Tag Archives: Tonga

GREAT SUMMER READS (2017)

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ by Trish Nicholson

Working overseas has always been Trish’s dream. When she is offered a job in Papua New Guinea, she’s more than willing to take it.

Upon her arrival, Trish discovers a completely new world with hundreds of languages and a multitude of different cultures. And although she is eager to help the country and its inhabitants, she quickly realizes that it may not be as easy as she initially thought.

This is such a good book! The author’s adventures and experiences in the Land of the Unexpected throw much-needed light on the international aid, which is a very sensitive topic. But Trish Nicholson deals with it in a very light-hearted manner. Her poetic style and brilliant sense of humour makes ‘Inside the Crocodile’ a thoroughly enjoyable (but enlightening and thought-provoking!) read.

‘All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti’ by Sarah Turnbull

When Sarah’s husband is asked to set up a new law office in Tahiti, she agrees – albeit reluctantly – to move to the end of the world (at least that’s what Tahiti looks like on the world map).

The picture-perfect country welcomes her with sounds, smells, colours, and views fit for paradise. Only her life is far from idyllic. Her overwhelming longing for a child makes each day a challenge. But as they say, all good things come to those who wait.

Sarah Turnbull wrote a very personal memoir – and did it masterfully! Her beautiful, lyrical depictions will transport you to French Polynesia, which – as you’ll have a chance to find out – has also a darker side. This is an engaging travelogue with a moving and poignant story that gives hope. You won’t be able to put it down.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Sailing the Pacific? Why not! Together with her husband, Jimmy, and two children, Gwenda decides to take a journey of a lifetime.

In the Blue Continent, they visit Samoa – much loved by Robert Louis Stevenson; meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn; and take part in independence celebrations in Tuvalu. What is more, Jimmy even gets a chance to star in a movie in French Polynesia.

A boat, tropical islands, and great adventure. Isn’t that what we associate with a perfect summer? Well, that’s exactly why this memoir is a perfect summer read. It will surely satisfy your wanderlust, but it may also make you green with envy. Gwenda’s compelling stories plus her vivid descriptions will be reason enough to stay at home with this book in your hands. Ok, I’m just kidding. But be prepared that you’ll want to sail from chapter to chapter until you reach the very end.

‘Boxed Wine at Sunset: Two Americans. Two years. A small village in Vanuatu’ by Judy Beaudoin

What can one do after sending their kids off to college? Travel the world perhaps? Volunteer? Or maybe do both? Exactly! That’s the perfect plan, especially if one wants to avoid an empty nest syndrome.

After selling all their possessions and quitting their jobs, Kim and Judy travel to Vanuatu as Peace Corps volunteers. Working in the local primary school, the couple not only teach the youngest generations of ni-Vanuatu but also – or rather most importantly – learn a great deal about life in a different culture.

This is a wonderful memoir if you want to relax and get to know something interesting. Judy Beaudoin’s writing style is graceful and vivid, and the stories she shares… Well, they are impossible to describe in a few words – you have to believe me! Read this book and I can assure you that you won’t regret it!

‘Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal’ by Paul Gauguin

Having decided to leave Europe, Paul Gauguin travels to Tahiti in the hope of finding an unspoiled paradise.

What he discovers is a unique place full of beauty. Living among the natives, he gets to know the local culture – full of ancient customs and traditions – which totally engrosses him. This fascination with Polynesian way of being inspires him to create.

Although quite controversial, Gauguin’s memoir is a terribly good read. Part autobiography, part travelogue, part study of the Tahitian society, this book is a valuable piece of literature. Magnificent illustrations, painted by the artist himself, only add to the overall charm. Definitely worthy of your attention!

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‘SAILING WITH IMPUNITY’ BY MARY E. TRIMBLE

‘Sailing With Impunity’ is Mary E. Trimble’s memoir depicting the voyage through the islands of Polynesia that she set out on together with her husband, Bruce.

sailing-with-impunity

Summary

Longing for a change and following the dream of an offshore sailing, Mary and Bruce make a decision to quit their jobs, sell their house, buy a boat, and spend some time cruising the Pacific Islands. After weeks of meticulous preparations, they are finally ready to leave the marina.

