Ariki

Ariki is a young local boy who lives on Taravai in the Gambier Islands. The island has a population of just 7 people, of which he is the only child. He lives on what many people would consider a ‘paradise island’ and has almost free reign to go and play wherever he wants. At first I thought it must be very difficult for him being the only child on this entire island. What will his social skills be like when he’s older if he only ever interacts with the same 7 people? There are no shops on Taravai, his family mainly live off the land – growing their own fruit and vegetables, fishing and hunting their own meat. His dad makes the 10-mile journey to Mangareva once every few weeks in a motor boat to buy some supplies and from what I can tell, Ariki usually stays on Taravai. Would this child grow up to even understand the concept of buying something from a shop? Would his education suffer from being home-schooled rather than having a formal education? Was he sad to not have any other children to play with? His upbringing is worlds away from my own and it got me thinking about how different people place priority on different values. I have some really fond memories of my own childhood and I can’t imagine it being the same without many friends to play with, a school where I could get a formal education and lots of toys! Surely Ariki is missing out on so much?

I soon realised, however, that my views were incredibly narrow-minded and that just because his upbringing is so different to my own, that certainly doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, in many ways it’s a whole lot better. He doesn’t have computers or Iphones to play with, or any fancy toys in fact. Instead you often see him with a stick and a saucepan lid, climbing a tree pretending to be a heroic warrior with his sword and shield – climbing the castle walls to save a stranded princess. Or he’ll be entertaining himself with a box and a broken oar, frantically paddling to escape from the evil sea monster that’s chasing him. He is incredibly healthy, active and independent precisely because of his upbringing. His parents, Hervé and Valarie, are incredibly friendly and welcome many passing sailors into their home. They host barbeques, coffee afternoons, volleyball games and dinners, and everyone is welcome. Because of this, Ariki is constantly exposed to a wide variety of people – all from different parts of the world, speaking a multitude of different languages and all with their own stories. He also meets many other children this way, and whilst his main problem is learning to share attention, overall he is a very sociable boy who communicates very well with pretty much everybody. He is home schooled by his parents and this means that he has two full time teachers. He learns his education in a fraction of the time it would take in a school because the focus is 100% devoted to him. This frees up time for him to be creative, learn other life skills such as living off the land (very useful in French Polynesia) and to be active. It’s precisely because he lives off home-grown organic produce, freshly caught wild fish and meat, is active in the outdoors, has focused education from his parents and is constantly meeting new people that he is creative, intelligent, sociable, healthy and most importantly, happy.

We were invited to his fifth birthday party last week and he absolutely thrived on a day that was completely dedicated to him. His parents made him a birthday cake and bought him a new pair of flip flops. They weren’t particularly fancy flip flops but he had lost his last pair and didn’t currently own any shoes at all. It’s not because his parents couldn’t afford to give him shoes (the Gambier people are fairly wealthy from the pearl farming trade), just that he didn’t really need them on Taravai and the local culture puts less of a focus on material things. He also got a few more birthday presents – Alex and I gave him one of Alex’s caps and made him a second birthday cake. He was also given a water bottle and a bar of chocolate from Mehdi and Karine (the owners of another boat) and a homemade ticket machine from Jesse and his brother Jack (NB – John has now sailed to Tahiti in the 26-foot Sparrow and Jack flew in to help Jesse take care of the farm in John’s absence). Ariki loves to give people tickets for events that his parents host so Jesse and Jack made him a ticket machine out of wood and some rolled up paper, it was a perfect present for him. I can imagine many children in the western world being disappointed with this array of presents, but Ariki was thrilled. He loved the day dedicated to him with all his favourite foods, lots of attention and lots of fun and games on the beach. He was even allowed to join in with the adult game of volleyball which made him very happy indeed.

Ariki is growing up in a way that is very unusual to me, but seeing how he is being brought up made me take a step back and contemplate the things that are really important in life. I still don’t have a clue really, but I’ll try and be more open-minded in the future and take the positives from the amazing people I am fortunate enough to meet.

 

Jessie playing with Ariki on his birthday

Jesse playing with Ariki on his birthday

 

This is one of Jack's lovely photos of him and Ariki

This is one of Jack’s lovely photos of him and Ariki

 

Playing in Ariki's garden on Taravai - what a beautiful setting. Large garden, volleyball court, private beach... very nice!

Playing in Ariki’s garden on Taravai – what a beautiful setting. Large garden, volleyball court, private beach… very nice!

