be get to know him, because I knew I was going to need someone knowledgeable once we hit the floor and were dealing with customers!  It was a semi-calculated and mercenary move on my part… but I knew I needed all the help I could get if I wasn’t going to sink completely!

I actually used the whole, ‘You look familiar’, line on him, saying ‘Haven’t I seen you at a party at Blokenstein or somewhere?’ to which he replied in the negative, but I swear he seemed really familiar – it turns out that yes, I probably had seen him before, and potentially as much as eight years before, when I was a patient at the IVF clinic that his mother worked in… he used to come in after school and then commute home with his mother, and it is entirely possible that I saw him there in the waiting room on a number of occasions as I often had late afternoon appointments – but we didn’t figure out that connection for several months.

In the meantime, we were all let loose on the unsuspecting public, and I really felt sorry for some of the people who got me on the end of the phone – I sometimes took twice as long to solve their problems; issues that any self respecting IT geek could pick up in minutes would elude me completely, resulting in an hour long call (why the hell does Internet Explorer have a ‘Work Offline’ option anyway?!), but I was seriously thankful that I had yale on Dbabble (the inter-office chat platform) to help me with my curly questions.  I was constantly asking him how to do this, how to do that, how to use this program, what does this error mean… I still understood very little of how the whole shebang worked, but thanks to yale I learned the best place to start and the most effective order in which to work through each problem, and eventually got into the rhythm of the place.

All the while we were forming a friendship.  Him, being a typical IT geek had no idea whatsoever how to talk to women… Instead, he would ‘poke’ me as I walked past, making me start, and once sending my neck into spasms as I whipped around. I put an end to that poking nonsense pretty quick (mind you he still does it to other women he fancies that he has no idea how to talk to!).  We ended up working the same shifts quite often… this was not an accident, as my ‘phone a friend’ on the floor, I asked Rachel, who set our rosters, to put me on at the same time as him, telling her we commuted to work together.  We’d quite often do the 3pm-11pm shift and after that it’s hard to just go home, switch off and go to sleep, so we ended up hanging out after the late shift – he’d drive me home or I’d drive him home, even though we lived on opposite sides of the city, just for some company and a chance to unwind.

We’d sit and chat quite a lot and got to know each other fairly well.  Then came the crisis of yale’s flatmate moving in with his girlfriend, leaving him with no where to live.  I asked my Mum, who was still living in the granny flat under our house since Dad passed away, if she wanted a lodger for a few months while he got himself sorted… I think it was good for her to move back upstairs into the house proper, but little did I know he would stay for the next seven years!

Our friendship turned pretty quickly into something more, as we grew closer – until one night when I was dropping him home, he got out of the car and tried to say an affectionate, ‘Goodbye’ that came out, ‘I love you’.  I teased him mercilessly for the Freudian slip and he tried to claim that all his friends said that to one another but it was true.  We were forming a loving relationship based on friendship, attraction, respect, and his vast IT knowledge!  😉

Those early days were so much fun – that amazing time of getting to really know someone can be very heady, but also be pretty nuts. The few times we disagreed on things, yale would get all emotional and irrational and throw these unproductive tantrums, and I couldn’t stand it.  If he had his way, it would be raised voices, punched walls, slammed doors, and roaring off in the car up the street, followed by the silent treatment and a waiting for one party or the other to apologise.  The first time this happened, he got as far as the front yard when I told him that if he got in the car and left, then he should stay gone as he would not be welcome back.  If he wanted to continue to be in a relationship, then he had best come back inside, calm down and talk the issue through (I have no idea what the issue was). For all his high IQ, amazing capacity for knowledge and extreme proficiency at work, his inability to handle confrontation, and his non-existent conflict resolution and interpersonal skills were infuriating!  In his defence though, even Mr K who has crazy good communication and interpersonal skills, says I am very difficult to debate… Seriously, I don’t understand why these men don’t recognise irrefutable logic when they see it, and just damn well do things my way without an arguement – but so be it! 😉

We have since been through a lot together, in particular a serious car accident that turned us both upside down for several years, fucking with both, our ability to work and landing us with chronic whiplash problems… well, more problems in my case.  We have taken up shooting as a sport, and even though I will never ever be able to shoot as well as he does, I really love it and enjoy our trips to the range.  We’ve been going to the SCA together and my friends are now all his friends too.  yale has taken over the IT management of my house and I have no idea how to access my own router anymore, because I just haven’t needed to do it. He reaches high things, and lifts heavy things for me and I analyse work politics and translate what women say, for him.

