Saturday, December 30, 2006

After all, it is not a small world

I’m beginning to live up to an old expectation of mine to one day live a life in which at least 50% of my waking moments are spent in the water. Surfing has become an obsession. I’ve been spending much of my time in the company of my buddy Lopi who also fancies the surf. We have ambitions of traveling around to different parts of the islands to pursue the wickedest of the surf breaks once we get better at the sport. I think of surfing like fishing. You go out and try to catch something but even if you don’t you have a really nice time being out in the water so far away. Paddling out is part of the fun. You get out passed the waves and look back to this beautiful land and just sit there taking it all in. There is also this feeling of impending fate as you know damn well that on a few meters ahead of you are giant waves. Catching a wave is an awesome feeling. Its like riding on the back of a giant. Everything has to be in place and you have to be ready for it. If a wave comes that you know is out of your league there is no shame in bailing out.. wiping out can suck. Anyway, as I mentioned, I spent my Christmas with the Aussies who I’ve since run into a number of times. The day after Xmas I hoping in a cab and traveled to Apia against the better advice of the driver who insisted that everything was closed. The place looked like a ghost town. I ended up shamefully at McDonalds which was really the only place I could find any sort of sustenance. There I ran into a couple volunteers from group 65 who had returned to visit the islands. Two groups come every year and being that I am in group 77 it must have been 2000ad or so when they were here. I bet much has changed. They impressively speak fluent Samoan and it was really encouraging to be with them because they put me into situations where I had to use the language. We ended up at a horse race, believe it or not, and I have to say it really was a lot of fun. I ran into all sorts of people and friends that I’ve made in the last few months and I think the former volunteers were satisfied to see that I’ve been integrating. My life has really consisted of surfing ever since then. School starts in a few weeks and I will be all kinds of busy but until then I am exploring the waves as much as possible. I feel much better since the holiday season is over. Sorry for being so grumpy about all of it but its hard being far from your family. There is place called Lake Lonoto’o that I was advised to visit by an international friend. I have this hankerin’ to venture out and explore waterfalls which I’ve only seen from a distance. I might do this on my own or more than likely with my pal Lopi. The beauty of the place never ceases to amaze me. I want to make the most out of it. I really want some visitors too. Until then it’s me and a backpack, a good trusty alice bag that came with me to Asia this last summer. I did some thinking before I came here and I realized that this is the tenth country I’ve ever set foot in. This is rad. Its still only a fraction of how far I’m going to go. Manuia!

Flowers near Lake Lonoto'o, come show me the goldfish!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Papa don't take no mess.. James Brown don't take no mess!

"The Godfather of Soul"
May 3, 1933 - December 25, 2006
So long friend.. you've inspired me.

Surfing as witnessed by Capt. James Cook

"But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore. The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us'd to guide the plank, thye wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plan so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, & as it alters its direct. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much prais'd. On first seeing this very dangerous diversion I did not conceive it possible but that some of them must be dashed to mummy against the sharp rocks, but jus before they reach the shore, if they are very near, they quit their plank, & dive under till the Surf is broke, when the piece of plank is sent many yards by the force of the Surf from the beach. The greatest number are generally overtaken by the break of the swell, the force of which they avoid, diving and swimming under the water out of its impulse. By such like excercises, these men may be said to be almost amphibious. The Women could swim off to the Ship, & continue half a day in the Water, & afterwards return. The above diversion is only intended as an amusement, not a tryal of skill, & in a gentle swell that sets on must I conceive be very pleasant, at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this Exercise gives."

Thus, Lieutenant James Cook, commander of the Discovery, 1779, recorded in the ship's log the first written description of Hawaiian surfing by a European.

