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)

New Zealand: Parting Shots

Before we head for the Kingdom of Tonga, I thought I’d leave you with a few parting shots of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

One Tree Hill (in fact, surmounted by one monument), Auckland:

One Tree Hill

One cow hill, somewhere in the north:

One Cow Hill

Matiu at dusk on Ninety-Mile Beach, even farther north:

Ninety Mile Beach

Matiu and Dani playing basketball with their cousins Rehia and Repeka in Kaitaia.

Matiu and Dain playing basketball

Rehia and Repeka’s sister, Jessica, with their cousin Jason’s child:

Jessica

Seven’s sister Liza and his brothers Bill and Ngawati, who drove up from Taranaki and Wellington respectively (!!) to have lunch with us.

Liza, Bill, Wati in Hamilton

And finally, the view from the house where we stayed in Paihia, early morning:

Paihia morning

In the Kingdom of Tonga: First Impressions

Whanau, Whanau, Whanau

My family is really rather small, only about 10 people who are close enough to give Christmas presents to. Seven on the other hand, has an enormous family: a mother, nine siblings, numerous sisters- and brothers-in-law, and at least 25 nieces and nephews, I have no idea how many aunties, uncles, and cousins, never mind all the people who stretch out laterally and have the status of nanas, aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews,  and so on. So you may imagine what his familial obligations are in New Zealand, not to mention the fact that he hasn’t been back in 12 years.

It’s a little like one of those fairy tales in which the princess is supposed to separate a mountain of barley from a mountain of wheat in the course of a single night. But I have to say that Seven certainly gave it his all. As soon as we reached the Bay of Islands, he left the rest of us and shot off to see his mother — who turned out not to be home (this was before we’d gotten the telephone working). Still, there were all these other people to catch up with: his cousin Rata, his sister Grace, Auntie Luana, her son Bronson, Milton, Fred, Auntie Mae, etc., etc.

Here’s a picture of Seven’s cousin Rata, whom I was really sorry not to have seen, as we spent a bit of time together in Australia back in the day.

Rata

The reason I never managed to catch up with Rata is that when Seven went back with the kids the next day, I was curled up in front of the gas fire with a case of food poisoning. After our first wonderful meal in New Zealand, we had a second, pretty ordinary one at a place in Paihia that looked like it should have been ok but wasn’t. I’m thinking it was probably the shrimp, but in any case I was, fortunately, the only one who got really sick.

I was especially glad that it was just me because I really wanted the boys to see where Seven had grown up; and of course, everyone there wanted to get a look at them. Here are some pictures of a few of the things they saw:

The landscape on the drive out there:

near Paihia

Bronson, one of their cousins:

bronson

the view from Bronson’s mother’s house:

view from bill's house

And an extremely beautiful and interesting beach on the opposite side of the peninsula with these great basalt (?) columns and even a cave!

columnar rocks

cave

Here is what Abraham was doing while the other two were clambering up and down the rocks:

abraham with camera

and here are a few of his pix:

rocks

point

gorse

Hey, you Kiwis, remember this plant???

Clearing up a Couple of Points

The Prodigal Returns

I think the kids were a bit relieved to land in New Zealand where, amazingly enough, everyone spoke English. I’m still impressed at my own failure to grasp how fundamental this difference is to one’s experience; but the other very obvious difference is that it feels like winter here. We are down in 36 degrees southern latitude now, not nearly as far as you can go and still be in Polynesia (the Chatham Islands off the coast of NZ lie on the 44th parallel), but still pretty far south. Of course, for those of you in New England, you can just forget the notion of “winter” altogether – think California, more or less. When the sun is out it’s warm (maybe in the high 60s?), even hot if you’re moving, but at night it drops down into the 40s, which for us at the moment feels pretty darn cold.

Abraham, who was last here when he was 7 (Matiu was not quite 2; Dani still in utero), finds it at once strange and familiar. He said he thought it looked like Australia, and I know what he means. It’s the flora, for starters, that gives one this antipodean feeling. It’s so unlike what we have at home — Norfolk pines, tree ferns, ti tree, manuka, all that olive colored bush — yet we are now clearly in a temperate climate and not in the tropics anymore.

new zealand landscape

And then of course there is the ocean; even in the temperate zones the Pacific just does not resemble the Atlantic Ocean in any way, shape, or form. And especially not in color.

