Monday, June 29, 2015

Pop Quiz
By Michael
TUAMOTUS, FRENCH POLYNESIA


I’ve mentioned pamplemousse on this blog often lately. We’ve been eating a lot of pamplemousse lately. I thought I’d talk a bit about this fruit and post a picture of pamplemousse for the uninitiated.

So in French, pamplemousse is just the word for grapefruit. But, while pamplemousse resemble grapefruit in taste and appearance, they are not grapefruit. Windy learned that pamplemousse are one of the original citrus fruits, from which all others are descended. They grow like crazy here in the Marquesas. Pamplemousse are usually at least twice the size of the average grapefruit and much sweeter (but don’t eat any part of the skin because it is very bitter). The outsides smell like a mixture of jasmine flowers and grapefruit. These things are amazing.

In Mexico, they are sold as pomelo.

So here is your quiz:

In the following picture, in addition to Frances, Windy, and Eleanor, there are three and a half pamplemousse featured. Can you find them all?

--MR

 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Shopping With Jimmy
By MIchael
NUKU HIVA


Jimmy asked me to take this
picture of his tattoo and to share
it. He seemed like one of the
proudest, most secure people
I've ever met. He has more
tattoos on one leg and the
sides of his face too. But
you've seen enough.
In the past decade, every time I’ve bought an avocado in the States, I think about a time in 1997, when Windy and I were sailing child-free on the first Del Viento. We were at our first supermarket in Mexico, a subsidized store for the fishing community on Isla Cedros, about halfway down the Baja peninsula. We were there to buy the fixings for guacamole, the dish we’d agreed to bring to a potluck of eight hungry cruisers. I loaded up our basket with enough avocados, tomatoes, green onions, white onions, cilantro, chili peppers, and limes for a guacamole feast. I watched the woman ring up our produce. She paused at the peppers and didn’t bother to ring them up, just tossed them in the bag. I don’t think they were worth a peso. The cost of the avocados turned out to be ten for a dollar’s worth of pesos. Our total bill was less than the peso equivalent of US$2.00. It stands as my benchmark for cheap food.

Until now.

Have you ever been to a place where food is everywhere? Where strangers offer you free food? That happened to Windy a few days ago. She and the girls were walking around Taiohae on Nuku Hiva when a car pulled up beside them. She was busy feeding a skinny dog with snacks from her pack and the girls were scrambling on some rocks that were certainly on someone’s property. The couple in the car appeared stern. They said bonjour without smiling and motioned Windy over to their vehicle. Windy just knew they were going to ask her to get her kids off their property.

Pamplemousse?” they asked and handed Windy six giant pamplemousse before driving off, each the size to two large grapefruits.

A week prior, on Tahuata, an Australian cruiser stopped by in his dinghy and introduced himself. “You guys want some pamplemousse?” Locals had given him about 30 and he hefted a giant bag of about 15 of them onto our deck.

We don’t pick things on the islands (except for wild basil), but we’ve gathered tons of fresh limes and some oranges and coconuts off the ground.

When we first landed in Vaitahu on Tahuata, a guy called out to us, “Bonjour, pamplemousse?

We were the only boat anchored off Vaitahu
for most of the time we were here. 
No, merci.”

“Mango?”

We froze in our tracks. He said he would meet us tomorrow morning, on the quay where we landed our dinghy. He said his name was Jimmy.

Combien ca coute?” I asked.

Mil franc.”

Oui, c’est bon. Au revoir.”

I turned to Windy, “That’s kind of steep, almost ten bucks.”

“Depends on what he gives us.”

“Yeah, we'll see.”

Windy went in the next morning and Jimmy wasn’t there. She went to le magasin to buy some baguettes. They’d sold out.

“How many you need?” a guy called from the back when heard Windy ask the cashier for bread.

“Just a couple.”

“Is that all? Here.” He handed Windy two baguettes.

On the way back to the dinghy, she saw Jimmy. He gave her a bunch of bananas and les pamplemousse. She met his wife.

“You buy only two bread?” she asked.

