Customs & Foreign Travel as an American Family

Eric Rigney, Captain of Kandu, ready for Customs Entry.

The first contact when traveling into foreign countries as a tourist is most often with customs officials whether by plane or by boat. When dealing with maritime customs agents, we have a few technics: Eric shows up dressed in his Kandu uniform with all his papers organized in our ‘Important Papers’ enclosed documents case. This box holds our most recent US Coast Guard Vessel documentation, our four passports, and other important papers that may be needed, plus a writing pen. So far, our boat and crew clearances have been straightforward, although much of that ease was due to Eric’s advanced preparation and our being American.

Trent & Bryce Rigney in front of the Customs Clearance building in Ensenada, Mexico 2015.

In Mexico, our pre-contacted marina agent in Ensenada led the four of us through customs on a Saturday, and everything cleared within two hours. All the Mexican documents had been filled-out the afternoon before. We simply needed to show up in person, with those papers in hand and money in our pockets to pay for the fees in cash, US dollars (USD).

Isla Isabela agent JC chatting with Bill Kohut 2015.

Clearing into Isla Isabela, yacht agent extraordinaire, JC Desoto, with whom Eric had communicated months in advance, helped us in the Galapagos. Eric even handed JC a package from his wife, sent to us in Ventura prior to our departure: weed-eater cord. Once arrived, Eric dropped off to JC all our passports and documents who subsequently on our behalf presented them to the officials along with cash in USD (Ecuador’s national currency is American dollars). Until the process was complete, Kandu remained in quarantine. Only the captain was allowed to disembark until the vessel inspection was concluded. Expecting an inspection, having just sailed 18 days, the crew quickly passed through to tidy up as best we could. We put on some clean clothes, brushed our teeth and hair to look presentable before the five officials boarded our boat, delivered to us on a water taxi.

Hurry Up and wait Kandu crew!

It immediately felt congested aboard our 42-foot sailboat. Three officials left the cockpit to poke around – one in particular asked about our toilets and the size of our holding tank. Another official asked what fresh foods, if any, were on board. I had purposefully cooked almost all of the fresh items prior to arrival. The only fresh items left were some garlic and a couple limes sitting out in the open. They didn’t mind those items, letting us keep them. They did not ask whether the underside of our boat had been cleaned of all animal life 40 miles from land, one of many unusual entry requirements some other boats had to address. After 45 minutes, they departed. Five minutes after that, the captain and crew were on shore in search of our first Galapagos experiences and some cold treat to consume.

Hoisting the Q (quarantine flag) and the country courtesy flags 2015

From the Galapagos, 24 days later, we arrived soundly in Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva, the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. Again, much of the requirements had been handled ahead of time before leaving California; we went through the arduous process of obtaining a long-stay visa through the Los Angeles French consulate six months prior. Our wonderful agent, Tehani Fiedler-Valenta of Tahiti Crew, located in Papeete, Tahiti, facilitated other important requirements. Just as with JC, prior to leaving California, Eric pre-arranged with Tehani all paperwork and fees to be ready for processing.

Tehani Fiedler-Valenta of Tahiti Crew with Leslie Rigney.

Being a small archipelago, the Marquesas did not house a customs office. Instead, the gendarmerie handled all clearance procedures. They did not search us, nor were we quarantined. Eric simply met up with an associate of Tehani, based in Nuku Hiva, Kevin of Yacht Services Nuku Hiva, an expat from Southern California with whom Eric had also been in contact prior to leaving California. Eric had asked Kevin if he wanted anything from the US. Kevin asked for a couple of garden hose nozzles and bottles of Bacardi dark rum (French Polynesia places a 300% import tax on alcohol), which we gifted him.

Similarly, when entering a foreign country by plane, as we recently did in New Zealand, Australia, and Easter Island, it’s important to have completed all customs and personal documents before approaching the official (preferably prior to the plane landing while you can comfortably spread out your passport and flight information). We always approach officials calmly, as a foursome, presenting Eric’s and my passport first. Traveling with kids and/or teenagers tends to have a positive effect on officials as we are all smiling. With families, one parent represents the group. Eric usually plays this role as seemingly unnecessary bureaucratic requirements too easily frustrate me. During this time, the rest of us remain silent and respectful, not questioning or volunteering information, giving rise to a glare from Eric. When passing through customs with our bags, we never bring fresh fruit, vegetables, honey, or meat. I did declare some pre-packaged cookies and dried fruit and nuts. They were not concerned about those items. The American bee malady has reached the South Pacific and customs wishes to protect their honey beekeepers from its spread.

New Zealand Maori carving at the airport with Bryce Rigney.

One incident occurred that likely caused subsequent inspections to occur. The four of us were waiting for our baggage after landing in New Zealand when an official approached asking if I would be willing to help in the training of a new inspection dog. He asked me to put a specially treated cloth in my pants pocket. In Los Angeles through a specially arranged event with the cub scouts, the boys and I had gotten a chance to tour the LA airport police division with specially trained dogs. The dog master explained that these special dogs are not treated as pets. They are extremely intelligent and almost ADD in their emotional make-up – having lots of energy. They are trained to locate specific substances, drugs, explosives, or food products. When they pick up their scent, they are not to bark, but to sit quietly next to the targeted smell, pointing with their snout. Getting back to my experience in NZ, about 5 minutes after placing the aromatic sample in my pants pocket, we saw a different police official with the trainee dog scouting around the baggage claim area.

Airport Sniffer in the baggage claim area of Auckland airport 2016.

The dog was calmly in the lead. He strolled around smelling everything, approaching people and their bags, nosing close to peoples’ clothing, pockets, and around bags. At some point, the two approached us. The dog smelled our luggage and then got close to my backside pants pocket. I could see in his eyes that he detected the target. He sat down next to me, alerting the officer of his discovery. The officer rewarded the dog with a chance to play with his toy. The boys and I enjoyed the experience having been previously educated on the subject. We had followed along closely to see if the dog was trained the same way as in Los Angeles. Immediately afterwards, I visited the bathroom and washed my hands, but didn’t think to clean the scent from my clothes and backpack.Two weeks later, I had since washed my jeans, but when we were getting ready to fly to Auckland, as usual, we all passed through the human scanner; our carry-on luggage was independently scanned next to us. The guys all went through no problem, but a lady official picked up my backpack and asked me to follow her over to a machine. She rubbed a piece of material over the handles of my backpack and inside then inserted the material into a machine. Evidently, the machine detected something. She made a phone call, looked at me closely, and told me to wait. Unfortunately, our flight was getting ready to board and our luggage was checked in. The boys and Eric quickly left me behind to find the gate. They would board without me if necessary. I waited and waited somewhat patiently for more than ½ hour until an airport dog and official finally showed. The dog casually approached, sniffed inside and outside of my bag, sniffed all around me and especially my hands, then just as casually walked away. Evidently, they had been on the other side of the airport when called. In any case, I was free to go and hurriedly ran quite a distance to locate the gate just in time to board. Sigh! It was an unpleasant experience to be wrongfully suspected. I couldn’t help but think that having been a willing participant in the dog training two weeks prior had contributed to what could have been a very expensive delay had I not caught the plane in time. “No good deed goes unpunished,” as the saying goes. After that, we always made sure to pass the carry-on baggage clearance into the boarding area before looking for bathrooms, food or refreshments.

