Island paradise? Yes, you’re in Huahine…

Entering the month of March again!  March 1, 2013

Here in Huahine, we’re tied off to the largest mooring I’ve ever seen–a neon orange anchor point to which cruise ships sometimes attach themselves.  (Within days this very mooring will cause us a few close calls as the winds shift us toward it and threaten to crush our skiff and one of our small boats, which are in the water tied off alongside the ship, between the itself and the ship!  Super fast and strong Gabe and I rushed around in the middle of one night to free the skiff from this jaw-like trap!  Now, both boats are tied further aft, but the danger looms: we don’t want the ship’s topsides to get banged up either.)  This, however, is by no means what one first notices about Huahine.  It is a jaw-dropping tropical wonderland…again!  We are a quick skiff’s ride away from the port town of Fare (a Tahitian word meaning “house” or “home”).

It seems I wanted to get into this tropical loveliness as quickly as possible: I have no photographs of Huahine from the ship’s point of view, but here are two outward looking views once immersed in its tropical lushness.

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Oftentimes, after arriving in a port and getting the ship situated at its anchor point, it’s already fairly late in the day when the first off-watch gets to go to town.  Frankly, I cannot remember if I was or was not on the first anchor watch when arriving in Huahine, but the following are likely pictures from a first night off in any case:  1) sailors clearly having fun; 2) Donald, our amazing cook, looking lovely with an island blossom; and, 3) as you can see, Brian, the ship’s doctor, is so excited to go snorkeling that after just a Hinano or two, he is already there in spirit.

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Transportation options are diverse here.  Le truck–a public truck bus, of course!  Or, the Monomoy…which, Dan, is scrupulously guarding…sails covering him from the sudden rain falls that later in the day would turn into a veritable deluge when we were on a lovely, if mercurial, day sail.  Or, a very cheaply rented tiny car…which here is pictured insofar as it is serving as a trusty tripod capturing the delicious beach grove lunch that John, Brian, and I had during a day trip around the island.

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And, here’s what we found…  Even when skies are grey here, the views are lovely and saturated with blues and greens of velvety tones.

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A place of dreams…  What do you imagine this bottle signifies, captures, portends?

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Beaches that suggest the delights that await you just off shore…

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Puddle path roads!

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On this island as well as those throughout French Polynesia, there are often metal wrappings around the trunks of coconut, paw paw, and mango trees…to keep the non-indigenous rats from eating holes through the fruit!

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Here began my sightings of house-shaped mailboxes!  I wish I had taken many more pictures of these.  They were endless in their variety, and so touching, to me: they seem to invite hand-written letters from family and friends.  One day, I hope to build such a mailbox for myself.  Would one not be invited to smile just a bit more every time one walked toward such a thing?  It is presences like this in the world that make me reflect on just how much things can give to us, can shape our world in their own ultimately rather significant way…if we listen to them.  (Dog is also wondering what I’m about, it seems.)

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This is my first encounter with a marae–a sacred and social site of yore that may have a number of ritualistic and educational purposes, as far as I can tell.  In some cases, they are known to be sites in which deities were considered to reside.  In other cases, it seems they are places for gathering for ceremonies or teaching or a place marking a spiritually significant member of a family group.  This is Marae Mananu.  Though these pictures do not reveal this, there are rocks neatly arranged that nearly entirely fill in this very large building-like structure.  Around the main formation are structures that look like graves, but typically bones have not been found it there, I have heard.  The rocks are neatly “woven” together.  On some stones, carved images appear.  Below is an example of one image that looks like a sea turtle!

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A fishing village with a centrally located church…

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Rocks arranged in the river to serve like a net for catching fish!

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A young spear fisherman waits patiently for his next catch…with no adult guide in sight.  He was entirely confident as he walked across a bridge to this fishing spot.  Moments later, I watched as he struck out at a passing fish.  Not wanting to disturb his actions, I walked away before seeing the result.  I also feel confident that he would catch a fish or many before the afternoon was out.

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As if the colors of nature were not stunning enough, people’s houses and clothing were so regularly that of the most vivid hues!  Notice, too, how nature takes over…quite quickly and with determination.

