|Calliope in Makemo|
Tuamotu people are special, too. Marquesans were tough and friendly. These atoll dwellers were softer: they grew flowers and painted their garden walls lilac and fuchsia. There is no soil on the atolls, so growing anything is hard. Vegetables and fruit are all imported, as is all food except fish and coconuts, so I'm in awe of the cooks in the restaurants we went to, making the most of tinned ingredients and deliveries which arrive every week or fortnight.
Our outboard engine, which has been giving us trouble for a while (Galapagos fuel? maybe), decided to play up badly while we were in Fakarava. Roger and Dinah ended up staying an extra night as we couldn't deliver them to their "Crusoe chic", electricity-free resort. That was fine - we found another frozen meal in the depths of the seriously depleted freezer. At the 'resort', which was just a few huts and a restaurant on stilts, two men laboured over the outboard for a good hour, standing in knee-deep water with baby sharks swimming around their legs. They even took parts out of their own engines to test ours. They didn't want payment, but they were happy to accept our offer of three enormous Marquesan pamplemousses.
Fakarava is a more popular destination for yachts, and we caught up (literally) with several other Oysters there. The South pass is rightly famous for world-class diving, as Pippa and William have described. As a humble snorkeller, I still came face to face with several sharks - an experience I'm glad to have had but still can't really feel relaxed about - and loved "riding" the current flooding in through the pass, over fabulous coral and thousands of fish, being carried along at about 3 knots.
North Fakarava is more developed. We decided we didn't need to visit the shops there, so we entrusted Pippa and William to an airport-bound taxi and took on Matthew from El Mundo, who needed a lift to Tahiti. He was a mine of information, very good company and instructed Charles in winch maintenance, which has become a bit of an obsession (sorry: a very necessary and valuable bit of boat skill).
Our third atoll was Apataki. We wondered about going to Rangiroa, which is much more developed, and we've since heard very good stories from those who did go there. But I'm so glad we chose Apataki. We had to sail around the outside of the atoll for a long way before we got to the pass, which only became visible at the last minute. It was a bit tricky - we had less than a metre of water under the keel at one point - and the light was fading as we came in, so we dropped anchor just inside.
When we got to the reef, we waded, knee-deep, for at least another kilometre to the ocean's edge, collecting shells and marvelling at the fish and occasionally sharks who could swim in the shallows. One nurse shark seemed to be asleep on the bottom until it woke up as we approached and lazily swam away. We brought our haul of driftwood and shells back to Calliope. Hours later, one of the shells got up and set off purposefully across the table! Matthew very sweetly swam back to the reef to return it to its habitat. He confessed later that he'd had a niggling worry that he was swimming after dark, which is sharks' feeding time.
|Teahupoo wave Tahiti|
Prices are high and seem higher because French Polynesia still has the multiple zeros of the ancient franc which I remember from childhood France. Yesterday we drove around the island, which has helpful kilometre markers so you know how far you are from Papeete, and went out to watch surfers on the huge ("most dangerous in the world") wave off Teahupoo (some the names here, ending in poopoo, make me giggle in a very juvenile manner). We had lunch in a restaurant which commemorates the visit - inside the reef - of the SS France, a ship aboard which I crossed the Atlantic as a toddler and which I saw, beached in northern France and being cut up with acetylene torches, when I was being driven to Oxford in 1976. We've also eaten out twice from "roulottes", food trucks like the ones in Portland, Oregon. The market is full of produce and on Sunday a whole side of it was occupied by women weaving "couronnes", crowns of flowers of many colours, but always containing the "tiare" flower, a fragrant gardenia.
Michael and two friends, George and Tom, join us in a few days. Meanwhile we have had a couple of nights in a hotel with infinity pool, enjoying air conditioning, a big bedroom and a bath. Dylan, an engineer from New Zealand, has done marvels with our gearbox and has quietly serviced and replaced bits of the boat I pretend to understand but don't really. I've done some cooking and provisioning but there are a lot more spaces under the floorboards to fill before we set out for the next three months without access to supermarkets. I'm loving this life and finding it hard to see the appeal of London, with attacks in Finsbury Park and tower block fires, despite the heatwave there. I do miss friends and family and wish my mother a swift recovery from her hip operation - it would be lovely to be there to help - but increasingly, life on board feels "normal" as well as exciting.