Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Gambiers (French Polynesia)

[Kyle]Once arriving in French Polynesia we needed to present ourselves at the local police station to officially clear in. The Gendarmerie turned out to be closed for a ridiculously long lunch, so we killed time until they reopened by exploring the town. That turned out to be a big mistake because, by the time the Gendarmerie opened up again, we had seen everything in the town at least twice since that was the nature of our out-and-back route. Rikitea is mostly houses. They have the Gendarmerie, the Mayor’s office, a giant church, a Post Office and three stores, one of which has a small cafĂ© on the side which comprises the town’s only restaurant. We chatted with a few other boaters who were leaving as they closed for lunch (Yep, you read that right), and they gave it mediocre reviews before making a decrement for price. We should have spread it out. Now we had nothing left to see the next day.


We've arrived back in French Polynesia



Rikitea on the Island of Mangareva
The main town of the Gambiers

Still not ready to go back to the boat, we wandered out of town in search of Fritz. Fritz is a man whose name is not anything remotely like Fritz, but he’s German, so everybody calls him Fritz. He served in the Foreign Legion during some war, probably World War I, and then sailed to Rikitea, where he’s been welcoming boaters ever since. When I met him, he explained to me in French that he didn’t speak English and then tried to converse with me in German and Russian. Every time I tried to steer him back to French, he kept going back to German because he seemed to be convinced it would be easier for me that way. I guess in a way it was, because I don’t even pretend I understand German. On top of this, he is a little hard of hearing and he loves to watch German music videos, so I would shout at him in French while he would shout at me in German as the TV blared in the background. At length, I was able to ascertain that he would like us to consider ourselves welcome to do laundry, take showers and fill our water jugs on the condition that we do them all in the morning. He explained,”I’m old. I sleep in the afternoon.” Fair enough.

So, no sleeping in the next day, then.

At first light, I rowed Maryanne, two big bags of laundry that has been piling up since Chile and all of our water jugs way over to Fritz’s house across a long shallow barely deep enough for the oars. Maryanne enjoyed the luxury of all of the fresh water she could want to rinse the shampoo out of her thick hair and started the laundry while I filled the jugs and began a series of several trips to fill our water tanks. Fritz’s music was actually a great navigation aid. Facing backwards wile rowing, all I had to do was wait until the music was loud and to my right and then turn toward it. Fritz was telling Maryanne stories of derring do in German, of which she understands a little. Even I understood he was flirting with her. How do you say, “If I were thirty years younger…” in German?



The local Cathedral is the largest in the South Pacific islands
A crazy investment of resources for an island with such a tiny population

On about my fifth water run, Chris from Nemo came by and told me he discovered there was a potable water tap at the beach right in front of Begonia. The trip could be made with about five strokes of the oars. That allowed me to top up the tanks while saving an hour doing exercise in the midday tropical sun.

I used the time to row over to the Grocery store/restaurant to pick up a few things. Chris mentioned he got some fuel there as well, so I brought a couple of jerry cans, just in case. After getting the groceries, I asked about the fuel and was led by a ridiculously tall and fit guy to a bunch of 200 liter drums behind a shack. He got out a hose, opened a few caps to find the drum with diesel, and then shined a light down the hole to see how much was there. It was too empty to siphon from directly, so he replaced the cap, tilted the drum so he could get a better grip and lifted the whole drum and placed it on its side on top of the others. That way the hole would be closer to the fuel level. Big deal, Showoff! Those drums only weigh about fifty pounds, plus maybe a little bit extra for the fuel. How much fuel was in there, anyway? He spun the barrel and opened the cap. It was half full. Half a barrel of diesel weighs about 200 pounds – oh yeah, plus the barrel. That dude just threw a 250lb barrel of fuel on top of another as if he were tossing a bean bag chair into the back of a truck.

As the diesel flowed into our jerry cans, we chatted a bit. He asked about America. The poor guy did not know we had had an election since the last one he had heard about in 2008. I tried to explain it to him, but I just couldn’t get it across properly in French. I didn’t want to try too hard. He seemed to have a beautiful tropical paradise in his head.

I asked him what he liked to do for fun. He lit up. He’s a dancer! Yep, one of THOSE dancers. He said his troupe would be in the Heiva on Mangareva. After that, they will be in Tahiti at the big Heiva there. No wonder he’s in such amazing shape! He taught me a couple of simple moves and I promptly dislocated everything below my neck. I’m sure if I tried one of those Haka chants, my jaw would have gone as well.

When the jugs were full, I picked them up to carry them back to the dinghy. He offered to take them for me, but I said I didn’t mind the exercise. He insisted, though, so I put them down. Then he picked them up and took off Fruit Race style in a full run, all while looking happy and really, really, really, ridiculously good looking. That’s it! Maryanne is not allowed to go to that store for anything!

On my last trip to pick up Maryanne and the laundry, I brought a few goodies for Fritz at Maryanne’s request. He seemed especially happy with the cheeses (the only cheese available in most of FP is heavily processed, Velveeta type stuff). In return, he gave us a couple of German sausages and showed us where the ladder was so we could strip his pamplemouse tree. Then it was all hugs and kisses and Bon Voyages and we left him to his nap.


Guests aboard Begonia

For the evening, we hosted Chris and Elayne for dinner. We spent the night trading stories. We told him about that time we had difficulty finding parking near the door at Costco and he told us the one about when he and Elayne were held by the Taliban and held captive for three days. That guy can talk! He was just getting warmed up when Elayne elbowed him in the ribs and reminded him we should have all been in bed a long time ago. Time really does fly when you’re having fun. I had hardly noticed myself, but it was all I could do to not doze off while doing the dishes.

The weather really wasn’t cooperating for moving west, so weeks of lingering in the Gambiers were curtailed to days. Not being able to think about anything else to do in Rikitea and eager to see some more of the group, we pulled up the anchor and went looking for a little more seclusion.

We motored around to the north side of the adjacent island of Taravai and anchored as the only boat in Onemea Bay. We had a perfect little tropical paradise all to ourselves. The bay was ringed with a white sand beach, above which sloped a steep wall of coconut palms and trees laden with tropical fruits. In the bay with us were lots of colorful fish darting around labyrinths of coral.


Some tranquil scenes in Taravai
Kyle undergoes some repairs under the boat!

Paradise lasted until about midnight. The wind picked up. We should have been protected from it but, rather than block it, the topography of the island bent it around and blew it straight into our bay. We were pushed so our stern was only three or four meters from coral that was breaking the surface. We got terrible sleep after that so we decided to move to the bigger bay next door as soon as it got light out.

It was also beautiful and also had no signs of human habitation, but we were a bit too far from the beach and the coral to be able to just pop over. Still, it was a perfect place to lie out on the trampoline at night with the trade winds cooling us off and bathing in the light of the full moon.

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