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Articles Blog

Filtering by Category: The Oceans

St Helena, BOT

Karyn Planett


Napoleon’s Final Isle

“‘How far is St. Helena from the field of Waterloo?’

 A near way, a clear way, the ship will take you soon.

 A pleasant place for gentlemen with little left to do.

Rudyard Kipling, “A St. Helena Lullaby,”                                               

It was nearly one hundred days before the residents of St. Helena learned of Emperor Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in June of 1815. Within days of this defeat, Napoleon I abdicated his throne. He evidently believed the British would provide him with some sort of comfortable lodging just beyond the outskirts of London. Instead, he was banished as a prisoner-of-war to the remotest of isles, St. Helena. 

Citizens Prepare for Napoleon’s Arrival 

British authorities advised the 3,500 souls living on St. Helena that they were, from that point on, under the rule of the crown rather than that of the East India Trading Company and that Napoleon would soon arrive on their island. They were now subject to strict regulations enacted to protect their soon-to-be prisoner/neighbor from escape or capture. All efforts to prevent Napoleon from slipping from the long arm of the British law were to be put in place.           

All vessels required formal permission to land, and even the comings and goings of the local fleet of fishermen were restricted to certain hours of the day. A strict curfew was enacted with stiff fines for violators.           

The island’s population virtually doubled overnight with the addition of some 2,000 soldiers plus a naval contingent of 500 sailors, stationed aboard ships guarding Jamestown’s harbor. Ancillary government officials and their families also arrived.           

And in the midst of this collection of humanity was to be the island’s celebrated prisoner, the 46-year-old Napoleon. 

Napoleon Arrives 

October 14, 1815. Napoleon’s ship, escorted by five others filled with soldiers, arrived off St. Helena. He was horrified at the bleakness of the island and the crowds lining the shore, awaiting his arrival. Napoleon’s displeasure was noted in his words, “It is not a pretty place to live. I would have done better to stay in Egypt.”           

Nonetheless, St. Helena was to be his home. And his residence would be Longwood House. Napoleon elected to come ashore in the veil of night, avoiding the scrutiny and curiosity of the crowds, and so he did on October 17th. Even then, some 3,500 gathered to witness the moment he set foot on the island. 

Napoleon’s Life On St. Helena (1815-1821) 

Napoleon, his servants, and his black stallion named “Hope” all made their way to what would become his new home, Longwood House. However, while the home was being refurbished, Napoleon stayed briefly with the Balcombe family in their home, The Briars. He befriended their young daughter, Betsy Balcombe, who later wrote of this extraordinary friendship.             

Trappings from Napoleon’s regal past eventually decorated Longwood House. Dedicated servants performed their chores there as though they were still living in a palace, instead of Longwood. They were among the fifty or more who resided at Longwood House.           

Napoleon’s days were spent riding his horse, dictating his memoirs, learning English (his jailer’s language), overseeing garden projects, and playing chess with pawns resembling the emperor.           

Some 2,000 soldiers established their base camp at Deadwood from where they could observe the prisoner’s every move. He so despised being under such close watch by the soldiers that he ordered carpenters to drill holes in the window shutters so he could observe the soldiers without being seen. Napoleon was pleased to learn that, during his confinement, several of these soldiers were killed when gusts of wind tossed them from their look-out posts.           

Napoleon also walked the grounds, an area confined by four miles of high walls. He even entertained those aristocrats who joined him in exile. He also hoped he would be rescued, however this was not to be. Worse yet, the new commander, Sir Hudson Lowe, created greater misery by restricting access to Napoleon, stepping up his monitoring, and building stronger and bigger fences around the prisoner.           

Napoleon’s days grew bleaker. Several friends and servants returned to France. They were gone forever. Others simply stopped visiting. Napoleon began to decline physically. 

Death Comes to Napoleon 

Was Napoleon poisoned, perhaps by his English physician? Maybe his body just succumbed to cancer. Experts are divided on this issue. But die he did, in Longwood House on May 5th, 1821. His captors then prepared for his burial and for their return to England.           

An autopsy was performed. A plaster mold of Napoleon’s face was made. Strands of his hair were taken to be woven into bracelets. He was dressed in his military uniform and laid out for viewing at Longwood House.           

Then his body was encased in four separate coffins, one inside the other. His funeral procession, literally involving everyone on the island, ultimately reached the Vale of Geranium (also known as the Valley of the Tomb). This final resting place was chosen by Napoleon for it was here that he had gotten his fresh drinking water.           

His body was lowered into the grave. Cannon shots rang out. Soldiers broke off small tree branches as mementos of the occasion. Then everyone departed except the sentries assigned to guard the quiet grave.           

Napoleon’s entourage returned to France, without him. Then, nineteen years after his death, his body was exhumed on October 15, 1840, and he too made his final voyage to France after 25 years on St. Helena. Napoleon I’s body now rests in Paris, in the Hôtel des Invalides.                                                                                                             

Tahiti, French Polynesia

Karyn Planett

Society Queen

The Society Islands. Doesn’t the name conjure up marvelous images of ladies in flouncy hats and elbow-length gloves, men in dinner suits with cigarette holders, limousines and licentiousness? Sorry. The name was another brainstorm of Captain James Cook, the man responsible for countless place names throughout the Pacific. Quite understandable, of course, since he was primarily responsible for charting a lot of these places. Some are tantalizingly evocative—Doubtful Sound, Dusky Fjord, Kidnapper’s Bay. For others, a bit more imagination might have been applied. The Society Islands were so named because, in Cook’s own words, “they lay contiguous to one another.” Now, there’s an inspiration!

Paradise Found 

Cook was also responsible for the name of one of Tahiti’s high points—One Tree Hill. Apparently it didn’t occur to him that one day that single tree would give up the ghost and it would become “no tree hill”. Then again, it hasn’t occurred to anyone in Tahiti to plant another tree up there either. 

Some claim that Cook really intended the Society Islands to honor the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, sponsor of the first British scientific survey of the islands and for whom one of his primary missions was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun. This he checked off his list at, you guessed it, Point Venus on the island of Tahiti. The Royal Society’s Latin motto is “Nullius in Verba” meaning “on the words of no one”, which explains why they would send people like Cook halfway around the world on multi-year voyages to witness things first hand rather than rely on the word of others. The Royal Society still sponsors scientific research though by now they must be running out of things to observe first hand. 

Paradise Lost… Almost 

Papeete is the administrative capital of French Polynesia, which encompasses the Austral Islands, the Marquesas, and the Society Islands. Following the first period of European exploration, the islands suffered through the inevitable period of missionary zeal with its attendant abuses and diseases, until finally becoming a French protectorate in 1889. In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship and while the islands are still administered by the French State, Gendarmerie, and French Military, they send two deputies to the French National Assembly, one senator to the French Senate, and they vote in French presidential elections. In 2007, the pro-independence president of French Polynesia, Oscar Temaru, urged the electorate to support the socialist candidate Segolene Royal but Nicholas Sarkozy won the island’s popular vote by a narrow margin. 

Since then, except for brief periods of French nuclear testing, Tahiti and the other islands have enjoyed being the world’s best-known vacation paradise. And, with good reason. Towering volcanic peaks, bougainvillea and frangipani-strewn vegetation, exotic fauna, perfect beaches, caressing breezes, unrivaled underwater domains and, best of all, nothing that wants to kill you. The best PR for this paradise has come from an impressive list of international artists—Melville, Stevenson, Jack London, Somerset Maugham and James Norman Hall of Mutiny on the Bounty fame—who all wrote reams of delicious prose featuring pagan rituals, beautiful women and uninhibited partying. Pretty much what’s in today’s travel brochures. Their words were voluptuously illustrated when Paul Gauguin sent his blazing images around the world. 

Paradise Today 

The colorful morning market and waterfront promenade in Papeete are a tempting starting point for an exploration of Tahiti’s abundant charms. From there, the 117-km road around the island winds past monuments and museums, temples and maraes, waterfalls, cliffs, gardens, beaches and more scenic photo ops than your camera has digits. Points of interest include the previously mentioned One Tree Hill and Point Venus as well as the Arahoho Blowhole, Tarava’o Point, Vaipahi Gardens, and the Arahurahu Marae. Wander through the flower bedecked village of Papeari and visit the Gauguin Museum. 

But never forget that the best of Tahiti involves water. Whether it’s cascading down a cliff, roaring through a rocky gorge, or pounding onto a secluded beach, the water is here to be enjoyed. Hikers and rafters find fresh water diversions, constantly replenished by tropical showers. Sailors enjoy protected anchorages scattered throughout the islands. Surfers hunt for the best breaks along the many reef lines. Divers thrill to underwater coral gardens, vast tropical marine life, otherworldly volcanic formations and all without the need for a wetsuit in Polynesia’s warm waters. Whether on it, in it or under it, plan to be wet several times during your visit to these magical islands. 

St. Helena, BOT

Karyn Planett


Flourishing, Then Plundered

“‘How far is St. Helena from the Beresina ice?’

An ill way, a chill way, the ice begins to crack.

But not so far for gentlemen who never took advice.”

Rudyard Kipling, “A St. Helena Lullaby,”                                          

Freshened by the southeast Trade Winds, this small speck of land was home to palms and ferns, ebonies and redwood. Home, too, to seals and turtles, sea cows and such. Then, through the dedicated effort and back-breaking labor of one lonely man, Fernando Lopez, the island of St. Helena blossomed into a bountiful oasis in the middle of the Atlantic. 

The Word Spreads 

The legend of Fernando Lopez was well known among sailors during the late 1500s and early 1600s. Tales of a disfigured man who had harvested crops and tended flocks on St. Helena created great curiosity among those who sailed the Atlantic. They were eager to see this oasis for themselves. And sea captains, in search of a spot to take ill crew members ashore for recuperation, called on the island of St. Helena. There, the sick could eat well, regain their vitality, and join the crew of the next vessel to pass by.           

A few rather permanent dwellings were eventually constructed on the island. The faithful even built a small chapel close to the waterfront. But there was never more than a handful of people on the island to worship in this tiny church, for no one actually called St. Helena home after Lopez died in 1546. 

