Tag Archives: Vanuatu

VANUATU BY BRYAN WEBB

Vanuatu. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Bryan Webb, an Assembly of God missionary and the author of two fantastic memoirs, ‘Hungry Devils’ and ‘The Sons of Cannibals’, gives his recommendations.

Stay at Ranpator

Ranpator is an amazing village on the west coast of Pentecost. The water is brilliantly clear, the sunsets are spectacular, the people are warm and friendly, and the food is amazing. It is a place where you can completely unplug – no Wi-Fi, no electricity, and no distractions.

Swim in the Man Pool and the Woman Pool Waterfalls on Santo

There are thousands of waterfalls on Santo. My favorite is hidden deep in the bush and far from all commercial tourism. To get there look for a transport headed to Big Bay at the Unity Store. Once you get to Unguru, hike up to the village of White Grass and ask Chief Robert to give you a guide to the waterfalls. It will be about an hour and a half walk total so be sure and pack drinking water and a lunch. There is no more beautiful place to swim and picnic in Santo. As a bonus, you will be swimming under waterfalls that only a handful of outsiders have ever seen.

Spend the day at Champaign Beach

Anyone who has ever been to Santo will tell you to visit Champaign Beach. It is simply the most beautiful beach in the South Pacific. Sadly, I see lots of tourists who only budget an hour or so at this great beach. Trust me, it’s worth a full day. Pack a lunch or plan on walking to one of the nearby bungalows for a simple meal.

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A CHAT WITH… BRYAN WEBB

Bryan Webb, an Assembly of God missionary, has been residing in Vanuatu for more than fifteen years. In his two books, ‘Hungry Devils’ and ‘The Sons of Cannibals’, he relates his experiences of living in a foreign land, giving readers a fascinating account of front line missions. Being a very kind man, he took the time and answered a few questions regarding his work and the South Pacific.

BRYAN WEBB

Pasifika Truthfully: You are a missionary so travelling to distant lands is an important part of your life. But how did you end up in Vanuatu?

Bryan Webb: Our journey into the Pacific started while I worked the night shift in a factory to pay my way through college. Many of my fellow workers were Pacific Islanders. Their descriptions of their islands were mesmerizing, and of course everyone invited me for a visit. My wife Renee and I developed a number of close friendships and took them up on their invitations. Once we had visited several Pacific island nations we felt sure the islands would always be our home. A number of factors convinced us to settle in Vanuatu: the people, the opportunities, but mostly friendships.

PT: What was your first impression of the archipelago? What surprised you most about the country and its people?

BW: Renee and I began our Pacific travels in Micronesia, where the islands are tiny, so when I first arrived in Vanuatu I was amazed at the large size of the islands. The thing I found fascinating about the people was the amazing diversity of language and culture. In Vanuatu, Christian and Kastom, stone age and space age exist side by side. My first day in Luganville I was window shopping at LCM, one of our Chinese stores. Distracted by the items displayed in the window, I bumped into an elderly gentleman as I turned to go. I was startled to discover he was wearing little more than a hunting knife.

PT: Was it difficult to adjust to a new culture?

BW: Cultural adjustment is always a challenge. However, we found adapting to Vanuatu to be relatively simple. Bislama, the national language, is easy to learn and most people are very eager to befriend you and teach you about their culture. I think diving in and truly immersing yourself in the culture is the key to a successful adjustment.

PT: You described the peculiarities of living in Vanuatu in your two books, which are just phenomenal. It seems that one of the hardest things you had to deal with was ‘reconciling’ your teachings with the traditional values of Ni-Vanuatu people.

BW: I believe Christ and his teachings are transcultural. The greatest challenge I face is stripping my cultural preconceptions away so that I can present Christ and his teachings in the Ni-Vanuatu cultural context. Often what seems like a contradiction between Ni-Vanuatu culture and Christianity is really a contradiction between Ni-Vanuatu and Western culture.

PT: Do you think those indigenous beliefs and traditions, which are a big part of Melanesian cultures, should be preserved?

