02 February 2019 | Gambier
02 February 2019 | Gambier
30 January 2019 | Gambier
23 January 2019 | Gambier
22 January 2019 | Gambier
21 January 2019 | Sailing to Marutea 122 miles to Gambier
20 January 2019 | Sailing past REAO 295 miles to Gambier
19 January 2019 | on the way to Gambier
18 January 2019 | on the way to Gambier
16 January 2019 | FATU HIVA, OMOA
14 January 2019 | Omoa / Fatu Hiva
09 January 2019 | FATU HIVA
05 January 2019 | FATU HIVA
03 January 2019 | Tahuata, Baie
02 January 2019 | Vaitahu, Tahuata
Gambier, tragedy at the peral farm
08 April 2019 | Gambier
We got a invitation from Eric to see his pearl farm. He took more than 2 hours going into every detail on how to grow these pretty pearls. Here is what we learned: The easiest part is collecting new baby shells. Long fuzzy ropes are suspended in the lagoon 2 weeks before the shells spawn. This microscopic shell attaches to anything solid and soon those ropes are full of shells. When they are a bid older than a year at about 10 cm in diameter, they are sold to the pearl farmers. The farmer lets them grow a little longer, inserts a 6 mm round white ball made out of a shell from the Mississippi and mounts them on a rigid net. Every 4 months they bring them up to clean the shells from parasites and anything that grows on them. After a year and half they bring the shells ashore and open them with a knife and jam a wedge into the opening. After the strong muscle lets go a bit more, they open them up just enough so they can scoop out the pearl and if the shell has produced an nice round pearl, it gets the pleasure to receive a new ball about the size of the last pearl that has grown now to 8 mm. They close it back up and fix them to that plastic rigid net. Again they get cleaned from all parasites and go back in the water ASAP. Each worker gets "his" cages marked, so the owner knows their success rate. Lousy workers and do it yourself farmers get 5-20% pearls in their shells .At this rate you lose money. Chinese workers get 85 to 95% .The Japanese are too expensive and don't work here anymore. The Chinese get the French minimum salary (SMIG) plus room and board and the flight back home. This is quiet expensive since the Chinese will not eat the junk food the Gambier folks eat. We met locals that grow fruits and veggies and have pigs only for the Chinese. The locals do not eat fruits and vegetables. They eat French fries, steak, chicken or sausages. Every 18 months the shell is pried open and receives a bigger ball. This works up to five times. After that they would produce inferior quality. Eric's record pearl was 17.5 mm selling for way over 1000 $. The Polynesian record is 24 mm. When the shells produce oval shapes or with rings on them or any other imperfection the shell is not used anymore. They cut out the muscle and its delicious to eat. The flat shells are packed in 20kg bags and like the pearls sold to the Chinese. They make jewelry from this mother pearl. Eric started with 30 000 pearls per year. Now after 10 years his farm makes 180 000 pearls per year. He wanted to stop at 100 000 but somehow he became a slave of his own success. He does not work so he can live, but lives so I can work�...he smiles and you believe him, he loves his job. He is interested in my past as a fish farmer and likes it when you ask him questions. He invited us for dinner and soon we got to see the personal side of his life. He showed me the pictures of his 3 sons. The oldest is already working on site and the 2 others still study, one of them in Montreal. We talked about his love for the arctic cold in Quebec. He is lucky to be able to send his kids to fancy universities around the world. He takes the time to travel and speaks many languages. But then I asked about his wife and and it became�...quiet ..and sad. He told me the story: His wife and mother of his 3 sons took off one day in his big open work boat to go to town or something. She was a bid careless and never checked the gas tank. She must have run out of gas in the lagoon and obliviously couldn't contact anybody. She didn't have a VHF radio, a satellite emergency beeper, or a mobile phone with her. They own all those things that you should have with you, but she did not. The weather can turn quickly here and even at a calm day its surprising where the current takes you if you have no power. This lagoon is open in many places and you just drift outside into the open sea. A few weeks later they found the empty boat 300 miles away, she was gone. It was a sad moment. You see what happened to this family and there is nothing you can do or say that makes this pain go away. I could only listen and that is all you can do. It made me sad as well. Sad especially that in this tiny island of rumors and gossip, new versions appeared. All made up, but you and your kids must listen to the rotten gossip �.... That it was Eric that drove her to do this suicide because he had eyes for another women or some kind of bullshit. But when it's your own family and your own village that produces such garbage�...it hurts and it hurts a lot. And if you live in gossip town Rikitea, Gambier and you made your life here, you have no other place to go. So I gave him a big hug when we left and we drove back to Yelo a mile away into the dark night with mixed feelings. But I had recorded my track thru the corals