September 29, 2011

Traveling Not Holidaying

Maia and I were comfortably seated on the bus (the short bus not the long bus which goes through e.v.e.r.y. village between here and there, plus a few) headed to Nadi (pronounced Nandi) when a couple of disoriented and bickering tourists got on (“I told you I wanted a holiday, not to travel!”). They were trying to get back into town for souvenirs and weren’t sure how much to pay, where to get off, or even which way to walk when they got there. “I’m so glad we’re travelers, not tourists,” Maia whispered to me as the driver tried to make sense of their flurry of requests.

People that we encounter often think we’re on a holiday, “Wow! A two year long holiday”. And despite our efforts to explain—we work, we home school Maia, we’re on a budget the doesn’t include most tourist stuff, and our hotel room most definitely doesn’t come with maid service, or even hot water for that matter—the notion still holds.
We must be on holiday because we’re obviously not at home.

Maia and I were talking about the difference between tourists and travelers after getting off the bus, pointing the unhappy tourists in the right direction, and heading to the market to shop. Her initial thesis was travelers belong, tourists don’t. But I worked on refining that. Okay, tourists shop for souvenirs, she theorized, while we shop for milk.

Actually we search for milk. And cheese. And butter.

And because we’re travelers and not tourists we know why we’re likely searching in vain. A tourist might just think they were looking in the wrong store, or something, when they hunt for the (apparently missing) dairy section. But after being here for a bit we know that Fiji has a serious dairy shortfall. Of the 147 million litres of milk that are required each year, Fiji’s dairy herds produce around 11 million litres and the country imports a further 63 million litres –which clearly leaves a deficit.

The Government says it is taking steps to improve pasture and fodder, and improve infrastructure with the construction of more farm dairies and milk collection centres. But the fact that the dairy industry has rigid price controls (to keep milk affordable) means that every now and again dairy shows up in the stores, and a few days later the boxed milk (there is apparently no fresh to be had), two types of cheese (you can get ‘tasty’ or ‘pizza’ varieties) and butter are sold out. Not to be seen again for weeks.

So Maia and I wandered from store to store. In lieu of milk we bought new dish towels (ours were looking terrible), some great fabric (which is availabel and very affordable), and we were rather excited to see that a new crop of NZ potatoes had arrived (and were on sale!). Maia also got herself some fireworks (Diwali is in a month).

In the last store we visited we ran back into the tourists (who were in a much better mood after a successful souvenir shop) and discovered there was milk on the shelf (10 boxes!). We gathered up six took them to the checkout—where we discovered we could only buy two boxes (four if I sent Maia through the checkout on her own.) So we bought what we could and wished the tourists goodbye.
“Enjoy the rest of your holiday!” they told us.

September 27, 2011

Eat It or Australia Will Take It

We’re starting our second week at anchor in Denarua, Fiji. For such a long period of time out of a relatively short country visit you might assume Denarau is cool (hmmm, only if the Hard Rock CafĂ© and shopping is your thing…) or we have friends here (well we did—WGD arrived, then flew out this AM to spend the Jewish New Year in NZ and Connect 4 was here but headed off in search of a fire walker). Which leaves projects. Although Nadi (pronounced Nandi) is a very cool city.

Our gorgeous new Island Planet sail is on (but not yet tested) the fancy new spectra rigging is installed (and awesome) and our new dagger board (one broke back in Tahiti and was cheaper to repair in Fiji that Oz) is nearly finished. And we’ve also been using the time (and decent internet) to catch up on the news (eek!) earn money and get ready to go to Australia.

Along with most of the boats we know, we're joining the Bundaberg Port2Port rally. For $200 we get:
Met on arrival by BCYC ambassador
2 Tickets to Welcome/End of Passage Dinners.
2 P2P Tee shirts
And a BCYC/P2P Burgee
Actually despite the fact Bundaberg is supposed to be lovely the real draw is the fact they refund our arrival fees ($330) and provide weather routing for the passage. They also provide really detailed information about what we need to do to the boat before clearing into Australia.

Preparing for the Pacific is a balancing act when it comes to provisioning. You want to buy enough in advance so that you are not caught out having to buy an $8 package of spaghetti or $16 box of Cheerios. But you don’t want to overbuy—otherwise when you get to Australia you’ll be saying goodbye to your hard won provisions.

