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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012, 08-16 American Samoa We have been anchored in the main harbor near Pago Pago for more than two weeks now enjoying all that is Samoa. The main island of Tutuila in American Samoa is an interesting mix of a Polynesian tropical paradise and your typical anywhere US of A. We have US dollars in our pockets again and are spending them on all the familiar products we haven’t seen in the nineteen months we have been out of the states. We while away the hours in McDonald’s or Carl Jr's catching up on internet tasks and we can order in boat parts and pick them up at the local branch of the US Postal Service. Nearly everyone speaks English in addition to the Polynesian dialect of Samoan which makes for easier communication, a huge bonus. Twenty months of struggling with language gave us a real appreciation for the sound of English coming from the mouths of the locals. There is a small concentration of cruisers who have welcomed us and kindly shared their knowledge and helped us find our way around the island and the culture. Much like Mexico many cruisers get stuck here in what is the largest protected bay in all of the South Pacific. Being an American Territory it is one of the few places in the South Pacific where US citizens can stay indefinitely. As an added benefit visits to doctors and dentists are readily available and the costs are highly subsidized by our own tax dollars. Making it a great place to take advantage of resident medical care. Twenty seven months away from Seattle has made getting routine medical care difficult. We are simply never anywhere long enough to wait for an appointment then follow through the system of visits and rechecks, tests, results, specialists referrals, diagnosis, treatment and follow up. Here we were around long enough for Bill to have a second diagnosis and treatment for a simply skin problem and to take advantage of a free pap and mammogram program. I also had my hearing tested to confirm my suspicions of hearing loss -see Bill I told you I wasn't ignoring you and yes your voice hits right in the middle of the range of sound that is strangely “gone.” Our stop here almost didn't happen. As we move along we make choices at every new junction. The choices are influenced by available time, relevant distances, weather, seasons, reports from friends and what we read in the guidebooks and online cruising compendiums written by other cruisers. We had read pretty mixed reviews about Samoa. Reportedly the harbor water was polluted and thick with trash, the towns dirty and the people unfriendly and the remnants of missionary Christianity still so pervasive that the culture could be stifling. On the other hand there would be a US Post Office within walking distance that accepts General Delivery packages: the lure of General Delivery won out, thankfully. So, here is the real scoop. Yes the harbor water is dark and peaty but it comes rolling down off the nearby mountains through lush tropical vegetation AND it's cool enough here that it's not mandatory to be in and out of the water all day long simply to stay cool. Yes there are some issues here with trash but it seems to be something the whole island is working on and the problems are actually much better than some of the places we have visited. There is an occasionally problem that is uniquely Pago Pago's -pronounced “pahngo pahngo.” Periodically the Charlie the Tuna canning company needs to vent their boilers which releases an airborne stench that could peel paint. The odor is periodic and if the winds are blowing quickly disappears. It is the smell of thousands of tons of rotting tuna carcasses, blood meat and offal superheated and released into the air and to the uninitiated nose can literally wake you from a dead sleep. The tuna fleet here is one of the largest in the world but growing smaller by the fish. There used to be four canneries but Starkist is the last and long ago stopped dumping tons of fleet waste directly into the harbor -thank God! SO the stories were true but not and so far we have accepted the occasional stench in exchange for the other joys of the Samoan Way. Which brings us to their culture. The Samoan Way is still alive and well. They are kind and gentle people and they have a pride and delight in sharing their islands. Virtually everyone we speak to one on one makes a point to welcome us to their island and are immensely pleased when we tell them we are enjoying ourselves here. They love our attempts at Samoan and seem pleased to see us out exploring their island. There are customs to watch for and ways of acting which are important to the Samoan and we do our best to fit in. Among the things that we have learned that are different: No one eats and drinks as they are walking along or on the bus or inside any business. When asked we were told that if your going to take the time to eat you should give yourself a little “me time.” The buses n't run at on on Sundays and they stop for the nights after their 6pm run the rest of the week. Most of the shops close down for lunch from 12:30 to 1:30 each day and after six in the evening except for taxi's and restaurants. The daily rush hour occurs around 2:00pm when the schools let out for the day. Early evening is out and about time when the ball fields and volley ball courts fill up or people walk around together or sit on stoops resting in the