Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
The Ukranian Dracula lady, had just finished assaulting Jackie when we arrived at 10:00am. Dracula had mistook the poor Brit for my wife Lisa, who simply “wouldn’t open the damn window” of the van when we arrived last night. The Ukrainian scowled at Lisa but didn’t dare approach her while I was in the room. Let’s just say it would not have been pretty.
We didn’t know that when we awoke in Toni’s Guesthouse, refreshed after the previous night’s debacle in the van. After a Cup O’ Noodles for breakfast we wandered over to the Green House. There we met the other travelers who planned to join us for the day tour of Tongatapu, the main island of the Tongan Archipelago.
Our tour was led by Toni, an expatriate from Liverpool who had lived over twenty years in Tonga. Other companions included Jackie, who’d quickly got over the unexpected attack, and Dallas, not an American, but a lady from New Zealand enjoying a one-week holiday in the South Pacific. Lee, another solo female traveler from the UK, who had lived on a sailboat for the last seven years, also came along with her partner.
Taking off, again swerving to avoid a cluster of potholes, Toni switched on a microphone that was linked to a rear speaker to make his discourse more audible. We passed the opulent mansion of the Tongan king and his sisters, heading northwest toward the local plantations. Tony stopped to point out the only three-headed coconut tree in the entire world, a must-stop photo op; a pic of it proves that you’ve been to Tonga. He then stopped to point out a variety of crops including coconuts: “No, nobody wants to touch that stuff. They are everywhere! Look around you for Christ’s sake!!” We saw papaya (“Em, the Tongans would eat this but they are all exported.”), taro, kumala, mango, bananas, and pineapple. We then halted at the most northern spot of the island’s coastline. Toni claimed it was a very good beach. We exited the van but were disappointed. The weather was dreary and rain began to fall as we checked a surfing beach near the Ha’atafu Beach Reserve. Its break looked weak, compared to the big-league waves of Samoa.
At this point Toni’s voice became slightly hoarse over the microphone and he began to cough up phlegm. In response to Dallas, who asked, “Why don’t you sell beer at the guesthouse?” Toni said, “I gave up smoking about five years ago but I still have this cough. I don’t drink any more either. So why would I want that stuff around? Besides, the Tongan government has harsh rules. For example, if a tourist who stayed at my guesthouse got out of hand while inebriated, it is me who would get fined by the police, even if I was home asleep. It’s just not worth it.” Lisa looked at me and said, “I think that he is the only person I have ever met who should have kept smoking,” referencing his voice’s guttural quality.
We headed south and stopped at the famous Mapu’a a Vaca Blowholes. Sheets of water poured down and I exited the van only long enough to take a photo. Toni claimed, “Today is not a good day to see the blowholes because the tide is moving at an angle and it is not hitting the rocks directly. You see how it hits?” We left disappointed. However, we returned to these same blowholes at the end of our trip and they proved amazingly powerful.
We continued in the rain and stopped for a decent “Chinese-type” lunch above Keleti Beach. Even on this depressing day, while standing in the rain under a veranda in the cold, I could appreciate the view. Blowholes exhaled the ocean’s foam here as well but they were not as impressive as those at Mapu’a a Vaca.
After a brief lunch we continued the tour northeast to see the “famous” Ha’amonga Trilithon Reserve, South Pacific’s Stonehenge. I agree that the the ruins are similar to those of famous English site but only one structure is constructed from coral stones, in the shape of a square gate. This gate was supposedly used to track the change in seasons. We decided to not to visit the Hina Cave, possibly a mistake, since it is situated right next to the Oholei Beach area, perhaps the nicest place to stay in Tongatapu, We didn’t discover this until we returned three weeks later. Oholei Beach is well known for its feast on Friday nights with a live band perched over a scenic beach.
At the end of the day we returned to Tofa after stopping at a lovely overlook with an eroded hole framing a lovely ocean view. The tour ended and Toni drove us into Nuku’alofa. We wanted to see the infamous (mentioned in 1,000 Places to See Before You Won’t See Anything Ever Again) Heilala Festival. This is a multi-week bash that involves a mix of cultural events including parades, live music, dance, art, as well as beauty and sports competitions. Yet we could not understand the Tongans enthusiasm, or I should say, lack of enthusiasm, regarding the festival. We stopped by the cultural center and asked where the Heilala Festival events took place. The lackadaisical response was, “Oh yeah, it will be on the field…I think.” “Are you going?” I asked. “No, I’ll just stay home and watch TV.” I was stunned. After seeing Nuku’alofa, a depressing and gloomy town with very little action, you’d think that the locals would be thrilled to have a few weeks of special fun. Worse for tourists, the festival begins around 7:00-8:00pm and aside from the island tour, there is not much to do here. Because of this small detail (and the poor weather) we decided to purchase tickets to Vava’u (islands in the northern Tonga) the next day.
