FESTPAC, the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, was first on my Bucket List.

This week’s Sunday paper tells me that there’s a boom in people planning, but not making, travel arrangements. Until Covid clears, people just want to put some joy back into their lives. I’d don’t blame them. As an adventurer with wanderlust in my blood, dreaming of traveling again is like giving a drink of water to a parched soul. So, Gunter and I spent part of the day making out a new bucket list.

Back in 2004, during our world circumnavigation, we attended the Festival of Pacific Arts, the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders. This festival is hosted every four years by a different Pacific Island nation. At that time, we’d vowed to attend another one when the country and timing suited us. This could be the year! The 2020 festival was cancelled due to Covid and rescheduled for June 18-27, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The last such event, held in Guam in 2016, drew 90,000 visitors. This year’s festival will be made up of 28 nations, 3,000 delegates and could attract 100,000 visitors. I turned to Günter: “Because we have no schedule for this year, this fits perfectly. Shall we plan but not book?”

That turned out to be the applicable question. The very next day, Günter went back to the website to check on hotel reservations. The 2021 festival is now cancelled! The next one will be in 2024. FESTPAC will remain on my Bucket List but will no longer be Number One.

Fest Pac Logo

The following story about our experiences during 2004 FESTPAC is excerpted from The Long Way Back, the third book in my sailing/adventure trilogy:

A Taste of the Pacific Arts
Palau Marina Hotel, Koror, Palau
August 1, 2004

Even though Pacific Bliss is now berthed in Australia, I’m not quite ready to put the South Pacific islands behind me. I’d love to be able to sample even more of the culture of these islands before we sail on to Indonesia and ports beyond. So, I talk Günter into treating me to the Festival for my birthday. The Festival occurs every four years and changes venues, like the Olympics, but that’s where the resemblance ends. First, it’s a celebration, not a competition. And second, the way it’s organized is island-style: It flows freely from one event to the other; schedules are treated as guidelines. Attending the Festival will be a grand finale to our South Pacific adventures and provide a taste of those islands we haven’t visited.

We arrive at the Palau Marina Hotel after a day’s layover in Guam following a flight from Cairns, Australia. In the lobby—decorated with bamboo furniture and giant shells—our taxi driver introduces us to the Japanese man who owns the hotel. We bow and talk with him while our driver translates. Smiling Filipina waitresses lead us to our table where we enjoy an arrival dinner of sushi and Asahi (Japanese beer). On leaden legs we climb the steps to our third-floor room and crash. We will have two days to rest up before the action-packed Festival begins.

The next day, we order the “morning set” for breakfast: a semi-American breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs and toast, grilled sausages cut at a slant, and finely shredded coleslaw with dressing. For lunch, we order a bento; yakitori for me and squid for Günter. The side dishes here differ from our old standbys at Ichiban’s in Pacific Beach, San Diego: fish balls, poi-like sticky balls, spinach, seaweed, and other odd delicacies. Emily—one of the trio of Filipinas who works here—fans away flies as we dine on the veranda facing the peaceful harbor ringed by the tantalizing Rock Islands. Our view is a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, the sea’s sun-sparkles giving way to darkening wavelets as the wind freshens. A warm, tropical shower gently drifts past the veranda toward a perfectly domed, mushroom-shaped island, then encloses a backdrop of rounded hills in an ethereal mist reminiscent of Japanese paintings.

I turn to Günter. “Even if this is the rainy season here, I won’t mind.”

Mind? I will soon take back those words as I become intimate with the July-August weather slightly north of the equator!

As we leave the veranda for a sightseeing walk, a second shower appears. This time it’s the real thing. A million sharp-nosed bullets dive into the sea until it’s a mass of perforations, like a high-tech sound studio. We decide to retreat to our room to take our pensioners’ nap, a habit perfected in Australia.

