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Sunday, May 27, 2012

5/25/2012 Tatianna's Motu

5/25/2012 Tatiannas' Motu

We met Tatianna while walking down a street in Ngarumoava the one small village on Rangoria atoll. Bill and I and Ann of Blue Rodeo had been wandering the two streets of the village when we saw and heard a woman calling us from the doorway of her home "come on in, come visit." Her huge smile and happy gesturing lead us into a yard full of barking and through the front door of Tatiannas' home and store. Tatianna and her family own the only store on the island and also own and operate a black pearl farm along with several other family members. Tatianna loves people! She once worked for Air Tahiti and then spent years shepherding tourists on island excursions, later she became involved in the black pearl industry and traveled as a wholesaler representing the local black pearl farms. She and her husband Regis are the only people in Rangoria who speak English and boy does she like to talk. She proudly shows off her pearls, sell them when she can and loves to visit with the cruisers. Regis likes visitors too but he loves his wife and knows that if there are cruisers on the island he's probably going to find them sitting in his house.

When Regis returned from cutting lumber for the new garage -Raroia has only a handful of cars, ATV's and scooters but sports two beautiful 1/4 mile long smooth flat roads, a handsome airstrip and an airport for it's 150 people- there we were. Tatianna had already introduced us to her daughter, shown off her pearls -hundreds of them- explained pearl farming for us in detail, sold us cold drinks and invited us and our friends on Buena Vista back for a potluck dinner so off we went to arrange our potluck contributions. We returned at the designated time and shared cheese and crackers, chicken chow mien with rice, pulled pork on fresh bread, a veggie salad and in honor of my 51st Birthday two chocolate cakes! We talked and laughed and listened to music and Tatianna decided we should all go to her families' motu for a picnic in the morning.

Promptly at 7:30am(8:05 atoll time) she and Regis, their daughter, the family dog plus one puppy arrived alongside Island Bound to pick us up. We filled the boat with snorkel gear, spear guns, sun block and picnic goodies along with what looked like half of Tatiannas' kitchen. With quick stops at Buena Vista and BLue Rodeo we were quickly racing across the lagoon. Regis knows the lagoon well which was good because he loves to drive the family pearl farm boat at warp speed. Years of practice made picking our way through the reef bits and pearl buoys look easy and in just a few minutes our little group was safely across the lagoon and beached at Kon Tiki Island.

In 1947 Thor Heyerdals' Kon Tiki Expedition came to an end on a motu at Raroia. There is a monument and plaque commemorating the event though I don't think Heyerdals' group looked at it as a celebration. When they "landed" if there were people anywhere on the atoll they weren't likely to be of much help to the Kon Tiki other than possibly helping them not completely starve to death. The bit of sand and coconut treed ground the disappointed group dried off on lies on the eastern edge of the atoll on a motu that is not much larger than a city lot. It is covered with palms and brush, beautiful soaring white birds and the sound of the breaking ocean swell. There was a timeless feeling to the place, an eon's old rhythm of rising tide and drying reef circling again into crashing waves. The Tuamotu Islands are without a doubt extremely remote even now so Thor's group must have felt like they been deposited at the end of the world. Today you and I look around and see a tropical paradise and dream of hammocks,rum punch and romantic vacations Thor's' group would have been a bit more desperate.

From Kon Tiki Islands' pink sands we powered our way to Tatiannas' family Motu. Their own personal bit of privacy sits almost directly across the lagoon from the main village. It is co-owned by roughly 150 family members who now live scattered across French Polynesia. Tatianna and her family come for picnics and camp over's and have left a table and benches, a fire barrel and bits and pieces of kitchen gear. We dropped the anchor and stepped over the side into crystal clear water to ferry our gear ashore. The boys were off spear guns in hand to hunt for lunch and the ladies fell into step behind Tatianna for a walk around the motu to the reefs outer edge.

Out the beach, around the corner and over the drying reef. The tidal pools were full of life: tiny snails of every description, small fish, an octopus, bigger fish, sea cucumbers and silvery grey eels ranging from a eight or so inches long up to a writhing rope of a pair who were making baby eels. The big male was was nearly four feet long and as big around as my forearm. Sheltering in the tide pools the eels generally run when they can but will hold their ground and gape their mouths at you if they think it might scare you off. The distracted couple paid us no mind until we were nearly on top of them before the male turned to run and the female slithered into the nearest rocky nook. I have only known them as underwater creatures to watching them in the tide pools was amazing. They move along in mere inches of water at an alarming rate and when the water runs out they dart across long stretches of bare reef looking for the sea.

After crossing over the reef gap between Tatiannas motu and it's neighbor we made our way out to the outer reefs edge. There we walked the tide pools and hunted down food careful to keep and eye on the sea just beyond. With help we searched the reef for sea snails and took in all the life around us. Tatianna carried along her hammer and a chisel along with a couple of large bags for our harvest. We steadily picked snails while she told stories and instructed us in staying safe on the reef. "If a wave hits always keep your knees bent," "always keep one eye on the water, never turn your back on the waves." Tips that here are as common to them as "look both ways before you cross the street."

We scattered eels and brightly colored fish, picked up garbage, discovered a wayward weather buoy from South America and finally headed back to our picnic. On our way back Tatianna daughter spotted an octopus. Before anyone could speak she and her mom were bashing it to death with a hammer as it rolled and twisted and tried to get away. It was carried back to camp clinging to the hammer head while daughter kept hold of the handle in two fingers held out away from her body. Half way home she stopped to bash some more and finally still the last curling tentacles. It lay in a plastic tub at camp for the afternoon destined for Tatiannas' pressure cooker and dinner.

They look at things differently here. They have to, their context is entirely different from ours. The octopus was unsettling to the foreigners. All of us would have preferred encountering the puss while we were snorkeling or diving. We would have loved an opportunity to watch him in his natural environment and to maybe have the opportunity to play. They are known for their occasional interaction with humans and are purported to have the intelligence of a two year old. The octopus was already under attack before any of the three of us could even react. In their world it was dinner.