So far it looks like we did it just about right. But we are having to make a point of eating a few things and we did run out of others.

What we over bought:
Canned meat. I used Behan’s (Totem) spreadsheet from last year then cut way down. I think we had a dozen beef, a dozen chicken, a dozen chilorio and two dozen tuna. We still have about 1/3 of each. We just didn’t eat it. It wasn’t that there was a ton of fresh stuff to be had it’s just that our family easily reverts to vegetarian meals. And because we were traveling with vegetarians (and a family that keeps kosher) it didn’t go into potluck meals either. We did find the beef and chicken worked well in soups and stews though. We also overbought pate in French Poly—it wasn’t as fun to eat when we left behind the land of baguettes. We need to eat it now though—Australia will take it.

Canned Veggies. I still don’t know where I went wrong here. We typically go through tons of diced and pureed tomatoes but I think the cases I bought are procreating in the bilge—because the size of the pile never changes. The other stuff I bought—corn, mixed veggies and mushrooms were used in moments of desperation and are just about gone. These are supposedly okay to bring in though.

Brownie mixes. Yup, seriously. Who knew that eight would be too many? We still have four. And because they have dried eggs in the mix we need to eat them.

Iced Tea mix. We drank water and got used to it. And it doesn’t mix with alcohol. Loads left and not even the Aussies want it.

Refried beans. Once we left Mexico they left our plate. Not sure why. For 14 months they were a food group—then poof. Apparently they need to go, but then again maybe not.

The funny thing is there is some stuff that we should have stocked up on in French Poly:

All dairy. (This does need to go before we hit Oz—unless it’s from NZ like the milk and butter). UHT milk is really hard to get in Fiji (we haven’t had any fresh milk since one time in Tahiti) and cheese and butter are expensive. We should have bought more NZ tinned butter, UHT milk and hard cheese.

Pasta. The jury is out on whether we’d lose this or not (it will be inspected). But we hardly have any left. So it doesn’t matter.

Breakfast cereal. We don’t eat a ton but at $16 fj a box we’re currently not eating any.

AQIS may also confiscate all fresh, frozen and dried fruit, vegies and meat. Fish is okay—except some tinned tuna from some places. They could also take our rice, popcorn, garlic, dried beans, eggs, flour, honey, tea, coffee, herbs and other stuff. Basically I think we’ll just eat it all.

We’ll also be preparing by dousing the boat with insecticides. The advice is to put all woven, wooden, shell and paper goods in large plastic bags, spray in a generous amount of aerosol insecticide and seal the bags until after your arrival.  This kills any insects that the items may carry. Quarantine won’t confiscate them if they are bug free.

September 22, 2011

The Last of the Circumnavigators?

Pirate activity 2011
There is one conversation that has been coming up again and again lately with cruising sailors—pirates. And how the heck are we going to get home...

If you’ve missed the news, piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden (GoA) has increased dramatically this year (attacks are up some 90% from 2010 to 2011). As the pirates have hijacked larger vessels they have been able to range further a field with these mother ships. And they now operate in a region consisting of 2.6 million square miles of sea—an area that includes much of the Northern Indian Ocean.

It used to be cruising yachts joined convoys to get through the GoA—thinking there was safety in numbers. But sailors who used to run these convoys say that as commercial vessels have added sophisticated security systems, including armed guards, their capture rate has decreased dramatically—making slow moving, undefended yachts a more attractive option (the current estimated capture rate of yachts is 1 in 20). And with large mother ships near by—the possibility of attacking several boats in a convoy at once is now a real risk.
the expanding range of pirates
 For the past couple of years the safer alternative has been rounding the Cape of Good Hope. But considering the increasing range of pirate mother ships which have attacked vessels as far south as Mauritius and Madagascar, the only remaining safe route is far offshore, avoiding the Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar—islands that break up the long journey and let small boats choose safe weather windows. The problem is this offshore route is notoriously stormy—not to mention a huge detour of several thousand miles when you’re trying for the Med.

So the options are narrowing for those who are circumnavigating (or simply trying to get home to Europe as many French families are). We can ship our boats for USD 30,000+, or remain in the South Pacific or SE Asia indefinitely in the hopes the situation will eventually resolve.