In the last few days I spent my first Christmas ever away from home. I tried my best to ignore it but I actually did get kind of sad but as I've been told, I'll get by with a little help from my friends. Help came to me in the form of a large percent of group 77 caroling through the village of Ma'asina where we spent our holiday together and with our host families. Its funny how things happen when they are needed most. I was actually feeling really down about the holiday when I heard 'Walking in a Winter Wonderland' approaching from down the road. This made me smile because in no way imaginable does this place represent a winter wonderland. I usually pass the oportunity to go caroling but seeing my friends made me happy and I figured that if I joined them then I could help spread that positivity to others in my group who were feeling blue further down the road. I went for a long walk with Lola and got some words off chest and I think she did the same. We walked to the far end of the break and swam the entire distance of the coral barrier that surrounds Ma'asina's portion of the bay. The waves were huge but this time around I didn't hurt myself at all. The day before, you see, I realized that the ocean was upset with me because of something I did very regretfully a few weeks ago. I was spearfishing and rather than catching proper sized fish and eating them, I murdered 4 innocent tiny fish including a beautiful butterfly fish that was no more than two inches long. I felt awful about this, in fact I had a dream about those fish last night. The ocean was not happy. The other day when I went snorkeling I got caught in a current through a channel and lost a sandal and the bottom part of my snorkel. I was dashed against rocks and I still have wounds on my back. After diving very deep to retrieve my belongings I sat on a rock half submerged in the waves to catch my breath. I didn't even have to check but I already knew that the necklace I had just put on was long gone; and it was. I asked the ocean, "are we cool now?". When I left the waves stopped and the rain calmed. Either way, my second return to the bay was very enjoyable and I'm glad I finally got to take Lola out to swim. When we were in training I think she found it hard to leave her fale and do things like snorkeling because of whatever reason the village provided but it was nice getting to show her around the break. Christmas day was very intoxicating, at least for my family. I really wasn't feeling like drinking and aparently when I was out swimming they had already began drinking heavily. They were nice and jolly when I returned but they passed out soon after. Honestly I really didn't feel like being in Ma'asina anymore so I hitched a ride back to Apia with Sitivi. As far as I know, most of the other volunteers are still there until tomorrow. I ended up a hostel near the NUS campus. It was still early in the evening and I made some rice and sat there in silence. I didn't realize this but I was being watched by a group of Australian volunteers from an apartment next door. They were having their Christmas party and one of them came down and invited me to come have desert and a few drinks. This was cool. I got to infiltrate the AusAid infrastructure and learn all about how they work. They are really cool people and I laughed at a shirt that one of them was wearing that read, ''I am NOT Peacecorp". They must be fed up with being called Pisikoa, but really it means volunteer and not just Peace Corps. We stayed up late and hung out then watched Gremlins, which I haven't seen since I was a tadpole. The day actually turned out to be okay. A little positivity can go a long way.

I have quite a bit of time left before the school year begins. I am going to use this time to explore Upolu and Savai'i. I am very interested in finding the best surf breaks and spending more time at Lalomanu especially on weekends when there are more international travelers. I'm currently on a mission for waterfalls. I'm really interested in the ones you can dive off of. I'm not so sure that I will be attending the New Years party in Savai'i. I'm enjoying this solo path through the islands and I am still working out things in my mind that need to be straightened out. I'm happy again. I never was unhappy, just homesick. Things are bright and I can't wait to get back into the ocean. My surfboard is my new best friend. Hands to the sky.

Suluape: You'll hear more about this man in the future.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays

I am the drum maker.
Swearing in (i fa'asamoa ma fa'apalagi)

On Wednesday around noon, Tavita, Lopi and I hopped on a bus to Lalomanu to catch up on some beach activity. We were supposed to meet up with another volunteer and stay at his place but he vanished and we ended up crashing at a beautiful beach fale right on the ocean which we did not complain about. That night we sat at a table with people from all sorts of various locations on this beautiful planet. I met a couple from Austria and another couple from New Zealand. We also met a girl from Russia, a girl from Sweden, a dive instructor from Switzerland, and a group of students/teachers from Germany. This type of experience is one of my favorite things about traveling. I love to sit at a table and drink or eat with people from all over the place and share our experiences. This brings us together as people and does wonders for tearing down cultural walls that come between us. Lalomanu is awesome. This was my third time there and the place is a definite must to stop by for anyone who comes to see me out here. It is on the southeast side of the island but this time of year you can actually see the sunset over the beach and it is truly a beautiful sight. I talked all night with the New Zealand couple and learned about cheap ways to travel and we also gained a free place to stay should we ever (and probably will) visit New Zealand. The snorkeling was awesome and even thought it is usually me who suffers random aquatic tragedies I was actually the only one of us who did not get bit by the triggerfish; Lopi was bit twice and he’s convinced it was the same fish both times. The next morning I woke up early and walked down the beach to a lava rock formation where I sat on a large lava rock and stared into oblivion. I’ve spent much of my life thinking about where my place is in the world and these days I am very complacent on the issue. I’m pretty sure that as long as I’m near the ocean everything will be okay and if I cannot live by the ocean then I can at least fly over it every now and then. I learned about a German traveler who recently stopped by Lalomanu. He apparently has visited over 100 countries and is currently working on a project to journey to Bhutan. This is no easy task because Bhutan does not allow visitors to travel cheaply. In fact it is about 150 US dollars per day to pay for the visa. I love these people. A few days before my Lalomanu excursion I found myself at a table with a man from France who has been to India, China, Thailand, Laos, most of Asia, most of the Pacific, etc. and I am very inspired by these people. I almost feel like shouting to the world something like ‘look out here I come!’ because until I stop breathing I am going to be one of these journeymen that circles the planet. I’m learning more and more about travel and how to get around cheaply and what to look out for. I’m very tempted to take an excursion to South Africa based on the help of a certain friend of mine sometime in the latter days of my Peace Corps career if I still have enough time for leave available or perhaps I could just wait until I finish my service. Either way I foresee a grand adventure in the distant future and I sleep much better at night knowing that I’m actually doing what I love most. So anyway, woke up, sat on a rock, contemplated, swam a bit then we packed up to wait roadside for a bus to come and return us to Apia. Well.. no bus.. we waited with two of the German students and maintained each others high spirits whilst we waited in vain. Turns out that there was a fa’alavelave somewhere nearby and the buses were needed for transportation to a funeral and we were stranded. There are much worse things in the world than being stranded on a beautiful beach so we didn’t mind, we just went swimming again. Later that day we hitched a ride back with Tony and Betty, the New Zealand couple, and we made it to Apia in time to catch up with other volunteers from our group who we hadn’t seen since swearing in. Tomorrow I leave for a trip to Ma’asina where I will stay for the holidays. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned I’m trying my best to ignore Christmas. I miss family and they miss me. Soon it will pass and life will go on as it usually does but until then I’m sure my parents are having a rough time this holiday season. Mom and Dad, I love you. Merry Christmas. I’ll be there in spirit. I miss my friends too. Dan, I know its your birthday today - happy birthday. Gregg, I read what you wrote on myspace - I miss you like hell brother. All of you in Detroit and everywhere else that has taken me in, cheers to you - BE BOLD