Food is food and life is life here. A supply ship comes once every six weeks to the atoll, electricity is still a relatively new arrival (solar power recently replaced a single village generator, cell phones arrived six years ago and internet one) and land is difficult at best to cultivate the life of the islanders revolves around finding enough food. The dog and puppy that accompanied us were another clear example: mama dog and Puna one of her nine pups are pets but four of Punas' siblings were sold for food to other villagers and four were put into a sack filled with rocks and drowned. Mama is well mannered and Puna is cuddled and watched after but if push came to shove there isn't much question. So we gathered and shelled snails, stoked a fire, opened oysters and clams, cracked urchin shells and tried everything raw -toes in the water heels in the sand. Tatianna coached us along and showed us the best bits to eat and the right stuff to throw away. The groupers were charred whole over a grate and served without utensils and everyone tried a bit of everything. The leftover birthday cake got a better reception.

At the end of the afternoon Tatiannas' daughter gave us a command performance of a routine she has taken to a celebration in Tahiti two years in a row. She was chosen to represent their atoll and flew with her father to perform in front of a crowd of French dignitaries and military, members of the Tourism Board and families from all over French Polynesia. She performed beautifully sharing in the language of her birth a story of strength, power and community, nature, commitment to the land and its people and of continued traditions of the people living in her islands. It was beautiful and we loved watching as her father made an instant costume out of palm frond's. One curled around her forehead a Statue of Liberty like crown and another a grass skirt. Mama watched with eyes full of love and pride. And we got it on tape! Full of grouper and cake, exhausted and really really hot from all the sun we stowed everything back in the pearl boat and headed for the village and the shade of our boats. A truly lovely afternoon, we will definitely tell our friends they need to stop and say hello to Tatianna and Regis and if they are lucky hitch a ride to her motu.


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5/24/2012 Raroia Atoll, Tuamotu Islands

5/24/2012 Raroia Atoll, Tuamotu Islands

We arrived at Raroia Atoll and dropped our anchor in the lagoon just off the village. It was our first reef pass entry and my bits of worry and concern disappeared under Bills piloting. Reef passes like the rapids in BC and Alaska tend to unnerve people. There is generally a great deal of planning and studying of tides and charts, careful checking for adjustments for daylight savings time or lack of and corrections for time zones. The quest is to transit during the slack tide or just after preferably as the tide begins to push against your direction of travel. This way you have your sails and engine power against no or slight current against you. Contrary to common logic you don't want to go with the flow if there is any because it can push you into something whereas having it slightly against you gives you maneuvering power.

For my non boating readers the reason reefs and passes unnerve us is that tidal water has huge force. As the tides change the water changes direction and any place where water is pushed through narrow tracts those forces result in strong currents. Some currents can run much faster than a cruising boat engines can go. So if you're trying to go one way and the water wants to send you another way AND you're in a narrow passage way with rocks, reefs, shorelines, sandbars or bridges nearby one can suddenly discover that land is not your friend -with disastrous results. Needless to say anticipation of these passages can be unnerving. To add to any real threat we have made it our mission to read two kinds of books extensively: cruising guides which point out the dangers of every pass, reef and charted rock and Disaster at Sea stories that depict the worst that nature and human error can produce.

I have a theory that explains the discrepancy between the possibilities for disaster the books warn us of and the reality of actually piloting your boat through said hazards. The disaster at sea books most of us devour focus on the danger and heroics -that sells books. So we fill our minds with worst case scenarios and the best that Mother Nature can possibly throw at us. The cruising guides we rely on are often decades old. The authors compile their own experience onto the older experiences and obviously no author would write a book and not tell you about the possibility for danger that was passed on to them. SO the threat is repeated again and again regardless of the fundemental changes in cruising itself.

A simpler way to say it is that today we have big engines and stronger sails and gear. The boats in use when cruising was coming of age often had no axillary engine at all or relied on a small outboard or later had small diesels that were originally designed to be tractor motors or car engines. We have a 75 horse, fuel injected monster that can push our 32,000 pounds at 8 knots! We have GPS, depth sounders, satellite imaging, chart plotters, extensive tide and weather programs, GRIB files, email and sat phones for current weather, VHF and HF radios and Google Earth. Redundancy in the systems we rely on is the norm rather than the exception. The way we cruise today and the boats we do it in are simply better able to handle what was once much more dangerous. The warnings were posted because boats couldn't power through much current or easily measure depths. All of this combines and the lurking dangers are more easily handled and less likely to be a real difficulty at all.

Now I have to tell you that I wouldn't have come to this theory if I hadn't been forced to. You see since our first pass (which we did by the book with all the pre planning and deciphering) we have never once gone through a pass at the suggested "right" time. We always arrive too early and then look around and decide it doesn't look that bad. Or rather captain Bill looks around and decided it doesn't look too bad. Once or twice we have arrived late whereas Bill takes a look and decides it doesn't look too bad and off we go. The first time or three I was sure he was quite out of his mind and was about to kill us both. Didn't the books say we ~should~ only transit at specific times? But each time we had no problem. Nothing, nada. With all the warnings and caveats read and considered in the end our big 44 foot 32,000 pound boat with our big healthy engine putts right through.

I should say a couple of other things. First a disclaimer: this may not be your experience and if you end up dashed upon the rocks do not blame me. Second and more importantly Bill has in fact done all the homework, checked all the tables, double checked the time zones, overlaid the satellite image knows where the reef lies and the sand bar curves and has talked to half a dozen other captains and HAS A BACK UP PLAN for getting us out. He always has a back up plan. The key is in the ignition in the on position, the anchor is free to drop, the lines are clear to hoist sail and he's decided already if the pass is wide enough to turn around and abort. He is the first to say hey this doesn't look good but in all truth that has never been the case in a pass of any kind. Second I don't just assume that all the possibilities have been considered. I read everything pertinent, talk to the other sailors, ask questions and am not shy about saying...'umm, Bill? You did read about this in Charlie's Charts didn't you?" ...about the giant lurking rock by the third palm tree....if you ignore it you will sail off the edge of the earth and be eaten by dragons....didn't you?

The anxiety of course can notch up when you realize you are not a 20minute call away from the USCG or Vessel Assist and that if you put a 32,000 pound fiberglass boat onto a coral reef the surf will pound you into fiberglass shards before anyone is going to be around to even attempt to drag you off said reef and that sometimes there is simply no dragging. These days the disasters at sea are not caused by hitting reefs while trying an informed considered transit. Mother nature has to take her share of the catastrophes but more disasters are the direct result of a cascade of problems. "A" leads to "B" leads to "C." Or lastly the one we all dread the most: human error and inattention to some detail. It's the way point entered incorrectly or the reef not seen that falls along your rumb line or the cap not tightened or screw that fell out and bounced soundlessly into the abyss. All of which certainly CAN happen while you are making a chosen transit. That is part of the pre planning and the reason there is a Plan B. Always.