Probably every six months or so, I would remind him not to get too attached and would prod him to really consider if he wants a ‘proper’ relationship with diamonds, and white picket fences, and children and happily ever after because I can’t offer him those things.  And every six months or so, he would tell me that he is truly happy and he doesn’t think he wants those things. I worry that I have given him unrealistic expectations of what intimate relationships are like, and now other women seem frivolous, jealous, unpredictable, and annoying or even disingenuous.  I don’t play games, and now he has no time for them either.

I never would have guessed that ten years later we would still be together.  It certainly wasn’t conscious planned and I have to acknowledge that all our lives would be a lot less complicated if we were all living a more traditional lifestyle!  I know some people don’t understand our choices and worse, understand them but don’t approve.  But I feel so fortunate to have yale in my life these last ten years… to have his love, his friendship, his support and acceptance.  He has taught me as much about myself, as I have taught him.  We have laughed, and cried, and encouraged and commiserated together.  It is an amazing privilege to be loved by him, he is a truly amazing person, full of generosity, warmth, strength and compassion.

yale, I know you will be reading this at some point… I think you know that you and Mr K are my rocks.  It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be here without you guys.  Some people never find one real love in their entire lives, and I am literally at a loss for words to describe how fortunate I feel to have found you both.  <3

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Woke up to the dulcet, (and somewhat familiar), tones of construction site reversing beepers… huh?  Aren’t we supposed to be at some remote tropical island this morning?  *looks out window*

Why yes, yes we are – I see rainforest and palm trees aplenty, however this remote tropical island is in the middle of refurbishing/reconstructing their docks, and there are men in high vis vests, pumps, digging equipment, water pipes, small backhoes and and rollers and things going everywhere.  C’est la vie!

Located in American Samoa, and pronounced, ‘Pahngo Pahngo’, the town of Pago Pago lies on the island of Tutuila, which rises seemingly out of the middle of nowhere from the deep, deep blue waters of the South Pacific.  The town itself is in a magnificent horseshoe shaped harbour with glorious views to be found in every direction – seriously, look in any direction and be greeted with another beautiful vista.  From the upper decks of our home, the Sea Princess, we could see beautiful mountains and the gorgeous blues of the harbour and the sky, in ever direction of the compass.

<insert stunning photos>

We got off the ship fairly early hoping to find another local-run, dockside tour and we were not disappointed.  Ship tours can often be a bit overpriced and overcrowded for my liking, and thankfully these islands often have plenty of small operators willing to pick up pax and take them on a tour of the island.  We found ourselves with about 20 other ship passengers, on a rickety old bus that looked like it was from the 1960s and was was as comfy as you would expect a 50 year old vehicle to be!  No air conditioning, hard bench seats and limited to non-existent suspension seems to be part of the island experience.  🙂

We set off for some scenic lookouts, the first of which was the location of an old cable car that used to go across the harbour to access a tv antennas used by the local station.
  The cable car was in use up until a tragic accident on Flag Day about 20 years ago (Flag Day is April 17th, and commemorates the original raising of the US flag on Samoa), when saw a plane doing a ceremonial fly by, accidentally collected the cable car cables that stretched across the harbour and subsequently crashed, killing over a dozen people.  The noise and the smoke from the explosion could be seen from across the island, and the cable car was never rebuilt for some reason…

After this we head off in our trusty bus, with low gears grinding and engine complaining, driving over the steep mountain to the village on the other side of the American Samoa National Park.  The drive over offered views that leave you feeling like you can see forever, as we wound our way back and forth through such an amazingly thick and lush rainforest – full of many, many palm trees, thick undergrowth and a wide variety of beautiful plants and stunningly bright and attractive flowers. Just beautiful.

People have lived in Samoa for at least 3,000 years and according to our new friend, Mike the tour guide, the Samoan are the original Polynesian people who then spread to Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji etc… I think this point is probably debated somewhat by other island nations though. 🙂  The Samoans share that uniquely Polynesian culture – the influences of which, are evident throughout the region despite the hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometres separating the various geographically disparate islands.  The islands have similar oral traditions, wood carving styles, ava (/kava) ceremonies, and weaving and painting techniques that share similarities from Hawaii to Papua New Guinea to New Zealand.

Samoa apparently only came to the attention of the rest of the world, (i.e.: Europe, during the Age of Discovery), around the 1700s by which time, Samoa became a critical stop for European merchants heading west.  Samoa, like many other Pacific island nations, rapidly adapted to Christianity within just a few decades, until now, when many Samoans themselves are missionaries throughout Polynesia.  Their well kept churches stand out proudly in every village we passed through.