on my phone and followed it back to my Yelo. We also carried our VHF and another boat checked on us to see if we made the journey thru the night. I was traumatized in the Bahamas 30 years ago. On a calm day we went on a dinghy ride for 20 minutes at full speed. Only one hour later a lot of wind came up and we were fighting the big waves in our tiny Zodiac trying to get back home. Soon we ran out of gas and had to pull our dinghy along the shore of a deserted island. We could not row and were lucky to find a person living on the next island and he towed us home. Its quiet amazing how far you can go in flat waters with 10 hp and how fast you are lost if the engine breaks or the weather changes. I prefer short dinghy trips at day light with a lot of boats around me. I came to learn a little more about pearls and learned a lot more about the dangers of open lagoons and the sadness that is with this family for the rest of their lives. Good thing is; we walked again. We walked the windward side and looked for "wash-up" but there is not much only a few soft drink bottles from China and a toilet seat. Watched two hermit Crabs fighting for a shell. Then we did the full length of this airport Motu and found the best road in Gambier. Because nobody drives on it. We even walked half of the runway. Wow that was smooth. I could have used my rollerblades. No plane that day, maybe a few more today because of the approaching festival. They expect a lot of dancers and musicians. The old Rolf starts drooling thinking of the fast hip movements. The local dancers are quiet boring compared to the rest of Polynesia. Not much hip movements here.
Comunications breakdown in Akamaru
28 March 2019 | Gambier
Gambier Isle Akamaru 23 10,76S 134 55.45W
Many blogs write about this pretty park like island. Its true the remaining 4 people keep the trail and the grounds around the church in good shape. But I can't help it, that I feel I am in a ghost town. During holidays a few more kids show up. But I am sure they won't move here once their education is finished. Jobs are in Tahiti or in Paris, not here. And with the price of pearls so low, who would risk a future investment. The price is not in the hands of a single producer. It's controlled by market forces and big players that run giant farms all over Polynesia. No matter how clever you are and how well you treat the shells, you have no control of the price you get for your product. The only thing that would work is small scale tourism. But the locals here never thought of this. Diving, snorkeling, offshore fishing ,kite boarding,hiking,yachting etc One could do a lot in this pretty island. But I don't see any push or attempt to do much. Rikitea has a few guesthouses. But in the outer islands that are a dream for city people�...nothing. I heard rumors that the major doesn't like yachts. I can't think of anything that the administration has done for the visiting yachts. Only a piece of paper that tells us to pay a fee for the garbage that they dump in a hole. But as long as people get some kind of support from Paris and papaya,pamplemouse and banananas fall of the trees�...why do anything? I see so much potential to create a lot of jobs. Unfortunately you need a permit and papers for everything here. It's a crazy idea of the �"white man�" to develop stuff, create a business , attract tourists, to get their money so you can keep some of it. This mind set does not exist here. Maybe if they get real hungry the locals would do something, but they don't. Some are poor , they have no teeth and live in a shack. Others have giant cars, big Smartphone's and way too many kilos on their belly. For all this a tourist would have to be able to make a reservation. Often the web and the phones are not working. At the moment the telephone antenna that covers all outer islands on top of Isle Aukena is broken. Apparently the pieces that need to be changed have arrived in Rikitea, the main village on Gambier. But the technician has not been able to get a boat ride from Rikitea to Aukena. Its only 3 miles and it has been broken for A MONTH !!! The people talk about this with amazing calm. It's normal here. I am in Taravai, waiting for some lousy weather to pass thru. We have no phone, no radio or internet to keep us informed on the weather. I got my SSB radio working again �....half of the time. We fix things ..computers, antennas and canvas at the moment. Daniela wants to hike to the top of this small island peak. Since i got 5 hornets stings on my arm, i am not so motivated. April-May is the worst time for those wasps, Its only natural , they defend their nests. Auutscchh
Gas bottle transfer in Polynesia
24 March 2019 | Gambier
