Tag Archives: Graeme Lay

OH, THE MARQUESAS!

‘That the Marquesas are spectacular is well known; yet I am not prepared for the towering mountains of Fatu Hiva rising directly from the deep sea, looming high to the heavens as we near them. Green slopes and rugged crags are capped by summits more than half a mile high that look steep even for goats. This is tropical alpine scenery of savage beauty, a landscape that would seem improbable as a stage set for South Pacific itself.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise: A journey among Pacific Islands’


‘This swatch of the Pacific – a wet cosmos so remote and underpopulated that the only thing you’re likely to see afloat is an occasional exhausted seabird or a weathered flip-flop – is the last corner of the world to remain immune from the trade flows of globalization. It is lonely out here.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’


‘The twelve islands of the Marquesas, today part of French Polynesia, lie 1,200 kilometres north-east of Tahiti. An archipelago of volcanic monoliths, and further from a continental landmass than any other islands on Earth, they were first settled by Polynesian voyagers from the west – probably Samoa – about 2,000 years ago and became a dispersal centre for further migrations, to Hawaii, Easter Island, the widely scattered islands of southern Polynesia and, eventually, New Zealand. The Marquesan language is more akin to New Zealand Maori than to Tahitian.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales Of The South Pacific’


‘Before missionaries converted the people to Christianity, the Marquesans fought among themselves and were noted cannibals, but diseases brought by the white man had a more devastating effect on the population than earlier practices had.’

Mary E. Trimble, ‘Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’


‘Celine continued to speak of the beauty of her island as she hand-rolled a cigarette. “This place is not like Tahiti with its crown and pollution. Tahiti is finished. Here, it is like it always was.”’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’

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KAVA, ANYONE?

‘Served in coconut shells, the kava had the grayish-brown tint of old dishwater, and a flavor that was faintly bitter and peppery.’

Tony Horwitz, ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’


‘Now let me tell you what kava really is and how it is a part of the culture in the Fiji Islands. Kava is called yagona, and the slang name for the liquid form is ‘grog’. It is the drink of chiefs and the drink of the farmers, the drink of the people.’

Michael J. Blahut, Michael J. Blahut III, ‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’


‘Fortunately, I was now in Vanuatu, where getting profoundly stoned every night is a venerable tradition. In the gold hour before sunset, the men of Vanuatu gather in a nakamal, typically a clearing under a banyan tree, where they consume kava, which, to the uninitiated, is the most wretchedly foul-tasting beverage ever concocted by Man. Kava derives from Piper methysticum, a pepper shrub that thrives high in the hills of Vanuatu. Traditionally, the kava is prepared by having prepubescent boys chew the root until it becomes a mulch of pulp and saliva, whereupon it is squeezed through coconut fiber, mixed with water, and swallowed all in one go from a coconut shell. Pondering this, you have to wonder And whose idea was that? I could not think of any circumstance where it would occur to me that consuming some kid’s globby spitballs might enhance my well-being. But we humans are a mysterious species, willing to try anything for a buzz, and fortunately for us, a long time ago, somewhere in Vanuatu, and enterprising individual discovered the secret to the most satisfying narcotic available for our pleasure.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages’


‘Kava-drinkers were never aggressive. They looked numb, like hypothermia victims, or patients who had just been dragged from a dentist’s chair. Kava-drinkers were weak and compliant; they whispered; they swayed when they tried to stand straight.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’


‘”What does kava taste like?” I ask Lani. She shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. In Tonga, women can’t drink kava, they just serve it to the men.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’

GREAT SUMMER READS (2015)

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ by Paul Theroux

Having just separated from his wife and facing the possibility of being diagnosed with cancer, Paul comes to the conclusion that the best way to forget his problems is to set out on a journey. So he quickly agrees to go on a book tour in Australia and New Zealand and whilst there, he decides that it would actually be fun to travel across the Pacific using an inflatable canoe.

As he paddles the vast ocean, he visits the black islands of Melanesia; the grand archipelagos and tiny atolls of Polynesia; and the one and only, heavenly Paradise. The farther he goes, the merrier he gets. Because in the Blue Continent, everyone finds their bliss.

This is one of the greatest travel books ever written and a perfect summer read. Paul Theroux’s words will transport you to the most alluring exotic lands, introduce you to the most incredible societies, and let you discover the most fascinating cultures you can encounter. This is the great Pacific as seen through the eyes of a cynical Westerner.