This is the cistern overflow. 24 hours a
day it just streams out and runs into the
ocean. Too bad we can't send it to
California.
“All they had,” Windy said.

“Here, two more.” Said Jimmy’s wife, handing Windy more bread.

“Here,” said Jimmy, handing Windy a huge slab of fresh tuna he and some friends were busy filleting in front of her. Then he said something to his wife in Marquesan.

“Our kids are home from school at noon, meet us here then and we’ll take you to pick more fruit.” Jimmy’s wife said.

Merci, merci beaucoup.” Windy said.

It started raining hard at 11:45. The four of us battened down Del Viento and dutifully climbed into the dinghy, we had an appointment. We arrived dripping wet at Jimmy’s house. They picked out dry clothes for each one of us.

“Oh, no, no, merci, merci,” we each said in turn. Windy passed out some gifts for the kids: a puzzle, a pair of shorts, a stuffed animal. Then Jimmy grabbed a bucket and we all started walking, two families of four. We walked through town, over a hill, and into an adjacent valley. Jimmy’s wife spoke the most English and she showed us plants along the way, told us who lived where, and how she and Jimmy met (I imagined a dance on Nuku Hiva, organized just to mix teens from the different Marquesan islands).

When we got to the valley, Jimmy climbed trees to shake limbs to shed fruit for us, strange fruit we’d never seen, similar to lychee, but sweet like guava. Then he set about husking and preparing coconuts for us; squeezing fresh limes over the top of each one. He picked more limes and mandarin oranges and slowly the bucket began to fill. He eagerly had us try each thing. He wanted us to like everything. He wanted us to see and appreciate his island, how much food there was for the taking, how great their life here was. This was paradise, as he said several times. Why would anyone live anyplace else?

All the Marquesan towns we've been to
have a frontage road in front of the water.
They're nice to walk along, like a malecon.
This little colt just followed along,
untethered. Hey, see that truck in the
background? That is a Toyota Hilux.
I learned they're sold worldwide, but
not in the States. I recall seeing them in
Mexico and thinking they looked like
cheap versions of the Tacoma. Turns
out, it's exactly the opposite. The Tacoma
is sold only in the U.S. and is a softer
version of the Hilux, weaker suspension
components and such. The plurality
of vehicles we see in the Marquesas
are either Land Rover Defenders
or Toyota Hiluxes. I read that the IS
in Syria and Taliban in Afghanistan
love the Hilux because they are so
tough.
Before I even thought to put a plug in for the diversity and other attributes of the United States, Jimmy’s wife happened to bring up a trip they’d made. They’d been to the States. They were there once, for a conference of some kind. They didn’t care for the United States and do not wish to return.

“Where were you?”

“Nevada, Las Vegas.” She wrinkled her nose like she’d just smelled something awful. But then she added how much they loved Canada—they’d been to Vancouver and found it beautiful.

On the way back to their house, they stopped and asked a relative permission to pick from his garden. Into our bucket went five of the most beautiful eggplants I’ve ever seen and some foot-long green beans. Jimmy’s wife picked flowers for Windy, the girls, and herself to wear. I found a small airline-sized jar of French preserves in my camera case and gave it to them. When we got to their house, Jimmy’s wife ran up and grabbed a bunch of red bananas to put on top of the overflowing bucket. They helped transfer everything from the bucket into bags we’d brought. They told us the name of their oldest daughter—away at school on Nuku Hiva—so we could say hello if we saw her there. They stood on the quay and waved us off for a long time. We smiled and waved back.

--MR
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is the town church, school to the left. Kids go to school
here through age 11, then they are sent to boarding school
on Nuku Hiva. They are then gone for two months, home
for two weeks, then gone again for two months, etc.
 
The inside of the church was as nice as the outside.

Can't get enough of that boat at anchor.
 
Here we head off with Jimmy and his family.

Another view of the town center.

