More Site News…

I just uploaded a ton of photos from my weekend adventure on Rennell Island, Solomon Islands. Please check them out. I had less than perfect lighting conditions for most of my time on the island, so some didn’t turn out quite as well as I had hoped. Nonetheless, there are some good ones.

Also, I keep talking about video but never post anything. Most of my time in Hawaii will be spent working with Kris to get the first couple of installments of my video out the door. Here is a taste of what is to come:

Once the first ones are done, doing subsequent episodes should be much easier. Expect about 2.5 to 5 minutes per episode. I got some great footage this weekend.

McDonald’s Noumea

The McDonald’s in Noumea wasn’t anything special. Nothing special on the menu. The only thing of note was how they organized their value meals. You picked a sandwich, you picked a side (salad or fries) and a drink. Each meal was the same price.

They also had the Royal Cheese from Pulp Fiction fame. Not “Royal with Cheese” or “Royal du Fromage” but just “Royal Cheese”.

The McDonald’s in Noumea was very similar to the McDonald’s in Papeete, Tahiti. This really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as they are both French Territories.

Menu wise, most of the McDonald’s in the Pacific was pretty much the same. Just like the small changes in Fiji were really indicative of something bigger, so too is the lack of anything special in the Pacific indicative of something. Talking to people back in the US, one question that always comes up is “what neat stuff have you eaten?” Believe it or not, despite my McDonald’s obsession, I am always on the looking for unique foods. In the Pacific, however, it has been hard to find.

Think how many ethnic restaurants you’ve eaten at or just have seen in your community. In the Twin Cities alone, I have seen restaurants featuring cuisine from: Italy, China (and provinces there in), India, France, Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Iraq, Mexico, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Ethiopia, Morocco, Norway, Sweden, England, Ireland, Russia, Somalian, Mongolia, and, oh, Japan.

I can never recall having seen a Polynesian restaurant anywhere. Even the Polynesian resort at Disney World doesn’t really have any real Polynesian food. They serve drinks in cored out pineapples with little umbrellas, but the food really isn’t Polynesian. There is a good reason for this.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Polynesian diet was very limited. Meat consisted of pork, chicken, fish and shellfish. That sounds like a lot but the pork and chicken was probably only eaten on special occasions. The plants were even more limited: taro, coconut, various fruits (breadfruit, banana, papaya), and maybe some cassava.

Somewhere along the line, Polynesians also lost the ability to make pottery. Cooking was done in banana leaves or large stones, which limited the ability to bake and do other types of cooking. (actually, it is still often done in banana leaves). The absence of pottery also made it hard to boil water in large amounts.

With limited food options and limited cooking options, and few if any spices, it is no surprise that genuine pacific cuisine never developed. (I should say I haven’t been to Papua New Guinea yet. With more land and 40,000 years, they may well have developed more of a cuisine than the other islands did. I don’t know)

Most pacific nations are, by a wide margin, net food importers. Moreover, the foods you see in village markets tend to be things like instant noodles and corned beef. On the basis of the amount of advertising and product I’ve seen in stores, I would call canned corned beef the food of the South Pacific. During my trip to Rennell Island my breakfasts consisted of: white bread (no toast or spreads), saltine crackers, beef flavored instant noodles and homemade donuts that were very very hard to chew. I should note that what I listed was the entire meal, not just the entree.

The only unique dish I’ve seen was a raw fish dish with cucumber/coconut sauce. In Tahiti it was known as Poisson Cru and Rarotonga it was known as Motu Iki. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before in an earlier post, but I should again mention it was delicious. Also, lime juice with papaya is something I’ve seen everywhere. If you haven’t tried it, go buy a papaya and some small limes. Squeeze the juice of the lime onto the papaya before you eat it.

So, the lack of variety on the McDonald’s menus in the pacific is probably just a reflection of the lack of variety in diet in general in the region.

Even when its nothing, it still means something…

My Trip In Airport Code

I’m still working on my Rennell photos. To hold you over, here is a summary of my trip to date in the form of three letter airport codes:


I’ll keep this as a running list. I think it’s interesting to view it this way.


Oh, man.

I just got back from Rennell Island. I don’t know where to begin or what to say. This weekend was probably one of the biggest adventures I’ve had in my life and certainly on my trip.

As soon as I get my stuff together, I’ll begin working on a much longer post about my weekend.