They make their first landfall in French Polynesia. The country surprises them with enchanting beauty, the sweetest scents of flowers, and…an extremely nice gendarme trying (unsuccessfully) to buy their gun. Together with other yachties, Mary and Bruce tour the islands, savouring every minute in this picture-perfect paradise.

When the blissful days in the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Bora Bora come to an end, the couple continue their adventure. They agree to moor in the Pago Pago harbour to wait out the hurricane season. The capital of American Samoa turns out to be a safe yet very dirty harbour, especially after the country gets clobbered by Cyclone Ofa.

Before heading home, Mary and Bruce sail to Tonga, which definitely lives up to its friendly reputation, and then to Hawaii. The last leg of their journey isn’t as smooth as they would expect it to be.

Review

The Blue Continent is a perfect destination for…for everyone, I think, but sailors in particular. They have favoured this part of the world for a very long time. Who can blame them? Those tiny islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean are delightfully reminiscent of paradise (at least on the surface), so cruising from one little slice of heaven to another is a dream come true. And when in paradise, it’s a sin not to share all those paradise-ish experiences. Hence the almost countless amount of different memoirs and travelogues – some good, some not so much – that you may choose from to ‘travel’ (or no, in case of the bad ones) to the South Seas without leaving the comfort of your home. Will you be able to ‘visit’ the islands while reading Mary E. Trimble’s book? Oh, absolutely!

‘Sailing With Impunity’ makes for a very engaging read, mostly due to the fact that the author managed to maintain the right balance between the descriptions of their life aboard the craft and the descriptions of the places they had a chance to see. Before you go on land with the Trimbles, you will encounter fierce winds and rough waters; you will know what it’s like to cook on a rocking boat while battling a bout of seasickness; you will have to come to terms with the idea of sleeping no more than 4 hours at one time (let me tell you, you can feel exhausted just reading about it). Mrs Trimble is very truthful in recounting her and her husband’s journey. She spares no details, so those of you who have thought that sailing is an easy activity might get disillusioned. It is fun, yes; but it’s definitely not child’s play.

If you ‘survive’ the voyage, you will be rewarded with some wonderful stories about the islands and their inhabitants. The author’s vivid and surprisingly objective portrayals of the visited countries show them as they really are – ravishing, romantic, but not sugar-coated; filthy, unpleasant, but not repulsive. The memoir doesn’t present a one-sided view of Polynesia – and it’s worth remembering that all the opinions clearly reflect the author’s personal feelings and judgements – but rather the actual state of things. There is no criticizing, no comparing, no saying that something is better or worse. Mary E. Trimble made sure to stay open-minded throughout the journey and, most importantly, throughout her book. Even if she wasn’t free from cultural bias, she hid it extremely well.

The story is told in a lovely manner. Every page is written with passion only keen travellers possess. Detailed yet not overdone descriptions seize the imagination, arousing an abundance of different emotions. One minute you are green with envy, the next happy and relieved that you’re safe in your abode. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This concise book is a very impressive piece of travel literature. But it isn’t only an engaging memoir. It is a tale about chasing your dreams and believing that everything is possible, especially if you have someone you love and can rely on by your side.

TONGA BY STEVE HUNSICKER

Tonga. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Steve Hunsicker, the author of a fantastic memoir called ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’, gives his recommendations.

Swim with humpback whales

It’s one of the few places in the world where you can get in the water and swim with the whales. Most of this is done in Vava’u, but it is also possible in Ha’apai. When you book a whale trip, book several days as there is no guarantee that you will see whales every day. But you might get lucky and get to swim with them each day.

Go to a kava circle (for men only)

It’s a great way to experience an important part of the Tonga culture. You will see kava halls in every village in the country. If you see men inside, go in. Don’t be nervous about entering.  There will be men there who speak English and as long as you make a small donation to help pay for the kava (5-10 Pa’anga which is 3-5 US dollars), you will be warmly welcomed. If they don’t ask for a donation, leave one with the man sitting closest to the kava bowl. Women are not allowed inside, so don’t ask. However, you will occasionally see an unmarried girl inside who is there to serve the kava to the men. She is the only woman allowed.

Try Ota Ika

It literally means ‘raw fish’. However, it is much more than that. It is my favorite Tonga food and is best eaten with some of the small red hot peppers that are often served with it. Not all restaurants serve Tongan dishes, as they cater to the tourists, but you can find it on all the islands.  Just ask. It is pronounced ‘OH-ta E-ca’.

