Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rainy Day Ruminations on Slow versus Fast Travel

I’m sure that it is the autumnal quality of the weather that has prompted the following ruminations. I want to get them down though, as a souvenir of our adventures and of what we've been talking about at the dinner table during our year of Homeschool in a Global Classroom. -- Brooke

I am writing while seated on the Interislander ferry, which is to take us from Picton on the South Island to Wellington on the North Island of New Zealand. The trip should take four hours across Cook Strait and land us in the heart of the capital. We’ll stay there for ten days catching up on things, exploring the sights, etc. and then we’ll gradually head up north for our departure from Auckland on July 1.

We have been on the South Island or “Mainland” as many residents call it, since early April. In that time, we have traveled much, both by rental car and by campervan. We have witnessed many incredible vistas, tramped (gone on hikes), spotted a number of new (t0 us) bird species and (Ben has) driven literally thousands of kilometers around the island. We have continued with homeschool and finally started to shape our post-trip life and our return back to Bainbridge in early August. We’ve also watched as New Zealand’s weather has turned from a gorgeous Indian Summer to "Seattle-in-November,” a big shock since we haven’t lived in anything other than summer climes for over year.

Winter Blows In on the SE Coast, South Island, NZ

All this moving around has prompted quite a bit of discussion of late among the traveling Drury’s. Which is the better way to go? Is it "slow travel," where you stay in one place for a long time? Or is tourist travel travel better, where you cover lots of ground and do lots of exploring in an effort to get a taste of a larger country or region. Upon reflection and based on our experiences this year, it seems to me that this answer is, “It depends.”

While in Fiji, we rarely strayed more than 20 km away from our home at SigaSiga. The pace of life was much slower -- we literally planned our days around the tides. With no car, we hoofed, bussed or cabbed it everywhere. With nothing to buy, there was no reason to go into town unless we really needed food. We explored our surroundings at a much slower and deliberate pace, returning to spots numerous times, establishing weekly rituals, like joining the Rotary folks for dinner each Tuesday. In the course of all this, we made many more lasting friendships, learned a lot about the peoples we were living around and, in our own tiny way, were actually a part of Savusavu goings on for a time.

Home in Fiji

The cost of living this “slow travel” existence was that we only managed to really explore one small part of one of Fiji’s 300 islands. We became experts on the SigaSiga reef at the cost of missing thousands of kms of other reefs. We got to know our First Fijian and Indo-Fijian neighbors to a certain point but left, we felt, as we were just on the cusp of taking our friendships to a new level, with all the good and bad that that entailed.

Our wonderful neighbors at Siga Siga

We left Fiji having only scratched the surface. If Savusavu were just a short hop away from the States, or if there weren’t so many other island chains to explore in the South Pacific, this wouldn’t be all that troubling. Now that it is behind us though, I think we are all missing that sense of belonging we felt as part of the Savusavu scene. It remains the sentimental favorite part of our trip.

Our travel experience in Australia and Tasmania, Thailand, Singapore and now here in New Zealand by contrast have been broad stroke. The longest time we have stopped anywhere was at most two weeks -- okay, we did stay for a month and then some in Bangkok. We’ve gained a good broad view of what each country was like. We’ve learned more or less how to get around, where the great tourist and cultural spots are and how to quickly get settled in and comfortable in budget accommodations for four.

We have experienced first hand some of the downsides of all this “tourist travel” as well though. It can be a very difficult and sometimes a lonely existence traveling from place to place, living out of a few suitcases and having to get one’s bearings over and over again. City and place names have a tendency to melt into each other. And it has been really challenging to meet locals, requiring a level of “family togetherness” that is sometimes hard to sustain. We had none of these problems in Fiji – well, except for the family togetherness struggles at times. Life had developed a kind of normalcy there that we've really missed and haven't been able to duplicate since.

For the above reasons, one might think that slow travel has the edge over fast. But consider the variety of places we’ve visited this year. Savusavu was tiny and, because of the bad roads and our lack of transportation, we had to travel slow. The population was likewise small and incredibly welcoming. We couldn't help but feel at home, almost from the get go. To some extent, we chose Savusavu as our first destination because we knew that we wanted to live on "Fiji Time."


