Travel and Adventure


We writers are expected to wear two hats, that of an introvert who retreats to her writing cave and excels in words, phrases, and commas; and that of an extrovert, a flamboyant artist who tells tales and binds an audience under her spell. And sometimes, we’re expected to wear both hats at the same time.

This summer and fall, I couldn’t wear both hats and meet my publication deadline for the final book in the trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Something had to go, and that something turned out to be this blog. My sincere apologies to my followers.

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My lowly gardening and pool hat and my expressive roaring twenties hat. I failed to wear both at the same time.

Last Monday, The Long Way Back went on the press in Anaheim, and since then, I’ve donned my extrovert hat. I’ll be launching the book after it’s printed.

Meanwhile, here are photos from the press check:

 

 

 

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My book designer, Alfred Williams of Multimedia Arts, and the owners and staff of LightSource Printing have been wonderful! I can’t wait to unveil the gripping conclusion to my nautical trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Coming soon to Amazon and www.LoisJoyHofmann.com.

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Gunter and I first landed on Turkey’s shores in the summer of 2007. We confidently left Pacific Bliss “on the hard” in Marmaris Yacht Marina. The following spring, we returned to Turkey for the final leg of our sailing circumnavigation. While touring Istanbul, I was surprised to learn that tulips and St. Nick both originated in that country.

That spring, Istanbul was alive and glowing, in a festive mood. The city was celebrating its annual tulip festival, and colorful blooms were everywhere. Istanbul, with its bridges across the Bosporus Strait, straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. After enjoying the city for two days, my husband Gunter and I took a ferry trip to view the city from the river. It was a sun-splashed Sunday. We spent hours relaxing and chatting about Turkey’s past and its hopes for the future. Much of the conversation centered around the peoples’ love and respect for Atatürk, a charismatic leader, military genius, and celebrated reformer who modernized Turkey. “He made Turkey a secular country,” our said proudly.  “As a result, Turkey will never be like the other Muslim countries; in fact, we look forward to joining the EU.” The future for Turkey looked as rosy as those tulips fronting every landmark from the Blue Mosque to the Aya Sofya.

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We ordered coffees, and while we waited for them, our guide changed to another topic, the legend of St. Nick. “Did you know he came from Turkey?”

“I had no idea!” I replied. “I thought the Saint might have come from Russia. Our own legend is that he and his elves and reindeer live at the North Pole.”

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“I know your popular image is of the big belly, the white beard, and his reindeer, but that depiction came from your Coca-Cola ads in the 1930s.  Here’s the real story: Centuries before the Ottoman Empire, St. Nick got his start as a fourth-century bishop in what is now Turkey. He was born a rich man’s son, but he took his inheritance and gave it to the poor, supposedly dropped down chimneys. Poor people in Turkey are very proud; they would not have accepted gifts if he had just handed them to him.”

We all take a sip of our Turkish coffees while we listen intently. “Mainly, St. Nicolas helped the children and gave them gifts.”

“Where in Turkey did he come from?” Gunter asked.

“There is a statue of him with children in Demre, a town in Southern Turkey, and the old Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas is there.  Lots of Russians go there, but it’s not big on tourism.”

Reportedly, the Islamist government of President Erdogan has worked hard to promote the country’s Ottoman history, but he has repeatedly ignored Turkey’s rightful place in Christian history. I don’t expect the current government to promote the St. Nicholas story.

This Christmas of 2016, I look back on that Turkish Spring of eight years ago. And I fear for Turkey’s future. Turkey is overwhelmed with problems—frequent terror attacks, huge populations of Syrian refugees, and mass arrests and incarcerations after a failed coup. All this makes the country dangerous and drives tourists away. I don’t know whether I’ll ever visit Turkey again, but the country and its people will always hold a special place in my heart.

A very merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

Blog 3, Danube series.