Later, we don rain jackets and slog along the pitted dead-end street to the Palau Aquarium. Outdoor pools hold sharks, a hawksbill turtle, and a variety of large game fish. The magnificent interior contains the best live displays of marine life along a coral wall that I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards, we walk to nearby Fish & Fins to introduce ourselves. This premier dive-and-tour operation is run by an energetic Israeli couple who sailed their sailing vessel Ocean Hunter to Palau eight years ago, fell in love with the fabulous marine life here, and—like many cruisers we’ve met during our voyages—decided to stay in the place that captured their hearts. They charter out their sailboat for overnight excursions to the Rock Islands, along with Ocean Hunter II, a motor dive boat. We check on snorkeling tours for later in the week.

Remarkably, the Opening Ceremony on July 22 begins without the omnipresent rain. “Alii!” begins Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. “Our home is your home; our food is your food; our island is your island; everything that we have, we want to share with you…except our spouses.” I chuckle. “The Pacific Way” has evolved! In a ceremony that reminds me of the Olympics, the delegates of 24 of the 27 participating nations march or dance across the PCC Track and Field, each to their own country’s traditional music. Each delegation presents gifts to the dignitaries of Palau according to the custom of these islands, stakes a box-art gift into the soil, and then performs in front of the grandstand. And what a show it is—absolutely awesome! For cruisers, I’d recommend the Festival over the Olympics anytime.

Günter and I privately declare the delegates from Papua New Guinea Best Dressed, not that they wore a lot of clothes! They sported flamboyant headdresses topping their fierce, tattooed faces with grass skirts and bare chests. (We had the good luck to talk to a few of these delegates briefly before the festivities began and noted their friendly dispositions. Later, Günter observed two of these warrior-dancers holding hands, as is their custom, as they ambled past the craft stalls.)

Lois and Gunter with Papua New Guinea Dancers

The Maoris of New Zealand draw gasps from attendees who have never witnessed their indigenous greeting: the warriors march forward—eyes bulging, tongues protruding, and spears thrust—while their women yell threats and twirl balls on the end of bungee-like cords.

The speeches, performances, and gift giving seem to go on forever as Günter and I shift our weight this way and that on the hard stadium seating. Then volunteers hand out box dinners of rice and fish (symbolizing a feast) to all. Yes—one box to every one of the participants: the media, the organizers, the dignitaries, and the attendees in the grandstand—all 8000 of us! Why? Because that is The Pacific Way. Altogether, the opening ceremony lasts five hours—despite a downpour during the last two—and closes with incredible fireworks, courtesy of Taiwan.

The Festival incorporates multiple simultaneous venues and activities—from symposia, movies, and plays to crafts, culinary arts, and natural history tours—forcing us to make difficult choices. We decide to make dancing our priority. Each of the 27 participating islands has entered a dance group into the competition. Taiwan, Japan, and Indonesia, as sponsors, have sent performers as well. The dancing program continues day and night at the ball field, the stadium—and when raining—the gymnasium.

After attending dance venues for days, we narrow our favorites down to half a dozen:

1. Papua New Guinea: for their flamboyant style while displaying fierce demeanors and fabulous headdresses.

2. Solomon Islands: for dancing to the most primitive rhythms while hunched over huge homemade bamboo flutes.

3. The Cook Islands: for the toughest workout: Male dancers sensuously knee-slap to a fast, pulsating drum beat, then twirl their women in perfect sync.

4. Rapa Nui (Easter Island): for the best choreographed routine—sophisticated, yet vigorous—muscled bodies moving to a hot beat.

5. Yap (one of the Federated States of Micronesia): for an astounding Las Vegas style, all-male chorus routine—ending with pelvic thrusts bouncing critically placed feathers.

6. Torres Strait, Australia: to Aborigines for enacting realistic stories from their lives; in one dance simulation of fishing, the performer falls to the floor, catches the bait with his teeth, and follows a fishing line in, writhing all the way across the stage. That performance raises the roof!

The routines of the Hawaiian and French Polynesian dancers, though the choreography was polished, lacked the drama of indigenous dancing.

Festival Ceremony and Dancing

From pages 28-29, The Long Way Back.