Gandalf and Eagle from “Lord of the Rings” in Wellington Airport designed and created by Weta Cave Workshop.

Soon, we will be heading out to visit more countries . . . many more, of all shapes, sizes, and bureaucracies. Traveling as we had recently done by plane, the boys and I are much more aware of the process and the importance of Eric’s customs clearance preparations. All these countries will require clearance in their own fashion, cultural and bureaucratic. I can’t help but wonder how President Trump’s recent international travel and trade restrictions might impact how we are treated upon arrival. Hopefully these soon-to-be visited foreign lands will not impose more paperwork, added restrictions or financial impositions on American visitors. We don’t plan to visit the Middle East, but who knows what role unexpected winds or repairs may play on us, especially as we cross the Gulf of Aden or cross over to Turkey. Yemen borders the gulf and Syria sits between Israel and Turkey. Since Eric is our front-man, his uniform and charming smile may simply not be enough.

Vision of French Polynesia.

By Leslie Rigney

Island Without Shade

Moai of Easter Island at the Hanga Roa, Tahai site. The distant moai is the only one on the island that sports eyes!

Easter Island is a tiny speck of land in the South Pacific, created by a series of massive volcanic eruptions that transpired under water. Easter Island is basically a big mass of dried lava located 27.1130° S, 109.3496° W covering up only a small space of 64 sqare miles. The island is home to 5,761 people (updated in 2012). The island is 1,289 miles from the nearest land, Pitcairn having only 50 residents. Easter Island is one of the most remote islands in the world, yet the island is well known today and has four commonly used names: the English version, “Easter Island,” the Polynesian name, “Rapa Nui,” its European/French rendition, “Île de Pâques,” and finally its Spanish title, “Isla de Pascua.” Easter Island boasts 70 volcanic cones and three principal craters. Terevaka is the tallest crater on the island at 11,674 feet tall. Rano Kau whose crater can be seen from space, and Rano Raraku are the other two volcanoes that help make the triangular shape of Easter Island.

Satellite view of Rapa Nui. Rano Kau crater is located at the southwestern point. Rano Raraku is located west of the northeastern point boasting a small lake.

The island that became ‘the island without shade’ was found around 800 CE when the first Polynesians arrived in their canoes. Seven centuries later, the island population grew to an estimated 15,000. Around the 11th century started a rampage of moai rock statue carving through the 17th century. These moais were 20-ton volcanic ash rock carvings erected to praise loved ones that had passed away: primarily chiefs and gods. With the erecting of these moais came the deforestation of the Island. How do we know there were trees? In 2006 a group of scientists arrived on Easter Island to examine and take samples in the crater lakes. The samples provided proof that the island was previously heavily forested, with a giant percentage of the trees being palm.

Bryce Rigney having ridden horseback to the highest point on the island, Terevaka, looking back on Hanga Roa…no trees!

Theories for the deforestation prompted the question: Where are the trees? One of the most believed theories for the deforestation of Easter Island was the chopping of trees for moving the giant moai statues. Each time the carvers went to move the 20-ton carvings they would chop down trees to roll and lower the moai’s into their designated areas. Under the increasing weight of the moai the tree logs would shatter and crush quicker, demanding more trees to be cut down. As the competition to build the biggest and best moais expanded, the population of trees diminished but the moai building didn’t stop. Not only was the carving of Moai involved in the destroying of trees, but another theory involved the huge rat/rodent population. Purposefully brought along by the Polynesians as a source of food, the wild rats dug down under the trees and crops to eat the roots, eventually killing the tree or crop. The rats also consumed any new palm growth, so there were no new growth trees.

Anakena Beach. These moai are the best preserved because they were buried in the sand for a couple centuries.

The third theory used mostly by the local islanders is a combination of drought and fire. With the help of a few Chilean scientists they were able to figure out that sometime during the time of the moai building and the rat explosion, there was a huge drought. This drought continued for more than five years and likely contributed to a huge fire, which raged through the remaining forests. So with the drought, the starving rats, the needy humans (wood and bark were used for fuel, tapa clothing, building houses and boats, wood statues, etc.), and the demanding giant moai statues, all the island’s trees completely disappeared. This left the aboriginal people trapped with nothing but the possibility of war to fight over the remaining resources (fishing grounds, water access and some agriculture) and cannibalism.

Dangerous cannibals….huh? No, Tapati dancers!

Without trees and solid crops, a peak population of 15,000 indigenous islanders started to diminish. The first noted contact with Europeans was when Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutch explorer who came upon the uncharted island on Easter Sunday, 1722, with several ships looking for Terra Australis. Their week-long anchor (only one day on land) hoping to obtain water and supplies of which there was little, undoubtedly impacted the islanders who suffered 12 dead from musket shots during a skirmish and later sickness due to close contact with diseased sailors. Likely because of the islands insignificance in natural resources, the next visitors didn’t come until 1770: a Spanish expedition from Peru arriving to claim the island for Spain. Not having forgotten the Dutch, the trapped islanders (no more trees to build boats) and clan chiefs cooperated by signing a written contract acceding to Spain. (The islanders had likely never seen written language before – it is speculated that seeing written language provided the inspiration for their own written language on wooden tablets: Rongo Rongo.) At this time, the Spanish reported finding the proud moai statues standing upright. After six days the fleet departed with a 21-cannon salute! Imagine the impression the sound made on a trapped population left to contend with disease caused by the sailors.

Representation of a Rongo Rongo tablet.

