Trekking in Myanmar - Rob deflated with a flat tire on our scooter after a long journey - On the Horizon Line travel blog.

Turning Towards Home: Trekking in Myanmar Part Two

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Pregnancy, Traveling

“Yesterday, there was a war here,” said Romeo, our Burmese trekking guide. He was holding a hand-drawn map, and pointing to the spot where we were about to embark on a 3-day hike through northeastern Myanmar. 

“Wait, what?” I said. “A war? What do you mean, ‘war’?” I asked half in fear, half in confusion. Just a minor shooting, he reassured me. Nothing to worry about. The Shan rebels have been fighting for their own independent state for decades. The recent escalation in fighting was part of a long-running cycle of give and take between ethnic minorities and the national army.

“They won’t hurt foreigners,” Romeo said. Then he turned to Rob: “But you must be alert as you drive the scooter on the highway. The Burmese special forces have road blockades set up.”

Rob and I exchanged glances, and then had a brief huddle. We decided to go ahead with our trek. After a 10-hour train ride from Mandalay the day before and hours of research into the best hikes in Myanmar, we were anxious to get up in the mountains.

Luckily, the mountains turned out to be just what we needed. The first two days and two nights were exactly what we’d been searching for in Southeast Asia: quiet forests, new cultures, and a chance to use our feet after a year floating on the sea. Rob and I were enjoying ourselves more fully than we had for weeks. We were chilled out. At peace. Finally in the moment instead of obsessing over what’s next.

Trekking in Myanmar - Burmese guide looking over tea villages - On the Horizon Line travel blog.

But then Myanmar’s mountains kicked us in the butt. And stepped on our toes for good measure. The third morning, in the tiny village of Bong Lon, Rob woke up sick. Really sick.

I did some mental calculations: we were a 5 hour hike from the two old scooters that carried us and our two guides into the mountains. The scooters were parked in a village that required a two-hour ride over rocky, dirt roads to the nearest podunk town, which was a 10-hour train ride from the city, which was a two-hour plane flight from trustworthy health care across the border in Thailand.

But I didn’t panic. I simply rubbed Rob’s back when he returned from his fourth trip before breakfast to the hole in the ground that counted as the ‘toilet.’ I made sure he ate a few forkfuls of rice, filled our water bottles and packed our things.

I didn’t freak out when he made a dozen more trips into the woods, squatting behind tea trees and losing precious fluids. I started to get worried, though, when I came upon Rob sprawled out on the dusty trail, pale as a sheet, lying flat on his back in the sun because he was too sick to move. But I just put on his backpack and helped him to his feet – there simply wasn’t anything else to do but keep going.

I remained calm when we finally mounted the tiny, old scooters, even though I had butterflies in my pregnant belly at the thought of riding behind a driver who was not my husband. Rob slumped weakly behind the 15-year-old Burmese kid who couldn’t speak English, too incapacitated to drive himself. As we started down the worst road I’ve ever seen, it felt like taking a skinny-tired road bike down a boulder-strewn riverbed.

I barely even screamed as our scooter crashed into a particularly large rock and we went flying dangerously close to the edge of a drop-off. The back brake ripped off, but we escaped with only bruises on our legs. Still keeping it together, I ran down the hill to stop Rob and his driver.

I didn’t panic when I saw the Burmese soldier patrolling the road just in front of me, his AK-47 rifle prominently in tow. Instead, I sent up a brief prayer that no rebels were lurking nearby, waiting to start another “war” while we were caught like lame ducks in the middle.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Rob recuperated enough to drive the non-broken scooter down the mountain, and we left our guides behind. I even refrained from backseat driving as I clung to the tiny bar on the back of the scooter, shifting the heavy pack on my shoulders as we skidded over holes and boulders, inches from cows, drop-offs and passing tractors.

I held a handkerchief to my nose when we walked the scooter through roadside construction complete with barrels of boiling oil and rock-crushing machines spewing gravel at us. See, Bri, life could be worse, I told myself, as we passed women and children working to build the road, scrounging to survive in an arid and unforgiving land.

I didn’t curse when we got a flat tire a mere two kilometers from the only hotel in town, after surviving the harrowing mountainside scooter ride. In fact, I even laughed at the irony of the situation, and took a picture of Rob slumped, defeated, in the dust, while a Burmese mechanic changed our tire for 50 cents.

