Archive for the ‘Past’ Category

The Rest of the Story

April 16, 2016

Well, finally a rainy day! With it a break from the pleasurable task of sanding. And some time to tell you the remainder of our re-initiation into sailing. Where did I leave you last time? Oh, that’s right: tied up to our slender hook in Tutukaka Harbor with the menace of an approaching double front upon us. The wind was howling throughout the night, throughout the next day and into the following night with sheets of rain riding happily and horizontally in it. But Friday morning awoke to sunshine and promises of gentle winds. Up went the big main sail and once out of the harbor it opened up to catch a fickle Nor’Westerly. It was forecast to turn Southwest later in the day, so we again threw some crushed dinosaur hay into the mix, especially as we got closer to the grandiose sight of the Whangarei Heads, were glassy seas confirmed that we would be bobbing up and down the still substantial northeast swell without it.

With a little bit too much confidence we rounded the headland and got slapped in the face with rather stiff headwinds. The promised Southwesterly had apparently been hiding behind the jagged crests! We didn’t need no further trouble, so quickly decided to take the big mainsail down and continue tacking into the wind with the smaller one. It was a tough two miles until we reached the channel markers guiding us like many a big tanker ship before us into the vast Whangarei Harbor. Luckily none of those big tanker ships were out and about at the time, so we could freely wander about without having to worry about traffic separation lanes. We did pass two of them docked sternly at the refinery piers in front of a multitude of round petrol reservoirs on the southern banks of the river just past the extensive sandbar that delimits the western banks of the harbor entrance. This system of sandy shallows is built from huge amounts of sediments that get swept in and out of the submerged valley twice every day to the lunar rhythm of the tides.

From the river mouth up to the town basin in the heart of downtown Whangarei it is a good 15 miles and the sun was by now close to setting. Our haul-out appointment was not until Wednesday the following week, so no need to enter too much into the entrails of civilization just yet. On the charts I had seen a nice little bay about half way up the harbor that seemed perfect for relaxing a couple days.

 

Parua Bay turned out to be the perfect choice for doing just that: a shallow expanse of protected waters with plenty of possibilities to explore the lands around it. After a quiet first night at anchor our attention turned to Motukiore Island in the lee of which we had dropped our hook. Coming into the bay I had noticed on its southern tip a bare hill with the telltale pyramidal terracing of a Maori pa, or hilltop fort.

panorama of whangarei harborLittle Alunita splashed into the green waters and we paddled to the island’s southwestern tip, where we found a sand spit extending from the island to the mainland, making it possible to walk back and forth. This terrestrial connection however was fast disappearing before our eyes, being submerged by the incoming tide. A big wooden sign above the high water mark made it clear to us, that there were no more warriors defending their communities up on the hill we were about to climb. Today the island is managed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

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Modern man makes a big deal out of conserving the ancient traditions he has abandoned carelessly all along his stern march towards a live far from his natural origin in the illusion of comfort through isolation. He thinks that by putting the lifeless remains of his fast fading history in a jar like the yearly preserves of seasonal fruits, he will be able to extend his disjointed existence to future generations.

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Standing on top of the terraced pyramid the view was splendid, reaching far and the ability to spot any mischievous intruder long before having a chance to set fire to protective palisades on the bottom of the hill was as obvious as the lofty overview I had of the vast expanse of round reservoirs and smoke spewing chimneys inland of the sand spit at the harbor mouth, where massive amounts of the same petrol we have been carelessly burning inside the explosion chamber of our tiny outboard to be able to drive our double canoe into the winds are refined from crude liquid tars shipped half way around the globe in fragile containments across the planets oceans. From this refinery we’ve heard that the cleansed liquid fire is then pumped underground to distribution points all across this tiny nation at the bottom of the world, keeping its transportation frenzy rumbling to the menacing ticks of the ecological time bomb that this same modern man with his frivolous fancy for tradition is frantically pushing towards walls of threatening self-annihilation.

The wild warriors of the pre-European past of Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, must have felt a similar conflict within their crumbling societies, where neighbors had turned to enemies, and many times brawn ruled cruelly over milder brains, so much so that defense of material and territorial possessions became the prominent priority of man’s endeavors.

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Waking from these nightmarish reflections about my species, a gentle breeze swept across the squared platform I was standing on and a yellow headed gannet soared up the slope on rising air, circled supremely overhead and then took off towards the East, scanning the waters below it for suitable food, which quite evidently must have been put there without much effort of its part. Despite the precision and aggression of its hunting life it has not ventured yet into the abyss of systemic destruction. There must be a way that we can relearn the proper part to play in this drama of constant creation. And I have not the minor doubt that it must start somewhere in the fickle jungle of self-control.

The Maori’s palisades have proven useless; nature has removed them without a trace. I walked freely down the narrow and lightly trodden path in the knee-high grass that nowadays smoothens the angled gradient of the pa’s earthen mound. Finally, a small jump brought me across a meter-wide ditch back to the more rounded form of the naturally sculpted hill, where human hands had only dared to graze their cattle, and certainly New Zealand’s proverbial sheep, in a more recent history of European administrative efficiency, and little by little the horizon of the far beyond sank beneath the surrounding hills around the little bay, where our floating home had decided to anchor for the night.

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Interlude: Rampant Reality from Hilo, Hawai’i

September 13, 2014

I’m extremely fond of my friend Rudy. He lives firmly grounded in reality with both of his big feet flat on the tiled floor when he sits in a rocking chair on the balcony of his palatial home along the shores of Hilo Bay. From there his gaze joy-hops from the rustling fronds of coconut trees high up in the sky to gentle volcanic slopes on his left and on to the lava lapping ripples on the salty water right below his feet. Taking a break from staring at glaring computer screens he conjures up exotic dancing beauties before his inner eye. Those fragile beings live in rose-colored gardens where milk and honey flows in eternal abundance. Wearing dark and pinkish cheeks their movements sing of a love so sweet and untouchable that our twisted self recoils in shame. Rudy lets those fairies wander willingly in ethereal places foreign to our understanding. There they chance upon unique moments in time and live beyond the reach of normal mortals who have long lost their desperate battles with the rules and regulations of their packs and tribes. They weave braided ties to hang suspended bridges out into the infinite space beyond the proud walls of our fortified retreats. They hum hymns of absolute bliss and utter content, and while Rudy finishes wrapping this gift of joy he has just given, they sail away and leave us longing and gingerly staring at the very spot over the horizon where they have parted our limited field of vision.

