Gambier - Heaven and Hell 23:07S 134:58W

Pacific Bliss
Colin Price
Tue 14 Jun 2011 01:23

Gambier - Heaven and Hell

For the first time really on our travel Colin and I find ourselves at odds over the place we are.  Colin loves it, Me, I don't quite get it at all.  In fact I really don't like it here.  So, in honour of this we are going to make two entries... his and hers.
   Arrival in Gambier
The Town
Riketea is the capital (ha), of Mangareva in the archipelogo of the Gambier Islands which are about as far of the beaten track as you can get when crossing the Pacific.  Riketea is a sleepy French town deep in the South Pacific with 1 flight a week to Tahiti, so, though not isolated completely, it is remote. Economy is mostly pearl farms, and if you ever buy a high quality black pearl it could well have come from Gambier (something to do with the colder water we hear, but more of this in another entry).  Backdrop of two high rocky hills and fruit and palm trees border the waters edge.  Pearl farms on stilts out in the water give this a really foreign feel.  But, once ashore, we find a very French order of things.  Tidy gardens, neat houses of wood and corrigated iron, concrete road and poilite people saying 'bonjour' to us as we pass.  It feels as if noone is that interested in us or our purses, which is a refreshing change after South America.
 Our picture log of the passage
Fruit, and bread are abundant  Note, the lone and precious tomato
There are delicious light french loaves to be had each morning and evening and we end up training the kids to row ashore in the kayake to pick them up, which is a great treat.
There are 11 boats in the anchorage, mostly French but with a couple of Aussies thrown in.  It seems that most have come here from Easter Island and Pitcairn and are on their way up to Tahiti.
Kids fetching bread from the boulangerie in the morning by kayake
Ramoras which are sharklike fish which play under the boat and come up whenever scraps are thrown overboard   We have eight of them at the moment.
Town quay  and  Hi-tech postoffice
The Storm
We arrived as the wind was just getting up and had a reasonable night, though our bodies were still, 'on watch' so neither LIz or I slept the full night.  Next day was a quiet day with just some chilling out, checking in at the Gendarmerie (a 5 minute pleasure after the protracted check in's of South America), ordering of French Bread (the really fluffy light variety that you can't stop eating).
We knew there was a blow coming along, so another anchor was laid to supplement the normal one which in 20m depth was right on the limit of safe, with the amount of chain we had out.
Wind picked up during the evening and we were woken as the boat lurched with a huge gust around 11pm.  That signalled the end of sleep for the night.  The wind blew, twisted, and funnelled around the bay.  The rain lashed down and Liz and I ended up with full oilskins on for the first time ever.
The wee aluminium French boat ahead of us dragged back and without Liz's keen sixth sense for anchor-danger we'd have hit it.  Engines on and racing to push us away.  The boat dragged away and threatened three other boats before finally reanchoring around 2am.  The funny thing is that the old french couple aboard didn't wake up until they were almost going to hit the third boat.
Three other boats dragged and everyone was pretty shaken up.  Long term sailors said afterwards that they had never been in anything like that night in all their years sailing. 
We recorded steady 37kn winds, with gusts well over 40, and the boat in front of us saw a gusts of 52kn.  But it wasnt the strength that was so frightening, it was not knowing which compass point the next gust was going to come from.. One moment you'd be straining back on your anchor, and the next riding right over the top of it at 5 knots, only to be brought up short and expecting it to have broken out of the bottom completely.
All in all very unordinary night.
The next night we had a 'Survivors' party for all the boats around us and filled cockpit with 20 for a lot of chat and plenty of grog.  Once again it is the catamaran cockpit that comes to the fore for these events.
All that aside, I'm really warming to this place.  It is a lovely view, we are in an adventure, there is lots to do, and, there are at least 5 other great anchorages to explore.
Liz's memories
What a joy to make landfall,  I'm delighted but exhausted, Colin is in rapurtures over the sheer beauty of the place.  I'm feeling like his enthusiasm is being embelished due to our now rather bleak expectation of this place,  and for some reason he's feeling guilty and responsible for the choice to make the long trip down.  We wiggle our way into the harbour and watch another boat leave on passage to Tahiti, I wouldn't relish what they are about to face weather wise over the next few days.  To our surprise there are 11 boats at anchor,  most are long stay French, the others seem to all hae broken something, from rigging to engines and are unable to leave, or having been to Easter and Pitcairn are now waiting for a weather window to move up to Tahiti.  Everyone is super friendly and helpful.  It seems many have abandoned the idea of wiggling up the Tuamoto chain.
We are both fatigued as hell,  Colin taking the pressure with heightened agitation and launchs into getting things done and I'm on the other end of the scale unable to bearly concern myself with the 3 weeks load of cleaning.  The Islands are volcanic with few beaches.  I'm really surprised by the architecture, nothing in the way of rustic charm and everyone drives around in 4x4 truck, which seems like a bit of an overkill.  As expected many of the local inhabitants are embracing the culture of plumpness or rather obesity.   First night despite being dead on our feet we manage to russle up Steak Frite as a celebratory meal.  We fall in to bed darn early but find sleeping an issue as we are both still totally strung out, it feels like it will be days before our muscles and minds will learn how to relax again.  The wind has started to pick up so Colin spends his first night on anchor watch.
