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Most of the guests at the hotel stayed for a week, or two at the most. We had been using the hotel's facilities for many weeks, which was very unusual. The natives who worked at the hotel got used to us, and became very friendly. The king of the island leases the land and the hotel to the company that operates the hotel. The king's percentage of the gross income is substantial, so he is a rich king on a very small island. There are no stores, however, so nowhere to spend the money. As these people are French citizens, they travel to France to spend the money. Their children are educated in French schools and universities.
When you see them and meet them, it is unimaginable that they are rich. They look and act just like the cannibals and aborigines that they are. They make no concession to the white man and his lifestyle and they have no desire to emulate it. The king rents out the land because he can then provide for his people. The people work only because the king orders them to work and they have no choice; Polynesians do not like to work. This is not a democracy, it is a kingdom. The king has the power of life and death over everyone. If the king wants you dead for any reason, you are killed and no questions are asked.
The people are very giving once they get to know you, and they're fun to be with. Usually. They like to drink to excess and when they get drunk it's time to leave. We made friends with the bartenders at the hotel pool and a couple of waiters and waitresses in the restaurant. We went to their homes and had many meals together. Almost everyone lived in small palm frond houses. They were all the same in size and configuration and consisted of one room. They cooked outside on an open fire. Often they used the iron grill from the stove, which they never considered connecting. Only the iron grate was acceptable.
Here the wild boar of the Marquesas was replaced with chicken. There were no mountains where the boar could live, so no wild boar. There were chickens running around everywhere, just as there were lots of dogs running free. Aside from this change in the type of protein, the rest of the food was the same, including the starchy vegetables which were mashed into a mashed potato consistency and eaten with our hands. I never saw a Polynesian eat with a utensil; it is just not done.
I was invited to go diving with the locals, which I did. They could dive to fifty or sixty feet to get lobsters and crabs. I was a bit apprehensive the first time I got into a dugout canoe, but it was very steady and cut through the water nicely with the strong strokes of the hand-made oars. The fishing here was with spears. With the abundance of fish inside of the lagoon the natives seldom went outside into the ocean to fish. The only time they did was for a specific variety they wanted that didn't come into the lagoon. They liked eel roasted on a stick and had to go into the ocean for the eels.
Between diving off of Magellan and going all over the lagoon with the local natives, I had no reason to go out into the ocean. I was nervous about trying out the surfing on the standing waves. Finally a friend from Cabo San Lucas came into the lagoon, towing his large dinghy with its big engine. Towing a dinghy is a very dangerous proposition as waves can pick it up and throw it at the boat. Many yachts have suffered serious damage from their own dinghies. But Andre, who was Dutch, wanted this very big dinghy and engine and he was willing to tow it, as it wouldn't fit on his fifty-foot aluminum boat. Soon after he pulled in and anchored, he motored over to see if I wanted to go out and try the surfing on the standing waves, as they were happening right now.
Sure, I said, lets go. We motored out which only took a few minutes at the high speed of this dinghy. Soon we were surfing standing still. It was awesome and scary at the same time. You were doing something, which is against the forces of nature, sort of like defying gravity. It was fun, and we stayed out there for an hour, but it did get boring after you got used to it. I went another time with Andre and guests from the hotel and enjoyed it again, but not enough to do it a third time. The experience was thrilling, but also frightening and treacherous. It is dangerous, as the waves, which are large and powerful, are usually very stable. Usually, is the key word. If a large ocean swell comes in, the standing wave can break down and become just another ordinary wave, and then you are going very fast with poor directional control, which could cause you to hit a coral head or the edges of the entry pass.
When I discussed this experience with my native friends they told me I hadn't seen anything yet, and was I willing to go diving with the sharks? What? You must be out of your minds, swimming with the sharks. Yes, and they are very big sharks, they replied. They insisted that it was very safe, and that no one was ever bitten by the sharks, and that I would love it. OK let's go. They were excited that I was going with them, and we planned a time for them to pick me up the next morning in their canoe. They explained to me that the white man doesn't understand nature, and won't go out and play with the sharks. They reassured me several times that this was safe and we were going to have a great time.
We had to leave the pass during the end of the slack tide and just before the outgoing ebb tide started to push the water out of the lagoon. They know these times exactly without looking at a tide table or a chart. I consulted the chart when I got back onboard, and their time for leaving was exactly right on.
The next morning I skipped breakfast as I knew I was in for a strenuous swim in the ocean and didn't want to get a cramp or have any problem. They picked me up in the dugout. You don't hear them coming at all, and the first moment you know they are there is when they bang on the hull of the boat with the end of an oar. They rowed out, and even gave me an oar as I had told them I had rowed in college. I was told later on that it was a great honor to be allowed to row and they must have liked me a great deal. White men usually just sit there as cargo, and do nothing.
