Monday, 22 December 2014

French Pol, Bora Bora (Dinghy dramas) 17-12-14

When we got back to Bora Bora from Maupiti I wrote a blog post about how average this 'tropical paradise' is compared to Maupiti. It's supposed to be everybody's ideal holiday location, one of the most talked up island destinations in the world. But after an uncomfortable day sailing back in chaotic seas, no protection from the sun and me with my head over the side every ten minutes, it felt like we were returning to a dirty, bustling city after a relaxing holiday. Which is kind of ridiculous considering it doesn't take long to drive around this whole island and there's only two supermarkets here. But after Maupiti it felt like going back to the city after a stay in the country.

We arrived at Mai Kai Marina in the afternoon and pulled up a mooring. I was feeling so ill that all I wanted was food, solid land and sleep. But we had no food, I was too hungry to sleep and the northerly winds were causing us to rock around relentlessly. Not fun.

It was definitely nice to be back near supermarkets and Internet but it just felt like another island. It's not as beautiful as the last one we saw, there's tourists everywhere and the roads turn into mud pits after it rains. And it always rains. It's just not as incredibly amazing as people make it out to be.


I can't vouch for what goes on in the fancy hotels and over water villas - maybe they have activities lined up forever. But there isn't really anything to do here. The snorkelling is average at best, there's only one public beach, and there's no walks or hikes. Granted, we haven't explored over ground much. But the main town is small and touristy and there aren't really many locals to socialize with.

I still don't really understand what people do here as tourists. It's beautiful. It's really nice sitting around and taking in all the beauty. But how long can you relax for? I found myself craving the cheap, greasy burger place outside our anchorage in Rarotonga that was always a bustling hub of activity and excitement. I missed the crazy kids jumping off the dock and playing around our boat. And I missed the quiet women in Vanuatu washing their clothes in the stream. The kids swimming fully clothed in Tonga, begging us to join them. But there aren't really any locals here to socialise with. Mothers aren't swimming with their kids, there's no people bringing their produce to the markets, and nobody is interested in coming over and trying to chat like they are in Fiji. Everybody is friendly and they say hello with a smile. But they're all either working or just standing around, uninterested in trying to converse. It's a beautiful place but it's the locals that make beautiful places interesting and memorable. The locals here are friendly but they're not very interesting, which has become blatantly obvious after visiting Maupiti. I still blame the cruise ships. The locals are just exposed to wave after wave of tourists, so they're obviously not going to go out of their way to chat with us.

There's always a cruise ship. I guess it's the only way normal people can afford to come here, considering the price of accommodation

But over the last week we've been building a dinghy and my opinion of this place has completely changed. I guess people staying in the resorts only come to town a few times, because they have everything they need at their resort. There's a constant stream of tourists coming through but there's always new faces. After just living here, unconcerned with activities or sightseeing, it was different. I bought lunch from the same place every day - chicken and chip baguettes for $3.50 each. The girl at the counter became friendlier every day. People started to recognise me. The lady in the hardware store certainly saw me coming, and would ask all the customers if they spoke English as soon as I walked in, in case they could better help me find scrapers to apply epoxy with, or a tom thumb Robertson Screwdriver. Try saying that in French! (My best attempt was to mime screwing something in along with the word 'petite')

Not having a dinghy has made life hard. We've tried both kayaking and swimming, neither of which works very well for long distances or with kite gear and push bikes. We need a dinghy. So we had a few wines before we left for Maupiti and decided to just get some wood and build one. An idea that still seemed to be our best option in the light of day long after the effects of the wine had worn off. So we drew up plans. We researched. We drew up more plans. We discussed it endlessly, sometimes over more wine. We decided to make a wooden Waka Ama canoe, which was very complicated and not so clever in the light of day. And we finally decided on what we were going to do.

Our wine-fuelled plans with 3 different options. There could be only 1.

Our prototype...It was very scientific

Garth shows me how it will fly through the air. No more wine for him.

The locals saw me trudging back and forth along the road through the mud and rain. They saw me carrying a heavy load of wooden battens the wrong way, and together showed me how I should have them over my shoulder instead of under my arm. I went shopping nearly every day, dragging my ass the long way home with a bag of food in one hand and baguettes in the other. I guess tourists don't do that. Everyone became friendlier.

Teiva, who runs the Mai Kai Marina, was amazing. He let us work on his dock right in front of the restaurant. People would come out for pictures in front of the setting sun and we'd be sitting there in a pile of glue, covered in sawdust, wearing clothes that hadn't been washed in a week. We got up at 6 am every day and kept going until sunset. It was continually raining, so if we slept in through the only sunshine of the day we'd have kicked ourselves.

