Back to the Beginning

We are back in the land of changing autumn foliage and endless sporting events. Abraham is back at college; Matiu has taken his PSATs; Dani has just turned 12. Seven is cycling and playing tennis outside while he still can. He and I are renovating my father’s old workshop, turning it into an office so that I can move out of the basement. I have started on the new book. We think, often of our amazing trip, but visions like this:

Pacific island

and this:

hawaiian forest

Have, of necessity, given way to this:

Autumn Lincoln

and this:

yellow maple leaves

If you are coming late to the story and would like to read this blog—an account of our 27,000-mile journey across the Pacific and back—in its entirety, click the link below and you will be redirected the beginning of the tale. Bon voyage!


Thank You’s All Round

I could absolutely have gone on, or doubled back, or started over. It’s been an amazing journey and I hate to see it end. My children, I know, feel rather differently, but I think even they know what a long, cool trip it’s been. In June they were just suburban American kids who had never been anywhere. Now they’ve traveled over 27,000 miles and seen everything from an active volcano to a live coral reef, never mind all those fascinating piles of rocks….

Dani says his favorite place was the Mangonui pa in New Zealand; Matiu says his was Mo’orea, or, as he put it, “that house.” I couldn’t even begin to pick; it was all fascinating to me. But one thing I do know is that we got really good at traveling. I was filled with anxiety before we left, both because planning is much the hardest part and because, while Seven and I did travel extensively in the early years of our marriage, we have stayed put for more than a decade now. And I really mean stayed put: with the exception of a trip to Nova Scotia in 2002 we haven’t been anywhere in twelve years. So I just couldn’t remember what this kind of traveling was like, and somehow I had gotten the idea that it would all be harder now, that I just wasn’t the explorer I had once been.

But some things, it seems, just don’t change. It’s like that realization you have at some point about your children: that the personality traits you are seeing in them at 11 or 15 or 19 are the same ones you observed in them when they were 2 or 3.

In some ways this kind of crazy traveling was actually easier than my ordinary life. For one thing, I wasn’t trying to do 10,000 things at once. It was just one foot in front of the other: now we eat; now we sleep; now we catch a plane; now we swim; now we go look at something interesting; now we eat again; now we catch another plane….The simplicity of it all was rather marvelous: so single-minded. I don’t know if you can see it in this picture, but there was definitely something of the well-oiled machine about us by the time we reached our last stop.

So, here we are packed and ready for our very last flight home (note: the bags are still in great shape, though the American Tourister luggage tags all fell apart):

homeward bound

Just to wrap up the story, we left Ann and Joel to continue their journey around the Big Island while we made our way to San Francisco to see our friends Tessa and Daniel, who generously put us up while we went through a couple of days of re-entry decompression, and to meet with Patrick Kirch, whose numerous books on Pacific archaeology constitute the backbone of my reading list.

Pat showed us around his lab, pulling out drawer after drawer of amazing objects, including a cast of a little anthropomorphic carving on a piece of porpoise bone about 3-4 inches long — “God belong ol Lapita,” in the words of the guy who found it. Pat has been tremendously generous to me, helping me think through a number of issues and pointing me in the right direction as I feel my way through this new field. So he is high on the list of people I want to thank as I bring this journey to an end.

There are, however, quite a lot of other people on the list. So, starting at the top:

Thank you to the Australia Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts for supporting my writing and enabling this fantastic opportunity for new research.

Thank you to Shelley Madsen at Aspire Down Under who made our incredibly complex travel arrangements. It all went amazingly smoothly and we always had good seats!

babara's houseThank you to Barbara, Katy, Linzee, and Peter for looking after us in Los Angeles. I’ve made a stop at my aunt’s beautiful house in Pasadena every time I’ve passed this way since 1984, and it’s still the best B&B in the Pacific.

Thank you to Rose Corser in Nuku Hiva for help with accommodation and local information. It was especially nice to have a friendly American acquaintance at this early stage of the journey when we were just starting to get things figured out.

Thank you to Bob Hammar in Seattle for the use of his beautiful house on Mo’orea and to Jacques Decottignies for service well beyond the call of duty in sending us the camera battery chargers that we left behind. That was a lifesaver!

Thank you to Marimari Kellum for showing us around her property and telling us about its fascinating history. We hope everything continues to go well with the O Tahiti Nui voyage.

