World Coins

Take a tropical ‘staycation’: No need to slather on sunscreen

For most of us a day trip or “staycation” to an exotic island resort is impossible, unless you happen to collect world coins. 

Those coins that showcase the unique beauty of these tropical lands make it possible to vacation any time, and still sleep in your own bed at night.

The travel industry often surveys singles, couples and families about their favorite and intended island destinations. The nations whose coins are described here regularly show up in the top 10 survey slots. 

French Polynesia is a favorite. The best known island in this South Pacific chain is Tahiti, thanks to Fletcher Christian, Paul Gauguin, and black pearls. The universally appealing landscape on the 100-franc coin has always been a view of the mountainous volcanic Tahiti. Palm trees frame the sailing canoes called va’a and the over-the-water bungalows built on stilts.

The South Pacific includes Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, of which Vanuatu is a part. The inviting landscape depicted on that nation’s 20-vatu coin is that of palm trees and a giant coconut crab, the world’s largest arthropod at 9 pounds. 

The coconut crab is a land dweller that eats fruits and nuts, is easy to catch, and tastes delicious. The last two attributes have made it endangered. Tourists and locals are now encouraged not to eat this delicacy. 

Unlike coconut crabs, no shortage exists of the Polynesian staple called breadfruit. Breadfruit trees supply shade, wood and food to people in the New Zealand territory called Tokelau. So important is this fruit, the island put a highly engraved close-up of a breadfruit tree on their 1-tala coin.

When cooked, the ripe breadfruit tastes like freshly baked bread, but the texture is more like sticky boiled potatoes. If cooked with sweet coconut milk, breadfruit becomes a dessert.

Banana trees like the one on the Samoan 50-sene coin are technically not trees but very large plants. Their fruit is the world’s third most popular (after tomatoes and mangoes). 

An island staple food is a simple banana pudding called Samoan poi. It is made by blending ripe bananas with cold coconut milk, and then adding a little vanilla, lemon zest and sugar to taste.

In the Atlantic Ocean, the native flora and fauna of the Caribbean make terrific calling cards. For 25 years, the Bahamian dollar featured the detailed shell of a queen conch. These shells are used as planters and trumpets, prized by collectors for their colors, and carved into cameos. 

The queen conch is also delicious and endangered. The Bahamas has created marine protection zones to help it recover while commercial conch farming is being developed and perfected.

Jamaica is another Caribbean nation that has featured native species on its coinage. The Jamaican giant swallowtail butterfly is second only to its African cousin in size, with a wingspan of 5.9 inches. Once common in the forests of Jamaica, they are rare today. 

Also shown on the same large (44-millimeter diameter) $10 coin is the hibiscus flower. This bloom is used to make a tea called sorrel, which is the base for the popular “Agua de Flor de Jamaica” (Jamaican flower water). To a base of sorrel blended with boiled ginger root, add sugar, clove, cinnamon and rum, and chill (literally and figuratively).

Back to the Pacific Ocean and Melanesia, a 12-sided 50-cent coin of Fiji draws you in with the promise of fun. 

The camakau, Fiji’s traditional sailing canoe and cultural icon, is making a comeback because tourists love its amazing speed and the locals like the relatively low cost of operation. This outrigger canoe with a working platform is part of Fiji’s “cultural tourism” campaign. 

Hawaii has always been a magnet for cultural tourism. Visitors come for the traditional food, drink and hula dancing, as well as for the climate, scenery and outdoor activities. Among the most popular of these is snorkeling. The island of Maui is a snorkeler’s paradise, especially Honolulu Bay with its diversity of sea life.

In 1992 the Maui Chamber of Commerce launched an annual fund-raising trade dollar token program that is going strong to this day. Each token is good for local trade in the year it is made, and then its spending value is replaced by collectible value (typically $5 to $10 each).

The 1995 trade token reflects the beauty of Maluaka Beach with its sea turtles and coral reef fishes. The background has a breaching whale and palm trees. The phrase “Maui no ka ‘oi” found on every token means “Maui is the best.”

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