Sharing Lap-Lap in Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, Lois and Günter watch a local knead dough for lap-lap.

One of our favorite things to do when traveling is to finagle an invitation to the home of a family who lives there. Or, when we were sailing around the world, we liked to invite locals on our boat.

My first experience receiving such an invitation was during a Cruising World charter. Heading back from a Polynesian church service in Yassawa, Fiji, a couple beckoned us from their thatched-roof dwelling. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” a man in a sulu (sarong) asked. My husband, Gunter, nodded and we walked over, took off our shoes, and went inside.

“We only have one fish, but we’d like to share,” his wife offered, while her young boy tugged at her muumuu-style dress. The meal had already been spread out on the floor on top of a tapa cloth. The small fish occupied center stage, surrounded by mashed sweet potatoes and what appeared to be back-eyed peas. We all gathered around on the floor and took part in the meager meal while answering questions about “those boats anchored in their bay.” They wanted to know about our cruising lifestyle and we wanted to learn about theirs. “Breaking bread,” although none was offered here, was a ritual we would repeat often during the nineteen years we’ve been retired, sailing and traveling the world.

Many years later, we were no longer sailing charter yachts; we had retired and purchased our own yacht, Pacific Bliss. While sailing to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu during our world circumnavigation, we anchored in Vureas Bay. The villagers there had a problem, they needed to fish to provide for their families, but the propeller for their only boat was kaput. Would Günter take a look? The propeller was beyond repair, so Günter offered to give him the spare prop for our dinghy. It was brand new, but we planned to leave Vanuatu to sail to Bundaberg, Australia, where we would store Pacific Bliss for the cyclone season. We’d buy another one next year. The villagers were flabbergasted and threw us a “Thank You Prop Party.” They strung flowers over fishing line hung high to surround the feast area. On top of mats, they spread various dishes donated by the villagers. One lady brought four of her precious eggs in a homemade basket as a gift!

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

During the Waterfall Bay Festival we invited Chief Jimmy and his wife Lillian for afternoon tea. I recount this in my second book, Sailing the South Pacific. I’d put a double-sized load of cinnamon-raisin bread mix into the Breadmaker. The story continues:

“It is far too hot for tea…I served cold juice in cartons, and we talk in the cockpit. The Breadmaker beeps. Both visitors rush to see the machine. They had never seen a Breadmaker before! The chief makes that loud whistling sound, common to all Ni-Vanuatu when they’re impressed. We allow the bread to cool while we attempt to continue the conversation, but Jimmy is distracted. He just stares at the loaf on the breadboard. I slice half the loaf and place a slice on each of the small plates, along with knives to spread butter and jam. The jar of raspberry jam is labeled “Made in Port Vila, Vanuatu” but our guests have never tasted anything like it. It goes fast. I ask Jimmy whether he wants another slice. Of course, he does!

‘Go ahead, slice it yourself,’ Gunter says.

Jimmy cuts a thick slice. No tea-sized portions for him! As he slathers on the butter and jam, he says, ‘Very good. American lap-lap.’ He devours that slice and cuts even more. Before long, the entire loaf is gone!”

Lap-lap is the national dish of Vanuatu, similar to pizza, that’s baked in earth pits covered with hot rocks. The locals cover the crust with small fish, coconut paste, or smashed sweet potato (see my blog Why Travel.)

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Our most recent “breaking bread with locals” occurred during our trip to Uzbekistan. To our delight, Zulya Rajabova, owner of Silk Road Treasure Tours, had arranged a surprise visit to her childhood home in Bukhara. We had the opportunity to meet her parents, sister, numerous relatives, as well as two other travelers and their guide. The home is typical of Uzbekistan family compounds, a one-level U-shaped structure surrounding an inner courtyard. So while Zulya was busy running her company in New York, we enjoyed having a marvelous lunch with her family! After multiple courses, nieces and nephews performed for us. Saying goodbyes was difficult, but despite the surprise visit, we still had a schedule to meet—including a stop in Nurata on the way to a Yurt Camp near Aydarkul Lake.

Lois and Günter with Zulya's parents.

Lois and Günter with Zulya’s parents.

Uzbekistan bride

Günter poses with a recently married family member.

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 this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Our travel took over a day—from San Francisco, to Istanbul, to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. When we arrived, our guide, Fakhriddin, was waiting at the exit of the airport with a sign. We walked into the cool early morning air to a waiting car and driver and were off to Tashkent Lotte City Palace. We were checked in by 2:45 a.m.

Günter and I were wide awake by 6 a.m. so we had a chat with AT&T in New York about how to switch our phones to Wi-Fi only and avoid international roaming. Then we enjoyed a deluxe east-meets-west breakfast soon after the dining room opened at 7 a.m. Our Day 1 schedule said, “check in and relax” but we were too excited. I’d fueled myself with a cappuccino and we were ready to stretch our legs and see the sights. “Just a short walk around the area,” Gunter said, “to get out the kinks from all that sitting. Then we’ll relax.” Famous last words. After 4.2 miles on our sports bands, we arrived back at the hotel exhausted. But already, we’d seen and learned enough to get a sense of place.

Navoi Theatre

Navoi Theatre. This Soviet-era Opera House, directly across from the Lotte hotel where we stayed, was built by Japanese WWII POWs but with the Uzbek design detail shown here.