A CHAT WITH… STEVE HUNSICKER

Steve Hunsicker is the South Florida recruiter for the Peace Corps. Before taking on the job, he served as a volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga. His experiences are described in a wonderful book called ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’. If you are interested in what Steve has to say about his memoir, the South Pacific country, and volunteering, read on!

steve-hunsicker

Pasifika Truthfully: You quit your job to become a Peace Corps volunteer. Have you ever regretted that decision?

Steve Hunsicker: I have not regretted the decision. Becoming a Peace Corps volunteer changed my life in a very positive way. I had a wonderful 23-year career in TV News, but it was time for me to do something else. Peace Corps was the perfect move.

PT: You were assigned to serve in the Kingdom of Tonga. A South Pacific archipelago with pristine lagoons and sandy beaches – that’s the image people conjure up in their minds when asked about Polynesia. Had you had the same picture in your head before you went there?

SH: That image is largely true. Tonga is a beautiful country, especially Vava’u, which is the island where I lived. However, there is much more to Tonga that that. Each of the island groups is different. Tongatapu, where the capital is located, is flat while the area where I was is quite hilly. I don’t remember exactly what I was expecting when I first found out I was going to Tonga, but Vava’u is certainly more beautiful than I could have imagined.

PT: Tonga from travel brochures vs. the ‘real’ country. What’s the difference?

SH: Tonga is a developing country. At first appearance, they have many of the amenities you might expect, but those are really there for the tourists. Most Tongans are subsistence farmers and fishermen who live below the poverty level. However, they are a very happy people and genuinely         friendly. You will see people talking on cell phones but they may live without running water and electricity.

PT: What surprised you most after you stepped out of the plane?

SH: Without a doubt, how friendly everyone was. Walking around the first day, people stopped and said hello and asked: ‘Where are you going?’. I later learned that’s a very common expression in the Tongan language, but hearing it in English from so many people was very welcoming.

PT: Is there anything – and I’m sure there is – you learnt during your stay?

SH: Probably that ‘People are People’ no matter where they live, no matter their culture and no matter their financial situation. I made such wonderful friends in Tonga and there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think of them.

PT: What can people learn from Tongans? What can we ‘take’ from their amazing culture?

SH: In Tonga, people take care of each other. They don’t have day care centers or retirement homes. If a family member has to work, another family member (or neighbor) will help.   They accept the responsibility to take care of children and of their elders. There is almost no homelessness in Tonga because everyone has a place to go.

PT: Now, focusing on your book. Why did you decide to write it?

SH: Peace Corps is a life-changing experience and I really wanted to document my experience. I challenged myself to write a blog post at least once a week for my entire 27 months in Tonga. I had spent the previous 23 years in a TV newsroom so I guess I also still had some of the journalist in me. When I first returned to the US, I decide to take those entries and expand them into a book.

PT: Your memoir is an extremely informative and entertaining read. I’m pretty sure, however, that there are quite a few stories or anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book. Could you share one of them?

SH: Tongans love to laugh and they like jokes. I became of the ‘victim’ of one of those jokes during my language training. Just like in every language, Tongan has slang. For example, the Tongan word for chicken is ‘moa’. It is commonly used to describe food, but it is also slang for your girlfriend or boyfriend. If a Tongan asks you if you have a ‘moa’, they aren’t asking if you have a chicken, but if you have a significant other. This was explained to us in our language classes.

During my language training, I was given a very simple assignment to interview someone in the Tongan language, to find out their name, where they were from and what they liked to do. We then had to present the results of our interview to not only our fellow volunteers, but also in front of the Tongans who work for Peace Corps.

I completed my interview and when it was my time to present, I stood up and said in Tongan ‘My friend’s name is Rose, she is from Nukualofa and she likes to husk coconuts’. As soon as I said this, the room erupted in laughter, I turned beet red, not knowing what I had just said.   However, it was quickly explained to me that ‘husking coconuts’ has nothing to do with ‘husking coconuts’ and instead refers to a sexual act. She was in the room and was the person laughing the hardest. She had set me up, but it was a good lesson because she wanted all of us to know the expression so that we didn’t use it in our conversations with our host family and neighbors. And everyone got a great laugh at my expense.