Still, a group of us from the guesthouse that included our fellow veterans from the van tour managed to see an evening event called, “Tonga’s Got Talent”. Here people of all ages, mostly from six to their mid-twenties, performed a variety of acts — either singing or engaging in “hip-hop,” where Tongans dance individually or in groups to hip-hop tunes. The event was entertaining if at times painful. What surprised me the most was that the emcee almost spoke entirely in English. The following night we returned to see the teen beauty contest and we were given prime seats right behind the beauty queens themselves.
We warmed up to Tongatapu as we prepared to depart; perhaps our new feelings corresponded with the improved weather. At any rate, our next stop in Tonga was Vava’u, where we planned to swim with the humpback whales, one of Tonga’s principal attractions an an excellent reason to visit the island country.
This article first published at theclymb.com
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October 17, 2011 | 10:32 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some people ask us, “How do you do it? How do you leave for a year?” Some tell us, “You are crazy; I would never do that!” These people usually think of a vagabond as “a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job” as does the dictionary but I prefer Ralph Potts’ definition from his book Vagabonding it is
‘Vagabonding’ is about taking time off from your normal life — from six weeks, to four months, to two years — to discover and experience the world on your own terms.
In this season of harvest with Sukkot and Halloween upon us, so soon after Yom Kippur, I reflect on the stories in the Torah about our people’s journey from slavery to freedom. These tales belong to other people in another time, but they are also my own travel stories. They are like signposts for all of our travels in both a literal and figurative sense, and they can inspire us.
I ask myself, “What are we personally enslaved to today? And how is it possible with so many time-saving devices, from the microwave to the personal computer, that we have so much less time?” Leaving both our homes and careers can free us to think about our paths and what is it that we want to do with our lives. If you are considering a long vacation or a career break you might wonder, “What can we journey from and what can we journey toward? What will the trip be like? What happens in this ‘wilderness’?”
As the Torah stories tell us, one year out of every seven the fields must lie fallow so that they can continue to be productive. And every seventh day on Shabbat we are offered the opportunity to rest. So a Sabbatical may allow us to step back so we might give more to our lives. The research agrees and was posted in an academic study, “Sabbatical Leave: Who Gains and How much?” conducted by researchers from the US, Israel and New Zealand. In August 2010, American Psychological Association in its Journal of Applied Psychology worked to measure the impact of sabbatical on health and attitude. The study states: “Sabbatical leave promotes well-being…the present study confirmed the beneficial effect of a respite on positive well-being.”
Maybe we cannot all take a sabbatical year but at least we may find a sabbatical second or moment to acknowledge our dreams and pull our lives more into focus, and become closer to making our dreams come true. Support someone else’s idea for a dream of a Gap Year, Mini-retirement, Big Trip or Sabbatical—between stages of life, after college, or after the home nest empties.
All journeys begin with one step, maybe your first one will be on October 18 for Meet Plan Go. The panelists that will speak in 17 cities across the USA have all struggled with these questions. I hope that the discussion of where they traveled to and why and how will help you with your questions from: Is it worth it to leave home? Will I learn anything? Can I come back? Is the journey for a destination? Is there a destination? What is the point of this trip and even of my life?
As Steve Jobs said at his 2005 Stanford University commencement address:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.
For many of us who have left “the rat race” we realize that the journey is for the sake of the adventure and that we can be transformed by our travels. I hope that you will put one foot in front of the other and show up on October 18 even if you are not currently planning a trip. Meet Plan Go events around America have drawn a wonderful community of travelers who are engaged in the idea of understanding our world and taking care of our
planet and each other.
We hope you can carve an evening out of your schedule and not be tied to your Blackberry, carpool, family, office or deadlines, to focus on realizing your dreams, whether they involve travel, understanding or something else.
For a moment, a year, or a lifetime.
Article first published as First Step to Travel Dreams on Technorati.
October 8, 2011 | 12:00 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
The previous forty-eight hours had been drama-filled. A noon ferry was canceled so we sat at the pier in Upolu for half a day, and after rushing to get seats we arrived for one night in Salelologa, Savaii. After my Survivor Night of fainting and falling on the ground, George wanted me in a hotel with electricity and a bathroom less than 100 steps from the front door. And so we found the Salafai Backpackers Inn with the backpacker rate of 100Tala.