shade and visiting. Sundays are church and family day period. The missionary work done in the South Pacific really took hold here in the Samoa’s. Church life is suck a big part of the culture that in polite conversation the question of “what church do you attend?” is number three right behind what is your name? And “Are you from off island.” It strongly influences how they act and what they wear and to a big extent how they spend their days. There is no shortage of choices for church membership, in fact it is reported that there are far more pew seats on the island than there are seats to fill them. Most of the churches meet several times each Sunday and numerous times over the week. In some of the smaller villages it is still not only mandatory that you attend your village church but that you attend all three or four Sunday services. Many villages also still observe an short evening period of worship right before sundown when everyone stops and prays for a few minutes. If you are unobservant enough to be walking or driving about during this time appointed enforcers will stop you and insist you pause silently until the minutes pass. The only clear division between the multitude of church choices seems to be whether you choose a church that meets on Saturday or Sunday. If you see someone swimming on a Sunday you can bet they attend a Saturday church. On our first weekend in town I was sitting under a tree across the street from the Methodist Church making a phone call home on what turned out to be White Sunday. As the services ended the parishioners began to trickle out of the front doors and down the wide front steps and each member was dressed head to tow in white. What a beautiful sight. The ladies were all wearing the traditional Samoan two piece dress topped off with a white straw or silk hat many of which were covered with white flowers. The men wore button down collared shirts over the traditional lava lava ( a skirt like covering tied at the waist) and many held hats in hand. Even the little children were dressed all in white. It was definitely beautiful but all I could think of was the laundering logistics involved. We leave American Samoa in a few days, our next stop Western Samoa. It will be interesting to see the differences between the two Samoa’s. We will fuddle through a change to yet another new currency and try and train our ears around English with a Kiwi twang. We will try and complete a radar repair before heading on to Tonga (it's whale season in Tonga!!!) and will spend the next few weeks studying up on the choices we will have to make as we move north into Kiribati and then on into The Marshall Islands. ~hugs~ kat

Friday, August 17, 2012

2012, 7-29 Suwarrow Atoll, Cook Islands Our stop at Suwarrow surprised us by turning into one of the best stops yet in the South Pacific. As usual our timing was wacked and we finished our miles from Bora Bora in the middle of the night so were left hove to for a few hours waiting for the sun to rise up out of the ocean behind us. Once through the straight forward reef pass we were soon sitting still with our anchor settled into a patch of sandy bottom amidst a handful of other sailboats off of Anchorage Island, Suwarrow. The weather was holding for the moment so the day quickly filled up with bread baking and boat clean up and getting ready for a potluck and beach party at the Suwarrow "Yacht Club." Suwarrow in the Cook Islands is officially part of New Zealand much like the Marquesas and Society Islands are officially French. These larger countries provide financial support, a military presence and general government. Much to our appreciation NZ decided to turn the uninhabited island of Suwarrow into a designated Marine Park which is where we met Kiwis' Ants and Harry this years park rangers and Anchorage Island caretakers. As NZ government representatives the two men live on the atoll from June until Novemeber documenting each arriving Yachtie and insuring the island habitat remains pristine and protected. Their official duties revolve around clearing each boat in and out through customs and immigration, collecting a $50 park fee and enforcing the rules of quarantine in a bid to protect the island from non native species of flora and fauna. Unofficially they take visitors fishing, take groups to the atoll's outer motu to view nesting sea birds, give tips on the best reefs to snorkel or dive, give directions for where the best spots are to view the resident giant manta rays and most evenings at 5pm they put on a show feeding their edible garbage to the sharks at the reefs edge. Oh and they keep the burn barrell fire glowing during beach parties. This is the first season for the men and they have both already decided it wil be their last. Their life here seems idilic. Who wouldn't want to spend six months on deserted island and get paid for it? But the isolation makes for a tough duty station. In the course of their six month assignment the usual visitors come only with the periodic supply boat and the slow trickle of yachties who manage the stop. Last year there were one hundred boats and four supply ships including their original drop off. The boat drops them off in late May with a pile of boxes full of provisions and a couple of suitcases. They have a satelite phone but no VHF and lights and cooking facitities powered by a generator and a few cans of gas and propane bottles. They live in the Yacht Club building/sleeping