Some of the wives especially get truly unnerved. Me I sort of enjoy the excitement. You get all revved up, the adrenalin pumps, you start in and the bow is pulled into the current, breaking water runs along off to starboard, the sound of rushing water intensifies and you hold on tight. You sort of hold your breath and watch as the world rushes by in a weirdly slow way (you are after all still only going well less than ten miles an hour.) The current grabs you, then you let out your breath as you see once again that your boat is up to the task. Your captain is manning the helm calmly, no bug eyes, no screaming, no white knuckles on the wheel. Then before you know it you're across and past and in this case chugging into an astoundingly beautiful South Pacific lagoon. You let out your breath, look around at the palm trees and the white sand and wonder where your swimsuit is and how soon you can slide into the water.


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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5/21/2012 Raroia, Tuomotu Islands, French Polynesia

5/21/2012 Raroia, Tuamotu Islands

We dropped our anchor in front of the small village on Raroia after a 72 hour, 423km passage from the Marquesas. It is my 51st Birthday and arriving at our first atoll is a pretty spectacular way to spend a birthday. Being an atoll means we had to enter through a pass, at slack tide, with the sun behind or directly above us -slack tide so there is no worry about making the gap in the reef without being dashed upon the rock and sun behind us so we could into the clear water well enough to avoid the same. We made such good time on this passage we had put on the brakes for the last 75 miles in order to run the pass at the right time. Our friends Ann and Mark on Blue Rodeo were no more than 20 minutes behind us and as Bill and I were taking down our mainsail they buzzed us singing Happy Birthday!

Our first reef pass turned out to be very much like running the rapids in BC and Alaska- read the charts, pick the right time, have a strong engine, be ready for difficulty and then hold your nose and jump. We closed all the windows, put the storm doors in the companion way, waited and watched the tide slacken and then rode it right through. Yea! Then we picked our way through the channel markers (all of which are backwards and or different from those in North America) and dropped our anchor in 60 feet of beautiful blue water.

The Tuamotu Islands were once known as the "dangerous islands." The islands are in fact atolls -chains of small islets around a lagoon,some with entry passes many without and so are very hard to spot from sea. They are sand and coral desert islands with palm trees that stand roughly 50 feet high. They don't loom out of the clouds from miles away like the Marquesan and Hawaiian islands but instead appear out of nowhere to the doom of many a voyager. They often have no fresh water supply, there is little other vegetation, no mountains or fruit trees or goats and pigs. This atoll has only a handful of residents and most work the black pearl farms. In the days before GPS most cruisers passed by far to the north rather than risk hitting a reef. Raroia is in fact where Thor Heyerdahl ended his Kon Tiki voyage when he hit the reef here. Now with the widespread use of GPS more ane more cruisers come here for the solitude and for the reef diving and coral gardens.

Friends on Buena Vista are due tomorrow and along with Blue Rodeo we will be traveling through the island chain for the next several weeks. For now though it's time for a piece of birthday chocolate and a nap.


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5/20/2012 Last Marquesas stop - Ua Poo, then off to the atolls of the Tuamotu.

5/20/21 Last Marquesas stop -Ua Poo, then off to the atolls of the Tuamotu

Our last stop in the Marquesas was the island of Ua Poo. We anchored for several days in the anchorage near the small town of Hakahau and then in a lovely little spot that hasn't made the cruising guides yet. The town stop meant another quick and painless check-in with the French officials, a meal out with friends and our last stop for fruit and veggies before the fruitless atolls of the Tuamotu. We will probably not see anything much for sale besides coconuts and canned meats until we arrive in Papeete. Tahiti sometime near the end of June.

Hakahau had a small town feel and small town friendliness. The locals helped us find the right place to tie up our dinghy and offered us the use of a fisherman's buoy and later in town we were given a ride back to the quay by a local who saw our overfilled bags. There was a beautiful church and cemetery to explore, the aisles of several small stores to peruse and fresh baguettes too. The post office offers internet through a prepay card system but the connection was so sketchy we could never actually get to email or through our other bits of business -I have been away from Google and Gmail now since the end of March!

The town was neat as a pin as is the norm for French Polynesia and every home had yards filled with flower and produce gardens and trees dripping with fruit. There were lots of kids here, even teenagers. The town boasts an elementary and middle school as well as a high school/technical school complete with dormitories making this town the place the kids get shipped too for school instead of shipped from. On our last day in town we discovered that the older kids have Wednesday afternoons off from school. It was easy to tell because when we got back from our town search for veggies there were kids everywhere on the quay.

Three teenage girls strode up and asked us if they could come and see the boat. A bit surprised we said yes and so Bill took me and our groceries out to the boat and then went back to pick up the girls while I made Tang. They were excited to come aboard that was easy to see. We gave a quick tour of the boat and they watched rather wide eyed. It was an interesting exchange while I passed around glasses of Tang and the girls settled into the cockpit to sip and chat. Only one of the gals was willing to try much of her English but as always the lack of a like language doesn't really seem to get in the way. I brought out a camera and took several pictures of them and then passed them the camera. Like in Fatu Hiva the kids loved the camera. They giggled and laughed and went through all the pictures on the disk. They loved looking at themselves and also really enjoyed the pictures of the party in Han Vave. After a few minutes of girl giggles and pantomime they wanted to go up on deck. The interest there became immediately clear when they began waving and calling across the anchorage to their friends left back on the quay.

Eventually the conversation wore out and the giggling dwindled so Bill took them back to shore. The plan was for an afternoon nap but that flew out the door as I saw our dinghy speeding back. At the helm of our little outboard was a teenage Marquesan, dinghy engine full out, Bill holding on and three other boys whooping and flashing the hang ten sign as they flew towards the boat. Turns out that when Bill arrived to drop the ladies off there were a bunch of kids there wanting a visit too. Dozens and dozens. Bill said he could only take three at which point a waterfall of boys all headed for the dink at top speed trying to beat out all the others. Three of the oldest made the leap over the rocks and into our little boat and with huge smiles and lots of shouting they were on their way.