"Fiji Time" does not exist everywhere though. We all agree that we could not live in Thailand for an extended period. How long would it take anyway to feel like you are a part of a community like Bangkok, with ten million people speaking a different language, with a vastly different set of cultural rules and traditions and undergoing a major political upheaval? No, we didn’t stay as long but by moving around a lot, we did manage to learn a lot about Thailand. We even got a little snippet of understanding of the significant political challenges that are facing the country as the Red Shirts and government battle it out over who is really in charge.

Freedom Camping is the way to go in NZ

Then there are places like New Zealand, which is so large and rich in terms of natural wonders that it would be a shame to spend a huge chunk of time in any one region. We all agree that we would be bored silly had we stayed in Christchurch for six or eight weeks as we had originally intended. You just need to get out and about to experience the beauty of the place. Having spent the last week motel-hopping around the north coast of the South Island (never again!), we are all in agreement that the way to do it is by campervan. The same goes for Tasmania, where we spent ten days doing a clockwise loop of the island by campervan. Campervan allows for travel yet you only have to unpack once and have a kitchen with you at all times.

Campa Sleepa

Yes, the fast travel in Tassie, Thailand and New Zealand have been very stressful at times, but I can’t imagine another way we could’ve planned our itinerary to best accomplish our widely varied goals for each visit in the context of such very different places.

Our Talented Photographer

There are ways to combat the isolation and lack of in depth knowledge of a place that comes with traveling fast. We have sought out and read books by local authors detailing the history of the places we’ve visited. We’ve walked a lot, and we’ve relied on public transportation instead of a car to get us around. We’ve perused the internet, watched the TV news and read the papers. We’ve asked lots of questions of locals or expats when we have run across them. (Cab drivers have been a particularly good resource.) Perhaps most importantly, we have tried to keep open eyes, ears and minds into the cultures we are visiting, thereby noticing things that a less-traveled eye might miss. That is perhaps the biggest and most valuable souvenir of our year studying abroad.

So, it seems to me that the places we've visited this year, for us at least, called for different travel strategies. We couldn't do it all and we couldn't "do" each country the same way. With lots of help, lots of luck and a strong willingness to be flexible, we have managed to put together a really great year. And it isn't over yet!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fun Facts about Captain Cook by Tica

Here are some other interesting facts you might not know about Captain James Cook and his explorations:
  • There was a goat on board the Endeavour, that was a very experienced traveler, having already circumnavigated the globe once. The goat's job was to provide fresh milk for the crew.
  • Cook's wife Elizabeth outlived not only her husband, but all of her six children.
  • It took a year for news of James Cook's death to reach England. Marie Antoinette, then queen of France, was said to have wept upon hearing the news.
  • By the time of his death in 1779, Cook had traveled to all the island chains in the South Pacific and had crossed both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. He was the first person to sail across the Antarctic Circle.
  • James Cook might have been the original inventor of "portable soup", vegetable soup that was boiled down and reduced to a powder that could be reconstituted aboard ship. He also invented "carrot marmalade", hoping that it would prevent scurvy. It did not.
  • Cook had a number of junior officers who later became famous in their own right, including William Bligh, deposed captain of the HMS Bounty and a one time governor of New South Wales, and George Vancouver who sailed the Resolution to explore Puget Sound and the waters of the Pacific Northwest.
  • "Have a Captain Cook." is an Australian slang term meaning "Have a look."
Sources: Tica's Research on Captain Cook. A bibliography is available if you need it.

Biography of Abel Janzoon Tasman by Ian

Abel Tasman and Family by Jacob Cuyp (c. 1637)

Explorers are an amazing lot. They go to unknown lands unknown waters and hit uncharted reefs. They leave families and friends, sometimes never seeing them again. The amazing thing about Abel Tasman is that he sailed 13,000 km through the treacherous South Seas in search of a fabled continent. He had two ships to guide and one hundred and ten men on them. He was the first European to find two major new landmasses and two new archipelagoes in the South Pacific. He returned safely to civilization having lost only four men. And yet, his employer considered Abel Tasman’s journey a failure.

Abel Janzoon Tasman was born in 1603 in Lyutegast, Netherlands "in humble circumstances." Not much else is known about his early life in Holland, but in 1633, Tasman joined an expedition to India as a common sailor. He apparently was good at his new job because a short eight years later, Tasman was placed in charge of an expedition to northern Japan to explore trade routes.

