Top five regrets (First World people) had when dying

•April 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I saw a cool article from the Guardian today on facebook.

It is a list of the top five things people express regretting about their lives when on their deathbeds (or close to), compiled by a nurse somewhere in Australia I think.

Here it is.

They read as follows:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.


These days I feel like I am only messing up on Number 2, which feels great!! And I only work so much because it makes me happy!! If I find a girl or have a family, I hope I will have the strength and wisdom to change this work pattern though!!

But this list is a nice overview, a good standard against which to compare and plot my current trajectory through life!!


I really like this song!

•April 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It ain’t the same without the equatorial post-production tinkles, but I really like this song!!


Mapping the limits of the soul: Tutuila

•April 7, 2012 • 2 Comments

S 14 23.274′ W 170 34.764′

Before we set out to circumnavigate the main island of American Samoa, Tutuila, I had thought it would be something of a disappointment. I thought I had seen a lot of the island, and which way things were going, from my trips ashore before we headed out to sea. How wrong I was!!

Don’t get me wrong! Tutuila from the land is a beautiful place. It is coconut trees and small villages. It is beautiful coastlines and winding shore roads. It is small islands of volcanic rock jutting up out of the reef flat, capped with a chaotic explosion of coconut palms. Its buses, even, are a riot of loud music and bight decorations. Its people are large and big-hearted. In short, it is a jewel of a place. But I thought it would, marinely, be a disappointment.

In one way, I was right. In all the other possible ways I was wrong!!

The reefs here are as nothing compared to what we have seen on our way down here. So I guess compared to perfection, I could say that they are not perfect. Or that after the apogee all is downward motion. And these statements would be true. Some areas of the reef here are quite pretty. Some areas are desolate wastes though. On one dive Cristi and I turned to each other and made an esoteric signal that asked what we were both wondering; ‘where did everyone go’. We were wondering about the fish. The coral. The complexity. The diversity. Pretty much everything. It was like a ghost town after an earthquake. It was all flat and eerily quiet.

But above the water, oh me oh my, Tutuila, when viewed from the sea especially, really brings its A Game! What we had on all the islands on the way here below the water, Tutuila gives to us above the water!!

I pity the fool (especially as they would probably be a government employee or graduate student, it sure isn’t Donald Trump who is going to get the job!) who seeks to make a topographic map of this island. I really hope they have a walking stick or helicopter or something!! This thing must be at least 20 times the size of God (to misquote Hunter Thompson) high! Maybe a more agnostic metric would a wildly overestimated 1.3 Everests high? I prefer the God measure because it is not falsifiable!! But aside from all that particular morass, this island is tall tall tall. And it balances on such a teensy tiny base! Think of Rubeus Hagrid wearing youth sized high heels, or a large goat halfway up a cliff stranded (ecstatically so!!) on a tiny outcrop of rock the size of a teacup, or an elephant standing on an ice cube. The ice cube would need to be surrounded by the luscious warm waters of my true love Pacific home though. You know that ice cube ain’t gonna last!!

But anyhoo…

Ice cubes and teacups and elephants and goats and Hargid and high heels will only get us so far in this though (although it might be a hell of a good time getting us there; and maybe a whole ‘nother blog post to cover that whole particular journey deep into the night!!).

So Tutuila is tall. I feel like I have proven that by now.

Imagine a tall island right out here in the middle of the Pacific. What does it add up to?



Cliff faces that will make you lose your mind in a vertigous whirlwind of giddiness!!

Slamming, spraying surf!!



Ickle baby islands that you dream to be the first person to colonise!! (How quickly the dream of visiting cute little islands turns to the optimistic intentional self-delusion of terra nullius!!)

In this photo of a waterfall (I am the dude in the wetsuit swimming towards it), the tiny sliver of darkness at its base is a human tall. I think that gives some sense of scale!!

