“What are we going to do for your birthday, Leslie?” “Hmmm….I don’t know…” Our friends had been asking me this for a couple weeks prior the big day, and I’d been dragging my feet in making any sort of plans. A hike maybe? A beach day maybe? Dinner at a restaurant? Sail out and a
I get two Birthdays this year. See, Tonga is a full day ahead of the United States. So, October 5 in Tonga is October 4 in the US and October 5 in the US is October 6 in Tonga. Andrew tried to convince me that we should leave Niue late enough on October 4 that we cross the date line at midnight and jump straight to October 6. “Wouldn’t it be fun to skip your birthday? Then you can be one year younger.” Absolutely not. I mean to take full advantage of this. So, we arrived in Tonga on October 3rd. After some adventure trying to squeeze Sonrisa into a crowded customs dock, we settle in to pay fees, fill out paperwork and otherwise do our check in duties. Several male officials pay us a visit, each wrapped in long, navy blue skirts, topped with wide belts intricately woven from coconut bark. Their baby blue button down shirts are neatly tucked into their belt. They look clean and tidy. Two very large Tongan men from the health inspector’s office pull up in a van and ask that Andrew join them for a ride to the bank. All I can do is hope for the best as they pull away and leave me at the dock. I’m sure Andrew can hold his own if they take him into a Tongan jungle and leave him for dead. Right? Nah, they are back in a flash and all is well. Tonga is known as the “Friendly Islands.” Soon, we are settled in on a mooring and enjoying the calmest anchorage we have experienced in our entire trip. The water is so flat, you can see the reflection of the sky. The next morning, Andrew is making breakfast and I am writing when we hear “Hello! Good morning!” and a tap-tap-tap on the hull. Andrew pokes his head above decks. I hear him chatting with another gentleman, then inviting him aboard. I quickly change out of my pajamas for our guest. When I poke my head on deck, I am greeted by a smiling Tongan man with bare feet and a sachet of wares. He lays out his sachet on Sonrisa’s deck and I go back below to make sure the bacon isn’t burning. We offer coffee and breakfast to our friend, Maka. Maka arrived just in time for Andrew to acquire a birthday present for me. They haggle over prices, paid both in Tongan Dollars or “Pa’anga” and old rope that Maka would like for his horse. Maka rubs his hands over Sonrisa’s genoa sheets, hoping to acquire one just like that. But alas, we need those ropes for sailing and we have no extra. He settles for one of our old mooring ropes and trades us a Tongan flag to hoist up Sonrisa’s mast. Once the sale, breakfast and coffee are complete, Maka smiles for some pictures and climbs down, complimenting Sonrisa as a “beautiful boat”. Sonrisa perks up at the compliment. My birthday arrives the day of the Blue Water Festival regatta. We decided to team up and race Lufi given that racing is more fun as a team. Lufi greets me with a Happy Birthday sign, and I hear promise of birthday balloons later, too. The start horn is blown from the Captain’s Meeting, requiring the Captains to race back in their dinghys. We watch various other boat’s captains wiz by in their dinghies with operable 15 horse power engines. Some time later, Lufi’s captain putters up with her somewhat operable 6 horse power outboard. We drop Lufi’s mooring and motor out of the anchorage. Most of the fleet has motored away from us. No worries, we hit the buoy where the sailing is supposed to begin according to the rules and hoist the chute. BIRTHDAY BALLOONS! Lufi has to have the cutest spinnaker I have ever had the pleasure of hoisting. We had a lot of fun, held out until the end and crossed the finish line with the sails up instead of motoring after the 3 p.m. mark as the rules apparently allowed. As a result, we lost our strenuously held position in the fleet to our tightest competitor who rolled up his sails and puttered off. A birthday motor race? Ridiculous. We headed to the Mango Cafe to recover with a slosh of wine and a lobster red curry. Laura made sure I had sparklers in my ice cream and my rag-tag group of sailing friends (and one guy I had not met before) sang me the birthday dirge. I call it the birthday dirge because once you hear the Swedish and/or Norwegian version of birthday wishes, you will forever feel like the English version is a poor substitute. Luckily, Jonas The Swede was there and also sang me the Swedish birthday song. It is far peppier and includes a little dance. I am presented with a beautiful red coral necklace and bracelet from Andrew, courtesy of Maka. I also receive a “bo-wl” and a “boll” from the Lufis to assist me in learning the “proper” pronunciation – the British (and therefore correct version) of each sound exactly the same to my untrained American ears. Never mind that “boll” is actually spelled b-a-l-l. We cap the night off with a quick trip over to the bar that should have been na
Source: My Tongan Birthday
We spent the quiet Niuean Sunday relaxing with Sonrisa out in the anchorage. Time for a swim! We free dive on the lump beneath Sonrisa and we can see millions of tiny little fish, sparkling in the sunlight overhead like multi-colored gems. The coral is all manner of colors: blue, green, pink, bright purple, yellow. I follow my own bubbles to the surface, clear orbs of white light. As I surface, something slithers past my face. I duck my head just below the surface and see… “SNAKE!” I yell. “Andrew! Sea snake!!” As if the sea snake hears me calling his name, he turns around and starts slithering toward me. I paddle my hands and feet backwards, but he slithers right up to me at chest level, takes a look, then slithers off. “I’m getting out.” I say, swimming toward Sonrisa. Andrew laughs, “He’s fine! Look, he’s cute!” “Aren’t sea snakes poisonous?” I say. Yes. They are. In fact, even these sea snakes are so