Monday, August 4, 2014

And There Was That

"That" in this case being the south pass of Fakarava. This is one of those places that is well-known enough to be a part of an itinerary for a pre-planned trip to the South Pacific, and therefore also the sort of place that is likely to be quite dull from a traveler's perspective. Boatloads of daytrippers being carted in to the beach on the motu, the row of studiously boring private cruise ships anchored off in the deep water with their crews of nautical servants in matching getups, local interactions that are filtered through the expectations of tourism. That sort of thing.

But, hell, we're on a roll. (Touch wood.) We had a great time.

It helped immediately that we knew some of the young terrors zipping around the anchorage on kite boards. We had met a couple of young French guys on an eight-meter yacht (America translation: "small") at the village in the north of Fakarava, and they were well in evidence when we arrived - rafted up with first one, then two other shabby boats of shabby young sailors having the shabbiest, most delightful time you could imagine. Just looking at them and their cheap boats and the nautical hitch-hikers that they had found room for stoked the furnace of my enthusiasm for the life afloat. Whatever these guys know about living on a sailboat, you won't read about in one of the American sailing magazines. One of the guys was feeding the dream by giving kite surfing lessons every day to other yachties in the anchorage and the other had his parents aboard on a visit from France.

Soon the mom, a retired French teacher, was aboard Galactic giving Alisa some lessons to help her communicate through the reading glass "clinics" that she is doing in French Polynesia, and the dad was explaining his ideas about how all seven billion of us fall along the gradient of precariousness and security, and how that affects things like our propensity to speak multiple languages and think in terms of "I" or "we". There are Ted Talks, in French, it turns out, and his fourth book is in the works.

We had a very nice beach fire with the whole mob. Everyone was very gracious about speaking English to include us. There was no alcohol, which, after our years of Australian and Kiwi barbecues, felt outlandishly original. There was a much higher degree of skill at enjoying the local resources than we can bring to bear. They knew which fish were safe to eat, and had braved the sharks in the pass to spear very many of them. They made a grill over the fire with green palm fronds. Their skill at processing coconuts far surpassed our own. They sat, and talked, and let the meal come as it would, with whatever item that was ready - poisson cru, grilled fish, bread cooked on sticks over the fire - being shared around the circle by the person who had made it. Music was played, and fire juggled. Elias and his parents allowed themselves to be enthralled. Eric allowed himself to be asleep.

Because there is no appreciable population of Americans of French descent (one of the few European nations you can say that about) and because of the French awareness of their role as a linguistic and cultural/philosophical redoubt against the hegemony of English in Western culture, the Francophone world strikes me as being very much an alternate universe to what an Anglophone American might take for granted. And, as always, we learn whatever we know about France primarily from our interactions with the crazy, adventurous people whom we meet far from France, and who evince no desire to go back.

Besides that, there was also the famous pass, which we snorkeled as a family again and again. There were sharks, as advertised, and there were scores of other species of fish, some of them quite new to us.

And, I reached out to the world a bit. I worked at existing science commitments, and I solicited new work. I put some effort into reviving my long-dormant "career" of freelancing for sailing magazines.

There was time. We would stay until the tradewinds faltered, giving us a chance to get further east in the chain. Eric and I made the tour of the anchorage in our rowboat, hearing about the travails of a frustrated American who relies on hitchhiker crew, meeting the exuberantly enthusiastic crew of a boat (three Aussie blokes and an Italian bombshell) who were completing their epic adventure (Scotland to Fiji via the Falklands, Patagonia, Antarctica and Ecuador). Every one of the boats in these anchorages has some unique story. Most of them are great, entertaining stories told by interesting people. Some are hermetic stories of unhappiness carried at great effort to the far side of the world. We are who we are, I suppose.

And then, suddenly, the forecast showed a change in the winds. The weather would serve us to get east, and also the crew of one of the French boats who were over the moon at having landed a job in Nuku Hiva, far to windward. And the weather would serve the boats who were remembering their need to get downwind to Tahiti. So we'll likely see none of them again. As motivated as you are, of course, it's difficult for a thousand reasons to get to know someone in this sort of chance encounter, no matter how amenable each party might be. So we'll boil down to a one-sentence description for each other. Years from now, someone might say, "those Alaskan marine biologists with their two kids who had been going for seven years" and we'll say, "those two French guys on that little boat who had one of their parents visiting so the other guy had to sleep on deck in a hammock. Remember them?"

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

No comments:

Post a Comment