Day two and the Storm
The Day was spent weather watching and talking with others in the anchorage about what to expect.  We hear reports from one boat, we knew from Panama, that left the habour 2 days ago, are having a hideous time suffering a knock down followed by autopilot failure.  Colin is in a even larger state of agaitation due to increased exhaustion and pending weather doom,  but it does mean he's in safety mode and everything is considered, just in case the worst happens....... Most importantly another anchor is laid.  But eventually the kids and I can't cope with Colin's fretting, so send him to bed mid afternoon.  I finally hit the sack about 9pm (cruisers midnight) and about 1hour later Colin is back awake fiddling with anchors.  Half an hour later I realise the wind really is picking up and perhaps I need to go help, and it's just as well as Colin is sorting stuff at the bows another boat who has dragged started to speed towards our stern. We just and I mean 'just' get the engines on in time to get out of his way,  he misses us by no more than 4".  I'm still in a thin shirt and am being battered by the wind and rain but I can't leave the helm in fear we will either drag on our anchor and carear towards another boat, a reef or our rather too friendly neibour may come back for a second go.  By the time Colin has sorted the line to the second anchor my teeth are shaking uncontrolably the sun shades have some how unleashed themselves turning in to lethal weapons, whipping anything and anyone that gets in the way.  So before I can find our oilys, we have to perform an operation on these evil out of control whips. by 1ish things have calmed down considerably but we continued to watch the aliminuim boat, despite being honked at by various people, almost t'bone two other boats before the occupants woke up, they missed most of the action and narrowly escaped the reef, god knows how.  I was finally able to get a bit of shut eye in the saloon,  so tired was I as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out, dispite the adrenoline coursing through me.
Two hours later things really have settled, So Colin wakes me for my watch,  and as the sun rose the following morning you realised that we where not the only folk who hadn't slept.  Boats appeared to have been playing musical statues during the night.  Thankfully the kids slept like babies last night and just wondered the next day why boats had change position!
I can't remember the next day, but I'm not warming to this place..............   
The rallying in the harbour over the first few hours of sunshine was definitely a bonding experience.  The type of  folk who make it down this far are either French, Old hands of living at sea, or Bonkers folk.  But each one of these groups was shaken by the experience, with stories of there 'worst night ever' even for the die hard 9 year live-abourd circumnavigated twice etc etc.
It left me shaken, stirred and generally really rather jigged up. But the best thing to do in these situations is, organise a drinks party.  So that's what we do and invite most of the boats in the anchorage.  After a nights sleep though.  
Colin appears to have turned into mister motivator
The Walk up Mt Mokoto
Quite a hard walk up this 1400' hill behind the anchorage.  Took a couple of hours or so up through fruit trees, pine forest, grass slopes and finally scrambelling along a precipitous arete to get to the top and the most fabulous panoramic view of Gambier, taking in all the islands, and surrounding reefs. 
The kids where incredible it's the first big mountain walk they've done without a squeak of a complaint from either.  Cosmo ran up only to be tethered to us on top of the precepice. Yet more learching tummy in mouth feelings for me.  Both kids enjoyed the skidding down on there bottoms through the pine forest.  And of course the glut of mangoes, these are the sweet non-stringy variety so bonus, we get to devour them half way down and it is even more than Cosmo can consume so we pile our ruck sacks to the brim and make our way home. 
  breathtaking views
But no time to relax for the crew on Pacific Bliss, Captain Colin rallies us for another adventure the following day.
The Circunavigation by Bike
We broke out the bikes again and set off round the island, duely warned by a friendly Belguim Eddie from s/v Helena that the route took in 25km of the total 32km of road on the island, and was a bit hilly.  We made it round in 5 hours, with several stops to fill our baskets with Pamplemoouse, breadfruit and Lemons.  Cosmo is a fanatic Bike rider and I'm sure he's already starting his training for 'Iron Man'  he's got the most clapped out rusted bike with no front brake but still manages to whizz up hill faster that an adult on a bike with 3 gears.  The scarey bit with him is making sure he gets down the hill, with his love of speed and the lack of breaking power it makes for a jaw clenching experience for the parent trying to keep up.    By the time we're back to the boat Colin and I are truely pooped but not the kids, into they hop kayake to play jelly fish disection games and then get dispatched off to buy the evenings supply of Baguette.  Whilst the adults open a box of wine, finished for the day.
The Popee where the breadfruit is stored in lean spells 
Break Point
I've been supprisingly quiet for the past few days, some might think it's a god send,  but I just don't seem to be able to find any peace or a way to unwind. I finally have to fess up to colin that I've lost all confidence in the program.  I feel trapped, frightened, I can't speak French, I feel as each day passes I am less capable of knowing how to sail and I sick of having to pump the stiff  loo handle  30 times after each visit. I loath having to get permission if I can use the washing machine, this doesn't happen often as I know it's a waste of water and energy.  but boy I would for once like to take a long shower, run the washing machine, hoover the boat and whizz some soup without it being a flipping issue. I'm constantly concerned that we're not educating the children enough, will they fit back in to mainstream education bother socially and academically. The long and short is I'm feeling like the cup is half empty and I'm unable to find a way to fill it.  This all comes as devistating news to Colin.  who didn't have a scooby and is loving every minute, or so he says...................