As soon as we got off the plane we headed for the Bay of Islands, stopping in Orewa (a seaside town a bit north of Auckland) for the best breakfast I think we’ve ever had (mind you, we’d been on the go for something like 18 hours with just one proper meal and not nearly enough sleep). I am compelled to list all the things we ate, just because it was so impressive:

4 meat pies (steak, mince, steak and mushroom, and steak and cheese)
a double cheeseburger
fish and chips
2 fried eggs and hash browns
2 fruit muffins
2 HUGE lattes
4 chocolate milks
2 fruit sodas

Did we like it because it wasn’t — for the first time in weeks – hot cocoa, baguette with jam, and a runny omelette? Perhaps. But also to be fair it was extremely good. Even Dani – who has been surviving for three weeks on French fries, eggs, bread, pineapple, orange juice, and KitKat bars – got a full-on meal.

Here, courtesy of Abraham, is a photo of one of Australia/New Zealand’s true culinary delights:

meat pie

Why don’t we have these in America?

But the other thing that is different about New Zealand is that we are not strangers here. Well, I’m still a bit of a stranger — having never actually lived her and only visited — and it’s all new to the children. But Seven is home — for the first time in 12 years. Which means that we have a lot of people to say hello to.

Whanau, Whanau, Whanau

Abraham Joins the Crew

We arrived back in Papeete after our whirlwind tour of Ra’iatea to find Abraham waiting for us at the airport. I wasn’t at all convinced that the rendezvous would come off, but there he was, just outside the domestic arrival area, bedraggled and a little edgy (as who would not be after nearly 25 hours?). He’d flown direct from Boston: 6 hours to LA, a 4-hour layover, 8.5 hours to Tahiti, and another 5 hours in the airport at Papeete waiting for us to turn up. And we still had to catch the ferry to Mo’orea, get a car, and drive to someplace called Fare Hamara, which was where I had arranged for us to stay.

For those of you who don’t know Abraham, here is a picture of him (after a shower and some sleep):

Abraham

Fare Hamara was another of  my gambles. It’s hard to find anywhere to stay with 5 people, and back when I starting making the arrangements for this trip, the first challenge was our comparatively long (6 days) stay on Mo’orea. In part I wanted to get this right because Abraham is only joining us for 2 weeks (he has to work the rest of the summer) and I wanted us all to be comfortable. I did a lot of looking around on the internet and was just beginning to despair when, late one night, I came across a link to this house you could rent in the ’Opunohu Valley. I fired off an email inquiry, not expecting very much, and fifteen minutes later I got a phone call from a guy named Bob Hammar in Seattle.

I told him a little about my project and it turned out that he was friends with Robert Suggs, one of the foremost archaeologists in French Polynesia, that the house was not far from the richest archaeological site on Mo’orea, that he had a huge and interesting library of books on the South Pacific (a catalogue of which he sent me, including a recommendation for a book which is NOT in Widener Library — imagine that!). He proved not only a fount of information but an extremely nice and generous guy. There was a touch of kismet to the whole encounter and it had a decidedly calming effect on me during a period of steadily building pre-departure anxiety.

So, we got the ferry to Mo’orea, picked up our rental car, and drove past the Sofitel and the Hilton and on around the island, with the kids gradually uniting in a chorus of mistrust, until we finally arrived at a steep, narrow, rather unprepossessing driveway. I was really holding my breath at this point; two kids in revolt are hard to handle, but three is a serious problem.

Here, then, is what we encountered: a fabulous two-bedroom cedar house built in the round with an open ceiling in the main room, an encircling deck, and a freestanding bathhouse with a sunken tiled double shower. Like the very best of Northern California transplanted to French Polynesia (minus the hot tub; which is fine by me). None of the pictures do it justice, but this should give you an idea.

This is from the outside:

Fare Hamara

this is from the inside:

IMG_1793-1

this is the view up the valley from the deck:

Opunohu Valley

and out to the reef:

view from Fare Hamara

Needless to say we are all completely happy, as you can see from this photo (shot through the screen door) of us playing Scrabble…

playing scrabble

It’s All Relative

Packing

ME: “So, we should think a little about packing.”

SEVEN: “Why? I’m just going to take some shorts.”

If you ask me, packing is almost the hardest part. I have been thinking about packing for months now — what to pack, what not to pack. But even before I got down to that there was what to pack it in.

Here is the vision I had ages and ages ago, finally actualized on my aunt’s lawn in South Pasadena, California on the morning of our departure from the US. Everyone carries his own (for anyone who’s curious they are mediums, i.e. pretty small) and they’re a cinch to spot on the baggage carousel.

Do you suppose if I sent a link to LL Bean they’d give me a a turquoise one?

Weather, Food, and My Bad French