The boys were much more animated though they spoke almost no English -at least to us. The Tang came out again along with a few packages of Mexican cookies which disappeared without a trace amid lots of grins and thank you's. They too took in the tour and the boys were very approving of Bills new six foot long spear gun (imagine a teenage boy version of Tim the Tool Man Taylor's man grunts)and then his guitar. One of the boys especially was very happy about seeing the guitar and with a bit more pantomime it was clear he would love to see it. I drug it out and passed it across and they guy immediately turned and moved back to the cockpit and began strumming. What a thing to see. He strummed and looked at us then turned to one of the other two boys and had a short conversation before the two of them launched into a beautiful song. No music, no practice but each time they ran out of a song they would say a rod or two, hum a bar while the player plucked his way through a couple of notes and off they went with their beautiful voices and amazing guitar playing.

We have read in the past about the Marquesan singing reputation. It is said that all Marquesans have a wonderful voice and several times the cruisers have questioned if that was true or if they just didn't allow the pitchy ones to open their mouths. Well now I think it is the later. Of the three boys only two sang and played. The other boy remained silent but for one song. That one song as they were belting it out was rousing and sounded like a drinking song in its enthusiasm. They allowed him to join in but then on the next selection he again remained silent.

After the music, cookies and Tang the boys also wanted to go on deck. Once there again the waving, yelling, laughing and smiling across the anchorage to a horde of other kids. Eventually it was time to get ready for snack time on S/v Mersolei so reluctantly the boys climbed back into the dinghy. The guitar player was once again at the helm and off they roared. When Bill returned he told me two things: 1. as soon as the boy had the outboard in hand -both trips- he was off headed towards the breaking surf until Bill talked him out of it and 2. once they turned the corner at the quay there were dozens and dozens of kids, more than 100 waiting for their turn! They really wanted a turn and poor Bill had to be pretty forceful in not taking a third batch out but in the end he escaped with his life and our dinghy safe and sound. Too bad we had to leave early the next morning because the guitar player was happily saying he would bring us mangoes, bananas, papaya, limes and pamplemousse as a thank you the next day after school. ~sigh~ We really could have used the fruit for the atolls of the Tuamotu.


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Monday, May 14, 2012

5/12/2012 Swimming with the Manta Rays

5/12/2012 Hanamoenoa Bay, Tahuata Island, Marquesas

I don't know how old I was, six or seven maybe the first time I went snorkeling but I definitely remember it. We were at Octopus Point on Hood Canal. My dad had commandeered the Terri II, grandpa's 16 ft runabout and we had zipped across "the canal" headed to wherever dad's childhood memories might take us. The snorkel gear was new and fascinating and the water was cold.
I know my whole family must have been there but all I remember was being astounded by the life under the surface. Octopus Point, which might actually be name dad made up, is rocky and remote. As the tide came in I hovered over the rocks watching little crabs scurry about, tiny fish dart back and forth in the tide and bits of sea grass float by and I was enthralled. It certainly made deep impression on me because I have loved to snorkel and now dive from that day on.

Now, living full time aboard our boat gives me plenty of opportunities to get in the water and in fact that has always been one of the draws to this lifestyle. I swam with the Whale Sharks in Bahia Concepcion and with an entire sea lion rookery in Bahia Refugio. Yesterday morning we slid off the side of our boat into water filled with Manta Rays!

Watching them from so close a distance, actually being able to reach out and touch one was an experience I will never forget. The Manta's were all roughly five feet from wingtip to wingtip. They have a long tail like a sting ray but no stinger to do you harm. They are plankton eaters so you don't have to worry about one deciding you would make a nice dinner and they are purported to have the brain capacity of a two year old.

They are amazing creatures to watch because they shift and change under you gaze. The shape of their mouths change shape and function when they feed vs when they are just hanging out. Their underside is bright white and also changes shape with feeding. When not feeding it is a big flat expanse that looks something like the bottom of a halibut or a sand dab. When they are feeding the whole body expands to accept the thousands of gallons of water they filter every day for food. The cut of the gills open up with the expansion and the gills make it look eerily like a human chest with prominent rib bones. They often swim along right at the surface with their great wing tips just barely peeking out on the upstroke so you can easily spot them. They really look like they should be flying in the sky, their graceful strokes so strong that when they pass you can feel the press of the displaced water roll over you.

When we first entered the water they stood off away from us but continued to feed. A few minutes later they seemed to have decided we weren't a threat and came much closer. As one came very close, shifting his path a smidge to glide under me I stretched out my arm and ran a single finger the length of his back. He didn't even flinch. Their body feels completely different from a fish. The skin is sandpaper rough but underneath is a layer of softness that gives until your pressing against muscle. If you have ever taken a CPR course with a Resusci-Annie doll, well a Manta Ray body feels like a live Resusci-Annie.

There are numerous accounts amongst the cruisers of Manta's allowing divers to ride on their backs and even more amazingly of playing little games of Mimicry. The human rolls over the Manta rolls over, the human does a pirouette the Manta does a pirouette. There have also been some fascinating studies set up to try and test their level of intelligence and why they seem to attach to some humans who present themselves in the Manta's home turf but not to others.

In Mexico the divers around San Benedicto noticed that a few of the giant Manta Rays seemed to pick out a single diver and then stick with them, even following them back to their boats or even coming to the boat early in the morning to say hello. To try and figure this out they put several divers in the water with distinctly different colored dive gear. One of the Mantas was definitely attached to one person over the rest. So, they pulled all the divers out of the water and had them switch dive gear. The Manta without hesitation returned to the same diver as soon as he was in the water. This in spite of a different colored face mask, large dive vest, and different colored air tank, fins and wet suits. Our Mantas were feeding and didn't stay to play but regardless it was a wonderful experience and one that I will look for again.

All the cruisers keep talking about sharks and where is safe and where it isn't safe to get in the water. Everyone seems to have differing opinion on which sharks are dangerous and which can be ignored and everyone seems to have at least one shark story to tell -none of which ever seem to have a truly happy ending. So I'll take Manta Rays any day and will continue to look for every opportunity to slide into the water to experience more wonders of the ocean-preferably the ones without big teeth.


