Pearls are a girl's best friend
18 June 2012 | Fakarava, Tuomotos
Bonjour! We made landfall at our first Pacific atoll several days ago under glassy calm conditions which made coming through the pass stress free and proceeding 7 miles across the lagoon to the anchorage easy as well. It was the atoll of Kauehi, which is 12 miles long & 8 miles wide. Coming across the lagoon, we were mostly in 135 feet of water- these atolls are deep! One thing though, the water isn't as clear as it was in Belize's atolls which is disappointing. It's plenty beautiful, just not perfect.
When we got here there were 7 boats in the anchorage, among them the catamaran Gypsy Heart who invited the anchorage over for drinks in Nuku Hiva. They did this again that night and we brought the tuna that we caught on the 2nd to last day of the passage- so it wasn't a totally fishless passage after all. The next day, 6 of is piled into 2 dinghies with our snorkeling gear and headed a few miles up the lagoon to dive in a small pass, looking for pretty fish and maybe some lobster to spear. We found loads of pretty fish, but no lobster and we've since learned from a local that there aren't any lobsters inside the atoll- they're all on the outside. Because these atolls are known for having ciguatera, you can't spear any fish without risking getting very sick so there are grouper everywhere- even in groups! We think they're eating any lobsters that do make their way in here which is why there's none to be had. Some of the group went back to the anchorage for lunch but Tim, Jon & I stayed out for the rest of the day snorkeling, swimming in tide pools and just lying in shallow water talking. It was one of our favorite kinds of days and so fun to have all new fish & creatures to discover. In the evening, we usually download the pictures we took and try to look up what we saw in our ID books. We got a few nice pics and will post them soon.
We anchored off of a little town- generally there is one town per atoll. They mainly do copra & pearl farming for a living. We were joking today that now instead of walking around saying "tiki?" we can wander the sand streets saying "pearls?" The town is so sleepy that Jon & I went on an 8 mile walk one day and never saw a soul until we were pretty much back in town again. We were walking the beach looking for shells and a lady was doing the same. When I came up to her to say the one word I know in French, I saw she had an old water bottle filled with little shells but. they were moving! She told me she was collecting the shells to make a necklace- but they were inhabited shells with little hermit crabs in them. It didn't matter to her but Jon & I have a little pact that we don't take any shells that are already lived in no matter who's living in them.
I find myself really appreciating the peace & quiet of French Polynesia. The people here seem very happy, relaxed & quiet. No one is trying to sell you anything, there is no bargaining expected, there aren't any boats buzzing you in the anchorage, no tour boats going by snapping pictures of you hanging up your underwear, no supply ships being offloaded at all hours of the night like it was in the Galapagos and for that matter, everyone is ashore at night and the anchorage belongs to the sailboats. This is the way it is in the Bahamas but not in the Caribbean or the Galapagos! It wears you down after awhile; this is much better. But that said, if you ask for help or try to communicate with someone, they are most helpful and friendly. The kids have an innocence & kindness that has been lost in the US. And there's virtually no trash anywhere. A perfect yard seems to be a matter of pride and while I don't see a lot of industry otherwise, I do see many people raking and burning clippings.
We went into the one store on the island one evening since Tim needed some beer- it opens at 6pm for an hour or so. I'm glad we don't need to buy anything right now since there's practically nothing to buy! One plane comes in once a week on Wednesdays so they had fresh-ish baguettes but other than that it is just soda, some canned goods and a spartan freezer with meat in it. While we were walking around waiting for the store to open, we waved to a man on his porch and he in turn waved us over. He walked over to the side of his porch, took down a coconut crab that was tied to a string that was hanging from a hook and plunked it down in front of us like it was a puppy. I asked if it was dinner tonight but he said no, maybe tomorrow night since he was having poisson tonight. We'd read about coconut crabs in our cruising book- the natives eat them, they look like a very large hermit crab minus a shell. They have large claws capable of opening coconuts and they can be brownish, red or even bright blue. We asked how he caught the crab and he demonstrated that you just pretty much step on them from the back and that holds them still. Then you can tie a string on if you like or pick it up as long as you keep your hand behind the crab. With the string, you can walk your crab like a pet like he was doing and then when you're done, just hang it up on the porch! So, it was an interesting lesson on the coconut crab and something I'll never forget. It was really nice trying to chat with the man and made us all realize how without a shared language, we're really missing out on a lot of experiences. Especially with the French Polynesians who are known for their kindness toward sailors. So I vowed to learn as much as I can over the next 2 months so we can get more out of this.
