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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Raroia, Tuamotu

June 28, 2012
Village Anchorage Position: 16°02.4016'S 142°28.2771'W

Even though we anchored in a blinding rain squall, our anchorage selection near the town wharf is working out quite well. The wind has been nearly non-existent the last two days and the lagoon glassy smooth. The calm quiet on the boat is almost spooky. I don't think we've had an anchorage this calm since Alaska.

Yesterday we headed ashore to check out the village. Walking past the post office we met a local woman named Tatiana who speaks great English and happily answered a few of our questions. She asked if 'we'd like to get to know local people and of course we jumped at the opportunity. For much of our stay in French Polynesia we've been unable to make real connections with the locals due to our lack of French language skills. Making the short walk down to Tatianas home (located on the lagoon side near the end of the airstrip) we met Tatiana's husband Regis. The first thing he said is 'you're my savior' which had me wondering if these two were serious bible thumpers.

Quite to the contrary, Regis and Tatiana have a rule that Regis can't drink alone and so within seconds he was popping the top of a Hinano beer. It was maybe 9AM when they invited us in and we politely turned down the offer of a beer, but by 9:30 Kathy decided to split one with Tatiana...

We ended up hanging out at their beach front house until nearly dark and quite a few beer later. Regis and Tatiana are transplants to Raroia having moved to the atoll in 2007 from another atoll where they owned a motu and worked as pearl farmers. In such a small community it can be hard to fit in so these two especially enjoy entertaining visitors. Regis has lots of plans including starting another pearl farm, building bungalows and planting a huge garden. His existing small garden with tomatoes, bananas, and grapes shows it's a myth that nothing will grow on the atolls.

A few things we learned:

Fish near the village are ciguatoxic, but further from the village they are reportedly ok.
Regis thinks that the 'catalyst' (or maybe the additives) used in concrete is the reason certain areas become ciguatoxic which does seem to have some correlations. There is plenty of concrete in the water near the village, all the navigational aids have concrete bases, and the wharf and sea wall also have lots of concrete in contact with the water. Regis also thinks that when hundreds of concrete anchors used in the pearl farming industry are deployed in a lagoon it is only a mater of time until the fish will become ciguatoxic. Whatever the cause, it seems apparent that there is at least a link to the proximity of humans settlement.

And a few more facts:
..if you feed your pig more than 5 coconuts a day it will become too fat.
..if a shark circles you with interest, this is not good and you should move along.
..the Kon-Tiki raft crashed on to the windward side of Raroia.
..you don't see too many chickens on the atoll because all the wild dogs eat the chickens.
..locals love dog and apparently it's delicious.
..internet is available for only 1000XPF a month with a year contract via the cellular network.
..palm trees lean into the prevailing wind, which everyone agrees is curious.
..education beyond 6th grade requires a boarding school on Makemo atoll or Tahiti.
..many of the pearl farming jobs are being snapped up by hard working Chinese immigrants.
..a supply ship calls at Raroia every one and a half months.
..shipping is pretty inexpensive.
..a plane calls three times a month.
..air freight cost 400XPF a kilo ($2 a pound).
..the primary grocery store on Raroia is bankrupt, but a new one is springing up.
..until the new store gets licensed it's BYOB.
..tidal range in the lagoon is pretty minimal, maybe 2' on average.
..every home is off the grid with independent solar panel arrays and rain water catchment.
..slightly salty ground water is used for dish washing.
..water catchment is used for bathing.
..5 gallons bottles of water from Tahiti are for drinking and cooking.
..locals harvest sea cucumber which, boiled and dried, sells for $13 USD a kilo for export to China where it sells for $400+ USD a kilo. They asked us if we knew a sea cucumber direct buyer.

We're heading to town again today to check out the new grocery store, then heading down the lagoon to the Southeast corner for some snorkeling.

That's it for now.

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