PT: The book is full of details regarding both the Peace Corps and volunteering in general. Did you want to create a guide of sorts for future volunteers?

SH: I’m not sure I necessarily set out to publish a guide for future volunteers. I really was trying to document my own service. Almost all of the information in the book about the application process is out of date. Last year, Peace Corps significantly over-hauled its application process and it takes less than an hour to complete the application. In addition, you can select the country where you serve, something I was not able to do. I did get really frustrated with the length of the application process at that time, so these are all very positive changes for people wanting to become a volunteer.

PT: What advice – if any – could you give to those people who’d like to become volunteers?

SH: Do it!  Not only will you make a difference in the lives of the people in the country where you volunteer, but it will change your own life.

‘STEVE’S ADVENTURE WITH THE PEACE CORPS: STORIES FROM THE KINGDOM OF TONGA AND THE UNITED STATES PEACE CORPS’ BY STEVE HUNSICKER

‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps: Stories from the Kingdom of Tonga and the United States Peace Corps’ is a memoir written by Steve Hunsicker, a former Executive News Director who decided to give up his successful career in order to become a Peace Corps volunteer.

steves-adventure-with-the-peace-corps

Summary

For some people even the most interesting job may not be enough to feel content and fulfilled in life. Steve has always dreamed of helping others and now, after spending 23 years in TV industry, he comes to the conclusion that it’s high time he finally realized his ambition. So he applies to the Peace Corps and soon after that is sent to the Kingdom of Tonga.

Responsible for business development, Steve helps the local communities exploit their economic potential. He is a tutor and a mentor, always ready to offer advice, give words of encouragement, and share his professional knowledge. As a reward he gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Tonga as very few visitors ever do.

Review

I-was-a-volunteer-in-an-underdeveloped-country is such a common and popular theme in non-fiction literature that it should constitute a separate genre. All these personal accounts basically tell you the same story, so there will never be any surprises here. But the author’s writing style is a whole different thing. It can be excellent, mediocre, or plain bad, and it usually determines if the book is considered any good.

Steve Hunsicker’s memoir is what I like to call a ‘simple piece of literature’. It certainly isn’t a masterpiece, but it charms you right from the very first page. You instantly get drawn into Steve’s world and quickly realize that one chapter compels you to read another.

Written in a journal-like manner, the memoir starts in the US when the author finds out about his Peace Corps nomination. From that moment we accompany him as he prepares to fly out of the country, then arrives in Tonga, and finally carries out his volunteering duties. In describing his experiences he is honest, meticulous, and awesomely funny. He is like a buddy of yours, with whom you’re having a friendly chat over a cup of coffee. Or a glass of beer. Or – even better – a bowl of kava. You choose. And you genuinely want to pay careful attention to what he is saying, because his stories are truly fascinating.

Especially worthy of note are Steve’s comments on Tonga. As an astute observer who was willing to familiarize himself with a foreign culture, he gives readers colourful details of life in the Polynesian country. You really get to know the local customs, traditions, and practices – not the ancient ones, but those observed on a daily basis. The little snippets he shares are not only very informative but most of all fun to read. If you have never been to Tonga, it’s a great way to start your journey. See the islands, meet the people, and soak up the friendly atmosphere of the South Pacific.

The author writes about the Kingdom and his Peace Corps service with a fierce passion you simply cannot fail to notice. It is obvious that volunteering in this particular place affected not only his life but also him as a person. The initial culture shock gradually gave way to understanding, acceptance, and even appreciation of the culture so different from his own.

‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’ is a terrific book. I’ll venture to say it is more revealing than most guidebooks ever written on Tonga. If you decide to read it, it will not be wasted time.

GREAT SUMMER READS (2016)

‘Sailing to Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

When reality doesn’t always meet your expectations, you need something that will set you free from your worries and bring back a smile on your face. For Kelly and Paul, a happily married couple dealing with fertility problems, that ‘something’ turns out to be a voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

As they sail from one island to another, they discover the beauty of life anew. Visiting fascinating places and immersing themselves in the exotic cultures of the South Seas, they finally start to look to the future with optimism and hope in their hearts.