Flocks and Fields 

Conditions were ideal for the fruit trees planted by Lopez and those who followed behind him. Pomegranate trees were plentiful, as were date palms and a variety of citrus trees. These fruits, along with a large assortment of herbs, provided the necessary medicines for crews suffering from scurvy and other maladies.           

The herds of goats and cattle multiplied, as did all the other animals on the island. Eventually, their numbers were so large that they began to devastate the vegetation on the island. And unwanted insects and vermin arrived from passing ships. Rats ravaged the landscape. Goats ripped at the bark of saplings. The domesticated pigs that had escaped into the wild were rooting up just about everything. And giant African spiders tucked up inside banana stalks. Trouble was truly brewing in paradise. 

Flocks and Fields No More 

Captain Thomas Cavendish, sailing under the British flag, came ashore on St. Helena for nearly a fortnight. While there, he successfully charted the island’s position, ultimately revealing it to virtually any sailor with a compass. Again and again the island was decimated by crews who literally uprooted trees, destroyed plants and slaughtered animals in an effort to prohibit future visitors from enjoying the spoils of the land.           

By the time the 17th Century rolled around, this Garden of Eden was in grave peril. All living things near the harbor had been destroyed. Thankfully, one stand of lemon trees further inland (today called Lemon Valley) had initially been spared and was said to still be able to yield as many as 14,000 lemons at a given time. Remember, lemons were essential for the treatment of scurvy which plagued sailors in those days.           

By 1634, fewer than 50 lemon trees were left growing on the entire island of St. Helena. 

A New Era 

The ubiquitous East India Trading Company viewed the island of St. Helena as a base for shipping operations and trade. In the 1670s, they shipped in brave British settlers and slaves from the island of Madagascar. All tolled, the entire population of St. Helena numbered fewer than 100 people.           

These settlers were impoverished people in search of some type of opportunity. And for that reason, they had agreed to live on this windswept speck of land in the center of the sea and attempt to carve out some prosperity. The East India Trading Company ruled them and the island with a heavy hand, taxing residents on their every move. More slaves arrived. Many crops failed because erosion had stripped away the topsoil. Animals grew thinner and thinner.           

St. Helena’s port of Jamestown was little more than shacks and brothels. Then word arrived that, following his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon would be exiled to St. Helena. And a new chapter began.                                                                                                              

St. Helena, BOT

Karyn Planett


Early History

            “‘How far is St. Helena from the Capes of Trafalgar?’

            A longish way, a longish way, with ten year more to run.

            It’s South across the water underneath a falling star.”                       

            Rudyard Kipling, “A St. Helena Lullaby,”                                                                                                                

The island of St. Helena is, in a word, remote. Some say that this island is further away from anything else than anywhere else in the entire world. So remote is St. Helena that most world travelers have never set foot here. Or, even spotted it in the distance from a passing ship. It is only the most dedicated globetrotter who will somehow manage to wander ashore on St. Helena, for it is found indisputably on the road less traveled.

Brazil lies 1,800 miles to the west of St. Helena. Alexandria, Angola 1,200 miles to the east. Even the nearest landfall, Ascension Island, is found a distant 700 miles away. And St. Helena is not much of a landfall itself, for it measures a mere ten miles by six miles. However, for a speck of land in the middle of absolute nowhere, it has experienced a very, very interesting history.

Portuguese Navigators

The Portuguese Admiral João da Nova Castella was returning to his homeland from India with three small vessels under his command when he spotted land on the distant horizon. It was on the 21st of May, 1502, the anniversary of the birth of Emperor Constantine the Great’s mother. Da Nova named this jagged little island in the vast Atlantic “St. Helena” in honor of this great birthday, and sent a scouting party ashore.          

As was customary in those days, the crew released several goats to live on the island and multiply. They and their offspring would provide meat for passing sailors who needed provisions in the future. In fact, these animals flourished prolifically for there were no natural predators on the island.

The Island’s First Resident

Fernando Lopez was Portuguese and of noble descent. Along with General d’Alboquerque, the commanding officer of the operation, and a company of soldiers, Lopez sailed to the Indian city of Goa in the early days of the 16th Century. Their mission was to claim this vast and rich continent for Portugal and its royal family. Once ashore, their reception from the Indian people was less than friendly. Following a short but intense skirmish with the local residents, a decision was made to leave Lopez and a few men behind in Goa to take command of the people and protect the fortress they had captured.

General d’Alboquerque returned to Portugal to recruit more soldiers and take on more munitions. During his two-year absence, not only had Lopez failed to control the Goans, he had become quite sympathetic to them. He even converted to Islam.

When D’Alboquerque eventually returned to Goa and discovered Lopez’s treason, he mandated a brtual punishment. The penalty for Lopez’s crimes was something called “scaling the fish” and was swift but severe. The prisoner’s head, brows, and beard were plucked. His ears and nose were cut off. So were his left thumb and right hand. Ashamed and remorseful, Lopez fled into the hills until his countrymen sailed away.

Following an anguished three-year period of hiding in the outskirts of Goa, Lopez returned to the port and was taken aboard a ship bound for Portugal. This vessel stopped in St. Helena for provisions and while there, Lopez, fearing shame for his family, decided to stay behind and not reboard the ship. He again ran off into the countryside and evaded those sailors who had been sent to search for him.

The ship’s crew ultimately sailed away, but left behind some dried meat and other food to sustain Lopez for a period of time. He supplemented this food with fish he caught, goats he slaughtered, berries he gathered, and eggs he retrieved from shorebirds’ and turtles’ nests.

Over the years, other sailors passing by left behind for Lopez seeds, fruit trees, and a barnyard full of animals including turkeys, cats, ducks, dogs, and bullocks. His veritable Garden of Eden flourished for St. Helena’s soil was rich, the rains were plentiful, and the conditions were perfect for crops and herds. 

Whenever sailors from a passing vessel came ashore, Lopez always hid deep in the forests. Eventually Portugal’s royalty learned of this man and his terrible plight. And, despite grave misgivings, Lopez agreed to travel to Portugal on a ship and meet the King and Queen at their official residence in Lisbon. Granting his wish, they arranged for him to meet privately in Rome with the Pope, to confess his sins. There, he pleaded with the Pope to be returned to his life of seclusion on St. Helena.  

Fernando Lopez’s wish was granted and he was returned to St. Helena where he lived out his self-imposed exile. Death came to this disfigured, disgraced man of lonely isolation in the year 1546. Yet, today, his story is kept alive by the people of St. Helena who view him as the island’s most resilient individual among a cast of some pretty impressive characters.

St-Denis, Reunion

Karyn Planett

French? Mais Oui !!!

Vous etes ici, bien sur. You are here, certainly. France. But truly the very southern south of France far from Provence, further still from Paris. You’re on the island of Reunion, once known as the Isle Bourbon, 500 miles due east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. And though tropical in every sense, you’ll still stumble across tiny bistros serving island food with a French flair, hear French spoken across the island, and even be able to spend those Euros left over from your last visit to the continent. But, the joy is in the mélange of cultures here including descendents of the Chinese, Indians, Africans, Madagascans, and others who passed by over time. So, allons-y.

A Little Background

As most travelers have yet to find their way here, it’s best to cover the basics straight away. Reunion is 970 square miles, making it the largest of the Mascarene Islands. Two volcanic systems give it not only its distinctive profile but also a range of climates offering everything from tropical humidity to something almost Mediterranean. Nearly 800,000 people live here and they are a mixed group, indeed. Each group carries a descriptive name that refers to its ethnic origin. Creole covers those of mixed parentage with the identifier blanc meaning white landowners or petits meaning poorer whites inhabiting the highlands. Others include: Z’arabes (from northern India), Tamouls (southern India), Comores (the Comores), Malagaches (Madagascar), Chinois (China), Cafres (those of African descent), and Z’oreilles who were born on the French mainland. There’s no mention of folks from Cincinnati. Anyway, acceptance is a way of life here and residents enjoy a harmonious existence.

It Wasn’t Always That Way

Along with Mauritius, Reunion was “discovered” by Admiral de Mascarenhas of Portugal on his 1507-1512 voyage. He named Reunion Santa Apolonia. In 1638, a French ship landed here and change the name to Mascarin. That also changed in 1649 when the King claimed rights to the island and it became known as Bourbon. When mariners discovered this island in the early days of the 16th century, there was nothing but a tropical paradise free from human habitation. So, the French packed off a 14 mutineering convicts to serve their three-year sentences here in a cave near St-Paul. Ultimately, the French declared control over the island and little else occurred until 1665. It was then that the French East India Company transported a band of hearty settlers, twenty in total, to make the island viable by establishing plantations. Within 50 years, tilled fields were producing crops of several spices and fine island coffee. In time, sugarcane became the preferred commodity even though field hands were needed by the score. So, boatloads arrived from nearby Madagascar and the African nation of Mozambique. All this went on undisturbed until 1848 when slavery was abolished forever. Replacing the slaves were teams of indentured workers who filled in the demographic complement you see on the island today.

What’s To See On The Island Today?

Lots. So, let’s begin at the beginning. St-Denis is where you begin. It’s not only the largest town on the island but it’s also the business hub since 1738. Among its many highlights are the Natural History Museum, which once served as the General Consul’s residence; the bustling marketplace with local handicrafts and island produce; brightly-painted Creole style homes; and a vibrant seaside esplanade. Hindu temples speak to the multi-cultural, multi-faith flavor of Reunion though the dominant religion is Roman Catholicism.

Many visitors flock to the beaches along the island’s western shore. St Gilles les Bain offers long stretches of golden sand, in contrast to the black sand beaches, and tranquil lagoons. Many resort hotels provide dining options or a swinging hammock under a leafy palm. Surfers all go to St Leu, also important for its history associated with the slave trade.

Hellbourg is renowned for its well-deserved “most beautiful French village” award and its location on the edge of the Cirque de Salazie. It was here at the Hotel des Thermes where guests came for the curative waters bubbling from neighboring thermal springs. Today, most visitors choose Cilaos to take the cure.

