South Pacific Travel Adventures

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Continued from page 3

“How much does she want for it?" I whispered urgently.

“Wait,” warned Rachael.

After 15 minutes or so we were ready to leave. As a studied afterthought Rachael asked, “By the way how much do you want for the couronne?”

“One hundred francs."

I told Rachael to offer 50. We struck an immediate bargain and left with the couronne.

As we were walking, Rachael spotted a special variety of coconut. We stopped at the nearest hut and asked for a long hooked pole and a knife. They were given to us without question. We took them and left without even saying thank you, which wasn’t expected in the first place. Everyone helps each other with such things on the islands and it is simply understood and expected.

The coconut Rachael brought down was very young. There was barely a gelatinous layer above the soft inner shell. After we licked that off, we scraped out the soft shell and ate the fibrous husk. The ends were hard and juicy. The center, though stringy, was turgid with refreshing delicious juice. Not all species of coconut have edible husks when the coconut is young. Later I tasted this variety of coconut roasted underground in the husk. It turns pink and sweet; and even the husk is eaten. Of course, one spits out the stringy fibers.

Meanwhile, on the Namoiata, our water supply was running low. The faucet in the bathroom gushed out black liquid. Even the drinking water was full of rust, sand, and dirt.

We anchored at Takume for about an hour in search of potable water. When the crew didn’t find any, we moved on to another island – Fangatau. I walked with Paniora and Teariki about five kilometers to the village deep in the interior of the island. Again, there was no water for us.

While we waited for the rowboat on the beach, I went through my dance exercises as I did religiously every day. Instantly a large crowd gathered. I felt like the village idiot and moved up the beach for privacy. The children followed me and arranged themselves in a semi-circle to enjoy the spectacle. Each time I moved, my fans stuck with me. So I gave them their money’s worth. I sang and made funny faces for them. They followed me down the beach back to the dinghy as if I were the Pied Piper.

The next day on Fakahina we finally found water. The crew lowered big rusty old oil drums into the rowboat and rolled them up the long pier to the water house.

Rachael and I and the other women from the Namoiata brought our laundry to wash. And everyone took turns bathing under a faucet.

Islanders are very adept at changing clothes and bathing in public. They have it down to a fine art. Women use their ever versatile pareu as a wall, and slip around inside it to bathe. Men wash with their shorts on. Afterward, they wrap a towel around the waist and slip out of the wet shorts. A dry pair of shorts is slipped on over the towel. Then the towel is snatched out and presto! The man is dressed.

When it came to other private matters they were not as modest. I think I saw the derriere of almost every crew member dangling over the side of the boat at one time or another. Once I went to the bow of the boat and started talking to Kahu, the Old Man. Ordinarily he was always laughing and joking with me. This time he just answered my questions with the minimum yes or no. All of a sudden, after two whole minutes of jabbering away, my glance glimpsed his bare bottom. I had intruded on his privacy during a bowel movement. No wonder he hadn't been more sociable! Urinating off the side of the boat was as common as spitting. Both were done in full view of everyone, as naturally as a dog lifting a leg at a fire plug.

Next stop in the Tuamotus was the island of Tepoto. Rachael and I strolled up to a woman hooking down coconuts in front of her hut. Rachael asked her for the coconuts. The woman hacked off the husk from all ten coconuts and then quickly wove a basket from a palm frond for us to carry them in. While the woman worked, Rachael held a running conversation with her but never thanked her. About 25 days later, when we returned to Tepoto on the way back from the Marquesas Islands, Rachael brought her a panier of oranges and lemons – a rare luxury in the Tuamotus.

Napuka was the last island we visited in the Tuamotu group before heading for the Marquesas Islands. As usual when we reached an island Rachael looked for a place to bathe. She bathed on the boat, too. She was always ready for a bath, even excited about it.

On one occasion, I separated from Rachael to take a sun bath instead. I found a perfect spot on the lumpy coral beach. A six by six-foot square of cement two feet high had been laid there for no apparent purpose. It was just the right size for exercising on and tanning. As I lay naked, roasting in the sun on top of my pareu, covered with Monoi Tiare Tahiti coconut oil, I felt like a princess on a sacrificial slab.

After a couple of hours I wandered over to the nearest house to ask what time it was. My hosts treated me to Hinano beer and pickled pahua clams, then invited me to lunch. Before I could accept, I said I would have to find out when the Namoiata was leaving. They had a boy take me to the boat a couple of miles away on the back of a Solex motor bike.

As we pulled up, the last rowboat was being pushed into the water. I waded into water up to my hips and climbed into the boat. If I had arrived one minute later I would have been stranded in Napuka for weeks.

MARQUESAS ISLANDS

During the three-day voyage from the Tuamotus to the Marquesas Islands, the sea became very rough. We were in the middle of the ocean, hundreds of miles from any land mass. The first day, the vast undulating swells seemed soft and friendly. The Namoiata was buffeted on the sea as if playfully being flipped on a gigantic dark green silk quilt.

Feeling a bit queasy, I went to my cabin and climbed into the upper bunk. I closed my eyes and imagined that my bunk was a porch swing and a gentle giant was pushing it ever so slightly. The pushing would build in momentum until it felt as if the swing would go over the bars with just one more push. Then the momentum would slow down, only to build again. I kept my body stiff to keep from falling out of my bunk. When I relaxed, I rolled like Jell-O.

The first two days, I stayed in my bunk and skipped all meals to avoid being sick. With supplies running low, food was easy to resist. The weeks’ delay caused by looking for a lost rudder meant that the Namoiata was out of fresh food. Boeuf de boite (canned corn beef) and rice were served at every meal.

On the third day, the ocean grew rougher by the hour. Food I had eaten on previous days was coming up. My arms and legs ached from straining them to stay in my small upper bunk. I decided to leave my rocking bunk before it spilled me out on the cabin floor.

I tottered up to the deck and toppled onto sacks of copra. I watched in horror as the Namoiata dipped on its side and heavy waves rolled over the boat. I battled for life with every water-filled gasp of breath, watching in petrified terror as our boat nearly capsized.

Expecting the boat to be slapped over completely at any moment, I began to believe this was my inevitable fated end. But how could it be when I had known since childhood that my destiny was to travel the world? I couldn’t die without having lived, without having completed my Life Plan.

My fear turned to anger. The sea taunted me, tormented me. With each thrust, the Namoiata was whipped further on its side, until I knew without a doubt that it would capsize. The sea had complete power over whether I lived or died. Feeling helpless made me even angrier. I shouted, “I want to live. I won’t let you take my life!”

As the storm passed and the waves subsided, I was grateful to be alive. The sea had not taken me – not yet.

Later, Captain Maker told me that these were the roughest seas he had encountered in his seafaring career.

As soon as the first Marquesas Island was sighted, I was on deck watching it grow larger as we approached. The Marquesas are much different than the Tuamotu coral atolls. They are densely green with sheer cliffs and sharp, jagged peaks.

The mountain on the side of our approach was shrouded in mist, which made the island appear mysterious and foreboding after the open sunshine of the friendly coral atolls. We had finally reached Fatu Hiva. I waited with my panier in hand to be in the first boatload to go to land.

The surf on the beach was very rough. The crew waited behind the breaking lines of the surf for just the right size wave to carry us in without tipping us over. Huge, powerful waves pushed the rowboat around like a little rubber duckie. After waiting about 15 minutes for the right wave, all of a sudden it was decided with hoops and grunts to heave to.

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