Thanks to all of Seven’s family in New Zealand: to Rina, whose recent loss we feel profoundly, for making time for us; to Bill and Wati and Liza for driving all that way just to have lunch; to Boboy and Piripi for coming to see us in Paihia; to Anaru, Justin, and Bianca for finding us in Auckland; and to everyone else who made us welcome. The kids were amazed not only at how many relatives they have but at the warmth with which they were embraced wherever they went.

Thanks to Ana, Sateki, and Fine Uasike for astonishing hospitality in Tonga. We will hope for an opportunity to repay you in kind!

Liv, Neane and TobyThanks to Liv, Neane, and Toby in Melbourne  for a beautiful day at the Healesville sanctuary, a fabulous lunch, and general comradeship and good company. We’ll hope to see you back in Cambridge before too long.

Thanks also to Anne, Hilary, Elliot, Mary and Chris for making time to catch up on our absurdly short flyby of a visit; and to Mere for breakfast, among many other things. I wish we could have spent more time with all of you.

Thanks to Matthew Spriggs and Stuart Bedford in Vanuatu for showing us such cool stuff, and to Geoff White in Hawai’i for putting me in touch with Pat who put me in touch with Matthew.

Thanks to Pat Crosby, who hasn’t changed a bit in all these years, for a delightful dinner party, and to Meleanna Meyer for ducking out of something else to come. It was great seeing you both again.

Dani at Volcano

Thanks to Sam Low for connecting me with Laura Thompson, and mahalo to Laura for a chance to meet some of her family, for dinner, and, especially, for the generous loan of the Volcano house (here is a picture of Dani enjoying the microfiber sheets).

Thanks to Scott, Lauren, Danielle, Suzette, and Melissa in Kailua for dinner and friendship over many years. It was great to see all the girls so grown up, I only wish Abraham had been there too. Next time!

Thanks to Ann, Joel, Isabelle, and David for doing all the Big Island planning and for meeting up with us just when we needed it most. And to Ann’s aunt and uncle, Myrna and Lowell, for extending their warmth and generosity to include us; we feel that we too have family in Hawai’i.

Finally, thank you to Tessa, Isabelle, Benjamin, and Daniel, whom we have missed ever since they left Cambridge, and who housed and fed us in Los Altos with characteristic generosity and grace.

Last, but by no means least, thank you to my brother Elliott, my sister-in-law Debbie, my niece Rachel, and my mother, Dorothy, who held down the fort for 8 weeks while we went gallivanting across the sea. I could not have done it without your connivance and I appreciate everything you did to make this trip possible for Seven, Abraham, Matiu, Dani, and me.

Aloha nui, everyone.

Back to the Beginning

The Big Island is Amazing

Back when Seven and I lived on Oahu we were much too broke to go touring around so we never visited any of the other Hawaiian Islands. This time we thought we should do better, and we decided to go to the Big Island because our friends Ann and Joel — with whom we have for several years spent a week in August on Cuttyhunk Island in Buzzard’s Bay (a little closer to home) — have family on the Big Island they were planning to visit. So we thought we’d catch up with them there for the very last leg of our long voyage.

My reasons for choosing the Big Island had therefore little to do with what I thought I might learn there (though, of course, every island is interesting to me) with the consequence that I was quite unprepared and absolutely amazed by what I saw.  Like, for instance, these fantastic petroglyphs!




Not all of which may be terribly old. Apparently the site is still used (or was recently) by Hawaiians who, like many Polynesians, bury a new baby’s pito (or umbilicus) somewhere special to ensure a long and good life. Some of these markings have to do with that practice (the circles and divets, particularly), and I have no way of knowing which are recent and which might be old. Still the turtles and figures and even, I thought, a stylized canoe, were all extremely cool.

But the Big Island is amazing for so many reasons, not least because it is a window on an earlier geological stage of many of the islands we’ve been visiting. As I found myself saying over and over: This is what all the islands must have looked like when they were young. All the other high islands I’ve seen are remnants of volcanoes, shards of the cone or the crater’s edge worn down by millions of years of wind and rain. But what’s amazing about the Hawaiian chain is, of course, that it includes an island that is still in the process of being formed!

I have to report that we did not quite make it to where the hot lava is flowing into the sea, but it hardly mattered since there are distinct and obviously comparatively recent lava flows everywhere you look: A’a lava — the sharp, broken kind that is supposedly called a’a because that’s the sound you make when you walk on it (I wonder if this is etymologically correct, it is what everybody tells you…):

aa lava

and pahoehoe lava, which is smooth and sometimes  almost shiny:


Here is a photo of yours truly sitting at the edge of what I think was the 1992 flow in the National Park that reached the ocean and cut off the road.

me and the lava

We also paid a visit to the volcano goddess Pele’s home: the Kilauea crater, which was emitting large clouds of poisonous gas and steam (which were blowing away from us fortunately)….