Incidentally, the Spanish never came again, but four years later, Captain James Cook, he and his crew very sick, arrived hoping to replenish the ship’s water and food supplies. “The British found the island to be in a noticeably worse condition than the Spanish had reported four years earlier, and it is likely that there had been heavy fighting on the island during that short period. Statues had been toppled, the islanders were in extremely poor health, and such were the lack of available supplies, that Cook set sail four days later;” Grant-Peterkin. Due to starvation, unrest and disease introduced by sailors, it seems that riots between clans escalated where moais were torn down (the last moai reported standing was in 1836). Cannibalism erupted; people started eating one another to survive. A brutal warrior, ‘might makes right’ type society developed, one of complete anarchy. At some point the population dropped to a low number of around 750 people.

Birdman stone slab paintings.

It is suggested as early as the end of the 1600’s and beginning of the 1700’s due to lack of resources and unrest well before the first Europeans, the beginnings of the Birdman competition/religion were underway. In the later part of the 1700’s and over the turn of the century into 1800, the savior of the few survivors was the adoption of the new Bird Man religion idealizing bird’s eggs and worshipping the God: Make Make. Each clan would choose a single man to represent them to compete for leadership of the year. The annual race was a 300-yard climb from the top of the vertical drop of volcano Rano Kau ridge to the bottom. Then it was a 3-kilometer swim to the furthest islet, Motu Nui (the breeding ground for the sooty tern bird).

The three little motus just off Orongo Village. The sooty terns inhabited the furthest, Motu nui.

From there the candidates would grab the first egg from one of the bird nests, swim and climb back up the ridge, struggling not to break the egg. The candidate who succeeded either designated the pre-selected leader of his clan as Birdman or became the next Birdman himself.On the ridge of the Rano Kau volcano at the Orongo Historial Village site, the houses built for competitors and supporters have been completely reconstructed. The houses are all made of giant slate slabs layered up to a height of about 6 or 7 feet. To be up there was really a great sight. My favorite was being able to see the three islets in the distance knowing that at one point on Rapa Nui the brave representatives swam across to capture an egg. During this period, the population grew back to about 3000 inhabitants. However, the Birdman religions’ demise was prompted by the Peruvian’s need for cheep labor. In 1862, the population regrowth of Rapa Nui was uprooted during a series of raids where up to 1,500 of the strongest and most knowledgeable (including clan chiefs and medicine men) were taken to work as slaves in Peruvian agriculture and mines. At some point, only 15 of those were returned to the island due to illness, once again introducing more disease: syphilis, smallpox, leprosy, etc.). The last recorded Bird Man race was in 1866. In 1867 the Catholic missionaries abolished the Birdman practices. Ten years later, in an 1877 census, the island population reported a low number of 111 people.

Birdman petroglyphs at Orongo Village.

Trent Rigney, Eric Rigney and Bryce Rigney all smiles near a faux Rapa Nui petroglyph just outside Orongo village..

Ahu Tongariki at Sunrise, Rapa Nui on February 2, 2017.

In 800 CE a group of about 700 Polynesians landed on a heavily forested island with palm trees, edible plants, and tons of seabirds and fish. Nine centuries later the same island was completely deforested, and covered with 1,032 carved moais. In May 1960 a Chilean earthquake measuring 9.5 hit and brought a series of three 70-foot waves that scoured the south side of the island destroying abandoned slate houses, jostling around the previously toppled moai statues and generally wreaking havoc with leftover Rapa Nui artifacts. After the tsunami the island was a seemingly un-repairable wreck. But with the help and interest of archeologists like Thor Heyerdahl, Japanese businessmen, the Chilean government, and ambitious locals, the island and its culture were pieced back together starting in the late 1950’s eventually making it the very popular tourist attraction it is today!

Bibliography:

Books

Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up, 1st Edition, Hughes, Holly. 2006. Published by: Wiley Publishing, Inc. New Jersey USA.

  • Easter Island, Fieldstone, Sarah. Tazkai LLC,
  • Child of the Sea, Cornell, Dorna. 2012, Cornell Sailings, LTD, UK.
  • A Companion To Easter Island (Guide to Rapa Nui), Grant-Peterkin, James.

Website

  • mysteriousplaces.com Explore Sacred Sites & Ancient Civilizations Explore Easter Island September, 14 2016, By: Jan

    Thor Heyerdahl (top right wearing all blue) excavation of an abandoned moai at the Rano Raraku quarry.

    by Bryce Rigney with Leslie Rigney

Two Years Abaft Abeam: A Summary

February 2017

Months since I last posted, having just past our anniversary, a recap of the past 2 years seems fitting. The start of the trip’s impact was great and still resonates strongly within my recollection. Much like recalling the bear in the woods at the cost of the forest’s wonder. Although much wonder is to be told of our experiences in the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands, of New Zealand and Sydney, and of Easter Island, looking back I seem drawn to reflect on the stress of the journey’s start, perhaps in an effort to derive some benefit against the ledger of anguish expended, perhaps as a cautionary tale to those eager to push themselves in a likewise fashion, or maybe like a survivor of any struggle may do. But this, as with most American movies, is developing into a happy circumstance. I had faith that the experience would eventually pay off, but my faith was and is often tested, just as it is for entrepreneurs, parents, and anyone else with a goal to make something worthy happen.

Apologies for those who feel I repeat too often a “woe-is-me” theme. Leslie worries so.  I don’t do so to provoke a response, to get readers to encourage me. I’m just inviting readers into my head as I look back on the past two years. This is, I know, a repeat of what I’ve written before, but see it as a summary, a reduction of my thoughts. Know this: I am at this time pleased and more self-aware than I can recall in recent memory. “Much to learn have I,” as Yoda might phrase it. “Learn I have. Learn I will. But never so much as is to learn.”

Two years ago, on Leslie’s birthday, we left Ventura, California aboard Kandu, our 42-foot expedition type single mast sailboat, now almost 30 years old herself. Motor-sailing out from the marina and into the Pacific Ocean, light haze over an otherwise clear winter sky, friends waved us on from ashore. We slipped eagerly toward the calm harbor entrance, a gentle swell heightened as we neared the breakwaters’ opening, flanked by boulders of rock on either side, then passed the detached breakwater covered in a thick overcoat of seabird guano.

Cast-off and sailing into the Big Blue Yonder with Bryce Rigney as the King-of-the-World – VIDEO.