In France you can't refill propane bottles. You bring your empties and you get a full one. Refilling is done at the Propane temple in Papeete I guess. If you want to keep your US bottle, you got no choice but to buy a French bottle, hang it upside down in a warm sunny place and fill it in to your own bottle below, cooled with ice packs. You buy the fitting for the Frog bottle at the hardware store and fix that to an old garden hose or better to a real gas hose .Those are thicker. Then you open up the top and the bottom and you will see gas in liquid form going down the hose. As you get to the end of the French bottle transfer gets slower. We just fill 2 US 20 pound bottles 2/3 with the 13 kilo French bottle. When it slows down you must open the release screw on the US bottle right behind the valve. First close the valves on both bottles .Air comes and out and when it smells like gas, you close it. Then re open both valves and you see the gas going down the hose. We have fiberglass bottles. With them it's easy to see the level rising. With metal bottles you must use a scale. Here in Gambier it's dead easy. At JOJOs you carry that bottle for only 10 meters to your dinghy and when done they return your deposit. Daniela insists of doing it herself. I don't like propane too much. As a young man anchored in Singapore I saw a Chinese cook thrown out of his Junk as his boat exploded. He was looking for a match and left the gas open. When he found the matches.... KABOOOM. I never forget this image of a boat standing above water with only the frame left for 2 seconds and all wooden planks flying with the cook thru the air. We fished him out and he survived, the boat went down. The shock wave you feel on your chest is quiet impressive. When we do the transfer, we don't cook or do anything with sparks. Last time we refilled them in Aruba at the propane temple. They make you stop you're engine and turn off the mobile phone!! Talking about running engines..Here they leave the gas guzzlers running while going to the post office while having lunch and while talking to another car. In some European countries you get fined for this, here even the Gendarmes do it. It's sad to see they have no understanding of global warming or pollution. Their cars are way too big and often more luxurious than their house. And they use them to go to church instead of walking the 200 meters. We rented one of those 4x4 pick-up trucks to drive our Swiss friends around the island. It's weird to be in a car. We mostly walk or bicycle. In a car you meet NOBODY along the way. Without the steel box around you we stop often to talk with the locals and get to hear their live stories. The boxy car and driving with 4 people kills it all. I see boats with 4 people on it. You can hardly talk to them. They are a closed up unit. They meet NOBODY. Traveling with 4 people is stupid.
Gossip from Gambier
24 March 2019 | Gambier
We took the occasion of a windy sunny day to hike up to Mt Duff. A third of the way we were able to do it with our moutainbikes. The trail is easy to find and after 5 minutes you come across a lot a grapefruit trees. Then it gets steep and as usual I start breathing like an old horse. The steepest parts have ropes to hold on .Those help a lot on the way down. The ground is full of slippery pine needles. I wouldn't want to walk this when its raining. After almost 2 hours we made it to the top and the view was awesome. Downhill was another story. Not so much breathing but my old knees where screaming and I would be lost without my "Nordic Walking Sticks" from "Decathlon". The whole week was windy and we got soaked going ashore with the dinghy. Many yachts left and we were just a few weathering the strong SE wind. The baker was out of business again, this time because of "technical problems". Construction of the cement road had continued for a day or two for a total off one hundred meters. It was halted a while ago. All funds were allocated and tons of gravel unloaded .Then the anti atomic movement came and claimed the gravel was contaminated with nuclear something. Tests were done and nothing was detected but still the atomic "comity" occupied the port and the gravel had to be shipped back to some other island that didn't mind. This costs a bundle and threw back any work on this lousiest road in Polynesia for more than 2 years. As I waited and watched the elderly passengers from a cruise ship arrive, I chatted up some of the local reception-women dressed in flowers. "Its all our own doing, we block everything here, nothing gets done in Gambier", they said. They don't mind me asking questions. But its often difficult to understand why everything is going backwards here. Every year less and less tourism and the major doesn't like yachts. He thinks we shit in the water. We do, but one thousand local people do it as well. There is not treatment for the toilets and most houses are built right on the water front It's a lot about politics here .Either you love the new Major or you block everything he does. It seems the island is divided with just about everything. They squabble a lot about land. Most land belongs to the wrong person and when you ask why they don't evict the squatters..."Oh, it's complicated" they say. Sometimes they shoot at each other over some land issues. Especially if they had a drink or 2 too many. Drinking has always been a problem here. The locals don't drink to enjoy the light buzz a glass of wine gives you. They have to gobble it down .The whole bottle in 1 minute wine or booze ...drink it fast. A local French guy had a bottle of 80 proof pure alcohol to make glazing etc .One of his employees saw it , drank the whole liter in one shot and was unconscious for 3 days!! Lucky he survived. Local gossip has it that nobody really cares for the cultural festival they have here in mid April. Many dancing and music groups come from all over Polynesia. But only the tourist would show up. The locals only come cause its 3 days of free FOOD. More gossip later.
