September 30, 2012

Last days of Vava'u and Tonga adventures

THE REEF RESORT, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga - We spent the day yesterday (and most of today) at Treasure Island Resort with new amigos Mark and Veronica who own the island paradise.

It's a stunning place - so stunning that I told Admiral Fox that after spending just a few hours there, my "Awe Meter" pegged at 100 percent and then broke.

Incredible doesn't describe it.

I will later, of course, and with it, with photos that are all trapped on various cameras, hard drives, SD cards and even on this iPad.

But our internet connection makes two tin cans and a string looked like fiber optic cable by comparison so it's crazy to even try to post anything bigger than a text file.

That said, of course I have to try... So below, tin cans and string willing, is a photo of our photo boat captains, Lisa Danger and John LeDoux.

Tomorrow we will be back in Neiafu, the main village, where the Internet can be a challenge, but we can usually overcome any obstacles.

Tuesday a.m. we fly out for the main island of Tonga, then Fiji, then LA, the Sacramento...

Home in Watkins Glen and Hector will be a week after that...

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September 28, 2012

A move from 'downtown' out to Treasure Island

TREASURE ISLAND, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga - There are no coincidences.

Yesterday morning, desperate for a cab to haul all of our stuff down to the third race in the Regatta Vava'u, Adm. Fox spied a woman sitting in a cab at The Hilltop Hotel.

It turned out Veronica and her husband Mark own the Treasure Island Resort. And, AND, Veronica is originally from Mexico and we ended up not only sharing the cab, but having breakfast with she and Mark.

We have swapping tales of Mexico and Tonga ever since then.

The island resort was a few hundred yards from where we went whale watching/swimming last week.

Above is the pier we used when we arrived with on a boat that was full of food for the resort.

Below are two outside shots, one of the small restaurant where we just had rice and stir fried vegetables.

A heavenly lunch in a paradise setting.

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Final daze of Regatta Vava'u in Kingdom of Tonga

VAVA'U, Kingdom of Tonga - The past two days were a blur of sailing, parties and, well, more sailing and more parties.

Interspersed in with that were also some informational sessions on protecting the beautiful marine environment here and cruising destinations.

The sailboat race Thursday night was an around-the-harbor affair that got quite competitive. We were able to hop on the committee boat with Martin Craig (base manager for Sunsail and The Moorings), along with amigo Jeff from Vava'u Adventures (the kart-adventure company). It made for an excellent platform for shooting photos.

But Friday was the big day with a longish race through the islands to Ano Beach where the Full Moon Party kicked when the cruisers were all safely anchored.

The captain and skipper of the sailing catamara Orcinius (Lisa Danger and John LeDoux, respectively) took us out on their vessel as a photo boat for that race. They kept the cat nice and flat while I shot video and Admiral Fox did her still photo work. Below is the finish line as Cirrus crosses it.

There were lots of surprises at the Full Moon Party - some of which I will write about later, but check out the structure in the water near shore that greeted everyone as they came in my dinghy.

Look familiar?

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September 26, 2012

Children take over Regatta Vava'u for the day

VAVA'U, Kingdom of Tonga - After a fun sailboat race in solid breezes Tuesday, many of the cruisers in the Regatta Vava'u took time Wednesday to attend - and help out - with a Kids' Day that included face painting, costumes, music and, of course, a snazzy parade, complete with an all-Tongan children's band.

The Tongan children had the day off from school for the event and seemed to enjoy the whole thing as much as the hundreds of parents and cruisers who came to watch.

Local Vava'u celebrity and theater owner Billy worked with the children, leading part of the parade with a ukulele. Then the children from various schools put on performances of traditional dances, dressed in traditional garb.

After the end of the Kids' Day festivities, the cruisers retired to the Poolside Cafe for their own afternoon of fun and games and to rehydrate with the beverages of their choice.

Near the wharf area where the children were doing their dances, the inter-island container ship was at the dock, loading and offloading containers. The containers are the main way things are shipped to and from the island.

Thursday will be the second race in the three-race series this week, with a late afternoon around-the-harbor contest. I suspect there will be some amount of hydration involved in that race, too.

Then Friday the cruisers have a longer race scheduled through the islands, ending up at Ano Beach for what's called the Full Moon Party, a combination awards program, beach party, dance-a-thon, and pyrotechnics show.

There will also be a feast with lots of food and drink... lots...

Although the Full Moon Party is almost the grand finale to the Regatta, the next night there will be a traditional Tongan feast offered that many Regatta participants plan to attend, too.

I plan to stay away from the scales for at least a month when I get back from this adventure of feasts, parties, sailboat races and imbibing of hydrating beverages.

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September 25, 2012

A sailing/whaling day at the Regatta Vava'u

VAVA'U, Kingdom of Tonga - The day started out dark and stormy and right here in downtown the rain pounded hard for nearly 20 minutes in a tropical downpour.

Most people cheered.

It was an auspicious start, considering that much of this part of the island chain has been suffering from drought. And that is a pretty serious deal here, as most of the drinking water comes either from the skies or is shipped in via bottles. The vast majority is collected though into big tanks.

