Monthly Archives: June 2007

Turning Lemons Into Lemon Flavored Drink….with real Lemons!

Posted by on June 28, 2007

I managed to salvage the missed Tonga flight. I went to the Air New Zealand office in Apia and got the ticket changed to July 11, which is when I should be arriving back from Tokelau.

If the Tokelau boat can’t get fixed before then, I can move the date up a week.

I also went into a travel agent in town and asked them handle my tickets for Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and PNG. I’m not going to bother trying to arrange my own travel in the Pacific anymore. That should give me a month planned ahead, which is far more than I’ve had so far in the trip.

The only big mystery for me now in the Pacific is Kiribati. I know I can get there from Nauru (or at least I think I do. I shouldn’t assume any flight schedules are true around here). I don’t know if i can go from Kiribati to Guam or the Marshall Islands, however. If I can figure that out, then I should be set on everything up to Japan.

I now need to work on getting my visas for China and Kiribati. I have to get the Kiribati visa in Suva, Fiji (they only have like 3 embassies in the world) and I can probably apply for the China visa there too.

I’m going to go around the island of Upalu today and then try to go to Savai’i over the weekend. Savai’i is supposed to have the western most point on Earth…which considering it’s sphere really means its the western most point of land on this side of the International Date line.

I tell ya, I get no respect

Posted by on June 27, 2007

Today has not been good to me.

In addition to the previously mentioned Tonga fiasco, I went to confirm everything at the Tokelau office today, trying to make the best of it.

The god damn boat is broken….and they can’t get people from New Zealand here to fix it till Saturday because all the flights are full.

Things are really working against me. I have yet to find out if I can move my Tonga ticket.

I really haven’t explored Samoa much so I’m going to take the next few days to do that I think. When I was here before American Samoa, I basically was in my room trying to deal with my impetigo. I was going to do that when I got back from Tokelau, but I might as well just do it now.

The best that comes out of this is that my schedule is just reorderd and I have a pay a penalty for changing my flights.

Thoughts on American Samoa

Posted by on June 26, 2007

Pago Pago Harbor

I’m leaving American Samoa today and will be in Tonga tomorrow. I have several hours to kill while I wait for my flight to Apia, so I might as well get my thoughts down now before I leave.

I didn’t know what to expect before I came to American Samoa. This is a place that usually just gets a footnote in US geography courses. Guam and Puerto Rico get way more attention than American Samoa does.

  • American Samoa is more Samoa than America. Spending time in Apia before coming here really drove the point home. Several cab drivers also pointed out the same thing. But for the government and a few other institutional things (school calendars and high school sports) there are no real differences between the two Samoas. The division is really artificial.
  • In both American Samoa and Samoa, there were two facts that I noticed that seems at odds with each other.
    1. Everything from signs, radio stations, TV, newspapers was in English. I could go anywhere and speak with anyone in English.
    2. No one spoke English. Not to each other at least. Everyone spoke Samoan to other Samoans.

    I think Samoan never being a written language is probably the reason for it. I think its a good decision for Samoans. They can keep their language and culture yet be connected to the rest of the English speaking world.

  • I flat out asked a cab driver if there was any movement for an independent American Samoa or to merge with Samoa. Without hesitation he said “No”. They got a good deal going. For all practical purposes they are independent, but they get benefits of being part of the US. They probably have seen what has happened to other small Pacific nations and don’t want to make the same mistake. There is a very steep price for a seat in the UN. I’ll have more to say on this subject I’m sure when I go through Tuvalu and Nauru.
  • It is pretty cheap here. I could take a cab from the airport to Pago Pago for about $13. Nothing really stuck me as expensive compared to urban areas in the US.
  • Pago Pago isn’t really a city so much as a village. It just happens to be the village where the harbor is. It isn’t even the biggest village on the Island.
  • When you go through immigration at the airport, I was expecting a US customs officer. I got an American Samoa stamp in my passport and it was American Samoan customs, not US Immigration.
  • Lots of Western Union and money transfer places here. Many people come from Samoa to American Samoa to work and send money back home. Per capita GDP in American Samoa is about $8,000 vs $5,600 in Samoa.
  • Samoa (both) is more religious than the southern US. That is in no way an exaggeration. They call it the Pacific Bible belt. Everywhere where I went they had Christian music playing, often Samoan Christian music. Everything shuts down on Sundays.
  • All the buses here and in Samoa are private. It is very similar to what I saw in Tahiti. Buses are everywhere and cheap. The system seems to work well. The quality of the buses would turn off most westerners, but it gets the job done efficiently and cheaply.
    Buses in American Samoa