They covered the distance with surprising speed and we were soon out in the ocean in this wooden hand-made boat that sat so deeply in the water. And yet not a drop of water came inside. They pulled up to a sort of a beach with large rocks and we got out. You wear shoes when you are swimming so that you can push off of coral. Otherwise you would be cut to shreds from the very sharp coral. I followed their lead and we were soon all in the water and swimming for the entrance pass. We were about fifty yards outside of the edge of the reef. They motioned me to dive with them, which I did. This was like follow the leader, except for real. You do whatever they do, when they do it. They have local knowledge in yachties terms, which means they know what is going on and what to expect, and you do not.
As soon as I put my facemask in the water, I could see the sharks. Hundreds of sharks, which at the time looked to me like every shark on earth, had come to this spot at the same time. I was ready to swim to shore and sit this one out when a hand grabbed my arm and pulled me down some fifteen feet into the water. He motioned me to watch him. A very large shark came right for him at about a 45-degree angle. It did not appear to have any evil intent, but rather was coming to take a good look at the human. Just as it got along side of him he hit it on the snout with his fist. The shark turned and looked at him with amazement. It was as if the shark was saying, what the heck was that? The body language of the shark made it clear he wanted no part of whatever it was that had hit him on the nose.
I saw this happen again and again and it always worked. Then a large shark came at me, so I reached out and hit it on its nose. I got the same startled reaction from the shark. Sharks are animals that do not want any confrontation whatsoever. They are eating machines, but they are not fighting machines, and do not combat well at all. If any creature fights back, they leave and find something else to eat that won't fight back. They just don't fight. They attack seals, fish and animals much smaller then they are, or prey that's disabled, bleeding, dying. When you hit the shark on the nose, he is surprised and goes away. He has lost all interest in you. I must admit that it was really fun to hit the sharks and watch them flee. I started looking for sharks to hit.
Before very long the sharks started to take their positions at the entrance to the lagoon. The smaller fish come in and out of the lagoon on the tidal current. The sharks position themselves just outside the entrance pass, directly in the path of the current, where the fish have no maneuvering room. The fish are caught in the strong current and can't turn to avoid the sharks. The sharks line up closely next to each other and below and above each other, with their mouths wide open, and they then wait for the fish to be forced into their mouths by the current. This is no-effort fishing. Position yourself and feed until you are full. There was every kind and size of shark in the ranks. Also swimming among the sharks was a fantastic array of other large carnivorous fish. The barracudas I recognized. There were dozens of other species, most of which I couldn't identify, and all of them were there for the same purpose: to feast on the huge numbers of fish coming out on the outflowing tide.
I was to learn later on that the process is reversed to some degree on the inflowing tide. The manta rays position themselves inside the pass and filter the large amount of water which flows into the lagoon carrying the microscopic plants and animals they filter out and feed upon. The reef of Rangaroa is one of the most prolific in the world. The ocean is full of plankton and many types of small and single-celled animals. No wonder the Manta rays are so fat and happy inside the lagoon. Rangaroa is one of the most fish intensive places in the Pacific Ocean. The clear warm water helps, as does the productive reef. The fat happy fish and the plankton attract other fish, and the cycle is self-propagating. Oceanographers and photographers flock here to study and capture all of this activity.
The swim with the sharks was unbelievable. It was a rush. The sheer numbers of fish swimming around and the experience of swimming among them freely without them running away was indescribable.
The swim with the sharks was one of the most spectacular events of my life. After hitting the first few sharks and seeing its effectiveness, I had no fear. I tried to get Barbara to try it but she wouldn't. Having seen the movie "Jaws" a few times, she wasn't the slightest bit tempted. She knew I wouldn't have gone back had I perceived any risk, but she still wouldn't go. I got the same reaction from almost all the yachties and hotel guests whom I tried to convince to go with me.
It is true that this is a unique place and the sharks are well fed and happy. I wouldn't jump into water with man-eating sized sharks anywhere else. And I would never go alone; I only went with the natives.
The amount of time we spent swimming in the ocean and the lagoons of these islands was extensive. But Barbara and I both paid a high price for this extended exposure to the intense sun so near the equator. We put on sun block. We tried to use as high a number as we could find. But we didn't use enough often enough. The water would wash it off and the clarity of the water, acting like a lens, intensified the sun's effect. As a result of this exposure to the sun's rays, we go to the dermatologist regularly to have things burned off of our skin with liquid nitrogen. It doesn't hurt, but it is something we must do for the rest of our lives. Skiing in high mountains, which we also did, is also terrible for your skin due to the thinness of the atmosphere at that altitude.
While we were on Magellan, we usually sat under the canvas dodger which protected us from the sun most of the time. We were exposed while working on deck even though we wore large brimmed hats. Many yachties who sat out in open cockpits, disdaining hats and sunscreen, have paid a higher price than we have.
We loved Rangaroa, as did all of the yachties we knew that spent time there. Going to the hotel by airplane is better than not going at all, but it is a very long and complex and expensive trip. We thought about leaving a couple of times and then said to ourselves, well just another week. We had dozens of islands that we wanted to visit in the area. Many of them got crossed off the list after we spoke with other boats that had visited those places. Most were smaller versions of Rangaroa, and did not have the hotel facilities or the other yachts. So one by one the places on the list were crossed off and we had another couple of weeks to stay put.