Fiberglassing in the dark

One evening we had collapsed on the outside couch to use the marina wifi. It was getting late and we were too tired and hungry to move. Teiva (who is also the chef there) sent us out a plate of tapas - warm bread, chicken mousse and patè, among other delicious things. We almost teared up we were so exhausted and grateful. Afterwards I took the plate back in and thanked him profusely, when he asked if we'd had enough. I laughed and said we couldn't keep eating his food... to which he responded by sending out another plate. We just couldn't believe how generous and nice he was (I should point out that we spent $50 for the mooring for the week and that was it. He was definitely losing money by having us there, considering how much we used the wifi and bummed up the place).

He also came down every day to see how we were going, offering advice and support. He even suggested a few things that made the boat a lot better, which was invaluable considering we had no idea what we were doing. Our original plan had been to knock together something dodgy on the beach that would last until we got a new one. Thanks to Teiva, our boat is beautiful and should last a long time.

There was also a really lovely guy living on a yacht there who worked at the dive shop by the marina. His name was Thierry. He walked past on our first day, saw our rusty saw and said 'non non, this is not good.' (Garth was off looking for WD40, because we had already discovered it was no good. It refused to cut through anything cleanly, and we had a lot of cutting to do). Thierry returned with a brand new saw from his own boat, and told me it would cut through like butter. It did. He kept fetching us things throughout the week, even loaning us a drill when our batteries died and we didn't have enough power onboard to charge them. When he found out we were looking for epoxy he didn't even try to explain, just got his keys and said 'come, come.' He loaded us into his car, drove us to his girlfriends house where he had boat things stored and dug through everything until he produced resin and fibreglass. It was the wrong type of resin, but we were just blown away by his generosity (I should mention that both Teiva and Thierry are French, so please ignore all stereotypes about arrogant French men. They obviously don't apply to everyone).

We were even given a ride into town when we bought all the wood, because the shop owner was also a lovely guy. I had to go back a few days later to get more, but Garth needed to keep working so I went alone this time. When the owner found out that I was going to try and carry home a giant piece of plywood, he went nuts. He started running around knocking on the neighbours doors trying to help me out. I couldn't believe how distressed this poor little Asian guy was at the thought of me dragging a sheet of plywood home. Eventually he sent his daughter and her boyfriend into town to do the grocery shopping, taking me and the wood along with them.

So much wood... This was before we bought more and after we started cutting it.

So we were just blown away by how nice everybody was being. Various charter boats tied up to the dock while we were there, offering us free beer, fresh fish and support. A local speedboat tied up there for a few days, island music blaring so loudly from their impressive speakers that they drowned out the chilled out tunes in the restaurant. One of the guys onboard was so impressed with our efforts that he insisted on shaking my epoxy covered hand. I tried to explain that I was sticky, but he just stood there with his hand outstretched, hell bent on showing his respect regardless.

So I'm not going to publish the original post I wrote. Theres a lot more to Bora Bora once you scratch through the surface. I still don't think there's much to do here as a tourist, but once you start living here its a wonderful place. It doesn't live up to all the hype. But it's beautiful and the people here have big hearts. I wouldn't come here to stay in a resort and I think anybody wanting to holiday in Bora Bora should charter a yacht with a group of friends. See the islands. Meet the people. Come back to the Mai Kai Marina in between, because this ex-resort really makes you feel like you're in paradise with it's infinity pool and happy hour by the water.

Xxx Monique

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

French Polynesia, Maupiti (snorkeling, trapeze and kiting) 07-12-14

So this is what relaxing is like! I can't even tell you what we've done in the last week. I crocheted a cushion cover. We drank some wine. I baked a lot of stuff. We got the trapeze set up... that doesn't add up to 7 days.

There's not much to the town. People gather in an undercover area straight in front of the small dock where we tie our kayak to sell food and veges, like a market. A smokey grill is usually getting a workout, and I saw ice cream being retrieved from the depths of a big esky and handed down to an expectant young girl. But there's only one lady who sells produce close by. She usually has tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, green capsicum and lettuce. That's the only food available here. I noticed that she does occasionally have new things like limes, but grab them while they're there or never see them again. I discovered a lone pineapple in amongst her wares one day. The lady looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if she had any more. She also wouldn't let me throw out the spikey top, which is interesting. From her enthusiastic hand gestures I think the message she was trying to convey was that they use the leaves when they make skirts worn for traditional dances.