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Thursday, May 10, 2012

5/7/2012 Cooking Lessons and Chief Kaati's Family Feast

5/7/2012 Cooking Lessons and Chief Kaati's Family Feast

Imagine answering a knock on your front door and finding two or four or ten foreigners standing on your front porch. They are barely able to speak your language but ask to come look at the paintings you do, the bookcase you're making, the jewelry you create or the sweater your knitting. You'd be gracious and friendly while they traipsed around your yard and garage asking questions and taking pictures of your pets and once they exclaimed over your apple tree you would fill their arms with fruit. Then offer to throw them a party and cook up oh, eight or ten of your best down home American dishes -for a small fee. What would you cook? Apple pie? Pizza? Hot dogs? Maybe an entire Thanksgiving meal? Well, that's one of the few way the Marquesans have to earn your tourist dollars and somehow we hit the jackpot when we met Chief Kaati.

We had already been to a pig roast in Hiva Oa with a swarm of cruisers and the family who cooked for us didn't share our meal and a another here in Fatu Hiva with another family who also didn't sit down to eat or interact with us really at all so when Chief Kaati "not a big chief just a little chief" made her offer none of our group of ten was terribly interested. Then Ann on Charisma had a brilliant idea: would Kaati teach us how to cook a few of the local dishes? That sounded much more interesting and we all really liked Kaati and her family. Conversation, negotiation, logistics and menu ensued but then we discovered that the only day all of us would be able to attend would be the next night and that was her 8 year old grand daughters birthday. No problem she said, Ok....sounds fun.

The next day at two o'clock myself, Anne, Ann, John, Lisa and Pat arrived at the carving shed (the others would join us later for the eating) ready to learn how to cook breadfruit, bananas, Poisson cru, banana leaf baked fish, coconut chicken, roasted chicken and green papaya salad. But first a walk across town to Kaati's new house while her husband, brother and son drive on ahead with a the pickup loaded down with wood for fires, pots, pans and buckets full of the half prepared dishes. The house at the carving shed turned out to be Kaati's old house her new house befitting the village Chief was across town. We had noticed it a previous day and it stood out looking very prosperous and official. It was very new construction with wood siding and tile floors, a flat screen TV, large kitchen and a big cement floored covered outdoor gathering area.

We arrived with a flurry of activity. The tables were set up, benches brought in, pots and pans unloaded and carted to tables or kitchen and fires started in both a pit and a grill. The kids were running around and through and everyone was chatting and talking and taking pictures. A few of the cruisers had brought small things along with them for the birthday and it wasn't long before the kids were the center of attention- the cooking was going to have to take a back seat. Pat on The Rose had a pocketful of balloons and the kids swarmed like bees. Each of the kids got a balloon or two and soon the walls were decorated for the celebration.

Then of course the cameras came out to take the requisite vacation photos but every child wanted to learn how to work a digital camera and soon the yard and house were filled with directors for the day. Literally hundreds of photos were taken by the kids -every battery eventually went dead- as the children posed and grouped, giggled and gawked taking picture after picture after picture. Out the window went the vacation pictures of chicks and pigs, breadfruit fires and coconut making. The kids loved taking pictures of each other and us. One little girl using my point and shoot came running back to me intent on taking my photo with her sister -upside down!

As guests, several of us had brought gifts for the birthday girl. I brought along a giant bubble wand we had picked up in Mexico so while the cooking began in earnest the gaggle of little girls whirled around us blowing bubbles, taking pictures and batting balloons back and forth.
The next few hours flew by in a blur of food and children and the scents and sounds of a happy family. It was the Marquesan version of pre-holiday preparations at Grandmas house and we had been invited in like family. The brother and son brought out a guitar and a ukulele which then was picked up every time there was a lull in the cooking business. The yard was filled with crowing roosters and chickens with chicks and there was a big pink pig snuffling and snorting and hoping to get a bite of what we were preparing.

Finally everything was ready and the guests had straggled in: Bill, Mark, Bob, John and Craig walked up from the anchorage to join us and handful of neighborhood kids appeared for the birthday party. The end of the main table quickly filled with kids as the rest of us sat down to eat. Surprisingly Kaati and the rest of the grown ups left us there at the table to eat alone -turns out it was voting day and they had to cast their vote by 6:00pm.-leaving us there to mind the kids and the food.

When they returned and their meals were through it was time for music. The kids all sang along with guitar and ukulele and boy do they like to sing. The grown ups took turns on the instruments and more and more kids joined in from around the neighborhood. The singing was loud and happy and all in Marquesan save for one round of Cumbiya' thrown in for the Americans. Then a pause in the music and out came the birthday cake lit with candles just like home. Everyone sang a round of what must have been Happy Birthday before the birthday girl blew out the candles and glowed in the attention.

Once the cake was passed around the birthday girl stepped into the limelight. She began to dance and was clearly having a wonderful time. Several of the smaller girls danced off behind her in the shadows but the spotlight was all hers. At eight she was already an accomplished dancer and her family glowed with pride while she danced. Her fluttery skirt had definitely been chosen for just this moment and she loved the spotlight. Grandma sat quietly off in a corner with a beaming smile on her face enjoying the moment and obviously filled with pride for the Birthday Girl and her whole family.

The evening began to wind down as the neighborhood kids headed home with their balloons and cake. We had been there for nearly six hours and it was time to get back to our boats. All of us were totally blown away by the experience and couldn't stop smiling as Kaati and her son loaded us up with leftovers -just like Grandma's house back home! As we walked through the village back to our boats we couldn't stop talking about how much fun we had and how we had felt pulled right up into the middle of this wonderful family. We couldn't have asked for a better last night on Fatu Hiva and for the record I really did learn how to prepare a Marquesan feast.

Breadfruit: This volley ball sized bumpy green fruit has a significant stickiness when picked. The whole breadfruit is first soaked in water for a day then cooked in coals in an open pit. Once they are burned black on the outside you grab one with a wet leaf and using a knife cut the thick outer skin off leaving the white starchy meat inside steaming hot and tasting like mashed potatoes. (This is the starch staple of French Polynesia and the plant that sent Captain Cook though the islands for his second expedition and ultimately his death. )
Backed Chicken: Kaati used legs and thighs plopped into a large pan. She poured oyster sauce then soy sauce and fresh lemon before baking in the oven for about an hour.

Green Papaya Salad: Peel the green papaya and then finely grate. Serve with a simple vinaigrette -oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard and a bit of lemon.