The Wachau, Die Wachau, is an area of Austria you don’t want to miss. This part of the Danube is only 30 kilometers (19 miles) long, but it’s a historic and epicurean microcosm of Austria. Centuries of stone terracing enclose vineyards framed by the Melk and Gottweig Monasteries. Gunter and I—along with my sister Loretta, her husband John—disembarked at Krems and took a bus tour to Melk. Our tour group walked partway on a path along the Danube, where we experienced spectacular views of vineyards clinging to riverside hills and sprawling into lush valleys.

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The Benedictine Abbey Stift Melk, a UNESCO world heritage site that sits like a fortress on a high cliff, guards the western entrance of the Wachau region. Abbot Berthold Dietmayr began the construction the famous, baroque building during the 18th century. It took more than 30 years to build. A mighty church towers over numerous buildings and seven courtyards. It was quite the walk through the campus! And from the heights, the view of the countryside was stunning.

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In Melk, a monk looks out of each window

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As a writer, I was most impressed by the library, containing 100,000 volumes. The book bindings were designed to match the library decor. Because photos were not allowed, the following photo was “lifted” from the souvenir book, Die Wachau. More photos of Die Wachau can be viewed on Gerd Krauskopf’s photo gallery. 

Back on the ms/Ariana, we learned that two rivers, the Melk and Pielach, flow into the Danube at the foot of the cliff on which the Abbey is built. Archeological finds from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages indicate that this site was a popular settlement choice. Later, the Romans built a small fort and lookout post that was probably set up where the bridge now crosses the Danube. Eventually, Slavic peasants from the East and South settled the area up to the mouth of the Enns River. The Slavic name Melk, meaning a “slow-moving stream,” comes from this time. In 1089 the monks arrived in Melk and since then, they have lived and worked in Melk without interruption. Melk is inseparably joined with the beginnings of Austria as a nation. Next stop: Vienna!

Blog 2, Danube series.

From its source, the Danube flows past the ancient kingdoms of Swabia and Franconia and the contemporary German towns of Ulm and Neuburg. But it is not until Regensburg that the river becomes Bavarian. Founded as a Roman garrison town, Regensburg was unscathed from wartime bombing, so its medieval art remains intact. The city’s primary landmark is the Steinerne Brucke, a marvelous stone bridge with fifteen arches that become higher and wider at the center, giving it a distinctive middle hump. I have visited Regensburg during other trips and never cease to be amazed.  On this trip, though, we joined the msAriana at Passau, one of the most visited cities in all of Germany.

Passau has been called the Venice of Bavaria, or the Drei-Fluss-Stadt, three rivers town. Dominated by rivers, Old Town is built on a peninsula whose end marks the confluence of the Danube with the Inn. A smaller tributary, the Ilz, emerges from a gorge to the north topped by two picture-perfect castles, complete with turrets and all. From a high vantage point, one can discern the rivers by their colors: The Ilz is black, the Danube is blue-brown, and the Inn is silver-gray.

I loved the pastel colors of houses lining the riverbank—pale yellow, russet brown, amber, and lime-green—meeting the baby-blue sky above. From the river banks, we climbed through a maze of narrow streets to reach the cream-colored St. Stephens Cathedral. What a treat! No wonder Napoleon said that in all of Germany, he never saw a town so beautiful. 

Celtics established and fortified their settlement on the Passau peninsula in 500 BC, trading salt up and down the Danube and Inn rivers. Romans replaced the fort with a camp in the first century AD. In the Christian era, the city was reborn and eventually became a prince-bishopric with its ecclesiastical rulers ruling along the Danube as far as Vienna. Passau became rich through trading flint, ceramics, wine, and grain. Products were offloaded at Passau and sent via pack animals far into Bohemia. Back the other way came hops, malts, spirits, animal hides and wool. Merchants made sure that their Rathaus (town hall) was one of the most splendid civic buildings along the Danube.

After touring Passau on our own and ending with coffee in one of the many riverside cafes, we boarded the svAriana for our cruise down the Danube. The top deck provided a view for miles.

