Friday, August 31, 2012

Random Photos!

Linda and David come for a visit to Costa Rica.
Still sporting the 'stache.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Moorea, French Polynesia

Here's what Moorea's like:

Moorea is about 15 miles east of the Island of Tahiti.  Sailing there is about as easy as sailing gets.  It's all downwind so you just have to throw up a sail and let the boat get pushed there.  Even the lamest of sailors can figure this one out.  So we threw up some sails cracked a beer and before we knew it we were in Moorea.  There are basically two anchoring areas on the island, the first is Cook's Bay where presumably Cap'n Cook left some sort of unsolicited legacy or there is Opunohu Bay.   At Cook Bay you're in slightly murky but deep water and at Opunohu you're in 10 ft of water and it's crystal clear, so we chose Opunohu.  We drop anchor, floaty toys and boom, we're in the water drinking beer and floating behind Ustupu in the lee of Moorea under her towering mountains.

Incidentally the film The Bounty, about Captain Bligh and the mutiny on his vessel the Bounty was filmed in Moorea.  When we watched it a few weeks later it was cool to point out all of the places we recognized.

The next day we went snorkelling with Sting Rays at 'Sting Ray World' or something.  I don't know why they call it Sting Ray World because it was just a bunch of Sting Rays and Sharks in front of a bungalow hotel on the water.  Regardless, it was pretty fantastic, you bring some canned fish and sprinkle it around and on your body and the Sting Rays come and slurp the fish off you.   They rub you and bump you in groups of 3-4.  It felt weird but good.

Hmmm, what should we do next?  We hopped back in the dinghy and went to a motu to snorkel and hang out on the beach.  What is a motu you ask?  Well it's an island that forms on the fringing coral reef that surrounds the main island.  This one was basically uninhabited less a few speedo clad Europeans wading in 2 feet of water.  Dear Europeans, what's with the speedos?  Leave some of the male anatomy to the imagination, please.

On our way back to the boat Sylvie was kayaking and unbeknownst to her a humpback and her calf were splashing around directly in her path.  When the whales surfaced some 20 feet in front of her I saw in her eyes first horror, then shock and finally amazement.  Of the 5 boats following the whales, she had the best seat in the house.  Way to not get swallowed by a whale Sylvie!

To top off the day we jumped in the water, sat in the inflatables and drank cold beer.  Spot the trend??

Here are some of the other things we did in Moorea:

-Hitch hiked around the island in 4 different cars.  It took us the better part of the day but met some really cool locals and wannabe locals.

-Had our own Olympics to make up for the fact that we couldn't catch any of the London games on TV.  The participating nations were Canada and the USA.  Guess who won these summer games??? Not Canada.  The events included kayak time trials, a swim race from one boat to another, the long jump, the coco-put (my idea), and the timed coco nut opening with a machete and chugging.

-Drank cold beer in inflatables nightly behind our boat.

We liked Moorea.

The Sting-Ray, an interpretative dance by Dan Schroeder

Up close and squishy 

Sylvie, play it cool!

Monday, August 20, 2012

City life in the South Pacific

It is interesting how quickly you adapt to your surroundings. To us, whittling the day away in the water, hunting for coconuts and thinking about which other perfect tropical island we might drop in and explore was our life. To us, that felt normal. Until we arrived in bustling busy Pape’ete, Tahiti. After spending months on small islands and atolls and defining a big city as a place that has a bakery and a store, Pape’ete was a big shock to our systems. You can buy anything and there are people and lots of cars that are going to lots of places pretty quickly. By North American standards, Pape’ete is a far cry from a big city, but compared to the islands in the South Pacific, it is New York City.

We did what most people do when they first arrive: eat! We ate everything and anything and that continued to be our main focus until we left. For the first time in months, we could walk in a store and choose from a selection of delicious cheeses, fresh vegetables and thousands of other foods that were available and stacked perfectly on shelves.

Here is Ustupu’s top 5 list of exciting buys in Pape’ete (not in any order):
Micro-brew beer (in French Polynesia you can usually only by 1 type of beer, Hinano)
Goat Cheese(s)
Fresh Vegetables

After gorging, we were ready to go back to quiet island life. Although we did not expect to like Pape’ete, we really enjoyed our brief interlude with convenience and variety. It was also great to know that we were taking a break from quiet island life when we were in this BIG city and it wasn't the other way around.


Sharks can sense fear. Anyone who is afraid of sharks will fear them even more after hearing that. I use to consider myself deathly afraid of sharks. I would still go in the water, surf, swim and just waddle, but the thought of encountering a shark- any shark- really freaked me out. The only thing I could do was to try to not think about it.

