Tuesday, 20 January 2015

FP, Huahine (New years) 05-01-15

So another year has passed. Just like at Christmas, everybody else in the world had moved on from the celebrations and were going on with their lives in the new year before the old one had ended for us. It's weird being in a time zone so disconnected from everybody else. I went to wish my friends and family a happy new year on the first day of 2015, but then I felt stupid because it was already well into the 2nd almost everywhere else in the world. Fireworks and cocktails were already long forgotten.

We didn't get fireworks here in Huahine, but we had a lovely time celebrating with our friends on Irie and Namaste. We started off with happy hour, where we were allowed to stockpile quite a few half price drinks until the bar eventually realised that we had way more drinks than people and cut us off 5 minutes early. Then we had a really chilled out evening, with dinner and a lengthy stay in the games room. There were some young local guys who kept trying to get us to dance with them but we all kept turning them down. Even Garth, who is usually happy to embarrass himself. Poor guys. So we ended a very eventful year with lovely friends on a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific, which was quite different to our celebrations last year in Australia. We had drinks with my best friend and her family, before the boys let off premature fireworks so they could continue drinking up until midnight. And the year before, a few weeks before our wedding in New Zealand. I think I spent that New Years sewing beads onto my wedding dress. So we've come a long way, mostly under sail, and I'm glad we've made it far enough to see the new year in here on this lovely island with these lovely people.

(I've stolen these New Years pics from Liesbet on Irie again)

Liesbet, me and Rachel on New Years eve

The boys - Patrick, Garth and Mark


After a lot of boat work and dinghy finishing we finally managed to get off the boat for some sightseeing yesterday. We actually got up early enough so that we could do boat work in the morning and then take our bikes to shore afterwards, around lunch time. I love this new dinghy! The bikes only just fit in our old one. Now we've got room for the bikes plus four people to sit onboard comfortably. We didn't really have any plans but we knew that it was about 25km around the whole island. So armed with a map, nearly 4L of water and some snacks we set off.

Working on the dinghy - it now has primer on the bottom!

The road wound through several villages, all of which were pretty quiet seeing as it was a Sunday. We stopped a few times to take in the scenery and the kms kind of flew by. It was the middle of the day in the middle of summer in the middle of the tropics, so it was hot. But the ride was surprisingly pleasant.

We stopped to look around a Marae, which is a historical Polynesian site. It was just a lot of rock walls and raised platforms. But the information boards told us that while these Marae were originally meeting places like the Marae in New Zealand, eventually they took on a more religious role. Sometimes they were even used to sacrifice people. Quite a lot of the area was still intact and you could see where everything had been. The boards even showed us whereabouts they would stack up the human skulls from the sacrifices, so that little stop turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had expected.

We eventually made it to Faia without meaning to. This village is all the way on the other side of the island, so there was no turning back now. We were going the whole way around. This is the main tourist attraction on Huahine as giant blue eyed eels live in the creek that runs through the village. Hot and sweaty on my pushbike, I didn't really realise where we were. But we went past a little store with woven bags and sarongs hanging out the front and decided to go inside. A little guy came out as we got to the door and spent a painstakingly long time explaining that we should go and fetch our bikes to park them right next to the door instead of round the corner. He didn't speak a single word of English and my French is very limited, so he exhausted himself pretending to ride a bike and then pointing to the door. When we caught on and moved them to the side of the road close by he took over and propped them up right in his doorway.

He was really lovely. He managed to explain that it was cool inside because of the woven roof, then thrust a weird green thing into my arms. It was like a super sized bean pod. I tried to give it back because I had no idea what to do with it, but he showed us how to open it and eat the flesh inside. It was delicious! It was indeed a giant bean pod, full of giant beans. Each one was encased in something white and squishy which was the bit that you ate. The flesh was sweet and refreshing and reminded me a bit of lychees. It was really juicy. When I squeezed it liquid would come to the surface and would then be sucked back into the sponge-like flesh when I let go. It was definitely the weirdest fruit I've ever eaten. He loaded us up with two more after we'd eaten our taster, which I suspect was quite generous considering I haven't seen them growing anywhere.

The store had the usual things for sale - jewlery and woven baskets. There were also little critters made out of Pandamas hanging in amongst everything that our new friend proudly explained were his. They looked like Christmas decorations and when Garth picked up a fish that he liked this guy started running around retrieving more of them from all the little nooks and crannies in his shop. I don't think he was trying to sell them. It felt like he was just really proud of them and wanted to show them off. We got the Polynesian name for everything and I tried to write them down, but I have no idea of the spelling. I kept asking him how much the little fish was that Garth was clinging to, but he just kept beaming and indicating that it was he who had made it.