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a beautiful, uplifting story that will make you both laugh and cry. Being first and foremost a great adventure book, it will speak to all the sailing aficionados who can’t imagine their lives without a daily dose of thrill and excitement. Kelly Watts describes the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can guarantee that you will not be able to stop reading until you reach the last sentence.

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

Fulfilling her husband’s lifelong dream, Mary agrees to set out on a journey from Seattle to the islands of the South Pacific. After finding the right boat and saying their farewells, the couple is ready to set sail to paradise.

Despite dealing with the unpredictable power of nature, they manage to enjoy their new life aboard Impunity. They get to know the alluring world of Polynesia, taking delight in meeting local inhabitants and experiencing their ways of being.

Summer is the time of year when most of us feel the urge to travel. It’s not always possible to leave everything behind and just get away, but a good book will definitely satisfy your needs. I promise you that Mary’s words will transport you to the tropical isles. You’ll be able to feel the hot air, smell the sweet scent of flowers, and hear the cheerful buzz of people’s voices.

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

Following in James Cook’s footsteps? Why not! Two centuries after the great Englishman’s voyages, Tony Horwitz decides to embark on his own adventure, recreating Cook’s epic journeys through the Pacific Ocean.

Trying to fully grasp the Captain’s accomplishments, Tony happily explores the tiny islands. He spends time chatting to the natives, asking questions, and waiting for answers. He isn’t afraid to dig deep and, as a result, gets awarded with a riveting tale of the navigator’s life.

Not only will this masterfully written travelogue give you a lot of enjoyment, but it will also provide you with a great deal of information about history, Westernization, and most of all Captain James Cook. It is a compelling read that will let you discover the Blue Continent from the comfort of your home.

‘The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific’ by Charles Montgomery

Ever since Charles came across his great-grandfather’s box as a 10-year-old boy, the pieces of paper that were tucked inside have been constantly in the back of his mind. Inspired by the unusual discovery, and especially by one intriguing description of the events that had taken place in Melanesia in the 19th century, he decides to visit the islands of the Pacific.

In Vanuatu and the Solomons, he searches for old myths and legends; for reality that blends with black magic. What he finds is a bewitching world of ancient rituals and traditions that completely engrosses his body, soul, and mind.

This book is as much about the author’s journey as it is about religion and different belief systems. It’s very thought-provoking but at the same time extremely entertaining. Charles Montgomery, being a talented writer he is, invites you to accompany him on a guided tour of Melanesia. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that chance.

‘The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Julia Whitty

The Blue Continent has always been heaven for deep-sea divers. While shooting for nature documentaries, Julia Whitty ventures underwater to discover the kingdom of the great Pacific Ocean.

In three different locations: Rangiroa atoll, Funafuti, and Mo’orea, she explores the mesmerizing world of sea creatures and coral reefs, occasionally going on land to acquaint herself with the local cultures and see how globalization has been changing the remote places.

If you like watching nature documentaries, you will absolutely love this book! The author’s incredibly vivid descriptions will let you picture every scene in your mind’s eye. It’s a pretty spectacular ‘visual’ experience that may surprise you quite a bit.

‘THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA: PADDLING THE PACIFIC’ BY PAUL THEROUX

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ is Paul Theroux’s memoir-cum-travelogue that documents his journey across the Blue Continent.

THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA

Summary

What does a man do when faced with a failing marriage and the possibility of having skin cancer? He starts his fight. He’s determined to win the battles. Or he gives up and does nothing. Or – just like Paul – he runs away; as far from his home as he can. Is there a better destination that the alluring islands of the Pacific? Absolutely not.

Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, he gets his first taste of Oceania. The mysterious Blue Continent and an overwhelming need to be alone in the wilderness makes him grab his collapsible kayak and venture into the great unknown. Trying to immerse himself in the indigenous cultures of the region, he travels from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Archipelago, from Vanuatu to Fiji, from the islands of south Polynesia to heavenly Hawaii. Each of these places lets him escape his bitter reality, until – finally – he rediscovers the flavor of life anew.

Review

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I have. And this is THE book.

Yes, I absolutely love it. This is one of the best titles in the travel genre, hands down. It’s funny, engaging, and it shows rather than tells. But it also annoys me beyond words. Literally, it makes me utterly mad. As it is quite rude to commence with the downsides, let’s start with the positives, shall we?