His lofty visioneering is married to a keen sense for the practical things in life. The invisible Island Maiden’s aerial trails are held on even temper by laid-back guitar strumming in a refined Copa Cabana Jazz. My memory of all this is blurry, suffers from low resolution and is extremely pixelated, while the acoustic aspect has distractive distortions and a catastrophically narrow tonal range. Maybe it proves the point that the good things don’t need presentation in the latest high definition, the physical fidelity of their memory being of secondary importance. I do hope you are able to enjoy this relic of pre-preposterous recording technology for what it’s worth.

As I already mentioned: Rudy’s firm grip on reality keeps my ever-frenetic thinking from drifting into the lofty emptiness of the stratosphere. His happy commenting provides a sturdy backdrop that frames my surreal exploration of the human spirit and its outrageous manifestations. I wish him well and am deeply grateful for his very eccentric peculiarity, and even more so for his quasi-transcendental calmness with which he lives at the edge of reason.

Here’s to you, Rudy, you have worked yourself into the limelight of the world, my friend!

The Not So Big Escape

February 19, 2011

We just made it successfully out of the hole and have finally escaped the comfort zone, when hell breaks lose. It sounds like the firing of one of those black powder shotguns red cheeked history buffs and stubborn sufferers of war nostalgia bring back to life during the cheerful get together they at the local shooting range with their buddies. It happened literally out of the blue, totally unexpected and that long eternally suspended instant of disbelief took hold of us. The day had definitely started on a high note, no hint whatsoever that Aluna would soon be crippled like the innocent duck those black powder shotguns might sometimes be aimed at viciously. Again we had risen at dawn and silently downed our customary breakfast, observing the clouds travelling overhead from the rolling hills in the East towards the soaring cliffs in the West. Still colorful from the rising sun they did not look as hasty as just a couple days ago, when the peaceful bay has started to move with a swell. That was a good sign. Once the dishes were licked and washed we set to work raising the sails. The new masthead for the mainsail worked beautifully, the sail bundle went up in the air with a couple hearty pulls on the halyard. The anchor took a bit of pulling and tugging before breaking loose. After all we had yet again spent an entire month hanging on it and the powerful gusts of the previous week had done their part to make sure that the hook was tightly embedded in the mud. Once the anchor was free and sitting on its roller the mainsail was un-brailed, but it did not open. This one little snag was the only pointer to the series of misfortunes and scares the remaining part of the day had in store for us. The end of the yard had dug into the sail up at the crescent seam, punched a hole in the tarp and no tugging and wiggling would shake it lose. Down the anchor went again and down the main sail came again. Damage undone, both those vital parts of our ship were reinstalled in their functional positions and now we were moving, slowly moving towards a rather challenging maneuver.

The outlet of Hakatea Bay faces Southeast and is no more than five hundred meters wide, delimited on the Northeast by a rocky protrusion and in the Southwest by the four hundred meters high cliffs we had marveled at for their wild scenic beauty. The wind and waves are funneled in there from the open ocean and when coming around the finger of rocks on the port side your facing the beasts breathing with fury and spitting hard straight in your face. As most of you know we’re not very fond of using motors and in that choppy sea I doubt they would have been of much use. So under sail we hugged the wind as close as Aluna could, but the angle was nowhere near enough to pass the cliffs. They were coming closer and closer and eventually it was time to tack. There are times when a tack fails you, the boat does not make it through the eye of the wind, falls back and continues after a long swing away from the wind in the same direction. This would have been a major disaster in our situation, so I made sure that Aluna rode at maximum speed when I turned the wheel to weather on the tip of a wave crests. Aluna tacked flawlessly and was now heading towards the heavy breakers thundering and foaming over the black rocks to the East. The second tack was just as perfect as the first one and now a couple back sights, where you line up features in the foreground with others in the background and check their movement relative to each other, confirmed that we should make it around Point Temokomoko at the end of the cliff wall. This maneuver had been on my mind for some time. When we finally did turn the corner and left behind yet another dinosaur staring down into the ocean before his stony eyes, I could not help but let go a deep and long sigh of relief.

Now we’re both humming Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy!, tapping the offset beat of the catchy song on the forward lip of the cockpit cover. The main sail is full, Aluna’s doing the surfing thing again. Point Motumano, the southernmost tip of Nuku Hiva is now on our starboard beam. Behind it I perceive some whirls of spray dancing wildly on an otherwise calmer sea, flashing a translucent sheen of rainbow colors in the morning light. It takes me too long to realize that these are violent gusts lashing down onto the sea from the sloping land. The shotgun sound rings into my consciousness before that realization takes root enough to bring about any kind of evasive action.

The boom of the main sail cracks right below where the lower bridle of the sheets attaches and folds forward over the aft shroud of the mast. The white tarp sail collapses and shreds into many pieces. The biggest one of them folds around the masthead and the still proudly standing yard, draping them like a ghostly figure fit for the kinkiest of Halloween. The white shreds flutter wildly under the lashings of many more and increasingly violent gusts. The brailing lines design a pyramid shape into the deep blue sky, having wrapped themselves all the way around the four orange shrouds. It’s a sad sight up there; our big main sail has ceased to exist in a single instant of destruction.

The long instant of disbelief eventually fades away and Beatriz shouts from the wheel: “What do I do? What do I do?” In spite of having been robbed of three fourth of her sail surface, Aluna is still racing over the waves. On a downwind run any cloth up in the air pushes you along. The mizzen sail is enough to have Aluna continue on, we round Point Motumano and turn to starboard towards Mataeteiko Point. “Continue to steer towards the point,” is my dry reply, while I contemplate myself that question. I have some time for that. Aluna continues to get lashed by the whirlwind gusts, but they ebb eventually and give me the opportunity to step on the foredeck and start the deconstruction of the mess. It takes quite some pulling and tugging to bring the wreckage down on deck and wrap it up in a bundle. Once that is done the smaller mainsail goes up and we have a functional rig again, just in time to round Matateteiko Point.