There's also a bakery near town and a few small shops with not much in them. I went into one and found chocolate, cigarettes, baguettes and ice cream. That was it. Very few people speak English. Liesbet asked the locals what they eat and the answer was a lot of starch. Breadfruit, baguettes and whatever vegetables are available. I wish I'd brought more meat with me! Food doesnt get delivered over here very often, so once they run out that's it for a while. But we certainly haven't been going hungry. While there's not much variety, the vegetables here come in big bunches and are cheap. Plus I bought large amounts of brie before we left Bora Bora.

There's a few houses in town with rickety 'artesian' signs out the front. One of them was set up as an actual shop rather than leading to a path into somebody's backyard, so I wasn't afraid to go in and have a look around. We're on such a tight budget and I always feel bad wandering through somebody's house to look at the beautiful things they've created when I have no intention of actually buying anything. The shop had mostly shell jewelry, but it was absolutely beautiful. I don't usually look twice at the jewelery when we're going through markets or souvenir stores. When am I going to wear pretty earrings or expensive necklaces!? But these were amazing. Everything was so elaborate, with coloured shells layered in beautiful patterns. Some of the designs were subtle and detailed at the same time, while others were huge affairs which reminded me of the peacock displays usually adorning the necks of older rich ladies. I ended up getting a ring and some little earnings, the second and third things I've bought in over a year that served no purpose other to be pretty (I splurged on a fake flower for my hair in Bora Bora). We also picked out pretty wind chimes made out of shells as our souvenir from French Polynesia. I'm glad I found something made locally instead of mass produced junk from a tourist trap.

There was a young woman sitting outside who spoke very broken English and I asked her to weave a ring for Garth, who constantly loses his wedding ring. After the original went over the side I've been replacing it with a new one in each country. She quickly put something together for me which was miracously just the right size. She even made it look more rugged and manly than the pretty shell one I had just purchased for myself.

We chatted for a while and I found out that they use palm fronds for weaving here instead of pandamas leaves like in all the other countries we've visited. I really want to weave a basket for my bike, so time to gather some leaves! She wasn't wearing a ring herself but had one tattooed on. With some very vigorous miming and hand gestures, she explained that she decided she and her husband should have their rings tattooed on so he couldn't go running around with his wedding ring in his pocket and other women in his bed. I actually find it quite interesting that we were able to have such an in depth conversation without speaking the same language. I'd never before realized how easy it is to converse using mostly mime.

She was surprised when I said we didn't have any children - she has two kids in school and a little one at home. I asked if she liked living here and her answer was a very enthusiastic yes. Of course she does. It's beautiful and quiet, without all the nonsense going on in Bora Bora with the tourists and shops. Her nose even crinkled up as she mentioned Bora Bora. She has food growing in her yard, along with friends and family close by. I love that these people don't need much more than that to be happy, because if you think about it that's really all you need. I'm not even sure all the houses here have running water. There's taps placed regularly along the road and yesterday I walked past a lady heading towards one with a wheelbarrow full of empty plastic bottles. After living on a boat my views about the world have changed so much. Why do you need running water anyway? We have taps on board, but we have to refill our water with plastic bottles and jerry cans. Water has to come from somewhere, and taps make you think about that a lot less. That's how droughts effect areas that they really shouldn't - it's from people not caring where their water comes from. I remember thinking how horrible it was when everybody in QLD was supposed to start taking 2 minute showers to save water. But I can't remember the last time I had a shower that lasted a whole 2 minutes, knowing how much effort it takes to refill the water on our boat.

There aren't really many activities to partake in here. It's quiet, peaceful and beautiful, but there isn't much to do aside from live. This is partly because a trip to the shops takes only 10 minutes, so we don't end up wandering around town all day. So we've been fixing things. I cleaned the boat from top to bottom. Once I ran out of things to clean I started baking. I can't actually remember the last time I baked something just because I could and for no other reason, which is an invigorating realization.

Other than that we've just been relaxing. Like people do on real holidays. The longer we stay here the more I like it, probably because I'm capable of entertaining myself. I put the trapeze up and now I can play on it morning and night. It's pretty exciting having a trapeze right next to my bedroom. I love being able to swing around upside down over the water, with the sun setting on one side of me and white beaches stretching out on the other. So that's been a lot of fun.

We've had dinner with Liesbet and Mark a few times, as well as joining them on the beach for drinks one day as the sun was setting. I even got to test out the new LED poi I bought in Australia, which was really exciting. They're amazing! They're soft so they don't hurt, and there's so many different settings (the fire one actually looks like fire! The brand is Podpoi in case anybody is interested).