But for now it seems the pirates have won—and 115 years after Joshua Slocum first set off on a solo-circumnavigation (inspiring so many of us) it seems that the era of sailing around the world, just for the heck of it, is coming to a close.

September 20, 2011

Fiji without Baggage

Last week when we were cleaning our boat up in anticipation of our next set of guests (Jen, Peder, Anja and Cara) I felt pretty good about making enough sleeping space for four extra people—but when it came to their luggage I was a bit worried. “I guess we could stack it on Maia’s desk or your work bench,” I told Evan “But you’ld really have to clean your workbench off…”

When they arrived, I was impressed: four people, three backpacks. For a month in Fiji and Australia. And one of the bags had to be for us—they were bringing spectra rigging, a hard drive, power tools and Maia’s b-day gifts…

Then Jen explained the airline had lost their luggage. All of it. Jen was stressed—especially about our stuff. I, interestingly enough, was not. I wasn’t even concerned. As I double-checked my frame of mind (there was dark chocolate in that luggage) I realized that barring the odd day of excessive over-reaction (like, umm, last week when the boat was really messy and there was no place for luggage) I’m taking a lot of stuff in stride these days. Even stuff like the airline losing our very difficult to replace rigging, which we absolutely need before heading to Vanuatu.

Having guests without luggage meant we needed to change plans. Something we’re getting really good at and that I’ve learned isn’t worth fussing over (well, mostly learned). So rather than pulling out of Lautoka shortly after they arrived—we took them in to shop. Taking a jetlagged family of four shopping in a congested (and very foreign seeming) city is not as easy as you might think. Stores don’t have the combination of things you might expect in them—and we needed to go to several, just to find the basics.
kava while sailing
 Eventually we sort of had them outfitted and we were underway back to Musket Cove. Once we were out on the water Fiji began to work her magic. The islands came into view, the water turned turquoise and the reef showed up in the distance. Maia did an oral report for school for all of us—teaching our friends about Fijian customs and running a kava ceremony. Then we all went for a snorkel. As the stars rose and brightened, and the kids went limp from exhaustion, we called it a night.
Maia's b-day party--complete with cake and kids
 The next few days were a whirlwind of beach walks, pool time, play dates and Maia’s long awaited birthday party, the one that she simply trusted would someday occur--complete with games, cake and a bunch of kids (although the presents from home were with the lost luggage).

As the kids played hide and seek (adapting the game to fit the terrain—the best hiding place was up a palm tree…) I thought about all the lessons I’ve learned while cruising: Adapting to new food and new cultures; making do with what we have; letting go of expectations; figuring out how to fix just about anything; learning to count on family, friends and the occasional stranger for help and support. And I understood that in many ways travelling without baggage really is the ideal.

Most people we know seem to see the Pacific crossing as a great opportunity to engage in some sort of self-improvement and personal growth. Personally, I had a bit of a list: I wanted to confront my fears, learn to live in the moment, fully engage with my family, lose weight, get fit… You know—little stuff. The lessons I got though were different ones and every time I thought I had it figured out, it all slipped away—defying my expectations. Reminding me that being in complete control of your life is pretty much an illusion.

The luggage showed up—and with it everything we need to make the last leg of our trip (our new sail also arrived—more on that soon). And our dear friends—who we realized were not only our first guests on Ceilydh (helping us deliver her home after we bought her in 2004) but that Anja and Cara were Maia’s first sleepover guests when we first moved aboard)—flew on to the next leg of their adventure.

We’re now working hard to prepare the boat for the next six weeks of travel and I’m trying to prepare myself—to make sure I enjoy all of it without expectation and stress. Hopefully I’ll leave my baggage in Fiji.

