rob in front of tongan church in neiafu rob and bri sail travel pacific polynesia adventure

Another Sabbath in Tonga

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rob in front of tongan church in neiafu rob and bri sail travel pacific polynesia adventure

Behind our house chimes four-part harmony, 200 voices singing strong. Just one block away, another choir belts out a resonating song that rides through the steamy tropical air. Bells are tolling, and drums are beating. It’s 7:00 AM. Even though Rob and I don’t attend church, it sometimes feels like we do, simply through osmosis.

It’s Sunday in Neiafu, a day full of singing at church … and not much else. Tonga is an incredibly religious place, full of a variety of Christian derivates. You know how Seattle has a Starbucks on every corner? Well, Neiafu has more churches than Seattle has coffee shops. Luckily, the music that the Tongans belt out beats any elevator muzak you hear in coffee shops.

The sacred Sunday has been a theme throughout the Pacific islands we’ve visited. Towns are deserted, and visitors have to fend for themselves. Another unifying theme is the music — the Polynesians seem to have a harmonizing gene that skips most white folks. It’s impressive. Here in Tonga, they go to church twice on Sundays, and once almost every other day of the week. We don’t need an alarm clock here, since the church bells toll at 6am to wake up the congregation, 6:30am to make sure they’re getting dressed, and at 7am to signal the start of the service. Then they start beating drums. Loudly. We believe it’s to announce the entrance of the pastor/minister/reverend, but can’t say for sure (seeing as how we haven’t officially attended service yet).

Sundays are pretty slow around here. It’s against the law to go swimming, taboo to show your shoulders, and frowned upon if you do anything besides go to church and eat with your family. All shops and stores are closed and the main street looks like a ghost town. The Tongan constitution actually states that “The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practice his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day.” Bakeries are granted a special exception and open at 4:00 PM, since bread is obviously a gift from God.

The Kingdom of Tonga, along with Fiji and Samoa, were settled around 3,500 years ago by brave seafarers from western lands. These islands served as the gateway for settlement of the rest of the Pacific islands — they are the heart of Polynesian culture. Then came the Europeans in the mid-1600s, who spread Christianity like a blanket over Tongan culture and customs (and over the bare breasts and shoulders of the people, too). The constitution quoted above was written in 1875, almost 100 years after the first missionaries arrived in Tongatapu. And the missionaries just kept on comin’ — Christianity spread rapidly in the Kingdom, integrating into almost every aspect of Tongan life.

We’ll get to a church one of these Sundays, as it seems imperative to understanding and appreciating the culture we’ve chosen to live in for the next few months. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy the church bells from the comfort of our bed, and observe the Sabbath in our own style as we wander the empty streets of Vava’u.

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Speaking the Native Tongue: Tongan and Malagasy

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We’ve been in Tonga now for about two weeks, in the northernmost island group called Vava’u. I think we might stay a while, make a few friends, learn about the culture and generally just try to sink in a bit. Its something we have not had the chance to do so far on this trip, because we’ve moved fairly quickly. I’ll admit that I haven’t had much motivation to learn any new languages so far, for many reasons (laziness being one). But also, many of the native languages — like in French Polynesia — are in the process of being lost, or in some cases, marginally resurrected like in the Marquesas. French is taught in schools and widely spoken, even among locals. It was a great opportunity for me to work on the French that I learned in college and reinforced in Madagascar, where French is the second language.

Another language I learned in Madagascar is Malagasy, the native tongue. While French is spoken throughout most of the country, Malagasy is the day to day language and essential to learn if you want to work or travel in anywhere but the biggest cities. For me, learning Malagasy was the key into a secret culture, a whole new world of customs, activities and, frankly, a completely different way of looking at the world. Sure, French is a different language, but it has similar grammar patterns to English and sounds somewhat familiar to any speaker of a Romane language (Spanish, French, etc). But knowing Malagasy was like having a stamp of authenticity. A few well spoken words were all I needed to make a smile, get an invitation into someone’s home or, on certain days, entry into some ritual, rite or ceremony that was surely going to blow my mind.

Speaking Malagasy is quite different. For example: subjects come at the end of the sentence, and the passive voice is very common in expressions. The pronunciation is altogether different (my Malagasy friends would hold their noses and talk to imitate English speakers), and direct translations from English can be extremely difficult. I had to turn my mind upside down and inside out to really understand and to speak it like a native, but eventually I began to speak without thinking first. I even began to dream in Malagasy and on rare occasions, I still do.