We did have a few bad experiences with other boats and people. Our friends Robert and Annie had come into the lagoon at Rangaroa. We had dinner together and they told us of another couple they met and liked. This couple arrived on their boat, and we were all invited to come to this couple's boat for cocktails. We went aboard, and Barbara and I were not comfortable almost at once with these people. Then we took the required tour of their boat, as you do on all yachts you visit. Show and tell is very standard practice among yachties. I walked into their master stateroom and stopped cold in my tracks. On one wall was a Nazi SS flag, and on the opposite wall was a confederate flag. I felt my skin crawl and told the couple that Barbara and I are Jewish. He said he was a member of the Klan and hated Jews. Barbara and I left at once.
Robert and Annie stayed on, so needless to say that was effectively the end of our association with them. We met people at the hotel swimming pool who would get up and leave quickly after they heard our name, which is obviously Jewish. Our feelings were once hurt when a couple we had known and liked started to make anti-Semitic comments one night at a restaurant after a few too many drinks. They apologized the next day, but the beans had been spilled and we now knew who they really were.
We were onboard Magellan one night preparing for bed when we heard the knock of a wooden oar against the hull. I went out into the moonless night to see a boatload of natives in their dugout canoe. They were painted up and wearing bone decorations similar to what we had seen in Hiva Oa. We hadn't seen this before on this island. My friend who took me to swim with the sharks, said, "Don't look at us. Go below and stay below all night. If the Gendarmes come tomorrow, you have seen nothing. It is dangerous out tonight, stay on your boat!"
I went below and locked the cabin door behind me. I went around and checked that all the hatches were locked. I closed all the portholes and turned on the air conditioning, which we hadn't been running often. We could nevertheless see out of the portholes.
About an hour later we could see a large bonfire at the far end of the island. The hotel and all its activity is grouped in one small part of the island, not too far from the entrance pass to the lagoon. The natives live scattered about the rest of the island. We had visited a couple of groups of houses, which could not be called villages. Each group of houses was typically a family group. The Polynesians are very family oriented. Brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews are all very close, and live in close quarters. Their entire living and social arrangements are based on blood relationship and tribal customs. The father rules, and no one dares question his absolute authority. I saw that any failure to obey the father quickly and completely was punished hard and fast, usually involving the drawing of blood. This applies to men, women and children. Everyone obeys or gets beaten hard.
Barbara and I looked at the large fire taken in context of the warning from my friend. We looked at each other knowingly. This clearly was big trouble for someone. We went to sleep, to be awakened the next morning by the Gendarmes in their power launch. I answered all of their questions. No, I have not seen anything strange in the last couple of days. No, I did not see anything last night. No, I don't know anything at all. No, I have not seen the missionaries recently. No, I did not see the missionaries yesterday. No, I do not know where the missionaries are.
Finally, after many questions, they went away. The Gendarmes probably couldn't see the fire from where their police station and housing was. You also couldn't see the fire from the hotel. You had to have the angle of view we had from a boat anchored on the lagoon in order to see the fire. The main thrust of the questioning by the Gendarmes was had we seen the missionaries within the last two days. It was very clear to us what happened to the missionaries. I am certain that the Gendarmes also knew very well what happened to them. We played dumb. There was no talk of any of this at the hotel, except in whispers among the yachties.
The guests at the hotel stay in the area around the hotel and in the lagoon near the hotel. The hotel makes it clear that it isn't safe to go into the jungle because you can get lost, or injured, or bitten by something. All of which is very true. At night the danger increases and hotel guests don't go wandering around the island.
There are crabs which live in the jungle that are known as coconut crabs. They are large, and have one small claw and one enormous claw that is as large as their entire body. They break open coconuts with this claw. They are mean and attack anything and everything that comes near them. You don't want to have anything to do with them. They live in holes which they dig in the jungle, and they camouflage the holes with leaves. If you step into one of their holes they will attack with their oversized claw, and can take off a foot in one bite. There are many kinds of snakes, most of which are poisonous and deadly. There are a wide variety of insects and spiders, many of which are poisonous. So telling people to stay out of the jungle is good advice. Hotel guests don't tend to be adventurous and they heed the warning.
This advice about staying out the jungles goes double for nighttime. You cannot see where you are stepping in the blackness of the jungle at night. Even with a full moon it is pitch black inside of the jungle.
Some yachties did not take the advice to stay out of the jungles unless accompanied by a native with local knowledge. We had friends named Gary and Cheryl, on the yacht Voyager. Gary was a huge man who was quite macho. He liked to go off and explore on his own. He often went into the edges of the jungle. After one such expedition he returned to his boat complaining he was dizzy. He wasn't certain, but thought a spider bit him. Within two hours he was unconscious and in a coma. He right leg blew up to four times its normal size, and turned purple and green. The leg was disgusting to look at, and he was in life threatening trouble.