Coconut Milk: For this we were off to the back yard with the boys. They made the first step easy by using their handy dandy Popeal coconut shredder which marvelously made confetti out of ten coconuts. Then for the milk we poured plain hot water over the shredded coconut and let it sit for a bit. Then we pulled big heaping hands full out of the mush then splooshing it down in the middle of a tangle of coconut husk fibers. The fibers where then wrung out like a dishtowel into a large pot. The wrung out nut meat was set aside to take back to the new mama pig at the carving shed and the pot of milk was poured a cup or two at a time through the husks to strain out any bits and pieces of shell.

Banana Leaf Grilled Fish: First send someone out to catch you some fresh fish. Wrap the pieces in banana leaves that have been soaked in water and then wrap in tin foil before setting on the grill.

Poisson Cru: Cut fresh caught tuna into bite sized pieces. Pick twenty limes off the tree in your back yard. Slice them and then juice them into a bowl removing the seeds. Just before serving!!!! put about 6 cups of fish into a serving bowl and spoon three tablespoons of the fresh lime juice over the top followed by about a cup of your coconut milk. This dish is similar to ceviche but the fish is left in the lime juice for a very short period of time. Kaati's Poisson Cru was simply fish, lime juice and coconut milk but many people add cucumber, tomatoes, green onion, celery or what have you to the mix. (This dish is a staple and signature dish of French Polynesia and is usually made out of tuna. It is quite similar to ceviche.)

Chicken with Coconut and Papaya: First steam big pieces of thinly sliced green papaya for about 3 minutes. Then lay the steamed papaya over already cooked chicken pieces. Pour coconut milk over the top and simmer over the stove for 30 or 40 minutes. Pour a fresh bit of coconut milk over the top just before serving.

Baked Bananas: Cook the bananas in their peel along the edges of your breadfruit cooking pit. Peel and serve alone or in a bowl with a wash of fresh coconut milk.

Finally: For the whole effect finish your meal with Birthday Cake for the whole neighborhood!


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5/6/2012 Tiki Shopping in Hana Vave

5/6/2012 Tiki SHopping in Hana Vave

Our second day in town our goal was to be invited in to see either the work of a traditional carver or to see the women making Tapa cloth. So armed with my Marquesan hello "ka OH ha" we set off into town. We stopped again at the community store and eventually hit on the magic word: Tiki. Soon we were following a smiling man along a winding lane not quite sure what were would find. Evidently we were at the right place at the right time because we ended up at the Chiefs home where she employs three men (all relatives) to work full time in her carving shed. They carve traditional figures out of native hardwoods. We spent probably forty five minutes there though we didn't buy anything. The men were eager to talk and even more eager to show off their beautifully sculpted objects.
There were definitely beautiful tiki's but they also began pulling out carved manta rays, turtles, traditional masks, bowls, platters, ceremonial paddles and war clubs from first a trunk and then fro all over their home. One carver was working on a sort of free form three dimensional piece: a flowing wood seascape with a separate manta ray. WOW.

After leaving them we were met along the lane by another family. They had carvings, jewelry and dried bananas for sale. We bought bananas but passed on the art and headed farther into town. Next came a woman just out it seemed for a stroll and trying to act uninterested but as we closed in she smiled at our "ka OH ha" and then said shyly, Tiki? We'd been found out. The whole island seemed to open for us. Every carver, tapa cloth maker, jewelry maker, carvers momma and tapa grandma was happy to show us to their work shed.

The people here work all year making their art and then once a year it is loaded up on a ship and sent to the Expo in Papeete, Tahiti for sale to collectors and importers from all over the world. They ship dried bananas by the gross, tons of carvings and stack after stack of Tapa cloth. Other than the one small store which must only employ a worker or two the local arts are the only game in town. Carving, making tapa, offering traditional dinners to visitors, fishing and Noni plantation workers (Noni is a plant cultivated for it's medicinal properties) are the only income producers for the entire island. Accordingly nearly every household has a carving shed or a place where the women pound out the Tapa cloth from the bark of three local trees. We followed brothers, mothers and cousins up and down almost every little lane in town and no one seemed bothered by our one noun one verb conversations. Eventually we bought a carved turtle and a rosewood mask and later a serving tray. We made friends everywhere we went and every families was welcoming regardless of whether or not we decided to buy something. Definitely a great way to kick start our South Pacific adventure. Thanks Fatu Hiva.


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5/5/2012 Fatu Hiva

5/5/2012 Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Archipligo

Tucked far out of the way to the south west makes visiting Fatu Hiva a bit of a commitment. Cruising boats are required to check-in at either Hiva Oa or Nuka Hiva before visiting any other islands so the 50 mile backtrack upwind after the long passage it took to get here looks like a lot of work. Consequently many cruisers don't bother with this tiny little gem in favor of following the flow on eastward. Missing this island though amounts to visiting Paris and not seeing the Louvre.

I am sorry I am unable to download pictures for you but if you have a free minute to Google Fatu Hiva it's definitely worth the click. The pictures you are most likely to see will be of the Bay of Virgins named for the thrusting rock formations that are prominent around the village of Hana Vive. The bay was originally called the Bay of Penises but in the quest to save souls the missionaries decided that was entirely too savage and needed to be changed. The islanders didn't really embrace the new name and the rocks of course kept their shape so its sort of becomes a mute point.
Like Hiva Oa this island was formed when a volcano erupted in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Eventually the volcanoes' cone cracked leaving one narrow slice of the crater wall a ragged and rocky break open to the sea. Time then turned the barren rock to a lush tropical island. There are only two small villages with a 15 kilometer road connecting them, no airstrip, or hospital, no cruise ship dock and no French Gendarmes.

The valley that climbs quickly from the quay at bays head up into the crater of the long dead volcano is home to the village of Hana Vave. Nearly all the villagers who live on the island were born here and many have never been out of the Marquesas, some have never left the island. There are 42 homes in the village. The houses are modest but neat with tidy yard filled with flowers, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, chickens and commonly pigs. There is one small store in town, a post office, grade school and a church. Small lanes tie everything together around the river and the two roads out of town merge up and over the crater wall northward to Omoa the only other village on the island.

