a week in Taiohae

It was a strange transition to go from 22 days at sea, with a daily rhythm, to being anchored near a town, with each day tumbling into the next, a series of fix-it projects, provisioning and indeed some fun.

On Saturday morning, we met our private tour guide Jocelyn at the Yacht Services tent. She smiled and welcomed us to hop in a white pick up truck. She seemed unassuming enough, with her classic jelly sandals and close cropped white hair. Oh how wrong first impressions are, most always. She began telling us about the town as we wound up a precipitous, winding road, the steep valley veering off to the right, no guard rails or shoulders. Anytime one of us asked a question, she would say “I will answer that later,” or some terse variation of “Not now.” It became comical to a point, and then at long last we gave up and just followed her program. We did learn a ton about the island, and covered a lot of ground, just at her speed and within all of her rules.

We learned about the trees (teak, rosewood, pine, ficus, ylang ylang, acacia), the sacred sacrificial sights, the long tailed tropical birds, plants (the tree of life from Avatar is based off a flowering and deadly tree here)and where they filmed a season of Survivor. She showed us the valley where Herman Melville wound up and fell in love with the chief’s daughter then wrote a romanticized book about his escapades. Nuku Hiva unfolded in all of her lush, exquisite, dramatic and tropical glory as Jocelyn took us up and down valleys, into the forests, to different coves. We lunched at an open air restaurant on the north side of the island, and feasted on huge plates of curried coconut milk goat, fried bread fruit, butter sauteed cassava and fried seafood. You know you’re eating well when you are shoulder to shoulder with the Taiohae gendarme officers.

After lunch, Jocelyn asked us if we’d like to feed the scraps to the eels? Why yes, yes we would. She gave a sly smirk and piled up the bones and tender morsels onto her plate, then walked us over to the creek alongside the restaurant. Plop! She tossed the scraps in, and in a moment, thick black glossy fresh water eels started to slither upriver to dine. A beautiful brindled hunting dog, with square jaw and shoulders like Ceberus, looked on longingly, salivating at either the scraps, the chickens walking by or perhaps both.

Thank goodness we did the tour because the next few days were about getting the boat ready to go, but island time is a real thing. You have to slow down, even when you are trying to leave. An interesting paradox. Greg and Diane ferried the whisker pole to shore so Kevin could fix it. When our buddy boat Tango arrived after a semi-harrowing passage, Captain John was on Rapture the next day fixing our boom vang mount on the mast that had shorn off. Greg and Susan worked on smaller projects everyday, greasing things that need grease, cleaning, organizing, on repeat.

Susan, Diane and I all helped lug bags of groceries from the three magazines (small grocery corner stores)to the boat. It was fun poking through the freezer cases, seeing chickens from Argentina, bags of foie gras, fresh endive from California in the fridge. We eagerly shopped the Wednesday am farmers’ market and bought a treasure trove of veg and fruits. We woke up early another morning to buy fresh yellowfin tuna from the fishermen carving it up right off their boats, two kilos for 1000 francs ($10).

In the afternoons we swam off the boat, watched kids and grownups go for their daily outrigger canoe workout and stared at each other, beginning to feel a bit restless. We know how to function as a group on the move, we are still learning how to be together in stationary mode.

Rhythm, a sleek black monohull and her friendly captains John and Justine, anchored near us one day. I’d met them when I was crewing on Celtic Song in La Paz, Baja California, Mexico bank in November. They recognized me and invited us to join the other cruisers in the bay for dinner at Henri’s snack shop near the dinghy dock. It was a total joy to share stories and crack jokes with everyone, to eat fries and listen to a live band. Barry from White Shadow, a single hander, had a grueling 71 day passage across the Pacific. He painted a coconut with a face and named it Wilson to get him through. Captains of catamaran Moggy bought a cocaine-carrying catamaran aptly called Bad Kitty that had been impounded by the government, and are waiting on $30,000 worth of gear in order to outfit it and sell it. It felt like the last night of summer camp, the jollyness, the camraderie shared between strangers who are now new friends. Diane and I looked up at the bright rainbow circling the fullish moon and said yup, this is living well.

As the universe is all about balance, I came down with a nasty fever the next morning. Janet on Tango hailed me on the VHF both to ask what medicine I needed and that I should look out the front door, there was a shark feeding frenzy. In a feverish haze I stumbled out carefully into the daylight and watched a fish ball boiling under the surface, and every few seconds five razor sharp shark fins broke the surface in a coordinated, steady circle. A frigate bird swooped in occasionally for fish scraps. It was surreal, on a dead calm morning with that overcast light, not fully in my mind or body, witnessing apex predators eating breakfast. Thank you Janet. Also thanks for the Mucinex.

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