  • I purchased a lavalava while I was here. In fact I’m wearing it as I type this. It is basically a kilt that men wear here. I’ve had requests for photos of me wearing it. That will have to wait a least a few days. I’m only going to wear it for the next few weeks while I’m in the region, then I’m sending it home. Mine is a solid color with pockets, not just a big hunk of cloth. Its more of a formal one than what some guys wear. It cost a whopping $8. I got it at…and I kid you not….Mr. Lavalava in downtown Pago Pago.
  • Samoans are just really nice people.

McSamoa’s….or, Polynesians Got Back

Posted by on June 26, 2007

Apia McDonald's

I’m going to combine the Samoa and American Samoa McDonald’s entry because they aren’t interesting enough to do separately.

As far as I can tell, there is only one restaurant in each county. The Samoa McDonald’s is right in town a block off Beach St. and the American Samoa restaurant is out near the airport. It is quite aways from Pago Pago.

Neither restaurant had anything special on the menu. They were mostly paired down versions of an American menu. The signage at both restaurants looked identical indicating there might be some sort of connection between the two.

The place mat on the tray in the American Samoa restaurant was in English and Spanish. I estimate the population of Spanish speakers in American Samoa to be somewhere close to zero. I’m sure they got leftovers from the mainland.

In Samoa, they had NO DIET COKE!! They only had Fanta, Coke and Sprite. WTF. I think this is a national disgrace and really makes the nation of Samoa look bad. If I were the leader of Samoa, I would start an investigation immediately.

I don’t know how many more McDonald’s I’ll be seeing over the next month. I’m guessing Tonga might have one and I know Fiji has one I didn’t get to, but otherwise, most of the places I’ll be visiting are really small. Probably too small for McDonald’s.

*Edit* Looks like I’m right. Here is a list of countries with McDonald’s. This list is more complete than the McDonald’s website which doesn’t list Samoa.

Considering I’m not going to be seeing any more restaurants in Polynesia, I think this is as good a time as any to address something which is sort of the elephant in the room (no pun intended) if you travel around the region.

What is the elephant? Polynesians are fat.

This isn’t just my opinion. I’m from Wisconsin and we got our share of fat people, but the islands make Wisconsin look like a bulimia convention. Hawaii, Rarotonga, Samoa, and to a limited extent the Maori and Tahitians all had obesity problems. From everything I understand, its just as much of a problem north of here. It will be interesting to see if it is a problem in Tokelau, given how isolated they are.

I don’t think you can just write this problem off to things like fast food. In Rarotonga, there were no fast food restaurants. (well, there was a place called Raro Fried Chicken. The thing I remember about it was that wild chickens would roam around outside the restaurant. I found it hilarious that they milled about while their kin were being served up inside)

I think the reason for polynesian obesity is two fold. One cause is behind obesity in all humans and the other is unique to polynesia.

To understand why polynesians are overweight, you need to realize that for most of human history, the daily concern for most people was getting enough calories for survival. Food was serious stuff. You hunted, you fished, you picked berries, and eventually you farmed. This was all done for the goal of just surviving. In the case of polynesia, think about what the typical polynesian diet consisted of prior to the arrival of Europeans: taro root, cassava root, breadfruit, coconut, fish and they might have brought some chickens. That’s about it. They had to eek out a survival on a small patch of land with little room or good land to grow crops. Getting enough food was a big deal. This was an issue for everyone in the world, but it was a particular problem if you lived on a small island.

Fast forward to 2007 and we have pretty much solved the problem of food. Famines usually only occur in rare cases when you have civil wars or other armed groups preventing the supply of food. Obesity is now a bigger problem than malnutrition in even the poorest countries. We have basically infinite calories at our disposal but have kept our primal desire to clean our plates, have as big of portions as possible, and eat as much as we can. In a very real sense, the “crisis” of obesity is a testament to our ability to conquer the problem of eating enough food…..with an obvious downside of course. That is why there are McDonald’s in Samoa.

