A Distant Match on a Remote Island

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This story about our visit to the remote atoll of Palmerston in the Cook Islands — and the unexpected volleyball match we joined — appeared in Islands Magazine.  As one of the most beautiful and unique anchorages during our sailing voyage across the South Pacific, Palmerston is definitely high on our “let’s go back someday” list.

Click here to read the story.

Click here to read our past blog post on Palmerston.

rob roberts - volleyball magazine - on the horizon line travel blog

 

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Melding Back Into Missoula

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life, Traveling

Transitions can be exciting or scary, slow or abrupt.  But rarely are they comfortable.  As Rob and I transition back into “real life” on land here in Missoula, Montana, we are attempting to accept the discomfort that comes with change.  Our life is full of unknowns right now: where will we live?  What will we do next?  Who do we want to be when we grow up?

Luckily, even while immersed in the unknown, it feels good to be surrounded by familiar sights and our favorite people.   Our transition back to the States was buffered by spending two weeks wandering the Northwest before settling back in Montana.  We reconnected with friends from Bellingham to Bend, stopping in Seattle, Portland and Mosier in between.

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

We saw balsam root flowers springing up along the Columbia River, and mushrooms poking out amid the cedar forests near Canada.  We played with doggies and goats and chickens, told stories, caught up.  And we bought warm clothes at Goodwill to ease our heat-soaked bodies into the cold northern spring.

Now, vacation is over.  By choice, for sure, although the ending is no less poignant. Rob and I are both ready to delve into new projects, new passions, new challenges.  We’ve been back home for a week now, living in my parents’ very comfortable house and reacquainting ourselves with Missoula.  When we get overwhelmed by all the “to do’s” in front of us — find a house, a car, insurance, income — we call a friend we haven’t seen in over a year and go for a walk in the hills.

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

It’s almost too easy to slip back into old habits.  But that slip seems to make the transition even harder, as we struggle to hold on to those hard-earned travel lessons.  We are working to find the balance between embracing our old lifestyle and carving out a new one that accommodates our expanded horizons.  Mostly, we’re just taking the good advice of a wise friend: be kind to ourselves, and forgive ourselves when we hit rough spots on the road as meld back into our home.

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

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.

[anything_slider title=”Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific” column=”full-width” autoslide=”2″ slider_id=”3667″/]

 

Sunset photo taken by Rachel Stewart at Papamoa Beach.

My Own Alone Space

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life

 I’m on a bus. Alone. The seat beside me is empty, save for a sandwich, a bottle of water, and my Kindle. It feels empty without Rob beside me, his long legs askew and his hand on my thigh. It also feels undeniably spacious. And that’s the theme I’m exploring this week: space.

I’m heading to a peninsula jutting into the cold Pacific waters off New Zealand’s North Island. Rob is flying to American Samoa to visit a buddy from his Peace Corps days. I didn’t want to go for a number of reasons: money, travel time, the fact that we just left a very similar setting. But the main reason was to create some space.

I love Rob more than most things on this planet. I love him even more fiercely after our travels together. But we haven’t spent more than 24 hours apart in the past year. Hell, it’s rare that we spend more than two hours away from each other. As independent, self-sufficient people, that’s kinda weird. And sometimes unsettling – what if we become too dependent on the other to spend time apart?

Solo explorations infuse our relationship with new energy, and give us the freedom to disengage from the sometimes too-comfortable couple circle we present to the rest of the world. It’s hard to break into a circle, so the space inside can get stagnant. We do better together when we take a little time to explore the world alone. Separately. Individually.

Being alone provides a completely different space for my thoughts and my body. I move differently, am more observant, more quiet, more spontaneous. I can eat what I want, when I want. I can read all day or write all night. The space I usually allot to Rob is waiting, beckoning, a blank slate to fill as I’d like.

This last year is the longest I’ve gone without an “alone time” trip of my own. During our relationship, I’ve spent at least one hundred nights away from Rob — for work, for fun, for me. For us. All of these trips created a different energy in the space vacated by my husband. It’s always a pleasure to see what wiggles into that space when I’m alone. Sometimes it’s chaos, sometimes it’s peace. It’s always enlightening.

Today, I’m on a bus alone. I’m going on an adventure to see what I can find. I’m following my feet wherever they take me, knowing that – in the end – they will take me back to Rob, where we will reunite to share our stories, our space, ourselves.

Sunset photo taken by Rachel Stewart at Papamoa Beach.
Photo taken by Rachel Stewart at Papamoa Beach.
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.

brianna and rob on the horizon line travel blog tonga vavau

Let’s talk about the future.

