Saturday, August 1, 2015

Maupihaa- a hidden jewel

We felt lucky to make it in to Maupiti after Bora Bora, and enjoyed several fabulous days with unique activities within the community. During our last few days we had been approached through a cruiser by a local named Ringo to deliver supplies to his brother on Maupihaa (Tahitian)/Mopelia (French) if we were going by that way. The request helped sway our collective decision (Shine & Family Circus) and loaded with fuel cans and a few boxes for "Alberto on Maupihaa" we left Maupiti in the late afternoon for the rodeo ride out the pass and an overnight sail to Maupihaa.

The seas were a bit bumpy, and we actually had to slow ourselves down to not arrive too early, and we arrived in front of the much-cautioned Pass of Maupihaa at 7am. Much of our local cruising information comes from crowd sourced blog entries and documents which someone has thankfully compiled together, and cruisers share freely electronically. The downside sometimes is that your information is tainted by someone's own weather conditions and personal experiences and isn't necessarily deeply researched. The Pass at Maupihaa had a harrowing reputation, mostly because its quite narrow and the entire lagoon flushes out constantly, but its location on the NW end at least keeps swell and breaking waves out of the equation, and after scouting it out for several minutes, Shine entered first, followed by the Circus and a singlehander, Dave on Anahata, who was happy to let the wide catamarans help guide the way.

We found ourselves inside another beautiful lagoon, reminiscent of the Tuamotus, with one long Motu blocking the prevailing winds. We anchored in ten feet of turquoise water, watching our anchor dig in and the chain lay out, and looking around at a sparkling sand beach lined with palm trees. Within an hour we had both our crews on the beach and exploring a long sand spit. On our way we saw a few of the simple structures here, and met a few of the locals, two of whom surprisingly spoke some English. While Maupiti, the close neighbor of Bora Bora, physically and visually, had electricity, plumbing, internet, fruit (bananas, mangoes, pamplemousse), stores, schools, roads and 700 people living there, Maupihaa is a whole other world away. There are 25 people living here (many parts of families in Maupiti), including 4 children, and there are coconuts and the reef. No electricity, no plumbing, no internet, no fruit or vegetables (no top soil), no schools and one "road" that connects the family compounds.

Wandering the beach and the crystal clear water over the sand spit, we further learned that Alberto lived fairly far down the motu, but that he would likely be by later to see if we had a delivery for him. As we headed back to the boat we saw a few locals jump in to an aluminum boat and head toward the reef fringing the lagoon. Patrick suggested we get our snorkel/spear stuff and see what they were up to, and the boys from both boats joined us for the half mile ride to the edge of the reef.

We saw the aluminum boat deep in a coral field with tons of coral heads creating a webbed barrier for us to get too close but Patrick raised the outboard engine and we gingerly nudged forward only scraping a few coral heads along the way. As we got close, and put our anchor down in three feet of water, the locals, who were clearly spear fishing, waved us over. With great smiles the two adults and a ten year old motioned for us to join them in "fusee", or hunting. They had two spear guns, and tied the aluminum boat line around their waist and essentially waded amongst the coral field. The two adults, Tino and Ferdinand shared one pair of fins and it didn't seem to bother them to step bare foot on the coral. They showed us about 15 fish they had already landed - parrot fish, unicorn fish, "rougee" and more. It was at this time that we saw the sharks as well, several black tips circling and one menacing looking white tipped lemon shark.

The boys gamely jumped in the water sharing two spears, and Patrick and I started scouting the short coral heads with our spear guns. As we wove back and forth, finally finding some bigger fish to shoot, the Tino and Ferdinand kept bagging more fish- with a clear technique of hitting the fish and then raising it above water immediately to keep the sharks at bay, and drop it in to the boat. Patrick and I hit plenty of coral, and knicked some fish, before I finally bagged a decent parrot fish, by which time the locals were done and offered us four of their largest fish. In our best Frenglish we declined but wandered if we could eat together tonight, and maybe get a few more fish since we were 12 between our two families. They agreed and understood and hopped back in the water to fill out the catch. We did our best to contribute but it turned out much harder than it seemed, and after a while the sharks starting circling a big closer when we chipped another fish, so we decided to call it a day. We went back to the beach and discussed dinner plans with the locals and what we could bring. They asked for beer, cigarettes, and a cake, and we agreed to bring a salad, a rice dish and a few other things. We agreed on 6pm and headed back to the boat, where we saw another wooden runabout approaching.