BW: Yes and no. Culture is complex. No culture is static, and that is a good thing. All cultures are in a constant state of flux. Culture ultimately springs from environment, and cultures change as the environment changes or as people collectively come to understand and relate to their environment differently. Ni-Vanuatu as a whole live in a rapidly changing world, with those changes some aspects of culture will become outdated or irrelevant, others will prove to be critical to maintaining their identity in this changing world. In the end only Ni-Vanuatu are qualified to guide themselves through this process. I am, however, completely opposed to the idea of asking people to follow outdated and irrelevant traditions, so that tourists can gawk at people living in the equivalent of a cultural zoo.

PT: You’ve been living in Vanuatu for quite a while now. Have you adopted any of the customs or practices?

BW: No doubt I have become a third culture person. I will never be fully Ni-Vanuatu, but I will also never be fully American again. Vanuatu has placed an indelible stamp on my life. I find myself focused on people rather than tasks, and events rather than time. Most of the changes are subtle and really don’t stand out till I visit America again.

PT: And how, in your opinion, has the country changed since your arrival?

BW: Vanuatu is rapidly modernizing. Cell phones and Internet have transformed communications. Women are gaining a voice in the culture. Most of the changes I see are good. The negative would be an increase in drug abuse and pornography.

PT: You wrote two books. How many more interesting tales do you have? Is there a third volume on the horizon?

BW: Vanuatu is so fascinating there is an endless list of stories. My challenge is taking the time to write. I am currently working on a book with photographer Gaylon Wampler. Gaylon is an amazing artist with a camera. Together we hope to create a stunning photo essay of Vanuatu. This project will be very different than what I have written to date. My first two books are focused on my experiences and were decidedly religious. This book will be completely focused on the people, culture, and beauty of Vanuatu. We are doing this as a gift to the children of Vanuatu and 100% of the proceeds will go to providing education for underprivileged children. This book was inspired out of my experience in the story, ‘Warm and Well Fed’ in the book ‘The Sons of Cannibals’. We are aiming for a December 2015 release.

‘THE SONS OF CANNIBALS AND MORE TALES FROM VANUATU’ BY BRYAN WEBB

‘The Sons of Cannibals and more tales from Vanuatu’ is Bryan Webb’s second publication regarding his missionary work in the Melanesian archipelago. Although a separate book, it is a continuation of his previous memoir, ‘Hungry Devils’.

THE SONS OF CANNIBALS

Summary

Having spent over fifteen years living in Vanuatu, Bryan is practically a local. Familiar with the area and armed with a wealth of knowledge, he is no longer bewildered by the unusual customs or seemingly odd behaviours of the islands’ native inhabitants. Together with his family, he heartily carries on with his mission to preach the gospel.

However, his work is not always easy. Certain cultural idiosyncrasies still prove to be an obstacle Bryan needs to surmount. Well, how do you share your faith with the followers of the Jon Frum Cargo Cult who await the coming of their prophet and his divine gifts in the form of TVs, cars, and refrigerators? You can only try. And this is exactly what Bryan does. He tries; every single day. And he surely gets his rewards. Because when the sons of cannibals labour together to build a church, he can’t help but smile.

Review

This book is no different from its informal predecessor, ‘Hungry Devils’. It is just a second volume that delivers another batch of short stories. And this is why it’s worthy of your attention. Webb’s tales are, again, phenomenal. Strikingly engaging, they will take you on an incredible adventure, revealing the secrets of Vanuatu that only the locals know.

Despite obvious similarities between the two memoirs, this one is a little more focused on the country’s enchanting culture. Ni-Vanuatu way of life serves as an underlying theme that runs through the entire book. In a few of the chapters, however, it is especially prominent. The author delightfully describes and explains how the natives give directions (left, right, right, left, left is right, right is left, up, down, toward the ocean, away from the ocean, generally: till you get to the tree), what ‘storian’ is, and how long one needs to wait to have something – anything – done. He also compares Melanesian traditions with their Western counterparts, analyzing the patterns of behaviour in both societies. These detailed, in-depth delineations not only give you a better understanding of the aforementioned culture but also make you aware of how diverse our world is.