Samoans seems to have struggled to maintain their sovereignty as the British, the Germans and the Americans all competed for dominance in the Pacific in the 1800s.  Various Samoan factions, preferring one European influence over another, rose and fell and even landed the islands in civil war on more than one occasion.

America Samoa’s chiefs then formally ceded the island of Tutuila to the United States in 1900, some of Samoa’s other islands, such as the Manu’a Islands followed suit in 1904.  There are lots of western influences here, but you can still feel the Samoan, islander way of life.  Though the Island’s offical status is somewhat ambiguous at times – they are a Unincorporated Territory of the United States of America (and this Aussie has no idea whatever that legally entails) – their relationship with the US solidified during WWII as the US military made good use of the location as a preparation point for imminent Japanese invasions in the Pacific.

More recent history has seen American Samoa begin moving towards more self government – they have a house of representatives led by the recently re-elected Governor Lolo, and an upper house consisting of traditional village chiefs since the American Samoan Constitution came into effect in 1967.  The relationship with the US is a weird one (imho).  The US continues to fund a lot of American Samoa’s infrastructure, and this is really obvious when compared to other Pacific islands that do not have that financial support, and the people here are US citizens, and are able to move freely in/to the US… but they can’t vote for President?  So they’re citizens but not full ones or something.  I dunno, need to research it a bit.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

One of Mike’s anecdotes illustrated why American Samoa is constantly striving to become more self regulatory, whilst maintaining their unique status as a part of the US.  Mike tells us that the minimum wage here is USD$5.50 per hour. Which is kinda great – the people are guaranteed to make decent wages, however the more that companies are required to pay their workers, the higher the likelihood that those same companies will move their entire production facilities to somewhere much cheaper, like Indonesia.  For example, the minimum wage is putting an ever increasing pressure on Samoa’s tuna canning factories, which is the biggest industry here… bigger than tourism.  Samoa has the single biggest tuna canning factory in the southern hemisphere in fact, and as such, they employ a large amount of local people. However if (as Mike asserts) the companies are continually pressured to pay their workers the same as someone who lives in a high cost environment, like San Diego or Sacramento, then the likelihood that the tuna companies will eventually relocate to somewhere cheaper increases.  So they want to be able to regulate their own minimum wages, and other government regulated functions, for similar reasons.  American Samoa has been constantly trying to refine and balance their hugely important relationship with the US to try and allow them to make concessions that they feel are necessary for their unique location and requirements.

Anyway, all that geopolitical stuff aside, this place is like paradise!  No, I mean it – it looks just like paradise always looks in the movies!  It’s so beautiful; thick luscious rainforest, rugged mountains plunging down to the jagged coastline, with little inlets of white sandy beaches… the people are happy and welcoming and full of that lovely Polynesian cultural charm that makes you warm to them so easily.  I could come back here for a couple of weeks with a small car (not sure they have those though, plenty of big yank tanks getting around!), and just explore the tiny villages, snorkel the coral reefs and adventure out to the smaller islands by boat.  The hot and humid aside, this place could easily become my favourite Pacific island (everyone has one of those, right?)  Though perhaps I shouldn’t speak too soon, we are off to Tahiti next!

Nuku’alofa, Tonga – Malo e lelei!

We had no set agenda when we arrived at the port of Nuku’alofa this morning.  I had watched the ship destination expert’s port lecture and he was a bit uninspiring.  Mum was keen to check out the rugged coastline and see the blowholes and I was more interested in the 12thC Ha’amonga Trilithon… so we were considering hiring a cab to take us to these places and then spend the rest of the day pottering around the markets or in town.

Instead we wandered off the ship, wandered through the first section of markets and money changers and straight into a very friendly Tongan woman named Priscilla who worked for a tour company named Tonga Huangdong Tours (there is a strong Chinese presence in Tonga – some of which has created tension and even civil unrest over the last decade when many migrated here from Hong Kong when the Chinese government reclaimed the island).  Priscilla showed us the full day tour she was taking guests on, and it just happened to take in both the highlights we were interested, so we signed up.  $50 per person for a 6-hour tour, compared to $79 per person for a 3-hour ship tour?  Sounds like a plan.

