Max has already posted lots of pictures from the last week, but I have been remiss in sending an email ... so here goes!
We heard about the possibility of a camping trip on our very first day here, but we didn't get many details until Thursday (ie the afternoon before), at which time Max and Rio determined that the best bet was to move Fluenta to the other motu on Friday afternoon, with Rio, Kura (sounds like Koola), and their kids on board. By Friday morning, this had turned into Rio, Kura, and about 16 kids.
Shortly after the kids finished school (their day is 8am-2pm), the entourage arrived. Even as we were rafting Rio's 30-foot long, pontoon-sided, aluminum boat to Fluenta, using every fender we owned (and wishing for more), children were pouring through the lifelines, and sitting on every bit of deck that I could find. We rafted a second, slightly smaller, aluminum fishing boat out-board of Rio's boat. Thankfully, all three boats behaved themselves during the transit, and the passage across the lagoon, while rather chaotic (did I mention at least sixteen exuberant, excited kids ??) was uneventful (the only damage seems to have been that all the fenders were chafed and one was deflated).
It is hard to describe the level of noise and activity; even though they were mostly stationary (and even well-behaved), there was also a feeling of constant motion. Several of the boys are accomplished drummers, so they found all manner of musical possibilities on Fluenta (the sailing dinghy was an obvious sound box, but who knew that you could drum on our lifelines or dance on our anchor chain??). Meanwhile, even the littlest girls were on their feet dancing. There was also a constant ring of little heads around the hatches, peering down into the cabin where Victoria had retreated with Benjamin to keep him out of the sun.
The motu (supposedly about 2km away, but in actual fact more like 4 nm from here) was situated on the other side of a dense coral field, so when we got close, we disembarked everyone but Rio, and he took his place standing on the pulpit. Following his arm movements, we navigated through the coral; at one point, we had pinnacles less than a boat-width away on either side. It was nerve-wracking (and tested our trust in our new friend), but Rio guided us without issue, and we anchored in a (relatively) clear sandy patch. (However, in the sunlight the next morning, there were pinnacles closer than we would like, but we came through unscathed...). The coral heads were too densely packed for "track-back" to be reliable on our GPS ... take a peak at Google Earth at 9 deg 0.1 min S 157 deg 54.1 W to see what I mean!
The camp was a hive of activity when we arrived. A huge red tarp had been strung in a clearing of trees, several stoves were steaming with dinner preparations, buckets of fish (mullets and small groupers that the boys had caught in nets after their arrival) were being scaled and gutted, coconuts were being shredded, and the kids were all in the water searching for tiny shells (the reason for the camping trip - they are used by one of Rio's "Aunties" to make various crafts & jewelry). No thermarests were necessary here - palm branches were cut down and dragged into place under the tarp, then woven plastic rugs were spread out on top. Everyone knew what had to be done, and they all got on with it. Rio had brought a heavy-duty 12V battery, so as it got dark, some electrical cords were alligator-clamped to it, and voila, there was light!
I did a double-take as I was setting our stuff at the base of a tree. A little voice beside me was singing softly to himself, "See-ya-humba-eh-kuk-yen-quenkos...". This sounded like a hymn we sing regularly at home. I couldn't possibly be hearing it from the mouth of a five-year-old in the South Pacific, could I? When the boy (who doesn't even speak English yet) switched to the English lyrics with his Maori accent, (We are maaarching in the light of God), there was no longer any doubt - I was truly half way around the world and hearing a song from home :) We grinned together as I joined him for a verse, then he scampered off.
Dinner was yet another feast, and the majority of the food was fresh that day, if not that afternoon. Kura seemed to have brought her entire kitchen with her (5Gal buckets of flour, coconut graters, large metal bowls for mixing and serving, plates, cups, "igloos" of koolaid, three burners (one gas, two charcoal (made here)) I always stand in awe of her). We ate fried fish, boiled fish, coconut patties, napolean fish (a first - delicious), corned beef soup, and of course, rice, with fresh coconut milk poured over everything. Forks are rare here, so we are learning to eat sloppy food with our fingers, and then look for the bowl of soapy water afterwards.