Gambier, Ile Taravai, wasps and weirdoes
06 March 2019 | Gambier
Contrary to the rather cold welcome we got in Aukena Island, this place is totally different. Hervé and his wife Valerie welcome all sailors for a BBQ every Sunday. The moment we beached our dinghy, their little boy brought us flowers to put into our hair and they gave us hugs and kisses and a huge smile. Wow, what a relieve to the rather coldish general attitude in the Gambiers. We chatted a while and then he explained us the trail to the south end of the island. The boy apologized for not being able to guide us �...it's a home school day for him, so he is busy. Hervé told us to go south and see Marcel. He would then tell us where the trail leads into the woods. It's a very nice, park like path along the church, lined with flowers and fruit trees. When we got to Marcel's place I called him and said: �" Hervé told me�" �...I couldn't continue , Marcel cut me off and shouted at me :�" What did Hervé tell you?�" He looked at me very grim and walked away. OOoff another weirdo I thought. I said �"I didn't want to disturb you�"! �"BUT YOU DO!! �" he barked. �"I just need to know how to find the trail�". He already marched off towards the trail and we followed. I managed to start a conversation and when he said he was from New Caledonia and he was a Kanak , I told him about my visit to his island. He warmed up right away and as we talked I was able to hold his hand. I just held it and he didn't pull away. He liked it and we continued talking like this. He then apologized three times for his harsh greeting and explained that he was a loner and he didn't mean it that way. Ok, cool and off we went past his fruit trees and his pigs. Soon we were on a trail that was very much overgrown. Except for a few pigs this trail had not been used for a long time. It took us more than an hour for a short 3 kilometer trail. Most of it over tree stumps and heavy long grass with the occasional vines that trap you're feet. We finally got to Eduard and Denise's place and I asked him if we could rest for a while under his tree. He led us to his bench on the beach and Denise came with a big bottle of ice cold water. We chatted a bid, although it seemed difficult to understand his mumbling. It sounded like he had trouble talking with his new dentures. Never the less it was interesting to hear their life stories and after an hour we started our way back and he guided us along with a warning about the aggressive wasps. �"Be careful, they are in the sun and protect their nests, they are not in the shade�"! Ok, I thought, we went thru this trail an hour ago and didn't see any wasps. So off we went, a bid faster than when we came and all looked good �....until�....they came like mad all over me and bit me on my hand, arms and under my sleeve. OOOoa ahhh sharp pain and they seemed everywhere. �"Run , Rolf RUN�" Daniela screamed from behind and so I ran , until I reached a shady spot and started to lick my wounds. Shit�... that stuff really HURTS. Daniela gave me an antihistamine to ease my paranoid borderline phobia of allergic reactions that I NEVER have�...but just in case. The pain eased after 5 minutes and we had a few more sunny patches to cross. I was a bid worried, I didn't want more than the five bulges I already had. If you walk slowly and wait until they are off the path it seems to work .Not waving my walking sticks in front of me calmed the situation as well. Without any other attack we made it back to Marcel's place and greeted him, happy to have made it safely. He shouted again .This time he ordered me to come to his house. �" HERE not THERE �" he barked, �"DON'T STEP INSIDE!!�" I followed his orders and waited on the exact spot. But then he came with a huge bag of lemons and ripe bananas and refused to accept any thanks. �"THANK THE LORD�" he said, and so we did. We did a big �"Thank you BON DIEU�" as we walked along the pretty old church. We came home much later in the afternoon than we thought and I sank into my bed after a big lunch and snored away for a while. The next day was the big BBQ. In the morning Hervé got 6 surgeon fish and three parrot fish with his speargun. He never comes out with no fish and he seems to know which ones are safe and which ones to avoid with Ciguatera. Naturally I had to ask him, how he can tell the difference. Some people look at the ants or flies if they stay away, or they feed it to the cat first. �"So what's your secret?