Baie Marquisienne, our supposed destination for an over night stay is one mile further up the coast. But the bay turns out to be very exposed, the wind is blowing hard down the valley and onto the water. The beach is grey gravel, not sand like it looked on the satellite picture. Anchoring over a gravel bottom is no mariner’s favorite holding ground. On top of it all the winds are fluky once we’re inside. On one of the many tacks trying to get in the Bay Aluna stubbornly resists turning into the wind. Bearing off brings us dangerously close to the Southern shore. Its rocks viscously lick their jagged teeth, ready to bite into Aluna’s soft belly if we get a yard or two closer.

Maps are so rudimentary here in French Polynesia. Our paper chart of Nuku Hiva is from a French survey of 1881! I’ve been complementing this museum piece with satellite images from Google Earth when we had access to the Internet. Comparing those with what we’re seeing we’re not even sure we actually are where we think we are. At any rate we do not want to stay here and decide to continue up the coast were we make our way past a kaleidoscope of earth tone bluffs, some set back, some jotting out into the sea a bit. Behind one of the latter ones soon appears another bay, again most of the beach is grey gravel, but at the Northern end seems to be some brown sand. It’s interesting enough to sail in and go examine a little closer.

By now we’re far enough up the coast to have very variable winds. Having set the sails close hauled we can ride most of them without having to fiddle with the sheets. But I seem to have turned the corner around the headland a little too tight and Aluna is all of a sudden being pulled closer and closer towards it. Again she is locked in one direction and no pulling on sheets or sails seems to want to help making her turn. The wind has completely dropped. Aluna’s bows are pointing towards the foaming rock underneath a wall of black menacing lava rock and slowly, like pulled by a devilish force we’re heading for the rocks! I panic, try desperately to get the engines started, which of course they don’t want to do. I run forward to move the main sail, to see if one of the puffs of air might turn our ship away from disaster. It’s eerily still; the only sound is the foaming water crashing over the rocks right in front of our nose. I’m at the end of my vocabulary of swear words, looking for poles to push us off the rocks should it come to that, knowing quite well that our by now fully loaded vessel is a little bit too heavy to work in the ways of the Venetian gondolas. Time is just about to stand still before the imminent destruction of our home! Then, as if sent straight from heaven above, a strong puff of wind comes rolling down the black rock face, fills Aluna’s trembling sails and turns her bows slowly but decidedly North, away from the white foaming danger and towards a big sigh of relief.

That last brush with disaster was too much for Beatriz. She collapses in tears and many “why didn’t you” and “I told you so!”. I’m also a little shaken, aware that the scene we’ve just lived will echo and replay in my consciousness for days to come. There’s one more bay up the coast, before it turns Eastward again lashed by the feisty trade winds. Haahopu Bay has a small concrete pier and from out at sea does not look too promising. By now we’re close hauled and unable to hug the coast any longer.  The trade winds are wrapping around the Northwest corner of the island and are coming at us almost from the Northeast. We’re maybe one and a half mile from the coast and a bright red excavator is clearly visible on the pier. To me it seems like the sea in the bay is smooth, there’s a little white foamy wash going up and down the ochre sand beach behind it but apart from that it looks definitely peaceful in there. Of course after our little brush with disaster I am weary to have rocks close to our hulls again, but when I consider the alternative at hand, which would be to sail into the wind, probably through the night and in the morning pull into the first protected bay on Nuku Hiva’s Northern coast, enough courage builds up in me to go and have a look. We stay on the starboard tack until the little red toy machine is about two points behind the beam, enough to make it there comfortably on the opposite tack. Aluna’s bows turn smoothly through the eye of the wind and approaching the coast again the details of our potential resting place for the next couple days slowly begin to reveal themselves. There’s a rocky outcrop jotting out into the sea just to the North of the entrance and in front of it the waves break into shiny white rollers. Friends who have explored this part of the coast the previous week have warned us about a group of submerged rocks there. Apparently a local speedboat had been lost when its owner hugged the coast too tightly and his vessel exploded on impact with the hidden danger. We’re giving them a wide berth and enter the bay. The wind subsides almost immediately and becomes the typical a little bit from here and a little bit from there of the local bays. The little jetty has a thick concrete wall on its seaward side and a pile of rocks completes the breakwater until it merges with the beach at the end of the bay. The bottom looks clean, according to our guidebooks it should be sand, the best when it comes to safely making anchors hold steady. Down goes the chain and a bit of the rode before I feel the anchor hitting the ground, telling me that we are in about five meters of water.

The little bay turns out to be a little oasis of calm in the hissing winds all the way around it. It lies at the outlet of a gently curved valley that had been carved into the lava shield by water rushing down from Nuku Hiva’s mighty mountains, the 3,500 meter high eroded flanks of the ancient crater, which at this time are hidden under a dark grey coat of clouds. That dark grey soon starts to acquire hues of yellow and red and while looking out towards the horizon over the sea little peaks wander towards the setting sun. The little ripples that make it into the bay rock Aluna ever so gently and we are certain that after this day of quite some excitement we will be sleeping like pink-cheeked angels resting their holly buts on puffy cotton clouds. But first there’s a need for a little something going into the digestive tract and I make sure to drink an extra glass of tea, so that during the night a filled bladder will be knocking on the doors of the peacefully sleeping mind, pushing the body out of bed just long enough to fill the bottle and stick the head out of the hatch to have a look around in the moonless night. Hoping that the hook will hold through the night was all that was needed this time. It did.

The Big Hike

February 15, 2011

We stayed in Taiohae one day more than planned. There was plenty catching up to do with friends and Beatriz’ ailing mother continues wishing to have her at her side. So we searched the internet for possibilities of doing the impossible, finding a means to make it out of this vast piece of ocean without breaking the bank, or whatever is left of it in our case! There ain’t no such thing, that much was clear pretty fast. The cheapest airfare was about twice the size of our entire cash reserve. But her family wanted to know the reality of it, so we passed that piece of information on to them. In the meantime Skype calls had to do, and that in and by itself is an incredible feat of technology, allowing instant communication across the unimaginable distances we have traveled away from where we were born. For those of us who have followed the urge to wander towards the horizon there are always some scars left somewhere underneath the layered sediments of beautiful memories, scars left from roots torn off the stem of our fleeting self. In Beatriz’ case the Latino family ties are way more stubborn in their presence than mine of of the colder European culture. A good deal of the time in her days is spent with thinking about home. This intensifies greatly if things back there are not going well. With all the hardship in lofty Bogota up on the Andean altiplano, the sudden death of a brother and now the advanced cancer digging into mother’s lungs, things like local immigration rules lose their importance quickly like a punctured bicycle tube. It was a day well spent. Long and somber conversations managed to calm the swells on the stormy sea of emotions to the point of being able to say goodbye for a while.