The Curious Case of the Solomon Islands Moon Rock

The moon rock given to the Solomon Island by President Carter in 1978
The moon rock given to the Solomon Island by President Carter in 1978
For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me explain something about myself. I’m a smart guy who is socially retarded.

I can explain calculus to people who don’t know math. I own at trivia. I have a capacity to remember all sorts of stuff that most people, rightfully so, would never bother to remember. Sometimes it’s spooky.

However, I will also probably forget your name if I meet you and there is a good chance I’ll make a very bad first impression, probably inadvertently saying something offensive. (I was told at my going away party I yelled at someone telling them that “BORNEO ISN’T A COUNTRY. IT’S AN ISLAND!”)

..anyway, I digress.

The reason I bring that up is because I noticed something today that I am probably one of only a small handful of people who would have noticed and been in a position to notice.

I visited the Solomon Islands national museum on Wednesday. The National Museum isn’t really anything to write home about. It’s surrounded by a rusty fence. The one building with exhibits is pretty old and grungy. I was the only visitor there and they had to open up the gift shop just for me. So I suppose that’s the first thing….most people who visit the Solomons (and there aren’t many) don’t bother to go to the museum.

In the museum, they had all sorts of carved sculptures, artwork, photos and artifacts from the Solomon Islands. It wasn’t the level of a display you might expect at a western museum, but that shouldn’t be expected. It got the job done and the lady working at museum was very nice and informative.

While wandering around all the Melanesian artwork and artifacts I came across something which was very out of place. It was an engraved plaque.

It was an engraved plaque with the Apollo XVII mission patch on it.

On the plaque was a small acrylic sphere with a tiny piece of rock in the middle. A moon rock. It was collected in the Taurus-Littrow Highlands of the moon, and it was sitting in a exhibit of Melanesian artifacts in Honoria.

The plaque said it was given to the people of the Solomon Islands by President Carter on July 7, 1978 on the occasion of their independence.

Most people would have noticed the moon rock. There is nothing special in that. I however knew something else. There have been several hundred moon rocks given as goodwill gifts by the United States. About half of them are missing. They might be sitting in a cabinet somewhere or might be in the home of some bureaucrat who was in a position to take the moon rock home 30 years ago.

However, many of them have been flat out stolen and sold on the black market to collectors. On a per gram basis, moon rocks might very well be one of the most valuable things on Earth. One recent case in the news (where I read about all of this) had someone trying to sell the stolen moon rock given to Malta for $5,000,000!!! In public auctions, pieces of the moon have sold for $400,000 for tiny fragments.

It was that knowledge that had my heart racing when I noticed something else…..

the glass display case had no lock….

the glass display case was wide open…..

I was alone in the room…..

The open cabinet and the very out of place moon rock
The open cabinet and the very out of place moon rock

I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a moment of temptation. I, and I alone it would seem, was the only person who had laid eyes on this thing in years who probably knew the real value of it to collectors. No one probably would have noticed it missing for months if not years. (If I had replaced it with a fake, maybe even longer) Five million dollars in the size of a big marble just sitting there unprotected.

With my warped values however, I figured it would make for a better blog post that it would selling it. Besides, I’d really be a shitty human beings if I stole from the poorest country in the world.

I mentioned going to the museum later in the day to the guy at the travel agency who booked my tickets through to Honolulu. He mentioned that there had been several break-ins at the museum.

What was stolen you ask??? Shell and feather money which is still used as currency on some of the islands.

If you want an example of the different values other cultures have, I can think of no better example. They broke in to steal the pacific equivalent of wampum and left the $5m moon rock.

Anyway, having decided not to turn to a life of crime, what to do next?

Given how these things have disappeared over time around the world, it is probably just a matter of time until someone steals it. (It may have been stolen before during the civil unrest here in 2000) If I tell someone who works at the museum about the value of it, there is a good chance they might just take it.

I have no clue who to talk to in a position of authority and, honestly, I don’t think the security of moon rocks is very high on the agenda of the government of the Solomon Islands.

I figured the best thing to do was to make it public and hope that someone will pass this along to someone in NASA or the State Department who might be able to suggest to the Solomon Government they put it away. Also, by making it public, if it disappears, it is going to make it very obvious that is it stolen and at least give and indication of when and where it happened. (I suppose there is a risk of someone reading this, taking the first flight to the Solomons and stealing it, but I think that is slim, and moreover, having made this public, it would make it much harder to sell).