He was rushed to the local clinic where they put him on an IV at once. They pumped him full of a variety of anti-biotics and anti-venom medicines. It took him four days to wake up out of the coma. He was in the hospital for another two weeks more recovering from whatever bit him.
Gary landed in the hospital again on the island of Moorea. He had gone swimming in the lagoon without wearing shoes. He stepped on a cone shell and was very ill and almost died from the toxemia in his system. This time he was hospitalized for almost a month. You never walk on the sand bottom without shoes just to avoid the problem Gary had with the cone shell. These shells bury themselves in the sand and can't be seen even in crystal clear water. The doctors told Gary that another poisonous infection would kill him.
Barbara and I were mostly very lucky. I had a case of Dengue fever in Mexico. This is a mosquito born disease that is similar to Malaria, except that it is a one-time illness that does not keep returning, as does Malaria. I took medicine we had on board to combat the effects of Dengue, none of which worked. I was very sick with flu like symptoms for a week. The only protection against Dengue is to live in a mosquito net and to use mosquito repellents all of the time.
I do have a permanent reminder of my travels in the tropics. I contracted Malaria in the South Pacific. Malaria is the number one killer illness in the world today. Three million people die from it every year, and the number is rising. Once you get Malaria you have it for life. An attack consists of a very high fever of 105 to 106 degrees, alternating with sever chills and shakes. This goes on for a week to ten days. You get attacks at random throughout your life. Sometimes I get one attack a year. Sometimes a couple of years go by without any attack. The attacks seem to get a bit shorter as time goes by. My last attack lasted only three days, but those were three awful days.
Malaria is a worldwide problem. It is concentrated around the equator where the anopheles mosquito lives. Most yachties take some form of prophylactic protection against the illness. Barbara and I religiously took Chloroquinine tablets. I still got Malaria in spite of the pills. There is a stronger drug known as Fansidar, but it has horrific side effects, such as blindness, in a substantial percentage of people who take it. It is interesting that Barbara is bothered much more by mosquitoes than I was, and yet I'm the one who got Malaria.
We regularly used a wide variety of insect repellents. We sprayed them on or rubbed them on. We burned special candles to repel insects. We had screens on all of our portholes and hatches. We were still bothered by insects. No matter how thoroughly I sprayed myself with repellent, I was still bitten whenever I went into the jungle. The only certain protection was not to go into the jungle. We anchored away from shore whenever possible and used mosquito netting all the time.
After you are bitten, which is often, you apply after-bite medication. Once you scratch, the itching increases and lasts longer. We had every kind and brand of after-bite treatment available on the market. We used them all. Some worked well for a time and then stopped working. Some didn't work at all. None were great.
Infections of any kind are dangerous in the tropics. The heat and humidity exacerbates the infection. Therefore, when we had any infection or inflammation of any kind, we would treat it instantly and constantly until it was cured. Inattention to an infection is a serious mistake, as it can get much worse quickly. This is also the case with fungus infections of any kind. If someone ignored a simple athletes foot it could grow into a serious problem amazingly quickly. We had a wide variety of creams, salves, ointments, anti-fungal creams, anti-inflammatory creams, and cortisone based creams. At the first sign of anything we would medicate at once. We started with over-the-counter medications and moved up to prescription drugs when necessary.
I invented a home remedy to use for a wide variety of problems. It works as an antiseptic and a cure for cuts, abrasions, burns, cold sores, insect bites, mosquito bites, toothaches, and most small problems. It is highly effective in eliminating the pain from all burns up to second-degree burns, including sunburn. One application usually takes the burn pain away for good.
The formulation is made of essential oils. Mix forty percent of Geranium Bourbon essential oil, twenty percent Tee Tree essential oil, and forty percent sesame seed oil together. The resulting oil is truly magical. We call it oil of Magellan. It is very strong and a few drops go a very long way. Put some on a mosquito bite soon after you are bitten, and the itching goes away not to return. The redness fades and the bite heals very quickly. It is truly magical on small cuts. The oil does have a strong herbal smell. Some people love the odor and others hate it. Warning: Do not ingest the oil, and do not get it in the eyes. Use it at your own risk. I am not a doctor and make no guarantees. All of my friends and relatives swear by Magellan oil. We use it extensively to this day. Everyone agrees about its magical curative qualities. Many people simply call it Dick's magic oil. It is truly amazing. The pharmaceutical companies are uninterested in it, as it cannot be patented.
About a month after our visit at night from the natives in their war canoe and the visit the next morning from the Gendarmes, we were having lunch at the hotel. We met the new missionaries, who had been sent as replacements for the last group. They were a lovely young couple with a ten-year-old boy. They were sweet people, and the sight of the young boy broke my heart. I asked them straight out if they knew what happened to their predecessors. Sure, they said, they had returned to the US after doing their time as missionaries. They knew this because the church had told them, and they don't question the elders of the church who are infallible and totally honest. I tried to tell them the truth, but they did not believe me. They wouldn't listen. I begged them to go to the Gendarmes and talk to them and they firmly stated that wasn't necessary. Barbara and I were extremely upset that this couple and their son would be dinner in just a matter of time, but there was nothing we could do as they wouldn't listen.
