Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Making of a Lava Lava

I wrote this in Yap but have just now gotten around to getting the pictures ready...hopefully you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it...

Through our travels in Yap, I’ve obtained quite a collection of lava lavas.  I’ve paid for some, I’ve been given some.  Some were very pretty, some were kind of out there and some were said to be “cheap.”  What they all have in common is their origin.  Women in the outer islands of Yap are known for their intricate patterns and creative use of colors in these hand woven skirts.  Traditionally they were made out of thread made from hibiscus bark and dyed in colors derived from natural elements.  Over the years, the process has simplified and they have begun to be made out of colorful threads found at the local store, similar to the thread we use to sew or embroider with in America.  I use the term simplified loosely as this is no simple process.  I was soon to find out how difficult it was first hand.

I expressed an interest to my Yapese friend Agatha, originally from the outer island of Wolei, in seeing how these lava lava’s were made.  I had seen the various parts of the loom and the threads in the stores, but I had no concept of how it was actually done.  What started out as a simple curiosity, soon turned into a project for both Agatha and myself.  She was going to help me make my own lava lava. 

I met her at her house on a Sunday morning to start the experience.  She had laid out all of her lava lavas and I was to first pick the pattern that I liked most.  The patterns appear to be very similar when you’re out in town admiring others, but when you sit down and try to pick one out, you start to recognize all of the small details that make one stand out from another.  Fortunately for Agatha, I’m a pretty quick decision maker, not one for too much pondering, and we were on our way to the store for step two…picking out the main colors.  Yap is a small place so it didn’t take long to find what I wanted despite having to go to two stores.  Now it was time to prepare the threads in the pattern I had chosen and get it ready to go on the loom.  Agatha and I made a date for later in the week to get started.

Our first session was an eye opener for me.  The preparation of the thread involves a piece of wood with 5 small poles attached perpendicular to the wood.  There’s lots of knot tying and lots of looping of the thread around the poles.  Agatha started and after a few dozen rows, she offered me a turn.  It took a few tries but eventually I got the hang of it.  There was so much to remember; which pole to wrap the thread around, keep the string loose but not too loose, don’t forget to go ALL the way around the back, etc.  It was apparent after about five minutes that if I were to be the one making this lava lava, we were going to have to move to Yap.  Since we were planning on leaving in a week, Agatha was generous enough to offer to make it for me, “I enjoy this.  Please let me do it.” 

The weaving itself was fascinating, but I quickly noticed that this is a social event as well.  All of the women in the house gathered to watch and help and offer opinions.  Girls are taught from a very young age how to weave lava lavas.  Lava lava is actually the English name for it.  In Yapese it’s called a toeru (pronounced tear, as in rip, with a little Yapese twist that I’m unable to reproduce with this southern drawl).  Each woman develops her own manner of weaving.  They might add a little to a pattern or take some away, but it’s a small way to show off their personal style.  The newer generations have even figured out how to weave their names into them.

 After all of the details are sorted through, it comes down to good, old fashioned hard work.  While sitting on the floor, a belt is strapped around the waist of the weaver and attached on either side to the loom.  Several rods are pushed through the threads to hold it in place and differentiate between sections.  After each pass of thread, a large wooden board is used to tighten the weave.  It’s back breaking work and I, for one, was glad Agatha wasn’t holding me to my na├»ve notion of “making my own.” 

Working at night on the lava lava, after an already long day at her job as a nurse, Agatha spent a long hard week finishing up.  I went to their house the day before we were to leave Yap to pick up the finished lava lava and was overwhelmed with the dedication and work that went into this gift for me.  What started out as a kind of cool thing to have turned into a bonding experience that left me with a friend for life.  I hope Agatha felt the same way.  I will always cherish my experience and friendships made in Yap and while I don’t think I’ll need reminding of how much I enjoyed it, it’s nice to have this beautiful, hand woven, one of a kind lava lava to help bring those images up whenever I please.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Rock Islands, Palau

We’ve spent the last 10 days finally exploring the Rock Islands here in Palau.  There are over 300 islands, some originated from volcanoes, others are limestone.   While the islands themselves are stunning, the real draw here is underwater.  Palau has some of the most beautiful dive sites in the world, and fortunately for us, we had a rare moment where Andy and I were able to enjoy them together. 