So what’s this have to do with Tonga? One of the things I do in almost any country I visit is try to learn some basic phrases: hi, how are you, etc. If I have time and want to go deeper, I’ll then move on to some of the most commonly used verbs (have, want, etc) and then the numbers. Tongans speak English, but only to foreigners. As I listened toTongan on the street during our first few days, it sounded familiar to me and, walking around town, I felt instantly more at home then I have since leaving Missoula. The Tongan language has lots of vowels, and they often use what is called a glottal stop, kind of a staccato type effect. Think of a weak stutter or a mild cough between words. I felt like I had heard this language before.

But it was the numbers that really got me. And here’s why: below I have listed the Tongan numbers on the left and the Malagasy numbers on the right (as I know them from the region I lived).

1. taha    iray
2. oa        roa
3. tolu      telo
4. fa         efa
5. nima   dimy
6. ono      eni
7. fitu        fito
8. valu      valo
9. hiva      sivy
10. tongofulu     folo

At first I was shocked. On paper, they look very similar. In pronunciation, they sound remarkably alike. The numbers for 7 and 8 sound identical (pronounced fee-too and vahl-oo). As I learned more, the similarities continued. The word for year is ta’u in Tongan and tao in Malagasy, and so on. I’ll admit that the two languages have less in common than not, but I’m still intrigued by the fact that they are even close. I had known that Malagasy was more like Indonesian than many of the languages in eastern Africa, which are geographically closer. Its one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to get to Indonesia on this trip. But upon further research (with some shoddy internet connections here in Nei’afu), I did a little research Tongan and Malagasy are actually part of the same language family, called the Malayo-Polynesian family, which extends from western Polynesia on through the Indian Ocean (mostly centered around the equator). Malagasy is considered to be the westernmost extent of this group and takes its base from dialects in the southeast corner of Borneo.

The people I lived with in Madagascar along the southwest coast were the Vezo: the sailors, the seafaring people who apparently travelled from Indonesia through the Indian Ocean, by the Middle East, along the coast of Africa and eventually over to Madagascar. Along the way, they picked up a little Arabic, a little Swahili, a little Bantu, and later on, a little French and English. The ancestors of the Tongans must have travelled in the opposite direction, and now here I am — another oceangoing nomad, looking for that promised land and grabbing a few kernels of language on the way.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage


brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

Just Call Us Palangis

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brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

I wanted to name this post “Not Naked in Tonga,” since the traffic on my Dancing Naked post proved that anything with “naked” in the title garners exponentially more attention. I refrained (barely). Instead, I chose the educational route. “Palangi” is the Tongan word for pale-skinned foreigners like Rob and me. But just so you know: “not naked” is an understatement in the very religious country of Tonga, where I had to scrounge up clothes that fully cover my knees and shoulders.

Ten days ago, we arrived in the city of Neiafu on the island of Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga. Yes, we live in a kingdom now. (In fact, we almost rented the Tongan Princesses’ country home for a week, but decided it was too far from the community center.) After two months as crew aboard Compass Rose(y), we waved a final farewell as she sailed west to Fiji. Rob and I are officially land lubbers again, at least for now.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

Over the past six months, we sailed 6,000 miles on six different boats. We visited 16 spectacular islands in seven different countries. During our journey across one-quarter of the planet, we crossed 6 timezones, including the International Dateline (yes, we’re officially back to the future!). In short, we have a lot to process. It’s time to take a little break on land to let our beach-soaked brains catch up to our wave-weary bodies here in tomorrow-land.

I gotta admit: I don’t miss crewing on sailboats. It’s pretty awesome to have our very own space and our very own autonomy. We don’t have to ask permission to go ashore, or step up on the couch to let the other person pass by. We can wander the roads for hours, and take our time talking to locals or buying bread or finding a coffee shop. That doesn’t mean we’re done sailing forever, by any means. This is just a little vacation.

Our immersion into the Neiafu community is exactly what we need after constant movement. We want to stay put, ask questions, go slow, learn Tongan, get to know the people and the place. While cruising has plenty of perks, we haven’t been able to immerse ourselves in one place long enough to truly feel like we know it well. This is mostly due to the fact that we chose not to buy our own boat, which meant we had to stick to a faster-than-we-prefer travel schedule.