We made it to the hotel. Rob ran for the bathroom while I haggled over a suitable room.

I still didn’t freak out when I found the bags we’d stowed strewn across the hotel’s storage room. Or when I found our prized possession – the beat-up Panamanian guitar – being played by a lounging hotel staff member. I just snatched the guitar away, and marched off to our room to dose my wilted, feverish husband with Immodium and Cipro.

But then. Oh, but then. I lost it because of a shitty shower. After Rob fell asleep, I stepped in to wash off the days of dust and grime and who-knows-what germs. To sluice away the day’s trials in hard-earned hot water. But the shower didn’t spray down on me. It didn’t even drip down on me. It just sprayed sideways, on the toilet and the sink and the window. That’s when I finally cried.

Still dirty, I dragged myself to the bed and stared out the window, trying to sort through what we should do next. As I pondered, it snapped. TWANG!

Not my brain, not my body, not Rob’s bones. A guitar string. TWANG!

We hadn’t broken a string in 6,000 miles of sailing the Pacific Ocean. After driving 800 kilometers with the guitar precariously strapped to the back of a motorcycle. During thousands of songs performed for strangers on foreign streets around the world.

But the guitar string snapped in that moment, all by itself, sitting in the corner of a hotel in Myanmar. To me, that snapped string represented our travel karma. It had reached the breaking point after so many good memories and too many near-misses.

I looked at the calendar, and realized it was exactly one year to the day that we had closed the door on our life in Montana, walking away from our home to begin this adventure. Ironic? Or cosmic? Either way, I didn’t need another sign.

When Rob woke up, his fever down and slightly more coherent, he asked what I thought we should do. “Go home,” I said immediately, assuredly. “Let’s just go home.”

“I’m certainly not going to argue with you,” he replied with the ghost of a grin.

It took us four days and four nights to travel from Bong Lon to Bellingham. Why Bellingham? Because it seemed fitting to end our year-long adventure with the same friends we began this journey with last spring. After two buses, two taxis, three flights, and an arc from Dubai across the North Pole, we arrived on U.S. soil to find Mark and Katie waiting with open arms.

In the mountains of Myanmar, the universe told us it was time to start the next chapter. We listened. We were ready. We are home.

Trekking in Myanmar - Bri back on US soil - On the Horizon Line travel blog.

Bri with Shan family in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

Tea and Babies – Myanmar Trekking Part One

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We couldn’t speak the language.  We didn’t understand the social structure in the ethnic Shan villages.  We slept on the floor of a teak cabin in the home of complete strangers in the mountains of Myanmar.  But even in a completely foreign setting, tea and babies allowed us to bridge the gap between our culture and theirs.

Rob and I spent three days trekking through northeastern Myanmar with a hired guide named Romeo (his chosen English name, since the Burmese pronunciation stumped most foreigners).  Romeo was 25.  He brought along his “intern,” One, who was 15, energetic, fluent in the local language of Shan, and trying desperately to learn English.  Trekking is actually not a very apt descriptor for how we spent three day.  It sounds too hard-core.  Instead, we walked at a leisurely pace for about six hours each day between tiny villages, chatting with Romeo, listening to One sing, checking out birds and tea plantations scattered among the jungle.

Rob with 2 Shan guides - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

As evening fell, we’d stop at one of the villages and follow Romeo into an unknown wooden house.  Shan language is closer to Thai than Burmese.  Rob and I quickly learned the basic ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘so long,’ but basically had zero clue what was happening around us most of the time.  We compensated by playing with the ever-present babies crawling and toddling across the teak floors, and by drinking endless cups of tea with their parents, aunts, grandparents and neighbors – many of whom seemed to live in the house.  And we did a lot of miming, which is always entertaining.

The family fed us and gave us blankets and bamboo mats to sleep on the floor.  These houses had little to no furniture, other than a couple of small, round tables about one-foot high.  We sat on old rice sacks.  Water for washing and drinking came from a small tank (which we purified with our UV SteriPen), and the ‘toilet’ consisted of a four-foot-high bamboo box with a hole in the floor.  Most of the village homes have electricity now, thanks to the recent installation of mini-hydro projects or solar panels, but usually only enough juice to fuel a couple of light bulbs.