Our first day on the island we walked through the village and valley like tourists: mouths agape, head tilted upwards oohing and aahhing our way up as we went. I had learned the Marquesan word for hello "ka OH ha" and decided to try that with a smile on the locals. The single word of hello -actively and ardently corrected- instantly began opening the island to us.
The little yellow store was open so we stepped inside: 20 x 20, two sides bracketed with half empty shelves, one drink cooler-3/4 empty, two deep freezers and a small counter. We bought a couple of cold drinks and armed with our tiny vocabulary of French and our single Marquesan word we tried out our communication skills. Eventually with plenty of arm flapping, finger pointing and Spanglish speaking mime we managed a dialog of sorts.

The clerk behind the counter stayed silent and wary but an older gentleman named Daniel honed in with a request. He fingered and pointed at a key lanyard around his neck and offering fruit from his property if we might have one to trade. Surprisingly on the boat I had several tucked away with the thought that I might use the bits of webbing so I promised I would look and come back for a trade the next day. Figuring we were all on a roll we kept up the conversation and Daniel segued into an obvious inside joke. He mimed shooting a gun and pointing to the hills with a wicked grin then stepped around the corner out of sight of the clerks and put his finger to his lips in an exaggerated :shhhhhhhhhh." He took great joy in the exchange and later we watched as he played it out with numerous other cruisers.

We could never quite tell if he truly wanted to know if we carried a gun, or perhaps had bullets to trade or was offering to take us goat hunting. Or was he making a joke about the incident last year when a local man offered to take a Dutch cruiser goat hunting. That was the last the man was seen alive and his bones were found in a smoldering campfire. All anxiously reported as the first incident of cannibalism in the Marquesas in decades. We declined the offer but chose to accept it as a friendly cross cultural exchange.

From there we set off up the valley on a road that wound along a small river. The road slowly gained steepness as we walked through the break in the crater wall. In less than a mile we were surrounded on all sides by the bowl of the massive crater. It was a stunning vision looking up around us knowing that at one time this was a glowing, steaming, fire belching, lava flowing monster. The black rock stands out from the indescribable shades of green and everywhere you look there is nothing but up. We never found the waterfall mentioned in the guidebook that we had set off to see but the view was worth the walk. The craters ridge seemed to never get closer and eventually the heat and the switchbacks made us turn back.

Once back on the boat I sat in the cockpit staring at the beauty surrounding our little boat and couldn't help but think about the lives they live here. Fatu Hiva is often referred to as the most beautiful island on earth so if you were born and raised here would you're mind have a hard time imagining that not everyone in the world lives in a place of beauty? Imagine flying to say East L.A.! If you traveled off the island would the rest of the world disappoint you?


(I learned later that most of the young men from these islands spend a stint in the French Military and most end up serving in Afghanistan. It boggles my mind just thinking about that.)

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands

4/27/2012 Hiva Oa, Marquesas Archipelago

Close your eyes and conjure up the image you had as a kid of a tropical paradise: high lush mountains, rushing waterfalls, bananas and coconuts growing wild, mangoes dripping from trees, papaya ripening in the sun and pigs running wild in the woods. Now throw in dark haired women with Frangipani flowers tucked behind an ear, big brawny men covered with tattoos and smiling giggling children -that's the Marquesas, our first landfall after 23 days at sea.

The dark of night robbed us of our "Land Ho" moment but waking up as the sun rose, drenched in the scent of land with the dark silhouette of Hiva Oa peaking through the cloud cover was still a moment to treasure. The scent is amazing after so many days at sea: a rich intense combination of dark earth, jungle dampness, hints of flowers and smoke all layered over the clean scent of the sea. The scent changes subtly every time the island is washed with tropical showers -which happen often- or when you step from mid day sun into the comfort of deep shade. The smell is simply luscious. I wish I could bottle it up and keep it with me so then whenever I opened the stopper I would have my fix and be transported instantly back to these islands.

We motored in as the sun rolled its way up and had the quarantine flag up and the hook dropped by nine. We just missed a ride to the Gendarmerie and expected to be confined to quarters for a day but our agent Sandra said we should grab a ride into town and find a fresh croissant before we took a much earned nap. Twist my arm!

We are anchored in Taahuka Bay, nestled at the base of a stunningly beautiful valley. The town of Atuona, the larger of the two villages on Hiva Oa is a two mile walk or hitch away. There is a melody of roosters from the moment the sun begins to rise and beautiful turtle doves flitting from the branches. Horses stand in the street and goats and pigs hide in the underbrush. There really are small groups of locals playing ukulele and singing in the shade during the afternoons and most evenings bring paddling practice to the anchorage -the brightly colored plastic outriggers flying over the water with a cadence shouted from the aft seat. Town essentially closes down tight from 12:30 to 2:30 every day except for the "Snack Snack" where you can get a cold drink, a very expensive snack and a short lesson in French and Marquesan.

The town of Atuona is surprisingly modern. There are three or four grocery stores, one restaurant, a cemetery where the French artist Paul Gauguin is buried, a patisserie, a post office, bank and hardware store. Wi-Fi comes if you sit on a bench in front of the store across the street from the post office. There is no bus service so the 2 mile trip into town is by foot or by thumb. Our first trip ashore we were caught in an island shower and were soaked to the skin in a blink. We must have looked pretty pathetic because when we decided to try hitchhiking we were picked up right away but on our way back to the boat in the sunshine no one answered the call of our thumbs. Since then we have learned the tricks to hitching: you must be thoroughly committed and enthusiastic to hitchhike here. Just sticking out your thumb as you trudge along gets no result but if you turn around to face the oncoming vehicle and fling your arm out and smile like an idiot you are soon whisked up the hill in a very French silence.

Speaking of which, we really miss being able to speak the language. It's clear now that we were relatively proficient with our Spanish and equally clear that we know next to no French and no Marquesan. Our tiny vocabulary of words: hello, goodbye, thank you, please, yes, no, ham, cheese, baguette, tattoo, taboo and idiot don't allow for much of a conversation. Worse, the day we arrived we could barely come up with bon jour. Neither of us took French in school so we don't even have a rudimentary grasp of the pronunciation. The French quietly sneer at our attempts but the Marquesans seem pleased to help us with our tries and it never fails to get a grin or a giggle out of them.

The tourist season here is almost nonexistent. For reason unknown Tahiti is the only port of entry into all of French Polynesia. Travel to all other islands in French Polynesia requires a trip to Tahiti and then a second ticket to your destination. The inter-island fares are very high and the Marquesas are at the farthest reaches. A ticket here will cost you as much as your original airfare from the US and flights are heavily booked and often unavailable. The only alternative is an inner island cargo boat or sailboats like ours.

