Trouble In Paradise: Cyclone Evan Hammers Samoa And Fiji (PHOTOS)

A powerful cyclone that left at least four dead as it ripped through Samoa late last week caused flooding and structural damage when it hammered Fiji on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph is reporting.

The worst of Cyclone Evan, the first tropical cyclone of the season in the South Pacific, seems to have passed, but the storm left a path of destruction as it made its way through Wallis and Futuna, Tonga, American Samoa, Samoa and Fiji.

Fijian authorities scrambled to evacuate more than 8,000 residents and tourists in low-lying areas on Sunday, and airlines suspended flights in and out of the country. Two ships ran aground near the entrance to Suva Harbour as 160 mile per hour winds hammered the Fijian capital.

The storm is said to be the worst cyclone to hit the island in 20 years. It caused flooding, structural damage and downed power lines, but so far there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries in Fiji.

Four deaths have been confirmed from Samoa, where 10 people remain missing and thousands of people have been left homeless.

To see more of the damage in Samoa and Fiji, click through the gallery below.


Powerball Winner Travel Options

The nation’s multi-state Powerball lottery is up to $425 million for Wednesday night’s drawing, the largest jackpot ever. Would-be winners have dreams of financial freedom, never working again for the rest of their lives and more. Odds are, travel may be one of the options the big winner will choose. With a cash value of $278 million, that’s a lot of travel. But just what will $278 million buy?

At a cost of $206 million, the winner could buy one Boeing 787 Dreamliner and have millions leftover for a flight crew and operating expenses. Don’t want to blow so much on a jet? Choose a 737 for as little as $74.8 million.

Looking for more adventure? How about a F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet for $150 million.

Cruise of a lifetime-
At an average cost of $1000 per person, per week, if the winner is an avid cruiser, they could sail with a dozen friends on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas for over 70 years.

Bump that up to destination-immersive Azamara Club Cruises on an itinerary that takes the winner and his happy dozen friends around the world, and sail for over 20 years in ultra luxury.

Road trip of a lifetime, with friends-
Fancy a luxury road trip? At about $9 million each, the winner and about 30 friends could drive solid gold Rolls-Royce Phantom’s.

Or leave the friends behind and drive your gold Rolls-Royce to any one of 19 four to seven-story hotels you could build along the way.

Better yet, buy 14,000 of your closest friends a new Toyota Prius for $19,950 eachBuy an Island-
Tikina-I-Ra is a 10,000-acre, private island for sale in the South Pacific for just a bit over $11 million.

“One of the largest freehold estates in the Fiji Islands, this property is in pristine condition,” says Private Islands Online, adding, “With ocean frontage to the North, West, and South, the island enjoys approximately 25 kilometres of coastline.”

Talk about adventure-
Adventure travelers too would do well as winners.

Experiences of a Lifetime from TCS & Starquest Expeditions would take you by private jet to eight countries. Camping under the stars in India’s Great Thar Desert, gorilla trekking in Rwanda and elephant trekking in Thailand runs about $68,000 per person for a 23-day tour. You could bring 200 of your friends and do it for a year.

Feeling like there could be a better use for your half billion in winnings?

Feeding all the hungry people on the planet, your prize would not go far. Worldwide, 852 million people are hungry, up from 842 million a year ago.

[Photo by Flickr user live w mcs]

Today Hindus Celebrate Diwali, The Festival Of Lights (PHOTOS)

Across the world today, Hindus are celebrating Diwali, one of the religion’s most important holidays. Popularly known as the “festival of lights,” Hindus mark the occasion by decorating their homes with flowers, paper lanterns, powders and earthen oil lamps called Diyas, which signify the triumph of good over evil. Other traditions associated with the holiday include cleaning your house, wearing new clothes, sharing sweets with your family and lighting off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits.

Officially, the holiday celebrates the homecoming of the God Ram after vanquishing the demon king Ravana. That’s the abridged version of the story, as it took the God Ram 14 years to do so. The holiday also honors the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.

In India, the festival also marks the end of the harvest season, so many people give thanks for the year gone by and pray for a good harvest in the year to come. However, the festival is celebrated across the globe – from Nepal to New Zealand, and also in Fiji, Britain, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

Interested in seeing more of Diwali? Click through the gallery below to see how the festival is being celebrated in various countries, including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.


Trinidad And Tobago Host Celebrations, Beautiful Beaches

The dual-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, just off the north coast of South America, offers a distinct blend of culture, eclectic cuisine and an assortment of eco-adventure activities. Celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom throughout 2012, two special events coming up in November highlight why Trinidad and Tobago is also known as the cultural capital of the Caribbean.

During Diwali, a festival of lights that happens on November 13, small clay lamps are filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil and kept on during the night. Firecrackers drive away evil spirits and everyone wears new clothes.

Diwali is celebrated around the world by a number of cultures and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.

The Hosay Festival on November 24, began as a religious festival but is now more of an ethnic pageant.

In Trinidad, Hosay is a chance for artisans to take to the streets with their skills and handiwork prominently displayed, reminding Trinidadians and tourists alike that East Indians and Muslims form a vital part of Trinidad’s cultural fabric.