The next day though, early morning it is, the backpacks are strapped to our backs heavy with as much provisioning as we think we’re able to carry on the crooked mountain path. Maimiti gives us a head start with their 4×4, a must on Nuku Hiva roads. With the four wheel drive engaged we bump our way up the West wall of the caldera, where fancy new houses are built on concrete retaining walls, each proudly overlooking the other one below and a more splendid view of the bay. Up on the crest the path to Hakatea splits from the wheel tracks, which lead down to Baie Collete. Once more hugs and words of thanks point to a we-might-never-meet-again, although one always insists politely on the opposite. Passing through a barbed wire gate our backs start to sweat and look back a last time to the convenience of grocery stores and global communication hotspots. Then things calm down and soon under the increasing heat of the late morning sun we trod up switchback trails through a tinder dry landscape. We had done this part of the trail back in August shortly after our arrival on the island. Then there was lush vegetation covering the path at the end of the rainy season, which was way to short according to the locals. Now it is all too obvious that the Marquesas are suffering a very serious drought. Only the bigger trees have any green left at them at all, the bark on many of them gnawed away by desperate sheep in search of anything to wet their digestive tracts.

We must have ascended to around five hundred meters altitude and the view is simply breathtaking from up here. Nuku Hiva’s eroded lava-scape is a sculpture garden from any direction you happen to look at it. From up here, however, with the backdrop of the vast Pacific blue, the lighter blue of the sky above it with the ever Westward travelling trade wind clouds floating from their perspective origin in the East towards us, it simply boggles you mind and you cannot tear your contemplative gaze away from it. You wish you could stay suspended forever in this singularity totally losing yourself in a perpetual motion of absolute aesthetics. Just another shadow of a puffy cumulus cloud makes its way up and over the jagged topography, crawls over crests and slides down slopes and crevices to then ascend again to dizzying heights almost scraping the underside of its origin up in the sky.

But the sagging weight of the pack on my back brings me back to sweaty reality and we continue our hike, from now long the crest. To our left the ocean stretches out towards the Southern horizon, to our right a valley with a last bit of lushness preserved at its bottom eventually climbs up to the mountain range where Nuku Hiva merges with the sky. Then suddenly the path turns right and now zigzags down an almost vertical cliff so that we quickly descend into that valley, which after another hour and a half brings us to the little creek, where a couple weeks earlier during our exploration of the West end of that same path we had encountered the raging red cow. It had lowered its horned head when I walked towards it, puffing heavily from its moist nostrils. Only the energetic wielding of my walking stick made it chose a detour around me. After making Beatriz do a little ballet choreography of her own to avoid becoming herself the next target of the horny beast, the red raging cow went her way.

There was no sight of any horned creature at this time and soon we had climbed the last crest and with relief sighted Aluna safely down in peaceful Hakatea Bay. The sleeping was good that night, and provisions now plentiful, well relatively speaking that is, saying goodbye to friends would once again be the order of the coming days.

The Most Retarded of All Departures

January 25, 2011

I swear, we were ready to leave! Every possible container was filled with water, Alunita parked on deck, the mizzen sail was up and it was early morning. We were eager to face the narrow exit of Hakatea Bay with a good probability of having to tack out through it. The main sail was next. It’s pulled up on a double purchase from maybe two-thirds up the spar to the top of the mast. The block there jammed, not once, as it had done previously, where after a couple of tries it decided to collaborate. Even untwisting the halyard didn’t do the job. My nasty habit of swearing wildly at nonfunctioning things got the better of me, but the fury calmed quickly. That masthead had been on the list of things to do for some time now. Remember the mizzenmast got its treatment some time back and has been working beautifully ever since. How could I have thought to get away with such a crucial flaw for any longer?

The loud and unfaithful swearing had attracted Dieter, our German neighbor for the last couple days, and owner of the steel hard sailing vessel Orion. Here he was on his skirmish dinghy rowing straight towards us. “Could you use a third hand maybe?”, he asked in his thickly accented English. Of course we could. Not only can’t you continue swearing uselessly once you have a guest in your house, but you do tend to be more productive. Within fifteen minutes the main mast was down on deck ready for a face-lift. Having done the mizzen mast previously the design phase was short and to the point and three days, a block plus a sheave, many pieces of plywood and the usual good does of epoxy later the mast went back aloft with a brand new crown.

Smooth sailing should now be ahead. But wait! There’s only one egg left? The tins of sardines running low? Onions gone! Cabbage just about to end. With all that lingering way way past our welcome on this lovely island we have munched our way through a good junk of our provisions. The next store, however, is a nine mile walk away, because to sail yet again with Aluna into Taiohae Bay would be like stepping willingly and stupidly into the lion’s den, pull its tongue and braid its whiskers all while dancing the tango on one leg. But looking forward to where we plan to go there’s not a single store in sight for literally a thousand miles and after that reports from Penrhyn mention cat food as the only things for sale in the local stores due to a floundered supply ship.

Again our earnest German friend comes to the aid. Once his water tanks are filled he needs to return to Taiohae to do some internet and offers to take us along. That still leaves the extended hike for schlepping the provisions, but at least only one way. And did I just hear somebody mention of the fabulous internet? Now there you have a real reason for a nine mile walk! I haven’t even thought of that…

Looking at Ua Pou to the South, one of the many splendid views you earn when walking the nine-mile walk!

 

Once we’re back with some more animal protein stored on board we’ll leave, we’ll go goat hunting on Eiao, I promise! How come you don’t believe me anymore?