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Another instance of cultivation and artifact meeting natural growth…

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A stunning boat house, in my opinion…

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Again and again, I have been moved quite notably by the beauty of graves on this journey.  The colors of stones and flowers are so alive, and seem so deeply to honor the person who has died.  Perhaps more impressive to me is the tradition that begins to stand out very clearly from this island forward of having one’s family graves next to one’s house.  This reminds me of one of the closing passages of Heidegger’s “Building Dwelling Thinking” in which he is impressed by the way in which the peasant house of the Black Forest hundreds of years ago attended so deeply to the essential elements of human dwelling: “It did not forget the altar corner behind the community table; it made room in its chamber for the hallowed places of childbed and the ‘tree of the dead’–for that is what they call a coffin there: the Totenbaum–and in this way it designed for the different generations under one roof the character of their journey through time.”

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Pareus are perhaps the most lovely thing to wear in the South Pacific…and, really, anywhere in the world if the heat allows.  Here are Miri and Frank, painters of hand-crafted pareu.  Frank showed me many nice ways to style the one I bought from them, which features a whale of serious character as well as many traditional Maori designs and on which Frank also painted my name!

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And, after Frank, there was Francois, one of my favorite islanders to date…so kind and full of enthusiasm was he!  (He had his French and his traditional name tattooed rather roughly across his clavicle, and he wore an eye drawing whale tail necklace carved from beef bone.  His smile seemed to arise from a soul rooted in the lush and bountiful earth across which he bounded with endless and joyous energy.)  Francois tended a vanilla plantation, and gave us a delicious tour (in French) of the farm.  He explained just how difficult it was to cultivate vanilla: it takes decades for the seeds to come to proper fruition.  In addition to vanilla, the farm was filled with every fruit and vegetable tree you could imagine French Polynesia would have: avocado, banana, paw paw, mango, lime and other citrus fruits, pineapple, noni (a medicinally significant fruit), grapefruit and passion fruit!  He climbed nearly every tree and tossed fruits down to me to bring back to the ship.  He was entirely excited to have visitors who would speak French with him…no matter if not always excellent French.  At the end of the tour, Francois led us to an outdoor shed and opened up a black briefcase reminiscent of those seen in James Bond films, and from which I bought some of the most beautiful vanilla I have ever smelled in my life.  I seriously look forward to baking with it!  Earlier in the day, I also bought bracelets with vanilla beans woven into a grass band.  When worn, the wearer infuses the surrounding air with an aroma worthy of the gods!

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Oh, yes, and Francois has pigs that rummage down by the river.  They, like many animals on these islands, are tethered by one back foot to a tree or post, and don’t seem to mind this much.

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After some coaxing, this pig brings me great glee!

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And, simply for its beauty and breath capturing uniqueness… (one of many, many, many such glimpses during this journey)…

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From here to Bora Bora, oh my!

