Friday, July 30, 2010

Nomad back in Fiji

The Nomads are back in Fiji. This time we we arrived in Suva east of the main island. Fiji is a fabulous place to visit, first and foremost because of its friendly inhabitants. Probably Fiji’s greatest asset. Of course it also has the most developed tourist facilities and infrastructure in the whole of Melanesia. Sun, sea and beach lovers, or honeymooners for that matter, will not be disappointed. The interior has plenty of natural beauty on offer and if you are interested in culture, like these Nomads, there are plenty of opportunities to explore that to.

In short a safe and hassle free holiday destination. Now so far so good for the travelers sales pitch. But what makes all of this so fascinating is perhaps the fact that Fiji is considered somewhat of a millitary dictatorship without essential democratic attributes like for instance a chosen parliament. The lack of lets say freedom of speech is something that highly frustrates and worries it's big neighbours Australia and New Zealand. Fiji has had a series of coups upsetting the Pacific region.

TBC - tobecontinued

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nomad in Vanuatu

The Nomads have arrived in Vanuatu. Vanuatu is a Melanesian archipelago in the Pacific ocean. Our port of call is Vila, the main city of this Pacific archipelago.
The Ni-Vans, short for Ni-Vanuatu (people of Vanuatu) speak an English pigeon lingua franca that started out as a language of trade comparable to the Malay language in Indonesia . The Ni-Vans however are composed of 150 different tribes over 80 islands, which all have their own distinguished languages. These languages are so different that when speaking their own tribal language the Ni-Vans can hardly understand each other. Isolated evolution due to natural barriers in Vanuatu also caused the abundant cultural differences between the tribes, making it a heaven for cultural anthropologists.

The Ni-Van celebrate their culture(s) which is also enjoying a revival supported by tourism entering the area. However most of the cultural activity is still strongly rooted in their Adat, which they call Kastom. More so it appears then in neighbouring Fiji. Due to complex Kastom rules around (land) ownership the Vanuatu chiefs seem slightly less powerful than the Fiji chiefs who own all the tribes land. The diversity in Vanuatu traditions is shown in the fact that in the remote Northern islands some ancient customs persist. Jungle tribes in the North still practiced cannibalism up to the the 1970’s and 80’s and instead of showing the marital status of women by using tattoos (and/or rings) some tribes still knock out the front teeth of the happily married bride.

Sifor a spokesperson for a traditional village close to Port Vila tells us the Ni-Van are happy that Christianity has changed some of their more carnivores customs, such as cannibalism. Attempts to counter conversion to Christianity by killing (and eating) Church missionaries is still seen as the main reason why the Ni-Van population decimated through apparent divine persecution. The notion that European diseases brought from the west contributed to the hard fall in population is an afterthought. In any case some loss of Kastom is not considered regrettable at all. Understandably so when you know that in the old days all female first borns were killed upon arrival due to the strict rules of paternal land ownership.

But Sifor also tells us they are even happier to be able to retain much of the old ways. Once educated it becomes a matter of choice he says. There is so much ancient knowledge that equals the science of the modern era. Natural medicine and ways of hunting and fishing by using plants and herbs and techniques perfected through millennia still stand the test of time. He shows us uncanny ways to preserve food (bananas that are processed and buried underground so they remain eatable for up to 3 years!), ways to fish by using sticks and spider webs and ways to survive cyclones that hit the islands regularly. There is so much more to tell and he invites us to stay in the village overnight to learn more why the adjective primitive is often subject to revision.

A Nomad might need to come back and catch up on that offer.

