We enjoyed a wonderful few days in Raroia and we were made to feel very welcome by the locals from the first moment we stepped ashore. We kayaked across the crystal clear waters of the lagoon where we could clearly see the large coral heads, tropical fish and rays below us as well as hundreds and thousands of sea cucumbers; dark sausage-like things lying in the white sand. Apparently these used to be highly valued and collected by locals who sold them to the Chinese for medicinal uses. Since this practice has ended they are very prolific here in Raroia. We landed on the beautiful beach and tied our kayak under a palm tree to take the short walk into the village. One of the main industries in this part of the Pacific is pearl-farming and the evidence of this can be seen by the only litter on the pristine white beaches which are football-sized pearl-floats scattered along the shoreline. We later saw several of these beautifully decorated and hanging outside people's homes as one might hang baskets of flowers.
Everyone on the island seemed to travel by bicycle or; more popular, tricycle, with a large basket on the back to carry goods, pets, small children or a girlfriend in. Nobody passed us without greeting us with a friendly "yo rah na" or "bonjour"; a wave and a smile.
We only saw one vehicle on Raroia which appeared to belong to the airport; which operated a surprising number of flights during our short stay. I later found out that a special flight had been scheduled to bring the body of one of the islanders home who had sadly passed away recently (presumably in hospital in Tahiti). My friend told me the gentleman was a very much loved part of the community and his passing was one of the reasons everyone was so sad. I had to pause our conversation as I processed her comments and questioned my understanding of her French momentarily. It is testament to how welcoming and friendly the locals are that we never sensed for one moment the deep grief they were feeling and commented on how cheerful everyone was. I expressed my condolences for their loss and my friend's reaction told me I had not misunderstood her at all.
Apparently Raroia has a population of about 250 and most of these lived in the little village we were anchored off. This tiny village was organised in a small grid like formation with a couple of roads dissecting the few dozen properties; small town hall, post office which opened for a couple of hours on certain mornings, and a tiny "Magasin" or village store. The island's children; on reaching secondary school age, go to the neighbouring island of Makemo where they live and are schooled during the week so most of the children we saw on the island were the young children who were schooled locally. These children were as gregarious as their parents; each greeting us cheerfully as they played on their bikes and home-made skateboards usually with one of them skillfully playing a ukelale.
We visited the Magasin where we met the lovely "Via". The shop has a counter at the front where you ask for what you want and Via finds it for you. However as visitors we were invited into the shop to take a look around and we asked about the contents of the freezers to see if there was anything that would suit us for our dinner. Via showed us the huge catering sized packs of meat and when I told her we only had a small fridge onboard she went out to the back of the shop and appeared with a selection of parrot fish fillets which she gave us as a gift for our dinner. We were so touched with this generosity we purchased a couple of items and thanked her for her kindness. We enjoyed the fish that night and the next day I baked a large batch of butter biscuits and wrapped them up to take to Via to say thank you.
We returned to the magasin just as Via was leaving and handing the shop over to her partner "Gerard" who was another very friendly and helpful islander. I gave Via the biscuits and thanked her for the fish. She opened them and ate one immediately declaring them to be her "favourite biscuits ever". She then raced back into the back of the shop and appeared with two more whole fish for us for our dinner! We soon learned that this was very typical of the lovely people of the Tuamotus; to return their kindness is virtually impossible as every gift is returned with another.
Annoyingly we had a couple of things to attend to back in the UK which required us access to the internet. This was very frustrating as the idea of being cut off from the world and the distractions of what is going on at home is so appealing when you are enjoying a place where life is so simple and wonderful. However, with a change of tenants and some rather urgent banking matters needing our attention it was becoming quite necessary to find some decent internet signal. I asked Via if there was anywhere we could get better signal for the data package we were using and she said she would take us to her friends house and we could use their Wi-Fi. She took us into the heart of the village and introduced us to Gaston; his wife Karine and their little boy. They were very friendly and welcomed us into their home, pulling up chairs for us and logging Jamie's phone onto their Wi-Fi. Jamie then attempted to do what he could online whilst I chatted with Via, Gaston and Karine. When we left Gaston told us anytime we needed the internet to come and help ourselves. We thanked them all for their kindness and the next day I returned with my gift of biscuits once again.
Unfortunately despite using Gaston and Karine's Wi-Fi we were still unable to get a decent enough signal to complete much of the online banking stuff we needed to do and we decided we would likely have to move on to Makemo where, we were told, they had 4G and the signal was more reliable. More immediately, however, there was some strong winds forecast to come from the east which would bring several miles of fetch across the lagoon and make our spot in the town anchorage very uncomfortable. So we lifted our anchor and motored across the lagoon whilst the weather was still fair. For the couple of hours it took to cross the lagoon Jamie stayed on the helm and I was stationed on the bow watching the water for signs of coral heads ("bommies") near the surface and where I could see the tell-tale changes of colour I was able to guide Jamie to bring us through the safe waters.
On the eastern side of the lagoon we found a beautiful spot behind the protection of the reef and a chain of tiny sandy islands covered in palm trees. This is the site of where the famous Kontiki raft was wrecked in the 1950s and apperantly there is a monument here to her final resting place.
We set our anchor and buoyed the chain again to keep it off the coral. We were in the company of two other boats; S/V Azamul whom we had met briefly in Hiva Oa when they had drifted close to us at anchor and S/V Gemma who had arrived into the Tuamotus with us. Magnus and Becky on sv Amazul came over on their paddleboard and invited us to join them and their neighbours from S/V Gemma on the beach for sundowners. We enjoyed a very pleasant evening with them all and the many very large hermit crabs which were the sole inhabitants of our tiny island; who entertained us by helping themselves to food and tobacco!
Having set ourselves in calm weather the following day the promised foul winds arrived. As we looked out across the squally lagoon shrouded in mist a third boat came to join our little gang. This had been anchored at the other end of the village where we had come from and as we watched them arrive with poor visibility we were very glad that we hadn't waited until this morning to move ourselves.
The little string of islands here are all nearly interconnected and at low tide apperantly you can wade or swim from one to the next with some incredible snorkeling to be found. We had wanted to do this and visit the Kontiki monument but for the next couple of days the weather was so squally that we remained on-board drinking tea; preparing for our onward travels and staying dry.
On the morning of the 24th June we awoke to much finer conditions and we organised ourselves and lifted our anchor around midday; re-crossing the lagoon again under engine with me on watch on the bow and motored back out through the narrow pass.
Next stop Makemo!