Monday, July 14, 2008

Moonbows and Black Pearls

I wouldn't have believed it, but I saw it -- a moonbow. A full moon is ideal for nighttime navigating around here. The atolls are so low-lying that it'd be tempting to run right into one if you couldn't see it. The moon sheds a little light on the subject. Last week it was shedding so much light that I was stopped short (I think I may have been cursing at some line, or maybe a wind change). The moonlight stole through a squally sky, splintered into its components, and formed a picture perfect rainbow, from sea to sky to sea again. Instead of Kodak colors, the prism revealed itself in shades of silver. Ben was shaken out of bed by my enthusiasm. (Couldn't photograph the moonbow, but why not the moon).

And this in a place that, in the light of day, is all about color sensory overload. I wish my vocabulary could begin to describe the array of blues this particular geospatial combination of light and water evokes. If any blue has a name, it's on full display here. Cerulean, aquamarine, turquoise, ultramarine, sapphire. These are in-your-face, masters of the obvious blues; nothing glum, depressed or remotely subtle. The kind of blues that would inspire Bob Marley as opposed to, say, Muddy Waters. And not just one blue in one place, but layers, gradations, juxtapositions....So blue I continue to be startled by the sight. And with a clarity that bespeaks jewels, gems, crystals and beckons you to strip down and jump in.

In Makemo we enjoyed getting to know Victor, his wife Marie and their daughters. We shared their father's day (and birthday) celebration and treated their dogs. All the dogs on Makemo suffer skin problems. Dermatology isn't quite my forte but it's especially challenging without a microscope. Getting used to "shotgun" medicine. Marie sent us home with a loaded doggie bag (poisson cru and birthday cake). We also made a little jewelry exchange: some of my beaded wares for a handful of black pearls. The customs officials would not be amused, but these are pearls of the imperfect sort so no one is being undercut. Still, we won't be announcing their presence.

The weather was a bit moody while we were in Makemo and the lagoon, as a result, wasn't as inviting in the way of snorkeling. After a few days there we left for Fakarava, an overnight sail. We settled in at an anchorage near Tumakohua, the southern pass, reknown for its diving. The village there, Tetamanu, was once the capital of the Tuamotus, but is now nearly abandoned save for the two families that live there permanently and a gaily decorated church made of coral and dotted with shells. They run a pension (an inn) and a dive center, pier-perched bungalows dotted along the coral shoals, right along the edge of the pass. The favorite pasttime here is drift diving (or snorkeling). You motor your dinghy to the sea-side mouth of the pass, grab hold of the dinghy line and jump in. The flood tide through the pass carries you and your dinghy right on through, no exertion required. Timing is important, of course, as an ebb tide would show you the door. The local dive center advertises, "If you don't see a shark, it's free." So we swam, we snorkeled, and we tried not to piss off any sharks. The variety of fishes and their garish displays were dazzling. Even the color-blind would be shocked to their senses.

We went to lunch with a British couple we met to a little pension north of "town." A nice water-conservation technique employed there is fish/dishwashing. The post-prandial dishes are lowered into the lagoon and the fish swarm for leftovers. Maybe it's not a good idea to be encouraging "begging," but it's a nice form of entertainment for us tourists. Oh and water is precious here, the only source being collected rain water. After lunch we took our dinghy to the southern rim of the atoll and took a stroll on the diminutive pink-sand beach of a motu (an islet) at that end. More snorkeling ensued. Not that it's all fun and games, mind you. We also scraped a verdant pasture of algae and immature barnacles off our hull. A sorely needed and much-postponed chore. It took us 4 days, and now we should really consider doing it again. Ah, the tropics.

After wresting our anchor away from its coral embrace we embarked north. We planned to stop at an anchorage along the eastern rim of the atoll, about half-way up, a trip of about 12 miles. We caravanned with the Brits (on Pegasus) and dropped anchor along a solitary and unspoiled motu (Outukaiga), with a coconutty beach, hermit crab denizens and water even, astoundingly, bluer. Aaahhh. This place deserved a stay of a few days, so we did.