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Fifteen miles downstream from Passau, the Danube becomes a wholly Austrian river; however, four centuries before Charlemagne’s rule, the river was the boundary of the crumbling Roman Empire. Craggy granite heights above riverside towns were used by the Romans for forts and lookout stations. Now those fortresses hang onto bluffs, and hide behind breaks in the forests, abandoned to the ravages of nature. I imagine that each of these castles has a story to tell. We do know that some rose again as medieval castles, and later, others were turned into restaurants-with-a-view.

In no time, we were about to enter the first set of locks. I was amazed to see how close the ship came to the edge of the locks—not much over one foot! All these locks along the rivers differentiate a European river cruise from an ocean cruise. The Danube has most of them, a total of 19 locks; most of them (15) are between Regensburg and Vienna; one is between Bratislava and Budapest; and two are at the Iron Gates between Budapest and Bucharest. And finally, the last one is at Cernavoda, close to the delta.

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Dikes have been built to prevent floods along the Danube ever since the 16th century. Only about a fifth of the floodplains that lay along the Danube in the 19th century remain. Now, the Danube itself is regulated along over 80% of its length. Around 60% of the yearly electricity generation within the Danube River Basin in Austria originates from hydropower. After svAriana had passed through the locks to the other side, we viewed vast swaths of generation stations.

Europe is the birthplace of the bicycle and cycling culture runs deep. And the Austrian Danube is most likely the most famous cycle route in all of Europe. As we sailed downstream, we saw bicyclists on the banks cycling downstream. Most start their bike tour near Passau and end in Vienna; however, some continue to Bratislava, Slovakia, only 35 miles away down the river. The route is easy for beginners: There are few hills, and most of the ride is on paved paths that follow the river as it passes through the Eastern European countryside. One 13-day, 526-mile ride (named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 Tours of a Lifetime”) from Experience Plus begins in Germany and winds past „impressive Bavarian monasteries, verdant Austrian vineyards, and pristine Hungarian villages before ending in the imperial gem that is Budapest.“ Melanie, because I began this blog on a German typewriter while staying at my step-daughter’s home in Germany, now Word does not allow me to fix the quotes. If you can, fine; if not, just type the preceding sentence over or reword so that it is not a quote. Thanks. Another travel company, AmaWaterways, offers a cruise combined with cycling stops. To some, cycling is a welcome change from the usual cruise-excursion voyage, but I prefer riverboating combined with bus and walking tours.

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During one of these walking tours (in the pedestrian lane of the bike path), our guide described past use of these trails. The bike route follows former bridle paths that run along the river from Passau to Vienna. But before that, commercial ships were pulled upstream by teams of horses.  And before that, slaves of the Roman Empire pulled those ships along! For most Americans, traveling Europe is living a history we don’t know much about. The advantage of cruising Europe is that I can come back to the same cabin every day to research what’s coming up next.

I’m sitting on the top deck of the Ariana while the sun shines on the rippled but peaceful Danube River below. Controlled by numerous dams and locks, the medieval wildness of the Danube has been tamed centuries ago. We began our trip in Passau, Germany; we’ll reach the delta of the Black Sea before turning around to head back.

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The view from our cabin while traveling through Germany to our first destination in Austria

Called the King of Rivers by Napoleon, the Danube is really the Prince. The King title belongs to the Volga, the great River in Russia that drains into the Caspian Sea and is 500 miles longer than the Danube. And even though the Danube is the second longest in Europe, it is only the 25th longest in the world. The Danube begins in Germany’s Black Forest and ends on the Romanian and Ukrainian shores, in the delta region of the Black Sea, 1777 miles away.

While sailing, I’m reading “The Danube, a Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie.” He relates the stories of empires that have risen and fallen along the Danube, from Macedonians, to Romans, to the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, to the Nazis, and most recently, the countries that have shrugged off the yoke of Communist Socialism.

