Giant Clam

Giant Clam.

Expect the Unexpected

Often when traveling—whether on sea or land—I’ve grown accustomed to taking the road less traveled and coming across unexpected delights. During our Fiji adventures with Lydia and Helmut as crew, we took a sailing detour to visit a little-known research station located on a small Fijian island. We heard about these magnificent clams from another cruiser and decided to check it out for ourselves. We were not disappointed! Here’s an excerpt from pages 230-231 of Sailing the South Pacific:

Makogai Island, Fiji
June 20,2003

0630: Roosters crowing. Birds gossiping. Fish splashing. What an idyllic morning! As I sit in the cockpit, the only sound of civilization is the generator from the research station located farther into the bay. We will visit that facility today. The coffee pot whistles. As I turn to the galley, I notice fountains of cumulus clouds at each of the bay’s entrances. Palms fringe the mountain tops, rimming the dawn. It is the type of morning I love.

Makogai is one of these rare jewels that few know about. It’s not listed in the Lonely Planet. The only way to get here is to sail as we did or hitch a passage on boats visiting the government aqua-culture operation and sheep station. This island, transferred over to
Suva in 1979, has a history as a leper colony. Now it’s a spawning area for an exotic species of giant clams called Tridacna gigas.

Our snorkel over the reefs is perfect. The spawning beds are specially marked. The giant clams bred here are the largest I have ever seen—humongous mollusks with lips of cobalt blue, emerald green, and mottled brown. They are set in corals covering every color of the spectrum. Fan coral in shades of amber and taupe wave at me while iridescent reef fish dart in and out of the coral. A huge sea slug that looks like a fat crooked finger lazily makes its way over the sandy sea floor. What a wonderful day! We enjoy a glorious sunset, sipping cold white wine in the cockpit while we admire the western sky at the opening to Dalice Bay. I feast my eyes while Lydia excitedly snaps one photo after another.

The next morning, we snorkel through the two reef gardens again before heading for the fishery. We learn that the fishery plants hundreds of baby clams along the reefs throughout Fiji and exports some to Tonga and the Solomons.

A supervisor there gives us a tour of the giant clam incubation tanks. He tells us that this species are the largest of the bivalve mollusks. In ten years they can be measured end to end with outstretched arms. They have a 100-year lifespan and can weigh up to 500 pounds. With their shells wide open, they bask in sunlight so the symbiotic algae living with them can produce their food. Interestingly, hundreds of tiny eyes dot their skin, allowing them to sense sudden changes in their environment. The shells then close defensively. The man says that the adult clams here are incapable of slamming their shells completely shut because of their massive bulk. Still, no one volunteers to put that to a test with an arm or foot!

In case you’ve missed them, other blogs in this Fiji Adventures series are: Reconnecting with Crew, Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji, Part II and Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


From time to time, my blog will include an excerpt from one of my books. This story is an example of Serendipity—one of my favorite words.

Excerpted from The Long Way Back, pages 228-29:

An Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka

06º01’N, 80º13’E
Galle, Sri Lanka
February 9

Despite the miseries that we’ve endured this past week, part of the joy of traveling is encountering the unexpected. We did not plan to stop at this island nation, southeast of India. Our plan was to sail straight to the Maldives. But after our miserable crossing of the Bay of Bengal, we welcome any refuge from the lumpy seas.

Serendipity brought us to Sri Lanka. And I’m fascinated that the country’s original name was Serendip, an Arab traders’ word applied to the land long before the Portuguese came on the scene. It reflected the lucky circumstance of their discovery and contact. Today, in its native Sinhala tongue, Sri Lanka means Land of the Blessed. For us, being here is indeed blessed and serendipitous.

Günter and I intend to understand its people and culture better—and, yes, even its’ continuing civil war. This war caused us to strike Sri Lanka from our original circumnavigation plan. Now, though, we cannot avoid its ongoing cruelty. We arrive at dawn’s light, crossing the shipping channels at 90 degrees and deviating course twice to sail behind giant freighters.

“You never want to cross in front of a freighter,” Günter tells our crew, Chris, “because it can take one of those monsters up to four miles to stop.”

Maldives flag, Sri Lankan flag

Chris, our crew, with the Maldives flag. Gunter with Sri Lankan flag.

As instructed via VHF, we prepare the ship for anchoring outside the harbor. It doesn’t take long to see the guns. We’ve never experienced an entrance like this! Two small runabouts, with mounted machine guns, race toward our boat while men wave and point to where they want us to drop the hook. Next, we spot a huge navy vessel—tons of sleek steel glinting in the morning sun—coming around the breakwater. Three Immigration Officers from the navy vessel board Pacific Bliss, while the two speedboats keep circling us.

Sri Lanka fisherman near Galle

Stilt Fisherman near Galle, Sri Lanka.

The officers conduct a thorough inspection of Pacific Bliss and give us forms to fill out.  These are immigration forms, and each asks the same questions over and over. The process lasts half an hour. Then, after stamping the paperwork, one officer asks for “smokes.” Wisely, we had purchased a few cartons just for this purpose. Chris distributes a pack to each officer.