The diet of polynesians has also changed dramatically, more than it has in other places. I’ll address this in detail when I pass through the nation of Nauru, which provides one of the best examples on Earth of what happens when you dramatically change the diet of a population.

Everything I’ve described above applies to everyone on Earth. The only difference in polynesia has been the degree.

There is something however unique to polynesia that has compounded the problem: Darwinian Natural Selection.

Go look at a map of the Pacific Ocean and try to get an idea of the size of the area compared to something you are familiar with, like the continental United States. It’s huge. It’s enormous. And it was all settled before the arrival of Europeans. Bands of people in outrigger canoes with no compasses, maps, or even the North Star in the south, managed to migrate thousands of miles from SE Asia all the way to Easter Island and Hawaii. It really is a much more impressive accomplishment I think than anything Europeans managed to pull off in their large sailing ships. Only Captain Bligh came close to that sort of navigation when he was tossed out of the HMS Bounty and made it all the way to Fiji in a rowboat.

Imagine being on one of these boats. They’re not big. Its a big canoe with all the food and water you’ll get. We know about the survivors, but there had to be countless boats that never made it to an island. Maybe they didn’t take enough supplies. Maybe their navigation wasn’t quite good enough and they missed an island by 10 miles. Some people probably died on the boat and had to be thrown over while the rest managed to make it to dry land.

In a long ocean voyage like that, who do you think has a better chance of survival: the fat ones or the skinny ones? The answer of course is, the fat ones.

The process of expansion throughout the Pacific may very well have been a selection tool for people who had a predisposition to store body fat.

I’d like to know if anyone has done a study on this. In particular, you should see a greater propensity to store body fat as you travel east from Asia. Hawaiians should be fattest and Melanesians should be the skinniest. You’d also need to factor in things like standard of living, diets and other stuff which might make the study impossible, but it would be interesting.

I should also add, that at least here in Samoa, guys that aren’t fat are still big. As in linebacker big. There is a reason why Samoa has a uniquely large representation in the world of American Football, wrestling, ruby and weightlifting for its size.

Back To Work…

Posted by on June 25, 2007

I haven’t updated much this week because there hasn’t been anything to update about. I’ve done nothing. I do mean nothing.

…unless watching sores heal counts as something, I basically holed up in my hotel room all week. Thanks to my amazing immune system (seriously, I seldom get sick), most of the gross stuff on my body is now gone. I have some residual stuff on my shoulder, but that was from my botched attempt at trying to bandage myself, not from the impetigo.

Tomorrow however, I’m back out in the real world.

Tomorrow I head back to Apia, Samoa. On Wedensday I head to Tonga for a week, then I’m back to Apia to catch the boat to Tokelau….the reason for all this wait.

I’m giving up on trying to book my own travel in the Pacific. Yet again, the information I’ve gotten on flights in the region was wrong. This time it was the airline’s own information right from the inflight magazine that failed me. There are too many small airlines around here who change their routes too often. I’m going to work with a travel agent in Suva or Apia and just book all my Melonesia flights at one go.

I will need to head to Suva, Fiji at some point to visit the Kiribati embassy to apply for a visa. They are the only country in the region that I need to get a visa for. Why, I don’t know. They are a former British colony. I guess they want to make tourism harder than it otherwise is in the Pacific.

I’m ready to get going again.

I’d also like to exten congratulations to Tim Greenfield and Devin Evers of Apple Valley High School in Minnesota. I coached speech for both of them when they were Freshmen. Last week at the NFL National Tournament, they placed 6th and 12th respectively .

Green Flash Part II

Posted by on June 19, 2007



Green Flash on Tavewa Island, Fiji

i finally have been able to upload some of the Fiji photos.

Here is the photo of the green flash that I wrote about earlier. The green flash is pretty unimpressive as a photo. Its just s small hunk of green. Its much more impressive to watch live with a zoom lens.

I’d recommend looking at the largest size image and then zoom in on the center of the photo to see the green.

And the winner is…..Impetigo!

Posted by on June 19, 2007

Gary SCUBA diving in Fiji

So, after much review, I think what I have is called Impetigo. Here is how it’s described by the Mayo Clinic website:

Impetigo starts as a red sore that quickly ruptures, oozes for a few days and then forms a yellowish-brown crust that looks like honey or brown sugar. The disease is highly contagious, and scratching or touching the sores is likely to spread the infection to other parts of the body as well as to other people.