Nomad in New Caledonia

The Nomads have arrived in New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a Melanesian archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. 40% of the country’s population resides in the city of Noumea our first port of call. New Caledonia is still administered by the French. The indigenous Kanak people form almost 45% of the total population while the French account for 35%. Due to the upcoming referendum about independence these percentages are in fact extremely contentious as Kanak leaders suspect France of manipulating the numbers. There is in fact a considerable expatriate community of mostly French professionals that are at the top of the socio-economic structure.
But most people designated French by the census are actually native creoles called ‘Caldoches’, that have inhabited the rural parts of the islands for many generations. The expatriate French are called 'Zozos' by the Caldoche who are eager to differentiate themselves with the import French. For the most part the Caldoche have also kept separate from the Kanak, not unlike the white Australian and South African settlers. Until recently that is as the political tides are changing and the reality of a changing relationship with France is inevitable. This year the Kanak flag has been adopted next to French tri-color and in 4 years a referendum will decide if New Caledonia will become an independent state.

At the moment however major investments by French and Canadian business are still boosting the economy and employment opportunities. Much income is also generated through tourism, even though the islands are the most expensive in Melanesia. Donald an English speaking Caldoche tells us that Caledonia is careful to cut the ties with France as there is still much development needed on the islands. "We finally have a university here, but still youngsters that graduate often do not have job opportunities and first join the army for a few years." Donald himself had a poor education and also joined the French Navy before returning to his island and starting up his own business. "Most of all we need stronger work ethics.", according to Donald. "Mind you I have Kanak blood", he continues, "But I never give hand outs. They must learn not to think just one day ahead."

Cycling through Noumea we clearly see the French influences and sometimes it even looks like the Cote d'Azur. On the beach we see scenes so incredibly reminiscent of the French beaches in summer that you have to stare into the ocean horizon and see the Pacific islands to know your on the other end of the world. The well maintained infrastructure, including bicycle lanes, overall city planning and hill side houses give it that Mediterranean touch. But the exorbitant prices apparently fixed to drain tourist and expat wallets are less charming. I expect that without French funds the current standard of living here can hardly be maintained.
The Kanak like all indigenous people have a strong longing for self rule and determination. The French have responded by investing in a university, projects and museums to support and promote Kanak culture and of course the promise of a referendum. The Netherlands have clung long to their last tiny specs of overseas territory in the Caribbean. But also on these islands the people are hesitant to loose their financial lifeline. The British on the other hand were quite hesitant to even start colonising the Pacific and were even eager to grant autonomy to countries like Fiji. It is interesting to see the different dynamics of the post colonial era and it proofs that things aren't always black and white.


Nomad on the Isle of Pines.

Ile de Pins a small island of New Caledonia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. A truly unique jewel of the Pacific that is absolutely enchanting. Snorkeling the clear waters was magnificent but breaking and consuming a ripe coconut while sitting on its white soft sandy beach was one of our unforgettable highlights.
This picture perfect postcard paradise is high on a Nomads list of beautiful places.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nomads in Sydney

The Nomads have arrived Down Under, staying with family in Sydney, Australia.

In a few days Sydney has become among my favorite cities in the World. In nature I am a true big city dweller, quickly at ease in urban jungles and it usually does not take me long to measure and benchmark a city. Of course it certainly helps having relatives or friends in the local scene. It didn’t take long to find that Sydney is a place with much to offer. A hustling and bustling city in between beautiful bays and beaches. The city is home to 5 million of the 20 million Australians inhabiting this huge country and two of them are my aunt Melanie and cousin Priscilla.

Staying at my aunts place in the lovely neighbourhood of Lillyfield in west side Sydney it’s obvious that the Australians have acquired a high standard of living. The main street there has some of the best Italian food and coffee, the best bagels and some of the finest bakery I’ve had in a long time. Its obvious Aussies have a sweet tooth as throughout the city you can find delicious chocolate shops with Carl Brenner being the king of chocolate. Now that is something this Nomad can appreciate.