Either my French wasn't up to scratch or they didn't really speak French at all, but I eventually gave in and did what the locals usually do when trying to communicate with me - I drew $ symbols in the sand. This worked and we established that they were $500 Spf each. Garth was holding a bird and a fish, and his wife appeared from nowhere to announce that it was $1000 for both. So I gave her a $1000 note. Then it all got very confusing. She reappeared a few minutes later with a huge pile of change and shoved it into my hand - I'm not really sure what I paid but it was much less than $1000. Then a bag was brought out for our wares and after Garth had put his little critters in she stared at it for a second and added a pretty star to his menagerie. Then the little guy went out and cut a hunk off the bunch of bananas that every house has hanging out the front, and shoved that into Garth's hands as well. It felt like we were caught in the middle of a whirlwind of intense hospitality.

So after many merci's and maruru's, which we established was the Polynesian word for thank you, we wandered back out into the sunlight overwhelmed by their kindness and loaded down with our booty.

Not sure where we were going, we wandered across the road to organise ourselves. As we tried to pack away all the bags we noticed a whole heap of kids splashing and playing in the creek by the road. They were obviously chasing something, which we assumed were the eels. Very small eels. They would hide under the rocks and the kids were trying to trap them so they could maneuver the rocks out of the way at the same time as they reached in to grab one. I'm not sure what the next part of their plan was, because as soon as they held up their prize the eels would dissappear through their fingers along with the water.

Assuming these tiny ones were just babies we followed the creek in search of their parents. All the locals were hanging out in the water, splashing around and really enjoying their Sunday. And right next to them were the eels. They were massive! They looked like giant salamanders, with most of them bigger than one of our legs. There was a cruise ship in town so tourists were everywhere, hence why we didn't climb into the water to try and pick one up which is what you're supposed to do. Mostly why. Their heads were so big I'm sure one could have gobbled up my whole arm. Assuming they have teeth.

A little kid appeared out of nowhere and delighted in showing us where the eels were all hiding. Garth always attracts animals and small children. We told him we didn't speak French, but he started chattering away to us anyway. Garth tried to participate in a conversation with him, but 'I would like to eat somehing' and 'My name is Garth' didn't really contribute much to the conversation. This didn't deter the kid though, who followed us around the whole time we were there talking at us in French. I guess that's what kids normally do, but it was strange not knowing what he was saying. We did understand bits and pieces though - he asked us repeatedly why we weren't getting in the water to play with the man-eating eels.

Fish traps... They don't look very effective during the full moon

Our bike ride got a little more difficult after that. We were already almost out of drinking water and were then met with a 2km long hill. There were signs warning us that it was a 15% grade, but knowing that just made it worse. There was no way we could ride up it on our folding bikes. We eventually made it to the top and were presented with a lookout, although it wasn't a very spectacular one.

I swear it was steeper than it looks!

On the way down I could hear island music blaring out from all the valleys. I assumed that the locals were putting on some kind of show for all the people on the cruise ship. But the noise got louder and louder, until a car drove past us with a speaker strapped to the roof. It was bigger than the car, and looked like the kind of speaker you'd find at the front of a stage at a rock concert. They were just driving around the island blaring music, literally as loud as they possibly could. It's pretty normal to see people riding their pushbikes with one hand on the handlebars and one hand on a boom box. Everybody is always carrying around hand-held speakers or setting bigger ones up on the beach and at the side of the road. The locals just seem to want to share their music with the world. But these guys were clearly having a laugh.

Then we got to the bottom of the hill and rode along the coast line as we approached the town of Fare again. Everybody was still celebrating, four days after the New Years celebrations would have died down in Australia and New Zealand. There were groups of people gathered in backyards, smoke curling up from their fires as feasts were prepared. There was a massive volleyball competition going on by the water with locals lounging around and cheering on the players. Then as we got closer to town the whole coastline was dotted with people. They were all having picnics and just relaxing in the water. Except instead of sitting on the beach like normal people, they were sitting in the water. Everybody had moved their chairs out into the water until they were sitting waist deep in the ocean. There were no waves, so there were even a few tables out there as well with chairs all around them so everybody could eat lunch without getting hot. I even saw a beach umbrella planted in the water, shading the lounge chairs underneath. It was brilliant! I loved it so much. I was actually struck with how Australian the whole thing was, considering how often I've seen people back home swimming around with eskys in an attempt to drink and swim at the same time. But instead of purposefully trying to be ridiculous, this was just normal. I love this island.