It cannot be denied that Paul Theroux possesses the literary genius. His prodigious talent with words captivates readers, compelling them to devour page after page until they swiftly reach the end of his more or less irritating yet extremely intriguing story. And even though he states at the end of the last chapter that he is not a travel writer, this personal account proves otherwise – it is the very epitome of the ‘been there, wrote the book’ genre; and a terrific one at that!

It is impossible to miss his flowing prose that is thoroughly appealing, impeccable language, or the authentically funny (at least more often than not) sense of humour. The author doesn’t bother readers with detailed and vivid descriptions of the places he travels to. Instead, he devotes his attention to people – mainly native inhabitants – and their ways of being. He absorbs everything that surrounds him – from the atmosphere of the so-called paradise to the idiosyncrasies of the cultures he encounters. He explores, he observes, he draws his own conclusions. He is not afraid to ask even the most personal questions, and the more honest the answer the more happy he seems to be. Because the islands clearly cheer him up. What started as a great escape, turned out to be a great and often amusing adventure. Which, by the way, should surprise absolutely no one – when in paradise, you can’t help but beam with sheer happiness. Even if that paradise sometimes uncovers its darker side.

Yes, let’s be frank here, no corner of this globe can be given the label of ‘a wonderland’. But if there is one place on our planet Earth that can be regarded as the slice of heaven, this is Oceania. With its kind, smiling, welcoming people it is the closest thing to paradise you’ll be able to find. And yet Paul Theroux failed to notice that. Throughout the book he proudly displays his sardonic attitude, throwing around disgustingly subjective comments about the locals that are genuinely hard to read at times. He writes, for example, that the prettiest women he saw in the Pacific were in Tonga; only to add in the very same sentence that they were also ‘the ugliest, hairy things with bad skin’. Additionally, you may learn that the people of Tanna were (I consciously retain the past form; after all, we don’t know if this viewpoint still holds true for Mr Theroux today) ‘small, scowling knob-headed blacks with short legs and big dusty feet’. Samoans – on the other hand – are lovingly described as ‘rather gloatingly rude’. It seems that only the inhabitants of the Cooks deserved some compliments. In Theroux’s eyes they weren’t ‘greedy or lazy’; actually, they were ‘hospitable, generous, and friendly’. I can understand having your own opinions. But I can’t understand being a xenophobe.

Is this book worthy of your time and attention? Absolutely. It is an outstanding piece of travel literature. It is entertaining and…well…very informative. It lets you discover that one may be a terrific writer, but a not so terrific person.

PADDLING THE PACIFIC: OCEANIA ACCORDING TO PAUL THEROUX

‘Something about Cook Islanders (there were only 20,000 of them altogether) made them seem special. Even with all the patronage from New Zealand, and their passionate interest in videos, the people remained themselves. They were not greedy. They were not lazy. They were hospitable, generous and friendly. They were not violent, and they often tried to be funny, with little success.’

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


‘Tahiti has its drawbacks – it is expensive, traffic-choked, noisy, corrupt, and Frenchified – but it is impossible to belittle its natural physical beauty, and in spite of the car exhausts there is nearly always in the air the fragrant aroma – the noanoa – of flowers, the tiare especially, a tiny white gardenia that is Tahiti’s national blossom.’

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


‘These Tongans were elegant – it was something in their posture, in their features, many actually looked noble – a prince here, a princess there.’

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


‘Paddling out to the island of Aunu’u I thought again of the pamphlet that had been given to me, with the rules that all visitors were urged to observe.

– When in a Samoan house, do not talk while standing.

– Do not stretch your legs out when seated.

– Do not carry an umbrella past a house.

– Do not drive through a village when chiefs are gathering.

– Do not eat while walking through a village (it seemed to me that Samoans ate no other way, and usually were munching a very large jelly donut).

– Samoans are deeply religious – pray and sing with them.

– Do not wear flowers in church.

– When drinking kava, hold the cup in front of you and say “manuia” (“when drinking Coke” would have been more opposite, since that seemed firmly part of the culture).

– Bikinis and shorts are not considered appropriate attire in Samoan villages or town areas.

– Ask permission before snapping photos or picking flowers.

– Be extra quiet on Sundays.