This is how it goes out here:

You are wandering along the coast in a bright orange baby boat. You may be wandering at some speed, and with a good deal of direction, perhaps even heading to a known waypoint that is your next site. But to preserve the vibe of the thing, the essence of the wind in your hair as you pass villages shrouded in coconut palms and prominent churches, as it were, we shall say we were wandering. You come around a point or a corner, or just something that sets up new vistas. And a new vista is unfolded before you. Maybe you see a cute little bay, complete with a few luscious little cliffs, their black faces adorned here and there with some cheeky vegetation.

You become still to drink it all in, to fix the magic of this moment in your eyes forever, so that whatever you see from this moment on, you will always see this as well. You try to brand these treasures into your memory. The boat keeps skipping along (sometimes a little ploughingly, but let’s not get bogged down in details while we are soaring so high on visual splendor!!). You come out of your revery of fixing memory. You look forward, your thirst for beauty slaked by the cliffs drifting by on the starboard side, when you see ahead of you visual delights that make your last visions seem as nothing.

Your thirst for beauty becomes more dire with each satiation, and now you need to drink afresh!!

Ahead are towering cliff faces, smooth here, jagged there! To the sides, the land drops away startlingly abruptly to rocky beaches defined by palms and vines. The water is so blue, the vegetation so green you could cry. But that would obscure vision, and you are much too smart for that! This is about seeing and embracing the moment to moment overwhelming by beauty!

The boat moves on.

The next view thrust upon you unprepared is of blue and white (such crisp colors!!) waves crashing with geologically-manic suicidal glee into black cliffs!! The waves have carves seacaves from the rock at the water line. They have undercut the land. Usually this is a vision that makes you reflect how, one day, one sweet day, the ocean will reclaim all the land as its own! But today there is no time for that, you need to start staring and fixing all this before, poof! it is gone and you are around the next corner!

Here the swells are bigger, they smash into the undercut cliffs, exploding back upon themselves, exploding into the air up the cliff as they spend their force in the place where the immovable object and the irresistibile force collide!! The seacaves fill with water. In the lull between successive waves, the ocean draws back, and the seacaves become waterfalls, the rock faces perpetually running with seawater as gravity calls it home to the sea. Explosion. Waterfall. Explosion. Waterfall. This is the cycle where the sea is uncutting any possibility of negotiated truce with the land. The sea acts out of unbridled and restless strength, and the walls the land surrounds itself with, those futile parapets, are falling!

It is time to seek the shelter of a small bay. The cliffs close around you, the swells calm, the air is still and hot. You see the coral reef below you through the calm bright blue waters, conveying no estimate of depth in their clarity.

That is Tutuila.

mapping the limits of the soul: the Samoas pt 3

•April 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Let’s skip to this afternoon.

Tutuila in the sunset, with rain falling upon her, her peaks marching backward into shadow, golden light playing on the waves.

Come with me, I shall show you a land where pirate dreams come true, castaways become kings of coconut coves.

Today we swam ashore to a waterfall of bouncing water droplets cascading down the rocks. I want to run away from home and hide here forever!! But my bed calls me from such escapes back to the fluffy realities of this life.

But I shall sleep in this fluffiness and dream of the freedom I know in my dreams as the barefoot hermit ruler of pebbled bays, black cliffs, swirling seacaves, and coconut palms upon the heights!!

Enjoy a picture of Never-Never Land!

Mapping the limits of the soul: the Samoas pt 2

•April 4, 2012 • 1 Comment

We left off with me getting off the bus near the Vaisala Hotel, having been cast as a fa’afafine.