The crew were excited. Bryce was standing on the forward pulpit pulling off his best Leonardo DiCaprio imitation of “I’m on top of the world!” Trent was below deck, scrambling to find and play the theme song to Titanic crackling over the loudspeaker. Did they not recall how the movie ended? Leslie was glad to be finally moving, having struggled for eighteen months prior to this day, buttoning up our lives as they had been, still frustrated from having walked away from beloved careers, family/friends, and a cozy home. But she was glad to be following through with the dream. After 25 years of talking about it, planning for it, saving for it, we were gliding out of the starting gate. No more having to hear, “You haven’t left yet?” from marina neighbors, yacht club members, and friends: a welcome relief for Leslie. I was more anxious than excited. Having worked full time on the boat for nearly a year and half, I didn’t think Kandu was yet ready for the demands of the first two, possibly four, long distance crossings that would comprise our first and longest passages. We hadn’t yet put Kandu through a significant shakedown; between extended preparations and a closing weather window (May 1st is the first official day of hurricane season for the northern hemisphere), we hadn’t had the time.

Kandu arrived at Marina del Rey, California on February 10th, 2015.

Rather than head directly to Mexico from Ventura, we slipped in and out of Southern California marinas, stopping at reciprocal yacht clubs where we could stay free for 3-5 days at a time. West Marine, the nation’s largest purveyor of marine hardware, mans a store in nearly every Southern California port. I was through their doors like church and everyday was Sunday. Haunted by the knowledge that once we left California, cost and time would be added to each and every project, handicapped by the lack of convenience generously supported by US’s well-oiled consumer culture. The mental stress was heavy. With the safety and comfort of family on the line, “failure was not an option.”

Mexico’s would be our first international border to cross. It’s a day sail from San Diego to Ensenada. Having worked frenetically in marinas between Ventura and San Diego, with no more “free-slip” days left having spent our allotted time in 6 different yacht clubs, and that ever present favorable seasonal weather window closing, my hand was forced again. March 21, the spring equinox, would be our last day in the USA.

From Left: Uncle Bill, Bryce Rigney, Jose Houska, Trent Rigney, Eric Rigney in Ensenada, Mexico.

Ensenada was a mini-vacation with no major known boat projects left to tackle. Uncle Bill and our mutual friend, Joe Houska, joined us for the border crossing. They returned to California after a few days of helping us out with tasks. As a family treat, we attended what would be for the next two years our last feature film screening in a movie theater. The coves and bays between Ensenada and Banderas Bay ranged from beautiful and remote, to dirty and corrupt. The crew handled well their watches. I was impressed by their desire to hold up their end. Bryce and Trent found ways to have fun at every place we stopped. I could find no desire within myself to have fun; knowing important tasks needed all my available energy. My humbug attitude frustrated me and the crew.

Banderos Bay, Mexico: Harbors La Cruz and Puerto Vallarta

Coming into Banderas Bay, port La Cruz, two significant problems arose: the newly factory rebuilt hydraulic cylinder that allows the automatic pilot to steer the boat failed due to my improper installation, and the masthead VHF antenna connection failed, severely limiting our radio’s reception and transmission performance to just a mile instead of 8-12. After many stressful days of research and measurements, a replacement hydraulic system was identified, expensive, purchased, delivered, and installed.  The delay meant that Easter Island would likely have to come off the list. It was maybe 10 days since San Diego and I was missing West Marine like a crack addict. Time prevented repairing the VHF masthead antenna connection properly so we installed a new one behind the cockpit until I had time and a steady place where I could tackle the masthead solution. We picked up Uncle Bill at the Puerto Vallarta airport with all the parts I’d ordered, an action in which all future visitors to Kandu would engage. “Hardware mules” is what cruising sailors refer to friends and family who visit, laden with ordered parts and supplies, cheaply freighted and easily passed by customs. With the ticking weather window to sail to the Galapagos rapidly closing (“You should have left 4-6 weeks ago.”), we buttoned up Kandu, and on May 1, left Puerto Nuevo bound for Isla Isabela in the Galapagos with Uncle Bill aboard. Kandu was as ready as I could make her and I was satisfied enough, all things considered.The eighteen-day passage was extremely hot and muggy, seas from several directions, confused and varied winds, and nightly attacks by incessant squalls. Rain forced us to close all hatches and portlights, converting our living space into a tropical sauna.

Far from land, boobie takes a break. Trent investigates.

Sea temperature and air temperature were the same: 89 degrees F. Sweat and grime were immediate. Tempers shortened and mechanical problems continued to develop. This time, the engine’s charging system wasn’t functioning properly and I couldn’t figure out why. The off-again/on-again shifting winds exhausted my patience.The awkward motion of the boat in the three-way swell was annoying. I wondered if we could make it to landfall before running out of diesel fuel. But this wasn’t a weekend trip in some campground. I was in the middle of a remote part of the Pacific with my precious family. Like a scene out of Apollo 13, I must work from the parts and pieces I have on the boat.

Crossing the equator on our way to the Galapagos

Digging deep within my soul, I get hit by the life lesson I’ve discussed before: I can only sail the wind I have, not the wind I want. Somehow the sentiment comforts me. Do with what I’ve got, as best I can, adapting with demands of the moment. Throw shoulda, woulda, coulda out the door; and open myself to what’s possible, and then do that. That’s all I can do, that’s all anyone can do, so do it and move on to the next thing. Leave perfection to the saints.

Galapagos Marine Iguana basking in the Isla Isabella sun.

My experience at Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Columbus Archipelago aka the Galapagos, questioned for me what was becoming the theme of our trip. Should it be about spending time together as a family exploring new lands and cultures, or would it be about me getting the boat ready for the next crossing while the family begged me to join to them on one of their snorkels, bike rides, or other excursions?

Excursion to volcanic park and its beauty help to set aside frustrations of boat challenges.

Turns out, of the fifteen days spent in Puerto Villamil, five were rain-drenched workdays, eight were sunny workdays, and three were amazing excursions. Twenty-percent fun, eighty-percent stress and work. I did not like this version of the 80-20 rule. But what could I do?

Ready to make the passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas.

The conditions of the Mexico to Galapagos crossing proved too much for Uncle Bill, who celebrated his 84th birthday on our Galapagos arrival. He did not join us for the crossing to the Marquesas. Unlike the Galapagos crossing, the 24-day crossing to the Marquesas was swift and dryer. The seas were larger and still a bit confused. In brief, the conditions were not comfortable, but the ride was a bit more pleasant, not as hot and less rain, no squalls. We arrived in Nuku Hiva with a couple more boat issues for me to resolve before heading on.