Of course, Webb doesn’t write exclusively about the archipelago’s folkways. The narratives wander from his missionary work to the indigenous communities he meets, from the country’s geography to its rich history. Once more you are provided with a thorough and very enlightening tour of the islands, where the past coexists with the present in almost perfect harmony. You can’t blame Bryan for falling in love with the land of smiles, can you?

The Webbs’ experiences are recounted in a graceful, light-hearted manner with the necessary pinch of gentle humour. The author’s fearless self-reflection and ability to laugh at his own failings make this book brim with emotion and honesty. Sharing your successes is easy. Sharing your failures and mistakes, not so much. But Bryan Webb doesn’t seem to care. He is truthful and thus very inspiring.

Every single story in this compilation is a winning read. The writing is excellent, the content insightful, the Melanesian country unusually vivid. You couldn’t ask for more. Simply perfect.

‘HUNGRY DEVILS AND OTHER TALES FROM VANUATU’ BY BRYAN WEBB

‘Hungry Devils and other tales from Vanuatu’ is a collection of short stories about modern missions in the South Pacific, penned by Bryan Webb – a long-term resident of the islands.

HUNGRY DEVILS

Summary

Vanuatu is a challenging country for a missionary. With its many tribes, distinctive cultures, and over one hundred local languages, it tests even the strongest-willed of men. But Bryan feels right at home in this tropical Melanesian paradise.

Day after day, despite many adversities, he preaches the word of God to the native inhabitants, trying to incorporate his teachings into local traditions. At the same time, he gets to know the islands, absorbs the Ni-Vanuatu way of life, and immerses himself in everything the archipelago has to offer. He laughs and cries; he struggles; he fails and succeeds. But he survives and, so it seems, thrives.

Review

What a wonderful book this is! Thoroughly captivating, insightful, revealing, thought-provoking. Bryan Webb writes about Vanuatu with a fierce, uncompromising passion he doesn’t even attempt to hide. In the opening sentence of the first chapter he declares: ‘Vanuatu is the land that I love, my surrogate home, the land of my calling’. After such forthright statement, you just know the next pages are filled with some incredible tales. And you can’t wait to read them.

The most impressive feature of this account is its remarkable completeness. Everything – from scenery to people to customs and traditions – is described in equal measure. The author doesn’t confine his attention to one element only, but rather portrays the country as a whole. In some of the stories he takes readers on a guided tour to remote villages, painting a vivid picture of the lush tropical settings, while in the others he delineates cultural practices of indigenous and often forgotten tribes, providing an insight into their distinctive folkways. These different subject matters form a cohesive unity that makes the memoir an immensely interesting publication. But, not only is it engaging, it’s also very informative. This may have something to do with Webb’s extensive knowledge of the archipelago. As a long-standing resident of the islands, he demonstrates an unusually high level of familiarity with the Ni-Vanuatu culture and way of life. His narratives are characterized by accuracy and precision of an insider’s eye. Although from a distant land, Bryan Webb is a local; a local foreigner, you can say. His genuine affection for the Melanesian country couldn’t be more evident. He respects the natives, at all times. He never condemns them, even when their actions elicit his rage. But most importantly, he doesn’t judge what he sees and experiences. Not once does he suggest that something is worse, strange, less worthy. Whether it’s cultural relativism or the effect of his missionary kindness, I don’t know. It might be both.

Speaking of which, religion – or, to be exact, the author’s pastoral ministry – is as much of a prominent topic as Vanuatu itself. Webb outlines the peculiarities of his day to day work, offering you a glimpse into the world of twenty-first century Christian missions. Moreover, every chapter is laced with biblical citations that beautifully complement each tale. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: that’s too much religion for one book. Well, even if this particular subject is beyond the sphere of your interests, I guarantee the author’s adventures will draw you in.

Especially taking into account that the memoir is incredibly well written. Despite the fact that it often broaches very serious issues, Webb maintains a light tone that is breathtakingly delightful. His style is concise yet detailed and descriptive – his words, which evoke a profound sense of ‘being there’, let your mind travel. And, I must say, this is an amazing journey you wish could last a lifetime.

All in all – I will be straight and to the point here – if you read ‘Hungry Devils’, you will be hungry for more.