Firewood for drying tea - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

Dinner and breakfast were the same: rice, eggs, fried potatoes, and random leaves harvested near the house.  All food is prepared over an open fire that burns constantly in the middle of the main room on a concrete slab set into the hardwood floor (the babies are adept at avoiding the flames).  The Shan villagers rarely eat meat, since it’s expensive, and they usually don’t grow more than a banana tree.  They still gather local roots, bitter fruits and leaves, buying all of their rice and cooking oil for the year in one lump sum after they receive their once-yearly payment for the tea they grow and dry in the mountains.  We learned that one kilo of dried tea earns them $4,000 kyat, and an average family harvests 1-2,000 kilos.  That works out to about $8,000 USD per year for a family of four.

Scooter over construction on Burma roads - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

After dinner, we gathered around the indoor fire to ask questions of our hosts through Romeo: do they only grow tea or other crops, too?  How often do they go to Kyaukme, the nearest town?  Had they met many foreigners?  What’s the latest with the Shan rebels fighting nearby?  I whipped out our ultrasound picture to further the universal baby bond, which took 30 minutes of translating to explain to the wonder-struck villagers.  Our hosts peppered us with questions, too, including how much it costs to live in America, what our house looked like, why we traveled to their village, how we make money.

Then we curled up under our blankets in the chilly mountain air, sleeping four abreast next to Romeo and One in the main room as our myriad hosts disappeared into the back room to do the same.  The tinkle of bells on the necks of nearby livestock lulled us to sleep.  The early morning chants of Buddhist monks collecting alms woke us up, ready for another day of walking through the mountains of Myanmar.

Stay tuned for Part Two in our trekking tale, which includes Burmese soldiers and a minor scooter accident.

bri and Rob with young Buddhist Monk - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog


Traveling through Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) - On the Horizon Line with Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

The Wilderness of Mandalay

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Traveling

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma. Our 11th country this year, and by far the least developed. This country is truly a melting pot of hundreds of ethnic groups and religions, it’s borders hugging Bangladesh, India, Laos, Thailand, and China. Burma was a colony of Great Britain until 1948, lumped together with India for the majority of English rule. It just opened to tourists after Myanmar’s brutal 50-year dictatorship formally ended in 2011. Many parts of the country are still “off limits” to visitors, and all foreigners must get a visa from a Myanmar embassy before arriving.

We flew from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Mandalay, Myanmar’s northern urban center. Rob and I wanted to see Asia’s second largest country in Asia before tourism whitewashed its culture. And we were searching for a less trendy, more gritty destination than Thailand, which is overrun by foreigners looking for elephant rides, tiger-petting, and/or easy access to sex, drugs and alcohol.

Traveling through Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) - On the Horizon Line with Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Our arrival in Mandalay’s deserted airport was heralded by enthusiastic taxi drivers in longyi, the traditional cloth wrap that men and women wear around their hips. We serenaded a half-dozen of these taxi drivers with a Johnny Cash song on our trusty Panamanian guitar in the parking lot. The men’s remaining teeth were stained blood red with beetlenut juice when they smiled, clapping along to the song.

In Thailand, we were constantly trying to escape the smoke of the summer burn season. We rode our rented motorcycle into the mountains near Chiang Mai, hoping to find moist forest and blue skies – to no avail. But when we drove into Mandalay at dusk, Thailand suddenly seemed like an environmental paradise. The dusky light of sunset revealed a scene more like India than Asia: a free-for-all of swerving traffic, people bathing in canals along the highway, food vendors selling from trays balanced on their heads, men pulling wooden carts loaded high and heavy. A cloud of choking dust from the dirt roads hung suspended in the air, mixing with wood-fire smoke and black exhaust.

Traveling through Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) - On the Horizon Line with Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

After chucking our bags into a government-approved tourist hotel room (ET Hotel), we set off to find dinner. Walking amidst the traffic and dust was an adventure, with no sidewalks and no streetlights to help navigate potholes, trash piles and the ubiquitous motorbikes. Breathing was a challenge, too, and our eyes stung as we watched the street scene over our fried rice and veggie platters.