The race was a quick affair out and through some of the nearby islands, starting at 11:30 a.m. and done by 2:30 p.m. But in the middle of all that, the participants had to go into a shoreside cave as well as scamper across a spit of sand to get some clues that would help them in how they finished in the race.

The cave was amazing, the same spot Adm. Fox and I snorkeled in earlier this week as part of our swim-with-the whales expedition.

Our photo and video collection is growing in leaps and bounds, with backups and another set of backups on a gazillion gigabyte harddrive. (OK, it's only a one terrabyte hard drive, but still.)

This afternoon we listened to a presentation about the whales of this area, the very whales we were swimming with early this week.

We learned that whales are most closely related to the land mammals we call the hippo and that at one time, there were 45,000 humpbacks taken illegally from these islands before the then king called a halt to it in 1979

When he stopped the whale harvesting, the local Tonga whale population was down to 12 breeding females. Now there are about 2,400 and coming back at about 3 percent per year.


Among the many revelations was that krill - the mainstay food of these animals when in the frozen stretches of the southern oceans - is declining. No, not just because of climate charge, but because many countries are havesting krill for use in the manufacture of vitamin supplements.

I really need to research where the oil comes from in my USANA supplements.

Below is a photo of today's captains' meeting before the race, at the Mango Cafe.

September 24, 2012

Wild ending for Tridecagon-athlon at Regatta Vava'u

VAVA'U, KINGDOM OF TONGA - The big Monday event in the Regatta Vava'u was the tridecagon-athlon, a 13-event mashup that anyone who ever spent time in a scout camp, pledged a fraternity or, well, attended a cruiser's regatta like this would recognize.

The three-legged race was actually a centipede race with seven or so members all bound together. Then there was the hip bounce, where a huge boat fender gets pushed about using just the hips. It's get wilder as the game goes on and you are allowed to use your knees, too.

The whole day was punctuated with stops for cold beer (we are talking cruisers here) and some delicious food provided by both the Poolside Cafe and the Marina Wine Bar.

The master of ceremonies was a fellow named Billy - about whom I will be writing a lot more, here and other places. He has a background in the circus and comes from a show business family.

To quote that great sailing philosopher Captain Ron: "It shows."

For part of the festivities, I climbed a wall and perched up high, operating what we called the Regatta Vava'u Skycam. I suffered my only injury of the day climbing up - there was barbed wire wrapped through the chain link.

Tomorrow is the first actual sailing race in the regatta. Winds have been pretty light, but the sailors might need a less-that-chaotic sail given how sore their muscles likely are. Some will be recovering from the pie-eating contest that turned into a pie-throwing contest, the last event that left everyone (except for the two journalist/photographers) slimed by gooey, yellow pie.

We are talking about cruisers here.

Below is a group shot of the entire crowd from today's event sponsored by a locally owned company called Tropical Tease. Tropical Tease is a T-shirt and custom shirt shop right on the main street that has some of best quality shirts and coolest artwork I have seen in either hemisphere.

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September 22, 2012

A trip along Vavau's Mahogany Ridge

MAHOGANY RIDGE, VAVA'U, Tonga - The second big event of Regatta Vava'u here was a pub crawl last night, an hours-long affair that started at one end of this small village and ended somewhere on the other side.

I can't tell you exactly where it ended up because after the first two spots, the Ovava Restaurant followed by the Aquarium Restaurant, it looked like I would have to start crawling and there is an entire week of festivities yet to be written about and photographed. Adm. Fox and I retired from the field a little early, but the pub crawl crawled on for hours.

It was a fancy dress affair with wild costumes and enough music to get everyone dancing in the streets. Quite literally dancing in the streets. And after partying at the first stop on the tour with beer, drinks and fantastic pizza, a crowd of maybe 100 revelers paraded down the street following the music blasting from a sound trailer.

I went dressed as a visiting journalist. Not that original perhaps, but then I did get a free beer for my efforts. Adm. Fox was in one of her drop-dead gorgeous Mexico outfits. She got a beer, too.

Earlier in the day Admiral Fox and I teamed up to cover a paddle boat race in the harbor. The affair was organized to kick off efforts to raise money for the Vava'u folks to purchase a traditional Tongan canoe (which cost about $18,000) to use in races against other islands.

The boat races died out some years ago when outboard motors took over all the inter-island boating. But with a little nudge, the organizers of the regatta believe they can get the competitions going again.

Today is Sunday in Tonga and everything shuts down so that people can attend church and then spend time with families. It is also a day of feasting here at Port of Refuge Villas (where we are staying for another four days). We will be feasting this afternoon with the family and other community members and the menu looks unbelievably good.

But we won't have far to crawl home afterwards.

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September 20, 2012

Off to see - and swim with - the whales

VAVAU, Kingdom of Tonga - Yesterday we took a cart tour (spelled Kart, here) around the island, seeing some beaches that are so beautiful, it's hard to believe they are real.

The carts (karts) were fun to drive, and in a few places we understood why they were equipped with roll bars.