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

After being offered a job on Guam, Dave moves to the tiny Micronesian country, not really sure what to expect.

As he lands on the island, he finds himself in a world very different from anything he has experienced so far. Although Guam seems quite surreal, Dave realizes he needs to adapt to the new surroundings in order to fully enjoy his little sojourn. So he does exactly what the natives do: he visits local bars, sings karaoke, and flirts with beautiful girls. And when he thinks that his life could not be any better, everything starts to fall apart.

Despite being somewhat controversial, Dave Slagle’s account is a page-turner that entertains and educates at the same time. It’s a light, often hilariously funny, read that will show you Guam like you haven’t seen it before.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ by Graeme Lay

For Graeme Lay, the South Pacific is unquestionably the most appealing corner of our globe. Travelling from island to island, he absorbs the enchanting atmosphere of Polynesia, learning what it really means to spend time in paradise.

Whenever he goes, he meets intriguing locals and even more intriguing foreigners. He familiarizes himself with the unique cultures of the region and does everything possible to get to know the many secrets it hides.

This book is like a sweet, tasty summer cocktail. The perfectly mixed collection of stories and tales will take you to the fabulous places not many people have had a chance to see. You will have fun, and you will laugh whenever you take this refreshing title in your hands.

‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’ by Philip Ells

Looking to escape the office treadmill, Philip agrees to become the People’s Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world.

Tuvalu, his new adopted home, turns out to be quite a challenging place to live and work. As he learns to deal with everyday obstacles, he tries to perform his legal duties as best he can. Which is not an easy thing to do taking into account that he is forced to handle a wide variety of criminal offenses, from a slightly amusing pig theft to extremely difficult and heartbreaking domestic violence.

If the author of a book is British, you may assume that the publication will be laugh-out-loud funny. And this personal memoir certainly is funny. Funny, witty, and thought-provoking. Although it’s written in a light-hearted manner, it touches on a few sensitive subjects. Well, no one has ever said that a summer read can’t make you ponder important issues, right?

‘Reach for Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

Motivated by his dream of visiting the Blue Continent, Andrew buys an old steel ketch and without hesitation starts his voyage through the Pacific Ocean.

What he discovers along the way amazes him. The breathtaking beauty and the irresistible charm of each country, archipelago, and atoll attract him with an almost magnetic force. With every nautical mile he sails, his desire to get to know the serene places grows stronger.

Andrew Rayner’s memoir will make you crave Pasifika. Literally. It is a beautiful book that perfectly conveys the beauty of the region, making you want to leave everything behind and travel to the islands of tranquil delights.

THE REAL PASIFIKA

‘Let’s get one thing straight before we start. The South Pacific is not Paradise. […] But you will come here for the same reason the adventurers, mutineers, wanderers, pirates and hunters came – for the dream. And it is still here, the way it should be. Put your toes in the water of the clear warm lagoon, listen to the reef’s thunder and gaze into the middle distance as the sun blazes through the breeze-shuffled palms. It’s not Paradise here – it only seems that way.’

Graeme Kennedy, ‘New Tales of the South Pacific – Paradise NOT’


‘The simple and natural life of the islander beguiles me; I am at home with him; all the rites of savagedom find a responsive echo in my heart; it is as though I recollected something long forgotten; it is like a dream dimly remembered, and at last realized; it must be that the untamed spirit of some aboriginal ancestor quickens my blood.’

Charles Warren Stoddard, ‘Summer Cruising in the South Seas’


‘When I first visited the islands of the South Pacific as an adult twenty years ago, I was in no way disappointed by what I found there. The islands’ shores, reefs, lagoons and forests captivated me. From their coasts or mountains the Pacific Ocean’s beauty and changing moods could be readily observed: silken and docile one day, tempestuous and threatening the next. And every day, spellbinding.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’


‘Careful scrutiny of a world map, however, shows that only these small islands of the Pacific are both remote enough and pleasant enough for serious paradise potential as generally defined. For most, isolation has proved a protection from the ugly contagion of an urbanizing and traveling world. The climate is right, tourism is thin, and valuable mineral resources rare. The military or strategic value that was once attached to some of these places is almost gone. Most have proved insufficiently interesting for permanent takeover by outsiders, and are peopled by their old clans. And most are simply lovely.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘Few men who come to the islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the trade-wind fans them till they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of a visit home, which is rarely made, more rarely enjoyed, and yet more rarely repeated.’

Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘In the South Seas’

PACIFIC ISLANDS BY GRAEME LAY

Pacific Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Graeme Lay, the author of ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’ as well as several other books set in the Blue Continent, gives his recommendations.

Hike over the hills of Pitcairn Island

It’s a small but very rugged island, and the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean are sublime. The whole ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ story is bound up in the island’s history too, and there are many relics of the mutiny to see there today. It’s a fascinating place and the people are marvelously friendly. All 57 of them! Pitcairn is hard to get to, but well worth the effort.

Drive or cycle around Rarotonga

The coast road or the inland road provide constantly changing views, of the lagoon and the mountains of the interior. There are lots of great places to stop off at along the way, too, for a snack, a coffee, a fresh coconut drink or a beer. I’ve followed the roads around Rarotonga many times and never tire of them. Invariably I end up at the bar of Trader Jack’s, on the Avarua waterfront, one of the great ‘watering holes’ of the South Pacific.

Visit the markets of the islands, such as the ones in Apia (Samoa), Avarua (Rarotonga) or Papeete (Tahiti)

The goods for sale, whether it’s fresh fruit and fish or snack food or souvenirs such as black pearls or pareu, are always great to sample or buy. The market in Papeete is enormous and sells everything you could possibly want. The food vans on Papeete’s waterfront, a short walk away, provide great places to dine cheaply while watching the sun go down over the lagoon.

A CHAT WITH… GRAEME LAY

Graeme Lay is the author of several books set in the South Pacific. Along with ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’, these include the young adult novel trilogy, ‘Leaving One Foot Island’, ‘Return to One Foot Island’ and ‘The Pearl of One Foot Island’; the non-fiction works ‘The Cook Islands’ and ‘Passages – Journeys in Polynesia’, and the adult novel ‘Temptation Island’. His recent historical novels: ‘The Secret Life of James Cook’ (2013) and ‘James Cook’s New World’ (2014) also feature largely South Pacific settings. Here you can read what he had to say about his beloved Pasifika.

GRAEME LAY

Pasifika Truthfully: When did you first fall in love with the Pacific Islands?

Graeme Lay: Probably from the moment I first set foot on one. That was New Caledonia, which is not a particularly beautiful island in itself. But the mixture of people – Melanesian, Asian and European – was captivating. I loved the cultural intermingling, too. Racial intermarriage has produced people of distinctive beauty. I had always been keen on French culture, so to see it transplanted to the South Pacific was fascinating. I’ve subsequently seen and relished the same cultural and racial mixture in French Polynesia. Samoa too has a great blend of Polynesian, Palagi and Chinese people.

While researching a book I wrote about the Cook Islands, I went to several islands in that group, which was a great experience. Mauke, for instance, is not visited by many tourists, but is a lovely ‘outer island’. Rarotonga is another favourite island of mine since I first saw it, in 1983. I now have many friends there too, which makes visiting it even more pleasurable.

PT: And where would you like to go? Is there an island you have never been to?

GL: There are lots of islands I still haven’t been to, although I’ve visited a good many. I’d like to see Easter Island – the easternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. I haven’t yet seen the Hawaiian Islands, but I’m going there in August and greatly looking forward to seeing them. Raivavae, in the Austral Islands, is another island I’ve heard and read lots about. I’d like to go there one day. And also ‘Ua Pou, in the Marquesas.

PT: Do you think you could live in one of the Pacific countries; call it your home?

GL: I suspect not. I’m very much a New Zealander – a fifth generation one – so this is my permanent home. An extended visit to say, Rarotonga or Tahiti, would be lovely, but I could never call them ‘Home’. Some of the appeal of those islands may wear thin if I stayed for an overly long period, I suspect. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, as the saying goes.

PT: Let’s focus on your book for a while. ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’… It’s an interesting title. I assume you didn’t choose it to immortalize the famous fa’afafine pageant. Is this how you perceive the islands? As a delicious mix of fascinating cultures?