It is curious that the French allow these missionaries to come, knowing full well what their fate will be. But it doesn't seem to be a problem for anyone, not the French and not the church. The French will do anything to have the natives converted to Christianity. They are more than willing to sacrifice the Seventh Day Adventists, as they themselves are almost all Catholic. Interestingly, Catholic churches and Catholic missionaries are not allowed on any of the islands.
The locals made it very clear to us over and over again that they put up with the French for now, but want nothing to do with them or their culture and that someday they will kill every Frenchman on every island. They do not want the French schools, or their roads, or anything. In fact they say they will burn down everything the French have built and will wipe any and all traces of the French. They point out that they themselves built the straw huts and buildings for the hotels which are the source of their income, and they do not need the French for anything. And, they say, the French are stealing from them, and are entitled to none of income generated by the beauty of their islands. The French are invaders who must be killed. I suspect that one day there will be a bloodbath in the South Pacific because although the French have a navy to bombard the islands, they do not have enough troops to put down a real revolt. This is one of the very last places in the world where a true colonial occupation exists.
The French do not want anyone to stay in French Polynesia for more than six months for several reasons. On a brief visit, a tourist will not sense the tension that exists between the natives and the French. In addition, specifically Americans present a problem because Americans have the idea that everyone has "rights." The French don't want Americans to teach the natives that they have rights and should rebel, so much so that Americans are not allowed to buy any property in French Polynesia. Regular tourist visas last only about 30 days, so it's already a huge concession that boats can stay for six months. Perhaps the French make that concession because yachts rarely stick around any one stop for more than a few days and are unlikely to stir up trouble.
We were approaching the day when we had to leave and go to Tahiti. We wanted to spend at least two months in Tahiti and Moorea before our six months were up. I had done a little research on the series of French laws governing yachts in French Polynesia and I found a loophole. The basic rule is that no yacht can be in French Polynesian waters for more than 180 days. Effectively this means that boats come, spend their 180 days and then must sail on. It is too tough to sail back to the Americas against the wind and currents, which means that you must move on to the west.
The loophole in a poorly drafted law allowed us to keep Magellan in the water for just one or two days short of 180 days, haul the boat out of the water, and put it into a boatyard in the Society Islands, which is where Tahiti and Moorea are located. That island group has dozens of islands, most of which can be visited. After the hurricane season is over, we can get another 180 days in the water, and then theoretically do this over and over again. Clearly the French do not want us to do this, but I was certain I would get away with it.
We had to get to a boatyard, arrange for hauling, and to learn the lay of the land. We also wanted to spend time in Tahiti where our kids could fly down and visit us. It was going to take us two days to sail from Rangaroa to Tahiti. We waited until the weather looked like it would be perfect for the entire week before we took off. We had had a very good time in Rangaroa. We sailed into a couple of atolls in the Tuamotos. We didn't care for any of them as they had very little foliage, and weren't nearly as pretty as Rangaroa was.
The Society Islands were similar to the Marquesas Islands. They were high mountains well covered with green lush jungle. Papaete is a big city with services, and is the center of Polynesian life and culture.
The sail to Tahiti was beautiful, with good wind in long smooth swells. Magellan was in need of a replenishment of supplies. Our sail that blew out in the hurricane needed to be repaired. We heard of a great sailmaker in Papaete and we were anxious to have this done. We also had a few boat problems which were not serious but needed repairing. The generator was acting up and not running smoothly, and it was beyond my abilities as a diesel mechanic. I was sure I was going to need parts from Perkins, which must come into Tahiti, the main port of entry into French Polynesia.
Papaete is a large harbor with commercial ships. It was very easy to find and was very well marked. Barbara and I were by this time feeling easy about pulling into most harbors and anchorages. We had learned how to properly use the pilot guides and we had every chart we could possibly need. The French charts are very good for the area and can be relied upon to be accurate.
There are two main places for yachts in Papaete. The first is the quay, which is in the middle of the city. The problem with the quay is that it is literally on the main street of Papaete, and you get tourist lookers, and you must keep everything well locked up and secure. But you can walk to just about everything. The alternative is to anchor at the beach, which is a large area where the new hotels are, but it's somewhat out of town. From there you must take a bus into town or rent a car. We wanted to be on the quay. Quay is pronounced, kay, just like the letter K.
There are large bollards along the edge of the quay, which are concrete pillars on shore to tie up to. Yachts pull in with either their bow or stern hard against the quay. You can then walk on and off of the boat directly onto the concrete walkway. You put fenders on both sides of the boat to hold off your next-door neighbors. This is close living. That was fine since we had been isolated for many months and having some company sounded good. We had to check in with the harbormaster after we had found a spot on the quay and tied up securely.
It was a little difficult to adjust all of the lines and to get tied up properly. The people on the boats on either side of us were helpful. It took fifteen minutes to complete the job. We had a good map and easily found the harbormaster and checked in. The next thing to do was to find a good restaurant. As this was French territory, there were a couple of first class French restaurants. We picked one and had a great meal.