The Prince

January 20, 2011

This is as close to a real Marquesan as we got. The stern look on his face belies the warmth and generosity of his character. Augustin could be contemplating the uncertain future ahead of him. At this time he’s mending a saddle on his newly tamed horse and he’s got that look on his face again. Yesterday morning he had been taking her to the sea to gently wash her with the salty water and then deftly climbed on top of her. The horse is a recent capture from the wild and is being domesticated, we’re told. “Wild animal then”, I remark, sounding for depth of thought, “wild is good!” “Yes, wild animal”, is his response and with a hint of mischief he adds: “Wild people, also good!” It is an obvious compliment to the oversized collar of boar tusks that hangs heavy around his neck. At least two dozens of them are strung on a thread. They bounce up and down his chest with his every move and then run beneath the bundle of Rasta hair behind his head. “Come on, let’s have some coffee!”, he invites us to their beach shack. Soon we’re spooning instant coffee into faded plastic cups, peeling bananas and chewing on slices of green grapefruit.

Augustin likes to walk. Long, extensive walks up and down the valleys and crests ease the pain in his mind. His mind is torn. His ancestors talk to him from a vast and unchanging past, where the evil abstraction of money has not yet been etched into the human soul, where working the earth sustains you and your community, where hunting, planting and gathering are a process of constant learning and spiritual growth. Then he sees his children walking away from him into the sunset of materialistic distortion. For Augustin a lot can be blamed on the French and their constant extraction of vital resources from his islands; the main evildoers for him are the politicians with their million and one scheme to deceit and funnel public moneys to their own deep pockets; they’re closely followed by the priests who with their Catholic doctrine have run havoc with the spirit of his people. But he is acutely aware that the true source of our dilemma is within, it is implanted in the way we are.

Just five generations back his forefathers were kings, reining swiftly not only this island, but also others close by of the Marquesan group. His own father was mayor of Nuku Hiva for five years, visionary and creator of social change. He was the one who made sure that the family’s extensive lands remained untouched by the hunger for exploitation that swept over the islands like a medieval bout of plague. The shadow of his lineage is long and heavy and Augustin dropped out of school at 14 to go and live in the woods. Nowadays he’s sorry he did and wishes he had taken up law to understand the inner workings of the exploitation. His hope is that one of his sons will do that for him. The humble task he sets out to accomplish without leaving that shadow is to tend the land, look after it and make it productive so that man can live on it. His hope is that the next generation will make the right choice. The awareness that the chances for that are slim doesn’t stop nibbling stubbornly at his thinking. “When they come out here during vacation time, there’s no TV”, he bitterly states, “all that costs money. Here we can live by sharing things. We don’t have to sell ourselves.”

Augustin’s house sits behind an ancient stone platform, almost hidden by a thicket of papaya and grapefruit trees. He had us come there to pick some fruits for our provisioning. Casser des fruits, is the term for that in Marquesan French. It’s an open structure topped with tin roofing panels. Rough-hewn studs divide the space up into the usual units of a living space, bedroom and kitchen away from the road, work area and table towards the front. The table reveals at once where Augustin’s real passion is. “I’m an artist too, you know,” he reveals, and there his eyes take on a special shine. And if the objects hanging from the rafters were not enough he adds: “I sculpt. I work with wood and bones. But I have to concentrate on it. Now I’m busy with raising the beasts, so I can’t focus. Once I’m at it, I work for a couple weeks straight. You can’t do a little here and a little there. It starts with a drawing. You can’t cut a piece if you can’t draw. All this stuff has been passed on to me from the ancient ones. It is in my blood.”

The entire table surface is sculpted in relief. Intrinsic symbols tell a story of structure, of belonging to a place, of knowing what to say and when. Boar and goat skulls hang under the roof. Some have ornamentation carved into them, like tattoos for a fleshless beast. The urge to ornament is evident. Augustin’s entire right arm is covered with tattoos. The steel blue drawings on his dark skin seem to spill out onto the table and now other pieces of sculpted bones come out of bags. Big eyed tiki figurines carved out of a goat femur, one with a double face, where your eye is tricked and shifts back an forth between seeing one guy looking straight at you first and then that guy transfigures into two lovers in profile fused solid and eternally into a mutual stare. The tools of this ancient trade you would like to know? A high speed Dremel with a dazzling array of bits and tips, diamond tipped wheels for the teeth, which are the hardest to shape. “Maybe I’ll do something for the festival,” he muses, “that’s pretty much within a year. I’ll start two months before. You can’t just go there with two or three pieces, you have to have a lot. Each piece is unique. It comes out of me. My dad showed me how to do it in the beginning. Not everything, just getting me started on the path. I hope my kids will pick it up too.” Then he shifts gears and goes on to proclaim: “The new leader will emerge from our midst. His entire body will be tattooed. It cannot be otherwise. That’s how it has to be. Not some skirmish politicians. They don’t know anything about us. Then we can go independent. The French say they’re bringing a lot of money here. But what about all the things they take away? They never mention all the things the take from here!” There’s a crescendo surfing underneath his voice and I want to fan the flames: “All those French should be sent back home!” “No,” he throws back, “no, the French they should be fried!”

 

The Boar Hunt

January 15, 2011

Change de programme, announces Augustin in the morning as I arrive at their beach shack. The day was supposed to be a working day. I had offered them a day of labor in exchange for the many fruits they had provided us with so far. So the original program was to go up the valley and dig for water, to eventually bring down an additional line for irrigating the terrain to plant more fruit trees. Not too early though, maybe around nine or ten, was his answer when I had asked him what time he wanted me to be there. Here I was then, ready to face the nono flies in the brush with pick and shovel in hand. The nonos are to be still plenty, but instead of pick and shovel I’m wielding my digital camera to record he action. And action it is!

There’s a pig in the trap up at the waterfall, and we need to get there to kill it before the tourists arrive. That’s the new program of the day. The tourists have already arrived and are being unloaded at the beach. We stroll by them the four of us. You’ve already met Augustin, he’s the eldest at 50 years old. Richard is next in line and Tongi is the junior at 33. All three of them sport voluminous manes of Rasta hair and the mandatory tattoos all over their tanned and muscular bodies. They are proud descendants of the Marquesan kings and their extended family owns the entire Southwest corner of Nuku Hiva, wisely keeping it inaccessible to the noisy four wheel drives of Taiohae, only three miles away. Three miles as the crow flies, that is. If you can’t do the stint by boat you’ll spend a good four hours walking up cliffs and down crevices to come here, on a 9 mile horse path with breath taking views whenever you cross a crest between the steep and wildly sculpted ravines.