Piton de la Fournaise (Furnace Peak) is 2,631 meters tall, is among the world’s most active volcanoes, and has erupted 175 times since recordkeeping began in 1640. Scientists believe the volcano is 530,000 years old. Piton de Neige (Snow Peak) is 3,069 meters high and it’s been said that slaves used to have to scale the peak to retrieve ice for their masters.

Cirques are what we call calderas, really collapsed volcanoes or mountain amphitheatres. Whatever you call them, know that Reunion has three and each one provides spectacular viewing.  Cirque of Mafate stands 6,800 feet above sea level with extraordinary views and a few overnight cabins for trekkers.

The options are many, so time is precious. But do remember to enjoy a café au lait in a seaside eatery before you bid “adieu” to Reunion

Saipan, Marianas

Karyn Planett

Hafadi Adai! and welcome to what is formally known as the Commonwealth of The Northern Mariana Islands. To locals, it’s simply called the CNMI. For the record, this little bit of paradise is officially a territory of the USA. And speaking of records, the Northern Marianas are identified in the Guinness Book of Records as the “most equitable climate in the world.” So, for your weather forecast, think tropical, full sun, 85 degrees with a light island breeze.

Some Facts and Stats

Saipan is 5,976 miles west of Los Angeles and 1,460 miles south of Tokyo. The island is a bit larger than Hong Kong or quite comparable to the size of San Francisco. If you’d flown here from Hawaii rather than sailing in aboard your glorious ship, it would have taken some seven hours (possibly without caviar or champagne, mind you!).

The Mariana Islands Archipelago consists of 14 main islands stretched across a swath of sea some 500 miles tip to tip. The three main islands are Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. Scientists speculate these islands were formed 30 million years ago, give or take a birthday here and there. They all are volcanic in origin and form a vital link in the “Pacific Ring of Fire.” 

Most people know about the Mariana Trench, which stretches down some 36,201 feet below the surface of the seas making it the deepest water anywhere on Earth. In contrast, Mount Everest towers 29,035 feet above the Earth’s crust. Imagine! All this happened long before CNN would have been around to report it, but was the result of the Pacific Ocean Plate slamming into the Philippine Ocean Plate cracking and thrusting and carving everything in their path. 

But that’s all ancient history. Let’s look at something a bit more contemporary.

Magellan, Men of Adventure, and Missionaries 

Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, who commanded the Spanish ship Trinidad after the death of Ferdinand Magellan, is considered to be the first European to make contact with the islanders known as Chamorros, and that was in 1521. The island was formally occupied in 1668 by Catholic missionaries led by Padre Sanvitores. It was he who actually named the islands as a tribute to Spain’s Philip the IV’s widow, Mariana of Austria. At that time, there were some 75,000 islanders. Within 50 years the population had dwindled to fewer than 3,500. 

For the next 400 years, the Spaniards ruled the islands. People from neighboring Caroline Island arrived in 1815 and intermarried with the indigenous Chamorros. Scientists believe the Chamorros arrived by ocean-going canoe thousands of years ago perhaps from Indo-Malaysia. This was considered the “Latte Culture” (not to be confused with the morning gang at Starbucks) so named for the latte stones used as foundations for the houses of the upper class. These stones weighed several tons and were transported miles from the quarries. You’ll still see the latte stone depicted on the island’s flag. 

After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the islands were sold to Germany but were captured by Japan in 1914. Thousands of Japanese civilians settled here to fish the seas and harvest sugar cane. As war raged across the Pacific in the 1940s, Saipan became strategically crucial. On June 15, 1944, US Marines stormed Saipan’s beachhead. By July 9th, Saipan was under US control putting their forces within B-29 range of the Japanese coast. Many historians declare the Marianas Campaign to be the “most decisive battle of the Pacific Theatre.” Slightly more than one year later, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz ordered all aggressive actions against the people of Japan to cease immediately. The war was over. The healing was soon to begin.

The fallen Americans and Chamorro are honored at the American Memorial Park, which is open to visitors from the world over. 

In 1975, the islanders voted to negotiate a covenant to establish a commonwealth with the US. Within three years, this was accomplished and a governor was elected. In 1986, islanders were granted US citizenship but may not vote in the presidential election.

Visitors From Near And Far 

Some 325,000 visitors annually enjoy Saipan’s world-class resorts, 14 miles of beaches, 54 miles of coastline, sportfishing, diving, and hiking. The attractions for the latter include Susupe Lake and Mt. Tapotchau, Saipan’s highest at 1,554 feet. In Saipan’s Botanical Gardens, visitors not only enjoy such offerings as the African Tulip and the Hong Kong Orchid but look to the treetops for some of the 40 species of indigenous and introduced birds including the collared kingfisher. Divers keep their eyes out for parrotfish, clownfish, turtles, and manta rays. Those with dinner in mind, fish for mahi-mahi, marlin, tuna, and barracuda. 

The guy you don’t want to bump into is the Hilitai, also known as the mangrove monitor lizard. His body is a dark green speckled mess with white and yellow dots. Large adults can measure three feet nose to tail tip. 

If all this seems not to be your cup of tea, try instead to catch a presentation of the Carolinian stick dance, shop for shell necklaces (once a form of currency), or sample some local fare. Don’t leave the island without tasting the apigigi, a dessert favorite among the 60,000 islanders featuring coconut wrapped in a banana leaf.

Rangiroa, French Polynesia

Karyn Planett

Wine Capital of the South Pacific 

The Tuamotu Archipelago is the largest chain of atolls in the world, spanning an area roughly the size of Western Europe. And Rangiroa is the largest atoll in this chain as well as the second largest atoll in the whole world. In fact, the entire island of Tahiti could easily fit inside its 618 square mile lagoon, which is about 50 miles by 20 miles when measured at its largest points. This lagoon is so vast, it has its own horizon and gives the island its name, which means “big sky”. 

Whew! Now that we have these superlatives out of the way, let’s look at some of the details. 

These are not the towering, jagged, volcanic islands of Moorea and Bora Bora. Those will come later. These are low, barely-above-sea-level coral rings covered by a bit of sand and coconut palms clinging for dear life against strong sea breezes and relentless surf. Rangiroa atoll consists of over 250 islands, islets and sand bars, separated by breaks in the reef. Only two—Tipitua and Avatoru, named for the atoll’s only two settlements—are actually navigable.

Shooting The Pass 

Four times each day, the tide sweeps through the Tipatua Pass at over five knots. Whether in the water with scuba or snorkeling equipment or in a glass bottom boat, visitors can participate in this daily ritual along with a staggering variety of marine life. On the outgoing tide, hundreds of sharks hang motionless against the current while lunch or dinner is delivered to their waiting jaws (don’t worry, they’re over one hundred feet down—although clearly visible in the crystal water). 

The incoming tide is a thrilling ride ending in the lagoon’s huge natural aquarium. Some of the clearest seawater in the world is found here and seems to magnify the presence of ten-foot devilfish, many shark species, manta rays and sleepy green sea turtles.

Tupac And Kon Tiki

Ferdinand Magellan gets credit for being the first European to discover Rangiroa during his circumnavigation in 1521. There followed the usual progression of Dutch, Portugese and English mariners and explorers including Captain James Cook 150 years later. However, the first non-Polynesian to step ashore may well have been a prince of the Incan Empire in 1480. 

Tupac Inca Yupanqui, having conquered most of the regions around his capital in Cuzco, was smitten by tales of exotic islands populated by beautiful people and heaps of gold. He built enough sailing ships from Balsa logs to embark a 20,000-man army and set off on a ten-month cruise of the South Seas. The imperfect (mostly verbal) history of the time leads some to believe that Rangiroa, or at least the Tuamotu Archipelago, was one of the port calls from which he returned with “black people, gold, a chair of brass, and the skin and jawbone of a horse”. 

Almost 500 years later, Norwegian explorer and author Thor Heyerdahl sought to prove the technical possibility of such a voyage by building a raft of balsa logs and other materials available at Tupac’s time. His expedition successfully crossed 4300 miles of the Pacific on Kon Tiki before running upon the reef at Rairoa in the Tuamotus on August 7, 1947. 

In 2006, another Norwegian team, including Heyerdahl’s grandson, duplicated the feat in a new raft named Tangaroa. Little else of historical significance has occurred in the islands unless you count 193 French nuclear bomb tests between 1966 and 1996 (but none on Rangiroa).

The Ultimate Wine Snob’s Discovery

You can talk to friends back home about your Old World wines and your New World wines but nothing’s going to bring them to their snobby knees like the 2004 vintage from Domaine Dominique Auroy. Yes, strange as it seems, from cuttings brought to the island in 1992—3500 miles from the nearest vineyards, from vines planted in coral sand guarded from salty breezes by a barrier of trees, from grapes harvested twice a year and brought to the winery by boat, comes a full line of premium table wines.

The winery, which sits in the middle of the village of Avatoru, is the result of a collaboration between Mr. Dominique Auroy, a Tahitian entrepreneur living in the islands for 35 years, and Professor Bernard Hudelot, a viticulturalist from the University of Dijon. In what sometimes must have seemed a fool’s mission, the pair tested over thirty grape varieties to find specimens that would thrive in the particular and peculiar soil and weather conditions of the tropics. 

Not least of their discoveries was that the hot weather combined with pergola trellising techniques resulted in merely a four-month cycle from pruning to picking. Even slower maturing red varieties are harvested in May and again in November, leading to some interesting vintage choices. 

No matter what vintage may be available when we call, the bottles you bring home are sure to help the slide show of your own journey slide by a little bit faster. 

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

Karyn Planett

As the morning breaks in the tiny town of Stanley, a couple of friends might be found on Ross Road chatting about last night’s lively darts match at the Upland Goose Hotel. Others could be riding out to the “camp,” as everything outside town is known, to lend a hand with some sheep shearing. A clutch of ladies might be gathering to put up some Diddle-dee jelly.

Stanley has just one weekly newspaper, aptly titled Penguin News, and one television station. So, there isn’t much in the way of media to provide distraction. In many ways, a day in the life of a Falkland Islander is much the same as it’s been for approximately the last 150 years — filled with work, family, friends, and the desire to carve out a happy life in this remote island outpost.