Albert arrived in his boat with a big smile, looking just like his brother Ringo in Maupiti. We transferred his boxes and fuel and gave him some fruit as well. He asked when we were leaving, and said he'd be by the next day at 11am.

Talking with Heather, I told her I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the dinner arrangement, but we got us and the kids ready, and jumped in to the dinghy and headed for the beach, joining Shine as they came in their dinghy. Anna had made some appetizers and brought some chicken to BBQ. The sun was setting, and we were warmly greeted by Tino and Herre (his wife), Taria (who was the designated translator) and Electricia, Ferdinand and the two kids - whose Tahitian names I wont try to write. They had pulled two long tables out and put two benches next to them and had spread out all of their plates and silverware, which left us about 4 place settings short (we had brought our own). The fish were already on a 55 gallon drum BBQ, and as the sun set, they pulled out two car batteries and plugged in wires that ran up the trees and connected a few plan led bulbs. We learned that they only have one solar panel to charge the batteries, and Taria and Electricia (the "new family" don't have a solar panel. We made introductions, brought out our food and gifts of beer and cigarettes and sat down all smiling apprehensively. The chicken Anna had brought was welcomed happily, and we learned that they never get to eat chicken, as they keep very few and generally eat only fish!

The barriers broke down quickly as we opened beers and starting dishing up food, although they only heaped food on their kids plates not their own. As we were tasting delicious BBQ unicorn fish with an amazing sauce (mustard, soy sauce, salt, vinegar and garlic in case I forget), Taria started playing a guitar and singing, and Tino played the rhythm line on an upside down garbage can with a broken flip flop and a twig. The women sang along - mostly Tahitian and French songs. It was quite a happy back drop, and we learned that they loved having beer, since they generally only get it once a year, and they were happy to wait for the chicken to cook as they could do without any more fish! All the kids seemed to love the food with the older ones really appreciating the experience the most.

Most of their family was in Maupiti, and most had grown up there before coming to Maupihaa. Tino said he came here as there was no work in Maupiti and here he could farm copra- which is dried coconut used in the cosmetics industry, and sold to the market at $1.40 US/kg. We took photos and film, talked baout our voyage and enjoyed a wonderful genuine evening. As we warmed up to each other, they asked us what our "activities" were for tomorrow and how long we were staying. We originally planned for one or two nights max, but after they laid out a schedule of egg collecting and lobster (for the men) and coconut crab hunting (for the women) all leading up to another feast on Saturday we were in!

We finally also realized that the adults were happy to drink the beer, but wouldn't eat until we left, as it was their custom to wait! Figuring this out, we excused ourselves and collected our things, promising to come back for our pots and bags tomorrow. Everyone's faces had warm smiles on them, as we bid them "Bon Nuit", and slid our dinghies back in to the water.

The next morning, we got a copra making process demonstration from Taria, and a tour of his new family homestead 1.5 km away, before I headed back to the boat, just in time to see Alberto arrive in his boat with a blue bucket. He motioned that is was for us, and inside were 11 live lobsters! I indicated it was too much, and then thanked him profusely as he insisted on taking the catch he had just made early than morning for us. He smiled broadly and thanked us for bringing his goods to him, and headed back down the lagoon.

The generosity of these folk, who in some ways have so little, is overwhelming, and we have tried to act in kind, finding things on both boats that they can use, flip flops and a new spear sling from our boat, and fins and mask sets from Shine.

 We hope to also supply a few more things over the next few days as we continue this great experience. Tomorrow we are off to egg collecting and hunting for the feast!


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