I can’t say that my reception at the hotel was overwhelmingly positive. The lady at the desk seemed a little frumpy to say the least. It was here that I learnt that in Samoa, the land of proactive friendliness and smiles, when you have offended people, they just don’t smile anymore. They still help you and are still the most wonderful gems of humans ever etc; they just don’t smile. I asked her about the tree I wanted to book a space sleeping in. It turns out there was no transport there that night. I was stuck five km from my desired eerie. So I asked her when the last bus out of town was the next day so I get back as late as possible to Apia the night before my flight. She said 9am. This sounded so improbable, that I was certain she was telling me such an early time to run me out of town. I was wrong, the last bus IS at 9am, but I spent the whole night feeling strangely persecuted nonetheless until I realised. 😦

That night, I read Harry Potter on one of the most beautiful beaches I have been on. Then I read Harry Potter on a verandah overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches I have been on. Then I read Harry Potter in a room with a window overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches I have been on. Such adventures that boy has!

The next morning, after checking out the action of some jungle chickens and pigs while waiting for the bus, I headed back to Opolu.

Savai’i is a beautiful place! It is all mountains and trees and rivers and rocks and cliffs and caves!! Savai’i is a hard land. Lava flows made the fields, you can still see the smooth convolutions in the ground. All is black rocks. The people there live in houses with roll-up walls made of blind-type things. The place is quite poor, but people are happy. I did get asked by several young girls if I had a girlfriend or wife though, so I guess at least a few people would not mind a richer life. Savai’i is seriously slow and relaxed. It made me wonder if maybe we in the first world have messed this all up with our running and ambition and schedules…

Here is a picture of a school, check the field of rocks to the right:

Often you see a wall of black rocks with a well maintained field on one side and real jungle on the other. I wonder if walls are an antidote to wilderness? They must be a hardy and industrious people to live in this land. The men are all buff as hell from all the hacking back the encroaching jungle. And the ladies, oh me oh my! A Samoan lady will steal your soul with her looks and generous personality!

When I got back to Opolu, which a day before had seemed seriously chill, it seemed like a bustling metropolis. It is weird how perspectives can change!

The next day I flew back to American Samoa, and that blew my mind even more!! Here the people had the same polynesian charm and generousity and propensity to smile, but they were really suffering from a glut of the American Dream, and it was killing them with obesity.

Dusk found us all (the full compliment, minus the watch and those who do not go drinking further than they can stumble home, of the Hi’ialakai and the Sette) at Tisa’s, sipping Pina Coladas watching the sun set. When the Pina Coladas ran out we sipped rum spiked coconut water from coconuts. It was a tropical paradise, and we were reveling in the dream!!

The next morning, Adel and I rolled around the island on buses! We headed out past Tisa’s, spotting people from the boat out surfing. We stopped at the eastern end of the bus line at a village called Tula. There, we bought water and cookies hellbent on total dehydration! We then struck out on foot for the north side of the island, a village called Onenoa, a place 18 million enormous hills away under the tropical midday sun!

After hearing barking dogs a couple of times, we started carrying rocks, but never had to use them. We arrived in Onenoa, asked permission to swim, and then swam around for a while. Adel checked out the fish action on snorkel, while I just lolled around enjoying the scenery!! It was a picture perfect little bay, which I have no pictures of 😦 We started to get taken out by a rip at one point, and were a lot more cautious after that! A marine biologist who needs to be rescued from the sea is a sad thing, and no one in American Samoa seems to be a very strong swimmer!!

Then we headed over to a small island off the coast called Aunu’u. It had awesome, and scary surf, and a shipwreck!! And it had lots of sad, mangy, aggressive dogs. But also a lot of coral rubble to pretend I might throw at them if I had the guts. We searched for about an hour for a patch of quicksand that seemed to be locally famous – every time the locals saw us wandering around they assumed we were looking for it and gave us directions – did I mention that Samoans are proactively friendly??

The next morning we returned to the sea. And now I must return to my bed.



Mapping the limits of the soul: the Samoas pt 1

•April 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

Damn! So much has happened in the past week since I last had the time, awakeness or innertubes to write!!

Even now, I write through a thick veil of bedlust! It is 10pm, and I just finished processing samples; the earliest night I have had yet!!

Let’s go chronologically briefly, before I get derailed in me rambling!! Ooooh I do like a ramble!!