�" I asked. Hervé replied with a big grin : �"I feed it to the sailors ha ha ha�" The fish and food from all sailors was delicious and we had a great time. So far , no Ciguatera! Too bad I had another exposure with a French yacht. Hervé pointed out to me that a steel yacht had come very close to me. And yes indeed, it looked like she was 2 to 4 meters behind Yelo. I found the captain, but he assured me that everything was fine. This is the usual response from a French sailor when you tell him that he might have done something wrong. I told him I was very uncomfortable with his steel boat so close�...but he stayed in his hammock and when I asked him what he thought I should do, he just shrugged and turn away from me. His friendly wife saw all this and she decided to come out with my dinghy and look at the situation. She saw that it was way to close and since the wind changed his anchor was now under my boat�....impossible for him to move out. So we witnessed what always happens with French yachts: The wife tells the captain to get his ass moving and he usually obeys and does what she says!! Impossible to talk captain to captain. We had to go out to Yelo again and make sure he can get out and after 2 hours of useless arguing and maneuvering, we were all back at the BBQ . �"Désolé�" he mumbled and moved over to the French section of the public BBQ. Now all French looking at me with a grim face�... But we had great talks with Americans, Austrayyylians, Germans and Turkish sailors. All great fun and I am sure to come back to Hervés place. The next day we stocked up with fruits and veggies from his garden and traded with some powder milk. What a wonderful family!!
Now we are anchored near Eduards and Denises house between Agakauitai Island and Taravai. The weather is a bid cloudy and windy, but nothing to worry about. We have no phone, no web, no TV. Yesterday a bunch of men came to this island and soon after they went into the bush a pig was screaming for his life. They carried the thing to the boat and off they went. It seems easy to get your bio meat: just go to any island and grab a pig from the forest. It was sad to see the pigs sister searching her along the beach. I would have loved a pork chop but the murderers left without looking at me. I love pork every once in a while, but I never felt bad for them as an animal with their strong bond for each other. This time it was different, I felt bad for the remaining piggy. But what the hell, they have a happy life on those islands, until the hunters come and in a few moments you are pork chop!!
"Religious" sailors in Gambier
02 February 2019 | Gambier
The people of Rikitea had a visit from a local priest. For his 20 year anniversary of becoming a priest they organized a surprise party with Polynesian dance and a giant buffet. Since he no longer works in his own parish, it was only natural that he should read a mass in his own big church. So off we went to yet another service with singing and praying. This time I was quiet surprised to see so many sailors in church. I don't think they feel happy that a local boy has been priest for 20 years �.... nobody cares. But when the service ended it was clear why they came: It's the rush to the FREE buffet. I was amazed how many cruisers were in front!!! Many of them can't keep quiet during the ceremony. I don't see the point going to ANY religious service and blab. But blab so loud, the locals turned around and they had difficulty hearing anything. So we both sat back and watched them all running for the buffet. Not only the cruisers were fast. It was quiet something to see the 200 kilo women running that fast. Usually they slurp thru town at a very slow pace and I feel sorry for their knees. As we watched , we where continuously reminded by the locals that THERE IS FOOD !! And that we must go and get some. Ok ok . We were last in line and thought to get some leftovers , but no. When it comes to cooking they take it VERY serious. Tons of fish, pork and chicken etc. Daniela even found a salad, ignored by most islanders. They love taro, manioc , potatoes and anything with meat. Covered in a hefty coconut sauce�...it was delicious. Thank you. Talking about rude and loud behavior of sailors, here is a good one: I sit at a mini market that has a small restaurant. They are kind enough to let us use their internet as much as we want. There is no sign or word that you have to consume anything there. Sailors are as tight as a fishes ass and consume: nothing. I just bought our groceries there, so today I am not guilt ridden and sit at one of their lovely tables' right at the beach. I start chatting with a Swiss sailor. But he is not very talkative and leaves soon to get his baguettes. Most of us are busy staring into our devices, what else is new? When he comes back from the bakery, he sees that a French woman took HIS chair, next to HIS wife. Now he starts shouting at the poor French lady in his rocky SWISS Aenglish. �"GIIIve MEE mei CHAIHHR , siss iiss mei CHAIAIR�"!! The French women jumps up and returns HIS CHAIAIR and looks rather frightened. There were other chairs and he could have easily taken one next to me .Then he starts with me.