As the festivities continue, we note that music of the Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians reflects a common, linked heritage while Asian Special Performances are clearly different. The songs of the Taiwanese highland tribes, for example, are sophisticated operatic arias with the typical dissonant chords of Asian music. They are 1000 years old!

This ten-day extravaganza has to be the ultimate Pacific tourist opportunity! Imagine mingling with locals from 31 islands while you’re shopping in the stalls, having lunch in Koror, or walking through the college campus to attend a symposium. We get to know and love these islanders as never before. We talk with and photograph dancers before and after their stage performances. Often dancers are having their own photos taken with performers from other troupes; we join right in. By the end of the Festival, I realize that the participants themselves are beginning to “mix it up.”

But it’s not only the participants who are learning from each other. About 7000 people attend the Festival events here each day, including about 3000-4000 Palauans. One local says to me, “This is a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am proud to be a Palauan; I have seen my Pacific brothers and sisters, and now I know that there is no shame in being an islander.” (In Pidgin, this enlightened view is called Blong One Talk.)

An integral part of each year’s Festival is the Traditional Navigation and Canoeing Program. At sunrise on opening day, news helicopters hover above as smoke rises from a fire, triton-shell trumpets blare, and war and sailing canoes pass below Palau’s KB Bridge. Represented are war canoes from eight Palauan states and sailing canoes from Palau, Guam, and the Marshall Islands. Missing sailing canoes from Yap and Saipan, still underway, put a damper on opening festivities. They would show up days later. The monsoon season in Palau is not an optimal time of year for promoting the canoe program!

A few days after the official opening ceremonies, the “scheduled” races are held, although not one is even close to the time on the printed schedule. Günter and I take a taxi to the Friendship Bridge near the stated finish line for the kabekl (war canoe) race. We stand on the concrete jetty, cameras in hand, on increasingly wobbly knees. Then we spread our rain jackets on the concrete. And we sit. And sit. After about two hours, an announcer explains the rules for the two heats to be held by the canoes, to be followed by the play-off. Then we sit and wait again. About a half hour later, the announcer states that, due to the delay, there will be no final race. They will hold only the 1000-meter and a 500-meter. We wait even longer.

Nearby, a few ladies dressed in red and white—with towels over their heads to protect them from the sun—are cheering for the local Ngiwal State of Palau. I decide to follow their example. I stand and cheer, then sit and wait…and wait. Another half hour creeps by and finally the race begins. Everyone stands to cheer—this time for real. The ladies frantically wave their towels like flags. The red team wins. In the 500-meter, Koror wins.

All this waiting gives me the opportunity to talk with islanders. One stocky man in a red T-shirt that must be XXL explains how the Festival has spurred the sport of canoeing. “We’ve had races here before, but with motorboats,” he says. “Our boys didn’t know how to race canoes. You should have seen them only a few months ago. They couldn’t even paddle!”

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any sailboats in the harbors except those used for excursions. “Don’t they sail either?” I ask.

“No, ancient Palauans navigated by the stars and all,” he says, “but then they didn’t need to sail to other islands anymore. We have everything we need here. And sadly, the tradition was not handed down.”

Carrying on the island traditions and culture is exactly what the Festival aims to do. Hoping to learn how to navigate by the stars, we attend the Traditional Navigation symposium the next morning. Unfortunately, much of the discussion centers on intellectual property issues—how to prevent the usurping of traditional skills and knowledge by the West—as if we need those skills with the advent of GPS! Then the discussion turns toward how to get funding for the very program that some of the participants don’t want to share. The locals seem oblivious to the contradiction.

The Sailing Canoe Raceis scheduled for 1:00. This time, we take a taxi to where the canoes actually are, thinking that we will cleverly position ourselves at the start rather than at the finish line. By then, we have begun to understand “island time.” So, Günter keeps our cab while I venture toward the group by the canoes, potential racers who are preparing to barbeque their lunch.

“When do you expect the race to begin?”