September 15, 2011

Musket Cove Regatta Week

We were slow getting underway this am. I was still camped out in my jammies drinking coffee when I saw Andrew from Hawkeye motoring toward us to pick up some pictures we promised. He surprised us with a bottle of wine for the shots of his boat in the Round Malolo race. The wine was a nice touch—especially because Ev accidentally smashed our portion of the prize from the race: a bottle of rum. (The prize for placing as the second cat was $100 fuel voucher, rum and a case of water).
Regatta Week is over. And for an event we hadn’t known about prior to meeting Mamalu—we can’t rave about it enough. It’s a must with the Auzzie/Kiwi crowd but somehow news of the event really hasn’t reached the rest of the cruising community. Which is odd because:
a) It’s free.
b) There are a lot of very generous prizes to be had.
c) They feed and fill us with booze on a couple of occasions.
d) There are some great races and a good variety of beach activities.
We missed the first few days of the week-long event but were quickly pulled into activities as soon as we arrived. Our first afternoon was the beach sports day. We spent the afternoon running three-legged races, tossing coconuts and playing volleyball (we were adopted by the Fiji team because we split up by nationality and there were no other Canadians). That night it was a fancy dress party with an R&R theme—so everyone came as something that started with “R”. Evan was road kill, Maia was a rainbow, and, in deference to our friends on Connect 4 who have been onsite for two different reef groundings, I was a reef with a sailboat on my shoulder. Maia’s costume got her a prize—a choice between a frothy resort drink and a pizza voucher.
The next day we raced and I fell in deep lust, and am still heartbroken so won’t talk about it.

Yesterday was the final day. There were hobie cat races and a dinghy decorating contest. We decorated the dinghy with a palm-frond Christmas tree and fake fire-place with stockings. After doing a terrible job of singing Christmas Carols for the judge we were awarded second place and received a very generous prize of a $40 voucher for the resort store, a pizza voucher and a bottle of wine.
Then it was on to the pig roast—which honestly had been the selling factor that got me to the regatta. I really wanted to go to a South Pacific pig roast… And while the pig was great, the entire night was a blast.

After a cocktail party and the beating of the retreat by Fiji’s ‘royal’ police force (apparently the country is still in denial over being kicked out of the Commonwealth—the Queen is still on all the money and it seems the hope is that coup thing will eventually be forgotten and they’ll get reinstated) we were seated banquet style.

Initially we were disappointed that this meant we wouldn’t get to sit with Connect 4 and that we’d be forced to (horrors) mingle. But our table turned out to be excellent fun. Andrew was there and we realized that it was his boat that I had a great series of shots of. There were also a couple of nice young crew girls at our table and Ev was rather pleased with himself when two of them claimed him as their dance partner for a good part of the night.
It almost made up for the fact that our late start at regatta week meant we had missed the wet t-shirt contest…

September 14, 2011

Lustful Impure Thoughts

I’m not sure if it’s possible to cheat on a boat. But if it is, I have: in thought and deed.
I’m in love.
I covet my neighbour’s boat.

To be clear—it wasn’t my idea to sail outside my own hulls. We hadn’t been anchored at Musket Cove for more than an hour when a total stranger dinghied up to our boat and asked if we planned to race in the round Malolo Island race. Bruce (it turns out 50% of Kiwi sailors are called Bruce btw…) said he was looking for crew and if we were interested in mixing things up a bit…

We have a jury-rigged shroud and our old main is about to dissolve (new rig and sail arrive this weekend!!) so we said we probably wouldn’t sail and which boat was his? He pointed at a very hot looking cat anchored near us. “The F41?” Evan asked in a rather squeaky voice, “Yes, we’ll crew.”

I’ve had the occasional boat crush—but typically I lust over something specific—a hull layout, a really roomy stateroom, doors… But when we climbed aboard the F41 this morning I realized why Evan squeaked: This is the boat of my fantasies. Darkly sultry dreams I never even knew I had. I have never been aboard a boat that is more perfectly what I want—it’s everything I love about our boat combined with a whole bunch of details I’ve yearned for. And this was even before we raised the sails.
 After we raised the sails it was hopeless—I’m not sure if it was the first time I rotated the mast, or when the boat started to thrum as we hit the sweet spot, or when we started chewing up the fleet and spitting them out. But as we passed big, lusty, fast boats and just effortlessly kept accelerating through gusty winds and good-sized seas I decided I had to have one—an F41 of my own.
the kind of view that leaves me weak-kneed and breathless
 So as Evan and Maia head to the awards ceremony with Bruce and Diana to claim our prizes I’m trying to sort out how to get this boat. If we sell everything we have and work maybe ten, fifteen years it should be doable…

Oh my cheating heart.