For the next couple of weeks we were tourists. We took tours of the island and went to the local cultural events, which included lots of Tahitian singing and dancing. The island of Tahiti was large and very beautiful. There were many waterfalls, rivers and ponds. There were orchids everywhere, just growing wild in lots of brilliant colors and combinations. They had cut roads through the jungle, which came right up to the edges of the road on each side. The humidity was almost one hundred percent. It rained a great deal, and it was hot.
We had power from shore and ran the air conditioning virtually all of the time. People on other boats would come by and ask why we were in a boat that was all closed up in the heat and humidity. We smiled and explained. Most couldn't believe it, as there are so few yachts with air conditioning. Even most hotels in Polynesia do not have air conditioning. They tend to be indoor-outdoor kinds of places. The restaurants are mostly outside with a roof. You sit in the heat and eat while it rains all around you. The hotel rooms are mostly separate huts thatched with palm leaves. It is all very native and natural.
We enjoyed ourselves. We did far better because I spoke the language. Yachties who did not speak French had a tough time with the locals and with the officials. I spent a lot of time translating for people and helping them get through the bureaucracy, which was typical French, unbending, and somewhat silly. The Polynesians dislike the French system as much as they hate the French, and will help you get around the rules whenever they can.
The city itself came to life at eight o'clock at night. The place was like a carnival every night. Along a part of the quay not too far from us there were trucks, similar to large catering trucks in the US, that the locals simply called le trucks. Each was its own open-air restaurant. Most served stir-fry meals. Some specialized in shrimp and others in beef and so on. The food was very cheap and quite good. We had many a meal on le trucks.
This was a unique city - a mixture of local Polynesian culture and Paris. It was a bit noisy after being in such total quiet for so many months, but we got used to that quickly and adjusted. The biggest problem for the first three or four days was the land sickness. It is strange, but once you are living on a boat for a long period of time you get used to the motion of the boat and the ocean. Your inner ear adjusts to the motion and it is normal for you. We could still get seasick in very rough seas, but in most conditions we no longer got sick. The reverse happens when you are living mostly on the land. Your inner ear cannot adjust to the lack of motion and you get land sick. It feels just like being seasick.
We started to look for a place to haul out Magellan during the hurricane season. There are boatyards in Tahiti but we did not like their looks. There was, we were told, a very good boatyard on a small island called Raiatea, which was a couple of days sailing from Papaete. We had to get going to meet our deadline. We would first sail to the island of Moorea, which is actually more beautiful than Tahiti, and spend a few days there. Then we would sail on to Raiatea.
Moorea is only ten miles from Tahiti and is far more rural. There are a number of luxury hotels. The sail across was quite rough as the currents are compressed into the channel between the islands and cause this effect. But there was nothing to do except sail through it, choppy water and all.
Once at Moorea there are two very large natural harbors. Cooks Bay is the harbor favored by yachts, so we pulled into it. These islands were discovered and charted by Captain Cook and hence the name of the bay.
We spent a couple of weeks in Cooks Bay, which we thought was not only beautiful but a lot of fun. There was a reef to snorkel on and explore. The water was protected and calm. There were a couple of hotels similar in style to the hotel on Rangaroa. There was one hotel in particular which we liked very much called The Bali Hai Hotel. They had a dinghy dock and welcomed yachties. They wanted the yachts for scenery and because the yacht owners spent money at the bar and restaurant. They had showers just for yachties to use. After the city atmosphere of Papaete, we were ready for this mixture of civilization and paradise.
We made friends with several Mooreans. Barbara became very friendly with two lovely women who spoke English named Manolo and Hifara. They had long talks about their children and in particular the variations of our societies. They were as interested in learning about America as Barbara was in learning about Polynesia. They introduced Barbara to Barboo. He was a giant of a man. All Polynesians are large people, but this guy was big even for them. He was six foot six inches tall. He weighed well over three hundred pounds and it wasn't fat. He was the night security guard for the hotel.
Once Barboo became our friend, he came to us and told us he would watch out for us, protect us, and watch out for our boat. He added that if anyone bothered us, I kill em, I eat em. Thank you very much Barboo. We knew from the other islands we had visited that he meant it.
There was a local character in his fifties who often came to the bar to sit there and drink. He didn't talk to the hotel guests. He spoke Moorean with our friends the natives, and that was it. One day he came over to Barbara and me and started up a conversation in English. He introduced himself as Charlie Hunter, the owner of this hotel and of all of the hotels on Moorea.
Charlie was a highly educated man who had graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris, and then attended universities in England and America. I heard him speak four or five languages. He was bright and articulate. Charlie and I spent a lot of time together from then on, talking about all manner of things. Knowing Charlie as a friend was the key to Moorea. Charlie's name was the magic potion for getting help where otherwise you would be ignored.
There was a fabulous Chinese restaurant within walking distance from the dock. We had been there a few times and loved the food, which was as good as anywhere in the world. And then we went there with Charlie for lunch. From then on the quantities, quality, and variety of the food increased significantly.
