Tuesday, September 2, 2003

At anchor, near Vaiea, Maupiti, French Polynesia

(All photos by C. Neunteufel and J. Kosyna, except as indicated)

Craig and Barbara in search of a good snorkeling spot at Maupiti. 

Dear friends and family:

We are at last on the eve of departure from French Polynesia -- we've been here a little more than four months, and we're ready to speak English again.  The last few days have been in the westernmost island of Maupiti - about 30 miles west of Bora Bora.  The contrast between the two islands could not be greater.  The people here in Maupiti are exceedingly friendly, there are no obvious hotels, only one "snack" with sit-down tables, where you can get a simple lunch, and you can walk around the island in half a day.  Bora Bora, by contrast, is populated by tired Frenchmen who are somewhat disdainful of the tourists, and jaded Tahitians, who are all employed somewhat reluctantly in the tourist industry.  Of course Bora Bora has gorgeous scenery.  There is hotel after hotel, all spread out with their over-the-water bungalows at $800 per day, full of rich tourists and French and Japanese honeymooners.

One night, while we were still in Bora Bora, we had the buffet dinner (with Polynesian dancing afterwards) at the Bora Bora Nui Hotel.  We were joined by Cori & Jens (who will be with us for the next six weeks) and by Richard and Kelly of Amazing Grace.  Richard and Kelly are from Hawaii, so they have an interesting perspective on the Tahitian culture.  They recognized some of the songs used by the Polynesian dancers, and they were familiar with some of the Polynesian cuisine.

The "dining room" is open on three sides to the breezes, has a white sand floor (inviting you to come barefoot), and is built in what we presume is traditional Tahitian style.  The roof beams and trusses are branches of trees, with the bark stripped off, and instead of nails, it is held together with twine lashings.  Not something the building inspector in any US jurisdiction would allow... Bora Bora Nui: sand-floored dining room

    The roof is pandanus thatch, and has to be replaced every few years.  We walked around the hotel grounds afterwards in the dark, and were entranced by the carefully groomed tropical vegetation, the dramatic lighting, the swimming pools and the raked beach.  But we all agreed we were happier on the boat, with no schedule to keep, and no limit on the number of gorgeous views we might enjoy.

At the mouth of the Maupiti passThe 30 mile passage from Bora Bora to Maupiti was easy, in 10 -15 knots of north wind.  We sailed a beam reach most of the way, and made it faster than we expected, in a little over four hours.    The pass through the reef at Maupiti was rather exciting -- probably only 100 feet wide, with BIG waves breaking on both sides.  A long channel is marked through the lagoon, which leads to the Vaiea waterfront.  As soon as we anchored, Phillip and Denise of Vellamo were alongside.  They said, "we knew you were coming, because there's a package for you sitting in the window of the Air Tahiti office."  We ended up having a potluck dinner with Phillip and Denise that night.  The water here is not so clear as in Bora Bora.  A French boater told us it's because they are growing watermelon on one of the motus, and are using fertilizer that is leeching into the lagoon.  Map of Maupiti - French PolynesiaSo we've been swimming here plenty, but just to cool down, and not to go snorkeling.  We have been told that snorkeling is better on the south side of the island, but we have not yet had a chance to try it.

This morning, Cori, Jens and I did the walk all the way around the island.  The plan was to climb up to one of the very dramatic volcanic peaks, but we were unable to find the path where Lonely Planet had placed it.  Or perhaps we did find the path, but no one has walked it in the last five years, and it has become overgrown.  For part of the distance around the island, we walked along the beach.  At one point we discovered a stranded octopus, white and gasping on the sand.  With some sticks and a plastic bag, we eventually corralled his fluid arms and floppy body.  We moved him first into an indentation Jens and Cori carved out of the sand, where the water was about 4 inches deep.  As we watched, the octopus began to change to a healthier brown color, and cycle the water in and out.  Eventually Jens succeeded in moving him to deeper water, where we hope he will recover soon enough to avoid predators.


Stranded on the sand.                                         

Recovering in 4 inches of water.

ThereseEarlier in the walk we were accosted by "Therese" on a motor scooter, who asked our names, and the name of our boat.  She asked if "Sequoia" was an Indian name (good guess!).  She then insisted that we come down to the quay and see the noni fruit which was being assembled for shipment to Bora Bora. 

We had learned in the Marquesas that noni was being used by some American doctor to make a medicine which is supposedly good for lowering cholesterol or blood pressure, or some such thing.  But we had never seen any part of the harvest or processing.  There were about 100 people at the quay, awaiting the arrival of the Maupiti Express from Bora Bora.  They had barrels full of noni, in various states of decay and fermentation.  Each barrel was weighed, inspected, and noted on a list.  Therese insisted that we take lots of pictures, and she introduced us to her friends.  We left as soon as we could politely do so, because the smell was rather overwhelming.

Click here to see a picture of noni fruit on the bush.

Fermenting noni in a plastic barrel Hoisting a noni barrel on a scale

Periodically during our walk, we passed sleepy dogs.  In all of French Polynesia, we had never seen an aggressive dog.  Well, today was different.  One dog came at us barking and proceeded to jump up, bite at our ankles and generally make himself a nuisance.  With the assistance of a big stick, we finally persuaded the dog to back off, but he and a friend followed us for several miles after that.  Two dogs who followed us partway around the islandHe finally left when we encountered the octopus -- either he became bored with our efforts, since we were no longer walking at a good pace, or else he was actually frightened of the octopus (he kept a good distance). 

Most of the houses have the family graveyard out front.  Sometimes it's a simple concrete slab.  Other times it's a fancy roofed structure, all decorated with artificial flowers. 

Cori and I went into one "artisanat" to look at the goods for sale (mostly shell necklaces), and were surprised to discover that we were inside one of these little mausoleums.  Mama's grave was in the center, and shell necklaces were hung on all sides.

Tomorrow we leave for Suvarov -- a distance of about 650 miles.  This morning, on the coconut milk run radio net, Craig got together with a group of other boats who are all leaving for Suvarov about now.  One is Vellamo, which left here this morning.  We don't know the other boats, but we've heard all the names before on the radio.  We will have contact every evening by radio, just to make sure everyone is OK, offer advice, pass messages, and break the monotony of an ocean passage. 

We are doing all the pre-passage tasks -- checking weather, checking batteries, topping off the diesel tanks, making a couple of dinners ahead and freezing them, and inspecting the rigging. 

Best wishes to all our friends and family -- 

Craig and Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

More information about Maupiti.

 Right: view of Maupiti from our anchorage.  The largest building is the church of Vaiea.  Photo by B. Johnston.

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