bri securing s.ails on waking dream

Growing a Baby on a Boat

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Mamalode, Pregnancy

The first question I get after the requisite “how are you feeling?” is “did you find it hard to be pregnant on a sailboat?” Short answers? Really good and not at all.

Actually, I’ve felt eerily not pregnant, based on the lack of first trimester symptoms most of my friends complained about: exhaustion, morning sickness, food cravings. And I attribute my breezy early pregnancy to the fact that I was on a sailboat.  Keep reading my story by clicking here.

Every view of this article on Mamalode sends me a dime or two.  Thanks for your support!

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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.

Satellite photo of Cyclone Ian approaching Tonga.

Nature’s Engine – A ripple that spins.

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures

A cyclone looks remarkably similar to a single ripple spreading slowly over calm water.  Except that the ripple spins and grows, a wild engine powered by wind and water.  We saw that natural engine spin a little too close for comfort here in Vava’u, Tonga, this past weekend.

Cyclone Ian came and went like a spinning top, the brunt of it’s force narrowly missing us here in Vava’u.  We saw sustained winds of 50-60 knots for 24 hours, and gusts from 80-100 knots (up to 120 mph).  It was a big storm, but the eye stayed about 30 miles off the coast of Vava’u.

Unfortunately, the island group to the south, Ha’apai, was not so lucky.  These flat volcanic atolls took a serious pounding, and it’s estimated that 75% of all home were destroyed as the eye of the storm came directly over the islands.  Click here to see photos of Ian’s devastation south of us.

Here on Fetoko, we were spared much damage, and the sailboat and island we call home with our friends, Ben and Lisa, fared well, thanks to intensive cyclone preparations for the two days before Ian arrived.  The biggest injury was a few sea urchin spines that lodged in Rob’s butt while he was anchoring one of the motor boats (yup, it was low tide!).  The most adventurous part was a mid-storm rescue of a German couple camped on a nearby island — Rob and Ben took the boat right before dark to investigate the flashlight signals we saw from across the water, returning with two very wet passengers.  They stayed with us on Fetoko for the brunt of the cyclone.

Rob and I are writing a longer post now detailing the steps we took on the sailboat and on the island, so we can share with fellow sailors and travelers what worked and what didn’t.  Stay tuned for the details, along with a full before/after picture slideshow of our preparations.

Satellite photo of Cyclone Ian approaching Tonga.


brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goats

The Great Goat Hunt of 2013

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Food and Drink, Outdoor Adventures

brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goatsA few weeks ago, just before dinner with some friends on Fetoko Island, I heard Rob telling hunting stories.  He was re-enacting past elk kills, and explaining how he stalked ungulates through misty Montana mountains each fall.  I suddenly realized it was opening day of hunting season back home.  Rob was probably a bit nostalgic — no deer or elk to shoot in Vava’u.

The next day, we left for a party on Mounu Island in the southern part of the Vava’u group.  “It’s probably the best island in Vava’u,” Ben told us. I think he’s right.  Mounu is owned by the Bowe family, palangis who started the very first whale swim business. In fact, they helped write the rules that allow people to swim with whales here in Tonga, which is one of only three countries where humans can swim beside these magical mega-mammals.  The Bowes leased Mounu and run an exclusive resort on the sandy beaches.  Check out the sperm whale bones that washed up this last month.

brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goatsTheir daughter, Kirsty, had her 40th birthday party on Mounu, and we managed to snag an invite.  Rob and I set up our borrowed tent and yoga-mat-sleeping-pads, and promptly joined in the dancing and water fun.  Little did we know that The Great Goat Hunt of 2013 was in store for Day 2.

Kirsty decided we should divide into teams of four, and head across to Ovalau, the deserted island just across from Mounu.  Ovalau has a lot of goats.  Too many, according to the Tongans, who agreed we should get a couple for dinner.  Rob was psyched.  So was I, actually…sounded like a hilarious adventure, and I always prefer eating local free-range meat.

brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goats

Our team: Rob, me, Billy and Leonati.  Billy is the lead ukelele player in our band, Riff Raff, and grew up performing in circuses all over Europe.  Leonati is a native of Vava’u, loves to eat any type of animal, and has worked on Mounu for several years.  We were the dream team.

Once ashore on Ovalau, the teams split up.  The only rules: no guns allowed, and the first team that arrived with a goat wins.  The dream team moved fast through the thick undergrowth, heading toward the eastern shore of the island.  Rob wore perfect hunting attire: tight Speedos with a hole in the butt and a bright white shirt.  Billy came a close second: long jeans, broken shoes with a flapping sole, and a button down shirt.  I had faith.

Here’s how The Great Goat Hunt went down:

1) We heard the goats mewing close by.  The men split up and moved fast (and not noiselessly) through the trees (which is when I lost them and wandered aimlessly for about 10 minutes).