Directly across from our hotel stands the huge Navoi Soviet-era opera/ballet theatre built by Japanese POWs using Uzbek architectural techniques. We walked around the huge building trying to get that concept into our jet-lagged heads while Fakhriddin (Fak for short) riddled us with other stories. I liked the one about the 7000 children—most of them Jewish orphans from Europe—that were dumped by the Soviets into the city of Tashkent along with orders to “just take care of them.” Rather than build an orphanage, the Uzbeks took them into their homes; sometimes half a dozen would be taken into one family and brought up along with their own children. That story introduced me to Uzbek culture: one of hospitality in which foreigners are treated as guests of honor. Tashkent has a sizable Jewish and Japanese population to this day.

I was amazed at the mix of nationalities and styles of clothing in Tashkent. Street vendors were dressed in multicolor dresses and scarves and clunky shoes with socks. But at the main thoroughfares, businessmen wore black suits, white shirts and ties with dark, highly polished shoes and women wore long sleeve blouses, blazers, and skirts at knee-length or slightly above—with nylons and heels. It could have been New York!

Tashkent plov and samosasAt one corner, an open-air restaurant was serving plov out of a humongous wok and samosas (meat-filled pastries) from another. “Take a look,” Fak urged. Plov—a conglomeration of rice, vegetables, and bits of meat swimming in lamb fat and oil—is a staple throughout Central Asia, but most closely associated with Uzbekistan. Each province has its own style, which locals proudly proclaim is the best. Rumor has it that drinking the oil at the bottom of the kazan (large cauldron) adds a spark to a man’s libido. “The plov here is the best,” said Fak while directing us to an oil-cloth-covered table. “You have to try some. I’ll make sure the cook selects portions that he’s pushed up along the side of the kazan, so you don’t get the fat.” Soon dishes of plov, samosas, and a heap of naan-type bread covers our little table. And we weren’t even hungry.

We walked off our lunch by walking through the near-by park, art lining the sidewalks. Then we walked a long way to the main post office to select commemorative stamps for a friend. By then, we were ready for a taxi back and a long, well-deserved nap!

Tashkent Barak Khan

If Day 1 was a taste of Tashkent, Day 2 was some serious touring. We walked through Old Town and much of the Khast Imon Square, ending with the Barak Khan Medressa (school) on the west side where we strolled along souvenir shops that formerly housed students. Northwest of the square, we peeked into the mausoleum of Abu Bakr Kaffal Shoshi, a famed Islamic scholar and poet.

We ended our tour at the famed Chorsu Bazaar, one of Tashkent’s 16 open-air farmers’ markets. What an amazing and energizing experience! This slide show depicts a few of our many encounters with locals there:

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A restaurant bordering a park was the perfect place to eat and relax. As we were finishing our lunch, a bridal party asked their photographer to have a picture taken of them with us. Americans! How special! Who knew? This scenario would be repeated throughout Uzbekistan.

We booked our Independent Travel tour to Uzbekistan through Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours. Coincidentally, she was attending a travel conference in San Diego during our first weekend back home! She visited us to debrief and is bringing back my first two books to add to The Long Way Back she already has.

Silk Road Treasure Tours

Lois and Zulya in San Diego

One week from now, Gunter and I will be on a plane bound for Uzbekistan. We can barely contain our excitement. We’ve had a successful pre-trip conference call with Zulya, our travel agent at Silk Road Treasure Tours. Gunter has retrieved our luggage from storage—two small suitcases and two rolling carry-ons. I purchased a new Baggallini travel bag and a Wallaroo foldable hat at Traveler’s Depot, bought some fun new clothes at Sundance and Chicos, and replaced my old sports shoes with lightweight, less showy walking shoes at Road Runner Sports. We’ve refilled our prescriptions and purchased travel-size personal items, 220-volt converters, assembled chargers, checked batteries, and charged up our Kindles.

Do it now. Don’t stress out.

We both realize that preparation one week in advance means less stress later, when we’ll want to say goodbyes without lists running through our heads. For this trip, we have new packing cubes. I’m looking forward to using them.

Packing Tips

Packing cubes and laundry bags always come in handy for storing personal items, dusty shoes, and of course, your laundry.

Packing Cubes

These larger cubes are great for packing folded shirts and tops, underwear, etc. You can keep them in your luggage, or unpack them directly into a dresser drawer as is.

Packing Tips Luggage Tag

Mark your luggage with a can’t-miss tag so you can easily distinguish it in the baggage carousel.

Packing Tips Day Bag

Bring a small daypack that fits easily into the outside pocket of your suitcase.

If you haven’t learned how to correctly fold a blouse or shirt, now is the time to practice—not when you’re rushed. Pack a few items into a cube like this: We’re taking one “wardrobe suitcase” that allows us to pack our clothes on hangers and merely hang them up at hotels, but if you want to pack one week’s worth of clothes in a 22” carry-on suitcase—without using cubes, here’s how:

Protect your back

Many years ago, we transitioned from backpacks to rolling carry-ons. It makes traveling so much easier. If you check your other luggage, do make sure to pack your electronics, reading materials and/or journal, valuables, medicines, and sufficient items to get by overnight into your carry-on, in the rare event that you and your checked luggage get separated.

Lois with red carry-on

Lois with red carry-on

When you read my next blog in this series, I’ll be underway. Sign up, if you haven’t done so already. I’d love to have you travel along with me at the middle of The Silk Road.

Silk_Road with Samarkand at the crossroads

Silk Road with Samarkand at the crossroads.

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 this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time.