“At one o’clock,” one of the racers responds.

“But it’s one-thirty now.” I point to my watch.

“I think the race is actually at four o’clock,” another canoeist volunteers.

“No, the program says that is the time for awarding of the prizes. Do you have a program?”

“No.”

“Hold the cab! We’re leaving!” I call to Günter.

Later, we hear that the races did occur that day—at 4:30 p.m. By then, two teams had decided not to race. Guam, Yap, and Palau—although mismatched—managed to paddle to the finish line against the wind and current under the bridge.

Booths and exhibits at the Festival

From pages 26-27 of The Long Way Back.

Festival activities keep us busy for the next few days. We enjoy hanging around Festival Village where we purchase souvenirs from various countries’ booths and sample their native food. We walk through the thatched-roof Pavilion to view tattooists, carvers, and weavers at work. One project, called MAT, calls for each participant country to weave a 2×2-foot square that will eventually be combined into one majestic Quilt of the Islands, to be displayed at the Palau National Museum. This Museum will also display a carved log with each country’s section, and one large storyboard representative of all carvers’ combined efforts. We view architectural displays and attend poetry readings, instrumentals, and plays. In a clever New Zealand stage play, two actresses recount the history of the Maoris from the first sighting of the white man.

During the final days of the Festival, the rains arrive to stay. A typhoon is moving toward Japan; all of Micronesia is drenched in the resulting weather system. The closing ceremony is moved to the college gymnasium. To make space, the country delegations sit on the wooden floor in the center. Even so, the grandstands are overloaded. Many Palauans are left standing outside holding umbrellas. I sympathize with this tiny country of 20,000 that has valiantly tried its best to be the perfect hosts to 4,000 visitors. But I’m proud of them as well. I’m touched by the warmth of the speeches and by the sincere effort to again feed the crowd in keeping with The Pacific Way.

“In today’s strife-torn world,” concludes Festival Host President Remengesau, “it is uplifting that so many of us have come together to celebrate the value and beauty of our heritage.”

May these Festivals continue to uplift, to teach, to inspire, and to celebrate the heritage of the islands. Attending the 9th Festival of the Pacific Arts was a birthday gift that I will cherish forever.

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Other SailorsTales blogs about the South Pacific are:

Breaking Bread with the Locals

The Pacific Puddle Jump 10-Year Reunion

Cruiser Camaraderie: Revisiting our World Circumnavigation

Reconnecting with Crew

Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling

The Largest Clams in the World

Visiting Levuka, Fiji’s Ancient Capital, during our World Circumnavigation

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. Lois’s books can be purchased on Amazon.

 


Those with wanderlust in our bones are dreaming of traveling again. When I provide recommendations for international travel, I always include Uzbekistan in my short list. (See my February blog: International Destinations: Where to Travel in 2020.) Here are some other links to my blogs about Uzbekistan:

Oh, to go back to that pre-COVID era of innocence!

But If and When You Go:

Contact Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours, Office: 888-745-7670, Cell: 908-347-4280. Her company manages independent and luxury travel tours throughout the Silk Road Countries of Central Asia, as well as to Mongolia and Georgia.

Below is Zulya’s latest blog, which she has graciously consented to share with us here:

The Ceremony of Uzbekistan Sallabandon
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The traditions and customs of the Uzbek people have been shaped by their unique position at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road. The treasures that flowed were not only the ones that can be held in one’s hand, but also those that touch the heart and soul. Art, philosophy, science, and religious ideals were exchanged, enriching the cultures of both the travelers and their hosts.

Uzbek culture reflects a beautiful synthesis of these influences, while maintaining its own unique traditions. From the harmony of its architecture to the masterful detail of its applied arts, from the busy, noisy bazaars to the peaceful, laid-back chaikhana, a journey through Uzbekistan is unique and unforgettable.

It will be helpful for travelers to be aware of some of the conventions of Uzbek society. Let’s share with you our Sallabandon celebration.