�" She should have asked! She has no manners, to steal my CHAIAIR�". I shake my head and say NO to him. He doesn't get my support and so he continues to stare into his phone. After he finished chewing half of his baguette he leaves. It's quiet again. When I was done, I put his and all other CHAIRS back into place and discovered that the whole table is now full of bread crumbs. The floor is also full of sand from them, not just a little bid: it's a fucking mess!! So I clean everything and it starts to dawn on me, why so many Polynesian's have enough of us. We are rude, we are messy and we don't even say thank you when get something for free. We went biking 3 days ago and stopped at La Mairie, the town hall, to get info about free wifi at the sports center. 3 men sat outside and I asked them about it. �"Oh we had to close the wifi down. The young kids sat there all day, didn't go to school and left a mess of bottles and papers.�"
Too bad�...but this web disease is worldwide. But then the conversation turns to the bread that is now available. What a conversation: bread today, no bread tomorrow. �"So, how long was the last bread-break?. �" Oh, this one only a week.�" And what is the longest period you had no bread�....�" ONE month�" they all laugh. But I wanted to know, why on earth the baker doesn't order enough and then some extra in case the ship breaks down. Again, great laughter. It happens to them all the time. But the baker is only baking not ordering .That's somebody else and that person often goofs it up, or he just spends the money elsewhere and has nothing left to buy flour�... It's not a big issue for the locals. The word gets around that the baker runs out of flour soon. Then they all load up on baguettes and fill their freezer. That means he runs out even faster!! And so it goes every month: the same story, no bread in a few weeks�.....until the ship comes in �...funny Today the �"Taporo�" is in port .This is the quiet supply ship. You can ask Carrefour in Tahiti to fill up a box with food. They ship it to you via one of those freighters that come in twice a month. I wonder who would pay for the excellent logistics of these freighters if they get their independence.
We met wonderful people along the north side of the island. A man that helped organized this free buffet at church and another man with a huge smile in Taku, a tiny village with a pretty yellow church. This was the first time I heard a rather devastating report on Polynesian work ethics, by a Polynesian himself. I asked him why they still hire so many Japanese and Chinese to work on the delicate pearl-oysters. I said: �" I know it's tricky work, but not impossible. Can't you learn it from the Chinese or go to a local pearl-school?�" He said. �"Off course you can! Once you hire the Chinese, they are on your payroll and they will show you. But the Polynesian's only have Friday on their mind. They just think of the big break and �....PARTY TIME.�" �"But can they work 8 hours nonstop? �" I ask . �" Sometimes they can, but the problem is the weekend. They just drink too much and then they have a headache Monday and Tuesday and simply don't show up for work. This happens EVERY weekend. So they need the Chinese. The Chinese are lodged and fed and you pay the flight. Comes to about 35 000$ a month. They work 6 days a week, but if you pay them, they work 7 days. No Polynesian will do that. He had to go back to his big project: a traditional house. Many of those old stone houses were left to rot, since �"maintenance�" is not known here. A small leak at the roof and the water does the rest until the roof comes down. They just build another one. But this man got help from town with the heavy timber to build a new roof. Once you have a stone house with high ceilings, no need for fans or Air-condition�...its cool inside. I am surprised to hear a Polynesian talk like this about his own people and I tell him that. He just shrugs and smiles�...�"That's the way they are. I've been in pearls for many years, I know our people.�"
It's a beautiful ride around the island. It would be even nicer if I had brakes on my bike, so I wouldn't have to walk my bike downhill. It's a Chinese bike and the disk brakes are dead�...oh well, Now we need parts. They have nothing on this island. But we came back with loads of vegetables. The people grow them and give them to us, but they don't eat them. They like potato chips, steaks and cookies�....but they are great�...the people I mean.