As you are probably aware Sarah and I have been in Thailand for the last 6 weeks or so, bar a one-week side-trip to Cambodia for the sake of getting our Thai visas renewed inexpensively. It’s been wonderful spending time with Sarah’s parents and exploring places by land. There have also been moments of nostalgia. I’ve spent this morning looking through our photographs for the last two years
There are the usual pests – flies, mosquitoes etc. but the biggest pest (har har) by far is the horse. It thinks it’s small and sneaky. Try to cut up vegetables for a meal outside and she’ll stick her head under your arm and try to ‘innocently’ grab a few mouthfuls. Shoo her away and she’ll retreat a few steps and pretend to be interested in something else entirely while simultaneously working her way around to your other side, as if you won’t notice a horse (of all things) attempting a flanking manoeuvre. She likes to come over when you’re sitting there having a conversation, stick her head over your shoulder and dribble a long stream of cud down your front. Or she’ll wait until you get up to go to the toilet. Either she’ll be standing directly in your way and refuse to move aside at all, or she’ll take the opportunity to wander over to your now-empty chair and drool a puddle onto it. In the dark. So that when you return from peeing and are congratulating yourself on having successfully guarded your delicate parts from mosquitoes, avoided being whacked on the head by a falling coconut and/or falling into the pig pitfall trap you then sit down in blissful ignorance having not seen the nasty smelly stagnant puddle of ooze that now occupies your seat and only notice the slight dampness in the vicinity of your hind-quarters once it has had plenty of opportunity to thoroughly soak in.
I have recently discovered that I’m not a fan of pigs. In fact I find them positively terrifying. They taste nice when baked in a ground-oven, stewed over an open fire or barbequed, but when you’ve got 3 full-grown pigs running at you aggressively because you have dared to approach the coconut they are eating (which you have just opened for them), while some people’s instinct is to shout at them and wave something pointy in their direction, mine is to put something solid (like a tree) between me, and them. Especially the large male whom we have named ‘big balls’ for obvious reasons. I suppose I could take solace from the fact that his dislike of me is not personal. He doesn’t really get along with the other pigs either – especially the piglets, which I find quite surprising considering that they are his. He likes to pick them up and throw them across the garden a good 10 or 15 feet, accompanied by the most horrendous squealing noises emanating from the piglets while they are airborne. The old adage ‘when pigs fly’ is entirely inappropriate in its usual intended context when applied to life on Taravai. Here it is an event that is realised several times daily.
Moving house is a nasty horrible necessity that I’m sure you have experienced at least once or twice in your life, and possibly many more times than that. At best it probably involved something along the lines of futilely attempting to cram the entire contents of your house into cardboard boxes. These sit in your hallway full of stuff that you’d really rather be using for a few days. Then you take a day off work to wait for a moving van that you’ve hired, cram the contents of your house into said van (or vans), drive to the new place and then undo all of the box work that you’ve just done over the course of the next month or so. That’s assuming you’re moving just down the road, don’t need to put anything into storage and that a wizard has magically taken care of the inevitable arguments, pleading and blackmailing that are part and parcel of having to deal with television companies, water, gas, electricity suppliers, internet and phone companies and on and on and on.
We recently helped our friends Jesse and Jack to move house. There aren’t any roads on Taravai, which means no vans, or van men to drive them. Electricity is entirely solar, water is caught on the roof, there are no phone lines, no internet and everyone has the same cooking gas cylinders so they stay where they are. Stuff still had to be packed into boxes but these were then brought out to Bob by boat and we all got an opportunity to go for a lovely relaxing sail on a beautiful sunny day with glasses of rum close at hand. The only one who didn’t enjoy the whole experience was Sparrow, the puppy, who was incredibly seasick and must have come close to dribbling away half her own body weight though she never vomited. As soon as the dinghy touched the dock she ran off into the forest and we saw neither hide nor hair of her until a very bedraggled, cold and unhappy puppy swallowed it’s pride and presented itself at the door some hours later.
