Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Arriving in Papeete

[Kyle]Finally, it came time for us to sail to the big city. The anchorage was full. We had to get used to traffic noise and exhaust. Carrefour (the French supermarket chain) was packed all of the time.

Sailing to the big city - we are soooo in Tahiti - love it
Oh and the chores begin!

In our usual way, we spent almost the whole time running many exhausting and unpleasant errands because we could and because we wanted the get the boat visitor-ready and be able to spend our time with them as chore free as possible. We needed to get Begonia to a state where we could pretend she was always that clean, tidy and well-stocked. We spent most of our time heat-soaked and stressed, but all ready to start relaxing for a couple of weeks.

We took the bus from the dinghy dock at Taina to downtown Papeete to source some non-grocery items. Much has been said about the unpleasantness of Papeete. We didn’t really find it so. Yes, it is big and crowded compared to so many of the empty little gems in French Polynesia, but it has its own charm and it has lots of stuff you can’t get anywhere else. You just have to pay triple. If you took a vacation to only Papeete, you would miss the best that French Polynesia has to offer, but your trip would still be pretty cool. It has a lovely waterfront and some nice parks, lots of restaurants and plenty to do.

Maryanne suggested we go to the Heiva there that night. My knee-jerk reaction was, “Great! Something else we have to do that we don’t have time for.”

She very reasonably reminded me that Carrefours were all over the place, but the Heiva was Tahiti’s big event and we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time - a once in a lifetime opportunity. "That’s why we’re doing all of this, right?”

"Fine, we’ll go.”

It made for a very long day, but It was totally worth it. It was amazing!

Heiva i Tahiti is a big festival celebrating all things Polynesian. The event we attended was basically a singing and dancing competition. We both agreed the singing was nice, but probably required an acquired taste and a fluency in Tahitian. Half of the stands took a break during the two singing presentations. The dancing was definitely the main event. We’ve seen the Rockettes and they have nothing on these dancers.

Heiva i Tahiti - 2017 - one evening of the many competition events

Actually, the whole production was fantastic. They had an “orchestra” of about thirty. Only three weren’t playing percussion instruments. To this beat, whole fields of hips jiggling in perfect unison juxtaposed torsos tracing graceful arcs, also in perfect sync. The men were equally impressive. Tahitian dance for men seems to be intended as a feat of strength. The last troupe performed for an hour and a half. It has to be like running a marathon in tropical heat.

Equally great were the costumes. All were intricately woven from feathers, grass and palm fronds. They were basically all single-use because the vigor of the dances shook them apart. The stage had to be swept during breaks, leaving a ring of yard waste around the perimeter.

The whole audience left all smiles. It was too late for the bus back to Taina, so we hitchhiked. We were picked up by a Tahitian teacher and her boyfriend who had just been to the Heiva as well. We all spent the short ride talking about how incredible it had been.

After that, we decided to move Begonia into town to be more in the middle of the action for our friends arrival.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Tahiti: Mara'a

[Kyle]Leaving Port Phaeton, we headed out Passe de Teputo into the open sea for the downwind sail to Baie Mara'a, on the southwest corner of Tahiti Nui. We planned the day so that we could continue if we got there and found it unsuitable. On the chart, it looked like it could be a similar situation to the anchorage at Bassin Teahupoo. What we found when we got there was much more usable. The reef was bordered by large shelves of white sand and we were able to set the anchor in 7m within easy snorkeling distance to the large reef.

The best part was the view. From the cockpit, the jagged skyline of Moorea dominates the horizon to the northwest. Its steep spires look like a grove of trees where a couple have fallen over. Just to the left of it, the setting sun sinks below the horizon.

In the morning, the wind had picked up and we had a really slow, wet dinghy ride to shore to see what was there. Maryanne found a 41 year-old Cruising World article with a two-sentence reference to the Mara'a Grottoes. She checked the map on her phone and it was still there, so now we had a goal.

There was a sign on the road and a little pulloff with space for about eight cars. A path led into the jungle to a big cave full of water with vines hanging down over the entrance. We were all prepared for a cool, freshwater swim, but instead found a barrier and a sign saying, "Attention! Chute de Pierres". Well, merde! Now we can't go swimming because somebody failed to dive out of the way of a rock sometime in the last four decades.

After exploring the grottos we also found a local with home made fish traps for sale

At the next one, we found the sign and barrier so far back as to barely be able to see the grotto. The third and last one had no blockade and was fronted by a lovely lily pond that looked to be about four inches deep. Off I went.

First of all, the clarity of the water makes it look much shallower than it is. Two steps in and I was up to my waist. The awful part was that the bottom third was oozy mud. Eeewww! Swimming cancelled!