We had half an hour before the tour was departing so we walked into town to have a quick look around.  There are loads of handicrafts and souvenir market spaces near the port that are selling things that are unique and unusual and yet also oddly familiar. Having been to Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia and even Papua New Guinea in the past – the tribal looking artworks are somewhat familiar but all have their own unique artistic slant on them.  Wood carvings, bone carvings, pearls, painted and plaited fibre made into pictures and bags, sarongs, horn, leather work… so many handicrafts, and all of it lovely in its own right – and absolutely none of it even remotely goes with the decor in my house!  So my wallet was safe.

After having a look at the markets, we went down to the Catholic Basilica – a huge round timber building with an enormous traditional style rounded ceiling.  Such a beautiful building.  It becomes rapidly obvious after even just a few hours in Tonga that religion and religious organisations is an integral part of the social structure here.  Many of the schools are attached to churches – there are Catholic, Seven Day Adventist and more Mormon schools than you can poke a stick at.

Missionaries and traders, came here following the first European explorers – Abel Tasman supposedly sailed past Tonga is the 1600s, and Captain Cook landed and named the archipelagos when he visited in 1773 and 1777… he named them The Friendly Islands – though as folklore has it, the local chiefs were debating who was going to get the opportunity to kill and eat his men while he was naming them thus!  Anyway, I digress, somehow Tonga managed to not become a part of the Commonwealth and has held it’s indigenous governing structure since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1875.   It was a protectorate of sorts under Great Britain from 1900 – 1970 but throughout was still an independent sovereign nation.   Everywhere else in the Pacific ended up colonised and administered by Europeans, so well done there, Tonga!

Nuku’alofa, which apparently means ‘the home of love’ is the capital of Tonga and is on the island of Tongatapu.  Even though it is the largest island in the group – it is still barely 32kms across and 15km wide.  Still, for such a small island, there’s plenty to see.  Our first stop on the tour with Priscilla and Sam, my brother the bus driver, was the Royal Palace which dominates the waterfront not far from the port.  The Royal Palace is no longer the primary residence of the King of Tonga – he has a huge mansion just outside of town, and a matching one for the dowager Queen just across the road – the starkly white painted palace is now primarily an official reception centre.

Priscilla turns out to be quite the character, she cackles like a crazy lady hatching a seriously evil plot, and her English is charming – she mixes up her words quite frequently, and she’s hard to understand, but it is lots of fun… “They learn the kids not to throw the rubbish out the car, used to be very dirty dirty here, but now, Tongans eat and take rubbish away not throw out the window.”

After this, we went to see the Royal Tombs, which are the final resting place of King George Tupou I, founder of modern Tonga, and his descendants.  Weird thing the Tongan royal family – not allowed to marry ‘commoners’.  I was unsure if our guide was aware of the negative associations of being a ‘commoner’ … she used it more in a sense to denote someone who was ‘not royal’, whereas in English, it definitely carries an implication of being underclass.  *shrug*

We then went to the eastern most point of the island to see the Abel Tasman marker which oddly commemorates Abel Tasman’s passing near Tonga, because it is completely un-confirmable that Abel Tasman actually visited Tonga.  Very odd.

Following our drive out to the western most point of the island, we were hustled past the one thing that neither Aunty Mary nor I had any interest in at all – of all things they could turn into a questionable ‘tourist attraction’, a flying fox colony is right up there with a colonoscopy clinic.  “Next we got to see the flying fox,” intoned Priscilla, “It is a especial bird of Tonga, very especial bird.  They are protected from the eating and very especial for the royal family… if they find a white flying fox, it means very bad luck for them.  So they sleep here all day and fly around at night time to harvest your fruit.”  Hmmm…  very special birds indeed!  I was expecting some horror guano cave like one would find in North Queensland with hundreds of the noisy flying rats squeaking about the place and the ground six inches deep in bat shit! Instead, we were shown a couple of trees that had only about 40 fruit bats hanging about. There were more fruit bats living in the old turpentine mango tree in the back neighbour’s yard when I was a kid.

What was interesting about this stop was the crazy arse cemetery that lies encircles the protected bat colony!!  The Tongans, for the most part, do not have formal headstones on tombs for departed relatives (Royalty excluded of course), but instead, they decorate the tombs of their departed family members with handmade quilts, crocheted blankets, tinsel, plastic candy canes, and odd solar powered lanterns.  It was a very striking and colourful display, quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a cemetery or burial place before.  It was also to my Western eye, extremely tacky… but hey, I don’t want to be all judgey, maybe candy canes on my own grave would be a nice stripey touch.