…and glowing magnificently red and orange at night!

kilauea at night

There were also more marae (or heiau as they are called here). This is the one at Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook’s career came to an abrupt and unexpected end:


Cook was killed by Hawaiians who had mysteriously welcomed him not long before. (Note to those who are interested: for a fascinating debate on the meaning of these events see Marshall Sahlins v. Gananath Obeysekere; other interesting writers on the subject are the anthropologists Nicholas Thomas and Anne Salmond and, for sheer elegance of storytelling and prose, the British historian Glynn Williams.)

But, for me, the absolute high point, and indeed one of the most moving moments of this entire trip, was the glimpse I got of the Hokule’a, the first Polynesian voyaging canoe to have been built in perhaps 800 years and a vessel I have been reading about for years. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this canoe; it was the one that sailed from Hawai’i to Tahiti on the first attempt to re-enact the ancient voyages and thereby demonstrate experimentally how it might have been done.


Here she is being towed out of the harbor,


and here is another canoe called the Makali’i which was tied up nearby:


We were particularly pleased to see this one because Makali’i — in its Maori form as Matariki — is Dani’s middle name; it’s a widespread Polynesian name for the Pleiades. Hokule’a, incidentally, is Arcturus, Hawai’i’s zenith star.

Thanks You’s All Around

Making the Turn: East to Vanuatu

We have made the turn. After a whirlwind visit to the lovely city of Melbourne, we flew north Brisbane and, for the first time since leaving Boston, turned east. With this leg we were also headed into completely unknown territory. Tonga was an experience, to be sure, and much of French Polynesia was new to us, but (with the exception of Australia) it has all been Polynesian and reasonably familiar by comparison with the place we were now headed to on…

air vanuatu

Vanuatu is at the eastern edge of the western Pacific, west of Fiji and Tonga and therefore outside the Polynesian triangle. It has a fascinating, complex culture and is a favorite tourist destination for Australians, but the reason we were there is that it is also has one of the most important archaeological sites in the Pacific.

I have been lucky more than once on this trip and the Vanuatu leg is just another case in point. Matthew Spriggs and Stuart Bedford of ANU have been working a site at Teouma since 2004 which has yielded some of the most spectacular finds of Lapita pottery anywhere in the Pacific. They are now coming to the end of their work there and had expected to be finished by the time we reached nearby Port Vila. This was a great disappointment to me because I was really dying to see an archaeological dig, and particularly this archaeological dig, but there was just no way I could get us there in time. Then, quite unexpectedly, they had to suspend work for a week and that pushed their departure forward so that I could just make it out there before site was bulldozed over.

It was a tremendous experience. Unfortunately for Seven, he had to stay back and mind the children, and I didn’t take any photos because I wasn’t sure I should. But it was absolutely phenomenal. While I was standing there they pulled a 6-inch piece of pottery out of the ground that — I was reliably informed — was 3000 years old!

Lapita, just fyi, is the name given to the ocean-going culture that is thought to have moved rapidly out of island southeast Asia and into the western Pacific some 3000 to 5000 years ago eventually reaching Tonga and Samoa. As such, they are understood to be directly ancestral to the people who colonized Polynesia proper. Lapita sites are identified by a particular type of pottery with a range of decorative styles that correlates pretty directly with age, the most elaborate being the oldest.

Fortunately, Seven and I did get a chance to go together to the National Museum of Vanuatu the next day.

National Museum

There Stuart and a couple of the guys who work with him showed us a number of spectacular pots, both fragments and reconstructions, which were just being packed and shipped off to an exhibit in Paris — the first of its kind! Here is a picture Seven took of the example that is in the museum along with the accompanying text, which is also interesting for its several translations.

Lapita pot

lapita text

There are a vast number of languages spoken in Vanuatu (including a couple of Polynesian languages, one of which was spoken in a village near where we were staying, as we discovered on the bus ride out there). But the three official languages of the country are French, English, and Bislama, which is not that hard to decode when written but pretty darn hard to understand when spoken fast. Children apparently go to school in either French or English, but I could never figure out how people decide. Mostly people spoke English with us, even on the few occasions on which I spoke French to them :).