Other tourists told us “You have to take the bus; it is a great experience.” Well, we usually take the bus to get to any destination. Tuesday morning, we waited for an hour for a bus and after two hours on its hard wooden seats, the contraption stopped in Falealup-uta. The ride had great views of the sea and Savaii looked beautiful but the trip was so mundane that I felt unclear about all the fuss over the ride.
But soon there would be fuss galore.
We had left the “backpacker-friendly” hotel which had zero reasons that we could see to be called that, with no breakfast except for a few crackers from my bag. Several locals on the bus looked at our map with us and told us when to get off for Falealupo. So at high noon, we arrived at our stop and saw not a single taxi. Other exiting passengers, including an elderly woman laden with many heavy-looking packages, started down the sealed road and we followed, hoisting our packs, as by our figuring the hostel was four, maybe five kilometers away.
After 45 min in the high-noon sun with extra heat rising from the blacktop, we stopped to eat some canned peanuts and talk to some boys and look at the map. No cars had passed us but a couple of men had ridden by on bicycles. When we reached the 300-year-old Banyan Tree Canopy Walk after nearly an hour and looked at the map, we realized it was possibly closer to fifteen kilometers to our destination.
Nearly out of water and realizing that we had possibly made a dumb choice, I put my pack down, and with as much sweaty drama as possible, exclaimed, “I hate you and I hate Samoa.” George (called Siaosi in Samoan) looked at me and said, “Give me your pack.” I said, “You cannot possibly carry both our packs, especially in this heat.” He said, “You said you hate me. I cannot have that. Give me your pack. I am George Powell.” (from Extreme Makeover: Chris Powell).
So he walked with both packs and broke the drama and I laughed. I said, “You look like an Israeli boyfriend in Thailand!” That is the only place I have seen someone walk with one backpack on their back and one on their front! They carry their own pack and their girlfriends thus “Israeli boyfriend.” Another laugh and photo moment marked the end of humor failure.
Soon a car appeared and stopped for us. George says it always works out; the issue becomes how long you define the period of time and use your perspective? The heat plus sense of humor failure and hunger made me concerned, especially after fainting only the day before.
The Seligas recognized us from the ferry (there were very few palangi onboard) and offered us a ride to our hostel. During our time together, we picked up a grandmother and her daughter on their way to the weekly Church Bingo game. She informed us that Samoans give their extra money to family (after Bingo) and she didn’t have money to travel although she wished to travel like us.
After stopping at our hostel, we were invited to a family dinner down the road, which turned out to be a Samoan feast. Tupu Salule’s family included nearly a dozen children and for the first time in my life, the sight of me made a three-year-old cry!
Not to worry; I don’t think Samoa hated me!
Video: Saved by the Seligas
Article first published as Samoa - The beginning of a Great Travel Adventure on Technorati.
October 2, 2011 | 11:00 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
When I travel, I imagine that I am talking to strangers from a different culture and that I witness different lives to learn about those same lives, but in reality I always reach hidden treasures; insights into my own reality and dreams. Sometimes the action of travel teaches me about myself: I learn to locate my destinations via public transportation in Beijing at night, I determine how to proceed while visiting Taipei, or perhaps that I really might eat fried cricket in Chiang Mai.
I can be bold, courageous and full of adventure. I know because I have succeeded in these endeavors. In The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost Rachel Friedman states, “...sometimes travel and being adventurous do not fit with the model I hold of myself, ...but it does not coexist with how I picture myself—a sheltered, scared, predictable kind of girl, definitely not a girl who has adventures. I come from rooted people; people who prefer chlorinated bodies of water and career paths.”
Travel allows us all to step out of “normal” life, to see other cultures, meet people, learn languages—learn about others while learning about ourselves.
This same opportunity is available to us through our daily calendar: we can question if our current routines are what we actually want to follow. Again, as Ms. Friedman says: “What’s the right way to go about … our lives? Should you do what you love, what’s outrageous and unpredictable, and worry about the future later? Or plug away at a steady job first and go off and have your fun when you retire?”
Elisabeth Eaves, in Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents, tells tales of love, misadventure and wringing every second of life out of every moment. She says:
My life wouldn’t be so easy to fix. I’d woken up at the age of thirty-four to realize that I wanted to go home, only to discover that I had no idea where that was. Wanderlust, the very strong or irresistible impulse to travel, is adopted untouched from the German, presumably because it couldn’t be improved upon.
Her challenges seem much greater while living in varied locales like Cairo, Karachi, a boat shed, or surviving on the Kokoda Trail, compared to those I surmounted on my year trip in South East Asia with my husband, George. But her comments do remind me of our journey; “It was the place that had showed me, for the first time, that when you were somewhere else, you could be someone else.”