Even as the grownups were tucking into our food, the kids were tucking themselves into bed. Rio spoke at length to the whole group, and everyone repeated the evening prayer together. Some things transcend language - it was pretty obvious from his body language and tone that the kids were being told not to go into the water or the woods during the night! Not having realized in advance how luxurious the accommodations were to be, Benjamin and I had volunteered to stay onboard Fluenta, so Max drove me back in the dinghy and returned with the SUP board, because the water near the beach was so shallow.
By 0630 the following morning, the morning prayers had been said, the camp was being struck, and the morning feast was being prepared. As usual, the kids pitched right in and folded all the bedding and rolled the rugs. When I came ashore around 0730, Victoria and some children had gone across the small pass to collect wild bird eggs from the neighbouring motu, Johnathan and some boys had caught another big bucket full of grouper (with bamboo fishing poles) that they were gutting and scaling, Kura was in her kitchen preparing rice, coconut patties, and corned beef soup with dumplings, and Max had gone by boat with some men to collect more bird eggs from a further motu. The boys had gone out to collect coconut crabs on Friday night, so they were steamed and ready. All I could do to help was grate coconut and wash dishes, so I did :) When they weren't helping with the food, the children collected the tiny shells (by the time we left, they had nearly filled a 5 gal bucket), and played in the water.
As I chatted with Rosa (their daughter) while she shucked oysters, I was struck, yet again, how peaceful a life can be when there is *just enough* to do. Everyone's hands were busy, yet no one was overworked or rushed. There is a time for everything, and everything happens in its proper time. Coupled with the constant, ready laughter and continuous dialog in Maori as everyone does their particular job, there is a sense of joyfulness and peace that has infused our experiences here. The outside world encroaches (after all, several people have Facebook and email, and the extended family in Australia and NZ comment regularly on the goings-on in Penrhyn) but there remains here a peace that is otherwise elusive.
Once the morning feast was ready, the children ate first (which is unusual; usually the adults eat first and they eat second). I had the opportunity to try the coconut crab. I wasn't quite sure how to break into its tough shell, but this was quickly resolved when I was handed a big butcher's knife and told to go at it with the back side of the blade. By bashing the shell with the knife (generally against the table), the shell can be cracked and the meat enjoyed. To give you a sense of scale, the bodies of these crabs are about 6" across, and each leg is about 6-8" long. They have big fore-legs like Canadian (East Coast) lobsters. They have a unique flavour that I couldn't quite describe, but they are very popular.
We left the camp in the late morning, then Rio came to guide us to the deep water while the sun was high in the early afternoon. After 24 hours of non-stop activity, it was a much more subdued mob of children who came back to the village with us on Fluenta. Once again, Rio directed us through the coral, then the children came aboard and we rafted up the big metal boat for the passage home.
Sunday Church -
The following morning, Victoria, Benjamin and I provided the Shaw family representation at church. Johnathan was laying low with a sore throat (nothing that some Belladona, hot honey, and a morning of reading/resting/playing video games didn't resolve) and Max kindly volunteered to stay with him. We learned a few lessons after the previous week ... Benjamin was dressed, awake early so he was ready to nap at 1000, Victoria and I both had nice dresses and I decorated my Tilley hat with a piece of fabric for the occasion, Victoria had a book to read, and I had my copy of "The Inclusive Bible" on my e-reader ... we were set.
Once again, we enjoyed the singing from 0930 until the service started. Whenever there was a pause in the singing in the sanctuary, we could hear the children singing in the Sunday School building. The church filled at 1000, exactly, and the minister began the service. Most of the music is sung standing up, at a volume that resonates and vibrates throughout the building; the second piece on Sunday morning was the opposite. Everyone stayed seated, the music was quiet and meditative, and without understanding a word of what I was hearing, I could feel a sense of peace embrace and wash through me, moving me to wordless, silent tears. It was as if I was being smoothed and untangled as I sat there. When I asked Rio about this music as we walked home, he told me that the congregation was singing the Lord's Prayer in Maori. Some things transcend language. The one part of the service that I understood was when the minister read the lesson aloud in English; this was all I needed, as it gave me something to think about while he delivered his sermon in Maori. The final hymn had a verse in English and a verse in Maori.