Amidst the traffic and poor air quality, we made the potentially ridiculous choice to rent bikes to pedal through Mandalay the next day. They were hilarious bikes, old single-speed cruisers made for the barely-five-foot-tall tiny people that populate Myanmar. I felt like I was riding a unicycle, since the seat and pedals were so close together. Rob looked like two giant knees.

Turns out that it’s actually easier to bike than to walk in Mandalay. You feel a part of the impenetrable flow of traffic rather than at war with it. Setting off early, we headed to the ancient walled city to see the palace of King Mindon. We went slowly, taking in the sights: tiny stools where locals sat and spat beetlenut, tea houses, oily chapatis, orange juice stands, millions of scooters, a parade of Burmese girls with painted faces sitting in flatbed trucks, a game of hacky-sack volleyball. Everyone smiled and waved as we passed, still enamored by the novelty of white tourists in their midst.

We joined the endless streams of bikes and cars and tractors that edged out in clumps from intersections, using critical mass to cross main streets in lieu of a traffic light. A teak monastery was the highlight of our tour, intricately carved with thousands of buddhas and gargoyles and who knows what. After a lunch of delicious Shan noodles (khao suey), we beat a hasty retreat to the hotel before the 100-degree heat set in.

Traveling through Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) - On the Horizon Line with Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

That evening, we resumed the bike tour and headed west from downtown to find the Ayerwaddy River, the largest in the country. Rudyard Kipling called the river the “road to Mandalay” in his famous 1890 poem about Burma. And a road it is – a network of irrigation canals and transportation routes that link the north and south. This watery road was full of boats, people bathing, pipes collecting water and dumping waste, thatch huts lining the sandy shores. A busy and overwhelming place, far removed from my Montana-girl’s mental and emotional definition of “river.”

I realized as we biked home, coughing, in the growing darkness that Rob and I keep searching for the Southeast Asian version of “wilderness,” just as we searched out the South Pacific’s underwater version of “wilderness.” We seek out untouched nature to explore. But the pristine places we associate with our definition of wilderness – the back woods, remote rivers, uninhabited peaks of Montana – don’t exist here. People have been using every scrap of land and water for millennia to simply survive.

Traveling through Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) - On the Horizon Line with Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

The real wilderness in Asia lies within its seething cities. This is where the raw, primal, impenetrable and vast exist – in the region’s humming mass of people who are, after all, very much a part of nature. The wilderness of Mandalay or Bangkok or Yangon is just as challenging to navigate as the wilderness of Montana. We need a different set of survival skills, but many of our tools are the same: a water purifier, a headlamp, a med kit, a map, a sense of humor, patience.

This realization was both humbling and helpful. It let me ease into the city just a bit, rather than hold it at bay. But it still didn’t make me want to stay in Mandalay. As we returned the bikes for the day and paid our $2 each, I was undeniably relieved to be getting on a train to Kyaukme in the morning to begin a trek through tea-growing villages in the mountains of Myanmar. Even if they are a hard-working landscape rather than a wilderness, mountains will always feel more like home than a city.

Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop with 2 1/2 in Thailand. On the Horizon Line Blog with Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts on motorcycle.

Part One – Riding with 2 1/2 on Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Motorcycle Loop

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Traveling, Videos

Last week, we put the two-and-a-half of us, one small duffel and our beat-up Panamanian guitar on a motorcycle for a week-long road trip in Southeast Asia.  We were ready for smaller towns and some Thailand scenery.  The 800 kilometer Mae Hong Son motorcycle loop has over 2,000 turns.  Most of them are hairpin.  It climbs and then descends an astonishing 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) in 20 kilometers (12 miles) … several times.  We had planned to spend about five days on the road, but ended up riding for eight.

This video was made entirely on the iPhone using iMovie.  It features Bri as the star during the first half of our trip, which included visits to Buddhist temples, birding at the highest peak in Thailand, and playing guitar with locals in the street.

Stay tuned for Part Two in a few days. Also, watch for Bri’s post next month in Mamalode about riding on a motorcycle while pregnant.

bright lights and big city - protests in bangkok thailand

One Minute in Bangkok

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Traveling, Videos

River ferries, food stalls, woks, kids, temples, bright lights, fast motorcycles, foreign alphabets.  Bangkok has been a blur of activity and culture after the past year of our slow-paced South Pacific Ocean explorations.  I tried to catch the vibe of Bangkok in this 60 second video.  Check it out.