The Struggle for Control

Though it’s believed that the Falkland Islands were sighted even before the 17th century, historians do know that a British lad named Strong did come ashore here in 1690. Seventy years later, the French established an enclave in a spot known as Port Louis which they quickly sold to Spain. The British themselves became entrenched in an area of the Falklands known as Saunders Island. (Remember there are approximately 700 Falkland Islands in total although most activity surrounds only two — East Falkland and West Falkland.)

Another 60 years passed before the United Provinces of the River Plate claimed control over Port Louis. This Argentine-based group remained firmly in power until Americans forces decided to flex their military muscle. They were unhappy that the Argentines were holding American citizens who had been charged with operating a sealing trade in the region.

In the year 1833, members of the English navy routed the Argentines. Falkland Islanders enjoyed a quiet, prosperous, stable and somewhat charmed life for 149 long years. Then, in 1982 Argentine forces invaded the Falklands at dawn. The out-manned islands fell within hours. A quickly-mustered British assault force steamed 8000 miles from England to defend their people who remained under Argentine control for eleven weeks. Two hundred fifty eight British military men lost their lives. So too did three Falkland Islanders. Twelve thousand Argentine troops surrendered and the matter drew to a costly close.

Maritime Heritage

The tiny town of Stanley has been the capital of the Falklands since 1845. Stanley’s harbor has always been very good for ships needing provisions and a safe anchorage. The neighboring countryside provided an almost endless supply of fuel, in the form of peat, for these vessels. And ship repairs have long been an island specialty.

But Stanley really experienced its glory days during the great California Gold Rush in the 1850s. At that time, a steady stream of ships attempted to round Cape Horn to get to their share of the riches. There was heavy sea traffic in both directions.

Sailors were also lured to this part of the world because of the great abundance of whales, seals, and penguins. Their oils were exported to light parlor room lamps throughout Europe and North America.

During this time, many of the ships sailing around the Horn were either manned by inexperienced crews or were just un-seaworthy. Scores were forced to turn back to the Falklands for emergency repairs, or worse. Many ships were simply battered beyond repair.

The Falklands became the final resting place, rather like a maritime graveyard, for a number of these old ships. Many were run aground, deliberately wrecked, or literally abandoned by their officers. To this day, several high-and-dry wrecks and hulks of colliers, packets, clipper ships, iron barques and others lay rusting and rotting within view of Stanley proper. Many date back to the mid-1800s. Among them are the Jhelem, the Charles Cooper, and Lady Elizabeth. In fact, more than 100 wrecks have been charted just in the Falklands alone.

When the Panama Canal was opened, cargo ships no longer were required to endure the arduous journey around Cape Horn. They could cut precious and costly days off their itinerary by simply crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the canal. The Falklands’ importance waned a bit. The islands did experience a revival, of sorts, as a base for vessels heading toward Antarctica. Asian and European fishing fleets, sailing in search of Fuegian herring, rock cod, hake, skate and whiting, headquartered in the Falklands.

At Day’s End

As the day ends in this remotest of places, the aroma of roast mutton fills the air. Campers, as those living out of town are called, head home across the moors in muddied off-road vehicles. A weary shepherd ties up his tired horse, which remains an effective means of transportation even today. And a young couple heads off to the pub for another friendly game of darts. After all, today is like so many others in the life of a Falklander.

Nuka 'alofa, Tonga

Karyn Planett

It’s been said that Tonga is the land where the new day dawns, where time begins. And, in fact, that’s so. You see, long ago cartographers curiously drew the International Dateline to zigzag 500 miles east of Tonga, therefore east of the 180th meridian. This mapmaker’s whimsical detour afforded Tonga the honor, thusly, of being the first land in the entire world to “see the new day.” * Stranger still is the fact that Toga and Samoa share exactly the same time but are technically one day apart because they’re on opposite sides of the Dateline. Go figure.

Nonetheless, Tongans greet each new day at an ever-so-leisurely pace. And have for centuries. Because of this, their days are easy, their lives unhurried, and their blood pressures a doctor’s dream.

Somewhere Beyond The Sea

Some 150 to 200 islands, sprinkled across 575 miles of the South Pacific, belong to Tonga. Of these, only fifty or so are home to year-round residents who till the soil, fish the seas, and educate their children who boast nearly a 99% literacy rate. 

There are three main island groupings in Tonga including Vava’u to the north, Ha’apai in the center, and Tongatapu in the south. And the majority of the islanders, more than two thirds to be exact, reside on Tongatapu where the nation’s capital, Nuku Alofa, has been located for more than 600 years. “Nuku” by the way means “abode” and “Alofa” means “love.”

Early Visitors

Many scholars believe Polynesian people migrated south to Tonga from Western Samoa 2500 years ago, give or take. To Samoans, the word “tonga” actually means “south” in their native language. Their life was simple and typically pacific, save for the occasional rounding up of warriors to man war canoes for attacks on nearby islands. These actions, of course, were necessary to expand the Tongan Empire.

Then, in 1643, Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman came ashore in Tongatapu to trade with local people. (Two other Dutchmen--Schouten and Le Maire--had already sailed through the northern islands in 1616.)

Others European mariners followed but it was Captain James Cook, during his second voyage, who became so enamored with Tonga that he affectionately dubbed them the “Friendly Islands.” History tells us Cook stayed on in Tonga for more than two months. He developed such a bond with the Tonga ruler Fatefehi Paulaho that, in 1773, Cook presented him with a tortoise that enjoyed the “royal treatment” and lived to roam about unharmed for the next two centuries. Visit Cook’s Landing Place to relive this time.

Captain Bligh and Others

Captain William Bligh, while commanding HMS Bounty in the seas off Tonga’s island of Tofua, wrangled with Fletcher Christian and other disgruntled crewmembers. The year was 1789. What followed was the legendary mutiny that led to the Captain and 18 loyal sailors being set adrift in a 23-foot long, open boat to sail 3618 miles over the next 41 days to the Dutch settlement of Timor.

The crew of the British whaler Port-au-Prince was also a bit unlucky in these waters. Chief Finau II attacked these seamen in 1806 and burned their ship to salvage its precious nails. Only a few men survived including a 15-year old named Will Mariner who was protected like an adopted son for the next four years by the chief. Mariner’s account of this extraordinary experience, written with the aide of a London physician named John Martin, is remarkable reading even today.

Men of the Cloth

Missionaries came to Tonga in the early 1800s. One of their most visible converts was the then chief Taufa’ahau whom the Christians courted with a variety of gifts including firearms and other weapons. This firepower allowed the renamed and baptized King George I to conquer neighboring islands and solidify his rule for the next half-century.

This mutually beneficial relationship also resulted in the conversion to Christianity for all Tongan islanders and, today, the most popular religion is the Wesleyan Free Church of Tonga.

Great Britain took over the reins of Tonga’s foreign affairs following King George’s death in 1893. Ultimately, Britain relinquished its sovereignty over these islands in June 1970 when Tonga joined the global family of independent nations. In 1991, she also became a member of the U.N.

Since 2006 Tonga’s monarch has been King George Tupou V, the latest in a dynasty dating back to 1831. The 122,000 islanders live a peaceful life and are eager to share the islands’ highlights with visitors. They include the Royal Tombs of Mala’Ekula; the Royal Palace dating back to 1867; Talamahu Market where carved-bone “dream catchers” and tapa cloth are for sale; the Ha’amonga Trilithon from 1200 AD; the Terraced Tombs called “Langi”; Houma Blowholes where the sea spray shoots 60 feet into the air; and the sunny beaches of Kings Island and Oholei. 

Just remember to keep an eye on your watch so you’re back before the ship sails. It’s easy to forget the time in Tonga.

Nuku Hiva, Marquesas

Karyn Planett

“I will never go back to the Marquesas—ever!” –Jeff Probst, Host of Survivor, the wildly popular reality TV series.           

So… what was HIS problem? Actually it was a combination of the sand flies (the show was there out of season) and the “purple rock” controversy. Those of you who aren’t fans of the show will no doubt find all of this to be complete gibberish. Fear not. Other cultural icons such as Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Paul Gauguin have found the Marquesas and Nuku Hiva very much to their liking.           

Melville’s haunt was the Taipivai Valley, about ten miles by boat from the port town of Talohae. His novel Typee was set among its lush landscape and waterfalls. It boasts one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the Marquesas.           

Stevenson hung out at Hatieu Bay on the north coast. A statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks the bay and several pre-Christian meeting places from a 1000-foot peak 

The Land of Men 

Historians report that the Marquesas Islands were known long ago as The Land Of Men. But this mattered not to the endless parade of seafarers who found their way to this bit of paradise. According to Claude Nigel Davies in his 1979 Voyages to the New World, “Polynesian women were notoriously uninhibited, and early European visitors were quick to take advantage of their easy-going attitudes. The people of the Marquesas advanced the ingenious notion that the white race consisted solely of men, who had to travel all the way to the Marquesas in order to have relations with the women; only their voracious sexual appetite could account for repeated and otherwise inexplicable visits by Europeans.” 

Well, perhaps that’s too much information! 

The Marquesas count ten major islands in their group though only a half dozen are home to any permanent population. And few outsiders make their way to this neck of the seas unless they’re sailing from one place to someplace else. And here’s where that is.

On the very eastern boundary of the collection of islands scattered across the sea between Indonesia and, well, the open waters off South America, these islands are found at approximately 9 degrees 30 minutes south latitude, 140 degrees west longitude. The closest neighbor of note is Tahiti, found some 800 miles beyond the Tuamotu Archipelago to the southwest. In fact, the Marquesas Islands now belong to the larger group of islands known as “French Polynesia.”

The Land Of Fewer Men 

The Spanish, led by Alvaro de Mendaño, claimed the southern portion of the Marquesas Islands for Spain in 1595. This occurred during his voyage of discovery from Peru. Yet, it was not until 1791 that the northern Marquesas were “discovered” by men under the command of Joseph Ingraham while sailing aboard the Hope, an American trading vessel. Following in his wake were actors in a dark chapter in Pacific history – blackbirders (slavers), whalers, disease, alcohol, and firearms.