poisonous they would cause instant human death, if they could bite you. But, apparently, their mouths are so small, they can’t bite you. Isn’t that reassuring? I dry off and sit on Sonrisa’s deck, warm in the sun. Soon, Andrew hops out, too. New friends from an American boat named Dragonsbane stop by and we chat over somemorning coffee. Jonas the Swede pops his head over the lifelines to say “hi,” too. The light wind is gathering all our sailing friends here in Niue. Soon, a mother whale and her baby calf swim right through the anchorage. She stops, and strikes a pose with her tail up. We later learn that this is the position she takes in order to feed her calf. We float in Grin a good distance away for a better view. We are going to like this place, a lot. Our adventures started in earnest on Monday. First task is to try to swim with a whale and/or dolphins. We load into Buccaneer Adventure’s RIB with mask, fins and goggles. Swimming with a whale is a delicate project. We don’t want to scare the whale or distress her in any way because she is feeding her newborn calf. These baby whales quadruple in size in the matter of months, eating everything they need to survive until they can swim far enough South to find the schools of bait fish that swarm around Antarctica. If they are disturbed and unable to feed properly, they could be in danger. So, we hang back and ease close enough to see Mama without scaring her. Each time we get close, though, she dives down with her calf and appears minutes later on the other side of the bay. We take pictures from a distance, but otherwise give up on the swim. This photo series is courtesy of Jonas The Swede who got better pictures than me. The spinner dolphins were in a more convivial mood. Swimming near us in a giant pod, we don our masks and snorkels. Over the side of the RIB we go, two at a time. We hold onto a handle, tied to a rope and drag as the RIB speeds along with the dolphins. The dolphins jump and dive, criss-crossing the bow of the RIB. They look back at us as we drag along and squeak their dolphin squeaks. It’s a cacophony of dolphin conversation under the water. When it’s my turn, I try to commune with the dolphins with my best squeaks. They give me the side eye and dive down deep. What did I say? I cannot believe I am swimming with dolphins. I could reach out and touch their tail fins, but I don’t want to impose. After a day in the water, we rushed back to town to get ready for Phil’s Birthday Party at the Matavai Resort. We stop at the Yacht club to pick up his birthday cake made fresh that day by the woman who owns the Mini Golf Cafe. The shuttle van weaves us around, through many potholes and we arrive at the Matavai just as the sun is setting over the salt spray covered coast. The Scenic Matavai. Tonight is the “Uga Interaction”, and as we step onto the patio, a Polynesian man with dread locks and eyes crinkled from years of smiling hands Phil a ten pound coconut crab. This Uga is bright blue on his belly, enormous and almost Phil’s age. None of us are really sure we should be holding him. For dinner, I ate a locally caught Red Snapper filet with a potato and papaya gratin and island vegetables. Andrew had seared tuna (also locally caught), and Phil’s steak and prawns looked pretty tasty, too. Finally, it was time to shower Phil with his birthday presents. Remember the Rarotonga Prison Craft Shop? “Got this for you at the Prison Craft Shop. Made by a man who killed a man. Happy 40th Birthday, Phil!”
Source: Niue Under The Sea
A word about steeple chasing, first. If you look at the picture closely, you’ll see that the horses are just landing after a jump. There is a second rail about a meter behind the one you see here. The ground shakes as if there were a major earthquake coming. Damn, but that was fun!
When I took that photograph I was 58 years old, which means that the photo is almost 9 years old. That was our Boxing Day adventure in the UK. Frankly, I’d do that again. (Especially in England, where almost nothing is open on Boxing Day.) Last Saturday I had another birthday. No big deal, really, it was the 67th anniversary of my birth. After 66 prior birthdays, the whole idea is wearing thin, anyway. I gave up active real estate work at the beginning of this year. That means that, for practical purposes, I am retired. When I was a callow youth, I said, blithely, that writing would be my “retirement career.” Damn, one should be careful what one says in one’s youth! Because of course, that’s what I am, a writer. Heck, I’m writing as I write! (See what I did there? Heh heh!)
I wanted to be a writer in my youth. But it didn’t seem possible. Family wasn’t behind the idea, and, frankly, such writing as I did was awful. It sucked. It was bad. Even then, I couldn’t stand to read it. (And, fortunately, it’s all been lost. Go for it, literary historians of 2243!) But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, one thing that I’d tell my young self if I met him, it is that you always must be true to yourself! (Didn’t somebody write that once?) And, writing rule #1: Only write stuff you want to read! And one more rule, which I have heard repeated by virtually every successful writer I’ve ever heard speak (and I kid you not): Be Persistent! Why? Well, for one thing, if you persist, you’ll get better (at least most of us will.) And for another, the world will never discover you; you must present yourself to the world. So, the more stuff you have to present, the more likely somebody will really like at least some of it, and you’re off!
So, there’s the advice from this older man: follow your own heart, write what you like to read, and persist!
I doubt that there’s a single other rule for a creative writer that makes any significant difference.
As everyone knows, it’s an important birthday today. We have fireworks, picnics, parades, good times all around. And why not? It’s not every day my brother Bob celebrates another birthday!
Happy Birthday Bob!