Jimmy has his arm around his daughter, Clara. For the life of me,
I don't remember his wife's or son's names. They wrote them
 down for me, along with their address (I promised to send them a
family picture), but then our dinghy stern anchor fouled and I had
to dive to the bottom to retrieve it and the paper was in my pocket....
But I can still send the photo to them, the address is just their name
and town name and island name.
 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tiki Love
By Michael
NUKU HIVA


This is the tiki I was given by
the artist, the husband of the daughter
of the late Chief Hekua (see previous
post). It's about 2 inches tall, intended
as a necklace. The eyes wrap around
the sides, chameleon-like.
I saw a pretty cool hand-drawn map in the tiny museum in Vaitahu on Tahuata. But first… 

All these South Pacific island groups, hundreds or thousands of miles apart from one another, all have pretty distinct cultures, even though many are today linked politically, such as is the case for French Polynesia. Yet all of Polynesia (which includes the North Pacific island group of Hawaii) and even some island groups outside of Polynesia, celebrate tikis, humanlike statues that were a part of their ancestral history.

Tikis were carved into stone and wood and are still discovered by archeologists on the islands. Some are huge, some are tiny. Originally, tikis were representations of deified ancestors, men who had mana (spiritual power). Accordingly, the tikis themselves were thought to possess mana and were used to mark sacred places, or places that were tapu (taboo) or to defend a village against evil.

Today--though some tikis are widely still thought to have mana--tikis are largely downgraded, displaced by the Catholicism that now has a monopolistic presence when it comes to island faith. Yet, tikis have retained an important place in the various  cultures, still celebrated and carved, not just for tourists, but for locals too. The tiki is a part of celebrations and festivals, like other traditional art.

So anyway, this map I saw depicts the stylistic differences between the different tikis in different parts of the Pacific. For the past several weeks, we’ve been immersed in the Marquesan tiki style, characterized by big round eyes and wide, rectangular mouths, with little hands that rest on a Budda-like belly or at the chin. Following is the map I saw and beneath it, enlargements of each tiki style depicted.

--MR

This is the map, see the tip of Baja in the upper right corner?
Fenua Enata is Marquesan for the Marquesas. Rarotonga is
a part of what we call the Cook Islands (New Zealand
territory). Rapa Nui is the local name for Easter Island.
Ao Te Roa is the Polynesian name for New Zealand.
 
Not female.
This one might be
female?



So familiar to us now.
The most human-like head, but
with strange hands.
Seen these Gerard Depardieu-looking
guys a million times.

Not so fierce looking.
Reminds me of what Greg found
during the Hawaii trip that cursed
the entire Brady family.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Chief's Daughter
By Michael
NUKU HIVA

Looking inside.
Bonjour…” I called out to the women sitting at the end of the quay. We’d just landed our dinghy for the first time in Hapatoni and I needed to find out whether we’d tied up in an acceptable spot. I needed local knowledge. I stretched out the last syllable of my greeting to these locals for a few beats. I don’t know if that’s how they say it in Paris, but we’re not in Paris—I’m learning French in the Marquesas.

Bonjour…” they answered in unison. They both wore a uniform common to middle-aged Marquesan women: a stained, triple-XL-sized t-shirt and basketball shorts that are two sizes too small. They smoked tobacco in skinny, hand-rolled cigarettes. Their arms were tattooed. One woman wore a fresh flower behind her ear. They smiled easily.

Bien ici?

Oui, c’est bon.” The closest woman said with a smile.

Sil vouz plait.” I said to them as I approached, holding up a finger for them to wait a sec. I dug around in Windy’s backpack and pulled out the Ziploc bag—because it rains here, often—with the manila folder inside. The women waited for me, surely wondering.

I won’t try to write what I said, with the closed manila envelope in my hands, it ain’t pretty. But I’ve learned enough French to say yachties and friends and here and when I had trouble communicating the year my friends were here, one of the women opened her flip phone and I pointed to the numbers and she typed the year there.

Yes! That’s it. Look at these. My friends took these pictures in 1973. See these women in yellow skirts and bikini tops with yellow hibiscus behind their ear, dancing, do you know them? Yes, here, 40-some-odd years ago, these women would be in their 60s now. The name of the Hapatoni chief was Hekua, yeah?