When we walked back to their home, Rio and Kura invited us inside again for a cold drink, and Rio gave me a synopsis of the service and its theme: those who fear God are blessed by God. He then described all the many blessings that we receive, including visitors, food from the air and the sea, travel, and friendship. I like the way life carries on here as normal (in Maori) and then every now and again someone takes a moment to explain what we have been hearing. We are not coddled, but we are included.
Suffice to say that I had a different experience of "church" this week than last week!
Monday - Fluenta Birthday Feast
In the hopes of reciprocating some of the hospitality we have been receiving, we invited Rio and Kura and their family for dinner on Monday evening to help celebrate my birthday. I prepared my mom's Sweet & Sour Chicken (usually meatballs, but I took a siesta with Benjamin instead of making them!) for some number of adults and some number of kids. Imagine my surprise when they arrived with another four casseroles of food! So much for our hope of feeding them! It turned out that five children wanted to come, so they decided to contribute to the buffet table :) Family is a rather complex subject here - children are often born into one family and adopted/raised by another (often a grandparent or aunt). On top of that, the houses are so close, and the lanes so safe, that the children seem to have freedom to run throughout the village. I don't really know who belongs to whom! The most lovely and startling moment was when Kura came aboard and placed a garland of frangipani blossoms around my neck and another on my head, followed by polished shell (oyster) earrings, which she had just made, in my ears. Yet again, I had a feeling of being blessed. Two days later, the scent of frangipani is still wafting through the boat when the gusts come through.
Even though our tradition is that cake follows a birthday meal, in Penrhyn, the cake comes first. We split the difference and ate the cake that Victoria had made for me between when the children ate and the grownups ate. Given the fact that every meal seems to offer so much food, I have realized that it makes obvious sense to eat the cake first: there is always room for it! What a treasured memory to celebrate a birthday with immediate family and new friends (and to receive so many emails from extended family and friends at home).
Fishing & Sharks
Max paddled to the pass the other evening for one and only time. He kept hearing a shark that was following his board splashing around behind him. When he asked Rio the following day what kind of shark it might have been, his answer was, "a dangerous one". Oh. That is the end of SUP for exercise for this anchorage!
He and the kids have begun going in our RHIB to the pass just before sunset. Last night, they caught two (blue finned?) trevallies. Tonight, they lost two tuna and a lure to the sharks, and came home with a big barracuda. The kids are loving this, but I must admit that I am quite happy hanging out with Benjamin on Fluenta. We have decided that the one who fillets the fish gets to hang the rest of the carcass overboard for the dozen or so sharks that are under our boat to fight over. This is a fun sport, but I breathe a sigh of relief each night when the carcass is gone, the sharks are all in the water where they belong, and the people are all still on the boat where they belong!
Benjamin is now corralled in our saloon - we used life line netting to make three gates to keep him away from the galley, the nav table, and the forward hallway to the kids' cabins and the tool shed/forward head. He doesn't seem bothered that he can no longer do laps, and we certainly enjoy the lack of little fingers in the tool cubby, the toilet, the stove, etc! Meanwhile, he seems to be settling into some slightly longer naps, in the
baby hammock hung parallel with our starboard bench. I guess he will have full marks for seamanship!
We have had a few reminders to check every bag and item of clothing when we come back from shore, in the form of the odd (large, ugly, flying) cockroach. Thankfully, they seem to have just been passengers looking for an opportunity to stretch their wings (and we have been able to kill them as we have found them), but we remain ever vigilant. We are grateful for the poison from our man in Papeete that is waiting in our cupboard!
We have been doing a few repairs in preparation for our upcoming passages (still several thousand nm to go...) Our (new in Jan 2013) dodger needed some repairs to the zipper stitching on the middle panel. I channeled my Grammy Murray, and sewed this by hand, using white whipping twine for thread. I am sure that Grammy never had to use pliers to get her needles through her sewing projects! Amongst other jobs, Max has completed a steering/autopilot inspection and greased the sheaves & cable, checked the tightness, checked the autopilot brushes, fluid, and mount (we are still getting some strange failures, but the physical installation seems solid, and now we know what to do when it happens).
Whew! That's a week's news all at once! I hope you have time to read/digest all this, and we will keep you posted as we prepare to leave for Suwarrow (looking now like a Saturday departure should have good weather for the four days on passage).
Love to everyone,
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W
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