Tasman’s major exploration was in 1642, when at the age of 39, he lead the ships Zeehaen and Heemskerck and a crew of 110 men on an ambitious journey into the Southern Ocean. Tasman set off from the port of Batavia (present day Jarkarta) with specific instructions from his employer, the Dutch East India Company. The expedition was to sail south and search for the fabled Great South Land, a continent that Europeans thought existed but that no European had yet found. Tasman was to map any new lands he found and, if possible, claim them for the Dutch. He was also to gather any information for the company to use to establish new trade routes in the region.

It is important to remember that ships of that era could only sail with the wind at their backs. As a result, Tasman’s expedition first sailed to Mauritius to take advantage of the winds that would propel the Zeehaen and Heemskerck in the right direction. After resupplying the ships with provisions for a year, the team headed south as instructed toward 52 degrees latitude, again to catch favorable winds. The expedition was then to head east in search of the new continent.

The going was tough, and Tasman and his crew had to change course, steering the ships northward so as to get away from the cold and terrible storms that lashed the ships all day and all night. This put them on course to hit a new major landmass, which Tasman claimed for Holland and named Van Diemen’s Landt after the governor of the Dutch East India Company. This land is now known as Tasmania.

The Tasman Sea near Haast, NZ (photo by Ben)

When “Land Ho!” was called again, Tasman thought he had discovered the Great South Land. He called it Staaten Landt. Actually, he had “discovered” present day New Zealand. The expedition tried to make landfall a number of times so that they could claim the land for the Dutch. Challenging seas and a violent skirmish with the native Maoris at what is now Golden Bay blocked them from doing so however.

Unable to land or resupply, Tasman and his crew left New Zealand with only a few maps and drawings of the new land. They did not even manage to discover that New Zealand was made up of two major landmasses, the North Island and the South Island.

The expedition had better luck in Tonga, where they were able to get water and fruit and had much better relations with the natives. They continued north and found Fiji. Dangerous reefs and stormy conditions made it impossible to land though, so the expedition continued on back towards Batavia.

Map of Abel Tasman's Journey 1642-43 - Source: Internet

After 10 months, the ships returned to Batavia with almost all their men, lots of new information and having discovered 4 new pieces of unknown land. Even so, the Dutch East India Company called Abel Tasman’s voyage of discovery a failure. In his instructions, he was supposed to circle around any piece of land they found. He did not do this. He also did not find any new trading routes, the company said, even though he did trade with the Tongans. Finally, the company had instructed wanted Tasman to seek a new sailing route between New Holland (Australia) and Papua New Guinea. Tasman chose instead to sail a known route home.

Despite his employer's grumblings, Tasman led other voyages of discovery a few years later, one to map the northern coast of New Holland and another to the Philippines, an island chain that the Dutch were trying to take away from the Spanish. Tasman got into trouble for mistreating one of his sailors on the Philippines trip and was disciplined. He was later reinstated and eventually retired to his estate in Batavia. He managed his various businesses until his death in 1659 at the age of 56.

Abel Tasman Glacier, New Zealand (Photo by Ian)

Perhaps the Dutch East India Company was wrong about Tasman? After all, he and his crew accomplished an amazing voyage under harsh conditions with primitive equipment. He discovered four new pieces of land and recorded information that many future explorers, including Captain James Cook, used during on their own explorations. Because of these discoveries, Abel Tasman has lots of things named after him in this part of the world, like Tasmania, the Tasman Sea and Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand. Maybe it is the Dutch East India Company that is at fault for misjudging their loyal captain's accomplishments? What do you think?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Biography of Captain James Cook by Tica

Creative writing entries are in the works, but first, here is an excerpt from a big project the kids have undertaken on two European explorers that were instrumental in the "discovery" and settlement of the areas we've visited this year, James Cook and Abel Tasman. Below is Tica's biography of Captain James Cook. -- Brooke

Captain James Cook 1728-1779
Pioneering Explorer in The Age of Exploration

Captain Cook was one of the greatest explorers of all time. In his short 51-year life span, he went from being a lowly apprentice in Yorkshire, England to the head of major explorations in the Pacific Rim, claiming many new lands for Great Britain and starting a new era of colonization.