I wondered how such a river affecting so many countries could be governed. The book covers this in its last chapter. In 1946 a council of European foreign ministers announced the creation of the International Danube Commission, with headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. At first, only the Eastern bloc countries, along with Yugoslavia, formed this new body; then Austria joined in 1960. Germany did not join until after the  fall of communism. With the break-up of the Balkans in the 1990s, the commission rose to ten countries, with Slovakia succeeding Czechoslovakia, Serbia and Croatia succeeding Yugoslavia, and Moldova and Ukraine succeeding the USSR. There is probably no other river in the world whose navigable length is of such international complexity!

During this trip, we will see a panoply of flags displayed on the boats that ply this river. Just as during our world sailing circumnavigation on Pacific Bliss, it doesn’t matter much what one’s nationality is. In this river, we are all Mariners.

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Those who know me understand why I thought of our 43-foot catamaran as a person. And yes, she has a “voice.” Here is one of her sailors’ tales, written on the 6th day of a passage from the Maldives to Salalah, Oman. Position: 14º17´N, 59º23´E

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I’m Pacific Bliss, and I have my own story to tell. I wasn’t too happy last night. I droned along—as blissful as can be on a glassy sea—giving my wings a rest. My navigator was busy at the nav station entering comments into the logbook about the three fishing boats at the horizon to my port. “3-4 miles off,” she wrote. She could see that horizon under the light of a half-moon, beaming a silvery path right to the port helm seat. My able-bodied seaman Chris had just gone off watch. And my Captain was sawing logs, storing up energy for the dogleg watch.

All of a sudden, I was trapped like a hunted prey, my engine gasping for breath. And I’m a huge whale of prey, at 12 tons. My daggerboards were trapped at one side of a huge black net, and both my hulls were wrapped at the stern. I was helpless! I must say; my crew rose to the occasion. Lois ran to the helm. Chris was out of his bunk like a flash and shut off the engine. Gunter heard the commotion breaking through his dreams and arrived topsides, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. My crew does take care of me. I’m important—and they know it.

Even so, it took them awhile to get me out of this predicament. First, they took down my sails so I couldn’t press forward. Then they raised both daggerboards all the way up to free the forward side of the net. But it was still wrapped around my stern—on both sides. White floats held the net, and one big float, the bitter end I think, was bobbing at the port side, trying to sneak underneath.

My crew used every hook on board to try to get that net free, to no avail. They discussed going down below me, into that deep dark sea, but no-one wanted to do that at night. I don’t blame them; that net was heavy and still attached to a fishing boat over four miles away.

As Lois and Chris peered over the port side, they heard the blow of a whale coming for air— three times to be exact. I wonder what happens to one of those whales caught in a net like that. I know what happens to dolphins and sea turtles; they struggle and drown. Poor things!

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Well, Chris managed to push that big float underneath me with that big hook we have on board. The float slid underneath me, past the rudder and sail drive, and out into the sea. That left only a small section of the net at my starboard stern. He pushed that down with the same hook and finally we were free. My engines started again, and we continued motoring to our destination.

Later on Captain Gunter’s watch, another fisherman hailed us on the VHF. He didn’t speak English well, but he gave his position. “Is that your net or your boat position?” Lois asked him three times. (She was still up after her watch, keeping Gunter company, “teaming up,” they call it.) Finally, the man gave her two lats and longs, one for the boat and another for the net. Turns out his net was 10 kilometers long (that’s about 6 miles for you Americans who still do not understand the metric system). We had to deviate course for some time.

Frankly friends, I’m relieved to hear that we have only 350 miles to go to Salalah. I’m tired of these Indian Ocean fishing nets, tired of sailing, and quite ready for a rest!

1. Myanmar is more open to tourism than ever before. The country welcomed some 3 million visitors in 2014, about half of those international tourists. Five million tourists was a target set for 2015, although the numbers are not in yet. The number of tourists to Myanmar (Burma) is exploding because tourists may now enter freely after acquiring a visa online and picking it up on arrival; they can travel freely throughout the countryside without escorts (this was not the case during my first visit in 2006); and Myanmar is the most authentic and untouched of all the countries in Southeast Asia. Tourists are rushing to see it before it turns into another Thailand. So now is the time to go!