Trinidad and Tobago feature secluded beaches, quaint villages, private villas and award-winning eco-attractions that include the Main Ridge Rainforest, the oldest protected reserve in the world and the six-time award winner for World’s Leading Ecotourism Destination.

Some of the top beaches in the country are found at Maracas Bay and Blanchisseuse, on Trinidad’s north coast. On Tobago, great beaches include Pigeon Point Beach, considered Tobago’s most beautiful beach. Also called Pigeon Point Heritage Park, the area features excellent beach facilities and beach chair rentals as well as bars and a restaurant.

Trinidad and Tobago also offer a number of adventure opportunities. Hiking, biking, kayaking and cave exploration top the list with something for all ages and abilities. Rainforest hiking trails, limestone caves, hidden waterfalls, cycling through lush island countryside or kayaking past wildlife filled mangrove forests make Trinidad and Tobago a favorite of travelers from around the world.

[Photo Credit: Flickr User TaranRampersad]

Savoring The Kava Connection On Fiji

“You want some grog?” a 20-something Fijian man asks me. He’s very fit and is wearing nothing but surf shorts.

It’s 10 a.m. and he’s sitting with four other local guys on a linoleum floor around a faded wooden bowl the diameter of a large pizza. We’re in an elongated, sparsely decorated room with one wall made entirely of open, sliding glass doors and windows. Through the open spaces is a palatial, hammock-strewn wooden terrace, and beyond that blue water spreading to three or four small, fuzzy, green islets. The bowl is on four short, rounded wooden legs and is filled with what looks like dirty river water. I realize these guys are drinking kava, a narcotic beverage that’s as famous in the South Pacific for its calming effect and putrid taste as it is for its cultural and ceremonial significance.

I wasn’t expecting my first taste of Fijian kava to be in such a casual setting. In my head, kava is supposed to be enjoyed at a chief’s house with lots of etiquette in a grand cultural moment. Getting stoned at 10 a.m. doesn’t sound particularly appealing, either, but I say yes to the “grog” anyway. Who knows when I’ll get offered it again? After 15 years living in Tahiti, where they don’t drink kava, I’m ready to give it a go.

I take a seat around the bowl and say hello to everyone.

“High tide or low tide?” the guy at the head of the bowl asks me.

“Um, I don’t know. What does that mean?”

No one answers, but they all smile at me as I’m handed a coconut shell cup that’s half full. I’m not sure what the protocol is, but I remember my dad drinking kava with the locals when I came to Fiji with him as a kid, so I just do what I remember him doing. I clap once with cupped hands, say “Bula!” (an all-purpose word that means hello, cheers and welcome) and toss it back.

It’s not all that bad – a little bland actually. There’s a slightly bitter, almost medicinal aftertaste and a metallic tingly feeling lingers on my tongue. I hand back the empty coconut cup to the guy at the head of the bowl and he scoops out another coconut full to give to the next guy. Each person drinks in turn and they mostly clap but no one says “Bula!” I take another bowl in turn, then another.

“High tide,” I eventually learn, means a full cup. I start to opt for “low tide” (a small cup) so I don’t risk overdoing it.

We were supposed to leave to take a boat to another island at 11 a.m., but it’s soon well past noon and no one seems remotely interested in leaving the kava bowl. As for me, it’s as if “Fiji Time” has finally sunk in. I’m in no hurry at all and sitting here talking and laughing about nothing feels just about right. This isn’t a blurry drunk feeling, it’s just a sense that all is right in the world, that the beautiful ocean out the front door is moving in time with my breath and everyone on the planet is my brother. My mouth is also a little numb and my tongue feels half a size too big.

A few more people show up, some guitars come out and soon everyone is singing. Eventually we finish the big bowl, which then gets refilled. By 1 p.m. the second one is done too, so we make the difficult decision to finally leave this mellow scene and go to that other island. No one looks haggard or staggers when they stand up; in fact, I too feel pretty normal, just happier. Within an hour my kava high is gone and all that’s left is a little headache.


After another week or so in the islands, it became clear that I didn’t have to worry about never getting offered kava again. It’s everywhere in Fiji. The most unlikely offering occurred when I was walking through a busy schoolyard and a few women who were moms of some of the students asked me in for a bowl. But unfortunately I never got to drink with a chief or experience kava with all the proper ceremony. I would have liked this too, but I still think I got to experience a part of what kava means in the culture: the aspect of sharing a drink with friends, being on the receiving end of great Pacific hospitality and getting a narcotic nudge into the headspace of the locals.

I bought a bag of kava to bring home to Oregon, a kava bowl, the sock to steep it in and even some coconut cups. Six months later, it’s all untouched in the cupboard. Perhaps I’m afraid that kava out of context would somehow taint my blue water island memories, but I continuously blame my home life’s busy schedule. Still, kava is all about slowing down and enjoying the moment, which is exactly what many busy Americans need – desperately. As I write this I’m imagining a day on a sunny Pacific Northwest river with friends, ukuleles and a big bowl of that wonderful murky tonic. Can “Fiji Time” work outside an island framework? I’m not sure, but even if it only gets my friends and me to that sunny riverbank, it will be worth it.