After a week in Thailand’s largest city, we’re heading north on the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai.  Looking forward to seeing the mountains again, and a few adventures out of the big city.  To see more photos from Bangkok, click this link to see our recent Thailand photo album.

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The Baby Picture Mission

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Mamalode, Pregnancy, Traveling

Rob and I piled into the 1990 mauve sedan with a Kiwi, a Brit, three ukeleles, two guitars and a mandolin. The car pointed southwest for the three-hour drive from Auckland to Tauranga, windows down, keeping time with our own clapping and strumming since the radio didn’t work.

We were mid-stream through the Rob-entitled “Baby Picture Mission.” This road trip was neither short nor impromptu – the planning began in early November, after I peed on a stick to confirm I was knocked up. The trip itself kicked off on February 3rd aboard a tiny plane carrying us away from Vava’u, our Tongan home for almost six months. The goal? To get to some first-world medical professionals for my first trimester pregnancy testing.

You can’t get an ultrasound or a blood test done in Vava’u. Hell, I couldn’t even get a urine culture done when I had an infection at 8 weeks pregnant – they had to send it 100+ miles away to Tongatapu. That meant we had to figure out a new country and a new medical system, pronto.

Let me make a big, bold note here: Rob and I are not usually planners when it comes to traveling. We like last-minute, see-what-happens kind of adventures. No booking hotels in advance. No renting cars or buying bus tickets months ahead. Just go.

But we spent hours and hours planning ahead for the Baby Picture Mission. We called midwives and doctors, radiology centers and pathology labs, trying to get price quotes and procedures for non-residents. We booked tickets and contacted everyone we knew in New Zealand to try to find housing.

Here’s what we learned: the test HAD to be done between 11 and 13 weeks. No exception. Which, based on flight availability, weekends and lots of random public holidays, left us with a two-day window to get all the visits done. And we also learned that doctors and midwives don’t like to see patients for a “one-off” prenatal appointment. In New Zealand, the government pays for all health care costs, but that isn’t the case with non-residents. We create an unnecessary headache for medical professionals used to doing things a certain way.

We decided to do the tests in Tauranaga instead of Auckland, partly because we finally found someone willing to see us there. And partly because a friend of ours offered us her parents’ house as a base camp in Tauranga, since they were traveling the week. Perfect.

We settled into road trip mentality as we lifted off from Vava’u. Unfortunately, our 4pm flight was one of the hottest, most uncomfortable plane flights ever experienced. Not only was it a 12-seater mini-plane dating from 1964 with no air conditioning, it was also full of Tongans – the humans with the highest body mass ratio on the planet. This did not help the heat situation in the plane. No one passed out, luckily.

Next up on the road trip: spending the night in a hostel in Nuku’alofa, the capitol city of Tonga, since the mini-plane didn’t arrive in time to catch the daily Air New Zealand flight. Rob had a fever all night from a coral-infected cut, making it almost as hot in the shitty bed as it had been in the plane. Our arrival in Auckland had us drinking in the cool southern breezes like camels in the desert.

Phase two of the road trip involved meeting up with our friends, Billy and Magenta, and driving from Auckland to Tauranga the day after we arrived in New Zealand. Enter the Mauve Mobile and musical instruments. Everyone was jolly and excited, ready to see the baby on the big screen … until the message came in a few miles outside of Auckland. “So sorry, Bri, but you can’t stay at my parents’ house anymore.” Screech!

The music halted and jolliness ceased as our foursome discussed options. None were great. I was stressed. Tears were starting to leak. We stayed at a hostel (again) in Tauranga instead, adding another $100 to the bill. And then another $75, since we decided to lift our spirits with dinner out for 4 at an Indian restaurant, which refreshed our Tongan-weary palates.

The next morning, bright and chipper, Rob and I walked to our doctor appointment at 8:30 AM. Only they had NO record of our appointment. At all. And the ultrasound was scheduled for 10:00 AM, which can’t happen without a doctor’s referral. I was stressed. More tears leaked. Rob remained calm. We happened to be in the lobby of an “Accident Health Care Center.” A pregnancy could potentially be considered an accident, right? First come, first serve, said the sign. We were first. We forked over $80 and went in to see the unsuspecting Dr. Scott.