September 13, 2011

From Silence to City

 When I last blogged (it seems like so long ago!) we were still at anchor in a peaceful cove. A few local fishermen had yet to stop by and visit and offer us some of their day’s catch—because to them we were part of the village: a village we had no idea was there and couldn’t see. But no matter—we offered them baseball hats and school supplies for the village kids and chatted about weather and fishing and enjoyed their company.

And sailed on: Which is our theme here as we seem to rush through the ports.

A month isn’t going to be long enough for Fiji. Especially with projects to complete and plans for Australia needing sorting. If I did this again I’d go from Tonga to NZ and then return to spend an entire second season in Fiji and Vanuatu. Especially now with so many formally Med-bound boats beginning to back up in SE Asia--there really is no reason to get there quickly.
From Vatia Lailai we sailed on to Lautoka, an industrial sugar mill town where I realized we were just about the only white faces. It was my noticing, more than the fact itself that surprised me—when we were walking down the street we saw a couple of shiny-pink tourists. They stood out so completely against the backdrop of Fijians that I realized we must be equally obvious looking.
I tend to forget.
 Lautoka is affordable—and with Maia seeming to double in size on a near monthly basis it looked like a good place to outfit her in clothes that fit again. She and I set off with a shopping list (being a good cat sailor I had her pull out everything she had grown out of to donate—then we could replace those items only—rather than her doing what I do and just accumulate more clothes…) and a budget.

Lautoka has both a local clothing industry—with nice locally made things for a good prices, as well as several shops where last years’ (or the year before) brand name clothes are sold off at a bargain. We rarely paid more than $10 f ($6) for an item of clothing and most were in the $5 range. By the time we had finished shopping Maia was fully outfitted in up to date tween fashions and I had a pretty new dress.

The other shopper’s paradise in Latoka is the market. It’s good we started with the smaller versions in previous ports—because this large cavernous building could overwhelm otherwise. We stocked up on the normal fruits and veggies, but having ditched Evan for our girl’s shopping day, we also decided to pop into the handicraft market (claiming it was research for our upcoming visit from the NessetsJ) I’m a little addicted to tapas and the Fijian ones are gorgeous and affordable. So we stocked up.

Lautoka isn’t beautiful. It’s noisy and busy and the fact it had streetlights! multi-story buildings! so may shops! made us realize that other than Papette it’s been  five months since we were last in a city, or even a biggish town. But Lautoka is incredibly friendly and as the kind of person who tends to gravitate toward non-tourist centres (I’m also not that keen on ex-pat towns—they always strike me as a cross between summer camp and a dysfunctional family reunion…) it is the kind of city I love: easy to navigate, everything we need and lots of cheerful energy.

Our stay was brief though—we wanted to get to Musket Cove for the regatta and to reunite Maia with her friends (and us with our friends) on Mamalu and Connect 4.
So we sailed on.

September 9, 2011

Tranquil with a Chance of Waterspouts

We may as well have been glued to the bottom. Between sunrise (when the hills glow pink and gold) and sunset (was that a green flash? Our second in Fiji.) we spent the days aboard, enjoying the most peaceful anchorage we've been in, in the whole of the South Pacific.
There was this nagging feeling that there is more to Fiji than an anchorage of our own, with a stretch of sandy beach and nice diving a short dinghy ride away. But between books that needed reading, naps that needed indulging in and chores that had been put off too long-the need to leave just didn't seem that pressing.
And then there was the weather-not bad exactly, but changeable: shifting from clear blue sky, to a gusting torrential downpour within the span of a chapter, or a nap. And because the trip to Lautoka (our next port of clearance) is carried out inside a reef, which is strewn with all manner of hazards, it helps to have sunny weather.
Yesterday though after a swim to clean the prop (hey, we don't need clothes, we're the only ones here…) it was time to leave Nananu-I-Thake. The sky was clear, the sun was high enough to see the reefs and the wind was calm. We had news that friends were just a few anchorages away and a goal to get to the other side of the island in time to meet more visitors (who are not only bringing our new spectra shrouds [our rigger figures the high-tech solution is the way to go] they're also bringing a new hard drive-because our main one just died. Sigh.)
I love traveling inside a reef-when I can see where we are going.
can you see the reef? no? me either...
 But as the day progressed thunderheads started to build. The wind picked up and the vaguely charted reefs disappeared from view. "Maybe," I suggested, "if I steer toward where the outer reef is supposed to be we'll pick it back up and be able to avoid all those rocks and things." So I steered at the reef; squinting into the water; watching the depth sounder and trying to pick-up the most subtle changes in colour.
When I found the line of brown reef I began to concentrate on the clouds--watching with interest as they changed shape and formed downward aiming points. It wasn't until one of those points dropped all the way down to the water that I caught on, and I called Evan and Maia to see the waterspouts.
Maia did some research and discovered that contrary to popular belief waterspouts cannot be destroyed by shooting canon balls into them. They also don't tend to harm boats--especially when they are small and you're already upwind of them. So rather than causing worry-we got a science lesson.
Just before another squall hit we pulled into another peaceful, empty anchorage at Vatia Lailai. When the squall passed the sky was scrubbed blue, then gold and pink. Rather than a green flash we got a rainbow radiating upward from where the sun had set.
We had planned to continue on today-but there is a reef for diving on just outside our anchorage, and a long sandy beach to explore. And we caught enough water that we can catch up on laundry. And it's peaceful here. So peaceful.
*pictures will be added when we have a more functional hard drive and faster internet
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September 4, 2011