GL: Most certainly. We gave the book that title because it’s different and catchy, and the contest itself was unforgettable. The fa’afafine phenomenon had always fascinated me, right throughout Polynesia. Each island group has an equivalent of Samoa’s fa’afafine, and to observe them and meet them is very interesting indeed. When I was working in Apia, one of my colleagues was a fa’afafine, and he was great company. It was Makisi who put me on to the Miss Tutti Frutti Contest.

PT: The book consists of fifteen different stories, but I’m sure you have many more to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

GL: I would very much like to. I’ve been to several other islands since I wrote that book, and always I’ve discovered great stories while there. Mangareva in the Gambier Islands and Pitcairn Island were particularly inspiring. Some of the more remote islands of Tonga, too, I found fascinating. There is always much to be inspired by in the islands of Pasifika!

PT: In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about Pasifika?

GL: The fact that people invariably apply the word ‘Paradise’ to the islands. There is no such place as ‘Paradise’ in the sense of a total Utopia. The belief that the islands of Pasifika are Utopian is false. The people there have such serious economic, political and social problems that the word ‘Paradise’ is a misnomer. The islands are alluring yes, beautiful yes. But ‘Paradise’? Definitely not. That’s just a tourism brand, and a misleading one. That’s why New Zealand has such huge Pasifika populations.

PT: If you were to choose the most beautiful island, what would it be?

GL: My favourite island in French Polynesia is Huahine, which is exquisitely beautiful and not over-commercialised. It also has a fascinating history, both Polynesian and European. Some of the finest archeological sites in the whole Pacific are found on Huahine. Captain James Cook knew the island well, and anchored his ships in the lagoon in front of the island’s only town, Fare, several times. I could never tire of sitting on Fare’s waterfront in the evening, sipping a Hinano lager and watching the sun go down over Raiatea, Huahine’s neighbouring island.

‘THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST: TRAVEL TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC’ BY GRAEME LAY

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ is a compilation of fifteen stories written by Graeme Lay. They are the collected accounts of many journeys the author took during the 1990s and the early 2000s.

THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST

Summary

In the Pacific region life is never dull and Graeme Lay certainly knows it. Travelling from country to country, he discovers the best of what each island has to offer.

In the Cooks, he consumes fiercely alcoholic bush-brewed beer and spends his time in the famous waterfront bars, rubbing shoulders with the locals. He then departs to Samoa, where he retraces the final days of Robert Louis Stevenson and learns quite a bit about the phenomenon of fa’afafine.

In Tonga, his next destination, Graeme is forced to impersonate a Mormon missionary while on Niue he gets a chance to cruise along the coast, attend the village church service, and witness a social gathering on the occasion of the Governor General’s visit.

During the voyages to French Polynesia, he searches for Herman Melville’s valley, uncovers the shocking secrets of Gauguin, finds out how to have a honeymoon, gets to know the connection between television and birth rates, and locates the heart of Tahiti.

Review

If you have ever wanted to find a perfect example of a travel book, search no more – you’ve just found it. This title is the quintessence of the genre; it’s a book that will literally take you to the magical islands of the Blue Continent the moment you start reading its first sentence. I’m not sure if this is the result of Graeme Lay’s extensive knowledge of the Pacific region or his remarkable storytelling skills. It might be both actually.

The stories in the compilation are as varied as the isles of Polynesia. This is probably why the volume shines with so many different colours. Some of the tales are just humorous pieces, written to entertain readers and bring them a little joy and happiness. Others are educational, thought-provoking narratives that not only help you understand the cultures of the South Seas but also let you notice all the distinctions that exist between traditional and modern societies. I must say, this wonderful mix is like a refreshing cocktail made with a bunch of exotic – sometimes unusual but always tasty – ingredients: personal anecdotes, adventure yarns, depictions of faraway places, and interesting ethnological facts. It’s something you could drink, excuse me…read, any day of the week.

The book is beautifully constructed. It’s good old travel writing with a strong focus on characters and places. Vivid portrayals of both people and the tropics will make you long for ‘the paradise’ so badly that you will instantly want to follow in the author’s footsteps; just to sit in a bar, listen to the ocean, and chat with the friendly natives. It cannot be denied that Graeme Lay is a man of enormous talent. Whatever he chooses to describe, he does it in the most engaging way possible.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’ is a delicious read. It’s charming, insightful, highly compelling. It’s your ticket to the South Pacific. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want to set out on this journey.