He was slightly confused, but obliging. After a quick blood pressure and urine check, along with the requisite “don’t drink or smoke while pregnant” speech, we walked out with two referrals in hand: one for the baby picture and one for blood work.

Billy and Magenta picked us up in the Mauve Mobile, swooping us over to the radiology center. Giddy with excitement, all four of us piled into the itsy-bitsy scan room. The Kiwi radiologist was less than impressed with our giddiness. She made Rob turn the camera off, and glared at Billy every time he made me giggle, since it bounced her wand off my uterus. Magenta asked how big the baby was, and got a frigid stare , along with the clipped answer, “I will tell you once I accurately measure it.” Rob broached a tentative, “So, um, can you tell me what, exactly, we’re looking at here?” He was answered with her exasperated sigh along with a contemptuous, “The baby, sir.”

We persevered through her disdain, crying and laughing and exclaiming over the alien chicken in my belly. It sure looked, um, cute? But, seriously, it was miraculous and mind-blowing to see the baby moving inside of me. Truly surreal, and worth every penny of the $226 fee.

It was also quite a relief:. At almost 13 weeks pregnant, no one had actually checked to make sure that I was pregnant yet. (Besides that one made-in-China pee stick I bought at the only pharmacy in Tonga.) The baby picture team members high-fived outside the office. We saw it! It worked! Only one task left: get the blood work finished so they could send the scan and the blood in for a statistical analysis of the likelihood of chromosomal diseases. Except … you guessed it.

Something went wrong.

Dr. Scott didn’t order the right blood tests. So, back we went to see him. And waited for an hour while he called all kinds of people, trying to figure out what form he needed to sign “in triplicate” for the test. Then we had to drive to another medical center to get the correct form, since he didn’t have it, and bring it back for him to fill out.

I was stressed. Tears were now deluging. The team was running in circles trying to calm me down.

I sent them all for kebabs while I waited (and waited) for the blood work. My name was called, and I handed in my form … only to be told it was the wrong form. Dr. F-ing Scott had filled out the wrong part of the triplicate form. I was stressed. Tears gushed forth. My story of woe came out in a rush, and convinced the very nice grandmother taking my blood that she would take matters into her own hands: she forged the doctor’s signature. Thank the lord. Four vials of blood and another $220 later, I was eating my own kebab and staring at the picture of the baby.

“Thanks, you guys. That was not an easy day, and I appreciate all of your support,” I said to Rob and our friends. “Check it out – the baby totally has Rob’s nose.”

“Rob, is there something you wanna tell us?” asked Billy, in mock seriousness.

“Yeah, Rob,” said Magenta. “Are you an alien chicken, or what?”

“No, but you are,” replied my mature husband.

And we were back to road trip priorities: practicing what it’s like to be a five-year-old so that we’re well-rehearsed when we have one of our own.



Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends, Fishing, Hiking, Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Sailing, Traveling

As we leave the Pacific for Southeast Asia, it seems like a good time to reflect upon what we’ve seen this past year.  Here are a few of our favorite photos, which give a taste of sailing, swimming and living across the South Pacific islands.  Note: This Top 10 album is also available on our Facebook page.

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Visit out Facebook page to see more photos:

Farewell, Tonga

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Reflections on Life, Traveling

Dear Tonga,

It’s been a fabulous five months.  You really pulled out all of the stops for our stay here, from pretty fish and sandy beaches to dance parties and band performances.  We particularly loved living on a sailboat in Vava’u’s flat, calm waters (nicknamed “lolo,” or oil, in Tongan).

Maybe next time you can hold off on the cyclone, though, ok?

Diving, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling every day around many of your lush green islands was rad.  Riding a quad bike through Neiafu for the weekly grocery runs was way more fun than using a car, and eating ice cream cones along the main drag was pretty cool, too.  Your people welcomed us with open arms, gathering us right into the fold.  It’s nice to live in a community where everyone knows your name.

In Vava’u, we learned to play two new musical instruments (the ukulele and mandolin), hosted my sister for a month, learned to windsurf (well, one of us did), and tried out kite-boarding.  We also got to be pretend-parents for a couple of weeks.  We learned to slow down some, too, and just sit still with friends.