The New Years celebrations are only just starting to die down today, on the 5th of January. The beach parties that have been going on since last year have quietened down. Over the last week music has been blasting out from huge speakers on the beach, with people lying around in the water all day relaxing. There was even a DJ there one day, chattering away in French and Polynesian in between songs. When there was no music playing groups of locals would gather on the beach and sing for hours on end, creating a beautiful atmosphere for us to enjoy as the sun set each day. They were often accompanied by ukuleles and they clearly knew how to sing, so it was like a free show right in front of our boat.

The beach in front of our anchorage

We went for a snorkel the other day with both Irie and Namaste, which was a lot of fun. I spent ages chasing all the clown fish I could find. We haven't seen any since Australia, but unlike the ones in the Whitsundays these guys were very camera shy. I found one tiny little baby who would just dart in and out of his anemone, appearing in a different spot each time. It hurt my head trying to keep track of him!

Cheesing it up with Rachel

We decided to walk up the beach and drift back towards the boats with the current, which turned out to be a really nice snorkel. As soon as we got in the water from the beach we spotted a few baby reef sharks in the lagoon. They then proceeded to circle us. They didn't want to play though and kept running away then coming back again when they decided we weren't going to eat them. They were totally adorable. Sharks with tiny mouths are much more fun than the big ones.

Rachel kept pointing out interesting things we hadn't seen before - among my favourites were a lion fish and some tiny snake-like guys. There were also these things she called Christmas tree worms, which we saw in lots of different colours. They did indeed look like Christmas trees and would dissappear instantly as soon as you got too close to them. Hours of entertainment right there.


Christmas tree worm

Xxx Monique

Tiny shark will kill you with cuteness!

Garth putting Primer on the dinghy

The beach in front of our boat. The resort attached to it is the only one I've seen in French Polynesia that actually looks nice - they have windsurfers and stand up paddle boards lying around for their guests to use, it's right next to a reef, and the beach isn't private so the tourists and locals are just all hanging out together having fun. Looking at it from the boat, there's just people everywhere having a good time

Almost every house has a mailbox this size. In Huahine Liesbet figured out that they're just the right length to fit a baguette in. Some houses just have long pipes on sticks out the front of their houses and some mailboxes are fancier, but everybody seems to get fresh bread delivered every day

This church is almost identical to all the other churches on all the other little islands. For some reason they're all pink or have pink roofs

Fish traps somewhere on Huahine Nui

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

FP, Tahaa (Christmas in Haamene) 29-12-14

One of the best kept secrets of the South Pacific is the weather. I've heard this said before, but didn't really register what it actually meant. Apparently it means that it can rain for weeks out here. Torrential, unrelenting rain that just pours down as if somebody had upended a giant bucket.

After a week of constant squalls in Bora Bora, we moved to Tahaa with an unfinished dinghy. There was no more epoxy in Bora Bora to finish it with. So the plan was to go to Raiatea via Tahaa, get more epoxy (at a reasonable price this time) then quickly stick it on the dinghy so all the wood was covered and we could put the damn thing in the water. Then we would follow our friends on Irie to Huahine for Christmas.

(All these island names sound so confusing - Raiatea has the 2nd largest town in French Polynesia after Tahiti, so there's actually shops there. It's 20 miles from Bora Bora, so half a day away. Tahaa is the island right next door, maybe an hour away. And Huahine is supposed to be really nice and chilled out - it's the next island along after those two, about a five hour sail from Tahaa).

But just as we were reaching the pass where we would turn towards Raiatea, we got a call on the VHF from Irie. A storm was coming through and they had found a good anchorage at Tahaa where we would be safe to wait it out. We wouldn't be buying epoxy for a while, unless we wanted to head over in 40 knot winds. So that's where we stayed for a week. It rained almost nonstop, making life wet and uncomfortable. We couldn't do washing or boat work. We couldn't explore the town because it was always pouring with rain. And we got very sick of being wet very quickly. The anchorage at Haamene Bay was tucked away at the end of a channel and the bottom was mud instead of the sand we'd gotten used to. The water was murky, brown and uninviting. As the rain got heavier, whatever was under the murky depths got churned up to the surface and the water turned a disgusting light brown colour. Junk was constantly floating by, mostly tree branches and coconuts. The idea of swimming was not very appealing.