 

The birthday cake I made for Ariki. I know it looks like a snow man - it was actually supposed to be Ariki but it was the best I could do

The birthday cake I made for Ariki. I know it looks like a snow man – it was actually supposed to be Ariki but it was the best I could do

It’s been a while

Well, it’s been quite a while since either of us posted a blog. To be honest, in comparison to Tsunami evacuations and medical rescues, nothing particularly out of the ordinary has happened recently. Writing about our exploits over the past month won’t be too dissimilar to writing a postcard to loved ones back home about all the jolly things you might get up to on your holidays. Things have been really pleasant and well, to be honest, we don’t want to rub it in by telling you about it. I suppose the good thing about a blog is that anyone who doesn’t want to read about that sort of stuff doesn’t have to. With that in mind, I suppose I’ll tell you about all the wonderful things we’ve been up to recently 🙂
We finally made it back to Pitcairn. I realise we’re very late in telling you so because we actually set off on 29th of August, arrived on the 31st August, were able to stay for a whole week and then returned to Gambier, arriving back on the 9th September! It was really wonderful to be back and to see everyone again after the medivac. Andrew came to collect us from Bob in his motor boat and we were greeted at the dock by a group of islanders, Ryan included, and a small round of applause. Of course they all lived up to their reputation and as usual, were all incredibly friendly and helpful. Not only did we spend a wonderful week seeing the sights, wildlife and enjoying great company – we also got a multitude of jobs done which we’d been trying to do for a long time (like acquiring wood to make shelves, get some bits and pieces from the hardware store, stock up on fresh fruit and veg, replenish our petrol supply, fill our dive tank and most importantly, replenish our alcohol supplies with the duty-free booze they sell there). Andrew and his mum, Brenda, were absolute stars and their help was invaluable getting all this stuff sorted. The various dinners and drinks, lifts to and from shore, the use of a washing machine and a hot shower are very much appreciated. Likewise Nadine and Randy for fruit and veg, Jay and Carol for the eggs and to Dave for the honey – thank you guys!

This is the view of Adams Town, named after one of the Bounty mutineers (John Adams), from the viewpoint at Ship's Landing

This is the view of Adams Town, named after one of the Bounty mutineers (John Adams), from the viewpoint at Ship’s Landing

 

The grave of John Adams and his family. When the British finally found the mutineers on Pitcairn, Adams was the only surviving male amongst 19 women and 23 children (according to Mel Gibson in his film 'The Bounty' - a highly recommended watch!).

The grave of John Adams and his family. When the British finally found the mutineers on Pitcairn, Adams was the only surviving male amongst 19 women and 23 children (according to Mel Gibson in his film ‘The Bounty’ – a highly recommended watch!).

 

Christian's Cave - Fletcher Christian was first mate on the Bounty and led the mutiny against Captain William Bligh. He was afraid for his life and fled to this cave for safety, or so the legend has it.

Christian’s Cave – Fletcher Christian was first mate on the Bounty and led the mutiny against Captain William Bligh. He was afraid for his life and fled to this cave for safety, or so the legend has it.

Bounty Bay - where they launch the longboats

Bounty Bay – where they launch the longboats

Pauls Pool - a beautiful natural salt water pool that is slightly above sea level. It's being filled and drained by the constant onslaught of waves from the Pacific

Pauls Pool – a beautiful natural salt water pool that is slightly above sea level. It’s being filled and drained by the constant onslaught of waves from the Pacific

Petroglyphs at Down Rope. A hike down a REALLY REALLY steep cliff to the beach where ancient petroglyphs are calved into the rock face.

Petroglyphs at Down Rope. A hike down a REALLY REALLY steep cliff to the beach where ancient petroglyphs are calved into the rock face.

Alex with the view over Adams Town and the anchorage. You can just make out Bob in the distance. Just 5 minutes before taking this photo we could see humpback whales playing in the water.

Alex with the view over Adams Town and the anchorage. You can just make out Bob in the distance. Just 5 minutes before taking this photo we could see humpback whales playing in the water.

This is the view of Adams Town, named after one of the Bounty mutineers (John Adams), from the viewpoint at Ship's Landing

This is the view of Adams Town, named after one of the Bounty mutineers (John Adams), from the viewpoint at Ship’s Landing

I should also thank Paul and Sue for being excellent company and lending us their spare bed for the night. Paul and Sue run the island’s bar, although unlike a normal bar you might find in England – you just show up at their house and if someone’s in, you sit and have a drink with them. As soon as we showed up, Paul put a huge glass of gin crush in my hand and made sure it was never empty. I also have him to thank for one of the worst hangovers of my life the following day! I don’t think it would have been possible to even make it back to Bob at the end of the night and being able to sleep in a motionless bed made the hangover at least bearable the next day!