Ritual and tradition connect us all. The people of Bukhara, an ancient oasis city in south-western Uzbekistan, celebrate Sallabandon – literally “tying the turban”. This particular ceremony marks the transition of a woman to motherhood.

The regions of Central Asia have a history almost 3,000 years old and the ceremony of Sallabandon has roots in pre-Islamic Sogdian culture. Sogdiana was an empire of city-states in prominence from the 6th to the 11th centuries throughout what is now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in the heart of the Silk Road. Archaeologists at Sogdian sites have found terracotta figurines of a female fertility deity holding a pomegranate and a baby in her hands. Interestingly, they feature a turban-like headdress in the form of a tied scarf.

Ceremony of Uzbekistan SallabandonSallabandon often takes place with other celebrations. It may, for example, occur together with gavorabandon – the occasion of putting a newborn into a cradle for the first time. Russian and European travelers to Bukhara in the early 20th century described the beauty of the local dress and the richness of the jewelry. Women’s clothing in Central Asia retains its traditional sophistication and aesthetic appeal.

On the day of Sallabandon, the young mother wears a splendid kuylak, the traditional tunic-style dress, its front decorated with peshkurta, a gold and silk embroidered band. She uses a kultapushak or gold embroidered headdress with a hair cover, a peshonaband (forehead cover), a large white shawl and a lachak; a white veil. The dressing takes place in the presence of relatives and invited guests. This ritual is performed by a respected senior female family member with many children and grandchildren, usually the grandmother of the young mother. Accompanied by traditional singing, the headdress is placed on the head of the young mother and a length of white fabric is wrapped under her chin and tied on top. The peshonaband is covered by the white shawl symbolizing purity. The young mother then bows to all her guests and relatives and receives their gifts. Her mother and mother in law usually present her with a gold ring, earrings and bracelet, the circle representing the magic of protection from evil. Ceremonial headdresses and costumes are gifts from the mother to her daughter, connecting generations, and bestowing the desire for fertility and protection.

Family values, the importance of children, and the role of mothers as guardians of the house and family, all are brought together in the wonderful Bukharan ritual of sallabandon. We look forward to taking you to our people’s homes to participate in such amazing traditional Uzbek celebrations during your travel in Uzbekistan. You may also enjoy to participatate in the Silk and Spice festivals or Navruz festival.

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.


“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

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I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

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When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

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There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

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Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

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Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

IMG_9465 Palace complex built into rock

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Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.


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.


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

Pacific Bliss

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!


“A kiss is just a kiss…and Bliss is who I miss,” Gunter sings as I hum along.  I put my hand in his as we power walk around Sail Bay on the sidewalk fronting our condo in San Diego. It’s an unusually warm day in February, the lovers’ month. And we’re both thinking of another love, one we both shared.

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Her name is Pacific Bliss. We knew her well. She’s the 43-foot Catana catamaran who faithfully sailed us around the world. On August 28, 2008, we crossed our path in Canet, France where we had started out eight long years before. Seven voyages. 34,000 miles. 62 countries. So many adventures and misadventures. So many Moments of Bliss.

Forlorn and seemingly forsaken, Pacific Bliss waited patiently on that same dock outside the factory where she was built. She pined for a new owner throughout the turbulent winter and the balmy Mediterranean spring while the stock portfolios of expectant buyers descended into a financial sinkhole.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, my friends inquired, “In your entire circumnavigation, which was your favorite place?”  I searched my memory bank, struggling for answers. 

My most precious memories relate to people we met along the way. I admired how the teeming masses of Sri Lanka managed to eke out a living.  Regal women in bold saris and determined men in crisp shirts defied the steaming climate and the diesel-polluted streets clogged with tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles and even the occasional working elephant.  When the 2004 tsunami devastated that lively southwestern coast I had photographed, I sobbed my heart out.  I mourned the wizened “lace lady” in Galle who sold me the intricate tablecloth I will forever treasure. I remembered the blind man with the missing front teeth at the souvenir-stand-by-the-sea, the one who taught us the many uses of a coconut. I pictured the family with handsome dark-eyed sons who ran the turtle rescue operation south of Colombo. All gone now.