Sadly, we have to say goodbye now.  Or at least “toki sio,” until our next visit.  Why are we leaving your warm waters and happy shores?  Because we’re crazy?  Maybe.  But it’s time to move on.  Rob and I promised ourselves adventure on this voyage across the seas, and it’s gotten just a tad too comfortable here in Tonga.  We’re ready to challenge ourselves again, to be thrilled by foreign languages and customs, and to immerse ourselves in slightly uncomfortable sensations.

We’re ready for a new country.  A new continent.  New sights, sounds, tastes, textures.  Tomorrow we leave for New Zealand, where we’ll spend a few weeks catching up with many of the friends we made as we sailed through the South Pacific.  After that, Rob and I are gonna spend a few months in Southeast Asia, a place that’s new to us both.  We plan to explore by land and by sea, via boats, buses, scooters and our trusty feet.

Thanks for everything, Tonga.  We already miss you.  We hope to be back again soon.  Nofo a!

Readers: go to our Facebook page for a “Best of Tonga” photo album.  And stay tuned for a “Best of the South Pacific” album, too!

Click here to see our "Best of Tonga" photo album.

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

Front Page: Read our update in the Missoulian Newspaper!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing, Traveling

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

I might have picked a better picture of us if I’d known it would end up on the front page of our hometown newspaper.  But what fun to be able to share a few stories with the press.  Here’s a snippet from the article.  Click here to read more.

In March 2013, Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts packed up their house in Missoula, left their jobs at local conservation nonprofits, and sailed west on a dream.

For the past nine months, the couple have hitchhiked through the South Pacific as crew members on small private sailboats.

In that time, they’ve been robbed, Roberts saved the life of a drowning woman, they have experienced awe-inspiring wildlife encounters and have come to understand that there are many models in the world as to how to travel, work and raise children.   Read more here.

Click here to see a full photo album of Cassidy's visit to Tonga!

Farewell to our First Visitor

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Family and Friends, Outdoor Adventures, Traveling

Click here to see a full photo album of Cassidy's visit to Tonga!

It was a typical Randall sister reunion, full of music, good food and lots of novel-reading between the many outdoor adventures. Cassidy left yesterday after a month with us here in Vava’u. I cried tears of joy when she arrived, and tears of sorrow when she left.

If you’re a visual person, check out the full photo slideshow of Cassidy’s month exploring Tonga here. (I still haven’t figured out why some of you can’t see pictures on our blog. Apologies for the inconvenience, and visit this outside link to see some photos while I keep working on the problem.)

For the more prosaic among our followers, read on to see the Top Ten highlights from hosting our very first visitor, who happens to be my favorite person in the world:

1. Rob taught Cass how to scuba dive, and she rocked the underwater world on 4 different dives.
2. We spent a week on Fofoa, an outer island on the west end of Vava’u, kayaking and snorkeling every day.
3. Cass was lucky enough to have close-up personal encounters with a sea turtle, a spotted eagle ray, a couple of sharks, and thousands of cool fish.
4. I took her on a triathalon slog across the main island, which consisted of 4 hours of bike-riding, hiking straight down (and then up) a slippery muddy trail, swimming in a washing-machine current created by huge waves, and getting deyhydrated enough to think that warm Sprite bought in a tiny village was the BEST thing EVER..
5. We took our slow, slow dingy six miles south to Fenua Unga, where we sat in seawater pools and swam under waterfalls created by the cascading waves.
6. Seahorses. Pregnant male ones, even.
7. The “Waking Dream Cavalcade” released its first album, with Rob on guitar, Cass on ukelele, and me on mandolin — new instruments for all of us!
8. Cass spent an afternoon doing ocean donuts in Ben and Lisa’s power kayak, one of the awesomest water toys out there.
9. We ate daily doses of local pineapple, avocado, papaya and mango, along with fresh giant trevally caught on Rob’s fly rod from the sailboat.
10. Cass attained her goal for this vacation: watch every sunset. And there were some glorious ones, too.

Of course, like all of life, there were lowlights, too: rainy days in a leaky boat; all of us getting sick around Christmas; the boat’s solar panel blowing overboard in a storm (and minimal electricity aboard afterwards). But the lowlights tend to accentuate the good parts. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself, now that I’m facing six months apart from my sister. The distance will make our togetherness even more special when next we get to adventure together.


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