Paul entertaining us with a homemade ukelele and me with a large rum and coke (I think) that I don't remember drinking

Paul looking very serious whilst entertaining us with a homemade ukulele, and me with a large rum and coke (I think) that I don’t remember drinking

The winds during our stay were relatively calm on the whole, but the swells were steep in Pitcairn’s exposed anchorage and being on board at anchor was actually worse than being at sea. It seemed that some sort of current was keeping Bob broadside to the swells (and the wind) and the rolling was worse than I’ve ever experienced before. Absolutely everything had to be stowed away. Cooking dinner was a complete nightmare! I never realised how many fruit and vegetables have a round shape. I tried getting out an onion, two potatoes, a cabbage and a couple of tomatoes for dinner. Before I’d had chance to cut up the first one, the rest were flung horizontally across the boat into various crevices and then proceeded to rapidly roll back and forth across the floor until Alex and I managed to eventually catch them and shove them back in their basket. Note to self – when in a very rolly boat – attempt to chop only one round vegetable at a time! Or even better, find flat vegetables (do they even exist?).

 

Speaking of round fruit... I challenge you to guess what these particular pieces of fruit are. **See below for answers.

Speaking of round things… I challenge you to guess what these particular pieces of fruit are. **See below for answers.

It wasn’t all bad on the boat however and we were fortunate enough to have a very pleasant visit from a family of humpback whales. We knew there were whales in the area and once, after moving to a different anchorage, Alex went for a dive to check on the anchor and heard whale song under the water. Although their songs sound much clearer and louder under the water, it’s possible to hear them from inside the hull of the boat as well – it was amazing! One of the locals had told me about a way to attract whales closer by tapping a piece of wood on the side of the hull in a slow, consistent manner (like the ticking of a clock). To my absolute amazement it actually worked! A mother, calf and large bull came right up next to us to see what was going on. One of them was slapping its tail on the surface of the water in a behaviour known as lobtailing. I’m still not sure if this behaviour is a greeting as if to say “hello, nice to meet you, let’s play”, or territorial aggression as if to say “if you don’t leave immediately, I’m going to lunge on you”. They seemed very calm however and got within 10m of the boat for a closer look, it was really impressive. The mother lifted the calf right out of the water on her back and we got to see them in spectacular detail. I even jumped in the water for a swim, but I guess that was too much for them as they swam off before I even got chance to see them. The songs I could hear in the water though were wonderful, so it was still worth getting cold and wet for. Ah well, hopefully I’ll get another chance to swim with them properly.

Humpback whale lobtailing

Humpback whale lobtailing

 

The head and tail of the calf having just surfaced on its mother's back

The head and tail of the calf having just surfaced on its mother’s back

 

This is the blow hole of the large bull

This is the blow hole of the large bull

 

Fluking

Fluking

 

We’re now back in the Gambier Islands and whilst we were sorry to leave Pitcairn, it’s nice to be back in a calm anchorage and slightly warmer climes. We even arrived back in time to be invited to a traditional Polynesian barbeque hosted by our friend, Matthew, who is a sailor from Tasmania who had been renting out a house here for almost a year. After all this time he is finally leaving for New Zealand so the barbeque was to wish him bon voyage and a good onward journey. The tradition in Polynesia is to cook locally caught meat (pig and goat in this case) in a ground oven with banana and breadfruit. Everyone brought something with them and there were many other local dishes made from coconut, rice, bread, fish and more. It was a true feast and everything was absolutely delicious. Well….. almost everything. The traditional Polynesian fermented fish was less to our taste but we tried some in good spirit as a ‘cultural experience’. I had a small bit and wasn’t too keen, but Alex’s piece was much bigger than mine and it almost made him vomit. Even worse was that his breath smelt like dog-breath for the rest of the night, and a little bit the following morning too…. Urgh.
We’re now anchored off the west side of Taravai (the opposite side to John and Jessie’s farm) and are just about to visit another boat to have a drink and watch the sunset with our friends, Karine and Mehdi. The sunset is usually obscured by the land but as we’re anchored on the west side for a change, we should have a lovely view of it this evening.

**Answers to fruit photo

Okay, so starting from left to right, the pieces of fruit in the photo are:

Lime, orange, lemon, grapefruit, mandarin.

Bet you didn’t guess them all!