Hence, these early visits from foreign sailors during the 19th and 20th centuries brought a decline in numbers for the Marquesans. The harsh landscape has also been a factor in lack of development over the years. Reefs, which create protective and productive waters, do not form in this area where waters wash relentlessly ashore from the south equatorial current. 

Long ago, some 80,000 islanders called the Marquesas home. But at one time their numbers had plummeted to a mere 2,000 and, even by today’s count, there are still fewer than 10,000 Marquesans in these islands. 

Nuku Hiva 

Nuku Hiva is by far the most populated and important of the Marquesas Islands. And, Talohae is its most important town. Fewer than 2000 people reside in Talohae, this administrative capital that flanks the bay that is, in fact, a submerged volcanic crater. In these waters are found yachts and yachties from around the world, bobbing their way across the Pacific. Sights ashore are modest though presented with pride. Muake Hill just outside town and the Vaipo waterfall in Hakaui Valley offer pretty views.           

And visitors will note that this is no longer the “Land Of Men.” Nor are the women still engaged in the welcoming activities of their ancestors. Yet, Nuku Hiva is an important destination for those wanting to roam the haunts and hideaways of the Pacific. Nuku Hiva is a traveler’s find.

Moorea, French Polynesia

Karyn Planett

Pleasure Island 

“[This place] is the whole thing; the real thing; the thing one has dreamt about all one’s life; the thing which made Stevenson leave Europe for ever. All tellers of fairy tales, and all poets from Homer downwards have always imagined the existence of certain Fortunate islands which were so full of magic and charm that they turned man from his duty and from all tasks… and held him a willing captive.” --Maurice Baring 

Well, no one is going to actually hold you captive. However, you might secretly wish they would. For who among us would willingly retreat from a land where the sun shines without fail, where seas are as clear as a precious aquamarine, where locals smile easily, and where days roll by at a pace only a bit quicker than a palm growing on a black sand beach.

Drama All Around 

As the sun rises from the horizon and tradewinds whip the waterfront, golden rays wash across Moorea’s three towering peaks. Clouds drape the mountaintops in a billowy swirl like an actress’ cape on her way to a premier. This “high” island boasts a dramatic terrain with deep, verdant gorges weathered by time as well as howling wind and lashing rain. Pineapple and coffee plantations now enhance this landscape where vanilla and cotton were once cultivated. 

A wizened storyteller speaks of the time when Hiro, the unpopular god of thieves, planned to steal the Rotui, a nearby mountain and enjoy the toa trees that grew on Rotui’s slopes. But his plans were dashed when Pai, a powerful mythological hero, learned of the plot. Pai created a cackling racket when, just as Hiro was about to make his get-away, he awakened the islands’ roosters. Hiro did manage to pinch a bit off the mountaintop and retreat to his island where the prized toa trees now grow -- the only such place in the islands. 

The spot from where Hiro stole a piece of mountain is now visible as a hole in Mouaputa, one of the island’s three massive peaks. It’s a natural wonder for all to behold. 

European Explorers 

In 1774, Captain James Cook dropped anchor in the waters off Moorea. What he found there was an ongoing war, among the islanders and with those from Tahiti a mere ten miles away. Within 50 years, the two islands were united into one kingdom by Pomare I. The French formalized things further by declaring the islands French protectorates in 1847. With the flourish of a pen in 1880, they became a French colony.

Modern Explorers 

Today jets, ships and yachts bring visitors to Moorea from around the world. They come with visions of Bali Hai from the movie South Pacific or the 1984 Mel Gibson hit movie The Bounty. Or they come with the promise of a magical honeymoon just like the ones pictured in the bridal magazines. Moorea was, after all, known as the Polynesian’s pleasure island. Each arrives with an eagerness to sample these pleasures and a desire to take away with them some of its lessons. 

You might start with a drive around the 37-mile circumference of the island. Pause at one of the maraes, stone temples that dot the island as the few remaining monuments to the original civilization. The contrast with the Papetoai Protestant Church, one of the oldest European buildings in French Polynesia, is significant. Built by the missionaries in the 1800s, its footprint is in the shape of an octagon. From the famed Belvedere Lookout you might be duplicating the experience of one of the original Mooreans as he watched Cook sail into what is now Cook’s Bay with its companion Opunohu Bay right next door. Tohiea is the highest peak at 3,959 feet. A stop at the local fruit and distillery factory introduces you to the true bounty of Moorea. Le Truck, the colorful local transport, might be loading up a load of pineapples for the morning market. 

Before your day ends, though, you must get in the water. The sea is French Polynesia’s truest temptation. Home to a rainbow of marine life, it’s yours to behold with nothing more than a snorkel and mask. Then savor all this in a waterfront eatery with an island-infused French specialty and a freshly-plucked hibiscus blossom over one ear.

Male, Maldives

Karyn Planett

A Speck of A Spectacle

Marco Polo, who knew the world like the back of his weathered hands, referred to the Maldive Islands as “the flower of the Indies.” Not often wrong, his impressions of these coral blips in the Laccadive Sea were spot on. Resembling a floral necklace adorning a Maldivian woman these islands, islets, and atolls are spectacular from the air, magnificent from the ground, and superb beneath the waves. And, though still undiscovered by many world travelers, be reminded you follow in the wake of some impressive sojourners. Oh, don’t forget your parasol today as the sun here is ever shining.

The Man Who Would Be King

Legend speaks of someone named Koimala, a kind Aryan prince who waded ashore in the Maldives. Over time, locals embraced him as they learned of his royal status, crowning him as their ruler. Truth or fiction? It’s really not known. Many sailors, traders, pirates and seafarers did pass by these islands including Arabs, East Africans, Indonesians, Malays, Persians and dark-skinned natives from Madagascar while traveling the Indian Ocean trade route. Their cultural exchanges left an indelible mark on the Maldives, especially in the people’s physical make-up, religion, costume, and language.            

In 1343, a Moroccan named Ibn Batuta settled in the Maldives and recorded the active trade between Maldivians and merchants from China, Arabia and India. Dried fish was one of the many products loaded into the cargo holds of these passing ships including traditional dhoni boats that resemble Arab dhows. Tortoise shells, coconuts and cowries, as well as coir rope, were other sought-after island commodities. Cowry shells, once an international currency, were particularly valuable. And, from the 2nd century AD on, Arab traders actually referred to the Maldives as the “Money Isles.” Today, the Rufiyaa is the official currency

Though rooted in Sanskrit, the Elu-based Dhivehi language spoken by Maldivians today evolved from Hindustani and Arabic influences and is related to the Sinhala language of Sri Lanka. Even the word “atoll” is derived from this unique language. You’ll hear, “Suvaasthi” (welcome) and “Skukuriyyaa” (thank you) as you chat up the locals.

Faith, The Changing Face of Faith

The Maldives, indeed, were ideally located along the heavily traveled shipping lanes that stretch between China and Malacca. And many travelers who came ashore in search of fresh water and provisions also sought to convert the islanders to Islam. They, in fact, succeeded so well in this mission that Islam replaced the then-established religion of Buddhism.

Sultans and Sultanas ruled the Maldives for centuries. One Sultan, Mohamed Thakurufaan the Great, is still revered today for he and his two brothers successfully drove out the Catholic Portuguese who held power over the islands for a brief disruptive and unruly period during the 1500s. His brevity is still extolled in story and song.

The tenets of Islam are so firmly ingrained in the islands’ social structure today that devout Maldivians dress modestly, avoid alcohol and pork, fast during Ramadan, and pray five times every day. Most islanders are Sunni Muslims.

A Look About

Today’s forecast (and everyday) for the Maldives’ air and sea temperatures, yawn, is 80 to 85 degrees give or take. It’s ideal for the 400,000 people of this, Asia’s tiniest nation -- the whole thing covers 90,000 square kilometers making it 99.9% water. It’s also the world’s lowest country with an average elevation of 4’ 11” above sea level. The highest point is only 7’ 7” high making the Maldives the country with the lowest high point.

Male, the nation’s capital, is home to 100,000* inhabitants though it measures a mere square mile. Its bustling waterfront is alive with fishing boats and ferries. Impressive mosques, with their tall minarets, stand in silent contrast to the jangling din of these produce traders. Properly attired visitors are usually welcome to the mosques if it is not the hour of prayer. Huskuru Miskiiy, the Friday Mosque, dates back to the 17th century. Built in 1656 by Sultan Ibrahim Ishkandhar, it was Male’s main mosque for 400 years. The Grand Friday Mosque holds 5,000 worshippers and is topped with a gold dome. Within the walls of part of the former Sultan’s Palace is the National Museum. Here, artifacts and exhibits speak of the bygone days of royalty.

Little kids in crisp school uniforms and long dark braids amble off to school down city streets that were once only crushed coral. The literacy rate here is an impressive 97%. Older women wearing traditional feyli skirts or dresses called libas stroll to the main marketplace for staples such as breadfruit, cassava, sorghum, bajara, ridge-gourds, brinjals, mangoes, sapodillas and jujubes as well as curries.

Despite the lure of Malé’s sights and sounds, the real magic is in the shallow, fish-filled, ice blue water surrounding neighboring islands. Knee-deep seas stretch hundreds of yards out from powdery white-sand beaches. And the parade of passing tropical fish is enough to make any aquarium enthusiast wild with glee. You’ll see.

Lautoka, Fiji

Karyn Planett

Fiji’s Sugar City

“Golf balls don’t fall off trees you know.” --Mohan Singh to his son, Vijay 

Hall of Famer and former world number one golfer Vijay Singh may be Fiji’s most famous citizen. A native of Lautoka, he practiced his game by hitting… ahem… coconuts, which did fall off trees and were a great deal more plentiful than golf balls. Vijay’s family was part of the Indo-Fijian community, which for most of the 20th century made up the vast majority of Lautoka’s population. 