For instance: my friend, Kipper, asked recently if I could write more about the economy, history, or cultural traditions of the places we’ve visited. I’d love to! But that requires spending more than an hour or two on shore to talk to the people that live in these countries, and staying more than a few days at each island. That’s why we decided to become palangis — to immerse ourselves in the Kingdom of Tonga.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

Only 5,000 people live on Vava’u, and it feels like we’ve already met half of them. Check out what the results of our immersion this past ten days:

1) We rented a small house for a week behind the biggest church in town, where we adopted a local dog and named him Nels.
2) Rob launched weekly open mic nights at a bar downtown, where we performed stunning covers of Johnny Cash and the Lumineers.
3) I started teaching yoga three mornings per week at a waterfront cafe.
4) We set up a “job” at a local organic farm, where we will work a few hours per day in exchange for room and board.
5) We got invited to an awesome dance party on the beach.  There were costumes (need I say more?).
6) We started volunteering at the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association, and are helping to organize the nonprofit’s fundraiser this weekend.
7) We got a library card.
8) We joined a biweekly Tongan jazzercise class.
9) We don’t look twice when pigs cross the road.
10) We can say basic Tongan phrases like:
> Malo e leilei. Fefehake? Hello, how are you?
> Ko hai ho hingoa? What’s your name?
> Oku ou saia tau’olunga. I like dancing.

Tonga feels a lot like home. We like it here, and are happy to be palangis in this little paradise.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

sailing in south pacific on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

I Don’t Speak French – Just “Bike”

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sailing in south pacific on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

I don’t speak French. This makes me unpopular with French people, and makes it tough to get around by myself here in French Polynesia. My husband is trying to teach me the basics as we sail from one island to the next. But my Spanish-soaked brain rebels against silent consonants, and my tongue refuses to form words that start in your throat and exhale through your nose.

Instead, I smile and nod as Rob translates, feeling isolated from the culture around us. After a couple of weeks exploring towns on tropical islands, I was itching to join a conversation all by myself. I wanted to feel connected to the communities we visited. Turns out that all I had to do was replace Rob with a half-dozen kids

… Click here to read the rest of the story!



Adopted on Palmerston Island

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Palmerston is the kind of place where people shipwreck. And stay, because of its odd, friendly charm. Or hop the next ship passing by, because of its odd, too-friendly charm. This island holds first prize for being both the weirdest and the most beautiful place yet on our voyage. You can only visit by sailboat, or via the supply ship that stops 3 times a year. All visitors are “adopted” by a family who feeds you and welcomes you — no one is allowed on the island unless accompanied by a host. Whoever makes the first contact with a boat becomes the host — and its a race among the locals to adopt foreigners.

A bit of natural history: Palmerston atoll is part of the Cook Islands, a country that contains 15 tiny islands that are scattered between America and Australia in the smack-dab middle of the Pacific. The closest island is over 100 miles south. Palmerston, like all atolls, is a volcanic ring of land surrounding a beautiful shallow lagoon. Unlike other atolls we’ve been to, Palmerston atoll is mostly submerged, and only a handful of small islands are visible above the water. The only inhabitated island is a whopping two square miles — you can walk around the whole island in 20 minutes. Birds, fish, sharks, whales, and turtles are plentiful, since human impacts are minimal.

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

A bit of human history: it was settled in 1863 by William Marsters, a British dude who brought three different Maori wives to start his own colony. His progeny now number in the hundreds, scattered across the Pacific from the Cooks to Australia. The majority of the islanders still have the last name Marsters. The island is divided into the three sections originally bequeathed by William to his three wives. Each of the three families has a “leader,” and the island also has a mayor. The cemetery is full of headstones honoring dozens of beloved past Marsters, most of whom are remarkably long-lived. The Palmerston natives are also remarkably well-traveled, and most of them marry someone from another island (so inbreeding seems minimal).

south pacific travel

As of August 11th, when we arrived, 62 people lived in Palmerston, almost half of which were children. Only two residents were “outsiders” from the Marsters’ clan: the Fijian nurse, who was on a one-year travel stint, and the English school teacher, who wanted to see first-hand where her father shipwrecked in the 1950s — he spent a year on Palmerston rebuilding his ship before returning home. Speaking of which, the first thing we saw upon landing with our host on the island was a shipwreck from a sailboat that washed up on the reef in 2009, ironically from Rob’s hometown of Philadelphia. (After all the shipwreck stories, we triple checked our anchor chain during our four night stay.)