Finally we wended our way through a buoyed channel to Rotoava, the primary village of Fakarava, population 800. Our first day there we were approached by two American women, Jane and Joan (on Casteele, also from Seattle) and asked to assist in their afterschool English program for the students there. They had been there 3 weeks, teaching daily, and were preparing for the school-end celebration, which would include student dancing and a recitation from each student in English. So I spent one afternoon with the class, prompting them to tell me their name, how many brothers and sisters they have and their favorite game to play (most preferred Play Station), in English. Jane and Joan were also busy spearheading a home study program in Fakarava and, amazingly, in the 3 short weeks they were there, they managed it. In these islands the students are sent away to attend Junior-High (College), at the young age of 11! And the only high school for all of French Polynesia is in Tahiti. This is pretty hard on families and, while the schools themselves are good, the boarding situation is a little out of control, with only one adult per 100 - 150 students. Can you imagine 100 twelve year olds with no supervision? So, anyway, Joan and Jane organized a home-schooling system, with the active participation of the primary school director, mayor and parents association. Pretty cool, huh?

Here we also met Cecile, a french woman, and Enoha, her Tahitian husband, owners of the Teanuanua restaurant. We'd gone there for lunch and, as I had stooped in the corner of the restaurant to pet one of their resident cats (one of the 4 cats and 7 dogs that lived there), I noticed her breathing was labored. This was the beginning of our daily visits to Teanuanua. With Ben as my able assistant, I drained fluid from "Minette's" chest and treated "Chausettes" and "Naike's" skin problems. We demonstrated how to give a cat a medicated bath (a prickly affair), and discussed the prognosis and options in treatment of "Minette's" more serious problem. Cecile and Enoha hosted us to a delicious dinner in thanks and we spent many hours exchanging stories and learning more about the culture and lifiestyle of French Polynesia in general, and the Tuamotus in particular. Good friends made along the way.

Ehona taught us the finer and more complex meaning of the Tahitian word Iaorana -- hello. And this is nice, so I'll reproduce it for you.
I Ora Na = past
A Ora Na = present
Ora = life
O/ = gift
Ra = Light
Na = future and forever
Translation: I wish you the gift of long life in the light, in the past, present, and forever. Nice way to say hello.

Another friendly Polynesian we encountered, Theodore, was in the process of gutting tiny little blue fish on the pier, as we were headed to our dinghy. We'd seen these fish while snorkeling and Ben asked if they were good. To prove how good they indeed were, Theodore cleaned about 30 of them and skewered them on stiff coconut fibers for us. He told us to dredge them in flour, season with salt, and fry. Which we did. And he was right - scrumptious. In exchange we gave him a bag of lemons from the Marquesas, and some dewormer for his puppies. So, as if he hadn't already been nice enough, he then gave me handful of black pearls! For what do we deserve this honor I can't say. But thanks! "Modudu" in Tahitian.

We rented bikes one day and road to a white sand beach (most beaches around here consist of uninviting shards of coral) and took in the sight of more shockingly blue water (See? I remain startled). Our outing suffered mechanical difficulty when the weld attaching the pedal to the rest of Ben's bike broke off. We tried fixing it with shards of coral (too brittle), sticks (too flimsy), and finally found a metal rod to do the trick. This made for a rather difficult contortion on Ben's part, to pedal without slicing his leg. This had gone on a little while; we had turned back toward the village to find a phone, far from any sign of human presence and, who should drive by but the very guy who had rented us the bikes. Problem solved. Ben rode a new bike (with a baby seat) and we enjoyed the rest of the day. With certain of our muscles having been out of commission for awhile, pain killers were required later that night.
Now what? Time to move along. June 30th was our cue to head north (a short trip of 14 miles) to the next atoll, Toau. More on that as it happens.

1 comment:

Jacques said...

We (dad, mum,Prisca and Liz) just read your last text dated July 14. Beautiful description from Shawn, beautiful landscape, nice adventures. We also took the time to finally watch the dolphin video. Amazing, astounding... We (Mum and I) are leaving for Seattle tomorrow. Marianne is going to stay 3 weks, myself only one week...
Liz will send you a note as soon as she can get connected ( that is her message).
Our house is very beautiful. We participated to a picnic lunch organized by the workers (a tradition we are discovering). We presently are leaving in a one bedroom flat downtown Aix. Quite a change from a house.
Grosses Bises,
Marianne and Jacques