Our first few days were spent buddy boating (yes, Monica and Andy actually had a "buddy boat," totally against our way of life) with our friend Captain Ron and my new running partner, Nadeen.  Because we had other people with us, we were able to dive the famous Ulong Channel (more than once!).  It is by far the most beautiful dive we’ve ever done.  It’s a drift dive (pretty swift the first time or two) that takes you across this amazing false channel (i.e. it doesn’t go anywhere) full of soft corals, hard corals, sea fans, sharks, turtles, trigger fish, grouper, you name it…  Later in the week, Captain Ron came back with the owners of his boat and we were able to do it again, along with another dive site.  We were truly lucky this week as not only did we have great company, but Andy and I haven’t gotten to dive that much together since the Marshall Islands with Naomi and John.

I have some of my best hair days underwater.

Notice the huge grouper under the coral.

The prettiest soft corals I've ever seen.

The dive shops here have come up with an eco friendly "dive hook."
You can just clip into the coral (to avoid fighting the huge currents), put
a little air into your BC and just hang out.

Yes mom, that's me in the background :)

Capt. Ron and Nadeen on Shalamar II
The rest of the week that wasn’t spent hanging out with our friends, was spent snorkeling, playing on the beaches (they filmed Survivor here years ago) searching for caves and exploring the vast area by dinghy.  We just scratched the surface of the islands but are eager to go back again. 

On the surface, it’s kind of a pricey gig…they charge $50/person for a 10 day permit, $100 if you want to do jellyfish lake (more on that later…we’re saving that), and $40/month for the boat permit.  If you compare it to the price of a day’s admission to Sea World, it’s actually a bargain.  But if you want to go back over and over, as we do, then it starts to add up.  The good thing is, you don’t spend a dime while you’re down there so even with our super provisioning exercise (you know we didn’t go unprepared), we still came out even.  After we’re here three months, we can apply for temporary residency (being American’s) and then it’s all free from there.  Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

It's amazing that the islands and coral are still in such good shape as there are thousands of tourists here.  It is clearly their main industry.  There are no less than 8 dive boats at any sight, any time.  We passed by a snorkeling reef called Cemetery Reef and I kid you not, there were 8 boats with no less than 10 people per boat there - and it was raining!  Going on your own yacht is by far the way to go... I'm just saying.

We have tons of small stories from the week, but they just don’t seem to do it all justice.  I’m going to just leave it with some pictures from your favorite travel photographer (no, not me silly).

This was actually in a cave.  Jake has a new obsession.  He's
absolutely fearless when it comes to crawling around in these things.

Jake and I on the "Natural Arch"

We look really tiny....

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Be careful what you ask for...

When we arrived in Palau and made it public that we were staying for a long while, everyone immediately began asking if we were going to get jobs and put Jake in school. My answer was "no and no." Andy's answer varies a bit but he always leaves the window open if an opportunity should arrive. It didn't take a week here in Palau before he was asked to help film Shark Week here at one of the dive shops. Thinking it would be a good opportunity to meet people and make some contacts, he agreed. While he did make some fantastic (and interesting) connections in the diving and photography community, after working 12 hour days for a week (for almost free), I thought he had it out of his system. Seeing that he was easy going and professional, they asked him to take a day and follow the Prince of Monaco and the President of Palau around and snap a few (hundred) pictures (but make sure you don't get them eating or drinking)...for what might as well have been free. I'm not sure what they were to be used for but Andy managed to score a nice meal out of it and bragging rights for hanging out with the big guys. Andy, not being one to let people down, then said yes to being a "dive guide" (much like herding cats) for a day for said dive shop...I still don't know if that was free or not. Then finally...finally...we got him back.

And now we're on day 4 in the Rock could not be better. There's no internet down here so when we arrive back in another week, I'll post details and lots of good pictures. For now, pardon our absence...Jake, Andy and I are getting re-acquainted with each other.

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