The people of Vanuatu are as varied as the linguistic scene suggests and I clearly have to do some more research to find out who they all are and what they speak and where they come from and all of that. But for now I’ll just leave you with a few random shots taken in and around Port Vila. Here are some musicians at the airport (this time it is a guitar):

musicians in the airport

And here are a couple of pictures from the market:

Port Vila Market

market port vila

A couple of street scenes:

port vila

truck port vila

And a bunch of the workers going back to the mainland by boat:

boat Mele

Vanuatu II

On the Road with Kids, the Extended Version

The name of this Tongan church gave us a shock: of course it is dedicated to Saint Matthew. I just don’t think we’d ever seen Matiu’s name in letters that big!

Church of Matiu

It occurred to me that I might write a little about what this has been like for Matiu and Dani (and what traveling with them has been like for us). Since I can’t get inside their heads (and since because they’re boys they never tell you how they’re feeling), I have to intuit their experience based on their behavior, which has been what I would describe as mixed.

Admittedly, we are asking quite a lot of them: get up, go here, go there, do this, eat this weird food, greet these unknown family members, visit this heap of rocks. On the whole, they’ve been great, though, naturally, not always. Over time they have developed a tactic that I find really maddening. They have become Refuseniks. When they have really had enough they simply refuse to leave the hotel room. They will sometimes do this even when they need food; in fact, the hungrier they are the more intransigent they become — low blood sugar having a well-known and deleterious effect on children’s cognitive abilities…

When it gets really bad — we leave them. Even if they’re hungry. But when we come back we bring food. Fortunately, this only happens once in a while. For the most part only one child at a time is lost in the serious sulks and it’s been quite heartening to watch each of them, at different moments, try to jolly his brother back to some reasonable frame of mind so that we can get on with whatever it is that we have to be doing.

So, in honor of their continuing efforts I want to post a few pictures that will suggest some of the other techniques they’ve used to cope with this journey…

Here, for example, is a photo of Matiu and Dani in an Auckland hotel:

Dani and Matiu in NZ

And here they are in a hotel in Tonga:

Dani at Little Italy

Matiu at Little Italy

Here they are thinking about how close they can get to the cliff edge:

Matiu and Dani

And here they are horsing around on the beach:

Matiiu and Dani with stick

And here they are horsing around some more in, wait for it, another hotel room:

Matiu and Dani in Melbourne
I have to say I have loved traveling with them—except once in a while, when, had it been possible, I might have sent them home. Fairly early on in the trip I told them the story about how one of my cousins was sent home from a trip at about this age, but it can only have had the weakest of effects on them since (a) they knew I couldn’t actually do it and (b) they knew I never would.

Tonga to Australia by way of

New Zealand (again)

A Very Quick Tour

Tonga is such a complex place: this incredible hospitality; almost no tourist infrastructure to speak of (they burned the city of Nuku’alofa down in a fit of civil unrest a couple of years ago and there are still places that have not been rebuilt); a lot of highly visible poverty; an enormous number of churches; oh, and did I mention that it’s flat?

The island is like a big coral biscuit, the windward side of which is undercut in places leaving these amazing limestone shelves with holes (and even caves) in them. Up on the western end there are a series of blowholes that are not to be missed where the surf comes roaring up and crashes into these cliffs, blasting up through holes in the surface exactly like a whale. Even sounds like a whale clearing its blowhole.

windward coast Tonga

Here are a couple of shots of what you’re walking on when you get out to the edges of the island (that is where it’s not mangroves and mud):



And here’s what it looks like from another angle:

Tongan coast

We also visited the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, but which I believe is the largest megalithic structure in the Pacific outside of Easter Island. Here it is, with some people we met there for scale.

Ha'amonga Trilithon

This, actually, is what I went to Tonga to see, because until you see something with your own eyes….well, you’re pretty much just faking it.

In the Kingdom of Tonga:

Food and Friends

Um, we’re not actually sailing…

I should perhaps point out that the beautiful image on the previous page is slightly misleading. I was looking for an image that would suggest Oceania but wouldn’t make the blog look like an ad for Polynesian honeymoon destinations, when I happened upon a painting by my friend Roger Kizik. Roger has been doing a fabulous series of large paintings of books, including “Sailing Illustrated.” (On my wall at home I have another of his book paintings: this one of Haddon and Hornell’s classic, Canoes of Oceania).

kizik small

Unlike me, however, Roger really is a sailor. We, on the other hand, are flying, which, while not as exciting as sailing, is not for the faint-hearted either. More about three three-hour flight to the Marquesas in a turboprop in an upcoming post!