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

The two main “streets” are dirt, but they have street lights. There is no store, but there is an empty “Palmerston Yacht Club,” built by Bill Marsters and some yachties a decade ago. No one has a car, but most families have a big aluminum motorboat. About half of the island plays volleyball at 4pm every single day. We played with them for a few nights. The kids are welcoming, curious, and love to play “hit, bat, run,” which I tried to convince them was the same as baseball. They were enamored of my strangely colored hair and eyes.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob

No one uses money on the island, as there’s nothing to buy. But they do need money to purchase food, gas, diesel and other stuff when the supply ship comes every few months. The rest of the money goes toward traveling. People make money two ways: 1) selling parrotfish to Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands; or 2) working for the government. Government jobs include: running the diesel generator that powers the ~15-20 buildings on the island (and the streetlights); teaching the 25 students at the “Palmerston Lucky School,” who range from age 5 to 17; working in the Customs and Quarantine Administration to check in the 40-50 sailboats per year and the occasional cargo ship that stops at the island; selling telecommunications services from the tiny booth set up next to the satellite (internet arrived on the island two years ago, along with cell phones).

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

Since we arrived on Sunday, we had to anchor outside the atoll and wait until the next day before checking in. Nothing except church is allowed to happen on Sunday in Palmerston. Our host was Simon, along with his incomprehensible and confusing array of nephews, brothers and cousins, most of whom were named “John.” I spent quite a lot of time listening to stories told by Simon’s 85-year-old toothless mother (but can’t remember her long Maori name, embarrassingly). She has 14 children, and long ago lost count of the number of grandchildren. Only 3 of her children live on the island currently, and the rest are mainly in New Zealand and Australia.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

Imagine living with all of your extended family within two city blocks. Now imagine that those two blocks are in the middle of a huge ocean, with no one else to talk to for hundreds of miles. Suffice it to say that Palmerston is the most communal place I’ve ever been, where everyone is literally and figuratively one big family — a family like all others, marked by love, quarrels, support, grievances, understanding and sloppiness.

south pacific fishing travel islands

As for the ecology of Palmerston, it rivaled the social dynamics in its intensity. Here are a few highlights:
– We were welcomed to the atoll by three humpback whales that breached only 15 meters from our boat. Each sunset was punctuated by a whale spout or a whale tail.
– I saw two turtles mating (yes, having sex!), and was greeted during each morning swim by the same big turtle that swam up to say hi.
– Rob shot a beautiful parrotfish beneath the boat (which was delicious). Mark tried shooting a few squirrelfish that night, and abandoned the mission as several of the resident sharks swam over to investigate.
– The biggest groupers I’ve ever seen hung out on the reef outside the lagoon — easily 40 pounders. Rob saw one eat a two-foot parrotfish in a single bite.
– We took the dinghy to visit a few of the outer deserted islands, which sported the whitest sand and lushest coconut trees you can possibly imagine.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

And the water? Too many colors to describe. I’ll poach from a book I just finished instead, “The Wave” by Susan Casey, which sums up the ocean around Palmerston perfectly:

If heaven were a color, it would be tinted like this. You could fall into this water and happily never come out, and you could see it forever and never get tired of looking. There could be no confusion about who called the shots out here, at this gorgeous, haunted, lush, heavily primordial place, with all its unnameable blues and its ability to nourish you and kill you at the same time.

rob flyfishing palmerston


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BYO Everything

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bora bora beaches travel blogI pick up the VHF. It’s set to channel 67, the “private” channel we’re using to chat with our friends at this anchorage in Bora Bora. In reality, no radio channel is private. Eavesdropping is a way of life while cruising, especially when you know the people talking over the VHF. But having our own station means we can avoid the protocols associated with using the international maritime channel 16. VHF is awesome: it’s like a telephone that calls all your friends at once.

I key the mic to call our neighboring boats. “Kiapa, Caribe, Nyon, Red Sky, Vision: this is Compass R

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Our Mission for Mangoes

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tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

On one of our very first dates, Rob told me, “My dream is to have a house with a mango tree in the yard.” I replied that mangoes are my favorite fruit. There are no mangoes in Montana. So, we got married, quit our jobs, sold our stuff, packed a couple of bags and set off in search of these oval pods of gooey goodness. Thus began our mission for mangoes.

Sure, we also had designs on sailing, diving, exploring new horizons and absorbing new cultures. But let’s be clear — eating mangoes is at the top of our priority list. A perfect mango is one of life’s greatest pleasures. A combination of tart and sweet, firm but juicy, yellow-orange slippery joy wrapped in a smooth skin. It’s enough to fuel any expedition toward paradise.