I will probably also stop by the US Consulate today because the office is in the same building as DHL and I need to send a package home.

So if anyone reading this knows someone in some position to do something, please pass this along. It would be a shame to lose another one of these rocks to thieves.

Everything’s Coming Up Gary

The Solomons isn’t turning out like Vanuatu….thank God.

I got my flight to Rennell Island booked which worried me. i had read that it was usually booked. Likewise, my flights out of Honoria all the way to Hawaii should be fine with minimal sitting around time. I should be in Honolulu on August 14th and In Guam about the 19-20th.

I should have some amazing photos when I’m done here. I’m off to see some WWII relics and the US memorial on Guadalcanal.

The CIA World Fact Book lists the Solomons as tied for the poorest country on Earth. I don’t’ know if it’s true, but if not, it’s damn close.

35,000 Feet Above The Pacific Ocean

I’m writing this in route from Port Villa, Vanuatu to Honoria, Solomon Islands….

I had an interesting experience at the Port Villa airport. When the flight with my plane to Honiara landed, there were a bunch of police and TV cameras waiting. I didn’t know what was going on. I assume it was a politician or a celebrity which was arriving. The flight had come in from Fiji.

After everyone got off the plane, a man exited and was thrown to the ground by the police after he got down the stairs. Turns out he was a counterfeiter from Fiji who had been coming to Vanuatu to make fake notes. The police made a big show of it for the cameras (some things are the same everywhere I guess) and put him and two accomplices who were arrested waiting for him in a cage in the back of a pick-up truck and drove off.

Frankly, it was the most entertaining excuse I’ve had for a flight to be late.

I was worried about my flight to Honiara. When I got my tickets for this part of my flight in Apia, the flight from Vila to Honiara was full. I was put on a wait list and decided not to get any tickets beyond Honiara if I wasn’t sure I could get on the flight. I figured it was a small plane because the Vila to Honiara route couldn’t possibly be that big.

Well….the flight was 50% empty. It was a Pacific Air 737. Why in the hell they had this marked as full was beyond me. Yet another story to throw on the pile in my Pacific travels. I had I been guaranteed a seat on this flight, I would have taken care of my flights beyond Honiara sooner. Now I have to cross my fingers and hope I can get a ticket there an back to Rennell Island, my objective here in the Solomons. I really don’t want this to be another Vanuatu. I also have to book my flights to Tarawa and back to Fiji. From Fiji I’ll take a brief weekend to Tuvalu, then to Hawaii

I’ll stay a bit in Hawaii so I can send mail out and finish up the video that I keep talking about but never showing (I think you’ll find it worth the wait). Then I finish up the Pacific in August in Guam, Palau, the Northern Marinas, Micronesia and the Marshalls.

Then…..JAPAN!! I look forward bullet trains and not being trapped in one small spot for a week at a time…..and quality internet.

Your things to see/do in Japan suggestions will be welcome. The help I got from everyone in New Zealand was really appreciated. I got to see most of the things that were suggested.

Vanuatu Blues

Port Vila Harbor
Port Vila Harbor

I really had high hopes for Vanuatu. They have all been dashed. Vanuatu has turned out to be a total bust.

Its been overcast and rainy most of my time here. That means I haven’t been able to get off the island, take any tours of the island, or even take any good photos of Port Vila. I’ve read my books, scrounged for decent internet (lots of connections but most are crappy), and ate. That has been my last several days.

Oh, I have no clue if I’m leaving the island tomorrow. My ticket to Honoria has me flying stand-by. There is only one flight a week from Port Vila to Honoria. There are pluses and minuses to both getting the flight and not getting the flight.

Given the cloudy weather, I’ve taken a few HDR photos of Port Vila….not that there is much to take photos of here.

Oh well, I’ve set up shop today at the yacht club in the harbor. They seem to have the best wireless connection I’ve found and I get to talk to people who sailed here. Maybe someone can give me a lift to the Solomons.

My Afternoon At The Footy

While I knew of rugby and even knew people who played rugby, my first real introduction to rugby has come during my trip here to the Pacific. New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga are all big rugby countries, and its hard to avoid it when you’re here.