When we first decided to buy a boat I pictured myself doing yoga on the beach every morning, with my trapeze hanging off a nearby tree. I thought I'd be watching the sun set every day from the comfort of a fluffy towel laid out along the sand, and I'd read books in my hammock. In over a year this was the first time we've actually gone to the beach from the boat and had drinks in front of the setting sun (first time I've had the trapeze hooked up properly as well). So it feels like we've arrived at our destination. We've achieved what we set out to do, which was to enjoy life without having to rush off to the next place. It feels good.

The most exciting thing about Maupiti is that there's supposed to be a lot of manta rays. Without a dinghy we can't really go chasing them, so Mark and Liesbet took us snorkeling to try and find some underwater life. The water here is really murky. It's the first place we've been in a long time where you can't see very far under the water, which is strange considering how clear it is in Bora Bora. We explored the reef on either side of the pass, crossing between the two against quite a8 strong current. There was a lot of dead coral, which we've come to expect. The fish were definitely more abundant on the Eastern side and we found a few interesting things, including two eelsand some huge sting rays. You see them everywhere but I've never been swimming with them before. So that was a lot of fun, but no manta rays. Mark and Liesbet went looking for them nearly every day and couldn't find any either. It must be the wrong time of year, because they're supposed to hang out at the surface here.

(Edit: They finally found some after we left. Damn! They even got some pictures, which is awesome).

We've also spent a lot of time trying to kite. It's the wrong season for kiting, as the wind isn't very strong. We need 15 knots to get our kite going. It keeps getting up to 10 and then staying there. So we've been out on the deck every half hour measuring the wind speed with the anometer. Garth would get in the kayak and paddle out to see if it was stronger in different places. We would take all our gear to shore and Garth would set up, launch the kite, then stand there holding it for a while before it fell out of the sky and curled up on the sand or water in a sad little ball. There's just not enough wind.

Finally we gave up. We'd set the kite up so many times for nothing, and it's a lot of work to get all the gear to shore in an inflatable kayak. We had just come back from shore and were planning on spending our last day in Maupiti just lying around. Then Mark radioed us from a different anchorage to let us know that they had 17 knots over there. I was packing away lunch before he'd finished talking and a few minutes later we were off, with the kayak towing behind and the trapeze dangling down from its spot on the spinnaker pole. Not exactly a safe state to travel in.

I let Garth go to shore alone, because he would get there faster without me and I was sick of watching him not kite. It was heartbreaking. But the wind stayed, the kite flew and he was off, zipping around our favourite Motu for a few hours. The friendly dogs showed up to play again and one of them was really excited by the kite. He chased Garth for ages, paddling out into deep water to be near his new friend and the big zippy toy. A few times he got too close and Garth had to stop suddenly, spraying the pup with a huge wave of water. The happy fellow wasn't bothered at all and just sat there waiting for the fun to start again, wagging his tail as fast as he could.

Garth's four legged friend kept chasing him

I had to swim to shore against a strong current to have my go... It's definitely time for us to get a new dinghy. I had a lot of trouble with the kite - I'm still very much learning and the water was really shallow and covered in rocks where Garth wanted me to kite. So whenever I fell over I got dragged across the rocks. Not cool. We've also done a temporary fix on the kite lines after breaking them in the Whitsundays, because we can't get the line we need to fix them properly here. So the kite flies again, but I can't reach the bar when it's flying. Every time I fell and let go of the bar so it wouldn't nosedive along with me, I couldn't reach up to save it before it crashed as well. So I didn't do very well. But I eventually made it out into waist deep water and got going for a bit, where Garth managed to teach me a few new things before the sun went down. The puppy started following me as well, expecting the fun to start again. After nearly running over him a few times I had to yell at him to go home. He was so confused as to why his friends were being angry when he just wanted to play, it was the saddest thing I'd ever seen.

Just lying around

So that was Maupiti. I really love it here, but we can't stay forever. We're heading back to Bora Bora tomorrow with the intention of buying wood and building a dinghy. Which sounds stupid but it's the most logical thing to do considering we cant afford a new one and wouldnt be able to buy one until we make it to Tahiti in a month so anyway. Hopefully it will only take a few days and shouldn't cost too much, depending on the price of wood out here in the middle of nowhere.

Xxx Monique

We explored the Motus by kayak

Not enough wind to get moving

We loved this pup

Photo bombed!

Pretty full moon

Let there be wind!