Both women started chatting in Marquesan, smiling and pointing. Indeed they knew these women. One was the daughter—la fille—of Chief Hekua.

Is she here? Can we show her these?

One woman rested her head sideways on her hands and then pointed to the sky.

She’s dead?

She told me yes and pointed to the cemetery near the church. She told me the woman was her sister. She told me that in 1973, she was… She put her hand down at her knees.

Chief Hekua?

Again, she rested her head sideways on her hands and then pointed to the sky.

I’m sorry I said, realizing it was her father. She tried to hand the pictures back, but I motioned for her to keep them.

With her downturned hand, her fingers scratching at the air, she motioned for us to follow her.

Her house was at the end of the quay, a wood house with ornamental porch posts and bright, peeling paint. Much of the wood was rotten. We removed our shoes before stepping up onto her porch.

Wait, she motioned.

Inside pulled photos off a wall-hung tapestry, each stuck on with adhesive putty.

“Chief Hekua.” She smiled broadly showing them to us. He was a handsome man, older. The pictures were rough and tattered. She told me he died in 2009.

She introduced us to her husband and two kids, a boy and a girl who were already playing with my girls, the four of them tangled up with four puppies in the dirt off the porch. She asked if we wanted to see her husband’s carvings.

Sure.

Windy was still kicking herself for leaving Atuona on Hiva Oa without buying the intricately carved warrior club she had her eye on. If this guy pulled out a carved club, she was all his. He didn’t. He laid out a short, ornamental spear with four tikis carved into it. The top half was cherry and the bottom half was a swordfish bill.

Hi pig.
Combien ca coute?” Windy asked.

He said a number neither of us understood. Windy fished around for a pen and he wrote a figure in French Polynesian Francs that is equal to about US$1,000.

“Yes!” I said under my breath. Even if we had that much cash, there is no way she’d spend it. She’d not bought that Hiva Oa club because it was US$160.

“That can’t be right,” she said to me.

“I’m sure it is,” I said hopefully, “look at the detail.”

“I know, but…”

It turned out there was a misplaced zero. This husband of the youngest daughter of the late Chief Hekua wanted 10,000 French Polynesian Francs for his carving, a bit less than US$100.

I told Windy the thing smelled like fish. “Are you sure you want it aboard?”

Windy handed him the note and he began wrapping the intricate carving in newspaper. Then he called the girls over and gave them each a necklace he’d carved from cow bone. Then, around Windy’s neck, he placed a sandalwood tiki necklace he’d carved. Then he gave one to me too. Then Chief Hekua’s daughter handed Eleanor a bucket to collect all of the rose apples, pamplemouse, and oranges she picked from her trees to give us. Their generosity was real.

Luckily, Windy had stuffed some random gifts in her backpack and we began pulling them out. Stuffies for the kids, a puzzle, and some kids’ clothing.

In response, the Chief’s daughter took two more pictures down from the tapestry, passport photos of herself and her husband when they were each about 20. She shared them with pride.

“Hey, a family photo!” I motioned everyone together on the porch and took some pictures of them. She said they don’t have an email address, but she wrote down their postal address. I told her I would print a photo and send it to them from Tahiti. I know she understood. I wish I could be there to present it in person. We won’t be coming around this way again for a very long time, if ever. Every westward mile we make can’t be taken back.

--MR

Happy Frances.
This was one of two lunch tables for the kids at
the one-room school. The other one had different
game boards carved into it.
This little church was pretty, but they've been getting
still prettier at every stop.


One of their friends is the photographer, he was
really eager to take a picture.
This rock platform and massive tree is called a
me'ae in Marquesan. It's an ancient Polynesian sacred site,
a place of worship, burial, and human sacrifice. This one is
unusual in that it is so close to where folks lived. That's
Del Viento in the background.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Third Impressions
By Michael
FATU HIVA, FRENCH POLYNESIA


Windy and Eleanor enjoying the pool
at the fall we hiked to. It was about an
hour from the anchorage with no permits
required, no trash cans about, no warning
signs, no signs of anyone but us.
“Mom, Mom! Come here, quick!”