Heading into Haamene Bay

The town of Haamene where we were anchored... These 2 pictures were taken 5 days apart

The internet rarely worked, so luckily we had our friends on Irie to keep us company. There was another boat there waiting out the weather - Patrick and Rachel on Namaste. So we all just huddled together in our little anchorage watching the clouds pass us by. The rain did temporarily clear up for Christmas Day though. We actually got to sit in Irie's cockpit for a whole minute with all the food spread out before everything got wet again. Luckily it was just another squall and we got to spend most of Christmas all together in the fresh air. It was our first Christmas away from our families, so we were really grateful to be surrounded by friends instead (I should mention that Liesbet on Irie took most of the pics from Xmas).

The boys - Patrick, Garth and Mark

Rachel, Patrick, Garth, Mark, Me

Nibbles before the main course - devilled eggs, tuna patties, sushi with fresh tuna and cheese with apple and baguettes

And then the rain came back

It was also our first Christmas in the middle of nowhere and I was impressed by how much Christmas food we managed to produce without access to shops or the kind of ingredients that we always have on hand. It took me hours to find some dried fruit in Raiatea, but you have to have fruit and nuts at Christmas! Between the six of us we managed quite a feast, complete with a roast chicken and grilled shrimp just like at home. Garth even tried to make pavlova, which was successful until the last minute when the top didn't harden and it collapsed into a pancake. Damn our oven.

Greek salad, Mum's Xmas rice salad, roast chicken, potatoes and 2 kinds of shrimp

Patrick, Garth, Mark, Me, Liesbet

So we ended up having a great Christmas, rain and all. We didn't get a chance to explore much of Tahaa though. There's lots of vanilla plantations there and the tours seem to be the main attraction for tourists. We didn't even look around the town we were parked in front of - we went from the boat to the little supermarket and back again, mostly in the rain. We did use the new dinghy for a few days until it started getting wrecked from being wet before we'd finished it properly. Half of it doesn't even have epoxy on it yet. So back to the kayak we went, which is starting to break - the sides are all splitting from being in the sun so much. We spent two days repairing it and then it started breaking again. We just need the dinghy to be finished and the kayak to go back to being a toy that gets packed away once we've finished playing with it.

We did get to do a little sightseeing in Tahaa. Before we holed up in Haemene Bay we anchored next to the Coral Garden on the north west side of Tahaa for an afternoon. We braved the wind and the rain and headed to shore for a drift snorkel through the reef and I'm really glad we did. We haven't done many proper drift snorkels, usually just towing the dinghy behind us when the current is a bit strong so we don't have to swim back to it. But here we could tie the dinghy up to the only Motu without a resort on it and walk along a well worn path through to the side facing the ocean.

We were told to just wear reef shoes and not bother with fins, but I'm glad I took them. We put our flippers on whilst gripping onto each other in shallow water as waves rolled over us to crash on the rocks behind. Then we fought the waves in half a metre of water to get round the point and into the channel of water between two Motus. We were flung into the current, which dragged us along like lost leaves swirling around near the surface. It wasn't like snorkelling at all. It was like a fairground ride, as everything flashed past and we started drifting faster and faster. It was really shallow the whole way and it was all we could do to avoid being flung into coral. I don't think I would have been able to steer at all without the flippers! There's no way we could have swum against it. If I'd grabbed onto something and held on for dear life, the current still would have swept me away.

As we got closer to our dinghy the current slowed right down. The blurry shapes flying past us turned into fish and coral, and the path we were following opened up into something actually resembling a pretty little garden. Up until then it had felt like we were driving through a wild jungle, with shapes rushing past and reeds smacking us in the face. As we reached the end we were met with a big open sandy area. A huge school of fish was swimming in amongst patches of coral, and we were actually able to slow down and swim around amongst everything. We had an absolute blast. We only did it once but it really felt like a rollercoaster - I think the standard thing to do is to ride it over and over.

I loved this guy - he chased my gopro from left to right for about 5 minutes

As soon as Christmas was over and the strong winds had gone, we headed over to Huahine. Back to the lively reefs, white sand beaches and crystal clear water we've gotten used to. But we still don't have a dinghy. So we're kind of stuck on the boat again in amongst constant rain squalls with an unreliable kayak. I just want it to be finished so we can go to shore and buy groceries. I want to fill up our water tanks so I don't have to get drinking water from an emergency jerry can sitting in the galley. I want to take the bikes to shore and go exploring. And I want to be able to visit our friends without spending ages rowing and then arriving with a wet bum. But it's always raining and the hardware store is closed until after New Years. So we'll just suck it up and hope that the rain stops soon.

Xxx Monique

We unintentionally raced Irie from Tahaa to Huahine... very slowly. I think it's pretty clear who was going to win, considering who is and isn't a catamaran (We obviously didn't take the pictures of ourselves - we stole them from Irie).


Pretty fishes

Tahaa covered in rain clouds