In Tonga, while wandering around Nuku’alofa, I came across a high school rugby match and decided to go in and take some photos.

My descriptions of the game should be taken as someone that really doesn’t know much about rugby, so if I say something wrong, feel free to correct me. I’m also going to use American football terms to describe stuff because I have no clue what the rugby term for it would be. I did no research on rugby prior to writing this…

If you are a rugby fan, you will probably pull your hair out and roll your eyes at some of the things I say and how I describe it. Be forewarned.


If you are a North American who understands American football, you can probably get the gist of rugby in a few minutes of watching it. Likewise, I think anyone familiar with rugby can get American football quickly. (American football evolved from rugby)

The field is pretty much the same. It’s about the same length, it has goal posts and there are 10 zones on the field (like yard lines). I think a rugby field is a bit wider.

The ball is also similar. Its oblong like a football but without laces. The surface feels more like a basketball. It seems much easier to drop kick in rugby (kicking the ball after it bounces). The drop kick was always a rule in American Football, but I’ve never seen anyone able to pull it off given the shape of the ball.

The scoring is also similar. You want to get the ball into the endzone. If you do, you can kick for extra points. A touchdown in rugby is only 5 points and the extra point kick is for 2. You can also kick a field goal for 3 points. Final scores in football and rugby seem very similar.

There is also punting in rugby. Punts can happen at anytime and can be kicked by anyone with the ball. The purpose of the punt is the same as in football…to give the opponent poor field position.

The biggest differences between rugby and football: there are no downs, there is no forward passing, there isn’t any blocking, and very little padding. The entire game is like a last minute play in football where everyone is trying to lateral the ball.


The stadium could have been any high school football stadium in the US…except I think this is where the national team also plays its games. There was what appeared to be a Royal box with the coat of arms for the Kingdom of Tonga not far from where I was sitting.

The teams came out, lined up on the track, joined arms and said something in Tongan and bowed. I assume it was some sort of sportsmanship pledge or something. Everyone clapped.

After that, both teams got onto the field and did what can only be described as a pre-game tradition in the Pacific: the haka.

The blue team from Toloa College (college means the same thing as High School here, like it does in the UK) did a normal tough guy type haka. The green team from Takuilau College started off doing a normal one, but then seemed to end up doing a nursery rhyme and they started touching their toes. Everyone laughed. It was in Tongan, so I couldn’t understand, but I think I got the gist of it.

I was told later that all the schools on the island have different colored uniforms on the basis of what religion runs the school. Green is Mormon and blue is Methodist, so I assume that was what I saw at the game.

The game began with a kickoff, which was not as dramatic compared to a kickoff in American Football. Like in basketball or soccer, the play centers around the ball. It is different than in American Football, because the flow of play is chopped up into downs and everyone is active on every play even if its just blocking or running a route.

The part of rugby that most Americans would recognize is the scrum.

A scrum is sort of the same as a tip off in basketball when a ball needs to be put back into play. The sides sort of press their shoulders against each other and the ball is thrown into the pile on the ground.

Another part of the game I found interesting was how they threw the ball into play from out of bounds. They would throw it like soccer, but they would lift a team mate up into the air to do an alley-oop type pass back to another team mater. Really neat.

The rugby field goal is also unlike Football field goals. You can take it after a penalty and like the kickoff, there is no rushing of the kicker. Likewise, the extra point kick is different. You kick from where the ball entered the endzone. There is a strong incentive to get the ball in the endzone in the middle of the field to set up and easy kick.

The were lots of soliders out in Nuku’alofa that day. I was told it was because there had been fights in the past between the two schools. Somehow, I don’t think it was the entire truth….

The students started dribbling in after the game started and didn’t sit in the stands with the rest of the spectators. The blue students sort of took the prime space at the 50 yard line. They were far more vocal and did most of the cheering.

The green students were lined up vertically from the field. I thought it was really odd. It looked like they were going to rush the other students.

I eventually realized that they were all sitting in the shade of one of the light posts.

The concessions were similar to what you would see at a high school game in the US. People selling food on folding tables – bags of homegrown peanuts and large bottles of orange soda. The peanut vendors were unique, however…

It was an interesting afternoon. After the main match, there was a seven man game between the two schools as well. The seven man teams appeared to have separate rosters. I was surprised they didn’t play first.

….oh, and the blue team won.