The old governmental and financial centre and port area called the Rocks close to Circular Quay have some nice and well maintained old colonial architecture surrounded by a chain of modern business buildings and completed by a fine accessory called the Sydney Opera House. The whole vibe of the city is quite European and nothing apart from the large Asian community, similar to Auckland, tells you your in the Asia Pacific part of the world. This is also the place with the most vibrant and outgoing China town I’ve ever been to. In any case it doesn’t surprise me that the Australian economy is still on the rise and real estate prices in Sydney are sky rocketing.
The city attracts people from all over the Asia Pacific region as well as of course Europe and even Lebanese and other Middle Eastern countries. But you do start to wonder where the original inhabitants are. I haven’t seen one aboriginal to date. A big difference to neighbouring New Zealand where Maori presence is everywhere. It seems that even compared to the American Indian the Aboriginals have a harder time reconciling their world with that of the white man. Alcoholism and drug abuse is still a widespread means to escape their predicament. In fact the average life expectancy of an Aboriginal is 60 years, while for other Australians it is 78.

When asking a retired Australian foreign service official why this Aboriginal predicament seems so much worse than other native peoples around the world he acknowledges that Australia has simply not found a solution for it and recent research projects have indicated that beyond the cultural and psychological factors there might even be biological factors impairing their integration and general welfare. Or perhaps that's just an easy excuse. Up to very recent times the Australians have hardly been interested in the welfare of it's indigenous people, quite the contrary actually.

Even up to the late 60's wandering bands of untouched Aboriginals were found in the Northern parts of Australia's outback. When a rocket missile landing spot in what was presumably an uninhabited area in the North was surveyed before launching, a band of 12 naked women and children was discovered living of the land. The men had apparently disappeared and they were taken into a Church ran reservation. These people had never seen white people or even wore clothes, but had a very extensive spiritual life.

On television I saw that in this years elections it was the first time in Australia's history an Aboriginal was chosen for parliament. And Priscilla told me that sports are slowly giving the Aboriginals role models to look up to. In the plane home I also read that Qantas airlines was supporting aboriginal sport projects. A Nomad has faith there will be upliftment of Australia's indigenous population.
From the surfer's spot Bondi Beach and the magnificent Blue Mountains the Sydney area has much to offer and again a Nomad has found a place that is well worthwhile returning to.

I realise that I have just seen a tiny spec of the continent, but believe that this is a place Nomads could possibly settle. So many have done so before me, right?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Nomad in New Zealand

The Nomads have arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. On the flight over we've met photographer and painter Niels, a Dutch Kiwi, who kindly offered to put us up for the night. You hear of stories how travelers connect and traveling becomes making homes away from home. Meeting kindred spirits or just simply meeting nice folk that you take a liking to and vice versa. Sometimes they might even let you stay at their place. Well these stories are all true. So here we are crashing at Niels crib making plans for our brief visit to New Zealand.

Still in island mood we plan to visit Wahiki island, just of the coast from Auckland. Of course we have to make sure were back in time to watch the live match of the All Blacks playing the South Africa Springboks. We also plan to take the scenic Overlander train to Wellington. But make sure we can watch the world cup soccer finals in the 4 Kings sports bar, home of the All Whites and make it to the airport in time to take the plane back to Auckland. All our planning makes it clear we have too much to do and to little time to do it. But we hit the laptop and before we hit the sack were all sorted for our blitz visit to New Zealand's North Island.

What's funny, at least retrospectively, is that we arrive here in the middle of winter time. So far we have enjoyed severe hot spells and an Indian summer in the USA. But this part of the world has some serious winters. Of course nothing like we have back home in Europe. But enough so to force us to purchase some appropriate winter attire. Shopping for garments in Auckland is however not a problem. This nice multi-cultural city has everything a Nomad may desire. It has a distinct European feel to it. Maybe a little less British than Sydney and with a sizable Asian community reminding you your in the Asia Pacific region.