You are what you wear…

A history of reflections continues…sometime around late February, 2013

Currently on the ship, there are thirty-three of us.  Previously, there had been forty-three.  We live in close quarters, and for stretches of time see no other humans than ourselves.  Each of us has a rather small bounty of clothing on board, since storage is limited and there’s no need to stay spick and span.  Indeed, remaining clean on the ship seems next to impossible.  (By the by, check out the germane etymology of “spick and span.”  At least one source claims that “spikspeldernieuw,” an Old Dutch word, indicates a newly made ship; another meaning for “spick” include a newly minted nail.  Yet, like a working sailor, no nail and certainly no ship will ever retain its brand-newness.  And, let’s not get started with the origins of that phrase!)   In my case, I realized with some mirth partway through the journey that I brought along more shore clothing than work clothing in spite of the fact that we spend plenty more days at sea than in port.  Still, I make sense of this by returning to the above reflections about dirty-ship-work.  It’s a true pleasure to shower up and head into town all dressed up in heels and dress!  It’s also actually quite enjoyable really to be on the ship and not to care about just how many layers of dust and salt and grease and tar and paint are on one’s body and clothes.  Some of my compatriots claim not to have washed their work shorts for their entire time aboard!  Ugh.  I think it’s likely a strange couple of days in the laundromats of our port towns when we arrive:  dozens of bags of utterly stained and rather odorous (salt, sweat, chemicals, grime…) laundry are deposited there utter appreciation and a willingness to spend as much as is needed to have this situation rectified…as far as is possible.  The smiles on a cleanly (even if still amply stained) dressed crew are notable.  Often after laundry days (especially if they’re paired with shower days), at least one person will comment that something smells “off” on the ship; and, noses start investigating until laughter erupts when we realize that someone smells too clean.  Oh my.  Tar is king here…wrapping the ship with its lovely, earthy, mesmerizing smell.  While I don’t believe that I have gotten to the point where I can recognize a person by his or her distinctive scent (though the “bro cave” is unmistakable in its musty, dusty, just a tad rank bouquet), I do know the “outfits” of nearly everyone aboard.  Long sleeve shirts that were worn at the start of a watch are often shed as work gets underway, as the cool morning is warmed by the rising sun, or as the weather shifts from squally to clear.  A scan around the deck with one’s eyes locates these skins of crew members about the deck: the ruby colored long sleeved shirt that Niko wears to protect his many tattoos; the red rain slicker emblazoned with the training ship Danmark logo that Signe dons; the Blundstones that so many wear, but that are surely Victor’s if they’re back here on the well deck.  My two plaid (one blue and white, one various colors of pinks and purples) shirts are unmistakable at this point.  (Though my first pair of short shorts–a dirt concealing black–somehow myseriously disappeared into some as of yet unprobed recess of the ship.  Perhaps they were snatched off the laundry line by some aggressive deep sea wind?  Could they have been shredded for rags…a fate sometimes met by any not-quickly-enough-claimed-laundry-done-aboard-the ship.  In any case, I’ll tell you that it’s a shock to lose any piece of one’s well chosen and cherished work clothing–a shock that in my case meant that at the nearest port I marched out to purchase two new pairs of shorts!)  We’re at a point now where we can help each other out by returning these straggling vestments to their owners’ bunks.  Whenever someone helps me out in this way, I’m utterly grateful…as if reunited with an essential piece of myself, for as much as I am attached to my clothing in my “normal” life (and, as anyone who knows me, this is definitely the case!),  I have never been as aware as I am now of how important the proper items of clothing are for comfort and, more importantly, for success in one’s undertakings (and a bit of sartorial flare–fluorescent bandeau tops, hot pink shorts, shirts with images of Rocky or Taylor Swift (hee, hee) or cartoon panda bears, etc.) can cheer things up too!).  Be aware, however, that any item of clothing left hanging and hanging and hanging on the lines and which has been insufficiently rinsed of sea water is in danger of being voted for ejection from the ship by crew mates whose rather hearty olfactory systems sometimes reach their limit in the face of that inexplicably and utterly rotten post-salt-water smell.  Clothes are important, but perhaps not that important…

A trio of trips to the main royal…

Back in time again: February 24th, 2013

We set sail from Tahiti at 1 p.m. today.  The wind has been beautiful and steady; steering was held on course with a mere half to one full turn on to the left or right; and, the day went relatively quickly in spite of our watch being on for the full day…13 hours straight (the first hours being with all hands, and the latter being those of our regular 4 to 8 p.m. watch).  My day began with three trips up to the main royals–the first being to unfurl them, and the second two trips in service of unfouling a buntline that was catching part of the sail on the port side.  It impresses me just how tiring it is simply to climb up and down the shrouds to reach the topmost sails.  I might think that would be no different than climbing some sets of stairs.  Then again, perhaps some of the fatigue comes from knowing that holding on carries such weight (figurative and literal, I suppose) when one is roughly 10 stories from the deck below.  Do I grip the ratlines that much more?  Perhaps the awkwardness of some of the standing as well as the ascending and descending positions adds to the physical challenge.  And, then, yanking on hundreds of pounds of sail certainly makes muscles burn.  (I even growled loudly with the effort today, at one point grumbling something that sounded rather like the notorious “arghh” of a pirate.)  I never seem to notice these issues when I’m aloft, but I do seem to head immediately to the water cooler once I have told the officer of the watch that I’m “down from aloft.”  And, today, I must admit that when I learned I was to climb a third time, I inhaled deeply with a sense of an impending challenge.  Whatever the case may be, it felt like an intense day with a most intense start, and I imagine I’ll be quite tired at my 3:30 a.m. wake-up, so it’s shortly to sleep for me.  I hope it’s a restful night.