A CHAT WITH… ANDREW RAYNER

Andrew Rayner is not your ordinary man, and his book, ‘Reach for Paradise’, is certainly not your ordinary publication. But, you wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who spent eight years sailing the blue waters, would you? If you want to know what Andrew had to say about his adventure, book, and – of course – Pasifika, just read the interview.

Pasifika Truthfully: People embark on a voyage for various reasons: they want to escape, forget about their problems, or simply see the world. Why did you decide to set sail?

Andrew Rayner: Most opportunity is luck, and venture’s often a combination of push and pull. In my case the children fledged, my wife gone and my business sold on one hand, and an insatiable travel lust for the Pacific on the other made circumstances that both enabled and stimulated me to get a boat and head for the horizon. Like many before me, the original intention was traduced as my intended three years afloat to be followed by a return to city work turned into five, seven and eight before the circumnavigation was completed.

PT: I do believe you can now say it was a life-changing experience.

AR: No question. Sailing gives quality time for thinking not often available on land. Clear starlit skies and a vast ocean lit from within by bioluminescence make a great page on which to reckon one’s view of things. And there’s an impression of more uncluttered society in the island communities that’s an aid to clarity of mind and appreciation of the precious aspects of human nature.

PT: What was the most and the least enjoyable part of the journey?

AR: Blue water sailors spend more time fixing the boat than sailing. Everything breaks sometime, most often when the nearest help is hundreds of miles away. ‘Boat maintenance in exotic places’ is a reasonable description of low latitude cruising. Another aphorism ‘The two best days of your life are the day you buy the boat, and the day you sell her’ has several grains of truth. Yet a boat is the only way to Pacific islands, bar a handful. Thus I’d say being faced with boat problems you can’t fix but have to fix is among the most testing.

The other side of this coin that makes it all worthwhile is the endless variety and joy of islands, of passages, of the ocean and the submarine life, and most of all the wonderful people out there.

PT: Knowing what you know now, would you like to repeat your adventure?

AR: Yes, at least at the age I set sail I would go again. Anyone who has the chance to undertake such a journey is hugely privileged.

PT: Now, let’s concentrate on Pasifika. For you, paradise?

AR: Foregoing quibbles about definitions, yes.

PT: If you were to describe in a few words each of the Pacific countries you had a chance to visit, what would you say?

AR: An impossible task that might produce a result unfair to everywhere. People need different things from their travels, and when asked standard questions about best islands I try to gage what the questioner is looking for. Intrepid travelers I’d send to Vanuatu, divers to the few places operating in PNG or the Solomons. Those looking for beauty combined with comfort love Bora Bora, and for an excursion into anthropology Rapa Nui. Vava’u has charter sailboats available and a magnificent archipelago to explore, and Aitutaki produces the finest dancing in the ocean. The tamelife of the Galapagos is wondrous, while the rest of the oceanic Pacific Ring of Fire never disappoints rookie geologists. Fiji, Niue, the Micronesian islands, the Kula Ring islands of PNG, there’s almost nowhere I wouldn’t wish to return to. But most important is to have time with the people.

PT: Your book can certainly help people visualize all those places. I must say it is a magnificent publication. The pictures, illustrations, maps simply delight. Why did you choose to embellish the written word?

AR: I remember ‘Treasure Island’ among the books I read when pretty small. The images left, Blind Pugh bringing the Black Spot, the Island, the chest of treasure, were drawings. I’m sure my enjoyment and recollection depended considerably on these drawings. Non-fiction books can of course survive without illustration, most in fact very easily, but some seem to cry for help. I felt ‘RFP’ could not convey the relationship of islands without maps, and my pen isn’t adequate to describe all that I wished without the help of illustrations. I am most fortunate in having as my wife and travel companion a superb painter and mapmaker.

PT: ‘Reach for Paradise’ is so unusual that it’s difficult to categorize. In your opinion, is it a memoir, a travelogue, or maybe a travel guide?

AR: Aah, it’s those and more, with plenty of history, anthropology, literary reference, and even a naughty bit of my own verse thrown in. But none of that is the aim. ‘RFP’ is a celebration of Pacific islands, something I found despite diligent inquiry was lacking from contemporary bookshelves. The islands are magnificent and to varying degrees outside the modern world, not as colonial left-overs or some sort of a curiosity goggled at by boatloads of tourists but vibrant societies with rich culture and story. They deserve a reasoned overview through sympathetic eyes. Though ‘RFP’ may prove to be a travel companion where there was none like it before, I hope, too, it conveys the true spirit of the islands.