Unfortunately, on the last leg home, the chain broke on our unit (which driving over a downed tree) and so we ended up getting towed home for the last few kilometers on a 10-foot tow rope.

A ten-foot rope isn't very long when you are going 30 miles and hour and the brakes on your kart are (as they say here) a little dodgy.

In a couple of hours, we head out on a motorized catamaran to swim with the whales and see some more of this island from the sea. The harbor is filling up fast with yachts for the RegattaVava'u that starts officially tomorrow.

Among the first events is a pub crawl, scheduled for the evening.

The sacrifices we make as journalists.

Below is a photo taken from the deck of our accommodations last night, a place called The Balcony.

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September 18, 2012

In Vava'u, the Kingdom of Tonga, days later

VAVA'U, Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific - Days later - I can't tell you how many... We are now in Vava'u for the sailing regatta and festival we will be writing about as well as shooting photos and taking video.

We changed time zones so many times, I lost track of what time and day it is, but know that as long as I file my column to the Finger Lakes Times sometime early tomorrow, I'll make my deadline.

I think anyway.

Adm. Fox and I just had lunch in The Aquarium Cafe and will be heading out to an island for the night, an island leased by regatta organizers Lisa and Ben.

More on that later...

Here's a photo of what we looked at from the deck of The Aquarium.

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September 16, 2012

Final preparations for the flights to the Kingdom of Tonga

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Adm. Fox and I are putting the finishing touches on smashing way too much stuff into bags that are way too small as we get ready to fly to LA and then on to Tonga tonight.

We leave late Sunday night and arrive very early Tuesday morning.

The International Dateline makes things complicated.

But as best we can tell, we are ready for the trip. The only issue is the 15 pound weight limit for carry-on baggage. Believe me, carry on luggage can weigh a lot more than that.

Just my camera weighs about 5 pounds - and there is noooo way that is going to be in a checked piece of luggage.

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September 12, 2012

From Watkins Glen to Sacramento, via Philadelphia and Phoenix

SOMEWHERE OVER ARIZONA AT 35,000 FEET - Admiral Fox and I left our Watkins Glen casa at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday for a quick drive to the Elmira Airport where we hopped the first of three flights to get us to Sacramento.
And much to my surprise, the first plane was a prop plane - a Dash-8, a nice enough plane, but.
A prop plane? Hoo-boy.

Still, we got on (after gate checking our bags) and bounced our way safely to Philadelphia. We didn't talk much - hard to over the sound of those two engines whining right outside the window.
But it was in Philadelphia where things got a little tight.
We had to catch a shuttle from Terminal F to Terminal A - with about a 35-minute window to catch our connector to Phoenix. And the shuttle line was long and moving with the speed of a glacier (a growing glacier, not the kind that are melting...)
Santa Crappo, we thought, can we make it?
But we made it to the gate just as they were boarding the last four passengers (us among them) and wedged ourselves into middle seats. The flight was only about 4 hours, but I managed to somehow cramp up my left leg enough that it still hurts as we hurtle along towards Sacramento.
I just started reading the classic book, "The Monkey Wrench Gang," a book recommended to me by Adm. Fox and some other folks. It made the four hours go by very fast, just wish it had reminded me to stretch a few times.

Our time in Sacramento will be short - just until Sunday when we head out to LAX for our 10.5 hour trip to Fiji, followed by another 1-hour flight to our destination: the Kingdom of Tonga.
Then the next morning, we have to roll out very early to catch an inter-island flight from Tonga to Vava/u, our final destination for the sailing regatta and festival that drew us halfway across the globe.
From that point, it's whale watching, island tours, fiestas, snorkeling, sailing, followed by more whale watching, more tours, more fiestas, more snorkeling and more sailing.
OH! And somewhere in all that we will be prepping stories and taking photos and videos to write and post when we return to the U.S. in about three weeks.
I could get used to this travel writing.

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September 5, 2012

Anti-hydrofracking, anti-Inergy forces ramping up the pressure

HECTOR, New York, USA - The people opposed to hydrofracking for natural gas  - as well as those folks who think the proposed Inergy propane storage and transportation depot is too awful to even contemplate - all gathered Sunday for a combination political convention/concert called The Big Splash.

Newest Inergy's drill site on the shore of Seneca Lake
The Big Splash had music, speeches, bumper stickers, handouts, food and good drink provided by wineries and breweries.

And the weather was glorious, just glorious for more than a 1,000 people who came to the Hector Volunteer Fire Department grounds for the event.

The Big Splash was actually Big Splash II. Last year the event was a big success, also.

The energy of the people at the event was reminiscent of the march that was held in Watkins Glen recently to protest the Inergy project. Inergy is already drilling wells to store natural gas from the Marcellus Shale and this summer accidentally dumped thousands of gallons of brine water (salt water) into Seneca Lake.

More protests can be expected very soon.

*subject2change Media was on scene and made two videos: one focuses on three speeches, the second is a video of Brett Beardslee giving a talk and then performing an antifracking song he recently composed.