Happy Holidays!!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gills (part 2)

My little buddy, the beaked leatherjacket Siva Afi: I haven't written much about this yet but on a recent trip to Aleipata I ran into the firedancer from our welcome fiafia a few months back and I learned much about him and the art of his family. Learning how to dance with fire is a skill available to anyone who wants to learn and I dont think I have it in me to pass up an opportunity to play with fire. We'll keep this thought on hold right now but one day you might see me in one of these crazy pictures.
Pacific clam


Siva Afi! Me and Laura thought we found Jesus on the beach.. but is was only Sitivi
Aleipata island group

An old picture I stumbled upon from the tsunami evacuation
Click this picture for a full-size map
I arrived at my new home in Leulumoega last Thursday. I brought a bottle of wine and some pasta as a way of greeting my new roomate Ryuta Takeda from Japan but he was nowhere to be seen. Instead it was really quiet and lonely and I spent an entire night in silence with very little to do. Having said that I hopped on the first bus I saw the next morning to head to Apia where I have been ever since then. I packed my bag full of randoms and hit the road to once again live a life out of a bagpack. Now that we are all official volunteers and have been spread out through the islands I have more opportunity (places to crash) for exploring. I ended up at the 'luxurious' Tatiana hotel with Meghan, Rob, Wes, and Aaron for the first few days and their company was well appreciated. Yesterday we went to a small beach called Palolo deep where one can witness giant sea clams that seirously can grow to about 20 feet! The fish in Palolo are big because the waters are protected. Big as they may be I still caught a glimpse of my tiny favorite fish, the beaked leatherjacket, in his comfortable home of acropora coral. In the week to come I plan to travel to the Aleipata island group with my mates, perhaps tomorrow, and explore the depths below. On my first trip to Aleipata I spotted a few endangered hawksbill sea turtles and just looking at them is truly a wonderful experience. I have been motivated by factors from every angle to become proactive in the support of the environment of these wonderful islands including the effort to preserve the struggling mangrove forests of Samoa which play a keep part in the ecosystem. One can get involved in various organizations around the island that raise awareness and actively take part in the preservation of the Samoan ecosystem. In instances such as the mangrove, the trees play a key role of filtering and providing nutrients for the animals below thus becoming a link in a very important chain. Last week we were back in Ma'asina for our swearing in and becoming official volunteers. I caught one last sight of my favorite pacific bird, the pacific reef heron. I'm trying to spend as much time as possible submerged in water these days.. working on developing gills.. anyone out there want to send me a cool Christmas present? Send me some biomechanical gills.. I'm envious of fish.. Thats all for now. Speaking of Christmas, I'm working on forgetting about it. Its not hard out here with the weather being so hot. Christmas is great and all but it makes me miss my family.

Our ancient friend, the Hawksbill seaturtle

Mangrove forest

Pacific Reef Heron

Monday, December 11, 2006

To those who cannot be still..

We wanderers, ever seeking the lonlier way, begin no day where we have ended another day, and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. Even while the earth sleeps we travel.
We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.
Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken. But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again, and with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak.
Yeah, I shall return with the tide, and though death may hide me, and the greater silence enfold me, yet again will I seek your understanding. And not in vain will I seek.
If aught I have said is truth, that truth shall reveal itself in a clearer voice, and in words more kin to your thoughts. I go with the wind but not into emptiness.
And if this day is not a fullfillment of your needs and my love, then let it be a promise till another day. Know therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return.
The mist that drifts away at dawn, leaving but dew in the fields, shall rise and gather into a cloud and then fall down in rain. And not unlike the mist have I been.
In the stillness of the night I have walked in your streets, and my spirit has entered your houses, and your heartbeats were in my heart, and your breath was upon my face, and I knew you all.
I knew your joy and your pain, and in your sleep your dreams were my dreams. And oftentimes I was among you a lake among the mountains.
I mirrored the summits in you and the bending slopes, and even the passing flocks of your thoughts and your desires.
And to my silence came the laughter of your children in streams, and the longing of your youths in rivers.
And when they reached my depth the streams and the rivers ceased not yet to sing. But sweeter than laughter and greater that longing came to me.

-Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, December 10, 2006

yeah Fitusefulufitu..


Ua alu atu le afi

Peace Corps feet!

Where are the tacos??!?

Le Manu Samoa