PT: I’m sure you have many more stories to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

AR: No, though tempting. I cut some 40% of the original manuscript to make ‘RFP’ manageable.

PT: Last question that I need to ask… Have you found your paradise? Is it Hawaii, where you now live?

AR: Location is as much a compromise as most things in life. We farm fruit in the most Hawaiian, thus Polynesian, part of Hawaii. It’s beautiful, remote and traditional. But 800 numbers, cable internet, and Costco a couple of hours away serve to make life easier. We are happy here.

‘REACH FOR PARADISE’ BY ANDREW RAYNER

‘Reach for Paradise’ is Andrew Rayner’s chronicle of his eight-year-long voyage through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

REACH FOR PARADISE

Summary

Andrew has always dreamt of visiting the islands of the South Seas, so much celebrated for being a slice of paradise on earth. When the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arises, he buys a boat and eagerly starts his great journey of discovery.

The Blue Continent makes an enormous impression on the Englishman. As he travels from bay to bay, he immerses himself in everything the region has to offer. From romantic Tahiti, to the islands where time begins, to the place in which money grows on trees – each and every corner exudes irresistible charm that Andrew finds impossible to resist. The breathtaking beauty that surrounds him, the fascinating cultures he encounters, and the wonderful people he meets make his adventure a truly unforgettable experience.

Review

I have never seen a more beautiful book. And by ‘beautiful’ I mean ‘aesthetically pleasing’. ‘Reach for Paradise’ simply delights. From the moment you lay eyes on the cover, you are completely mesmerized by the stunning design. Andrew Rayner’s words are embellished with photographs, exquisite colourful illustrations, and maps created by his wife, Robin, who herself is an enormously talented person. Her paintings – which you’d want to see framed and hanging on a wall in your house – wonderfully convey the magical allure of the islands, helping you imagine their tropical scenery. Each and every page of this publication is a celebration of art, literature, and – of course – the great Pacific.

Just as the book is beautiful, it is also difficult to categorize. You may now start wondering what genre it belongs to. I made an attempt to solve this mystery. With no success. It’s not entirely a travelogue, nor is it a personal memoir. It’s a mix of both, and more. The author’s reminiscences and anecdotes are combined with insightful, often anthropological observations that offer you a rare glimpse into the folkways of indigenous societies. It can be noticed that Andrew Rayner went to extraordinary lengths to keep his representation of the islands and their inhabitants accurate, faithful, and objective. He didn’t just travel through the Blue Continent, he studied it. He cared enough to explore its history and acquaint himself with the nuances of its cultures. Having analyzed numerous works devoted to the subjects, some of which make a guest appearance in the book, he wrote his account with a fullness of knowledge – dare I say – few men possess.

Now, if you think that is all you’re going to find in ‘Reach for Paradise’, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The volume is a well-researched guide – a mine of useful, valuable information that may come in handy for those who plan to set sail for the South Seas. By no means is this a cruising manual with tips and advices regarding nautical excursions. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth keeping onboard…as a source of great inspiration. Vivid and comprehensive descriptions that reveal Oceania’s hidden marvels will give you a good enough reason to go there. You don’t intend to travel? Well, after reading this book you’ll feel the overwhelming temptation to embark on your very own voyage to the isles of paradise.

Andrew Rayner created a beauty that is a sheer joy to hold in hands. His stories – brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing – stir the imagination, igniting your inner wanderlust. This is travel literature at its best and, without the slightest doubt, one of the finest publications regarding the Pacific Islands. If this blue corner of our globe holds a special place in your heart, do not hesitate to buy this title. It is a must-have!

‘GETTING STONED WITH SAVAGES: A TRIP THROUGH THE ISLANDS OF FIJI AND VANUATU’ BY J. MAARTEN TROOST

‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’ is an account of Mr and Mrs Troost’s sojourn in the Blue Continent. It is a follow-up to the author’s first book, ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’.

