November 2007


Hi Everybody!! Thanks for staying with us, and thanks for all your comments. We wrote a special post, Comments About Comments, just to respond to the bumper crop of comments from our last Fiji post.  Keep those comments coming!

Well here we are in New Zealand, where it’s the equivalent of May in the Pacific Northwest. No kidding – when we first arrived, we thought we’d been transported back in time to Oregon, six months ago. The familiar spring drizzle, everything blooming – foxglove, cherry trees, rhodies, lilacs, clematis, even honeysuckle. To make the experience maximally authentic, I even had an allergy attack, thanks to the…

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Scotch Broom! Aaaaahh! (Once a year is enough!) Luckily those giant prehistoric-looking tree ferns behind it reminded us that we’re NOT in Oregon.

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Wait…. Or are we? Very confusing. Unfortunately there was no explanation as to the name of this rose garden.

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New Zealand has 4 million people and 40 million sheep. That’s a lot of sweaters. The countryside is LOVELY and it’s easy to see why it was a perfect choice for Middle Earth and the Shire.

Most of the time we’ve been roaming around this lovely countryside in our rented CAMPERVAN, which reminds us very much of our old silver Toyota van. Quite comfy, as you can see, although a bit of a mess at the moment.

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Sometimes we need a break from camping, and that’s when we look for a “Backpacker.” Here it’s a noun with two meanings: “person who is traveling around with their stuff in a backpack,” and “place where a backpacker can sleep, cook, bathe, do laundry, update blog, etc. for (relatively) cheap.” A Backpacker is like a hostel, with boys’ dorm, girls’ dorm, shared kitchen and living rooms, bathroom down the hall – and a few double rooms, which are just right for us.

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Often a backpacker is a converted old house, or even (in one town) the former town jail. (We didn’t stay in that one.) Whether camping or staying in a backpacker, one thing that’s always easy to find is… meat pies! (And “vege” pies too.) These are so yummy. From the outside, it looks a little bit like the old Swanson’s frozen pot pies that we’re all familiar with. But it’s NOT. The crust is flaky and excellent, and the filling might be butter chicken, or bacon and egg, or tomatoes, spinach, and feta. Delicious and economical (from $2 to $5!). There should be a booth at the Fair selling these.

The meat pies are so fortifying that we thought about crossing Mordor to Mount Doom…

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…but it was a little too cold and windy. (Remember, it’s basically May here in Middle Earth!) This is probably not Mount Doom, but this IS part of the Tongariro National Park, where Frodo and Sam crossed Mordor. There are numerous good hikes/treks (called “tramps,” here); maybe we should come back in summer! Instead we headed for an area called Rotorua, which is like New Zealand’s Yellowstone – geysers, thermal vents, bubbling mud, boiling lakes.

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Beautiful and strange. Then we headed for the Waitomo area where we did something REALLY exciting… Caving!!! We loved it. Here’s Derry “abseiling” (rappelling) 100 feet down into the cave. Wow!

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Once we got down into the cave, we swam, waded, crawled, scrambled and rock-climbed our way upstream…

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…until finally we all emerged back on the surface, none of our group members taken by orcs.

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One of the NEATEST things we saw down in this cave – and in other magical places in the Waitomo area – is glowworms. They are actually NOT worms, but larvae of a particular mosquito-sized fly. They mix chemicals and enzymes in their tails to emit an eerie, blue green glow. It doesn’t flash on and off like the lights of fireflies, and is used to entice other insects to the silky threads they drape down from cave ceilings and overhangs. At night, or in caves, there are thousands upon thousands of these lights. It’s like walking (or floating, as we did while caving) through the night sky, impossible to capture in photos. (Just use your imagination!)

Tomorrow we leave the North Island and head for the South Island. There we’ll pick up a different campervan, stock our “chilly bin” with ice and groceries, and resume our pursuit of fun and pies, hopefully with the blessing of powerful dudes like this.

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OK that’s all for now…. We really enjoy reading the updates from home. Please keep them coming!

Hi Everybody,

So we just checked our blog for the first time since our last post, and wow! We are appreciating everyone’s comments! We’ll use this Special Post to respond, then in a minute we’ll put up a regular post (with photos!).

Mom, thanks for the stunning update about Curt’s Datsuns and other assorted metallic objects. Wow. Maybe all that metal is worth some money at the recycle place? Just don’t start buying old Ramblers with it!! 🙂

Dan and Denita, thanks for the ultrasound news!! For some reason, yes, I was imagining a baby boy. We got the pictures of your house and yard; beautiful! Wish we were going to be around when that baby is born. We are thinking about you all the time.

Allen, Aaron, and Anna, thanks for the update and reflections on the Eugene election, and for making your secret ballots public! We of course are still registered in Seattle, but you can probably guess where we stand. We are bummed about the urban renewal and cig tax results. *Sigh* The upside is that maybe someday we’ll be able to swim in the Sears Pit.

Pauline and Brant, we’re glad to hear that Rio was not overly traumatized by her porcupine encounter — though hopefully traumatized just enough to avoid the next one she meets?

Lots of people (Anna, Mom/Sue, Aaron) have asked about the food in Fiji. It is yummy. While we were staying on the tiny island of Caqalai, all guests ate as a group.

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Meals were prepared and served by our hosts — you can some of see them waving in the “farewell” picture (in the previous post). The building behind them is the common dining room. One especially good dinner we had there, for example, was fresh fish (Trevally) simmered in coconut milk, with lightly sautéed greens (some tropical member of the cabbage family, maybe?), and taro & cassava root with chili sauce (tangy and sweet, not overly spicy). That was yummy.