We have entered shark territory. The Tuomotos are known for having sharks everywhere and indeed, we've seen bunches. Mainly they are small blacktip, whitetip or gray sharks but there are also scarier ones around. I'll be fine not to see any big guys while we're here!
We've spent some time working on the boat in the mornings and then going ashore for the afternoon to do something fun. One day we went with Slick to walk the windwardside beach looking for shells. We've found some really great shells lately, including pieces of pure white sunbleached coral on the beach that is so pretty. A wooden base would make a really unique nick-knack someday. The cowries are huge here and come in purple & pink and also a deep brown with white spots that reminds me of the Milky Way. Also, there are huge, colorful clams. They come in various purples, blues, greens and browns. When the sun hits them they glimmer. The shells are just like the clamshells of cartoons. Tim & I both have one of these heavy shells now, for some future purpose we haven't identified yet. Jon & love to beachcomb. It's so peaceful and you can find a lot of beautiful, free, souvenirs. I was thinking that of all living things, shell creatures leave the most beauty behind. And to appreciate the variety is to get baffled about where this all originates from.
Once again, we found a shady coconut tree on the beach and opened up a couple to munch on before heading back through the coconut grove on a pretty sand road that bordered the leeward side of the atoll. We stopped by the store and asked the lady if anyone on the island sold pearls since we can see some pearl farming going on here on a small scale. Turns out this lady and her husband own the store but also a pearl farm and he's the mayor and the policeman and they have a pension (motel)! She said to come back at 5p today and we could look at some pearls. So we headed in along with Tim, not sure what to expect. The lady invited us to the house and we took off our shoes before stepping onto the porch as she did. There was a white tablecloth on a long table and her husband was there with a suitcase. He first took out about 1,000 pearls and spread them out on the table- we were immediately overwhelmed. We figured out quickly that these were the lower grade pearls, likely the ones the buyers didn't choose. They were still very pretty and came in various colors, shapes & sizes. A few minutes later he took out another thousand or so, so here we were, looking at PILES of pearls. In the end, we each bought a handful with ideas in our heads for how we'd mount them and whether they'd become a necklace, earrings or the centerpiece of a ring. And they fit our budget! I think in reality though, we'll try to buy some mounted ones that are already jewelry and keep these for just looking at- they were really inexpensive! It was an interesting experience and now we know a lot more about pearls just by having seen so many. Jon says for us, it isn't diamonds, but pearls that are a girl's best friend!
Yesterday we sailed to another atoll- Fakarava. It was about 37 miles downwind and two more passes to go through. The first one leaving Kauehi was pretty nasty for a minute or two with standing waves at the exit but the one to enter Fakarava was fine. We didn't catch any fish along the way but Tim got a marlin so we all brought dinner over to Gypsy Heart and enjoyed the fish.
We were supposed to have internet here but it doesn't seem to be- you can't count on anything. We plan to do some scuba here in both the north & south passes where it's supposed to be really full of fish. We're also supposed to tour a pearl farm tomorrow. Today, we rented bikes and did about 40km on paved & marl roads. I didn't realize how long this island is. Fakarava is one of the largest atolls and there's a significant amount of island that forms part of the coral ring. Further down it is just coral barrier reef with small motus (islands) that are uninhabited.
Well that's the news from here! It is Father's Day- happy father's day to both of our wonderful dads. We love you and miss you!