GETTING STONED WITH SAVAGES

Summary

After returning from Kiribati and landing himself a job at the World Bank, Maarten leads an ordinary, uneventful, and extremely boring life that doesn’t quite suit him. Surprisingly, he misses the serene islands of the South Seas and dreams of nothing more than trading his ridiculous uniform for a pair of comfortable flip-flops. Luckily for him, his wife Sylvia is offered a position in Vanuatu.

Immediately upon landing in Melanesia, the couple starts to absorb the local culture. The not-so-remote country turns out to be a delightful yet slightly odd mix of British and French influences with an indigenous twist. In between struggling against typhoons and battling giant centipedes, Maarten discovers the ‘muddy nectar of gods’ and – as a writer who might pen a book – goes on a mission to investigate cannibalism. And when he thinks he has found his slice of heaven (finally!), Sylvia announces she is pregnant. The Troosts decide to decamp for just-a bit-more-civilized Fiji.

Review

Let me tell you one thing. If you happen to lay your hands on a book – any book – with J. Maarten Troost’s name on the cover, buy it without thinking, because you can be sure it’s going to be absolutely fantastic. This man is a master storyteller; one of the most engaging and intriguing travel writers of all time.

At first glance the memoir resembles Troost’s previous work about the Pacific. The format of the chapters, the general concept, the writing style are indeed very similar. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that this is actually an entirely different publication.

Although the author doesn’t skimp on humour, this book is definitely not as uproarious as ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals’. There is a plausible explanation for this. As we all know, the very first cross-cultural encounter is always – ok, usually – the funniest. When everything around you is new, unexpected, strange, and so foreign, it’s quite easy to amuse people with anecdotes of your adventures or misunderstandings in an exotic land. But when you become a culture-conscious traveller, for whom that ‘alien world’ doesn’t remain a complete mystery anymore, certain situations and behaviours simply fall into the ‘normal, not necessarily shocking’ category. This is exactly what happened to J. Maarten Troost. Over the years spent in the Pacific, he grew accustomed to this corner of the globe and stopped treating it like a planet from another galaxy.

So yes, Troost may not be hilarious this time, but his travelogue is still a marvelously entertaining piece of literature that doesn’t disappoint. Yet again, his wit and jocular personality shine through every page.

The story itself is thoroughly charming but also quite revealing. The author’s experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji introduce readers to the islands of Melanesia, giving them a chance to discover the fascinating peculiarities of both countries. Troost doesn’t focus on local customs and traditions – kava ceremony is the exception to the rule – but rather concentrates on daily life, which in Pasifika is never mundane (bugs, insects, mudslides, active volcanoes… Pure fun, isn’t it?). He also throws in little snippets concerning the region’s history and its often inglorious past.

Of course, as you would expect, the travelogue is exceptionally well written. Light-hearted in tone, it is characterized by fairly straightforward narrative, lively pace, and vivid but not overwhelming descriptions. It’s clearly visible that Troost matured as a writer. But don’t worry – his frolicsome manner may have disappeared somewhere beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean, but he’s still the same lad.

This candid, often sentimental memoir will make you crave the tropics. You will want to escape to one of those islands and live surrounded by friendly people and giant centipedes. You’ll want to indulge yourself with kava and maybe talk to the natives about cannibalism. You’ll want to enjoy what life has to offer. Well, what can I say… Blame J. Maarten Troost, not me.

A CHAT WITH… GWENDA CORNELL

Gwenda Cornell is an extraordinary woman. 35 years ago she packed her family and set out on a journey across the Pacific Ocean. She shares her adventures in an engaging memoir called ‘Pacific Odyssey’. If you want to know more not only about her book but also about her time spent in the Blue Continent, just read the interview.

GWENDA CORNELL

Pasifika Truthfully: Let’s start with the ending. You’d spent three years on a boat cruising the Pacific Ocean. Then you decided it was time to go back to England. Did you have a hard time getting used to leading a ‘normal life’?