After dinner, a traditional practice is to sit around and drink Kava, a mildly intoxicating herbal concoction of questionable flavor. There’s a clapping and “Bula!”-yelling ritual that goes with drinking it. Either we needed to drink a lot more, or our neural receptors are not tuned to the Kava frequency. For breakfast, there were fried-dough things, delicious with butter and jam. And tropical fruit of course – coconut, pineapple, mango, and papaya. Some of the food we ate grew on or around the island (coconuts, fish), but much of it was brought in by boat. The people who host this Caqalai “resort” are all from a village on a nearby island, and their small boats (as shown in one of the pictures) go back and forth at least once a day, picking up/dropping off supplies, family members, guitar strings, etc.

In other parts of Fiji we also had a lot of… Indian food! (Indian food likes to find us wherever we go, because it knows we love it so much.) There are inexpensive curry houses everywhere, serving very spicy dishes (according to Derry’s midwestern palate). Why is there Indian food in Fiji? Well, in the early 20th century the British shipped a lot of Indian people to Fiji as indentured servants. (That pesky British Empire again.) So Indian people were newcomers to Fiji a few generations ago; now, Indo-Fijians are a significant part of Fiji’s population and culture.

Staci asked why we were glad to not run into other Americans in Fiji. I think the feeling I was trying to express (in a smart-alecky way) is that it’s refreshing to be somewhere quite different, where, for example, nobody knows/cares about American football, but everybody’s glued to the Rugby World Cup. (We didn’t even know there was such a thing until we arrived in Fiji and every television was tuned to the final match.) It’s just kind of a nice mind-bender to be swimming along in a different cultural ocean, so to speak.

BUT we’re happy to report that we have run into Americans in New Zealand, and it was fun. We went caving with a family from Iowa plus a guy on leave from Iraq, and it felt like a nice surprise to suddenly have a little of that shared reality back. We talked about the situation in Iraq, rafting the Deschutes, and (of course) Oregon Duck football! 🙂

Jain reported that there’s discussion at Oakridge High School and other area schools as to whether it’s time to change team mascots from Warriors, Indians, etc. to something else. What do we think? Hmm. I (Kate) don’t feel any personal attachment to OHS’s Warrior mascot. I also don’t have a burning opinion about whether such mascots are derogatory or not, so my strong inclination is to take Native American people’s word for it. Just curious, what is the impetus for this issue being up right now in Lane County?

Regardless, a good outcome to me would be if the students, teachers, and community were able to hear Native American people’s perspective firsthand, think and discuss, then freely decide to change to a different mascot. (How about the Foresters, or the Hoedads? But not the Choker Setters or the Green-Chain Pullers, please! 🙂 ) This would be preferable to a change imposed from outside/above, which may foster resentment and bitterness rather than the respect and consideration that a mascot change COULD spring from.

OK now we will write a regular post…. Keep those comments coming!

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all your comments and questions. Helps us feel connected. We’ve been meaning to encourage people to use the “Comments” to ask questions; next time we’ll discuss some of the questions brought up so far.

Since our last post, we’ve been absorbing Fijian culture (and food, and vitamin D 😉 ). Here’s what we’ve been up to….

After spending a few days in Suva, we flew from the main island to the small island of Ovalau (O-va-LAU) on a 17-passenger plane. The co-pilot was also the steward and the baggage handler. We were startled when the pilot beeped his horn during our wobbly landing. Was there a cow on the runway?!? We don’t know, but we landed safely. We didn’t even know planes had horns; this one’s sounded like the Roadrunner (“meeemeeep”).

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We got a ride from the airstrip to Levuka Town on the one — mostly dirt — road that circles the island. Walking in Levuka Town later on, we saw flyers advertising an upcoming course in defensive driving. Hmm.

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(Levuka’s Police Station)

During colonial times, Levuka Town was the capital of Fiji. In its heyday it had 52 hotels. All have long since been blown away by cyclones except one, Fiji’s oldest — the Royal Hotel, where we stayed in frayed elegance, alone with the ghosts of Levuka’s former glory.

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The next day, we traveled by boat to the even smaller island of Caqalai (THANG-a-LAI). Not even one road here; just a lovely beach that allowed for a fifteen-minute stroll circling the island. We were two of maybe a dozen guests total. Our first home on Caqalai was a very rustic bure (traditional grass hut).

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Then, after a couple of nights, we were able to “upgrade” to a bure with bamboo walls and a real floor! (instead of sand.)

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Vibrant coral reefs surround the island, and the warm water is full of colorful fish. We snorkeled every day — a simple matter of walking ten steps from our bure to the water and putting on mask and fins. From our island we could snorkel to the even tinier Snake Island, named for the sea snakes that live here. Our only shark sightings came while snorkeling around here (don’t worry — harmless reef sharks).

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We were surprised to learn that sea snakes like to sun on the beach, too.

Our island was not too snakey, but had a wonderful dog named Sai. He made everyone feel special and loved.

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He slept under our bed some nights and went for walks with Derry.

After a week of excellent food, music, snorkeling, hammocking, reading, and just being, it was time to move on. All the other guests had since left, as things were winding down with seasonal rains on the way.

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Our transport back to “civilization.”

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Now we’re at the airport and have to board our plane for New Zealand! Bye! Love, Kate & Derry