Sunday, October 19, 2014

And Gone

The season moves ever on, and the winds are forecast to be favorable starting tomorrow.  So, assuming that the good weather-organized boat Venn diagram comes together, we'll make our departure from Ra'ivavae to Rapa.

We've been lucky enough to visit a lot of islands in Polynesia over the last six years.  Ra'ivavae has been our favorite of the lot so far.

Harold Tamaititahio - our great help in Ra'ivavae
A big part of our delight in the island has to be the absence of a yachtie scrum.  Only one other boat stopped in during the month+ that we've been here.

We love meeting fellow sailors, and I love the way that the common experience of people who go to sea in their own boats is a dependable bridge over national differences.

But, when there are lots of boats around, as there are in most of the South Pacific anchorages, sailors tend to assort by nationality, which I find tends to defeat the whole idea of travel.  Worse still, when you share no common language with the locals, and little in the way of common outlook, a fleet of anchored boats gives you a pool of people who are easy to interact with, and that in turn makes it harder to get down with the locals, as it were.

So this mix, of one other boat with whom we could compare notes and trade stories (the delightful crew of the Dutch yacht Hera), was just right.

Marcelle and Eric
But of course, the real joy of Ra'ivavae was the people of this small island, and the warmth with which they welcomed us.  Ra'ivavae is a place where strangers shake your hand, it's a place where (almost) everyone has a wave and a smile at the ready.  Alisa's efforts of distributing lunettes served as our introduction in this place where we don't speak the language, and once we had gotten to know some people, it was the lunettes that we kept coming back to as our consolation when we considered the overwhelming generosity with which we were treated.

"Thank God for the lunettes," we would say to each other as people pressed gifts on us.  When you consider the work that goes into producing food here, and the easy grace with which it is given to strangers, reciprocation with an old t-shirt doesn't feel up to the mark.  So the lunettes have finally given us a way to feel that we're reciprocating adequately to Polynesian gift-giving.

(The many people who do the work to collect the old reading glasses and get them to us, while Alisa and Elias get all the fun of handing them out - that's another story.)

Alisa and an abandoned marae - a pre-contact chief's house/place for religious
devotion/center of local political power.  (I think.)  There are marae ruins
everywhere in Ra'ivavae.  While the language of the island survived, nearly all
knowledge of pre-contact culture is lost.  The island is small (less than 5 nautical
miles long) and the apocalypse of post-contact epidemics was total. 

So, Ra'ivavae gave us all that we ever hope to find in the sailing life.

But, then, someone from Moorea whom we met here smiled when we said we were going to Rapa and replied, "Rapa?  You'll cry when you leave Rapa."

New places ever await.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Home Run

On one of the first Saturdays of our stay in Ra'ivavae, Elias and I went on a bike ride and stumbled on ruruoa in the village of Anatonu.

Touche! works for tag
For want of a wiki-definition, I might define rururoa as "the Polynesian festival of volleyball".  For three months the Protestant churches in the four villages on Ra'ivavae hold a weekly volleyball/petanque/basketball competition-with-Polynesian feast.  The location rotates among the villages, teams from each village wear different color jerseys, and the volleyball is both good-natured and competitive.  It lasts all day Saturday, tons of families are there, and the music is loud.

Good fun for a traveling family, you might think.
Waiting for the bus

Well, that first Saturday, Elias wanted nothing to do with it.

We were riding our bikes along the road, then suddenly we were in the middle of a crowd, with lots of kids staring at us - mostly staring at him.  Elias didn't share a language with them, and it made him nervous to suddenly be the object of so much attention.  He couldn't get away fast enough.

Cut to - now, three weeks later.

School assembly
Every kid on the island of Ra'ivavae - and I mean every kid - knows his name.  We hear cries of "El-eee-uss!" everywhere we go.  And to Elias, that sound is a call to play.  He might not know
the other kids' names, and he still doesn't share a language with them.  But he knows enough French to play tag and to thumb wrestle.  We can go hours without knowing exactly where Elias is - he's just somewhere in Rairua, the village we're anchored at, having a play.

In the middle of it
The change, of course, is due to the three weeks that he and Eric went to school.  (Whenever a three- or four-year-old on the island sees me, I'm liable to hear, "C'est le papa d'Ereek!")

We weren't sure how it would go when we first put the boys into school, but we've been very impressed by their willingness to throw themselves into a situation where they can't speak to anyone, aren't sure of most peoples' names, and generally have no idea what's going on.  There are kids to play with - it must be said, some of the friendliest kids we've seen anywhere - and that's good enough for our boys.

The little kids' nap room at school
Both of our boys have been traveling for most of their lives, but I think these three weeks, when they've gone off without us into such a foreign setting, and have apparently thrived, have been their first real independent travel experience.  For Eric, they've been the first independent experience of any kind

They weren't in school long enough to get anything "concrete" out of it, like learning French.

But of course that's beside the point.

Visiting scholar
And, I should add that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the people of Ra'ivavae for welcoming our kids into the school so graciously.  Among other things, providing food for the kids is a communal effort - the commune pays for the lunches, but my understanding is that parents bring in food for the kids' very substantial snacks.  So the four villages have been feeding our kids for these three weeks, in a sense, and we are very aware of that kindness, although no one here would ever draw our attention to it.

Alisa has been baking banana cake at a semi-industrial scale as we try to at least make a gesture towards reciprocating.


I'll end by referencing the picture on the right.

Elias might not have been in school long enough to learn French.

But what did he learn in school in Polynesia?

How to make armpit farts!

How could you not love that...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Ever since we left New Zealand, we've been keeping the water tanks full with rain that we catch on board, supplemented by the occasional hauling session with jerry cans.

We last bought diesel fuel in New Zealand, but we carry a lot - 900 or 1000 liters - and I'm hoping that we won't have to buy more until we reach Chile.

Butane for cooking we can get at any village in French Polynesia, though is is a bit of an event to get the 13 kg tank out to Galactic and then back to the magasin empty after I've hung it on the stern arch and decanted the fuel into our own tanks.

All of which sets me up to mention an email I sent to a friend from the Tuamotus a while back.  I mentioned that our water, diesel and butane tanks were all full, and we were feeling pretty flush as a result.

I didn't think much about it, but the recipient grabbed on it as evidence that we were living the Good and Simple Life.  A, "mate, if that's what your'e worried about, I reckon you're doing alright" sort of sentiment.
Papaya and pamplemousse for breakfast, every day
His comment made me think about it more.  And I kind of agree.  We have our larger ambitions and our thoughts for the future.  But while we're traveling on the boat, most of our concerns are concrete and in the present.  That's a luxury, I suppose, in this day and age.

And it's a luxury we're not taking for granted - we are very satisfied at how easy it is to satisfy us right now, if you follow me.

Here in Raivavae, meanwhile, our satisfied-with-the-simple-things phase is taking on a new dimension - the dimension of fruit.

People grow a lot of fruit in Raivavae, just as they do on every volcanic island in Polynesia.  You can't buy any of it in the store.  But people here are phenomenally generous, and have given us so much that we have been replete with fruit throughout our stay.

Alisa has kept count - we've got our 8th stalk of bananas hanging from the stern arch right now.

After the fruit desert of the Tuamotus, all these tropical delights - the bananas and pamplemousse and korosole and vi and papayas and oranges and pomegranates and that weird purple sphere that we didn't get the name of - they are all a delight.  And, thanks to the kindness of people here, we have all that we could possibly want, and more.

What could be better than that?

Meanwhile, here, and below - there are so many more stories than I could ever get down!