Impetigo is seldom serious, and minor infections may clear on their own in two to three weeks.

It’s mostly found in children. I think the open sores on my body and all the diving and the lack of descent shower facilities and the sores not letting me be able to shower properly probably were all factors in me getting a bad case.

I’ve begun uploading some Fiji photos. Here is one of me underwater. Note how extreme my haircut was. The barber pretty much made me bald. I have enough stubble on my head now that you can at least tell I have hair.

I also accidentally took some video while diving in Fiji. I thought the camera was in photo mode, but it was in video mode, so some of it is pretty jerky because I didn’t know I was filming.


Q: What do you get when you cross the smell of rotting flesh with body odor?

Posted by on June 19, 2007

A: me

I’m in American Samoa, which I must say, is more like Samoa than America.

For the first time since I’ve started my trip, I’m in a ‘nice’ hotel. By ‘nice’, I mean “Days Inn” quality. I have hot water, internet, a bath tub, and air conditioning. I’m living large. Baseball is on the TV, the electrical plugs are normal, people drive on the right, and I’m walking distance from fast food.

When I started my trip, I told people I was going to stay someplace a bit nicer every two weeks or so. So far, I haven’t needed to. I’m staying here primarily for internet and taking a bath. I can get cleaner with my arm in a bath tub than I can in a shower.

I cannot describe how bad I smelled as I arrived here. I can’t properly wash my armpits. That alone should give you some idea of what I smell like. Add the smell of a what a cut smells like when you take a band-aid off, and you have something uniquely foul.

I walked around Apia today and took some photos of the parliament building and the harbor. The drive to the airport was really interesting. The drive into town was dark when I made it. Samoa is really religious. Really. This is part of the Pacific Bible Belt. There are churches everywhere. The entire trip to the airport seemed like a continuous stream of children in school uniforms. Every mile or so, they’d change colors, but it was kids coming home from their religious private schools everywhere. I don’t even know if they have public schools in Samoa. (I’m sure they do, but it just seems like there isn’t)

Apia was a ghost town on Sunday. I toyed with the idea of going to church just to see what it was like, but woke up too late.

It was really hot and humid in Apia today. In hindsight, it might have been more humid that hot. The climate in Fiji was really nice. Not humid or hot. Samoa was really sweltering. Pago Pago just got done raining when we landed, so I can’t tell here. I assume it is like Samoa. It isn’t that far away.

Tomorrow I’ll try and see a doctor, go to the post office and get my mail, upload my Fiji photos, and probably take about 2-3 more baths. I’ll also plan out my next few weeks. Now that I know when I can get to Tokelau, I can plan on when I can get to Tonga.

Traveling to Nuie might be out of the question. They no longer fly from Samoa or Tonga. The only flights are from New Zealand, and I have no desire to fly back to New Zealand to fly to Nuie to fly back to New Zealand to fly back to Samoa or Fiji. I’m not going to Norfolk Island either, so I might leave that for a future trip to New Zealand.

After Tonga and Tokelau, I”ll be off to Vanuatu and the Solomons. I think I’ll also visit Papua New Guinea while I’m in that area. It will be the easiest way to visit it rather than doing it on the way down from Asia. Then back to Fiji and working my way north to leave the Pacific.

I’m off to watch American TV and drink carbonated beverages and let my Flickr uploader run all night.

Good luck to everyone I know at the NFL National Tournament in Kansas this week, especially the Apple Valley Extempers. Bring home hardware, so I will infect you with my flesh eating bacteria.

Google Earth Update

Posted by on June 18, 2007

Something I forgot to mention.

I have uploaded a new copy of my Google Earth map. The red lines show where I’ve been and the green show (sort of) where I’m going. It’s subject to lots of change of course.

The routes are only approximate. I didn’t make the lines follow the road in New Zealand or anything like that, but it should give you a rough idea of where I’ve been. If someone one industrious, they could probably add more detail to it.

Everything Everywhere Google Earth

Also, I’ll be online a lot the next two days. Thanks to the wonderful Jennifer in the comments, I’ll be staying at a hotel with free wifi (and hot water. and a bath, which I haven’t had in about two months). Check the contact section of the website for my IM information and my Skype info. I’d love to take time and talk to anyone while I’m uploading files and such. Remember, I’m 6 hours behind CDT.