Her questions about life are important to me this time of year as I reflect on Rosh Hashannah (the Jewish New Year) and what will I do with the year ahead? What are my goals and what should they be?
Are we obligated to know the important events of our time? Or is the whole project of knowing, of being part of a society, neither moral nor immoral, but just away to pass the time? Is it enough to do no harm to the world, or do you have to contribute too? I wanted to go toward the man-made heat and light, the cultural center, the heart of civilization. At the same time, I didn’t want to get off the boat. (Wanderlust)
So take a moment to hug the ones you love and fill your days with meaning. Maybe this year you’ll decide to wear white for Yom Kippur; a white ribbon,
pin, bracelet or shirt may remind you to stop and smell the roses and fill your soul with moments that take your breath away.
Enjoy this video of song for Rosh Hashannah: Dip your Apple
This article first appeared in Westside Today. If you tried to email us on our website in the last three months, we just realized the links were corrupt. They are fixed now!! Please email us again.
George and I wish everyone a wonderful sweet New Year filled with health, happiness and adventure!!
September 24, 2011 | 11:22 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
This event is designed to give you the opportunity to MEET inspirational speakers and like-minded travelers; get motivation, contacts and resources necessary to PLAN the trip of a lifetime; and start taking concrete steps forward to GO on that global adventure.
Join us at India’s Oven, 11645 Wilshire Blvd at Barry, in Brentwood, CA 90025.
Keynote speaker, Richard Bangs, (PBS) the father of modern adventure travel, is a pioneer in travel that makes a difference; he will speak about his journeys across the planet in search of ecological challenges and their solutions. Moderator, Jen Leo, (Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and Sand in My Bra), will offer words of inspiration and humor on great travels.
Our Panelists include: Lisa Napoli (KCRW & Radio Shangri-La,) Doris Gallan (Baby Boomers Travel), and Michelle Page (NepalDog). All of these inspiring speakers have traveled extensively and are ready to share their joy and transformations related to their journeys and incredible lives! If you are tired of two weeks of vacation time and want to break away from the cube to explore the world, then don’t miss out on this event!
Admission is $15 and includes Indian Buffet Dinner, and all proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Books to Bhutan Library Project.
Register for this event at: http://meetplango.com/national-event/2011-los-angeles-event/
There is parking available in the building and the restaurant is on the second floor.
More information and a complete listing of the panel at www.wesaidgotravel.com
“Because we live in a society that doesn’t find value in taking time off, we wanted to create a community for people who do want to break out of the norm and travel for an extended period of time,” says co-founder of Meet Plan Go! Sherry Ott. Join us in Los Angeles for our October 18th event. “It’s about creating a peer group of people with the same dream. Whether it’s a career break, running a marathon, or earning an advanced degree; we all need people to keep us accountable, energized, and focused on our goals,” added Ott.
In addition to offering tools and resources for planning a career break, the panel will also address the main concerns that prevent people from taking a career break, usually centered around financial, career-related, societal, and safety concerns.
For more information about all our events please see the website of our Los Angeles hosts: Lisa and George Rajna. We look forward to meeting you and helping you realize your dreams!
Enjoy this video of our most recent event. Travel author, Rachel Friedman, discussing how travel is the best education!
September 18, 2011 | 11:07 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Leaving Los Angeles for a summer of sun in Samoa and the South Pacific, I had no idea of the Survivor Stories that would unfold so quickly. It took us nearly 3 days just to get there as we had a 15 hour layover in Fiji and after landing, I could tell George was exhausted. We’d left Los Angeles Wednesday near midnight and flew 10 hours to arrive on Friday July 1st in Nadi, Fiji.
For our all-day Fiji layover, we took a thirty-minute ride on the Tiger IV Catamaran and spent the day at Treasure Island. The weather did not cooperate but we relaxed by the pool and ate the Mongolian buffet (clearly none of the cooks had ever seen Mongolia). After that day of adventure, we narrowly made our bus back to the airport for our flight to Samoa. We finally arrived Thursday night. Our driver from the airport tried to chat with us on the hour ride but we could not keep our eyes open.
Right away we were told that they were filming Survivor, the television show, to the west of our fale in Virgin Cove. “Don’t go that way,” the security guard said. It is never good to tell George what not to do as he immediately only wants to do that one thing. After hearing that the local village would be fined if we showed up, we promised to follow directions. We didn’t realize that the next evening I would have my own Survivor moment, waking up outside the communal toilet with my chin in the dirt. But let’s not get too far ahead.
