Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mangareva Island in the Gambier Archipelago

Mark and I arrived in the Gambier Islands at the change of seasons. Our friends of SV Pitufa, who had been here about ten days by then, enjoyed some sunny and warm weather, with rainy spells. When we arrived - literally – the weather was awful and the southern hemisphere winter seemed to have started about a month too early. The climate is relatively cool during the day (shorts and T-shirts are still fine) and chilly at night (sweater and comforter needed). The realization that we didn’t quite expect this, being used to years in the tropics came quick, when we discovered that we don’t have that many warm clothes on board and that we aren’t sweating anymore. Of course, a less hot climate has its advantages, one of which is hiking on shore. For that, the weather is perfect. But, all those pristine and gorgeous reefs right around the corner, a splashy dinghy ride away when the wind is howling, will have to remain undiscovered for now.

This different climate requires some serious adjusting. We have to find an alternative to our showers in the ocean. We go hiking around noon, when it is the hottest part of the day, instead of the early hours like in the Caribbean and while closer to the equator. Because of the hills, the sun disappears at 4pm; she sets around 5. It is pitch black at 6pm. The nights are long, dinner has moved to 6:30pm or so, instead of 8pm, and we start the day a bit earlier as well to take full advantage of daylight. The rays of sun have been far and few between and the daily rain is mostly a mere drizzle, not enough to collect.

Cheap fresh water is available on the island, so drinking water is not a problem. Fresh produce, however, is another story. The options are: nothing but onions and garlic available in the little shops, befriending a local Mangarevan and trading wine or baked goods for some fresh vegetables and fruit, picking fallen pamplemousse (grapefruit) and coconuts off the ground while hiking, rushing to shore the morning after a supply ship arrived to buy what little goodies they dropped off (carrots, potatoes, cabbage, apples, and if you’re lucky – and we haven’t yet - also tomatoes and other stuff). A supply ship shows up every other week, or if delayed or canceled, only once a month. Apparently, the twice weekly plane drops off fresh food as well, but we haven’t noticed the effects of that. There are two farms about an hour walk away over a steep hill, but the fields are “empty” as of now, for about a month, the farmer told us.

Yesterday, Mark and I walked about two hours over a hill and along a steep path down to the other side of Mangareva, inquiring at a few houses for vegetables for sale. All we found were three heads of the local bok choy, costing over $3. On the way back, we picked up a fallen coconut and about a dozen pomplemousse. Who knew they could be so heavy? Now, we have some grapefruit juice to mix with our rum for cocktails, because 1.5 l of coca cola costs $6. Other than exploring the little village of Rikitea, with its cute churches and lush environment, we have done a few walks around part of the island and over some hills. There are plenty of trails and viewpoints with amazing views of the turquoise water and surrounding islands, to keep one busy for a while.

The locals are friendly, waving from their car and saying “bonjour” when walking by. Some of them offer us fruit out of their fertile gardens when we pass by. When you want fresh baguettes, you order them the previous day and pick them up, fresh out of the oven around 7am or 3pm. Mark and I each manage to finish one French bread every day. Even at only 80 cents a baguette, we are good customers!

Every night, we hear drumming on shore from our boat. There are two Polynesian troupes practicing drumming, dancing and singing for the big festival in July. One evening, we were on shore and observed the impressive spectacle, imagining it would be even more awesome in traditional costumes. We will have to stay in this archipelago until the end of July at least to be part of this event. Soon, we’re off to explore some of the smaller islands in this expansive lagoon. Now that we are practically caught up on sleep, emails, cleaning, filling the tank with water and “restocking” the fridge, it is time for a little vacation! :-)

Irie in the Rikitea anchorage  (photo by Birgit Hackl)

The local baker in Rikitea (photo by Birgit Hackl)

Picnic for Christian's birthday at a viewpoint on Mangareva

The protected bay and town of Rikitea

White caps everywhere in the lagoon and wet dinghy rides when the wind is howling

One of the many pearl farms in the lagoon (formed by all the islands of the Gambier archipelago)

Little church along one of our walks

Friendly pig - there are a lot around the island

Pamplemousse tree, with many left to rot on the ground

Banana tree on private property (and a bag full of grapefruit)

One of the bays with shallow reefs along Mangareva

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