Windy sprinted on deck. Eleanor was stripping down to her bathing suit, trying to find her mask, and pointing at the giant manta ray swimming in circles and doing summersaults right next to Del Viento.

“Can I go in, can I go in, please!”

When the second ray showed up, Windy joined Eleanor and when a third joined the party, it was enough for Frances to ignore the jellyfish stings she’d gotten on her last two swims and she jumped in too. For twenty minutes, the three chased after the three.

We were told to expect relatively low visibility in the waters around the Marquesan islands, and I suppose it is in a relative sense, but we can still see 50 feet in the cobalt-colored water of this deep Fatu Hiva anchorage.

When we arrived, there were 18 other boats here and we were forced to fall back and drop in 138-feet. Despite winds blowing 20 knots on two nights, despite our having only 300-feet of rode out (all chain) for a scope of only a bit better than 2:1, we haven’t dragged. Since then, many boats have left and a few more have arrived. Two current boats are kid boats—one family from Monaco and one from Belgium, six kids between them—and another kid boat, Australians, are due today. As I write this, Windy and the girls are on a hike with the six other kids, aged 7 to early teen.

Frances looking down at the anchorage.
Rays aren’t the only interesting marine life we’ve encountered. There are eels along the shore that flit about in the rocky nooks. We all watched one quickly slither up from the water about two feet (roughly his body length) to grab a crab on the rocks and quickly carry it back underwater for a feast. There are also these fish that seem to walk on the rocks right at the water’s edge. Crawdads are everywhere, including in the fresh water streams on the island. The largest I’ve seen was about 3-inches long.

Local boats have dropped by several times to trade. The first time, two men wanted to trade for alcohol. We showed them a bottle of wine we were willing to trade for a dozen fresh eggs. “Oui, oui!” they said, racing ashore with our plastic egg carton. Thirty minutes later they returned, our egg carton empty, explaining that all the eggs had chicks in them. They did bring a handful of oranges hoping we’d be enticed enough to let go the wine, but we declined. They left the oranges anyway, despite what we hope were polite protestations. The next boat was also two men, one of whom we recognized as the Pushy Man, but he didn’t recognize us. These chaps also wanted alcohol, but offered only three pamplemousse. We offered kids’ toys and even some rope for their pamplemousse, but they passed. Finally, this morning a family with two small kids stopped by with more pamplemousse. We showed the same kids’ stuff—a bracelet making kit and a stuffed animal and puzzle and a shirt—and they were eager to trade.

Capturing the scale and majesty of scenes
like this, with the camera, is impossible
for me. Trust me, these pics just aren't
doing it. 
It’s easy to imagine spending 3 months here, settling into the low-key vibe, getting to know individuals by name, and trading away everything we own to stay fed. But we wouldn’t have to trade exclusively. We’re also finding food on the ground, among rotting fruit strewn about, freshly fallen from trees in more remote areas. Yesterday we hiked up to a waterfall and returned with our backpacks full of guava, limes, lemons, a coconut, and Thai basil. We’re reticent to pick fruit from any tree, but feel okay stockpiling the freshly fallen among their rotting comrades.

The fruit we all love the most are the common bananas. In D.C. and Mexico, we’d all eat one or so when they came home with us from the grocery store, but most of them wound up in banana bread or the freezer for smoothie fodder. Here, the bananas taste so exquisite, with such a perfect texture—even days after they appear past their prime, that Eleanor—definitely the pickiest banana eater among us—ate 7 yesterday alone. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any banana stalks on the ground. The massive stalk we traded for on our second day was exhausted this morning, so please spread the word that we’re willing to trade.

Frances and Eleanor watching a manta summersault in front of them.
--MR


Oh, the drama.


This is my favorite home in Hanavave.


Hanavave from up high, the anchorage would be
visible to the left, around that mountain.


Bull.
 

This little guy is tied to a tree with a line around one
leg. Pigs, dogs, cows, and horses are all similarly
kept, in seeming random places, everywhere. Hens,
roosters, and goats are the only ones that seem to
enjoy free range.
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