After the bat shit stop, we were off to check out Aunty Mary’s pick, the Chief’s Whistles on the island’s western coast which are known as the most spectacular blow holes in the South Pacific.  It is a stretch of limestone cliffs ranging some 8 km along Mapu ‘A Vaea.  The blow holes were quite spectacular, I could have watched them for hours.  The blow holes needed only a very little pressure from the high tide waves to send half a dozen whistling spouts of water into the air in each direction.  It really was quite an awesome spectacle.

From here, Li took us to… a Chinese Dairy for an opportunity to buy some snacks and chips and things for the rest of the afternoon’s drive. The Tongan people are less than thrilled at how the Chinese are coming to Tonga and taking over retail and tourist opportunities.  Tensions have run so high as to result in civil unrest about ten years ago, resulting in several fatalities.  Unfortunately, it is one of those situations of clashing cultures – the Tongans are laid back, live on ‘island time’, and are very much ‘no worries bro’… in contrast, the Chinese are very industrious, organised and focused in their business endeavours.  So the Chinese are kinda taking over and the locals are none too happy about it, while all the while having a reputation for being too lazy to do anything about it.  :/  Not good.

Anyway, the Natural Bridge was our next sight to see, and it was also along the western coast between Hufangalupe Beach and ‘Ahononou Beach… in either direction were stunning limestone cliffs plummeting down to the ocean.  Absolutely stunning landscape, the likes of which I have not seen since the Cliffs of Mor in Ireland.  Weirdest thing was – not a barrier, handrail, walkway, fence, staircase or lookout point in sight!  Holy shit Australian OHS official would have had conniptions at the idea of taking tourists anywhere near the place.  So with our guide in her Havianas and the average age of her pax pushing 70 years of age, we went wandering along the cliff edges checking out the Natural Bridge and admiring the sea crashing into the cliffs forty meters below!  Oi!

Next, we ventured off to see the “three head, one coconut”.  Yes, I was confused as well.  It turned out to be a freakish coconut tree that had splits in the trunk giving it three fruit-bearing heads.  It seems Tonga, quite literally, has no street addresses – none at all.  No street names and no house numbers.  Mail for the entire island is delivered to a mail centre in the capital and collected by each village’s mail collector – who then delivers it based on the fact that they know everyone personally.  So when giving directions to places, they most frequently do so using local landmarks, and as it turns out, this coconut tree is a particularly well-known local landmark, as it is quite the oddity.  “The coconut are plenty plenty in Tonga.  And we use all of the coconut from the roots to the leaves.  The leaves are used for the roof of the fale (family home) – it doesn’t leak, you know. We also use the coconut to make cream, water, and the husk is used to make a skirt for the Tongan men.  They so smart to make money off everything and is none quite to waste.”

People supplement their income here primarily by farming – bananas, tapioca, kumara, and other primary consumables,   Priscilla informs us that tapioca looks a bit like marijuana, so some islanders hide dope in among their tapioca crops, “Eat tapioca and be big and strong like me and Sam, not like Li, who eat only rice and noodles and he too skinny.”  Li, being the slight Chinese man who is with us and obviously her boss!

The village lifestyle is one that has lots of chickens roaming around uncooked, and pigs, likewise roaming around without fences. We are told later that these resources belong to the village and if a family is hungry, they can help themselves to a pig, with the only consideration being not to eat them out. If you move into the village, you would farm the family plot with your family – Tongans live very much an extended family situation looking after their elderly at home until they pass away, there are no care facilities in Tonga. Each village has a chief, a church, a school and a brightly coloured cemetery plot.

We then head inland towards the large internal lagoon called the Cradle of Polynesia, where we found a marker to well, mark, Captain Cook’s actual documented landing site.  🙂  The mangroves surrounding the area looked just like home, and our driver Sam reports that he comes down to the lagoon to catch enormous mud crabs and do some spear fishing.  Each week he goes spear fishing to catch some food for the old folks in his village who can no longer fish anymore.  What a gem!  Wish he was bringing me fresh fish each week!

The next stop was the most remarkable in my humble opinion.  It is called the Ha’amonga Trilithon.  It’s an ancient monument as inexplicable as Stonehenge.  Believed to have been constructed circa 1200AD, the Trilithon is a dolmen style arch and lintel that may have served as an astrological calendar, aligning with the summer and winter solstices.  Incredibly the stones themselves are faced to the island of Wallis (in Wallis and Fortuna) and must have been transported by boat!  Eight hundred years ago!  How did they do it?!

Anyway, after this we had a lovely drive through all the villages and farmland back to the ship.  Tonga is a beautiful and surprising place, I’d love a chance to come back and go visit some of the more remote islands which I am guessing are an unspoilt paradise.