James Cook was born in the Yorkshire area of England in 1728. He was destined to become a farmhand like his father, but he succeeded in becoming one of the world’s greatest explorers. In his younger years, Cook attended school and showed a great talent for arithmetic. When he was 17, he moved to the nearby Port of Staithes. He was apprenticed to a shopkeeper named William Sanderson, exchanging work for learning how to eventually run a shop. In his free time, Cook loved wandering around the docks. He had fallen in love with the sea.
After 18 months of his apprenticeship, Cook decided to become a sailor. Sanderson kindly let Cook out of his obligation and arranged for him to go to sea. After working his way up through the ranks, Cook finally joined the British Navy as a sailor. After 13 more years of hard work, he became the captain of his own ship in 1768. During that time, he gained valuable experience navigating and mapping such areas as the St. Laurence River in North America. This work prepared him well for his first commission as captain of the Endeavor.

The ship set sail from Plymouth, England on the 26th of August 1768. Captain Cook and his crew were tasked with recording the transit of the planet Venus across the sun from Tahiti in 1769. By measuring the planet’s movements and by using the newly invented chronometer, it was thought that the expedition would once and for all be able to determine longitude or the horizontal position of any body on the globe. The expedition was successful in this undertaking, making the expedition the first in history to know the group’s longitudinal position at every point along the journey.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

After they left Tahiti, Cook and his crew sailed to New Zealand, where they spent the next five months exploring and mapping the two islands. The Endeavor was the first European ship to sail through the passage between the North and South Islands, now called the Cook Straight. It is said that Cook himself drew the first map of New Zealand, more than a century after its European discovery by Abel Tasman.

In March 1770, Cook left New Zealand and sailed west to the land of New Holland, now known as Australia. Cook and his crew managed to map the entire east coast of the continent. They also found a safe passage between the Great Barrier Reef and Papua New Guinea, but not before the Endeavour hit the Great Barrier Reef and had to undergo two months of repairs at a spot now named the Endeavour River. On the 22nd of August 1770, Cook claimed the colony of New South Wales for Great Britain. After being gone for a little more than three years, Captain Cook arrived back in England a hero.

From 1773 to 1775, Cook captained The Resolution and The Adventure on another voyage to the Pacific. This time, he sailed very far south and became the first explorer to cross into the Antarctic Circle. Cook tried to sail to the South Pole. However, huge icebergs blocked his way and forced him to sail back up north. Later in his voyage, Cook re-visited New Zealand, the New Hebrides, the Cook Islands (named after him) and Tahiti.

When Cook returned from his second journey, he was offered a comfortable retirement. After a year however, he be came restless for life at sea and embarked upon his third and final exploration of the Pacific in 1776. He was instructed to guide The Resolution and The Discovery to find the famed “Northwest Passage,” an alternate sailing route connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. They were unsuccessful in their quest but managed to explore the far north reaches of the Pacific Northwest and Bering Sea. Realizing that winter was about to set it, the Expedition sailed south with plans for more exploration of islands in the South Pacific, including the newly discovered Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii. However, angry warriors killed Captain Cook in Hawaii’s Kealakekua Bay in 1779. The Expedition returned to England, spreading the almost-year-old news that Captain Cook was dead at the age of 51.

During his lifetime, Captain James Cook filled in many large gaps on the map of the world. He added tremendously to human knowledge of navigation and about the lands and peoples of the Pacific Rim. Cook also contributed to the outcome of future expeditions by solving the problem of scurvy, a disease caused by not consuming regular doses of vitamin C found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Scurvy was a major health problem for crews on extended expeditions, causing many deaths. Cook found that he could reduce the incidence of scurvy significantly by supplying the crew with fresh produce on a regular basis. In reward for this new and very helpful discovery, he was awarded a Copley Gold Medal, the highest prize awarded by the British Royal Society.

Without Cook’s explorations, we would not know the world as we do today. It is perhaps for this reason that Captain Cook has so many statues and namesakes around the world, like Cook Strait and Mount Cook in New Zealand and like the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Some would say though that Captain Cook’s successes spelled the beginning of the end of an era for native peoples in these areas. His accomplishments in the field of navigation made it much easier for Europeans to travel to the South Pacific and exploit the peoples and resources there. Many would say that opening up so much area to the Europeans meant a dark future for natives of the South Pacific-- illness, wars and land confiscation. This is ironic considering Cook was considered to be one of the most fair and reasonable explorers in his dealing with island natives.

Cook was a groundbreaker in the Age of Exploration. I’m glad we’ve gotten a chance this year to explore some of the lands that he “discovered.”