My husband and I chose Myanmar as our international vacation destination for 2014. Because of skyrocketing tourism, hotels tended to be scarce during the high season, so we chose to leave in October and return in early November. We booked through Enchanting Travels, Myanmar. They organized an independent “slow travel” tour for us via auto and plane, with a local tour guide at each destination. Our round-trip tour included the bustling city of Yangon, the fertile farms of Shan state, the mountain villages of Pindaya, the fishing villages of Inle Lake, the stupas of Bagan, a two-day cruise up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, and relaxing at Ngapali beach, where I had an opportunity to journal before heading home.

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You can access my blog posts and photos about my trips to Burma here:

Why Go to Myanmar?

Burma in My Blood

Walking a Village in Myanmar

Burma, My Next Favorite Place

I recommend booking hotel rooms in advance through a local travel company—at least for the first few days of your trip. Cash is king in Myanmar. You can exchange dollars for kyats as you go.  Credit cards are not widely accepted but ATM machines are readily available. WiFi is like dial-up internet of the 1990s in most places, but that only forces you to adapt to the slow travel approach. Just be patient, take it easy, and enjoy the spectacular scenery and friendly people. Pack for hot weather. The “peak season” to visit with the best weather is from November to February. We traveled in October during the “shoulder season” because we wanted to be home for Thanksgiving. If you visit in other months, you’ll suffocate (110F/45C in Yangon) or you’ll soak during the rainy season.

2. Cartagena, Colombia is one of the most charming cities we visited during our entire sailing circumnavigation. Now you can fly there from almost anywhere in the world. The city holds a special place in my heart because this was our refuge from a Force 10 storm that we encountered off the coast of Venezuela during the Maiden Voyage of Pacific Bliss. In fact, I wrote this about Cartagena in Chapter 7 of In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage:

Cartagena is a magical place that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime. But a word of caution: Once you come to see her, you will dream about when you can return. From its charming, old walled city to its historic naval and land fortifications to the posh, modern high rises and its tourist beaches, Cartagena dazzles and thrills. However, this is a city that cannot be devoured; she needs to be savored—slowly and deliciously. Mark my words: Gunter and I will be back!

The photos below are taken from Maiden Voyage.

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Although we haven’t returned to this marvelous destination yet, rest be assured, it is on our bucket list! If you want to see the city, just book a hotel and take a city tour or travel around by cab. Be sure to spend a full day in Old Town Cartagena. While you’re there, you might want to take one of the many Spanish language courses offered. Or you might want to book a day sail to Islas del Rosario for some swimming and snorkeling. If you’re more adventurous, contact Worldview Travel about one of their jungle tours.

3. I never tire of Bali, Indonesia. But beware: Once you go there, you’ll return again and again. Bali has a special significance to me because Gunter and I spent our honeymoon there back in 1995. We rented a hotel at world-famous Kuta Beach, not far from populous Denpasar. If you like loud music and crowded beaches, this is for you. If you are more adventurous, you can do what we did. We checked out of our hotel after two noisy days and booked a four-day boat trip to Lombok and then to the Komodo Islands to see the dragons. Back in Bali, we spent the second week at the far side of the island, at a quiet beach resort with a volcanic, black-sand beach. We were instructed to hit the dong of a wooden carving outside our door to call for coffee service. Later, a server asked us, “Did you know that Mick Jagger slept here—in your bungalow?” Hmm. But our favorite part of Bali was the traditional town of Ubud in the interior, where we watched Balinese processions, visited carving and silver shops, and took in a Legong Dance at the King’s Palace.

