Thursday, May 17, 2012

Raroia (full report)

We ended up spending 8 days on Raroia. We never thought we would stay so long at a single atoll, but we've had a wonderful time, thanks to a local family that has befriended us and invited us into their home for several meals.
Regis and Tatiana are not typical of the residents of this remote village - both of them have traveled internationally and worked in the tourism industry. They speak excellent English, which is a big help to us. Regis has a great sense of humor, and both he and Tatiana treat us just like old friends. And they have a 9-year-old daughter, Kivahei, whom we have absolutely fallen in love with. She has won several competitions in traditional storytelling, or korero, and after our first meal at their home, we videotaped her performing one of her stories in a beautiful homemade costume. Although we could not understand very many of the words (in the Paumotu language), her movements were fluid and expressive, somewhat similar to hula.
We have explored most of the small village, and have met many of the residents, including the current mayor, Marcel, and the former mayor, George, who invited us to visit him in Papeete next month. As in the Marquesas, everything is clean and beautifully-landscaped, in welcome contrast to Mexico.
Until last night, we have anchored each night across the lagoon, 6 miles or so from the village, in order to have a more calm ride and better access to snorkeling and walking. Navigating across the uncharted lagoon requires a careful watch for coral heads and the sun behind or to the side. Fortunately it seems easy in these clear waters. We found a comfortable spot nestled near 3 small motus. We visited another small motu nearby, where Thor Heyerdahl's raft "Kon-Tiki" washed ashore in 1947, after an epic passage from the west coast of South America.
Other than that, we have taken it pretty easy while at anchor. We snorkel at least once a day, and beachwalk along the small motus near our anchorage. We have harvested a few green coconuts, and gotten better at husking them. We've done a few boat chores and a lot of reading!
On Saturday, Regis, Tatiana, and Kivahei came across the lagoon in their shiny new skiff, to take us on an excursion. We sped south along the eastern edge of the lagoon, past a pearl farm, until we came to a motu that has been in Regis' family for generations. There is nothing there now, but the family is working on "cleaning" the excess vegetation from the motu (to increase ventilation and reduce bugs) and preparing to build a small bungalow there in a few years. We helped them with piling and burning old coconut husks, and in the process we were introduced to several life stages of the coconut crab, including this vivid blue juvenile.
Regis speared 3 nice-sized grouper which we barbecued for lunch. We ate sitting in the shallow water of the lagoon, with sharksuckers and other small fish churning the waters and waiting for crumbs to fall. One of the sharksuckers bit Vicki on the finger! Early Monday, we raised anchor and crossed back to the village to greet the supply ship Kura Ora. We were able to buy a case of canned beer, for the same price as is charged in the stores on other islands (there are no stores here). It was fascinating to watch the variety of goods being unloaded, and we helped Regis ferry over a ton of supplies (including 5 55-gallon drums of gasoline) a half-mile south to his home. In the afternoon a second supply ship, the Taporo, also arrived at the village and began disgorging even more supplies. Unfortunately we were unable to purchase any of the fresh fruit and vegetables that had been brought from the Marquesas. We'll have to get by until Tahiti on the lemons and pamplemousse that we brought ourselves.
Although Regis and Tatiana's friendship is certainly genuine, they have a commercial interest in getting to know the cruisers that come this way. They have asked us many questions about their plans to offer touristic excursions and other services for cruising sailors. We helped them by buying a few pearl chokers and giving them as many gifts as we could spare from among our supplies.
Only one other boat has arrived since we've been here. A Swiss couple, Thierry and Margot, on a Whitby 42 named "Skimmer" is now anchored beside us in the lagoon. We snorkeled the pass together on Tuesday, on the last of the flood tide. The visibility was fantastic, probably 150 feet. There was one tiger shark and large schools of smaller (blacktip?) sharks. I saw a giant grouper among the abundant live coral - both (the coral and the grouper) are so rare now in most parts of the world. We tried to make a second run through the pass, but in a matter of minutes the current changed from flood to slack to ebb, carrying us out to sea. With only a small outboard to take all four of us back to the village, we decided to head inside the pass before the current got too strong (it can reach 8 knots in this pass). On the inside of the reef we saw a lot of new aquarium-sized fish, a large school of parrotfish, and a number of blacktip reef sharks, some of them swimming in mere inches of water atop the reef!
We wanted to dive the pass again on Wednesday, but the wind freshened making it a long difficult ride by dinghy. So instead we are finally moving on to a different atoll. We will do an overnight passage to Makemo, 80 miles to the SW.


Adam said...

Nice post, Mark! And wow!, that water looks clear, the shots are great!

Cheers from Puntarenas, working on our refrigeration..... :-[

73,88, Adam & Cindi

Cathy Ellis said...

Howdy M & V, wow, wonderful photos and stories, new friends, amazing/endearing places and faces and have found yourselves (digital?) pen-pals for ever, I imagine...all is well here on my little isle, Orcas, almost felt like mid summer, recent unusual spring weather..., hope i can get past your sensors here below, these goofy "words" to sort out to prove i am not a post op eyes are doing well, but still some blurred vision lingers, as i was told to expect....happy trails, love Cathy

Faye said...

Hello Mark and Vicki- What a lovely place and people.
We would love to go snorkeling with you today !
Instead we are heading to Northern California to view
the solar eclipse this evening around 6:50 pm. So glad
we live on such a dynamic, gorgeous planet.

Lots 'o love, Faye, Fred, and Buckley

hotspur said...

Love, love, love the photos!! It makes cruising to a new location 1000 times better when you meet locals like you have and develop friendships with them. I am so very eager to read more!!!