Nuku Hiva, Marquesas landfall 24 days later.

A late June arrival in the Marquesas meant we were about three months off from the ideal seasonal weather window based on our planned itinerary. In order to catch up and be in New Zealand by November, we would have to cut our French Polynesia stay by several months. Considering that we had pre-established deep relations with many Marquesans friends, leaving so soon would have robbed us from an opportunity too valuable to lose. Our Marquesan friends said we had arrived during a grand Matava’a year, an inter-island cultural event staged in December once every four years. A French sailor familiar with the area and all of French Polynesia advised that an El Nino year was expected and that the Marquesas Islands were the safest place in French Polynesia to avoid hurricanes, also the least expensive and most authentic in terms of Polynesian culture. Another Marquesan friend advised us that they could enroll our boys in the French public school. And two different American cruisers, both with at least one circumnavigation under their belts advised that the elements of French Polynesia combine to create a superior cruising experience: tropical beauty, warm and friendly people, access to French food, and all essential services. Add to the mix that Leslie and I speak French and this all made for a compelling argument set aside the original itinerary and, instead, rest.

Our Marquesan family, the Falchettos, welcome us with an extraordinary feast the day of our arrival.

Polynesian roasted pig, captured and slaughtered that morning.

Denis whips up a batch of fresh roasted breadfruit paste and coconut cream (poi or mako in Marquesan)

Staying in the Marquesas until next season would reset the weather window clock, allow me to catch up with most of the boat projects while having some fun, give us a cultural immersion experience few families can experience in the Marquesas, save some money, and the boys would learn French. On the other hand, to try and catch up with the planned itinerary would have entailed nearly non-stop boat maintenance, missing many of the cultural gifts of each port, just a quick dash through the South Pacific.  Sure, sticking to the five-year plan we’d be able to chalk up more countries visited, spreading the time and cultural exchanges over multiple countries around the world instead of concentrating on French Polynesia. But if I’m working all the time, what I’m getting out of it?  The scale tipped heavily in favor of staying, so stay we did . . . not just for one year, but two.

Kandu anchored in Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva!

Nuku Hiva communal shower, one of several.

Trent stands before unusual tree trunk roots found along the way to a breathtaking waterfall.

Cultural Heritage Day on Nuku Hiva offers “haka,” dance as well as traditional crafts, foods, and activities.

Hiva Oa is where the Matava’a was held that year. Here’s a northern Hiva Oa bay, typical of the Marquesas.

Northern Hiva Oa means the bay of Pua Mau (flower shade) and its world renowned stone tikis.

The Matava’a opens with great fanfare.

Cyril, sculpture and dance master of Tauhata regally enters the arena.

And of course much dancing.

Back at home in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, the Petit Quai’s favorite hang out: Chez Henri’s Snack Vaeaki

Henri, like a brother to me, shows off a plate of his poisson cru, lime-marinated raw yellow fin tuna.

A secluded beach cove in Eaio, where friends spearfish and hunt for our meals.

Boys with a Tahitian acquaintance spy over the cliffs of uninhabited Eiao Island in the Marquesas.

Wild mutton, killed, slaughtered, and air-dried before our overnight sail back to Nuku Hiva.

The Marquesas long-stay experience proved so wonderful that we decided to extend our stay in French Polynesia a second year, this time in the Society Islands, in Raiatea and in a marina.

Marina d’Uturoa, in Raiatea, and island 20 miles from honeymoon famous Bora Bora.

It is from here that I write.  To help make things even easier and more fun, we bought a very used car.

Our beater car purchased in Tahiti, Leslie affectionate named, “la marquisenne.”

From here, we calculate we can get a jump on the weather window in our bid to finish a circumnavigation, but now within a much quicker two years.  We hope to leave this May.  To shorten the distance and save time, we plan to sail up the Red Sea instead of around Africa.  Pirate circumstances have dramatically changed around the horn of Africa in favor of passing through this previously perilous region. From Raiatea, I can calmly finish the last big boat projects, having Kandu ready for the two-year push while the boys complete a second year in French public school and play in a beautiful part of the world in a familiar culture. Through it all, Leslie keeps the family fed, tidy, healthy, and the bills paid, along with other boat projects. We have a nice routine. The municipal marina provides electricity, water, and easy access to land, while fending off swells generated from seasonal storms.  From Raiatea, we can affordably fly to bucket-list locations missed due to our delayed start or to be missed by our new itinerary.

Kandu Tahiti tied in Marina d’Uturoa, Raiatea.

First in line, we flew to New Zealand for a two-week drive-about.

New Zealand jet boat ride!

This important region was removed from our new sailing itinerary as was most of Australia. So from NZ we flew to nearby Sydney for another two weeks.

Iconic Sydney Bridge, had to do it.

After a week in Tahiti, we returned to Raiatea for 10 days, then back to Tahiti for a flight to Easter Island, removed from our itinerary due to boat preparation delays and additional repairs in Mexico.  We stayed two weeks and experienced most of the Tapati Festival.

Moai of Easter Island

Tapait traditional dance contest in full swing.

As such, overall, we had an extraordinary (and much needed) 7-week family vacation exploring New Zealand’s north island, visiting friends old and new; Sydney with my brother Curtis and his partner, Joel; Easter Island and the Tapati Festival with Marquesan and American friends; and more excitement in Tahiti with great Tahitian and American friends. The result: a full decompression from the grueling post-departure months, living on the boat, and the upcoming pre-departure boat preparations. I couldn’t recall when I had last felt so unburdened.

Between the Marquesas and Tahiti, we spent 3 weeks on gorgeous Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotus. Here’s a sunrise from our cockpit.

Even lunch in Fakarava can be transformed into a scenic adventure, a tropical paradise to be sure.

So, the experience up to the Marquesas was unpleasant. The effect: the shadow of the difficult start permeated my being. I didn’t realize how much of it I still shouldered even after we decided to hit the pause button, how the weight of the burden had left an impression and thus continued to shape my perspective and my day-to-day attitude towards the future. After the recent “vacation,” for the first time in too many years, I felt I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and doing it all for the right reasons at the right pace.

Ahu Tongariki at Sunrise, Rapa Nui on February 2, 2017.