But if you ever find yourself in the South Pass of Fakarava (a 200m wide gap in the fringing coral reef used by boats and sea life alike to enter and exit the atoll) and want to snorkel, you have to do it alongside hundreds of sharks…literally.  You can do what is called a drift dive where you start snorkeling outside of the pass on a rising tide and the current pulls you gently (sometimes quickly) into the pass as a spectator to the amazingly diverse and beautiful underwater life that has made this area a Unesco-protected site.   All you have to do is stick your arms out like Superman and look down.

It took less than a minute to spot the first shark … my heart rate instantly increases and I try to relax by saying “they can sense fear, they can sense fear”…this makes my heart rate increase even more! But then, I notice more sharks- so much more than I first saw- in deeper water. My heart rate was about to go off the charts until I realized that they were not interested in me at all. They were going about their shark business as if I wasn’t there (even with my pounding heart). I was surprised to see that their shark business consisted of swimming around pretty slowly, not really going anywhere in particular. I even noticed that the other fish around them didn’t seem afraid. I suppose my idea of a shark was the product of terrible Hollywood films: mean old things that ate anything and everything and caused terror wherever they went. Water bullies. 
But the sharks I saw (mainly black tip and grey reef sharks) looked like they could be water pets. They swam around minding their own business and were extremely graceful and beautiful and even got out of our way as we drifted by.

Although I developed a healthier relationship with sharks during our stay there, I am still not prepared to throw myself in a shark infested water hole smothered with fish guts all over my body. I respect their strength and their very sharp teeth and understand that they can beat me in any type of underwater wrestle or race. Hopefully as long as I don’t bother them, they won’t be interested in me and in return, I’ll be able to control my heart rate.

The Touramotus

After 10 days at sea, we finally arrived at the much anticipated Tuamotu Archipelago. According to Darwin, the ring of coral that surrounds these islands are the barrier reefs of volcanic islands that sank to the bottom of the Pacific millions of years ago.  What that leaves for us today are big shockingly blue lagoons exploding with life, to explore surrounded by low lying land and little armies of palm trees.

The main things to do in the Tuamotus are eat coconuts, relax and stay in the saltwater lagoons until your fingers are wrinkly. A typical day for us would include snorkeling in the morning with hundreds of shark and a mind-boggling amount of tropical fish on healthy coral followed by beer or a warm Milo and naps then relaxing, coconut hunting finally dinner and more relaxing. All of this we typically did with our mates aboard Saltbreaker who have been following us around the Pacific…or maybe it is the other way around.

Fakarava (Atoll)
One of the most magical places we found on our tour of the Tuamotus was Fakarava.  It was also the first atoll we stopped at - it was love at first sight.  We were greeted in the anchorage by a torpedoing baguette launched by the Kleemans on Saltbreaker. The brothers were being interviewed by Outside magazine and we thought we’d crash the photo shoot- but it was too late.  We didn’t make it in the article, but if you read the magazine, look out for the article that should be out in a few months. It’ll be a good one!

After a few hours in Rotoava (the biggest village on the atoll with a population of about 600), we were spending the afternoon at a family’s house watching, “grandma” make palm frond hats and baskets while teaching us. The family was very welcoming and offered us everything from their bicycles to a breadfruit that might be ready in a week to pick. In contrast with the Marquesas, you cannot grow very much on these atolls. Coconuts thrive here, but you do not see very much else growing.  This is why the offer of a future “harvest” is extremely generous.

I really adored the grandmother. She was funny, warm and in Anne of Green Gable’s words, felt like a kindred spirit. She believed that gifts from nature should not be sold but should be given away. This included fruit growing on their land and even the beautiful palm frond baskets she made. She does not believe her children will continue that same philosophy due to the stronger external influences they now face and the increasing value placed on money. The local diet, in her youth, was primarily comprised of fish caught in the lagoon and fruit grown on your property. But the increasing access to processed food and television is changing that self-sufficiency. Instead of eating a chicken that roams around on your land, it is easier to buy a frozen chicken from the local store shipped from China. 

The atolls have undergone significant changes in her lifetime and I am sure this is to continue in our lifetime as well. Although it is not an unspoiled paradise, it is still paradise and the people that live there make it that much more special. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Polynesian Olympics

Due to the fact that we've been unable to catch any Olympics, we decided to have our own.  The day consisted of kayak time trials, a swim race between boats, synchronized diving, long jump and coco-put.   At least if we can't enjoy the rest of the world, you can enjoy ours.

See videos below.