Last Sunday we rolled into Pago Pago, American Samoa. We went hiking up along one of the ridges above the harbor and town. The view of the land below would have been truly dazzling, except we were in a cloud up there. We got truly dazzling views of the inside of a cloud instead!! Tutuila (the main island of American Samoa) is an old volcano. Pago Pago is where the crater was eroded away on one side to form a delicious harbor. Startlingly tall mountains drop greenly, precipitously into the deep blue waters of the Pacific. Wow!

My ankle, still not healed after five or six weeks (is it fractured? who knows? but diving goes on!! bubbles!!), hurt like hell all the way back down the hike (not helped by the ethereal rain making the trail into a water course of slipperiness), and I made everybody late for a meeting, or maybe a ship-moving (there have been a ton of these as the harbor charges money kick-back style every time we are asked by them to move). Hurried exodus in a van with bad brakes down third world road escarpments. Exhilarating!

I then headed out to the airport to get a flight out to Samoa (Independent Samoa, the nation not very far west of Tutuila). I arrived at the airport (that really does not look like an airport at all!) to find that I had just missed the last flight for the day. I headed back to the harbor in the slender hopes that the Hi’ialakai was still in port, although before I left I had been informed she, tired of all the shunting around in the harbor, might be headed out to sea. On the bus back I saw a ship identical to my home, dressed in white, offshore. I was out of luck. Which is why, when I rounded the corner to the harbor and saw my sweet home Hi’ialakai berthed there, I was stoked! Her sister ship, the Sette, who is also in town (family reunion!), had headed out instead! I skipped aboard, met and hung out with the new arrivals who are joining us for future legs of the cruise, and snoozed. I had to wake up early the next morning because the port was intending to kick us out again. Somebody is not paying somebody they should be paying. In the third world, tables only exist so you can pay someone under them! I headed off to the airport, and flew out to Samoa!!

I flew into Fagalei’i Airport in Apia. Apia is a nice little conurbation of villages. Upon arrival and wandering, I found that my 11 year old guide book was completely outdated, as the first hotel I sought was now a night club (very friendly gay manager, perhaps my finger nail polish, gained in secret rites aboard the ship in the vicinity of the equator, may have helped with this), the second had closed down, and the third had burnt down. Hmm. I wandered around Apia that night after checking into the first hotel I passed, seeing the market, eating coconut cookies. At 6pm all these gongs started going off everywhere. The dude I was speaking to at the time said it was a call to prayers. The traveller must cease traveling and sit (what do travelers do when they are arrested from traveling? do they know themselves?). The resident must seek his place of residence, and pray. The gongs go again at 7pm to say ‘resume living’. Apparently in Apia, adherence to these gongs is negotiable and low. In the villages outside, non-negotiable in a very serious way.

The next day, and several hours of Harry Potter later, I jumped on the bus to Mulifanua, ferry gateway to the traditional, sparely inhabited, and rugged island of Savai’i. It turns out that after weeks of being constantly around people, them in your space, you in theirs, all I wanted to do was curl up with a book and be alone.

On the way to Mulifanua (I am probably messing these names up a lot!), I made friends with an old man who gave me advice on life in Samoa, and told me that nail polish was a clear sign I was gay, and a mom and baby. The baby liked my style. He did not like my nose-boops though. Weird. He liked to try to wrestle my watch off my arm. My watch is yet to yield serious dividends with the ladies, but if my target audience was this child, I was a hit!!

I hung around the ferry terminal for a few hours, fending off some very friendly hustlers, hiding my finger nails in lightly clenched fists. No need to be too aggressive with it. You don’t want to antagonise anyone.

Within a couple of days of getting off the ocean, swearing off it for a while, I was back on the water! The pirate’s life for me!!

(Note: it seems that I have just dived right in there with the rambling, so let’s call the planned ‘in short’ approach off)

I easily found the bus to my intended destination, Vaisala. Vaisala is really close to a place with a forest nature preserve (Faleolupo?) that has a banyan tree you can sleep in!! I was heading there to make a booking and spend the night in the tree!! Air fist pumps!!