It was obvious that Charlie had to be rich, owning the hotels he owned. Then one day, just as a casual comment, Manolo referred to him as our king. Charlie is the king of the island? Why yes, didn't you know that? So in effect Charlie owned the entire island, everyone, and everything on it. He gave sarcastic lip service to the French, but made it clear that whatever they built belonged to him. They were temporary nuisances, and he would get rid of them when the time was right.
We met many other natives through Charlie. Some of those acquaintances were to give us some of our most memorable experiences of the South Pacific when we returned for the next season after the hurricane season. Charlie invited us to his house for Sunday lunch. This is the big family gathering and the socially important event of the week. Every family has their big family lunch on Sunday. We had been to several of these on Hiva Oa and Rangaroa, so we had some idea of what we could expect.
The families are very large. They typically have ten children or more. Everyone comes to the patriarch's house for Sunday lunch. Therefore it was a large party with grown children and their children, etc. Whenever we had eaten with Polynesians we had always eaten sitting on woven mats outside.
Charlie picked us up at the dinghy dock in a large jeep, and drove us up into the mountains to his home. The house was magnificent. It was an architectural splendor, which was ten thousand square feet or more. There were entire walls that were tropical fish aquariums. Everything was marble and glass. It was breathtaking. We were introduced to the dozens of people there for lunch. The dining room had a natural waterfall as it was built right into the side of the mountain. There was a huge round table in the room with about thirty chairs around it. Built into the table was a revolving center section on which all the food was placed. It all came by you slowly and you grabbed what you wanted, with your hands of course.
All of Charlie's family was schooled in France. They all spoke several languages and were clearly well educated. At the same time they were aborigines. They were in most aspects of their lives raw and unsophisticated. They dressed as natives. They talked like natives, and led their lives as if they had never left this small island.
We spent many Sundays at Charlie's house for the family lunch. We got to know them quite well. Some were just basic, nice and funny people. Others were very angry that there were white people at the dinner table and let us know it. Charlie would shut them up quickly, but their hatred was visible. We were not nervous or afraid, as we knew we were under Charlie's protection; otherwise it wouldn't have been wise to be there or to have stayed.
We socialized with the various yachties, on or boat or theirs, and sometimes in the various restaurants. One couple we spent lots of time with, Randy and Sharon, whom we had met in Mexico, had very interesting friends who would fly in from the States, and we all went out together. We knew of stealth aircraft and details of the anti-missile systems being tested by the US long before anyone ever heard of stealth technology. Most of these people were executives in the skunk works a highly secret operation of Northrop Aircraft in California. A few times, even very drunk, they knew they had told us too much.
None of our other yachtie friends knew the Polynesians in the close and intimate way that we had gotten to know them. We had met Manolo and Hifara and Charlie for the same reasons we had met the other Polynesians; we stayed much longer than usual and became part of the scenery. They got used to us. I think they also liked us because I went out of my way to be friendly, and I was willing to participate in their activities. In addition, we had money to spend at the hotels and were good customers.
We greatly enjoyed our stay in Moorea. We didn't want to leave, but had to because of the oncoming hurricane season. We finally pulled up our anchor and left for the island of Raiatea. This was a two-day sail or so from Moorea. At Raiatea there is a branch of the Moorings. This is an operation where you can charter a sailboat with or without a captain for a couple of weeks or longer. They had good facilities and we pulled into the Moorings and picked up one of their moorings.
We went immediately to the boatyard and made arrangements for hauling Magellan out of the water on the 178th day of our being officially in French Polynesia. By being out of the water, we were no longer in French Polynesian waters. Because of this and the poorly worded statute we were then able to return the next season for another six-month stay. This had never been done before. Everyone accepted the intent of the law and spent one season in French Polynesia, afterwards departing to the West to Tonga and Fiji. Fiji is a collection of hundreds and hundreds of islands similar to Polynesia. There they have a local narcotic called Kava. When you arrive at any island in Fiji your gift to the local king is Kava. All the people then have a big feast and drink lots of Kava and get very stoned. I am told that you can't feel your face after a drink of Kava.
Barbara and I did not want to spend months stoned on Kava in Fiji. We had heard other horror stories about Fiji concerning the reefs and the danger of some of the natives. All of this made us decide to skip Fiji. Because of this we greatly desired to have one more season in Polynesia.
The boatyard was happy to accommodate us. They haul out all of the Moorings boats during the hurricane season, and one more boat was no problem to them. They have large heavy wooden cradles which the yachts sit in while out of the water. Magellan was going to be safe. Raiatea is a small out of the way island, the boatyard was well fenced and well guarded, and so we weren't worried about theft. Although not worried about leaving Magellan, we were very sad at the prospect. We would miss our boat.
We met a whole new set of buddies on Raiatea and had a good time. We had our tickets on the freighter to get back to Tahiti, and then our airline reservation to Paris. which was very reasonably priced as it was subsidized by France to encourage the locals to visit France. The price for a round trip ticket purchased in Papaete was one quarter of what that same ticket cost if purchased anywhere else.