We decided as a consolation prize to look for another grotto higher up the mountain. We stopped by a local sandwich shop where the nice woman there explained that you can't get there from here. Okay, then we'll have a couple of sandwiches. Maryanne got a nice barbecue chicken. I decided to get fancier and added cheese and fries. Her sandwich was fine, but mine had two little pieces of chicken and a whole lot of strange and unwanted meat. I'm still easing my way back from vegetarianism and that was a bit too much all at once. I think I had a heart attack on my third bite.

We did some more wandering around and found the village of Mara'a proper. The grocery store was closed for renovation. The convenience store was closed. The only thing open was a store selling beautiful brightly-colored sundresses, which I assume must have been for weddings based on the prices.

Further down, we came upon the public pier and park. There lots of kiteboarders were setting up for the day. Like surfing, it looks like the kind of thing that would be a blast if you were good at it. We watched them for a while and then headed back to Begonia.

Watching the kitesurfers and the dramatic surf

At home, we found ourselves in what appeared to be the warm-up area before they went out the pass into the big surf outside. Then we were treated to some pretty amazing acrobatics as they cavorted in the ten-foot breakers.

Snorkelling during our time at Maraa

The following day it was windy and rainy. I decided that wouldn’t be too big of a deal snorkeling, since I would already be wet. The reef at Mara’a is extensive, so I had a lot to keep me occupied. The underwater landscape between the lagoon and the ocean had lots of peaks and valleys to explore. My big find of the day was a sea turtle who was so focused on munching away that she failed to see me approach. When she did, I spun around to give her some space and she was gone. I searched and searched, but never found her again.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Tahiti: Port Phaeton

[Kyle]Mattheiu (of Fakarava’s Pakakota Yacht Services) said Port Phaeton rains 362 days a year, which explains why the contingent of derelict boats were all covered in green.

Port Phaeton - drinks with a view, and (among chores) an explore about the isthmus between Tahiti Iti and Tahiti Nui

We arrived the evening before Opposite Day, when the wind blew from the north, so we had nice hot dry weather. We lowered the dinghy and took a tour of the anchorage before landing at the marina. We walked a short way down the road to a restaurant we had seen on the water and had a coffee and a cocktail for the price of an expensive dinner. After that, I was ready to call it a day but Maryanne convinced me to keep going with the argument that we were already halfway between the dinghy and Carrefour, her favorite French GigantoMart.

We managed to get away with only a light load on the condition that we could return the next day to clean them out.

In the morning, we walked over the saddle to Taravao to see the ocean on the other side of Tahiti. I know. We were really just wandering around the town, but the ocean is right there, so we had to do it.

Coming back home, Maryanne suggested we take a longer route so we could see some new stuff. There wasn't much. It was Sunday, so everything was closed. Even Ace Hardware was closed - on July 4th weekend!

We finally made it back to Carrefour just in time to be shooed out the door. They were closing! Poor Maryanne had such a defeated look on her face as we walked home.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Passage to Tahiti (The Society Islands, French Polynesia)

[Maryanne]Just the title makes me grin with gratitude and amazement that this is my life... So very lucky and so very privaliged to be doing this and making such locations part of my memories for the future.

[Kyle]After a few days at Pakakota in Fakarava, the weather cleared and stabilized and we bid them farewell to sail to the Society Islands.

Leaving Fakarava and the Tuamotus - we found the main supply/cruise ship departing right behind us

Our passage was an uneventful two days of light tailwinds. Our biggest struggles were getting used to the watch schedule and enduring the afternoon heat. We hardly even touched the sails except for a gybe halfway through.

We had been expecting more wind than we got. We should have had to slow down the last night to wait for morning, but instead we were starting to get worried we wouldn't make it in daylight, so we spent almost the whole way looking at our ETA and hoping it wouldn't cost us an extra night at sea. We wanted to be in Tahiti on Friday so we could enjoy a long weekend of being people with a boat in Tahiti and no jobs to worry about.

Arriving in Tahiti in the rain and gloom.. That thankfully lifted as we travelled to our anchorage

The last morning, as we approached the island, the wind finally picked up and our ETA migrated to midday. Tahiti emerged as a particularly gray and unmoving section of the rainy overcast ahead. It took on more form and texture as we sidled up next to it.

A few of the old salts at Pakakota said Tahiti, now known in English as Kentucky Fried Chicken Island, is getting too commercialized. On the eastern side of Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti) there was no signs of it. Towering green mountains thrust up from the sea unmarred by roads or power lines. I kept looking up at it and thinking "That's Tahiti - THE Tahiti!" Incredible.

At Passe Havae, we turned into a small-looking gap through a line of huge breakers and entered the calm of the lagoon. By that, I mean that the water was calm. We were not calm. The channel between the Passe and our intended anchorage at Bassin Teahupoo was narrow and wound through a thin gap between coral reefs that was in some places only wide enough for one boat.