Four Colours of Vegetables!

I haven't begrudged a single $4 carrot on this trip.
Well, the $14 lettuce that I bought in Makemo (but hey, it was a three pack of romaine hearts) did cause a moment of marital strife. But for the most part we knew what we were getting into, and when we left Mexico our lockers were filled to bursting with all manner of tinned, dried and heavily processed food-like stuff.

That $4 carrot (and in its defense it was sort of biggish...)? Well, it wasn't really a necessity, at least not according to the lore of old-school sailors who live off of potted meats, mushy tinned peas and rum (and clearly even they stocked up before reaching the South Pacific...).

But before we left Vancouver I spent two years penning a natural living column and came to the conclusion that what we eat is sort of important. My guru, Michael Pollan (eat food, not to much, mostly vegetables), would be rendered speechless (appetiteless?) by a diet that consists of white bread, white rice, white fish, spam, taro, cassava, breadfruit, coconut, banana and the occasional sweet potato. And so we made the decision to supplement the local menu and our heavily processed stores with fresh fruits and veggies—at any cost. After all—we've dragged a growing child into the hinterlands and away from our organic farmer’s market, the least we can do is make sure she ingests something green now and again.

The cost, it turned out, was mostly palatable. What was lacking was variety.
 Actually what was lacking was having a clue what to do with the few local veggies that were available—because, you see, we had no idea what half the stuff was. And even less idea how to make them edible. And seriously, this is an important detail. Taro leaves for example (which we recently discovered are really delicious and we should have been eating from day one) can make you sick if you don't cook them enough. And who knows what that large, lumpy, reddish root(?) with spines would have tasted like if we got it wrong.

Fiji has made up for four months of high-priced (and often wilted) produce. We still don't always know what things are. But now, rather than getting the name of a new veggie in a language we only have a basic grasp of, we get the name in English and almost always we get cooking directions and a recipe or two. In a few cases I've received cooking lessons and a taste of the finished dish.
$1 Fijian worth of a yam thing...
And stuff is cheap. I spent $20 Fijian (around $12) and got 7 coconuts, a pile of eggplant, 6 bok choy, taro leaves for a lifetime, a huge yam thing, cooking bananas, green beans, tomatoes, cilantro, carrots, 8 cucumbers, a squash-like pumpkin, ginger, pineapple and a shiny, spiny thing.

And tonight—dinner included fresh veggies in four colours. Four!!

What we’ve been eating:

Dalo (also known as taro): A dry starchy rootcrop which is boiled and often served cold and sliced like bread with dinner.

Dalo leaves: The young leaves (look for ones with green stems) taste like spinach when cooked—unlike the green leafy stuff that the locals call spinach… It has to be well cooked though. Our two favourite dishes are rourou and palusami.

Tavikoa (tapioka or cassava): Also a rootcrop with a bland taste that's lot starchier than dalo. You get given huge piles of this stuff—it does grate up nicely and works well in desserts.

Miti: Thick coconut cream combined with onions, chillies, lemon juice, salt and pepper. We have a coconut grater and have learned to make our own cream. Maia can make enough cream for dinner from one coconut in about 20 minutes.