Of course, if Bob hadn’t been there the move would have entailed gradually traipsing their stuff in rucksacks along a goat path on the edge of a cliff, an hour hike each way over rough terrain and it would have taken the best part of a week. Win some, lose some. This was a win all-round I think.
Jesse and Jack have yet another animal to keep them company. Jack went for a walk along the beach the other day and found two newborn goat kids bleating away in the sand. The mother was nowhere to be seen (or heard) and they were on the verge of death so he took pity and decided to try to rear them. Sarah suggested naming the female after her and the male after me, but I’m glad that didn’t catch on because the male died the following morning and is by now shark-poop. The female is doing very well however, and has been rather unimaginatively named ‘Goatee’. Sarah, Jack and Jesse take turns to bottle-feed it powdered milk via a fuel syringe. For a 4-day-old creature it really is remarkable, and is already quite comfortable bounding up and down steps, running around the garden and trying to eat everything, including Sarah’s hair. I’m pretty sure that when I was 4 days old I couldn’t do much more than cry, poop, pee and eat. I doubt I’d figured out how to see, let alone bound. The goat does the pooing, peeing, crying and eating too, in copious quantities. Hopes are high for a healthy and happy Goatee for ever after……….. that is, until Jesse leaves Gambier and a new tenant takes over the smallholding, at which point Goatee will, without a doubt, be eaten. Such is life.
It’s been almost 3 months since we arrived in the Gambier Islands and now we’re saying our goodbyes and getting ready to leave. I’ve enjoyed visiting all the places on this trip so far, each place seems to be even better than the last. I’m absolutely in love with Taravai – the people are so wonderful and welcoming, they have really made our lives so much easier and very enjoyable. Jesse and Jack (and also John before he left) have been our friendly neighbours and made us feel right at home. Herve and Valarie and been a wealth of information about the Gambier Islands and the way of life here and the other sailors have also been wonderfully accommodating. I love the lifestyle here – it’s focused on building friendships, eating well, making the most of natural resources and being active. I love the scenery here, after nearly 3 months it still completely takes my breath away. We wake up on the boat every morning, usually there’s glorious sunshine which highlights the different colours of the reefs. We take a short dinghy ride to shore where we hang out on a farm with its own animals, fruit trees, vegetable patch, private beach and surrounded by woodland. At night, the stars fill the sky and the Milky Way is as clear as I’ve ever seen it.
We’ve made some really great friends and I’m very sad to be leaving them. The sailing community I think is one of the friendliest communities you could ever come across. Cruising around on a yacht and being constantly on the move means that you have to form friendships very quickly, otherwise you would have no friends at all! Alex is very used to saying goodbye to his friends knowing that their friendship will remain way into the future and maybe at some point he’ll run into them once again. I, on the other hand, am very bad at saying goodbye. I’ve done this a lot over the past year and every time I do I find it exceptionally difficult and hope that I won’t have to do it again for a long time. I wasn’t expecting to make such great friends here and I’m now finding myself saying goodbye to people on a very regular basis. I suppose I’d better get used to it. On the plus side, many cruisers have the same rough plan as us so there’s a good chance we’ll see them again in the Tuamotus, Marquesas and beyond.
We leave for the Tuamotus in a few days time, to an island called Hao. From there, we’ll head to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, possible making a few stops at some small islands on the way.
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.
We’ve been enjoying the Gambier Islands for just over a month now and I must say I’m very comfortable here. The islands are beautiful – volcanic in origin and covered in lush green vegetation with small tranquil beaches on its borders. So far we’ve visited five of them, Mangareva (the largest and most developed island), Taravai, Aukena, Akamaru and Totegegie (an uninhabited island with only an airstrip on it). The islands themselves are surrounded by a barrier reef, making the seas here very calm, warm and filled with wildlife. The snorkelling here is brilliant and although the animals aren’t quite as friendly as in the Galapagos, there’s a huge array of species to see and I’m starting to get a little better at identifying them.