But he's great and starts looking for weather windows to get us out of here.  But with fickle mind it's not what I want.  Actually what I want is untenable.  so we need to find a way out.  the idea of another 10 day passage is beyond hideous, plus the feeling of defeat will be with me for a very long time to come.   But we have to get out of here some how.  So we orgainise to accompany an Aussie boat (s/v Pyewacket) up to Tahiti and skip any death defying routes into reef strewn atolls in the Tuamotos.
The day before our departure we head out of Rikatea, to  have a night somewhere new before we flee.
   Manage to fit in a rare visit to the huge Euro-funded project to refurbish the cathederal (find a Gambier history on the internet for more on the despotic history of the islands)
All Change
Fickle is not the word.................. After a brief motor round the corner, we find ourselves at anchor around the South side of Ile Taravae in the Southern part of the lagoon.
Beautiful sunsets
We arrived in probably the most beautiful anchorage we've ever experienced, with only one other boat.  A youngish couple came by later that day, having visited the only house on shore, armed with a bounty I could only drawl at.  Aubergines, Butternut, Armfuls of Basil and Mint, delicious lemons and not yet ripe Papaya.  These are the first fresh vegtables we've seen since leaving Galapagos and they were never particularly fresh.   Our new boat neibours turn out to be serial French Polynessian o'fils  So over the next 3 night of dinner on PB consuming all our delicacies we review our plans,  not just by a bit, but by about a year.
I also recieve some immaculately timed emails from friends bemoaning the education system and beaurocratic state we live in and push our children into, tests, tutors etc all from the age of 6, what are we doing to our babies? The another two emails arrive describing the desperate state of British shoppers when in a supermarket, and it all starts to put my moments of woe into context.
Coco and Thiery (lovely French couple from s/v Majorque) take the kids off to the shore to visit our bounty providers and they come back full of stories, it's the most animated they've been about a place.  So we then go visit the golden people and there garden it  turns out to be the Polynesian hospitality of old, and our new friends are a joy.  The children feed the ducks, play with the chickens run around this beautiful lush place and build camps in the volcanic rocks next to the white coral sand beside the cristal clear water, it's the kids favourite place.  Denise and Eduard are so totally relaxed, and having had 7 children, Eduard is a Bear of a Man and Denise is a big beautiful Polynesian Mama. But each time you visit these guys they just won't let you leave without an armfull of produce.
 feeding coconut to the ducks feels a far cry from Bosham quay
They invite us to lunch the following day, another day late for our planned departure!  We speak to our Aussie friends on s/v Pyewacket by radio each morning (they left a day before we intended to), and keep apaologising and saying we'll be leaving shortly and catch up with them.  Instead we busy away at making pudding with the eggs and lemons provided by D&E, Lemon Merigue Pie.  
We arrive to be handed a Mojito with real ice, followed by the most delicious meal we've eaten in a very long time.  It's no wonder the poly-wot-nots are plump given the courses we ran through.
1) Muscle de Nacre (oyster muscles); with trepidation Colin tried one of these delicacies,  and once tried finds it almost impossible to resist a second, third and so on.. the kids too couldn't get enough of them.  Unlike their Oyster cousins in Europe these guys are so large only the muscle is extracted so it's free of all the excriment and usually kills. They are eaten raw other than a little cooking in lemon juice the doused in raw Garlic, Parsley and Olive Oil. 
2) Poisson Cru, Again raw white fish left in lemon juice for a quick 5 mins so it's still raw in the middle then having grated your fresh coconut from the tree you squeeze the milk and then chop fresh organic vegtables from the garden. All served with rice. Again it's delicate and totally morrish.  It's hard to stop but the end is not near and we are already starting to feel stuffed.
3) Poulet Localle (Local Chicken), these are about as free as a chicken can be,  With no natural preditors on the islands there are glute of ferrel  bird running around the place.  All you have to do is catch one.  And of course Eduard has devised an easy way.   It seems that these guys are about the only folk to eat the rangy birds other Gambians chose to buy the expensive french imports, most odd.  So chicken casserole in a coconut stock accommpanied with my rather embarracing potato salad. 
4) Mousse au Chocolate.  Denise's very french Chocolate Mousse
5) And finally trying to squeeze in a slither of good old lemon merangue pie is something we're struggling to do but Denise seems to still have a room and wolfs more pie than the rest of us put together.  I'm delighted to see I've been able to produce something that is appreciated as much as we appreciate our time here. 
We hardly see the children as they ferret around in this Garden of Eden and we drink good coffee and are offered Colins banana cake that we'd given them the day before.
We are all now well rested, fed and in raptures about the Gambier  We will leave, one day, but for now we're taking life in the slow lane, with no intention of leaving Polynesia until April next year!  How's that for a change of plan...?