Those guys are obviously used to walking the bush. The pace is stiff and soon my heart is pounding happily in my chest and the air hisses up and down my throat. I had done the walk up to the world famous 1000’ waterfall a couple days earlier as a meager tourist. What took me, Beatriz and Maimiti a good two and a half hours now takes just over one. Four dogs come a long for the fun, every now and then noisily shooting off into the underbrush to chase some fluttery cock. Through the picturesque village of Hakaui, ancient but alive with powerful Marquesan spirit, the path then heads into thickets of young Mango shoots, coconut palms, and Pandanus trees on their stilty roots, for the second time we wade through the river, cool and knee deep in spite of the approaching end of the dry season, a freshly tilled patch of dirt to our right indicates recent pig activity, boulders big and small stick out of the vegetation and all along the path there is evidence of ancient human presence, skilled precise stonework builds long stretches of the path under our feet and numerous paipais, elevated stone foundations for houses of way back when this valley and the entire island was home to a dizzying number of people, stands of chestnuts trees now make the track meander around them, rocks were used in the olden days on their partially hollow trunks to send signals of alert up and down the valley, after walking the final stretch over a carpet of cotton burst out of the oblong seed pods fallen down from the trees, we arrive at our destination. We’re now again under an extended canopy of giant mango trees in the middle of what seems to have been a veritable township in the days of the hunters forefathers. Black lava boulders have been carefully shaped and fit into walls to build a patchwork of platforms that now under a gentle cover of golden mango leaves vividly tickles your imagination with fleeting scenes of noisy markets, disciplined schools and solemn worships. But there’s not much time for musing into the past. Amongst the ruins there are a couple of square pits, build into the ground lined with once again carefully arranged shaped stones, maybe eight by eight feet wide and about man deep. Those were the ancient Marquesans deep freezers, where the priests stored a mash of fermented breadfruit to safeguard the population against extended periods of scarcity. Their modern descendants had now put one of them to quite a different use. It is still covered as we arrive with rust-brown palm fronds held up by sturdy branches laid across the opening. Down in the hole a bunch of coconuts had been broken open to attract one of the mighty tillers of forests enough to come and sniff for the goodies with its soiled snout, eventually slip and tumble down into the hold.

I don’t have to wait for Richard’s “It’s down there” in a hushed voice to know. The dogs had been all jazzed up the moment we arrived and their ears are sticking skywards at their maximum extension. They are quickly told to cool it and one is even tied to a tree a distance away. I’m invited to have look down through one side of the cover, but when I’m staring at the dark faced beast in there to figure out how certain death looks in the face of a pig, Agustin’s slightly raised voice comes hurrying over my shoulder with “Don’t look at it like that! It might come jumping out at you!” In fact that was the major concern worthy of changing the program of the day. A flock of curious tourists ignorant just like me but with no one there to keep them in check and I’m sure you’re able to imagine the scene in classic Asterix style, with a bikini clad pale but sun burnt blonde and her hubby with snack pack flying closely behind being pushed plowing through the sunlit forest by a 150lb boar. That those beasts are fully capable of doing even more incredible things than jumping up a six-foot ledge we shall see in a moment…

Once you got it in the hole you’ve got to kill it, and killing wild things of this size ain’t no easy task. A brain wired for technology plus a mix of agility and sheer brute force have allowed homo sapiens since prehistoric times to feast on beasts way bigger than the one we’re dealing with here and a curious scent of prehistoric moods is definitely in the air. My three friends have purposely left their shotguns at home. The most modern weapon of choice today is Richard’s collapsible military olive bayonet, a gift from a cousin of his who had emigrated from this tropical almost paradise to much more civilized mainland France. It would soon prove to be inept for the job, the blade sheering off the handle once stuck between the shoulder blades of the furiously thrusting boar. From then on bush knives attached to branches with lashings of tree bark had to do. And of course the sling! For those of you interested in the practical side of all this, here’s a run down of the actual act of slaughter.

From one corner of the pit the blade of the bayonet is driven between the left shoulder blade and the cervix, but unfortunately not enough to pierce the heart. The sling is hung from the tip of a stick, run around the boar’s head and pulled tight. It is then pulled up further so now the boar stands on his hind legs and backed into a corner of the pit, clearly grasping for air. The blade of one of the bush knives on a stick is driven into the rip cage right behind the left fore leg, again targeting the heart. The nook is loosened and the beast collapses onto its side. Richard descends prematurely down into the pit, eager to rope the hind legs for pulling the corps out of the hole. Sadly the corps is not a corps just yet. Its life force quickly waning, or maybe just to leave its mark, the boar wields its three-inch fangs one last time. Richard’s thigh is within reach and receives a gash just above the left knee that later will merit nine sutures and provide sufficient story materials to keep future descendants of the Marquesan kings interested in proving their manhood by tackling the beasts in the forests. Richard is pulled out of the pit in a split second and much worse encounters of fangs and human flesh are avoided. After applying a tied bandage of a T-shirt ripped into strips around Richard’s thigh, Tongi pounds the boar’s bloated belly with a stick, just to make totally sure life has left it for good. It’s his turn now to descent into the pit, tie the rope around the hind legs and go for a full body wrestling embrace to help drag it up onto the forest floor.

Lying there lifeless and blood smeared the beast is now at full disposal of the humans. It’s picture time, heavy-duty digital picture time. Each one of the hunters reaches into his backpack and brings to light a plastic jar, in which in a tight and waterproof fit sits a camera of the latest model meticulously guarded in its pouch. Than they take turns in kneeling over the boar and in different gestures of dominance make clear who’s going to eat whom. “You haven’t seen the movie?”, asks Agustin. My negative he contests with an account of an Australian TV crew that came to shoot a documentary about their pig hunting activities. “It was all over TV for a while!”