Surfers make the most of the great waves that surround the passes, and we enjoy the stunning scenery as we wind our way around the narrow channels

We looked around Teahupoo, but only found depths of 30m right up to the edge of covering reefs. We tried a few other places along the inside route and found the same thing. We eventually decided to proceed to our next planned stop at Port Phaeton at the saddle between Tahiti Iti and Tahiti Nui (big). There we found some nice, sticky mud for the anchor at 9m among a dozen or so other boats.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tuamotus: Fakarava - Pakakota

[Kyle]After a couple more days pinned down because of the weather, we moved a few miles up the inside of the atoll to the anchorage at Pakokota Yacht Services. We had read that they have four sturdy moorings available and hoped we could get one of them. We had earlier heard a few of the boats up there chatting on the radio when the weather was at its worst, so we decided to call one of them and ask about the mooring ball situation up there. Shindig advised us the moorings were all taken plus there was another ten or so at anchor, but that the bottom "wasn't too bad" - so we waited out a little longer before moving.

Oh, well. We were itching to get out of our spot anyway. The weather had churned up a lot of sand, so the visibility wasn't good for snorkeling. The shore was rocky, so swimming over in the surf wasn't going to happen. We had no cell service of any kind, so we spent our days doing things like cleaning out the fridge in the morning and reading a book in the afternoon. We couldn't even read outside because it was raining. It felt like we were wasting paradise.

Finally we deemed it safe to move on to Pakakota. There was indeed a crowd there and we had to anchor Begonia way at the far end where there was no question about whether we would be rowing ashore or digging out the dinghy motor. We hadn't actually used the dinghy to get ashore since Ua Pou. Since we seem to spend most of our day snorkeling in the Tuamotus, it seems simpler to make a detour to the beach than to go back to Begonia to get the dinghy.

We went shore and made our introductions to the proprietors, Mattheiu and Agnes. I don't know what I was expecting, but they weren't it. Mattheiu is a shortish guy with strawberry blonde hair, clear, bright eyes and a seemingly boundless store of energy and good cheer. Agnes has a mother's ability to do and see ten things at once and looks like the Hinano beer logo. They have a young daughter that appears to be made of stainless steel. The kid has the wobbly stagger of someone new to walking. She's always tottering off barefoot across the sharp coral toward some sort of greater danger. As expected, she falls a lot, often bumping her steel head on something sharp. When this happens, instead of wailing, she pops back up and totters off in another direction towards the next thing. Occasionally, she'll do something that makes us cringe, like balance herself on top of a stool over a concrete floor or go sprinting toward the end of the dock. Every time this happened, Agnes would appear from the kitchen or behind the building and scoop the kid up at the last moment with one arm while still holding somebody's laundry or a big pot of food in the other.

Exploring around Pakakota Yacht Services

When the kid wasn't training to be a stunt baby, she would bring us stuff. She was constantly giving us flowers or plopping seashells on our laps.

They also had a big dog that leaned in hard whenever she was scratched and two constantly purring cats.

Pakokota is in the business of doing everything. They'll do your laundry, make you dinner, fill your propane or jerry cans, take you to town to do some shopping. They also have bungalows to rent and a shed with a large selection of tools (curiously, no vice, though) and can fix most things. If they can't fix it, Mattheiu has the connections to know who can. For instance, one of the other boats in the anchorage had a generator seize. Mattheiu found a guy in town to machine a new shaft and provide new bearings. While their generator was offline, he lent them a couple of spare solar panels so they wouldn't have to use their engine for charging. Oh, and they also have a strong wifi signal they beam out to the anchorage!

Under the circumstances, we were more than happy to throw them some of our business as well. We dropped off our laundry, made reservations for dinner and signed up for a spot on the next provisioning run. In the meantime, we went for walks and got caught up with the other cruisers.

A visit to town to see the church (those flowers are made with wood and mother of pearl)
And the table set for a meal with the family and fellow cruisers

At dinner, Maryanne and I were the only native English speakers, which meant the table was alive with French. That's good for us. It's hard to practice another language when people keep switching to English. We muddled through as best we could and if we ever really got stuck, someone would switch to English for us.

We learned a little of Matthieu's story. His mother is Scottish and his father is from Monaco. His mother worked as an au pair in the palace. An au pair? How many kids do they have in the...oh!! The family moved to Tahiti when he was four, but he spent summers in Monaco until his teens. He took up sailing and diving and worked for a while as a dive boat captain and offshore fisherman before settling down in Fakarava. His brand of settling down seems like a lot of work as he's constantly building things or fixing things on their large parcel of land. It looks like a fifteen-year project to get it done.