So far, so good. After a mere 33-day sailing passage across the Pacific, we were rewarded with paradise in the Marquesas. Fruit literally dropped into our lap on these lush green isles: we tripped over coconuts, limes, papaya, grapefruit, passion fruit, bananas, oranges. And the mangoes. Oh, lordy, the mangoes. Bursting at the seams, dripping off branches, loaded tree limbs proffering dozens of species. Let the mission begin!

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

We walked through the community of Taiohae on Nuku Hiva, asking locals standing near the bursting trees if we could buy fruit. They laughed at us. Instead, the Marquesans filled our arms with free ripe orbs of all shapes. Grapefruit the size of small children. Buckets of limes. Bags and bags of mangoes. Our mission was so fruitful that Rob and I provisioned two boats and 10 people for a week. Plus, these encounters with the locals led to fascinating conversations, new friends, and a glimpse into a different way of life.

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

We sailed to Anaho Bay, Kayanos’ stern buried behind stalks of green bananas and swaying hammocks of fruit. After a week at anchor, we set off again on the mission, hiking from the beach into the mountains. Rob climbed trees and we shook and plucked to our hearts’ content, filling buckets and bags for the 500-mile four-day passage to the Tuamotus. Orange juicy pulp. Yellow tart circles of flesh. Smoothies and syrups and snacks and sauces.

We glut on mangoes, and all of their tropical fruity cousins. We feast on the sun-rich sugar. We savor the abundance of nature, and appreciate the immense generosity of the people who share its gifts. We will continue our mission for mangoes as we sail west, searching for the perfect bite, the perfect story, the perfect community, the perfect tree in the perfect spot that we can call home — even if only for a brief, sweet moment.

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

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Shaking Til The Coconuts Fall Off

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Dance, Yoga and Fitness

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob robertssailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

I’ll tell you one thing about Polynesians: they can dance like nobody’s business. Luckily for us, July is the best time to watch them dance. Every island in French Polynesia celebrates heiva this month, which is a version of mini-Olympics here in paradise. Professionals and amateurs of all ages vie for top placement in a variety of categories, including dance, chanting, canoe racing, and coconut husking (seriously). There’s even a Mr. and Miss Heiva contest on each island for teenagers. The winners come to Papeete in Tahiti to compete for the honor of attending international beauty pageants.

Rob and I have been to three different heiva events in Tahiti so far, including a small-town beauty pageant in Tautira on Tahiti Iti. The pageant reminded me of Missoula’s Off the Rack production, with 16-year-old contestants parading around in creative leaf/flower costumes, bathing suits and “city wear” (which is what the rest of the world wears to the beach). The audience clapped along to pop music remixed with a reggae beat. Fun. We also attended two nights of totally awesome singing and dancing competitions in Papeete.

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob robertsLet me paint you a picture of the Papeete heiva. Outdoor bleachers surround a football field-sized dance floor in front of a stage filled with drums along the waterfront downtown. We wait patiently as the story told by the upcoming dance is explained in French, English and Tahitian, and then lean forward in anticipation as 20+ musicians take the stage. The drums begin. The lights come up. 60 women shimmy onto stage from all sides, wearing coconuts, flowers, leaves, moss and brightly colored headresses. As their hips circle at lightening speed, 50 men stomp onto stage with their knees waving and their arms swirling, wearing bands of grass around their arms and legs and groins. An occasional grass band or coconut falls off accidentally amidst the shaking body parts, adding to the excitement.

The dancers circle each other, and move in diagonals across the stage. The women have rivers, blankets, reams of thick hair that falls all the way to their hips (after dancing, Polynesians seem to specialize in growing beautiful hair). Spectacular tattoos adorn many of the performers. Flutes and singers join the drums to tell a story of love or war or gods or villages. They change costumes, change characters, change rhythms every few minutes during the hour-long performance, which is interspersed with solos and Tahitian narrators. The scene is one of the most colorful and stimulating performances I’ve ever seen, a concert, play and dance recital all rolled into one.

And that’s just one act. Each night of heiva consists of four different performing groups, which come from all over the Marquesas, Tuamotu, Austral and Society islands.

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob robertsAfter a four-hour stint with my feet keeping time at the heiva, I was inspired to try my hand at some Tahitian hip-shaking the next day. Hula dancing was my first true dancing love. My sister and I took classes for a couple of years when we were growing up, proudly performing at backyard luaus in our fancy island costumes. Of course, that was 20 years ago, so my hips felt pretty rusty as I shimmied in a hidden corner of the park near our anchorage. I was also out of breath in about three minutes.

