20 October 2020
Russ Whitford | Better today, squalls have subsided
Mopelia Day 3, September 21
“Working on other people's stuff is always more fun than working on your own.” This is a truism I coined after helping my friends work on cars, houses, motorcycles, etc. Other people's stuff is different from mine. It can be more interesting. It is fun working with other people and perhaps helping them out with a difficult project. And if the project doesn't go well, you can always walk away. You HAVE to fix your own stuff. With other people's, you just have to try.
As mentioned in Day 1, Faimanu and Karina's dinghy motor didn't run. I expressed that I might be able to fix it and they smiled. Kjell is a fellow motor-head and he agreed to tackle the project with me. We dinghied to shore and asked Marcello if we could take a look at the motor. He readily agreed and joined us in the task. The motor cover was already off, waiting for us. The more interesting and tragic story is the source of this dinghy and motor.
I'm short on details but an elderly, French sailor often visited Mopelia, bringing supplies and passengers. He was well known here and much revered. Well into his 80s, he made a trip here last year. There was a young, Polynesian lady as his passenger. He went below to navigate and fell asleep. His boat carried on right into the eastern reef. They were pulled off safely by his friends in Mopelia but the boat was destroyed. The French Polynesian officials insisted he remove it from the reef or pay to have it removed.
Mopelian's gathered together and helped him with this. They fired up an old tractor and dragged the wreck onto the beach. There, they cut it into manageable chunks with chain saws and sawzalls, powered by a generator. The remnants were dragged into the jungle where they now rest. He was able to salvage personal belongings and gave the dinghy and motor to Marcello. That's the boat that first approached us with his daughters.
The motor was an older, Mercury 15 HP. Kjell's motor was nearly the same model. We checked the spark and found it firing just fine. We removed the fuel line to check the fuel pump. Kjell squeezed the fuel bulb and a jet of stale fuel shot me in the chest. I dabbed some behind my ears much to the delight of Faimanu. It had that rank, old fuel smell.
Kjell's dinghy was on the beach about ½ mile away. Kaia and Lisa dinghied there to comb the beach for spent animal carcasses, shells. We dinghied there and pilfered their dinghy's tank of fresh fuel. My dinghy is four stroke and we needed Kjell's two stroke fuel with oil.
Fresh gas helped. We got the engine to run but it would die out after awhile and not idle. I won't go into much detail but we removed the carburetor and cleaned it thoroughly. Remind me to tell the blonde joke, “crap in the carburetor” sometime. With the clean carburetor the motor ran much better but still didn't idle. We fiddled with the idle screw and finally, the engine ran fine! Marcello offered us coffee but we had to return the tank to the ladies or they would have been stranded. Marcello and Faimanu were most grateful and thanked us profusely.
We returned the tank to the other dinghy, right in front of Norma and Harry's house. We sat and talked with them and they gave us coconuts to drink. Nothing is more refreshing than fresh coconut water on a warm day. The ladies appeared with a bucket-full of shells. We sat and had more coconuts and some of the sweetest bananas ever. Norma mentioned that the community car had a clutch problem. Kjell and I took the tools right over to it.
The community car is an old Mahindra pick-up truck. It was thoroughly rusted with only springs showing for seats. But there was a new clutch master cylinder installed with clean fluid in the reservoir. Pushing on the clutch indicated that it wasn't moving enough to disengage. We bled the fluid and still not enough movement. It took some fiddling and adjusting the linkage rod to the cylinder and the clutch worked. Harry drove it around with quite a smile. Another mechanical success!
We sat and talked some more. Norma told us more about Mopelia and its history. Meteo France, the French weather service, set up a station on Mopelia in 1950. We saw the base for their radio station near the beach. They also put in the 8 km road on the main motu. A huge cyclone in 1998 wiped out all of the buildings. Keep in mind the motu is only a few meters above sea level. Surge from a cyclone will wash completely over the motu. There is a community house about 5 km south built by the French government after the cyclone. Norma and Harry used to live there but moved closer to the pass nine years ago. Harry said he was using too much gas in his dinghy going from their previous home to their present location. Imagine, moving your home and building a new one just to save a few gallons of gas/week.
There are currently only 20 people living in Mopelia, strung out along the main motu. They are families who live part-time here. They visit to harvest copra. Most live in Maupiti the rest of the year. Norma and Harry's compound consist of a large kitchen/bedroom that is entirely open air. There is a tiki roofed dining room with large table but we ate on that table on the beach. Harry has a large, corrugated tin workshop, big enough for about 3 cars. There is another two story building behind their main living quarters we haven't explored yet. There is also an outdoor sink, dish washing area. Water is only collected rain water. But if they run short, there is a large cistern at the community house. Now they have a working truck to fetch it. There is no electricity. A few solar panels provide only light at night. Hence, no refrigeration.
Norma and Harry showed us the huge, coconut crabs they caught the night before. With some reluctance, they offered one of them to us. Kjell and Kaia had caught coconut crabs before but found them not so tasty as the ones we had the night before. Harry and Norma were determined to show us just how to prepare these strange beasts.
Harry grabbed one, at least five pounds, and held it down in the sand. He inserted a long knife between its eyes and twisted it. The crab was instantly dead. Harry held it upside down and a stream of noxious fluid poured out of the head. We think it was urine! He explained the crab needed to be thoroughly drained to be sweet. Then he rinsed it in the ocean. Norma boiled it in a large pot until it turned red. She removed the butt bulb, the size of a small mango, and removed the intestines.
The claws, legs and body contained the pure, white meat. The butt piece contained a greasy, dark “fois gras” which became the sauce for the meat. We ate it on 2K later in the afternoon, just like that. Kaia had to hammer the thick shell into bits. Then it was easy to extract the meat and cover it with the natural sauce. This was our second coconut crab in two days and again, delicious!
We played a game of Mexican train dominos on 2K, shared a few bottles of wine and retired to Uproar. It was a bit of a work day but quite satisfying to fix stuff and help out our Mopelia friends.