Yams: We’ve been getting yams and sweet potatoes that look like the ones from home (orange, red and white) as well as giant real yams which are very gooey to work with but really tasty.

1 litre water
15 mls baking soda
20 young taro leaves (washed stems removed and chopped up)
Coconut oil
1 chopped onion
5 cloves garlic
2 cups coconut cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Add taro leaves to boiling water with soda and cook for 10 minutes with the lid on.
Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil and fry the onion for one minute add garlic and chilies if you like.
Add the taro back in and sauté 5 minutes
Add the cream and bring to a boil (the leaves should be nearly dissolved)
Serve on rice

Stuffed Leaves:
Wash and stack 3-4 leaves for each bundle. Cook 2 diced onions in oil until tender. Add meat (the locals use corned beef or fish but we’re trying to use up our tinned beef and chicken), garlic, lemon and a cup or two of coconut cream. Put the mixture on your leaves and fold into a bundle then wrap with tinfoil. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Line the bottom of a pan with 1/3 your taro leaves. Cook up your mixture. Pour ½ the mixture over the leaves, and top with the next 1/3 and repeat. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 60 minutes.

September 3, 2011


I’ve always thought birthdays should be just a little bit magical. Not in the excessive overly consumptive way that we’ve become used to in North America—but in a simpler, more profound way. One that leaves you feeling encircled by a special type of love: the kind that lets you know there is a group of people who are really happy you came along and who really enjoy who you are.

Maia doesn’t turn ten for a couple more days—but our dear friends, Mark and Val needed to head back to California before the day itself. So we decided to declare her birthday week underway and yesterday was the day that we let Maia know how much joy she’s brought to our lives.

Mark and Val are the kind of friends that make life rich and wondrous. We met them in Turtle Bay, Mexico in January of 1996 and from a spontaneous dinner invitation, which led to a long night of imbibing, a friendship grew. We’ve seen each other through boat building and baby birthing, the loss of parents, and changes in homes and careers. We’ve also been on dozens of trips together—and seen amazing and beautiful things (and drank a bunch).

But for Maia, who’s memories don’t stretch all the way back to the miss-spent years, M + V are like the super fun auntie and uncle who always offer the coolest ideas and the best stuff to do (Val is a zoo curator—which means Maia has had more than a few really cool animal encounters) and having them here for her birthday made her incredibly happy.

I, however, am not like a super fun aunt and uncle. And although I think birthdays should be awesome, I actually didn’t plan anything for Maia’s. In fact when I checked for supplies I realized that not only did I not have enough flour to make a cake, or candles to put on it, but I discovered my icing sugar had bugs in it and we are miles, and miles, from anywhere. I also realized we didn’t have any spaghetti noodles left, which is what she asked for, for her birthday dinner.

With my ‘mother of the year’ award clearly out the window I decided the best way to redeem the day would be to find a nice dive site where our little novice diver could swim with some fishes. So Mark and I headed off in the dinghy looking for a site with a) cool stuff and b) that was close enough that five people and gear could get there without being swamped by a stiff breeze and chop.

As we explored a reef we noticed a cave in the cliff-face and after exploring the cave we hatched a plan. With the dinghy loaded with us and our gear we headed out. While underway Maia was shocked and enthralled to see a bottle bob by. Insisting we fish it out she discovered the bottle contained a message: a ragged chart and a cryptic note about a hidden treasure. She followed the chart--navigating us through dangerous shoals, and over ancient fish traps, past three coves to a cave in the cliff face. Scrambling from the dinghy she headed into the cave where she found a treasure—her birthday gifts.

Then she dove to 30 feet, then went skurfing on her surf board, and hung out and giggled the day away.

Her dinner—pasta (not spaghetti but close enough) followed by cake (well, brownies from a mix but decorated with a diver in bug-free icing--a sifter is a beautiful thing--and two candles)—was lovely. And the movie that followed (of course I couldn’t find the one she requested—but an old James Bond was fine…) rounded out her day.

My little girl is loved—deeply loved—for who she is. And as she celebrates turning ten, I’m quietly celebrating another event: the moment I became a mother.
 I might not always do it right—but somehow it’s still magical.