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brianna and rob on the horizon line travel blog tonga vavau

A lot of people have asked us recently about our short- and long-term plans. Where are we going next? What will we be doing in Tonga? What are our goals for the future? (Besides making an album, since we have this awesome album cover photo all ready to go.)

To be honest, we’ve thought a lot less about these answers here in Vava’u than any other time since we left Missoula. Part of the reason we haven’t thought much about plans and goals the last couple of months is because we simply have less time to think. Passages across the Pacific give plenty of time to ponder what the hell you’re doing with your life (maybe too much time?). Partying in Tonga sucks that pondering right back into the sea, sweeping out plans with the tides.

It’s been busy in Vava’u. We’ve been playing a lot of music, and heading up weekly open mic nights at a local bar. We’ve been doing yoga almost every morning. We’ve been helping set up and plan a 4-day regatta and associated festival events so hundreds of people can have fun. We’ve been cooking and eating a lot. We’ve been designing and wearing a variety of interesting costumes. We’ve been sitting around with the tight-knit group of palangis and yachties who live in Vava’u, discussing particle physics, papayas, rainbows, religion, and government theory. We’ve been petting dogs, and avoiding pigs crossing the street.

pub crawl in neiafu tonga regatta vavau party brianna and rob on the horizon line

You see? We barely have time to swim anymore, much less figure out the future.

Rob and I have been living for free here in Tonga in exchange for helping out new friends. We spend a week or two at cooking and fixing things at Mandala Resort on Fetoko Island, and then a week or so in Neiafu watching 3 lovely boys while they’re parents are both working. We plan to keep helping people out, since they keep helping us out in return: so far, we’ve long-term-borrowed 2 mountain bikes, a few spear guns, lots of clothes, a kayak, and a sailboat.

neiafu harbor from mount talau

Our short-term plans are to fix up that sailboat so we can move aboard late November. In December, my sister comes to visit for the whole month! When I’m not hopping around in gleeful excitment about seeing Cassidy in 5 weeks, I’m mapping out the best beaches and snorkeling spots to anchor at while she’s here. Come the new year … well, I expect we’ll be doing more of the same: volunteering to work on interesting projects for friends, sailing around the dozens of islands in Vava’u between summer storms, playing music and eating fruit.

After cyclone season ends in March, we plan to hitch a ride to American Samoa and Samoa, and then on to Fiji for a few months. Rob and I are planning to head back to Montana for a summer visit in July. And that’s about as long-term as we can plan right here and right now. We talk a lot about lofty goals for the future, which include miraculous millions that allow us to jet each year between our home in Missoula and our second home on a tropical island.  Maybe the millions will roll in once we start selling our band’s albums … though I somehow doubt Johnny Cash cover songs will net enough for a second home.

pub crawl in neiafu tonga regatta vavau party on the horizon line travel blog

But it’s all just talk. We’re happy, healthy, and very much in the “now” here in Tonga. Come visit us and you, too, will see how these islands suck plans straight out into the deep Tongan Trench.

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!

 

 

You are all with us.

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Reflections on Life

Roberts family

We just changed the clocks back again. Every time we gain another hour, I feel a tangible stretch in my connection back home. Our next time change — in just a couple of weeks — will span an entire 25 hours. We’ll lose a whole day as we cross the International Dateline near Tonga, and I’ll be ever further from the daily routine of my loved ones in the States.

I’m approaching the outer limits of time spent away from my family. I can feel that time accumulating in my bones and in my breast, weighing heavy as I dive down to see tropical coral and exotic fish. I’m curious how the weight will change as more months pass — will I just wake up one morning and declare that I simply must fly home? Will I grow used to the separation and learn to live with the weight more easily?

the family

After five months out, everything back home is captured in a lovely rosy glow. A glow that purposefully enhances the good and fuzzes out any ickiness. I can picture our neighborhood, my parents’ kitchen, my sister and her big dog walking by the creek, our king-sized bed that’s bigger than the boat we’re now living on. I miss it all. But I’m not ready to go back yet.

I think about my friends and my family every single day. You are all with us out here: under the water, counting the minutes until the passage is complete, marveling at colors and stars and sharks, bemoaning the rocking stove, exclaiming at the number of sharks, laughing at the absurdness of floating a small boat across a giant s ea, changing the clocks back surely but slowly as that small boat keeps sailing west.

travel south pacific island rob brianna dateline

Adopted on Palmerston Island

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travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

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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