Kauehi - the friendliest place on earth
26 July 2016 | Kauehi atoll
After two glorious weeks of solitude on Raroia, we were in the zone - a Zen state, if you will. Our departure from Raroia and passage to Kauehi was another reminder from our Buddhist friends that nothing is permanent, including our Zen state! We weighed anchor at daylight and made our way across the lagoon under cloudy skies - no sun to see those pesky bommies = stress to start the day. We approached the pass with trepidation seeing standing waves to our right, and rushed through at over 8 knots = stress diminished. As we set our sails we spotted a whale a ways off our beam - we haven't seen a whale since Mexico = Happy.
For the next 30 hours we were spanked - first, no wind and big seas, then big winds and big seas, then squall (rain) after squall (rain) after squall (more rain). At last, we approached the pass to Kauehi. The winds were blowing 20+ knots; the seas were 6', and it wouldn't stop raining. We were late to the pass. We had been told that this was an easy pass - wide, short, not huge currents. Rob says, "We've arrived at the worst possible time. Let's check it out and go from there." Given the current sea state, the options didn't look promising to wait outside the pass. As we approached, we couldn't tell what the current was doing, but we could see 6' standing waves. We knew that with the winds already at 20 knots, they were not likely going to get lighter as the day wore on. So, we went for it. Rob had it floored (7 knots) and we were moving at 2 knots - meaning, we had 5 knots pushing against us. Can you say white knuckles? Yes, I was praying once again! On the other side of the pass, we still had 8 miles across the lagoon with 20+ knot winds and 3' waves hitting us on the beam. More than an hour later, we were relieved to finally drop the hook, cut the engine, have the all important arrival beer, and take a nap!
With each visit to the village, we grew more and more fond of Kauehi. We were fortunate to be one of only two boats at anchor for the week we were in Kauehi. We felt completely embraced by the community. Every person we passed on the street waved and smiled. We were included in all the Heiva "reindeer games." We were hugged; we were kissed on both cheeks (European style), and the children exuded sweetness and great energy. Kauehi is a beautiful example of a community that is focused on raising their children in a loving and involved way.
On our first visit to the village, we stopped at the local Magasin (market) - that, much like the church in each town - is a local meeting spot. The proprietor, whom we later learned is the un-official mayor, enthusiastically greeted us. For $9, we happily purchased the one head of cabbage and bag of carrots in the cooler, along with an ice-cream sandwich - followed by a beer, which we enjoyed on the bench outside the grocery store chatting - in very broken French - with a few locals. "Tia" - said Magasin owner/pearl farm owner/un-official mayor - then invited us to join in the Heiva activities of the evening. When we arrived that evening, there was a soccer game underway, as well as a serious Bocchi ball competition. For Heiva, the community set up a circle of tents housing an ice-cream store, two restaurants, a discotheque, with the Bocchi ball court in the middle. As we ate dinner, the un-official mayor informed us that the kids were purportedly going to have a dance contest. In reality, it ended up being the boat ladies dancing with some kids. We were rewarded with a prize of a beautifully woven hat of fresh palm frons.
On another of our leisurely days in Kauehi, we spent the day at the airport - can you imagine spending the day at the airport as a pleasant experience? We finally dug out our folding bikes - and took a 10-mile ride to the Kuehi airport. The road is packed crushed white coral, lined with palm trees - the lagoon on one side, the lagoon reef and ocean on the other. Along the way, we were passed by several cars - all waving hello as they passed. Atop the cab of one of the passing trucks sat a teenage girl, crossed legged, smiling ear-to-ear. Tia, along with his family, was one of the trucks that passed us on the way. The side of his truck read Kauehi Transport, so we added transport services to his long list of businesses - and connected the dots that a flight might be arriving today. We later learned that there are two flights each week - Wednesday & Saturday. The open-air airport is the size of a postage stamp, with a handful of tables and several beautiful benches. The short runway sits between the ocean and the lagoon. I can imagine how spectacular it would be to fly above these waters. While we all waited for the flight (maybe it will arrive at 1 or 2 or 3p.m.), Tia invited us to sit with him to have a soda and a chat - another opportunity for Rob practice his French! Turns out the Magasin owner also owns a "snack bar" at the airport. LOL.
Bastille Day was the highlight of our time in Kauehi. For the entire day we were the guests of honor. And what a day it was. Organized - no! A hoot - yes! We were to arrive before 7a.m. to participate in the parade, followed by "cocktails" - the definition we quickly learned does not translate from the US - but in fact, was watered down Kool-Aid served out of a small (clean) garbage can. Dip your cup in - out comes your cocktail! The parade consisted of 40 people dressed in every color of the rainbow walking through town to the town hall, singing the national anthem, then walking back. The day continued with sack races, tug of war, and yet another "dance contest." After our turn at the sack race, Rob took it upon himself to change his status from honored guest to game show host, organizing a 3-legged race including the unofficial mayor - a real crowd pleaser.
For our last night, we planned to stay on board to prepare for our departure. Not so much. Tia insisted that we dine with him that night! So, instead of bringing the dinghy on deck, we headed to the dock once more, navigating through the shallow coral heads for the evening. Tia greeted us at his store and presented each of us with a beautiful shell necklace and a handful of "irregular, yet beautiful" black pearls from his pearl farm. Tres jolie! We ate chow Mein with Tia, his wife Andrea (in the pics) and our new friends An & Ivan aboard Vaguebond (Belgium).
One last note from the nature experience category: One evening as the sun was setting, I was so blessed to see something that goes un-noticed thousands of times a day - and reminded me a scene in Finding Nemo when Dorrie and the Dad encounter a school of fish that make the shape of an arrow to direct them. One hundred flying fish, together, leapt out of the water like a dolphin with a bird hovering above them. This happens - thousands of times a day, and we get to witness it - magic!
Next stop - Fakarava. Fakarava is the 2nd largest atoll in all of the Tuomotos. Being a bit closer to Tahiti, we hear it is much more developed than we've experienced in weeks - the big city! We're excited to get laundry done, to have a meal on shore, to access Internet, and most importantly, to re-connect with cruisers we've met along the way.
Susan and Rob