We’ll have a two-hour wait before being shown inside the harbor, but we don’t mind; we’re happy to have our first onboard breakfast in a week in calm water. After breakfast, via VHF, we hire a local agent, G.A.C. Shipping, to handle the rest of the voluminous paperwork that will allow Pacific Bliss to berth here.

Later, a navy officer boards our ship to direct Günter to a berth inside the harbor. As we enter, we note that it’s entirely roped off, except for one small lane for fishing boats and yachts. The officer presents us with three choices: to tie up to a black buoy in the center, where we’d have to use our dinghy to get to shore; to Med-moor to a floating dock, consisting of wobbly plastic sections with no handholds; or to raft to one of the monohulls along the sea wall. We choose the third option and raft to a small monohull flying an Italian flag. Now we can walk across the monohull and from there, onto dry land.

“Well, we’re finally safe,” Günter declares with a sigh. “But we’re not going to do any serious touring until we graduate to a berth directly on the sea wall. Tomorrow, we’ll just walk around Galle and mingle with the locals.”

That first night, cradled by Pacific Bliss and swaying with the current, I fall asleep feeling like we are still at sea. KA-BOOM! I jerk awake. I hear and feel the thunderous boom right through the water and the hull. Oh my God! What have we gotten ourselves into?

Günter pulls me over to him and hugs me tight. “It’s the depth charges, remember? They told us this would happen.”

Talk about encountering the unexpected!

“It feels like we’re in a war zone!”

“We are. It’s the price we pay for taking refuge from the storm.”

How has serendipity worked in your life? When you travel, do you make allowances for expecting the unexpected? Please add your own comments.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Travel planning should be fun, not stressful. How can you make it so?
A Checklist Can Ease Your Stress
__ Do you need a passport? If so, allow plenty of time for it to arrive to your door.

__Does your destination require a VISA? Apply six weeks in advance in case you run into bureaucratic difficulties.

__Do you want to sign up for Global Entry?

Global Entry PassportWhat is Global Entry? Global Entry is a program of the United States Government’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports. It makes international travel so much easier. To apply, one must complete the online application at https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry/how-apply. After your application is reviewed, you will be contacted to schedule an interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. At the interview, a CBP officer asks you questions, takes your photo, and collects biometric information such as fingerprints. Gunter and I signed up for Global Entry this year and will use this additional stamp in our passport for the first time during our upcoming trip to Uzbekistan. We hope to glide right through those long custom lines! I’ll let you know how it works out.

__Well before you travel, make sure your medical, dental, and eyecare is up to date. Will you require vaccinations? The week before you leave, refill any prescriptions you’ll need, including those little-used “emergency” pills—just in case.

__Prepare a sample itinerary. If you’re with a group, your travel agency will do this. Be sure to ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Which reservations must be made early? If you’re traveling during high season, hotels may fill up fast.

__Purchase your train, bus or plane ticket or prepare your car for travel.

__ Check those sites that combine travel, hotels, and transportation in package deals, such as Travelocity, Expedia, Costco, etc. Will any of these work for you? (Beware, sometimes package deals are misleading and can be difficult to change later.)

__Make a list of clothes and personal items you’ll need to buy; if you’re shopping online, allow time for shipment and/or backorders. Check the weather in your destination – average highs and lows for the time of year you plan to travel. I retrieve our luggage from storage two weeks in advance and begin to throw in personal items and clothes I know I won’t be needing in the next few weeks. Then I repack a day or two before the trip and add any clothes I don’t want to wrinkle.

__Review your photography equipment; will you need anything else? Be sure you have backup flash drives in case you fill up your camera(s). If you don’t normally take a lot of photos, familiarize yourself with your camera’s operation before you go. Will you need to download parts of your manual? If using a smartphone, bring a back-up charger for the trip.

__What will your internet connections be like? Will they have broadband? Wifi? (I just found out that some places in Uzbekistan still have dial-up. I’ll probably transmit only in the larger cities.)

__ If you’re traveling internationally, inform your bank and/or credit card company in advance. You do not want to be without access to funds.

Raj Palace Entrance

Gunter on the Raj Palace stairs to our unexpected suite

Prepare To Expect The Unexpected
What if your expectations don’t meet reality? That’s part of the adventure and thrill of travel. When traveling in India, our flight from Varanasi to Agra was cancelled after we had already checked in our luggage. Our next stop was to be two nights at a hotel near the Taj Mahal. Fortunately, our travel company had provided us with a cell phone and India SIM card for just such emergencies. We called them, and within 20 minutes, they had solved the problem. A driver magically appeared as our luggage was coming back down the carousel; he led us to his car and we were on our way, driving overnight.

Raj Palace Courtyard

Raj Palace Courtyard

 

The dirt road was rough and at some places, the driver went off the road into the ditch to bypass construction zones, but by early morning, we stopped at the palace of a Raj to stay for the day and evening, and the following day, we were safely deposited to our hotel in Agra.

 

 

 

 

 

Raj Palace Light Fixture

One of the many exquisite light fixtures in our suite.

 

 

I wouldn’t have missed staying in that palace for all the tea in China (I mean, India). I felt like a princess as the rising sun shone through gorgeous stained glass and exquisite chandeliers illuminated every room.

So, prepare to be flexible. Don’t over schedule and take things as they come. Above all, don’t stress.

 

 

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.