Find more photos like this on EveryJew.com
Virgin Cove is a lovely spot but arriving at night after days of travel, our fale looked as it was a large empty oval with a piece of foam on the floor and a mosquito net and palm-frond sides. I decided we could think more about the room after sleeping and we were too tired and jet-lagged to do anything but sleep that night. Upon completing a journey of 100 steps to the bathroom, we could see the gorgeous azure seas and could not wait to explore the calm waters for snorkeling. There were palm trees lining the dirt path and we could see the other fales. George thought they were closer to the water but we were closer to the bathroom. After a breakfast with eggs (included in our 144T a night price, $70USD—although now you do have to pay extra for the eggs), we were ready to snorkel. Our new Aussie friends thought the snorkeling was great; our vote—fair.
After our day by the sea, we indulged in a buffet dinner of many nasty inedible delicacies like baby octopus, squid ink pasta, baby suckling pig roasted, and things I can eat but would have far too much of over the summer - like taro root and fresh fish (my favorite), and chicken with rice, a combo that came back to haunt me. With dinner consumed we attended a fiafia (traditional dancing and fire show) and later went to sleep on our mat.
Around 1:30am I started my first of my journeys to the common bathroom. Over an hour of painful cramps and diarrhea was in store for me but I was shocked when I woke up on the ground. I had fainted at the edge of the steps and so I regained consciousness, scraped and bruised on both arms and chin. I guess when I needed to go to the bathroom again and again I should have woken George, especially after falling down but I was so stunned that I ended up face-planted on the ground, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Back in our room I lay on the mat, moaning. George woke up and asked what was wrong. After my telling my tale of woe, he offered to help. Because of his concern and despite the many explosions earlier on, I was finally able to go rest.
The next day, after noticing more war wounds from my experience, I said, “I need Horatio,” which inspired a long discussion of CSI with another group of new Aussie friends. It turned out that many who had the chicken at dinner had a long and difficult night!
But I survived and was well enough to eat breakfast. I was surprised that I could eat at all after my night of adventure. I did enjoy the eggs, hot toast, and fresh fruit. Finally, sleeping on the ground wasn’t too bad and hotel’s location in Upulo was lovely. We had many great walks and fresh fish meals. Our Samoan summer had begun with a good start of surviving and thriving.
Article first published as Samoa Survivor on Technorati.
More stories and news from us at www.wesaidgotravel.com
September 11, 2011 | 12:30 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Thank you to everyone for supporting us and for coming to our travel events in Los Angeles! We appreciate all who tweeted about our events, shared an email, found us and even SHOWED up to one of our events! Thank you for creating a community! We loved having all over 65 people show up at Traveler’s Bookcase on Tuesday to hear Rachel Friedman read from The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost.
There will be programs in 17 cities on the same night. We have five superb speakers and included in your ticket price is an incredible Indian Buffet dinner, all for only $15. Get your tickets now before we sell out! More info about the speakers at this link: http://meetplango.com/national-event/2011-los-angeles-event/
If you would like to get involved and help on Oct 18 or with a future event, (picking a location, finding a speaker, if you would like to be or find a sponsor for our group), please email me! Feel free to share this email with friends and travelers to help grow our group. We would love for you to “like” our facebook fan page, We Said Go Travel, or join our meet-up group: We Said Go Travel Los Angeles so you won’t miss any news from us as we rarely send an email!
We do post on our blog, www.wesaidgotravel.net, every Sunday. If you want the latest from us, add your email address to the top right corner of our blog and don’t forget to open and validate the email from Feedburner so that you get to see our latest posts, videos and songs every Sunday. You can also find us on twitter and Linked in.
Videos from past events: Our June Travel Happy Hour and Morocco Talk are on our YouTube channel! Feel free to subscribe so you can see our newest videos of Samoa and Tonga. We will be loading the video of Rachel speaking soon!
Photos from our event Tuesday with Rachel Friedman:
Please tag yourself!
our website: http://www.wesaidgotravel.com/
Get involved: Buy the book End Malaria. The essays are all top notch and your money is going to a great cause….ending Malaria by 2015.
On the Radio: Lisa is featured in the second hour of Together Again about speed dating! Show aired September 8, 2011.
New Series: George will be writing a series of articles about Tonga to be featured at theclymb.com. Make sure you follow our blog as we should have a link for you worth $10 which will post on our blog this month!
In the news: Lisa in Bootsnall article! Written by Adam Seper, all about the benefits of a career break.
September 6, 2011 | 1:35 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Here is 40 seconds of serenity for you!
The beach at Lalomanu, Samoa near Taufua Beach Fales