Oatearao, land of the long white clouds, is the last part of the world inhabited by the human species. The Polynesian Maori settled here when the island had a fauna untouched by human interference. Extinct birds, like huge kiwi's, once walked this earth, only threatened by the also extinct giant tiger. The first Maori arrived on the shores of New Zealand's North Island around 1200 BC in ocean going canoes from a mythical homeland called Hawaiki. They developed into tribal warrior and even cannibal societies that were never united under an all encompassing chiefdom. It was only towards the middle of the 19th century Oatearoa came into significant contact with the wider world. Also then it was the last human community on earth untouched by globalisation. Inter-tribal warfare continued but now with western firearms and together with European deceases the Maori population that only numbered around a 100.000 people started to decline.

At first the British Crown was apparently hesitant to colonise this remote corner of the word and only to bring order to the lawlessnes of European settlers decided to interfere. A treaty with 500 chiefs was signed that brought British law to the islands and made the Maori British subjects in return for tribal autonomy and protection against the lawless white marauders and settlers. Not all Maori acknowledged the treaty and war ensued between some of the tribes and the British colonials. After the Maori wars ended the British confiscated 95% of their lands and left the Maori decimated to less than 50.000 people by the end of the century.

Although many at the time believed the Maori would assimilate into white society that already numbered a million people and disappear. The Maori people however recovered. Their numbers have risen to over half a million and their political voice is strong. That in modern times there is still much hardship to overcome can be seen in a film like 'Once were warriors'. But today Maori culture is still on the rise and New Zealand has a racial record that when compared to many other former colonies they can be proud of.      

TBC - tobecontinued

Nomad in Fiji

The Nomads have arrived in Fiji. Taking off on a Saturday night in LA and arriving on a Monday morning in Nadi the capital of Fiji, mysteriously losing a day in our lives. Nadi Airport is located on Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest and main island. It is 5 o clock in the morning when we touch down and when we leave the passport check point at the airport customs area. Now all we had to do is arrange our accommodation on Fiji. Not particularly problematic for Nomads.

3 is the magic number.
3 espressos and a short shop around later we have made a 3 night bungalow reservation on Beach Cocomo. Lati our local liaison leads the way and never leaves our side until 3 hours later we’re safely on the public bus, giving the bus driver clear directions where to drop us off. A few dollars and another 3 hours later we arrive at Beach Cocomo. Of course 80 dollars for a taxi would have taken us just 1 hour travel time. But nothing beats local transport to get a feeling for the country and we’ve easily adjusted to famous Fiji time. Something very familiar and similar to the phenomenon known as 'Jam Karet' (Rubber Time). As our host Isao explains on Fiji you don’t really need a watch as you can tell time by looking at the sun moving from east to west. Of course you have to give and take half an hour.

Beach Cocomo is a very small resort just off Sigatoka town with only 2 bungalows for guests, while the other 2 bungalows are occupied by the owners and caretakers. Very intimate and flexible and the perfect ocean front accommodation for newly wed Nomads. The caretakers Oka and Sammy are Fijian. The hosts however are Japanese and Korean. Isao San is a surfer that settled on the island 16 years ago, his Korean girlfriend Mary joined him a mere 6 years ago. When Isao first arrived for a one year contract he soon decided that this might very well be a good spot for a surfing nomad to settle. Far away from hectic Japan and close to sun, sea and surf. Isao an old Bali wave surfer loves chatting with me in Indonesian and is delighted to smoke kretek again. As his girlfriend's family is visiting and will occupy the other bungalow he says smilingly: "This week is Asian week here."   

Fiji is the most eastern Melanesian country in the Pacific Ocean and has the most developed tourist infrastructure and facilities in the region.

TBC - Tobecontinued

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Nomad in Los Angeles

The Nomads have arrived in California through Apache desert country. We left the bright lights of Sin City behind us and take little chapel memories with us. 2 kindred spirits and soul mates that tied the knot and rode the open highways from the East coast to the West, finding a home where ever we laid our head. Outlaws breaking boundaries without burning bridges. Experiencing the essence of being nomad and putting the open road to music...

If you wonder what that sounds like just visit my space on Myspace.
Song title: A Nomad is Free.