In summary, we left our homeport twenty-four months ago. The first four months were frustrating and pressure-filled. The following 20 months have been rewarding, very much so, yet tainted by an overshadowing stress established by the first four months, and the year and half leading up to the departure. Still, that was closer to the 80/20 equation for which I was looking when I originally planned this trip. Unfortunately I allowed the 20 percent pain to blur the 80 percent pleasure. After the vacation, I knew more than ever that this habit needed to end. Better to take a page from Bryce and Trent’s playbook and find ways to have fun wherever we are, whenever we can, not looking for the closest hardware store. What would be the point of all this if I were to allow the emotional turmoil of the past to continue to spoil our adventure any futher?

All smiles near a new Rapa Nui petroglyph

Okay, so the focus now, for me, is to schedule time off from boat projects to have guilt-free fun, especially during the week, even just an hour. This is not easy for me to do.  Another goal is to source an air of joy from within myself, draw out the “vacation” me, especially when I’m working with Leslie and the boys. I want to be less critical, less gruff. This too does not come naturally to me.  To help me with this goal, I picture in my mind the on camera, off stage demeanor of Chris Martin, lead singer of the rock band Coldplay. I want to be more like that, confident, quick to smile, ready for something fun. This will not be easy for me, not by a long shot, but it’s important . . . to me and my family. I want develop joy and happiness more so than even my elusive washboard abs. In other words, wake up and smell the moai.  In a strange way, I feel like the trip I envisioned 40+ years ago is just beginning, and I’m exited about it, and about doing it with Leslie, Bryce, and Trent aboard Kandu. In short, two years after leaving California, I find myself loving to sail the wind I have, . . . although missing a wee bit the convenience of a West Marine.

 

 

Leslie’s Letters 1-1-2017: Back to Tahiti

View from Corinne’s patio with Moorea in the background.

Tahiti: January 1st, 2017 letter continued

We left New Zealand January 2nd, and due to the international date line’s location, arrived five and half hours later in Tahiti on January 1st, allowing us a chance to celebrate New Year’s Day a second time.

Rigneyskandu and overflowing luggage checking into Air New Zealand.

Returning to Tahiti was bittersweet after all that travel away from the boat. Tahiti is such a beautiful place, how could we possibly be upset? Plus we had 10 more days of fun before heading back to Raiatea! We were generously hosted at Corinne Mc Kittrick and Michel Bonnard’s home in Puunauia up on the hill in the Lotus district. Spoiled rotten with their incredible view of Moorea, we shared several meals with them discussing Tahiti’s past, present, and future.

Corinne Mc Kittrick

Left to right: Linda Edeikin, Corinne Mc Kittrick, Leslie Rigney, Chuck Houlihan, Eric Rigney

Corinne Mc Kittrick, the best tour guide on Tahiti island, gave us and friends Chuck and Linda from s/v Jacaranda an incredible tour around the island. One of my favorite stops was at the Botanical Spring Garden: Jardins d’eau of Vaipahi. The five of us were awed by the tropical beauty of the indigenous and imported flora that exhibited boundless colors and designs. We also enjoyed touring Marae Arahurahu. Having been there once before, Eric and I wanted to get up close and personal to the famous Austral Island duplicate male and female tiki statues. The originals, still housed in the now closed Gauguin Museum, have a mysterious curse such that anyone who attempts to move them, shortly thereafter dies tragically. The Austral Islands would like to have them back, but no one deign touch them, let alone, transport them! That same night, Corinne returned home, but Linda, Chuck, Eric and I headed out for a grand sunset and starlit dinner up the local mountain to O-Belvedere restaurant. The ambiance was beautiful offering great views of Papeete below and Moorea across the ocean. We ordered cheese fondue all around – très Français!

Fondu at O-Belvedere!

During our 10 Tahiti days, the boys had a fabulous time surfing with good friend Daniel Teipoarii – surf maniac, and we all got the chance to spend several occasions hanging out with his wife Laure and two sons of the same age.

At Papeete’s Food truck row: Rigneyskandu on left, Laure, Daniel, Ikai-ka and Kahiki on right.

Trent Rigney surfing Tahiti. Click on VIDEO: Trent-Surf-Tahiti

Bryce Rigney surfing Tahiti.

Eric and I completed a bit of shopping for boat essentials and impossible to find groceries, before teaming up again with Linda Edeiken (a cultural connoisseur) to visit the Norman Hall Museum, the author of Mutiny on the Bounty. From within his former home, converted into a museum and maintained by his family, we learned a lot about his remarkable life and WWII heroism.

Eric Rigney sitting at James Norman Hall’s desk.

On our return to Raiatea, we had one more adventure. Instead of flying, we boarded the Hawaiki Nui cargo ship for an overnight ride. It was a good thing we had arranged to travel by boat since we brought home an enormous amount of baggage: new surfboard for Bryce plus Trent’s, a new used kite and kite board, a boogie board, a new room fan for Kandu, large tub of laundry detergent, a heavy box of groceries purchased in Papeete of items unavailable in Raiatea, and of course, our 5 weeks worth of baggage and touristic souvenirs. We lucked out installing ourselves in a comfortable spot on top of the ship under an awning.

Hawaiki Nui cargo ship

Trent Rigney carefully guarding our numerous bags!

With excellent warm breezy weather and a gentle swell, we made our way comfortably back home to Kandu…which incidentally stunk and required 10 loads of laundry to get rid of the mildew odor …ugh, vacation over!

And only ten days later, we flew back to Tahiti to start our two-week Easter Island adventure . . . more to come.

 

Leslie’s Letters 1-1-2017: Ozzi-land

Sydney Harbor Sunset

January 1st, 2017 letter con’t: We found Sydney as equally modern and beautiful as Auckland. There didn’t seem to be grime anywhere. The underground mass-transit trains appeared new. The roads were perfectly paved. Much pride of ownership was displayed in well-maintained homes and buildings. The public parks were very organized with clean toilets!! Eric’s brother, Curtis and his partner, Joel were the most incredible hosts, taking their work vacation days to spend 2 weeks with hanging out with us. We couldn’t have experienced a more incredible time with them and their personal backyard aviary.

Passing quality time with Curtis and Joel was a priority while we worked in some of the iconic must-visit sites during our two weeks in New South Wales like touring Macquairie University to see where Curtis has been teaching Chiropractics all these years.

Chiropractic Lecture Hall created by Curtis Rigney.

Hiking the Sydney Bridge to see a 360 degree view of the entire Sydney Harbor was a definite highlight of our Australian experience.