The bus was, as is usual on third world buses, a squeeze. No goats or pigs on this one though. I was sitting next to a really nice lady. Nice that was, until she noticed. My nails (two chipped fingers) were polished. After half an hour she saw flashes of pink through my limp fist clenching. After this, the smiles became downright infrequent, and the crossing herself every time I spoke with her began. Roh ro! I have never had someone cross themselves when I spoke to them before. It was a new experience, and one that really caught me off guard. It took me ages, and hearing the word Fa’afafine, for me to figure out what was going on. Word spread quickly on the small bus as we sped across the traditional, deeply Christian island that I was some kind of foreign weirdo. By the end of the ride, everybody knew. When I touched one of the conductors to ask where to exit, the bus erupted into laughter. He had been contaged with weird. I left the bus a little freaked out, and went to walk down the road to the hotel. A Samoan dude, Samoans are always friendly enough even when they think you are the devil, approached me as I walked.  He had seen the bus. We exchanged names. He told me his was Fa’afafine, or Ine for short. I wondered as I wandered down the road, was this chance? Did the people on the bus tell this dude about me? Was everybody around here Fa’afafine, or did I find the only one straight off the bat? Was I walking towards some kind of world-renown den of iniquity populated by an international cast of unknown and subtle sexualities?

Harry Potter had not prepared me for this.


Mapping the limits of the soul: return from the wild

•March 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

S 14 20.969′ W 170 38.367′

Today we came into sight of land. Real land, with mountains and roads and things like that.

It was really pretty, sitting there with its jagged mountains low on the horizon under rain clouds. Here is a picture:

Since the squall depicted, the seas have been surreally calm as we sit in the lee of the island. This is not the ocean we have known for the past month, and it makes the land seem a little uncanny to be honest.

Tomorrow, we will be guided by a pilot into Pago Pago Harbor (pronounced Pango Pango), and thence transported to a bar, where we shall cut loose, drunken pirate style. The doc has a bag of condoms hanging on the clinic door with a sign that says ‘have fun, but don’t bring anything back with you’. Giving complimentary condoms to grown adults seems kind of quirky to me, like we all have learning disabilities or something, but it seems to be a good public health program.

Tonight I found that I had gained ten pounds (ten!!) since leaving home!! All that free food and those delicious deserts have caught up with me!!

Tonight also, they were watching ‘Into the Wild’ in the forward mess. I used to be dismissive of the guy in the movie, even though I liked the movie part quite a lot. I used to think also that it was escapist voyeurism that made us not feel the weight of our chains, and so not try to be free of them. But tonight it just made me reflect on how we are all on a trajectory towards trying to feel more free, or we are lost. And every person’s efforts to be more free are commendable (unless they harm others).

Then, after wandering off from the moofie, I went up to the bow to say good night to the stars. A nightly ritual that brings me much centeredness. Upon going outside, I saw the lights of Pago Pago. It made me think.

City lights have never really been my thing (unless it is Black Rock City, the home I may never see again – a tear that hangs in my soul forever). They always seemed to be mocking the darkness that came before the advent of electricity; a darkness that I think we need. They are a symbol of how technology has allowed us to transcend nature, and harm ourselves in the process. The counter-productive march of technological innovation. And after so many dark, starry nights with the milky way splashed across the heavens, city lights were not welcome. It made me think, somewhat resentfully, ‘you give us land, and look what we do with it’.

Give me the open sea or give me land, but please give me the night.

I hope my reintroduction into the world off the ship will be easier than these early signs suggest!!

The day after tomorrow (the one that is going to start with a hangover) I am going to try to fly out to Independent Samoa (I think it is just called Samoa now, but the habit of calling it Western Samoa is hard to kick) for a few days. I am told that Samoa is much more traditional than American Samoa, especially on the island of Savai’i. That might ease me back into society!!

Ro roh! I think this is going to be tough!!