We took a short sail to a nearby island Taaha. It has a lovely anchorage with a small town and a local market. We spent our weeks on Taaha visiting with other yachties, snorkeling and frolicking in the sea. With just a few days left in the water for the first season, we returned to Raiatea. A big storm came in that night, which was just the beginning of the bad weather season of the South Pacific. The wind blew very hard with pouring torrential rains. We were hooked up to the same mooring we had been using, and felt safe. In the middle of the night the anchor chain of the mooring broke and we were floating free among the coral heads and the reef.
I went into a panic because of the total darkness with the severe winds. Barbara stayed very calm and told me to get behind the wheel and to turn on the engine, which I did. She then told me to put it into reverse and give it juice. I was in a panic and put in forward and slammed into the reef. She yelled, "Reverse! Reverse!" I put it into reverse and backed us off of the reef. I was disoriented and didn't know where we were. Barbara knew exactly where we were and guided us to the dock, where we tied up for the night. At the first light I ran out to look at the bow and check out the damage. There were a few scrapes, but that was it. The boatyard could repair them very easily while we were in dry-dock.
We were both distressed that we had to leave Magellan for six months. We were very attached to her and didn't want to leave her for even a week or two, let alone six months, but we had no choice. It was sad to see her out of her natural element, the sea, and up on wooden supports. We climbed aboard and locked everything up securely and took our suitcases and went off to catch the freighter with heavy hearts.
There is no proper ferry service between the islands. The locals are in effect deck cargo on small freighters, which run between the various islands. We had a space assigned to us on the deck between several local families. The rough painted steel decks were our stateroom. There was no dining room or anywhere to buy food or even a coke. We hadn't planned for this total lack of food on the freighter; it was just one of those things that nobody tells you about, and we hadn't thought to ask.
This was not a cruise ship. It had no stabilizers or creature comforts whatsoever. They didn't even provide drinking water. We were able to rent from the ship two thin foam rubber pads, which were to be our beds. The locals thought we were very funny and gave us food from their ample supplies. Water and drinks were another matter, but we were able to buy some from a few people who would sell them. The entire journey was only going to take us twenty hours, so we were not going to die of hunger or thirst no matter what.
We arrived in Tahiti and checked into a hotel for the day until our plane took off. We officially checked Magellan out of French Polynesia. All I had to swear to was that she was no longer in French Polynesian waters, which she was not.
We flew to Paris, which was a very long flight with many stops. We stayed in Paris for a few days to eat in our favorite places and visited our few special haunts. We love the Picasso Museum and spent half a day there in the Marais district. We did not want to spend six months in hotel rooms and decided to go to the Loire Valley, which is about a hundred miles south of Paris, and buy a small house. We would keep busy by exploring the Chateaux's of the Loire and the countryside, and by fixing up whatever home we bought.
The real estate market in the countryside was very depressed. Many people moved out to go to the big cities and very few moved in, so there were many vacant houses for sale at very reasonable prices. We found a lovely little home in the village of Villiers Sur Loire, a charming hamlet of a couple of thousand people. We bought it and started to work on it at once. We had a very good time working on the house and eating at the numerous fabulous restaurants within a short drive from our house.
I found a world famous painter in the city of Tours, about forty minutes from our house, and we took painting lessons from him. I took cooking lessons from an haute cuisine chef a couple of times a week. Barbara and I painted, cooked, and worked on the house. Six months flew by and soon it was time to return to Tahiti and Magellan. We had kept busy, but we still missed our boat and thought about her daily.
We had gathered equipment and supplies to take with us to Tahiti. Because of the interesting colonial status of Polynesia, there were no duty or customs problems when flying in from Paris. As soon as we returned to Tahiti we went to the Port Captain and checked Magellan back into Polynesia. This completely threw them for a loop. They were confused and didn't know what to do with us.
They kept telling us that everyone stays but one season in Polynesia and we couldn't do this. I pointed out what the law said, and they scratched their heads just not knowing what to do. Finally I prevailed, as these people are the ultimate bureaucrats and follow the rules. They had to admit that I had followed the letter of the law, and had complied with it fully. So they reluctantly stamped my documents and we had another six months in Polynesia.
Our next task was to buy a Kentia palm for inside Magellan. We like plants and Barbara insists that all the places where we live have lots of plants. We carried the palm to the freighter with our luggage and boxes of supplies. The natives were in hysterics laughing at the white man who would bring a palm tree to an island full of palm trees. I tried without success to explain to them that this was an indoor palm, which were not found in Raiatea. We lashed our boxes and stuff to some pipes on deck and settled in for the twenty-hour ride. This time we brought food and water for the trip. We were excited about getting back on Magellan and back on the ocean.
As much as we had enjoyed our hiatus, we were anxious to get back to our vessel. We had been occupied, but not satisfied in the same way we were on the ocean. The freighter docked in Raiatea. Was Magellan going to be in good condition? We ran to the boatyard, hauling our stuff with us, anxious to get back on board.