Although I kept up with exercise on passage, the last couple of months have been lax on aerobic activity outside of swimming. My legs and lungs just aren’t cooperating with my mind’s vision of how to mimic the colorful island choreography. Bummer. I’m totally taking the jumprope to shore the next few mornings to get back in shape. After all, you never know when they might call for volunteers from the audience at the next heiva dance off. I’m totally their woman, even if my hair is three feet too short.

brianna randall eating a mango - on the horizon line sailing

My Birthday Present From You

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brianna randall eating a mango - on the horizon line sailing

Today’s my birthday.  33 years old, just after our 33-day Pacific passage.  I’m in paradise for my birthday, sailing to a tropical island to snorkel with sharks and gorging on mangoes (my favorite fruit) to celebrate.  I feel blessed.

I have only one wish for my birthday from readers: check out today to read my published story about why Rob and I choose to find friends under age 12.  Other than that, the other items that top my birthday list are a bit more existential.

  1. Cuddling at night. It’s too hot to touch anyone.
  2. IPA, especially Blackfoot IPA. No alcohol onboard during our month-long passage.
  3. Dancing and headstands.
  4. Our sofa.
  5. Girlfriends.  And boyfriends.  And our family community.

Even though all I really need are mangoes, Rob, and a daily rainbow, here are the material things I miss most in the middle of the ocean:

  1. More cotton clothes. Polyester feels icky when it’s salty.
  2. Pictures of family and friends.
  3. Lightweight folding camp chair.
  4. A huge stash of dark chocolate.
  5. Strong tea and espresso.

While I’m at it, I’d like to give thanks for this list of my favorite things I brought with me:

  1. Pillow
  2. Yoga mat
  3. Guitar
  4. Face wipes (thanks, Mom!)
  5. Music

And for the things I left behind and won’t have to deal with in the upcoming year:

  1. To-do lists
  2. Socks and shoes
  3. Jeans
  4. Working
  5. Cold




katie and brianna on the beach in baja california - on the horizon line travel blog - gringo shades

Shades of Gringo

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katie and brianna on the beach in baja california - on the horizon line travel blog - gringo shades

The most noticeable thing about Baja (besides, of course, the stark beauty of the desert, the vast blue seas on either side of the mountains, the friendly people, awesome tacos and colorful culture) is the different shades of gringo.

On the light end of the gringo spectrum, you’ve got your rosy-cheeked young families on vacation, your fresh-off-the-plane northern retirees, and your honeymooners hiding under wide-brimmed hats. The darker varieties include the snowbirds who live here half the year, the college spring-breakers dedicated to tanning (and beer), and the ex-pats and mountain-cum-surfer vagabonds who are now Mexicans at heart. The shades of gringo hair vary inversely to the color of the skin: bleached and sun-streaked locks differentiate the long-timers from the Mexican newbies, with their darker and well-tamed hairdos.

Along with the amount of time spent in the country, the shade of the gringo can also indicate that particular foreigner’s willingness to meld with the culture, sink into Mexico’s rhythms, and embrace a new way of life. Or maybe the darker shade simply indicates the gringo’s willingness to shun the traditional 9-to-5-plus-2-weeks-vacation lifestyle favored by their lighter counterparts to the north.

katie and brianna on the beach in baja california - on the horizon line travel blog - gringo shades

Rob and me?  I like to think we’re at the darker end of the gringo spectrum. We tend to embrace new customs quickly. We happily quit our 9-to-5 lifestyle. We are officially vagabonds. Unfortunately, our literal skin shade doesn’t match up … yet. It’s straight up white. Pasty, creamy, pale, translucent. Ghostly. Almost see-through.

I keep forgetting how white we are until I look down at my feet next to Katie’s, or see Rob standing next to our friends, Aldo and Bequia. In my mind, we’ve already transitioned into beach people, and the type of gringos who mingle with locals while throwing out Mexican slang. But in reality, we are the same shade as the tourists who sit under cabanas in Cabo.

I’m trying to be patient while my true shade of gringo slowly emerges. Sure, I want the bleached hair and tan skin that clearly define my place in the gringo spectrum. But I also don’t want skin cancer, and won’t roast myself on the sand like a turkey on a spit. We have the luxury of time, so I know it won’t be long before our bodies reflect the true nature of our vagabond souls.

rob with pole spear and dog

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