Gwenda Cornell: In fact we had spent a total of six years roaming the oceans before we returned to England. Personally I had no problems getting back to shore life and enjoyed meeting up with family, old friends and luxuriating in a bath. Our children however had a much more difficult time, although they had looked forward to going to ‘proper’ school. They were regarded by other children as being a bit strange as they did not know the characters of popular TV programmes or which football team (soccer) to support. After many years my daughter Doina has written about all this in her memoir of growing up at sea called ‘Child of the Sea’. Her book also includes quite a lot about her experiences in the Pacific.

PT: Now let’s get back to the beginning. Why did you decide to set sail in the first place?

GC: My husband Jimmy had always wanted to go to sea since he was a child and he persuaded me that this was the best way to see the world. We had both always enjoyed travelling, but did not have much money, so he fitted out the boat himself and that way we could get to see a lot of extraordinary places that were not easy to reach in those days, when air travel was much more expensive than nowadays. Many of the places we visited did not even have airports.

PT: Didn’t you hesitate to take your children out of school for such a long period of time?

GC: At the time, I thought that the experiences they could have would be so much more than anything they could learn in the classroom. Also they were at a good age 5 & 7 when we left. I prepared for the voyage quite carefully, qualifying as a teacher and had the full support of the school in London that the children were attending. When we first set sail we only thought of staying away for 2 or 3 years, spending one year in the Pacific, but our life was so entrancing we ended up spending much longer. Also the children did enjoy going to school in a lot of places, six months in New Zealand, one month in the Gambier, a week in Aitutaki and one day in Pitcairn.

PT: Would you say that your adventure taught Ivan and Doina more than they’d have ever learnt while sitting in the classroom?

GC: Absolutely, there is no question of that. For a start we had no TV, so they read voraciously. We always made sure we had topical books, so they read Thor Heyerdahl on the way to Easter Island, ‘The Mutiny of the Bounty’ on the way to Pitcairn and so on. They learnt so much about other cultures by making friends with local children and also a lot about nature, from tropical islands to free diving on coral reefs.

PT: And what did you learn?

GC: I learnt a tremendous amount about geography, nature and Pacific culture, plus an abiding respect for the Pacific peoples who have so much to teach us about how to live life fully and care for the less able members of our society.

PT: You described some of your experiences in ‘Pacific Odyssey’, which is an amazing book. How did that happen?

GC: I started while still in the Pacific by writing small pieces for the magazine Pacific Islands Monthly (I believe it no longer exists). When I returned to England, someone suggested that I expand these articles and turn them into a book. Fortunately, I had kept a detailed journal about our voyage so it was not difficult.

PT: I’m sure there are stories you didn’t include in your memoir. Would you care to share one of them?

GC: I have been trying to think of some instance, but could not come up with anything. The voyage I describe took place 35 years ago, so some of the memories are unfortunately fading a little.

PT: I understand. Let me ask you about the people you met. Do you keep in touch with any of the Islanders?

GC: Again 35 years ago communications were much different. There was no e-mail, Internet, Facebook, etc. We even made the first phone calls out of some places. Pacific Islanders were not very good at writing letters, especially where there was no post office on their island. But when we did meet up with some of them again, such as at the Pacific Festival of Arts, friendships were easily renewed. In the epilogue I wrote to the book after 30 years I do describe some of the people we encountered again.

However we have kept in touch with many of the people from different nationalities that we met on other sailing boats and the French Bouteleux family described in the book are still among our closest friends today.

PT: Would you say the voyage changed your life?

GC: Yes, it certainly did. We became much more involved with sailing and the cruising life. It also changed my view of the world and its various peoples and cultures.

PT: What advice would you give people who’d like to follow in your footsteps and set out on a journey?

GC: Just get out there and do it while you can. Some of these places may change or even disappear as a result of climate change. Make a plan and stick to it, be prepared to live a simpler life, less dependent on all that stuff you can have these days, that way it becomes more affordable.

‘PACIFIC ODYSSEY’ BY GWENDA CORNELL

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is an adventure memoir penned by Gwenda Cornell. It recounts her family’s amazing voyage through the islands of the Blue Continent.

PACIFIC ODYSSEY

Summary

Persuaded by her sea-loving husband, Gwenda agrees to set out on a sailing adventure across the Pacific Ocean. Together with Jimmy and their two children, Ivan and Doina, she leaves England and begins the great journey of discovery.