2) Rob, Billy and Leonati came upon two goats.  “Which one should I get?” Rob called to Leonati, the goat hunting veteran.  Leonati pointed at the plumpest one.

3) Rob tackled the goat.  Billy pointed out the swollen teats, which meant she was pregnant.  “Shit.  Wrong choice.”  They let her go.

4) The men began stalking once more, heading toward the cliffs against the sea where they could corner more goats.

5) Rob and Leonati came upon another goat and herded her against the rocks.  They crept toward her slowly, until Leonati could reach out and grab her leg.  Done.

6) Leonati promplty slit her throat.  Rob found a branch and tied its legs around it.

7) I followed the blood trail until I came upon Billy and Rob flapping back through the woods carrying a dead goat.  The dream team reunited for the trek to the beach.

brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goats

The whole thing took about 14 minutes.  Our team was the first back, though the other teams arrived quickly.  One other team caught a goat, but brought it back alive and then decided to let it go when we already had one to eat.  No need to be greedy.  We stuffed the dead goat in a giant tupperware box and took the boat back across to Mounu.  On the short ride, we saw a tiger shark swimming that could have eaten about 8 goats in one swallow.  It was BIG.

Back home, Rob and I followed Leonati back into the bush, to see how he’d prepare the goat for our dinner.  Turns out it’s easy: use a Tongan blowtorch (flaming palm fronds) to scorch off all the hair, gut it, then put it back on the stick-spit and roast for a couple of hours over a coconut-husk fire.  Voila.

tonga goat hunt flame spit brianna and rob adventureI can’t say that goat was my favorite meat to eat, but I appreciated the adventure.  And The Great Goat Hunt soothed Rob’s hunting jitters out here in the tropics, far from Montana’s roaming elk.


rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches

Entering A Waking Dream

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life, Sailing

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWe have yet another new home.  Her name is Waking Dream, a 42-foot Cooper monohull owned by Ben and Lisa Newton here in Vava’u.  They sailed her from Oakland, California and spent three years cruising before deciding to stay in Tonga.  Now that they live on Fetoko Island and are building Mandala Resort, Waking Dream has been vacant for a while.  And we know what happens to vacant sailboats: they start to crumble under the relentless tropical sun and saltwater.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches Rob and I offered to help get her all fixed up in return for a free place to live.  It’s a good deal for everyone.  We get to learn more about maintaining a sailboat and build our own little nest.  Ben and Lisa get a working sailboat.  What are some of the problems with it, you ask?  I’ll just list the top few for now: #1 termites #2 the coral reef living on the bottom #3 disintegrating dodger and algae-covered lines.  It’s nice to have a purpose again.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesIt also feels good to be living on the water again.  And it feels really good to be all by ourselves on a sailboat again.  We haven’t felt like the capitans of our own space for over 8 months now, since we’ve been sharing living quarters on boats and in others’ homes.  It actually felt slightly eerie to make dinner for just the two of us last night.  For three-quarters of a year, we’ve shared meals with at least one other person, and lately it’s been more like 6-10 others.  Neither of us could remember the last night we’d spent with no one else around.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesTransitioning from communal living to independent living is probably more of a change than moving back to the sea from the shore.  We are both quite comfortable cohabiting with others — we enjoy the social dynamics of sharing space, food, ideas, chores, music and ourselves with more than just each other.  Yet we’re both quite comfortable alone, too.  I, in particular, crave my alone time almost as much as I crave social interaction.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWhat a strange and beautiful paradox, this human pull to be so close to others in tandem with the pull to have our own individual corners to retreat into.  A yin and yang of co-dependence and independence, where finding the balance is the magic ingredient to a fulfilling life.  Here aboard Waking Dream, we hope to strike that balance, to build our own little nest where we can retreat, while still keeping close to the flock of new friends who support us.

brianna and rob on the horizon line travel blog tonga vavau

Bang Bang (with goats and hot pants)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Family and Friends, Videos

This is what we do on the average Tuesday in Tonga.  No, we weren’t on drugs, and no, this was not the result of a dare or a lost bet.  We spent a week on Tapana Island with our new friends, Billy and Magenta, perfecting our band’s repertoire and running around the island in costumes.

It felt a lot like a “Glee” episode — someone would sing a random snippet part way through cooking dinner, and the rest of us would pick up nearby instruments to accompany the remainder of the song. We even wrote a couple of originals that might appear in later videos.

Fun, right?  We think so.

If you like Riff Raff’s first music video, please share it.  Spread the love.  Send the barnyard animals and synchronized swimming scenes into the homes of your friends, so that they, too, can laugh at Rob’s amorous goat-petting and stylish swimming shorts.  Enjoy.

Disclaimer: no sheep were harmed during the making of this film.


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

Another Sabbath in Tonga

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Traveling

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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