 

The fire they set after carefully cleaning a circle into the dry leaves of the ground is not for chasing away the nono flies this time, also it helps with that too, albeit just a little. Once the flames are going strong Augustin and Tongi grab front and hind legs and start a wild fire dance turning the boar on each side to singe the fur enough to be able to scrape the hairy part of the skin off with the blades of their knifes. This transforms the corps from the original black forward and white tail ends to a quite uniform yellowish dead skin tone you might have seen in the local butcher shop when you were young.

The rope of the ruthless sling is then tied again around a hind leg and run over a tree branch overhead. Augustin and Tongi lift the scraped beast off the ground while Richard ties the bitter end of the rope to a tree to the side. Once it is let go it now dangles from one hind leg in the air at a comfortable working height. The other leg is then fastened in a similar way, spreading them slightly apart. Cleaning and cutting seems to be Tongi’s task of the day. Sharpening his knife every now and then he sets to work and with precise methodical cuts the fabulous anatomy needed to make this animal roam the forest just a day ago comes apart soaking the forest floor underneath in red. Bundles of guts and other organs sit soon in tree forks all around under clouds of black flies while the dogs to my amazement are quietly lying down for a nap. The head is cut off at the neck bound to become soon yet another trophy somewhere on a rafter. The remaining mass of muscle and bone gets sliced into four parts, each with a leg and a quarter of the trunk. Once everything is bagged into rice sacs those are roped shut in pairs and slung over the saddle of Tongi’s horse, which has been patiently waiting under a tree nearby.

The deed is done now and it’s time for the long way home. Toby with the horse up front, Richard limping closely behind, then me and finally Augustin with the dogs as the afterguard. Again the pace is breathtaking, the path is sometime a dance over rounded slippery rocks so my gaze slithers just a few feet forward of my toes and my thinking gets sticky in the humid heat. Little droplets of fresh blood on the leaves lead me first down the improbable road. Richard’s wound must be a bit worse than the skin laceration it seemed back there in order to lose that much blood. No, stupid, I bring myself up to speed, look at the white rice bags on Toby’s horse turning all pink. It is boar’s blood your looking at!

Richard went to town in the evening and the gash in his thigh needed nine sutures according to the professional medics. Most of the meat was to be salted and pickled for later consumption and I was rewarded for my presence at the slaughter with a slice of boar’s rib of my own. For someone with vegetarian habits it was quite a task to down that even once nicely cooked and I felt the spirit of wild pig tickling in my muscle fibers that night, dreaming of hunting down humans in the turbid darkness of a moral bog.

 

Hakatea Bay

January 10, 2011

This place is so beautiful it is hard to write anything worthwhile about it. I vividly remember coming around Point Chikakof at the Southwest extremity of Nuku Hiva after our strenuous passage from Hawai’i back in July and heading into the stiff breeze yet again. From maybe a mile out we admired the steep cliffs in what appeared like a sizable gash cut into the South side of the island, which back then was covered with lush tones of the most vivid green glowing in the morning sun. Having studied the map previous to our approach I knew of the peaceful bay sitting at their feet even though nothing of it is visible from the sea. But nothing prepares you for the real thing when it comes to the beauty of landscapes.

This time we sailed downwind from Taiohae. We had raised the anchors under sail and ghosted our usual way out of the bay.

The rest was really just a short stint although through some choppy seas. The wavelets were coming at us from all directions reflected off the steep shore that drops vertically into the sea most of the time. The sea in turn kept licking at the rock at its feet behind white foam spray shooting up into the air in mighty puffs. Looking through the scope of geological time you should be able to see the cliffs crumbling like the sides of a sand castle drying out in the midday sun. But this was a short moment in time and we were on the human scale, so the boulders were staying up there, although some precariously suspended.

The entrance to Hakatea Bay is a narrow mouth between the 1000’ high cliffs and a foamy group of rocks at the end of the Acacia covered peninsula that separates it from the wilder Uauka Bay to the East. I had been counseled many times that it is imperative to turn right immediately after those rocks, not to approach the high cliffs as there’s a nasty undertow, which would pull you cruelly towards them if you did. As soon as we do turn that corner we enter a placid lake with hardly any perceivable swell. The wind is fluky just like in Taiohae Bay, the gusts changing directions as soon as you have your sails set to ride them. There’s one other boat in the bay and at a safe distance from it we drop our hook.

The bay ends with a white sand beach with a couple shacks, palm trees and then a slowly rising brush, totally brown at this time due to the drought. Its backdrop is a wall of dark grey cliffs with a green forest at their feet. The valley is almost perfectly symmetrical and shaped like a wide U, which reminds me of geography classes way back in my youth, where we had to learn that U-shaped valleys were carved by glaciers, while the V-shaped ones were carved by creeks and rivers. For a moment I try to picture a glacier coming down the valley pushing a moraine of volcanic boulders in front of it. I guess, just like most of what we learn in schools, that piece of knowledge proved to be absolutely useless!

Dance Classes Culminate in Public Performance

November 16, 2010

I finally had some time to sit cross-legged and mindful on the settee just forward of the galley. It has not yet been built to support the table where one in the hopefully not too far future will be able to sit like a civilized being with feet on the floor and arms on a table. There with the laptop heating the top of my lap and drawing electricity out of the solar powered battery stored right underneath I set out to face the treacherous task of editing some of the videos we had shot. The tight squeeze to upload them makes for tough selections, but I guess that’s what editing video is all about!

The result after a couple hours of work are these two little shorts about the final product of Beatriz’ Cours de Danses d’Amérique Latine. As strange as it always sounds when talking about the product of an artistic activity, this is as close as it gets. The girls had learned five numbers from the repertoire of simplified South American folk dances Beatriz had developed while working the schools back in the San Francisco Bay Area, while the ladies had worked their best grace along the lines of the great classic South American rhythms of Salsa and Samba. Even thought the process of training, learning and rehearsing is quite probably of much greater importance than showing off to the rest of the world what had been diligently done behind closed doors, the excitement of the public performance is unique in its power to convey the necessity of art. It is an exercise in mutual giving and receiving of almost ideal proportions once the dancers start tensioning their muscle fibers, then continue to swing their hips, fly their ribs, level their limbs, stake their steps, hover their hands, shake their shoulders, loosen their legs, heel their heads, free their fingers, bulge their belly buttons and describe with their elegant bodies many, many more coordinated contortions. The audience members follow focused and feel their own bodies twitching, but since the work is done for them so diligently they obediently remain seated and enjoy the steady side of the delirium creating an ambience of absolute admiration, which in turn keeps the performers fragile self esteem in the stratosphere of constant vertigo, where flying is the only option and landing can only be done at the very end. The applause and corresponding bow then closes the ritual harmoniously, let’s everybody become human again and go home happily to normality with a tiny gift of specialty deep in their hearts.