The Immigrant Story 

For the record, Lautoka is on the Fijian island of Viti Levu, sister island to Vanua Levu. And tribal law forbids foreigners from owning land in all Fiji. Fijians are traditionally people of the sea and were never forced to work the land, especially the sugar cane plantations. As laborers were desperately needed for these agricultural tasks, Indian workers, called girmityas, were imported by the shipload between 1899 and 1903. These people labored backbreakingly hard in the cane fields and prospered then stayed on after their initial labor contracts ran out. Sugar is still the town’s main industry and the reason for the city’s nickname. Recently, many Indian families have emigrated as the winds of political change have gone against them while indigenous Fijians have moved into the area creating a more balanced population.

Sugar, for the record, represents one half of the islands’ economic base—the other is tourism. In fact, sugar served as the lifeblood of Fiji’s economy for the majority of the last century. The sugar cane processed in local sugar mills is shipped overseas along with local copra and lumber. As you wander about, you might want to munch on a stick of freshly-cut sugar cane from the local marketplace. Savor it as you wander about the waterfront watching this whole yummy operation unfold. 

Sugar, you see, is never far away, even in the tourism arena. On your way to visit such attractions as the Garden of the Sleeping Giants, Raymond Burr’s fabulous orchid garden, the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, or one of the highland villages scattered across the island, you’ll pass by not only the Lautoka Sugar Mill but also mile after mile of thriving cane fields. 

Long, Long Ago 

Well before the first European cast his eyes upon Fiji, a powerful chief named Lutunasobasoba washed ashore in a dugout canoe with many of his followers. Some anthropologists believe, whether the legend is true or not, that the original inhabitants of the Fijian Islands did arrive from Southeast Asia with stops along the way in the Indonesian Islands. 

The first record of a European sighting was made by Abel Tasman, the intrepid Dutch explorer for whom Tasmania is named. The year was 1643. It’s assumed he never actually came ashore but sailed on by searching for that elusive great southern continent.            The infamous Captain William Bligh not only ran afoul with Fletcher Christian but with the Fijians as well. While adrift, following the mutiny on the Bounty, Bligh and a handful of companions managed to outrace Fijian warriors who were in hot pursuit of Bligh’s longboat near the Yasawa Islands (part of Fiji). In fact, the nearby body of water is still known today as “Bligh Water.

Foreign Influences

Fearing these painted warriors, most travelers avoided Fiji in earnest. Then, at the dawn of the 19th Century, sandalwood was found growing wild on the island of Vanua Levu. Within ten years of this discovery, virtually all this valuable wood had been harvested and shipped off to China. 

Whaling fleets and Christian missionaries followed, as was the tradition with so many Pacific islands. However, unlike many islanders, the Fijians resisted converting to Christianity and resisted with a vengeance. More than one missionary met his fate by becoming the main course at the local feast.

Turmoil reigned until the ruling king, Cakabau, threw in the tapa cloth and asked Great Britain’s Queen Victoria for assistance. Ultimately, his kingdom became a British colony in 1874.

Speak Like A Local

While English is spoken everywhere, it’s fun to learn a few words in the local language. Fijian consonants can be confusing therefore, without going into a full explanation of the pronunciation, we’ll just illustrate a few words that could be useful during your stay. The pronunciation is noted in parentheses.

Good morning                        Ni sa yadra (ni sah yan-dra)

Hello                                       Bula (mbula), kaise in Hindi

Good-bye                                Ni sa moce (ni sah mothey)

Please                                     Yalo vinaka (yalo vee-naka)

Thank you                               Vinaka (vee-naka) 

When all else fails, a simple smile will do. 

Icelandic Ponies

Karyn Planett

Well, horses, actually. Ask any Icelander who knows a thing or two about these magnificent animals. You see there are some 80,000 Icelandic pon... (oops) horses in Iceland. That’s one for every 3.5 people. These furry creatures are everywhere. It’s part of the “free range” approach to rearing these adorable equines. And the rider is all the better for it. Breeders claim these horses are more accustomed to hazards like ruts and pits, ledges and slopes found in open meadows across this rugged island nation. Hence, they’re a “spookfree” ride, more sure-footed than their counterparts who idle away their youth cooped up in tiny stalls.

Plus, these Icelandic horses ride like the wind.

It’s believed these horses were introduced to Iceland between 860 and 935 AD by Viking settlers. Horse lovers note there’s a strong resemblance between ancient German and Norwegian horses and today’s Icelandics. Due to the island’s isolation, this lineage has remained quite pure, not crossbred as with its European counterpart.

The breed, as it has evolved in Iceland, is extraordinarily strong. They’re compact, measuring only 52-56 inches (13-14 hands) tall, and able to withstand the bitter cold of an Icelandic winter due to their double coat. But they had little protection against the challenges they faced after the violent, eight-month-long volcanic eruption of Lakagigar in 1783, which destroyed their habitat with volcanic ash, lava flows, and redirected rivers. Up to 70% of the herd was wiped out from starvation.

Thankfully, the Icelandic horse is protected from disease due to strong government regulations. Once a horse leaves this island, it may never return, and no saddles or tack can be imported from off-island. These horses have virtually no natural immunity and breeders protect them with everything they’ve got. They also have no natural predators on the island. Makes for a happy horse, this.

But, what’s so special about these little animals other than they’re terribly friendly and adorable? They have five gaits, unlike the standard three of most breeds. Something called the “tolt” is a running walk that looks a bit odd to the uninitiated eye. The tolt is a four-beat lateral ambling gait that some might liken to a Paso Fino’s “largo”, a Tennessee Walking Horse’s “running walk”, or a kid fastwalking with cookies and milk. When they get it wrong, it’s called a “Piggy-Pace.” When right, it’s a “flying pace” reaching 30 miles per hour. In Icelandic, that’s a flugskeid.

In keeping with tradition, the Icelandic people enjoy horseracing whether it’s steeplechase or flat racing. In winter, these races are often held on frozen lakes. Stallion fighting is another pastime enjoyed by locals. A stallion’s courage is celebrated as it has been since Medieval Iceland. In fact, in times past, brave steeds were honored by burying them with their fallen riders. These warhorses were revered in Icelandic literature along with their warriors. Pick up a copy of the 12th century Book of Settlements or the Icelandic Sagas for a closer look at that chapter in the history of the Icelandic horse.


Karyn Planett

A Land Of Superlatives 

            Strange Isle! A moment to poetic gaze

            Rise in thy majesty of rocks and bays

            Glens, fountains, caves, that seem not things of earth

            But the wild shapes of some prodigious birth,

            As if the Kraken, monarch of the sea

            Wallowing abroad in his immensity

            By polar storms and lightning shafts assailed

            Wedg’d with ice-mountains here had fought and fail’d,

            Perish’d—and in the petrifying blast

            His hulk became an island rooted fast;

            --Rather, from ocean’s dark foundation hurl’d

            Thou art a type of his mysterious world

            Buoy’d on the desolate abyss to show

            What wonders of creation hide below. 

James Montgomery in 1819.

That Moment of Poetic Gaze 

It greets you around every crook in the road and every turn of the lane. This is a nation of such dramatic landscapes that only a poet could capture its truth. Geysers spit forth their steamy clouds. Glaciers grind their icy paths to the sea. Lacy waterfalls drape the rocks in gossamer veils. Volcanoes now stand silent, their power temporarily arrested. And cooled lava deserts crawl toward the horizon. This is the land of superlatives. This is Iceland.           

Curiously, it is a true land of fire and ice. Glaciers and dark lava beds, no longer hot, cover ten percent of the island. And Iceland contains one of the world’s most active volcanic regions. The glaciers serve as a reminder of Iceland’s closeness to the Article Circle. At the same time, the volcanoes are evidence of the submerged Mid-Atlantic Range. Astoundingly, for the last 500 years, Iceland’s volcanoes have accounted for nearly one-third of the total lava flow for the entire world. In fact, some 200 volcanoes dot the landscape. In March 2012, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano began to rumble and spew. The following month, it literally blew its top sending volcanic ash into the air with such a vengeance it disturbed air travel for thousands. Europe and Iceland seemed to suffer the worst of it, stranding travelers everywhere. Today, the volcano is a popular tourist destination, a quiet popular tourist destination. 

The Soul And Inspiration 

Perhaps it is just this landscape, or moonscape as the case may be, that stirred the poetic souls of early Icelanders. Historians believe that the first literature written by the Icelandic people was poetry. In fact, they cite literary masterpieces dating back to the 12th century. For the next 250 years, these authors penned the sagas of Iceland’s first two and one-half centuries. 

There are two basic categories of poetry: Skaldic, which was the work of court poets; and Eddic poetry reflecting a type of free-metre prose. The latter often revolves around heroic and mythical tales. Of these, the Eddas evolved from German folk tales and Gothic legends. Those that are mythical in subject are believed to celebrate the tales of Norse gods. 

You may already know about something called the “sagas.” The closing days of the 12th Century as well as the entire 13th Century are identified as the Saga Age. During this period, authors captured romantic tales and chronicled the events associated with the early settlers. A fellow named Egill Skallagrímsson became rather famous. This Skaldic poet’s Egils Saga, considered biographic, was written by Snorri Sturluson. The Sagas make good reading and reflect the early experiences of those who called Iceland home. They’re witty, laced with complex plots, heroism triumphing over evil, and reminiscent of a social system nine centuries ago that served its people well. The Sagas remain best sellers some 700 years after they were written! 

If you’ve still time for some more reading, consider something by the modern writer Halldór Laxness, a 1955 Nobel Prize winner for Literature. His works let you peek into the daily life of the local people. Select perhaps The Fish Can Sing, Independent People, or The Atom Station. 

Contemporary music fans can pick up something by Bjork, the Icelandic singing sensation. There are others on offer, as well, at the local music store. Be sure to turn the volume way up. 

Some Other Iceland Facts And Stats 

Iceland is the second largest island in Europe.

More than half the country lies above 400 meters.

Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the first democratically elected female head of state serving four terms (1980-96).

70% of Iceland’s export income is derived from fishing.

Roughly 120,000 citizens live in Reykjavik.

Iceland’s total population is 313,000.

Iceland enjoys nearly a 100% literacy rate.

Iceland’s average life expectancy is in the world’s top ten.

Family names are illegal if given AFTER the 1925 Personal Names Act.

Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital, established in 874.

