Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taravai, a Small Piece of Paradise


The weekend brought two relatively sunny days with no wind at all. After using the first one for chores in and out of the water, we used the second good day to move Irie to another, more challenging, anchorage in the Gambier archipelago. The charts, where they exist, are good and reliable, but parts of the region are left uncharted. Mark and I decided to explore the southern bay of Taravai, which sounded very appealing, based on cruiser's reports. The problem: it is a blank spot on the charts, so good sunlight to read the water and detect the many dangerous reefs was imperative. Two hours of motoring under mostly grey skies by the time we left on Sunday, brought us to Taravai´s SE corner, the point where we needed to make a decision whether to proceed or not.

As luck would have it, the sun popped out right in time and the correct part of sky turned blue for 20 minutes. With me on the bow and Mark gently moving the boat forward, we slowly entered the reef strewn bay. For some reason, there was a lot of glare in the water and the visibility was poor. Instead of seeing all the dark spots ahead of us, I could just make out the rocky bottom 30 feet in front of us and an area as wide as Irie. Not good; you want the sun high in the sky and behind you to read the water… At that point, we realized or remembered that the sun in the southern hemisphere always sits in the north, even at her highest point, around noon, the time we approached the anchorage. It was the direction we needed to go. We proceeded at a snail's pace and at some point, when I looked back, I noticed that we had barely missed a shallow reef! Mark made a sharp right to get into less shallow water and we continued deeper 
into the bay, our hearts racing and our minds in minor shock.

Once settled in the anchorage, we noticed the beauty of this place. The beaches, the hills, the rocky outcrops and the greenery, the different shades of blue in the water and the colorful reefs, visible from above – when looking into the right direction – created a very beautiful picture indeed! The first couple of days, we had to stay onboard, unfortunately, because the wind was gusting from different directions and the weather was playing tricks on us. Being surrounded on three sides by very shallow reefs and being anchored in deep water, we wanted to make sure the anchor re-set correctly, every time, we made a violent 180° turn. When the wind mellowed out a bit, we managed to explore the area and meet some friendly locals.

One day, we had lunch two bays away with our friends from Pitufa, who were anchored in the third bay to the west of us. This "picnic bay" was a little tropical paradise; uninhabited, golden sand fringed by palm trees, some pretty rocks along shore and reefs in the water. The wind seemed to be coming from only one direction, but that might have been coincidence. Either way, we might check this sweet little spot out one day with Irie, when the weather is right and we feel confident enough to move again.

Mark and I also met the family who lives in our bay. They made us welcome with some fresh fruit from their garden and some freshly caught fish from the bay. We chatted for a while in French and brought some things in exchange later. We also took our dinghy, weaving through coral heads, to "the village" of Taravai. Only two families live here full-time now (when the French did their many years of nuclear testing in the neighboring Tuamotus and used Rikitea as their base, many people from the Gambier archipelago moved to "the city" to work, and stayed afterwards) and they maintain the area splendidly; the historic church, the white beaches and the lush yards and gardens look very inviting to visitors, and inhabitants. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and hospitable. Not a bad place to live!

Once back home, around 3pm, I donned my shorty wetsuit, braved the cold water and swam out to a fringing reef close by. I only lasted 20 minutes, before goose bumps appeared and my lips turned blue, but it was a pretty excursion. The many colorful fish were of a kind I'd never seen before, and the ones who looked familiar, were twice or three times the size than their Caribbean counterparts. The coral was in decent shape, with pretty formations and colors, but I am sure the reef we barely missed and some other patches we have dinghied past are more spectacular. One of these days, when the icy wind subsides and the sun produces her hottest rays of the season, I am hoping to explore some of these magnificent reefs. Maybe, just maybe, I can convince Mark to join me and overcome his detest of discomfort and cold!

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