Every spring for a few short weeks a small fleet literally drifts in from Mexico, Panama and California on their way through to other destinations. The Marquesas don't even draw any of the lucrative business of international divers because the islands have little in the way of reefs or coral and as a bonus the waters are full of sharks. All this has left these islands and her people virtually untouched by the business of tourism.

We wanted to meet the locals and hopefully experience a bit of island life so Bill asked our agent Sandra if there was anything going on in town that we could attend. She was perplexed but then came up with two ideas: we could meet her at quarter of two at the dinghy dock and she would take us to see her daughter dance group and the next night her husband who makes guitars would be meeting with some friends to play music and we could tag along with him if we wanted to.

The dance group turned out to be a dance class. Twenty or so gals age 6 to 40 who meet weekly at the community activity center. They were a mix of French and Marquesan and they performed in groups mostly divided by age. They seemed surprised that we were there but basically ignored us and went about their business. The instructor would cue up a song from a computer and a group would dance then sit down and let the next group perform. Between dances the younger girls practiced a game that I could never quite understand. It was played with a single strand length of elastic band that was held by two girls like a jump rope. The girls would take turns running to it as if they were about to do a jump rope routine but then would jump over and grab the elastic with their foot in a sort of toes version of cat's cradle.

I did make one interesting observation at dance class: the French don't have the hips for dance that the Polynesian's do. Even the littlest girl with long dark hair and liquid brown eyes had a jiggle in her wiggle that doesn't seem possible to duplicate. About half of the gals were French and even the ones who were otherwise great dancers simply are not in the same league with the Polynesian's. Our small glimpses whet our appetite for the summer Fete (party) in Bora Bora we hope to attend. There, every year for a couple of weeks the best of the best from islands all over FP go to sing, dance and paddle in competitions that are highly competitive. It's definitely a don't miss celebration.

The music with Sandra's husband David turned out to be interesting. We invited several other boats to come with us telling them that David makes guitars and meets with friends to play music every week. We expected island music and ukulele and guitar. What they were playing was rock-n-roll; electric guitars, amps, drum kit and electric keyboard. It was good don't get me wrong it just wasn't at all what we expected. Like the dance class they had a talent for moving along with their evening as if we weren't there at all. David picked us up and drove us to the community center then no one spoke to us or said "you should sit over there" or anything at all. We slipped off our shoes and grabbed some chairs and listened politely but eventually it turned into a cruiser gab fest with a little dancing thrown in for fun. The dance class gals and David I think didn't really know what to do with us. Oh well ever onward and you never know if you don't ask.

Friday night we attended our first pig roast. A local came down to the anchorage and said if we could gather together at least ten of us he would roast a pig for us at his house -twenty five yachties signed on. We were picked up in batches and ferried to John and Mary Jo's house. Were they served us pit roasted pig and goat, breadfruit, roasted bananas, bananas in coconut milk, dumplings, baguettes and "Poisson Cru"( the FP version of ceviche.) After dinner their daughter danced for us and did the expected grabbing of the uncoordinated old white folks and dragging them in to dance. It was fun and interesting to taste the local food and we met some boats we hadn't had time to yet but it wasn't a chance to experience a real fete. Hopefully we will be able to wrangle an invitation to some local celebration once we are out of the "city."

After meeting John and Mary Jo we decided to take one of Mary Jo's cross island tours. It was an all day van trip along with friends from two other boats from the anchorage. Our first stop was at the Taaoa mare on the south side of the island. One of two on the island it is a ceremonial site that was carved out of the earth and built with the local volcanic black rock. The mare's were for people of high class and rank only - no women allowed. The remains of the complex is scattered over a few acres of land high in the hills. There are specific places to worship, to make sacrifices, to eat, to gather and to sleep. According to Mary Jo the only people who were eaten were enemy warriors and it was for both ceremonial purposes and as food. The Chief decided who was eaten and who wasn't and there was something akin to power that was transferred with the sacrifice of an enemy. She explained too that the act of cannibalism in the islands was never a harvesting- the hunters weren't coming home from a good hunt. The cannibalism was a byproduct of war in which only those of high rank would participate (no women allowed.) Though to those being sacrificed and eaten the ceremony and exactly who was going to eat them probably didn't really matter.

After the mare at Taaoa we drove across the island to Puamau the only other town on the island and the sight of the other significant mare. It took several hours to reach and Mary Jo stopped often for breath taking views and presentations of various plants and fruits. We gathered and nibbled on breadfruit, giant grapefruit, limes, bananas and coconuts, drank green coconut water, and saw hundreds of trees dripping with mangos, jackfruit, papaya and several others I can't name. We drove along paved roads, gravel roads, dirt roads and then amazingly fir trees. We topped out into the clouds unable to see even a glimpse of the water. We careened around steep corners and putted up switchbacks watching the goats scamper up the sheer rock face. The birds' song was amazing in the woods and there were wild horses all through the hills.

The mare in Puamau is the biggest in the island and dates back at least 2000 years. It is similar to the mare in Taaoa but has the lofty distinction of being home to the largest tiki west of Easter Island. There were several standing tiki's there as well as the organized outline of the original spaces for worship, celebration and sacrifice. The grounds are so lush and beautiful. The islanders leave them tended but as nature has left them but to my eyes they looked almost landscaped. There were more shades of green there than I knew existed. For the islanders the words to describe the shades of green must be like the words for snow for Eskimos. There is just no way to describe the colors. The black volcanic rock is a sharp contrast against the vines and leaves. Every imaginable color is represented in the variegated leaves and the multitude of flowers all towered over by fifty foot fruit trees.

Tomorrow we are off to the island of Fatu Hiva an 8 hour passage to the southwest. Yep, despite the illusion that we have all the time in the world to explore the South Pacific as US citizens we are only allowed 90 days in all of French Polynesia: which means a whirlwind tour of the Marquesas, the Tuomotus and the Society Islands that will keep us on the move through the end of July. After having Hiva Oa as our destination for so long it feels a little empty to know we will probably never come this way again. The only way back really is to go all the way to Hawaii across to the States and back down the coast -again- to California or Mexico, then another long passage.
But then again....who knows? kat

P.S. Sorry I can't add pictures via our Hamm radio so for pictures you will have to try our Face Book page. You can find us at Face Book by searching my email or under 'BillandKat Russell'

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