Iceland’s Parliament is considered one of the world’s oldest.

Lief Ericson (Erickson, Ericsson) was expelled from Iceland in 985.

There are no snakes in Iceland.

Glima, a remnant of the Viking past, is a sport resembling wrestling. Try to avoid taking part. 

But do remember the words of William Morris who wrote about Iceland in 1873, “Surely I have gained a great deal, and it was no idle whim that drew me here, but a true instinct for what I needed.” Mull that over with some local pickled herring and schnapps while watching Prometheus, shot right here in Iceland . 

Heimaey, Iceland

Karyn Planett

The Puffins of Pompeii 

Well, the Puffins of Pompeii might be a bit of a stretch but not by much when you hear the tale of this windswept rocky outpost you’re about to visit. It has all the makings of a NatGeo-meets-Hitchcock blockbuster sci-fi thriller. And, for such a tiny little place with a population of only 4500 people, it’s got a very big story to tell. So let’s get the facts and stats out of the way then get straight to the heart of the plot. 

Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago 

For the record Heimaey is the largest island in the entire Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago and it’s only five square miles big, or small as the case may be. Some call them the Westman Islands with Heimaey only four miles from Iceland’s chilly southern shores. And, it’s the only island in the chain of fifteen that’s inhabited though that was very much in doubt in 1973 but that story follows. Heimaey, by the way, means “Home Island.” 

If you want to go back to the beginning, however, pick up a copy of “Landnámabók”, which is “The Book of Settlement” relating the events of the 9th and 10th centuries AD when the Norse people settled Iceland. Evidently, in the very early days there was a lad named Ingólfur Arnarson who was the first to actually carve out a base in Iceland proper. Meanwhile, and I’m cutting to the chase here, his close friend (also referred to as his brother) Hjõrleifr Hróõmarsson established a fledgling community elsewhere with a band of ragged Irish slaves who’d been kidnapped from Northern Ireland. Ingólfur discovered his friend had been killed and the slaves had escaped. Distraught and raging with anger, Ingólfur went off in hot pursuit and found the slaves had taken refuge in the rugged mountains of Heimaey Island. Ingólfur tracked them down like animals and slew them for taking his brother’s life. 

So, the moral to the story is… if you want some islands named after you then become an escaped Irish slave who gets killed after fleeing from your Viking masters. You see, the Irish were referred to as “west men” because their homeland was, you guessed it, west of the Viking’s Scandinavia. 

A Real Drama Unfolds 

It was January 23rd, 1973. Just a moment shy of 2:00am, the fine people of Heimaey were rumbled awake by all hell truly breaking loose. A massive fissure measuring one mile long ripped the earth in two. Molten lava spewed into the night sky like a pathway to Armageddon. Terrified and trembling, the townspeople fled to the tiny harbor where some 65 boats from the island’s fishing fleet had taken refuge from a storm the day before. Planes from nearby airfields evacuated 300, mostly elderly or infirm, throughout the night. In all, some 5,000 islanders and visitors were safely evacuated within hours of the eruption leaving behind a cadre of brave people to address the ever-changing situation. Within one week, the town was buried under 12 feet of ash. By Week Two, firemen had set up water cannons to cool the lava flow that threatened to close off the entrance to the harbor. Within one month of the eruption, lava buried seventy homes. Another 41 were set alight by another lava flow days later. Ultimately 19 miles of pipe and 43 pumps sprayed eight million cubic yards of seawater onto the lava flows to save their town. 

Man and Mother Nature played this dramatic tug of war for a total of five months and ten days, day by wearying day, night by exhausting night. In total, 360 houses were destroyed while 400 were left untouched. An additional 400 suffered varying degrees of damage. Scientists estimate 1.5 million tons of ash, ejecta, and tephra rained down on Heimaey’s tiny town and 30 million tons of lava buried much of the village. 

The good news is, of course, no one died during this epic cataclysm and the locals now harness the volcanic heat to warm their homes and offices. If you want to know more, pick up John McPhee’s book The Control of Nature. 

Back To The Puffins 

The Icelandic Puffin calls Heimaey home. That would be six to eight million of them, about half the total population, making it one of the world’s largest colonies of Icelandic puffins. Every August, local schoolchildren go on Puffin Patrol picking up the fledgling puffins called Pysja that, instead of flying toward the moon, fly confusedly toward the city lights. The kids gather them up in cardboard boxes and take them to the sea and freedom. 

If you sit quietly on some grassy hill you just might hear the puffins communicating underground. They do that, you know. From their tunnels. Heimaey is also home to one of the world’s largest gannet and guillemot colonies. The surrounding sea is the aquatic haunt of porpoises, dolphins and orcas. 

And speaking of orcas, Willy of “Free Willy” fame was taken by a US military aircraft to Klettsvik Bay in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland where he learned to go back to the wild. This story had a very happy ending. Hey, maybe they should make a movie about Willy! 

The Coelacanth

Karyn Planett

Mysterious Fish of the Comoro Islands

Before the morning sun raises his head above the watery horizon, the fishermen of the Comoro Islands take to the seas of the Indian Ocean’s Mozambique Channel. And like their forefathers before them, their crafts are not usually motorized or equipped with sonar devices. These men hold to tradition with their narrow, hand-hewn outrigger pirogues (called galawas) that bob around in the surf like wine corks. They have only their paddles, the tides, and generations of knowledge to guide them. Most search for seafood they can sell in the busy marketplace. Yet each Comoran knows of the marvels that swim below. They all can recite the tale of the coelacanth. 

Back From The Dead 

Scientists had long been very familiar with a 6-foot-long fish that once swam the depths. His unique form had been immortalized in stone, fossilized there millions of years earlier. Some of these fossils had been carbon-dated to establish their exact age and the “youngest” one was determined to be at least 60 million years old. Others dated back some 400 million years. 

Therefore, without any contemporary live sightings, scientists long believed that this fish had been extinct for at least 60 million years. That fish was a coelacanth. 

All that changed when an unsuspecting crew aboard a trawler sailing out of East London, South African managed to snag and land a living, fighting, breathing Coelacanth… and ichthyologists around the world gasped in unison. The year was 1938. 

A Professor J. L. B. Smith sped over from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa and decreed that this fish was indeed a coelacanth, although different from its fossilized forefathers in certain details. Therefore, he named this one Latimeria chalumnae and the hunt was on for more coelacanths. Smith went so far as to post a reward for any successful catches. Yet, despite his efforts, the seas yielded nothing more for fourteen long years. 

Then, in 1952, a fellow named Eric Hunt bought a coelacanth from a Comoro Island fisherman and alerted Smith immediately. The elated Professor enlisted the aid of a South African military aircraft to carry him to the Comores quickly to retrieve the preserved prize. With photos splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world, Smith’s return to South Africa made global headlines. 

Technology Advances the Search       

Twenty-five years passed before another coelacanth was found, despite desperate efforts by many dedicated researchers. Again, the elusive fish was spotted off the Comoro Islands in the depths of the Indian Ocean. A researcher by the name of Hans Fricke had traveled from the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in West Germany to the Comores. He was accompanied a crew of marine specialists. They not only made visual contact through the window of Fricke’s submersible but actually photographed the coelacanth as it swam at a depth of 550 feet.           

Fricke was thrilled for, during his previous two-dozen dives, he had come up “empty-handed.” After studying this fish for nearly two decades, the historic moment had at long last arrived when he actually made visual contact with the object of his intense research. During the months that followed, the team observed a total of six coelacanths and recorded their unusual behavior, which includes swimming with a multi-finned flailing motion and… standing on their heads on the ocean floor! 

Spared From The Frying Pan 

The fact that this fish lives at great depths, and is a bit too oily for most people’s tastes, has spared him from the frying pan. The few coelacanths that have been caught over the years have usually been tossed back. The coelacanth was of little interest to those who knew nothing of his uniqueness. Those who did know how valuable their catch was were, unfortunately, unable to keep the fish alive long enough to turn it over to marine experts.           

Oddly enough, those few coelacanths that were brought ashore in the Comoro Islands were dried and their scratchy scales used for sandpaper! 

Why Did They Survive? 

Fricke and his team observed that coelacanths live in waters that are deep, cold, and lacking abundant food. He theorized that other species might find this environment too unfriendly and thus migrate elsewhere. Fricke also questioned whether their slow movements might actually reduce their metabolic rate, simultaneously reducing their nutritional requirements. 

Whatever the truth of their survival is, these fascinating creatures lived long before the dinosaurs roamed the earth. And they continue to splash about long after the last dinosaur stepped into an unfriendly tar pit. So Mother Nature endowed the coelacanth with something so unique that its secrets may one day unravel the mystery of the evolution of life on earth, which scientists still debate in laboratories around the world.

Apia, Samoa

Karyn Planett

Polynesia’s Birthplace

“I went off to paradise. I was ambassador to… Samoa.”—Carol Mosely Brown 

In 1997, Western Samoa became quite simply… Samoa, though the sovereign state still encompasses only the western part of the Samoan Islands. American Samoa, on the other hand, still exists as an unincorporated territory of the United States and a breeding ground for National Football League linemen. Originally, the entire Samoan island group was known as Navigators Islands out of respect for the seafaring skills of their inhabitants. 

Many learned scholars and educated anthropologists give a collective nod to Samoa as “Hawaiki [the] cradle of all Polynesian culture.” They believe that these islanders’ forefathers braved uncharted seas and uncertain futures when they sailed to Samoa from Southeast Asia. Polynesians from widely scattered islands like Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, Easter Island, and New Zealand agree that Samoa is indeed the birthplace of their cultures.           

In The Beginning 

On the other hand, Samoans themselves look toward their beloved god Tagaloa as the source of their unique creation. It is said that Tagaloa existed in a world devoid of all living things. His task was to change this bleak picture by creating the earth and the rivers, the sky and all the lands. Next, this god created a man and a woman and sent them forth to populate the land. With the sweep of his powerful hand, Tagaloa made the night skies as well as the stars above, the warm sun, and the moon that cast light upon the darkness. 

In time, the wise chief Manu’a was named to rule the people and the lands were carved up into the islands we now know as Manu’a (part of Samoa), Fiji, Tonga, Upolu, and others. 