When we visited Bali the second time, during our world circumnavigation, we knew exactly where we wanted to stay. With Pacific Bliss safely berthed at the Bali International Marina, we took a taxi to Hotel Tjampuhan on the outskirts of Ubud. For one week, we enjoyed a totally hedonistic experience in a secluded hillside bungalow overlooking a lush valley.  Birds called back and forth, their high notes overriding the deeper sounds of rushing water far below. Squirrels raced up tall tamarind trees and red hibiscus blooms added color to the verdant landscape. We swam in a cool, spring-fed pool, and enjoyed side-by-side massages at a spa dug into the hillside above the waterfall. In the cool of the evening, we walked into town and enjoyed performances at The Royal Palace. Later during our sojourn in Bali, we booked a few days with friends in Sanur Beach—a much better alternative to Kuta. I haven’t been back to Bali since the advent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love book and movie but rest assured, this island will never lose its charm.

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4. Vietnam is a must visit that combines history and beauty—and they openly welcome Americans. We visited Vietnam in June 2006, along with a cruising couple who had set up our private tour for four with a local travel agency, Focus Travel. That worked out well because we could share a van and driver. In fact, the total cost for each of us to tour there for 10 days, including guides, private transportation, four-star hotels, tours, a cooking class, 10 breakfasts, 4 lunches and one dinner, plus domestic flights from Hanoi to Danang and from Hue to Saigon was $673. We flew from Langkawi, where Pacific Bliss was berthed, into Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Vietnam has over 2,000 miles of coastline and our route from Hanoi to Saigon covered most of it, backed by central highlands and jagged mountain ridges throughout most of it. Fertile farms line the rivers and deltas. We loved Hanoi with its charming French colonial boulevards and landscaped lakes. The city was a wonderful mixture of old and new. In addition to taking in a Water Puppet show and a Vietnamese cooking class, we toured the Military Museum and the sobering Hao Lo Prison Americans called the “Hanoi Hilton.” 

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We found the people giving, gracious and anxious to please. I was fascinated to learn what the younger Vietnamese think about what they call “The American War:” According to them, that was but a blip in their history, following a1000-year war against China and a 30-year war against France. Yes, the older generation of Vietnamese are battle-hardened, proud, and nationalist. But for the energetic younger generation (the median age is 29) Vietnam is a place to succeed, to earn a lot of money, and to have a good time. They care little about politics; they were born since all those wars occurred.

From Hanoi we drove along the coast to Halong Bay, a World Heritage site, then flew to Danang with its stretches of unspoiled sandy beaches, and drove on to Hoi An to relax at a beach resort for a couple of days. In a town famous for its tailors, we dropped off clothing to be “copied” and picked up the next day. Next we drove over the mountains to Hue, the former capital city of Vietnam where we took an evening barge trip down the Perfume River. We flew to Saigon and checked into a 1920s hotel in the heart of downtown, great for shopping and touring a city that, in 2006, had no McDonalds, KFC, or chain stores of any kind. From Saigon, we toured the Mekong Delta and then drove through industrial areas south of Saigon—car assembly plants, and numerous manufacturing complexes. There, we could see that rapid industrialization was underway.   

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With over 90 million inhabitants in 2014, Vietnam is the world’s 13th most populous country. A full 65% of its population is under 30. Since 2000, the country’s GDP growth in has been among the highest in the world, with the U.S. as its largest trading partner. When we were there, the populace was very excited about joining the World Trade Organization in 2007.  Since then, much has changed dramatically, so if you want to see parts of the old Vietnam with the simpler life, go there soon!

5. If you want a more adventurous vacation, check out Savu Savu or Fiji’s remote Lau Island Group.  We sailed almost all the way around Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, then left our yacht in Savusavu, on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu. We had obtained a special permit in Suva to visit Fiji’s remote Lau Group for a thatched-hut-on-the-beach experience. Not easy, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Chapters 8 and 10 of Sailing the South Pacific, my second book in the adventure series, describes two sailing seasons we spent in Fiji, where we had too many adventures to list here. Feel free to ask for advice in the COMMENT section below.

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What are your travel plans for 2016?

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