Visiting famous tourist destinations as well as little-known corners of the South Seas, the family explores the wonders of the region. Their yacht takes them to Samoa – the land of Robert Louis Stevenson; to the monumental statues of Easter Island; to French Polynesia, where Jimmy gets a chance to star in a movie. They meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn. They discover the fascinating history of the Solomon Archipelago, attend the art festival in Papua New Guinea, and – together with the local inhabitants – celebrate the independence of Tuvalu. But most of all, they learn to seize the day, see the good in life, and enjoy each and every moment as much as one possibly can.

Review

This book can make you feel jealous. Sailing the Pacific for more than three years, touring all the lovely spots most people only dream of, getting immersed in indigenous cultures… Who wouldn’t want that? Fortunately, Gwenda Cornell’s memoir gives you the opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust cravings. It’s a wonderful ‘armchair escape’ to the tropics that lets you ‘see’ the islands of Oceania without ever having to leave your house.

Now, the book’s title is ‘Pacific Odyssey’. Quite honestly, it is less about the odyssey, more about the Pacific. By no means is this a manual for cruising enthusiasts. There is virtually no information regarding the technical aspects of sailing, so if this is something you hope to find, you may feel disappointed. Instead, the author devotes her attention to the places she and her family had the privilege to visit during their adventure. Her comprehensive, detailed descriptions of not only the islands but also certain customs and traditions are simply outstanding. Every sentence is filled with genuine passion and deep insight. Gwenda’s first-hand knowledge of the South Seas makes the travelogue an extremely interesting read as well as an invaluable guide for those who think about unleashing their inner explorer and embarking on a journey of their own.

The memoir might not be exceptional in terms of language and style, but it is certainly well written. Composed in a light-hearted manner and seasoned with gentle humour, it enraptures so much you don’t want to put it down. Just as Gwenda sailed from island to island, you want to sail from chapter to chapter. And the absolute icing on the cake is the book’s ending – extremely moving and thought-provoking; definitely worth contemplating.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is the promise of an unforgettable voyage that you wished was reality. Charming, educational, funny and poignant at the same time, this memoir is a pure delight from start to finish. Just remember that after reaching ‘The End’ you may feel a burning desire to check your back account, buy a boat, and sail away.

BEST LAUGH-OUT-LOUD BOOKS (PART 1)

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

Paul Theroux never fails to deliver a compelling story. His travelogue – which is a truly wonderful journey across the Pacific Ocean – provides fascinating insights into the islands of the Blue Continent, giving readers a chance to absorb its undeniable charm. This informative, enthralling, witty, and – most of all – genuinely funny account captures attention right from the beginning. It simply could not be written any better. Ultimate reading enjoyment is guaranteed.

‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’, ‘Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’ by J. Maarten Troost

J. Maarten Troost’s ‘South Pacific trilogy’ is everything you’d ever want from travel literature. Not only do the books let you ‘experience’ different cultures, but they also give you the opportunity to see them through the eyes of another human being. The author’s adventures keep you absolutely riveted, and his astonishing sense of humour makes each story a pleasure to read. Phenomenal work!

‘Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji’ by Will Lutwick

Finding love in a tropical paradise… How cheesy is that? Well, Will Lutwick proves that even such ‘ordinary’ story can be turned into a thrilling and highly amusing narrative. This thought-provoking memoir is a real page-turner. Finely created with a good dose of jocularity and intelligence, it not only entertains but most of all enlightens and educates.

‘Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years in Micronesia’ by Jonathan Gourlay

This is a truly wonderful, brilliantly written collection of essays. Even though some of the stories deal with quite serious subjects, Jonathan Gourlay’s wit and delightful wry humour lighten the overall tone of the book, making it almost hilariously funny. One thing you should bear in mind: this is not a title for very young readers!

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ by Bryan Carson

Bryan Carson’s travelogue is pure entertainment, nothing more and nothing less. It’s a fantastic adventure story written in a light-hearted manner that makes you smile from the very first to the very last page. If you have ever dreamt about cruising the Pacific, hopping from island to island, and meeting new people – this is a book for you.