Rigneyskandu waving at you atop the Sydney Bridge! Click on the VIDEOBridgeclimb

Eric and Leslie Rigney on the Sydney Bridge, December 2016

We took the rapid transit train from Epping several time with Curtis and Joel to travel into the marina district of Sydney called the Circular Quay and The Rocks. Incidentally, Sydney harbor is the most beautiful city harbor I’ve ever seen. All of us ferried over to Manly Beach, a fabulous surfer town not unlike Hermosa Beach. Later with Julie Keizer and Blake, Kandu crew caught another ferry to Watson’s Bay where we gorged on fish’n chips. Both of these were charming Sydney Harbor suburbs.

Walking from the ferry stop through Manly to get to the beach.

The day after Christmas we caught a performance of “A 1903 Circus Extravaganza” in the iconic Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, we then strolled around the incredible sail-like structure to take in the views and nearby botanical gardens. Click on the Video: Sydney-Operahouse
We spent a memorable day with Curtis and Joel hiking and riding up, down, all around as part of the “Scenic World Discovery Tour” in high-flying gondolas, and in an impressive steep grade mining railway – to see the three sister pillars and witness the blue haze caused by the offing of eucalyptus oil in the air.

Trent and Eric Rigney with Three Sisters rock formation in the background.

Rigneyskandu messing around on a decomissioned railway tram.

Wanting to see up close and personal the live endemic animals of Australia, Curtis suggested we spend a morning at a local New South Wales animal shelter called the Koala Park Sanctuary. There we got a chance to pet and feed koalas eucalyptus leaves, and pet and feed wallabies and kangaroos to our hearts content. Click on the Video: KoalaPetting

Daily, just off Curtis’ back porch, we fed directly out of our hands, a flock of 15 Sulfer Crested Cockatoos, Rainbow Lorikeets, wild turkeys, Australian Magpies, Australian King Parrots, Kookaburras, and Galahs. Wow! Such amazing wildlife within arm’s reach.

Cockatoos galore. Click on VIDEO: Lorakeets-KingParrot

Kookaburrah just off Curtis’ backyard. Click VIDEO to hear: Kookaburrah-Calls

Keeping active, the boys enjoyed fun times and surf at some of the famous New South Wales surf spots: Mona Vale, Bonzi beach, Bombo Beach and Terrigal of the Central Coast which was introduced to us by dear friends, Julie Keizer and Blake.

Rigneyskandu with Blake prepping to surf Terrigal Beach, New South Wales, Australia.

Hurray – the waters were a warm welcome compared to those of New Zealand, even enticing me to join in the wave action, boogie boarding. Unlike surfing in the Society Islands where spiky coral reefs hide just under the waves, surfing in NZ and Australia had the benefit of being sand breaks. The boys relished in the freedom of not having to worry about getting caught on coral.

We spent a beautiful day together as a family cooking, eating and drinking on Christmas Eve. Not having spent Christmas together last year (Remember when Kandu and crew whisked off to save a friend’s fishingboat?), it was important for the holiday season to feel like Christmas, sharing the traditions of: a Christmas tree and stockings, giving and receiving gifts, preparing and sharing traditional holiday food, and most importantly taking note of our Blessings.

Rigneyskandu chez Curtis and Joel for Christmas Eve Dinner 2016. Click on VIDEO: Merry-Ozmas-2016

On New Year’s Eve, Curtis, Joel, Joel’s sister, the boys, Eric and I all rode the rapid transit train into Sydney to catch the Sydney Bridge light show and fireworks. It was an incredible testament to an enormous peaceful gathering of all races and traditions using mass transportation. Thousands of people descended on the area to delight in the extraordinary spectacle packing food and drinks. The boys brought along the card game Uno. We started playing and a friendly Pakistani onlooker asked if he could play along – International friendship at its best!

Rigneyskandu at Sydney Bridge New Year’s Eve. Click VIDEO to see fireworks: Syd-New-Years-Eve-2016

Happily, we had the chance to meet up twice with our Ozzie friends from s/v ‘Blue Heeler,’ an eclectic couple with 2 boys of similar age to Bryce and Trent who are similarly avid surfers and skateboarders. We had met them sailing in Moorea and Papeete, Tahiti, and really wanted to catch-up with them in Australia.

RigneysKandu on Wee Kandu in Marina Papeete with Django and Quinn from s/v Blueheeler.

We also chanced to be in Sydney at the same time as Ventura buddy Charlie Richards with his family. At the Circular Quay train station, we said our farewells, till the next time.

Bryce & Trent’s Ventura surf buddy Charlie Richards in Sydney! Click VIDEO: ThreeJumping

Leslie’s Letters: North Island Kiwi-land

north_island_physicalJanuary 1, 2017 – Happy New Year!

The Kandu crew is doing well. All of us are healthy. The boys are growing like weeds and eating up a storm. We have been traveling down under these last 4.5 weeks beginning in New Zealand for 2 weeks followed by 2 weeks in Australia to visit Eric’s brother Curtis who lives in New South Wales just north of Sydney. We are presently relaxing on the plane heading to Auckland and then tomorrow directly back to Tahiti for a week before returning to Raiatea. These last 4 weeks have been an incredible journey of discovery. Our visit to Australia was long overdue considering Eric’s 3rd brother has lived in Sydney for over 13.5 years. Last year, before leaving the Marquesas, we decided we wouldn’t be sailing Kandu to either New Zealand or Southern Australia due to a variety of reasons, so we planned instead to fly over, leaving Kandu safely moored in Marina d’Uturoa, Raiatea.

Not knowing much about New Zealand before planning our visit, we have now learned that the two beautiful islands of New Zealand are sparsely populated with just over 4 million inhabitants most of which live in the cities: Auckland and Wellington in the north, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown in the south. We found Auckland to be thoroughly cosmopolitan with a modernized downtown, rapid transit trains and substantial racial diversity including recent immigrants from India, the Arab world, and China. I was astonished to see and hear so many first generation immigrants. We spent our 2 weeks in New Zealand strictly traveling the North Island, renting a large diesel-powered SUV to explore the island carrying our 5 weeks worth of luggage, 2 surfboards, electronics, and freezer bags to cart perishable groceries.

Shopping mall haven!