With his daunting task completed, Tagaloa departed this world commanding that all mankind respect Manu’a which, today, has evolved into the spiritual center for the Samoan Islands and, to many others, all of Polynesia. 

An Author’s Paradise 

An author many considered a literary god was Robert Lewis Stevenson. This noted Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist lived in Apia for four years with his Indianapolis-raised wife Fanny (Frances Osbourne). He had grown ever so weary of Scotland’s damp cold as well as the complications it caused for his tuberculosis. Following a short stay in America, Stevenson set sail for Samoa. It seemed Samoa would be just what the doctor ordered. Stevenson built a home 600 feet above the town in 1889 and named it Vailima. And though the author adored this island life, his love for Scotland never waned. So, to honor his homeland, Stevenson’s household staff wore traditional lava-lavas yet they were made with the Stuart tartan design. 

Vailima eventually became the Prime Minister’s official residence. 

While in residence at Vailima, his “beautiful, shining, windy house,” Stevenson was known as “Tusitala” or the “Teller of Tales” and wrote Catriona and The Wrecker. Following his death, his body was buried 1,540 feet up Mt. Vaea, carried there over a hand-dug road (known as The Way Of Loving Hearts) that had been built by islanders who revered Stevenson greatly. The Samoan chief who spoke at the author’s service declared that on that day “the stones and the earth wept.” Stevenson’s headstone reads: 

Under the wide and starry sky 

Dig the grave and let me lie 

Glad did I live and gladly die, 

And I laid me down with a will.


This be the verse you grave for me;

Here he lies where he longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea;

And the hunter home from the hill. 

Film Stars and Military Stripes 

Travelers to Apia soon hear the tale of a legendary lady named Aggie Grey. She was the proprietress of the celebrated hotel bearing her name. Aggie had come into this world the child of a Samoan woman and a British chemist. In the early 1940s Aggie swung open the doors to her famous watering hole. American servicemen stationed in Apia during World War II soon found respite there, as did James Michener who enjoyed the conversation and a hamburger or two. Some claim, in fact, that Aggie Grey is the spirit behind Michener’s character “Bloody Mary.” 

Hollywood heartthrob Gary Cooper also enjoyed the comforts of Aggie Grey’s while on location in Samoa filming “Return to Paradise” at Lefaga Bay. Many a movie scout claims this to be “the perfect beach.” 

Agana, Guam

Karyn Planett

A Pacific Stew 

Guam is, quite simply, a mixed metaphor. 

As an unincorporated territory of the United States, it’s alive with American accents, American retail brands, American-style shopping malls, and a significant American military presence. 

But the largest segment of the population on this 30-mile-long, 210-square-mile island is related to the original Chamorro inhabitants who are working mightily to keep vestiges of their culture and language alive. In fact, not long ago the name of the island’s capital was changed from Agana to the Chamorro version, Hagåtña. 

There are remnants and reminders of the Spanish years, as well, which lasted from Magellan’s arrival in 1521 to the Spanish-American War in 1898. 

Into this stew, stir tourists. Tourism is the number one industry in Guam with more than 1 million visitors annually. Guam is an attractive holiday destination for Asians, with approximately three-fourths hailing from Japan. Just know that Guam is 1500 miles from the Philippines and from Japan, and 3300 miles west from Hawaii. 

So, now that you are here, how would you like to spend your day? Many visitors come to pay their respects and remember the events of World War II for Guam was strategically important in the Pacific Theater and saw significant military action. Others spend their time shopping for designer brands at duty-free malls. Some explore authentic Chamorro villages or visit historic Spanish forts. Many enjoy simply spending time with sailors stationed here with the U.S. Navy. Whatever your interests are, it’s all here and all available during your call to Guam. 

The Chamorro Years 

The Marianas Chain was occupied as much as 4000 years ago.
Note that archeologists’ opinions vary on the date by 500 years, give or take, as to when these people reached Guam. It is believed they were of Indo-Malaya descent and their language and culture are not unlike those of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Their customs dictated that there were separate social strata for their people complete with nobles and workers. The most powerful leaders were known as chamorri. 

The Spanish Years 

It was the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan who “discovered” Guam while sailing for Charles V of Spain. He initially named the area Islas de las Velas Latinas for the unique lateen-sailed sailing proas the Chamorro people used to sail out and meet his ship Trinidad. Magellan’s admiration of these people ended abruptly when a scuffle broke out after the Chamorros took one of Magellan’s rowboats. According to local custom, taking things was expected in return for gifts offered to the Europeans. Nonetheless, Magellan’s men killed several islanders and torched their homes before sailing on. Magellan also changed the name to Islas de Los Ladrones, the Island of Thieves. 

Guam became a watering hole, so to speak, for Spanish sailing ships plying the Pacific. Even so, the island was virtually undisturbed by Europeans who were not attracted to settle here. The only ones really interested in Guam were Catholic missionaries who set about converting the islanders to Christianity and doing away with some island traditions. High on their list was convincing everyone to wear clothing. 

Clashes eventually occurred and the leading Jesuit priest, Padre Diego Luis de Sanvitores, was killed. Spanish soldiers arrived by the galleon-load to avenge this murder and succeeded in literally wiping out the entire male population of the Chamorros. The troops stayed on after the fighting ceased and intermarried with the few remaining Chamorro women, diluting forever the purity of their people. Today, their descendants represent 37% of the population. Eighty-five per cent of Guamanians are Catholic. 

The War Years 

America seized control over Guam in 1898 when resident Spanish troops failed to repel their landing, as the Spaniards were completely unaware that war had been declared between the two countries. And, it has even been reported that the Spanish were so oblivious to this news that when the American ships fired their cannons, the Spanish immediately responded by asking forgiveness for not returning the military salute as they were short of ammunition. 

World War II came to Guam with a fury. While many Japanese planes were unleashing their firepower on Pearl Harbor in December 8, 1941, others were concentrating their might on Guam. Shortly thereafter, some 5,000 Japanese soldiers landed on Guam’s beaches. For nearly three years they ruled the island. Following a fierce battle July 21, 1944, the US regained control of Guam and is responsible for the island’s defense even today. 

But that’s all ancient history to the youth of Guam who spend their days in shopping malls and air-conditioned cinemas (when not in class). For them, as well as others, these dark days are chapters in school textbooks. For others, the name Guam means sacrifice and courage and patriotism. For you, it’s your next port of call. 

Looking to the Sea

Karyn Planett

Is it the Answer?

We hear about forests ablaze in the Western U.S. and rivers cresting their banks in Europe and Asia after Biblical rains.  We see images of people in all reaches of the globe struggling to eke out a meager existence in soils long depleted of nutrients, and animals nibbling at the withered vestiges of feed scattered among the rocks.

Must we look to the sea for answers on how to fill the world’s bread baskets while the land recovers?  Will it provide for more than just human consumption and animal fodder?  What lurks below us as we sail merrily along the waves?  Could it be the answer to many woes

Brimming with Riches

The oceans wash over nearly three-fourths of the world’s surface.  Hidden in the dark waters are a wealth of minerals and marine life of endless variety.  Fish and marine mammals inhabit the waters and are considered pelagic forms of marine life.  In contrast are the crustaceans and mollusks, as well as corals, which cling to the ocean floor.  They are the benthic variety of marine life.  Add to that the kelps and other marine plants that man has cleverly harvested for fertilizer, human consumption, and animal feed.

The seas are rich with minerals including gas and petroleum.  As our journeys take us around the world we see oil-drilling platforms designed to extract these precious commodities.  Scientists employ sophisticated equipment to map the contours of the ocean floors and discover exactly where to search.  Today, wells for natural gas deposits have been drilled in Brazil’s Marlim field to a depth of nearly 6,000 feet.  Who knows what lies even deeper?

The governments with coastal land have drawn up laws to protect these resources.  In many cases the United Nations’ Law Of The Sea Convention declares that a boundary of 22 kilometers rings the shoreline and is considered “territorial” and the rights of the host country are to be respected.  In other instances, something called “exclusive economic zones” form a boundary that stretches from the coast to an imaginary line 370 nautical miles offshore.  Note for the record that the host country occasionally sells these rights to other nations.

Bringing in the Catch

Who among us hasn’t enjoyed wetting a line and hoping to catch the “big one?”  Sport fishing is an adventure many travelers partake in as they visit new countries.  Sometimes they discover what local fishermen already know… the seas are often overfished.  Fished out.

For example, the Canadian cod industry has been hit hard as has the haddock take in the North Pacific.  In some cases, nearly 90% of the fish have been taken.  This results in economic hardship and unemployment for local fishermen.  The bluefin tuna is another example.  Some estimates put the decline in certain areas of the Southern Hemisphere at over 90%.

Regarding the issue of whaling, this remains a hot debate.  Suffice to say those species that were nearly hunted to extinction – right, gray, and bowhead – have managed to hold on if only for a while.  Others are protected in an area of the Southern Ocean considered to be a sanctuary for approximately 90% of the total population of whales.

Thankfully, the practice of aquaculture has been successful.  Consider the progress being made in such areas as oyster breeding, shellfish farming if you prefer.  Salmon farming in the Outer Hebrides has seen great returns.  And Japan’s Inland Sea is another success story.  Clever fish farmers have strung metal nets across vast reaches of this body of water and created a huge area where fish breeding is done.  And let’s not forget kelp’s contribution to the world’s increasing need for food and feed.

Dangers all Around

Pollution puts all this waterworld at risk.  As we sail the globe, we’ll observe that there are many nations without the financial means or current technology to protect their waters.  The seas serve as their dumping grounds.  In addition, factory discharge as well as the run-off from other chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides further disrupts the delicate balance of the seas.  The occasional oil spill is often catastrophic.

So where does this all leave us?  We will see first hand how bountiful yet how fragile our oceans are.  As travelers of the sea we salute it and all its rewards.  And we look to the future when the tides can create power for our cities, when desalinated water can replenish our aquifers, and when the fish and marine life can be harvested responsibly to help feed the world’s growing population.

All the while, it is a glorious means of travel don’t you think?