The best thing about the islands, however, is the people. The locals seem to be really friendly and although it’s a definite advantage if you speak French (we don’t), they are generally amenable to giving help and are happy to share their surplus fruit and vegetables. The other cruisers especially are absolutely wonderful. It’s been very easy to make friends here and there’s a real sense of community in the anchorage. Perhaps the fact that all the cruisers here have taken a route that’s slightly off the beaten track gives them a bit more in common, creating more of a connection with each other. We’ve had a number of parties on shore where everyone brings along some food and drink for a picnic. My favourite was a get-together in a derelict house with no roof – it created quite an atmosphere and gave us a bit of protection from the nippy wind outside. We explored another island at the weekend and stayed on our friend’s boat for a few days. It’s a very shiny modern catamaran called El Nido and is home to our friends Olivia and David and their two young children. It felt like going on holiday in a luxurious five star hotel with all the modern conveniences you can imagine, and best of all….. a hot shower! My first hot shower since March, I was in heaven!
Another good thing about Gambier, which I was pleasantly surprised to find when we arrived, is that Mangareva has it’s very own wifi hotspot which can be reached from Bob in the anchorage. Before our mums start wondering why we haven’t used it to Skype them yet, I should point out that the internet is incredibly sketchy! It usually cuts out at least once every 10 minutes and is even slower than the old dial-up connections – we’re lucky if some websites even load up their homepage before the internet cuts out. Still, it’s better than nothing and it means that we’ve been able to catch up on a few emails, order a few things online and update the blog. Thank you to everyone whose posted comments on the blog, we’ve been able to read them all and are thrilled so many of you are keeping up to date with us. We’d just like to say welcome to the new followers and sorry we’ve not been able to reply to all the comments individually. Ryan seems to be the most talked-about subject in the comments and I’m sure many of you are still wondering what’s happened to him. Well, after having a plethora of medical tests in Tahiti it seems that no one really knows what was wrong with him. They ruled out appendicitis and even though they weren’t completely sure what was causing his stomach pains, they have given him the all-clear and he is currently on his way back to Pitcairn as I write. I’m thrilled he’s happy and healthy and although I’m sure his parents must still be worried that his condition couldn’t be explained, he’s not in any imminent danger and should hopefully stay that way for a long time to come! He arrived in Mangareva by plane a few days ago with Nadine, Andrew and his grandparents who were already in Tahiti. We never saw Ryan and Nadine as they had already boarded their ship to Pitcairn when we arrived on the dock – it was a very rainy day and I don’t blame them from wanting to be in a dry warm cabin. We did get to see Andrew and Ryans grandparents (Olive and Steve) briefly which was lovely, and got an update from them. We’re still planning on heading back to Pitcairn during the next suitable weather window and I look forward to seeing them again in the near future.
Anyway, back to our exploits in the Gambier Islands…. As I was saying, the internet here is pants! The bad news is that it’s taken me many hours (if not days) over the last 4 weeks to upload my low resolution photos to the blog – but the good news is that I have actually managed to upload some photos to the blog! So first of all, here are the photos from Pitcairn and our medivac with Ryan:
And here’s what we’ve been up to in the Gambier Islands, again in picture form 🙂
In other news, I found out recently that a good friend of mine will be coming to visit us in November, so we’ll have an additional crew member for 6 weeks! Her name is Charline, she works in ecology like me, but is also an incredible drunken dancer, crazy motorbike driver, very outdoorsy and French. She joined me and my family for New Years Eve this year in Bradford and had us up until 4am doing drunken dancing in my mum’s kitchen! As well as being excellent company she’ll also be incredibly useful for communicating in French Polynesia. We’re both really looking forward to seeing her and maybe if we can show the rest of you what you’re missing out on, some of you might also decide to come for a visit 🙂