quarters next to the library which is a dark dank rom filled with cast off and unloved paper backs left by the cruisers and a beach palapa with a few rough hewn tables and chairs and hammocks hangin about. The buildings are old and ramshakled, the cook shack looks like something a group of energetic Boy Scouts might have cobbled together thirty years ago filled with mismatched cubboards, a two burner cook top, off kilter counters and a built insink that drains into the dirt below. They fish to supliment their stores, beg for gasoline from the yachties to run their outboard between dropped off refills and have nothing more than a shoe box sized first aid kit to stand between them and the relentless sun, wind, corral, voracious mosquitos and reef life. The work isnt hard and I have no idea what the pay scale would be for them but the exstraordinairily remote location is quite unique. They live in the quarters that were originally built by New Zealander Tom Oneal a man who lived alone on the island from 1959 till his death in 1977. He spent his many years here searching for reported burried treasure and writing "An Island to Oneself." He never found the buried treasure but left as a legacy a hand cut coral pier and the buildings that are now scattered across Anchorage Island. Meeting them and listening to them talk about missing their grandkids and spending so many hours alone left me wondering what kind of person finds themself alone on a deserted island with a single stranger for a season and then wondering what they think of us as we straggle in one boat at a time to spend a few days or weeks with our anchor settled into the sand before we are off again? After the first nights potluck the weather that had been chasing us settled in and pinned us all down to our respective boats. The winds blew, the rains came down in sheets and the anchorage rocked and roared. By day two there were grumbles of boat fever over the VHF as the plans to snorkel or roam were rescheduled again and again. Three day's worth of rain and winds were fianlly interupted by a cloud break and tiny bits of sun and an impromptu beach party bubbled out of the eight boats currently in residence. Twenty people poured above deck and then onto the beach filling a table with food and the air with talk and laughter. The weather which could have turned into an enforced sentence instead turned into plans made, shared movies and hours of information and expertise exchanged as we waited for clear skies. Once past the boat fever stage the enforced slow down was a gift of getting to know new friends and forming tight bonds. With the cleared skies we expanded the friendships with more meals, fishing trips, visits to the manta rays, snorkel and diving excursions and walks on the outer motu to discover whale bones and nesting and newly hatched sea birds. Being uninhabitied means Suwarrow pretty much stays as it has been and will likley be. But that means mans touch is light but lasting. Walking the motu with the nesting birds was interesting. They have no real fear of man and sit on their nests wide eyed watching as you walk by. Their nests are built on the ground or into the low lying shrubs. There were momma birds sitting their nests, juveniles staring back in wonder and babies still covered with fluff and mouths gaping just in case dinner was arriving. Whatever the winds and waves deposit in their march westward sits lost and forgotten on the beaches. We walked around and through bits of net and polypropaline line, whale bones with vertabrae the size of a coffee table, stood before a sun bleached pile of bones that on examination turned out to not be a large bird but instead turned out to be the almost whole skull and back bone of a dolphin. We saw and counted off the impossible exhistence of more than a dozen four foot florescent tubes and a slew of regular incandescent bulbs -washed up unbroken on the reef. Is all of this the floatsam and jetsum of the island inhabitants and passing fishing fleets? Or maybe a result of an adrift cargo container or just bits of garbage left floating about over the uncounted years? Probably a bit of each but certainly a clear reminder that if it doesn't readily sink and it end up in our earths oceans it just keeps floating around our globe. What a great group of sailors. We walked and talk our way around the reefs and motu, shared meals and talked about plans and finally said our goodbyes and left with a pile of new emails addresses and new names now turned into friends. Unfortunatly not a one of the boats we met on island are headed our way in the coming months. Other than one other boat we made friends with in Mexico we will be on our own when we move north into Kiribati and the Marshals. Once again making friends along the way always brings it's own set of goodbyes. Well, the Ipods are charged up and we have a small pile of second hand paperbacks ready for the coming miles, the boat is clean and ready for passage, there are two loaves of fresh bread cooling on the counter and a couple of burger patties thawing out for passage cheese burgers so it must be time to go. In the morning we will wave goodbye and head towards American Samoa but we will keep a lookout in the miles to come for Reality, Convivia, Blue Rodeo, Naughty Girl, La Condesa del Mar, Melaina and Malarkey. Four hundred and fifty miles to go. If we mke our usual 150nm/day we will arrive..unmmm......first thing in the morning Thursday! Kat