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


‘At the very frontier of the Black Islands lies Fiji, the edge of Melanesia – so close that some of its tinier islands, Rotuma and the Lau group, for example, overlap Polynesia. In these transitional straddling dots of land, the people are regarded as Polynesian. There is a strong Tongan influence in the Lau culture. They make and sail canoes in the Lau group. They wear crunchy mats around the waist, Tongan-style. They paddle. They fish. They dance. They recall their great sea ventures. In a village on the Lau island of Lakeba they hold an annual ceremony in which sharks are summoned – a “shark-caller” up to his or her neck in the lagoon is circled by a school of sharks, attracted by the person’s chanting.’

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

‘BLUE LATITUDES: BOLDLY GOING WHERE CAPTAIN COOK HAS GONE BEFORE’ BY TONY HORWITZ

‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’ is Tony Horwitz’s travel memoir, which he penned inspired by his travels through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

BLUE LATITUDES

Summary

Struck by the places Captain James Cook visited during his voyages and perfectly aware of the impact he had on the Blue Continent, Tony Horwitz gets an idea that it would be quite nice to follow in the great Englishman’s footsteps and see what has changed since the Age of Exploration.

Starting aboard a replica of Cook’s first ship, the Endeavour, he travels to the vast expanse of water dotted with tiny islands most people describe as ‘paradise’. He visits sensual French Polynesia, Tonga, savage Niue, and used-to-be-full-of-cannibals (at least that’s what people say) Hawaii. He flies to England, explores Australia, skips to New Zealand, and makes a trip to Alaska. In each of these places he learns what the natives think of the British captain, and how they perceive his accomplishments. With every island, beach, and lagoon Tony gets more and more interested not only in Cook’s travels but in the man himself.

Review

Isn’t it wonderful when you have a chance to grab a book that masterfully combines vastly different genres into a single, cohesive narrative? When you feel that one minute you’re reading a gripping travel piece and the next a fascinating biography of a man who changed the world a little bit? ‘Blue Latitudes’ is exactly this kind of book. Fusing elements of memoir, travelogue, biography, and history, Tony Horwitz invites readers on a delightful journey to even more delightful places anyone would like to see at least once in their life.

Yes, this title is first and foremost a well-presented coverage of the author’s voyages. As he relives Captain Cook’s expeditions, he visits the exotic Pacific islands, confronting the Englishman’s descriptions with present reality. He investigates how the Blue Continent has been transformed since Cook’s day. As he explores the effects of colonialism and globalization, he can’t help but notice the change in ancient customs and traditions, as well as a subtle yet visible shift toward certain Western values. Comparisons between 1700s Oceania and Oceania today are probably the most interesting to read. Tony Horwitz’s curiosity makes him delve into the nitty-gritty details. And that is truly fascinating. What’s Niue’s problem with red bananas? Is the island still inhabited by savages? Just how friendly are the Friendly Islanders? What really happened in Hawaii? He tries to rediscover the great Pacific anew. And you – as a reader – are more than welcomed to join him.

But of course this book is not only Mr Horwitz’s travel memoir; it’s also a gripping biography of one of the greatest explorers of all time. James Cook needs no introduction. Some people consider him a hero. For others he was just an invader; a villain of some sort. Whatever your opinion, one thing is indisputable: Captain Cook filled in many of the blank spots on the world map. He was a man of adventure; a bold navigator who didn’t know what the word ‘fear’ meant. The writer, whose fascination with Cook is obvious, paints a vivid portrait of the Yorkshireman’s life: from his early days in the Northern England to the epic voyages he undertook. I must say, it is unquestionably one of the most informative biographical accounts you’ll ever have a chance to read.

As you may (or may not, if you aren’t familiar with the author’s other works) expect from Tony Horwitz, the book is excellently written. It’s a delightful mix of Cook’s original journals and Mr Horwitz’s own observations. The past and the present are detailed in equal measure, so you are definitely not in danger of being stuck in the 18th or 21st century. Besides, it doesn’t really matter, because you will have fun. The author maintains an anecdotal manner, which makes the volume thoroughly entertaining. Although revealing and explanatory, it’s still just a light-hearted read.

All in all, ‘Blue Latitudes’ is a fabulous book, especially for those who’d like to learn more about the man that played a significant part in shaping the cultures of the Pacific. Grab it, and I assure you you will not be disappointed.

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’