Thanks to Maimiti and Yoan’s generous donation of untimed internet access you’ll get to enjoy the visuals in a little bit better quality than usual. But as you must still be painfully aware, we’re not into the HiDef craze of today’s mad race for virtual brilliance. Our media producing efforts by no means wish to have you baking firmly as a charred couch potato by pretending that what we are showing you is real. If you would only let us we would love to shove your behind out of that moldy couch and into your neighborhood where you can follow your real call of duty as a social warrior with change in the very forefront of your unmingled mind. But please, do enjoy!

 

Flashback 3 – The Wall

October 12, 2010

The steady monotony of the Northern trade winds had worn us down to the bones by the tenth day out of Miloli’i, Hawai’i. Beating stubbornly into the oncoming wave trains by hugging the hissing wind just tight enough to keep up Aluna’s speed however had become second nature by now. I dare to say that we are more susceptible to habit forming out there on the water. Anything that repeats is a welcome relief from the chaos all around, and since there are preciously few things that naturally repeat, you’re painfully aware that if you don’t create any sort of framework for a routine there’s nothing to hold onto. Unless of course you’re one of those few who can be happy with constant change! The endless up and down and being thrown about has in itself the quality of lulling you into an island of relative comfort within this sea of pain. Your muscles are always trying to sense a rhythm in the vast unpredictability of the boat dancing on the waves. If you don’t think too much it can actually work for a while and you manage to reduce the times when you’re body is thrown off balance enough to bang and bruise. Thinking not too much is generally a virtue worthwhile of practicing, on land and even more so on the sea. A state of mental numbness helps you most of the time to keep your brain from running away with the latest theory of the life clasped tightly in hand, but then a minimum of functional thinking needs to be maintained unless you’re content with drifting aimlessly through space. How long is this all going to take?, is one of the most nagging questions knocking at the doors of consciousness, and any soothing estimate requires a minimum of information to be processed.  Tracking speed, daily distance covered, feeling the weather and comparing it with your mental model of global circulation patterns are but a few examples of the disciplines of the maritime mind. And then there are the split second decisions you need to make before there’s any time for reasoning.

For a day and a half the wind had been gentle enough to have the big main sail up, although it was borderline with the upper crescent of the crab claw fluttering wildly whenever falling of a wave crest into the following trough. But it was a big improvement from just a couple days ago when the wind was so strong to make us take even the mizzen sail down and put up the tiny heavy weather sail I had put together in Miloli’i during those last days right before sailing off. Scanning the horizon I realized now a slightly different cloud formation coming up on the horizon. It was still too far away to cause anything but curiosity. Its color was different however. The trade wind puffy cotton clouds are always bright white, and if they darken at all their grays tend to pull towards the bluish. This one was grey with a hint of yellow in it and coming closer I realized how big it was. It slowly built into a solid wall of grey, hovering only a couple inches above the surface of the sea, or so it seemed. The structure of the cloud was compact, no shredding of the fringes, no tearing away of the tops, nothing. Solid, thick, impenetrable gray and we’re about to sail straight into it. The grayness had engulfed us for barely a minute when all hell broke loose. Pouring rain came at us horizontally from all direction driven by gusts of considerable strength. The sails flapped violently back and forth, gibing from side to side with every shift of the wind. I shouted a desperate all crew on board into the chaos and we struggled to bring the big main sail down before the gusts tore it to pieces. We were about to get to work on lowering the mizzen sail too, when the wind all of a sudden died. As fast as it had come upon us it was gone, and now it was eerily quiet. The drops of rainwater falling into the sea from Aluna’s deck were the lonely noise, accompanied by the ever present creaking of the beams. The rain had also disappeared with the wind, but now it was coming back. It stared pouring as if the floodgates in heaven had opened at once. With only the mizzen sail up we were conveniently hove to as you would do in bad weather when you don’t want your boat to move to wait out a storm. We pulled the cover over the cockpit and huddled under it the three of us. Listening to the symphony of raindrops splashing onto the tarp a couple inches away from our ears we looked at each other in disbelief. Did we enter the doldrums already? Is this what the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone looked and felt like? But we were still over ten degrees North of the Equator!

It was by now five in the afternoon and soon it would get dark. There was no sense in doing much else and since we were all tired this was our chance to get a good night sleep. Well that night it poured and poured and poured. By daybreak I poked my head out of the hatch. The rain had stopped, but the buckets on deck had at least two inches in them and two inches of rain in a single night is some serious downpour. The sea was glassy, Aluna barely bobbing up and down on the remnants of some almost forgotten swell. The textbook picture of the doldrums and what a drastic change from the torture of beating into the trade winds! We had breakfast on the foredeck, which was dry and comfortable. Enough so to take out the charts Malinda had brought along, but we had not yet had a chance to have a peek at them. They were all nicely rolled up inside a mailing tube and charted the waters of the many exotic places we were about to visit on our journey towards the horizons of our world. Wet beddings, pants, shirts and underwear were all soon out on deck with us, shedding some of its dampness in the sun. Eventually towards the early afternoon the wind came back, first slowly in short huffs and puffs, barely rippling the glassy surface and just barely lasting long enough to fill the sails. Soon enough though we were once again riding along nicely. By nightfall it was all back to the good old routine of close hauled pointing and whitewater was again spraying the decks with Aluna’s bows parting yet another crest of wet while pounding into the swell.

The spell had been broken though. We knew now that the end was near and the struggle of keeping Aluna close to the wind would come to an end pretty soon. Still there were four more days of it before the Northern trades had blown themselves out and we did enter the convergence zone for good. And it was like stepping into yet another completely different world.