The remarkable Ni Vanuatu of Waterfall Bay, in the Northern Banks Islands, stole my heart. They have no electricity, no cars, and no landing strip. Their island is accessible only by boat. Yet they are the happiest, most generous locals we met. We had the good fortune to anchor off their bay while we attended a festival honoring the installation of a new chief.  After three days of dancing, kava drinking, and teaching us how to make lap-lap (a pizza-like food that is their national dish) a chorus of young people belted out a song honoring the gathered sailors. Each one came forward to sing a special tribute, “My name is Joy and I love you, my name is Peter and I love you.” By the end of the song, we were all in tears.

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Photos from pages 270-271 in Sailing the South Pacific

I first fell in love with the Aussies during the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Oz, sponsored by the town of Bundaberg. A farm girl from Wisconsin who grew up in the fifties, I found it easy to relate to the sugar cane farmers of Queensland and the cowboys working the vast ranches of the Outback. Many of them became our friends. We decided to spend an entire year in Oz, traveling the length and breadth of that great land.

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Bundaberg: “I love you” balloon and bouquet, page 292, Sailing the South Pacific

 

I also find it impossible to rank the flora and fauna of my favorite places.

An avid flower-lover my entire life, my heart stopped when I viewed acres upon acres of winsome wildflowers north of  Perth, then stopped again when a child guide in Borneo led me to one lone flower, two feet wide. The bloom was a rare Rafflesia—a flower that took nine months to mature.

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Rafflesia, World’s largest flower, Borneo (this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

My heart soared when I came upon the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, in Waipoua, New Zealand.

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Lord of the Forest, page 197, Sailing the South Pacific

Which rates higher: the majestic rock the outback Aborigines call Uluru, rising red in the pale dawn, or the brooding widow’s peak of Mount Kota Kinabalu, the symbol of Borneo, “the land beneath the clouds?”

Were the deadly saltwater crocs and ubiquitous kangaroos of Australia more thrilling than the playful orangutans in the Sepilok Forest Reserve of Borneo, the cute baby elephants in Sri Lanka’s orphanage, or the magnificent tigers raised by the monks in Thailand’s lush interior? 

Petting the Beast, Tiger Temple, Thailand

Petting the tiger; this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

Because I could not begin to answer the question posed by my friends, I invented a stock, smart-ass answer:  “My favorite place is the one I haven’t been to yet.” Then I would add a few lines about my next dream destination, such as:  “Right now, I’m researching Bhutan. I like the idea that they have a national happiness index. Instead of our GNP, they have a GHP. I want to check that out.”

Then we sold the boat. They say that the two happiest days in a sailor’s life are when he or she buys the boat, and when it is finally sold. 

On the one hand, I am happy to know that Bliss is no longer pining for Gunter and me, her Captain and Navigator of years gone by. She is no longer alone. Now she has other masters to care for: a family of four traveled from England to France to make her their home. They sailed her across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, as we did during our Maiden Voyage. Anticipating new adventures to come, enthused about new places to discover, they settled in. They learned to use her high-tech systems, evaluated her strength, and tested her resolve to keep them safe and secure, just as she did for us.

On the other hand, I’m sure of this: despite achieving my mission of sailing around the world, I’m still affected with wanderlust. I must continue to travel! I just may go around the world again, this time by air, land and sea. There might even be a few elephants, camels, mules and trains—and who knows what else—thrown into the mix. But it won’t be the same; this much I know. Any other mode of transportation from now on will be just that—mere transportation. 

Because now I realize that this question is all wrong. It’s not about the people, places, flora, and fauna I loved, after all. It’s about who took us there. Pacific Bliss is where I left my heart. 

WHERE I LEFT MY


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.” 

DSCN2056 (2) Rice Fields of Vietnam

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.   

DSCN2035 (2) Tourist Boats, Halong Bay

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?