Upon arrival in Auckland, we were hosted by friends Odile and Gareth the first two days. Not having been in a commercial mecca for quite awhile, it was great fun to walk through one of their fancy shopping malls, just to buy shoes and groceries – and the food choices were a noteworthy change: lamb instead of fish, L&P soda instead of Coke, kiwis and apples instead of papaya and mangos, pavlova instead of apple pie, plus lots and lots of snack food. MMMmmm good!IMG_1713 “State-of-the-art” life for us in Auckland included catching a ride on their local rapid transit train to the downtown area where we visited the Maritime Museum exhibiting wonderful old Maori rigs in the “Landfalls” exhibit, modern 12-meter sailing boats and a “New Beginnings” exhibition where you meet NZ’s early European settlers hands-on. Plus we hiked up to catch a view of the SkyTower from one of the many local crater cones.Version 2

RigneysKandu with Odile Simkin and children in Auckland.

After Auckland, we drove up into the Northland Peninsula, visiting my longstanding Belgian friend, Muriel and her Kiwi husband, daughters, and family in Whangarei. We took a walk along the city’s newly renovated harbor promenade, played in the park, and then together hiked down to the lovely Whangarei Falls.IMG_1840

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Leslie Rigney with Muriel Willem

The next day, traveling as far north as the Bay of Islands, we toured the idyllic waterfront town of Russell, which boasts the oldest church in NZ called Christ Church. It was such a beautiful resort spot to hang out for the day and night.IMG_1887 In order to get to the town, we took a 12-minute, $12NZD car ferry over the bay from Paihia. We had reserved tickets for a boat tour and chance to swim with the local wild bottle-nosed dolphins. We lucked out, getting that chance. The water temperature was frigid, taking my breath away, yet the four of us braved the chop and paddled close to three males of huge girth. One actually leapt out of the water right in front of us. Darnit – didn’t get a picture of that.

IMG_1927The nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Museum were beautifully renovated and groomed with a lovely interior museum, 120 man wooden canoe, and a live historic reenactment of a Maori preamble ceremony along with traditional song and dance, the most noteworthy being the Haka war dance where they stick out their tongues and flash their eyes ferociously wide open . . . phenomenal!!!

Click on the VIDEOMaori-hakaIMG_1944Due to the boys’ avid interest in surfing, we ventured off the beaten tourist tract to discover gorgeous and incredibly scenic surf sites like Piha (which according to Maori customs is a sacred beach and therefore ‘forbidden’ and dangerous.)

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Bryce Rigney surfing Piha just west of Auckland.

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Lion Rock located at Piha, West Coast of New Zealand.

Bryce recounts his Piha Surf Experience. Click the VIDEO : Bryce-Surf-Piha

Braving the cold water temperatures much like Southern California, Bryce and Trent also got a chance to surf at Raglan (the most famous NZ surf site) also on the West Coast. Unfortunately, every time they surfed the weather and swells just weren’t quite right so the boys didn’t experience the legendary waves of which the regulars boast.

Driving south toward the middle of the North Island, we toured Rangiroa where we visited the steaming sulfur Maori Whakarewarewa thermal grounds (free facials for all!) and village. The local Moaris put on another fabulous show.

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Living Maori Village VIDEO: Living-Maori-Village

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VIDEO: Thermal-geyser

A little southeast of Hamilton, the four of us braved freezing cold spring water, inner tube rafting in the renowned Waitomo Glow-worm Caves (a highlight of our trip) to see the spectacular sparkling walls and where incidentally we were required to leap backwards three separate times dropping down the 5 foot falls to land with big splashes into the dark pools below.IMG_3513With Eric in the movie business and our family being avid Tolkien fans, we couldn’t miss tours to Hobbiton near the town of Matamata and the Weta Movie Studio “Caves” in Wellington! Peter Jackson’s amazing eye for detail was special to witness up close in person!  Click the VIDEOHobbitonIMG_2167 IMG_2109 IMG_2098To Eric, Wellington felt a lot like San Francisco. The hillsides were packed with houses surrounding a large meandering bay that supports a strong maritime industry. Having found excellent private home lodging through AirBnB, we ducked in and out visiting the fabulous Te Papa Museum that houses the incredible “Gallipoli: The scale of our war” exhibit and a natural history section that highlighted the odd animals of NZ, extinct and thriving. We even saw a skeleton of the Moa, a large land bird that was killed off after the arrival of men as early as 1400 CE. We also loved visiting the Wellington Zoo where we went especially to see kiwis.

Cool VIDEO of a live Kiwi: KiwicallsSince w’ere avid Sci-fi moviegoers, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see the recently released film Star Wars: Rogue One showing at the fabulous renovated Embassy Theater where Wellington holds its red carpet world premieres. We enjoyed very much learning about the early years of the Maori Polynesians and how the English’s imminent arrival obviously changed their way of life as the two cultures negotiated and worked to co-habitat the land. Due to living among the French Polynesians for the last year and 1/2, we’ve gained a deeper level of understanding about Polynesian beginnings and present day culture such that learning in-depth about the Maori culture and their present life was enriching.

We were also quite fortunate to enjoy visiting or staying with dear Kiwi friends residing in different areas of the northern island: Rachel & Brent of Omokoroa near Tauranga and Eric’s long standing sailing buddy Tova and her family residing in Palmerston. Each of the four lovely families allowed us a small glimpse into their lives: the special Kiwi foods they enjoy (BBQ’d lamb, vegemite/potato chip sandwiches, L&P soda, great Kiwi wine, pavlova dessert, tea & crumpets), the styles of homes (mostly brick, US mid-western looking), and typical modern clothing (California casual). Throughout the country, there were generally two-lane highways and few freeways around the cities. The countryside was green everywhere you looked (regular rain) with the greater part cleared of forest, allowing for sheep and cattle to graze. Food, clothing, restaurants, products and services all seemed expensive even with our 30% exchange “discount”…fortunately for us the dollar was strong! However, tax and tips are included in marked prices, so perhaps the prices were actually equal. It’s been almost 2 years since we’ve been home; it’s possible that prices in the US have increased. And now that we’re feeding two hungry, growing teenage boys, we can no longer get away with two and 1/2 meals…kids meals are behind us…except for me sometimes . . . LOL.

Rapa Nui: The Navel of the Ocean

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Ahu Tongariki – largest collection of upright statues on Rapa Nui Island.

Rapa Nui has many wonders and unanswered questions. Its remote location, mysterious moai statues, and impressive bird-man competition make it a special place worth visiting, especially if you like to surf. Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is nearly 4 million years old and formed by a series of massive volcanic eruptions. The Island is triangular because of the three volcanoes. All three are now extinct. None have erupted in 10,000 years. Lava tubes and pounding waves have created hundreds of sea caves within Rapa Nui, some of which we saw.

Small entrance, large interior.

Small entrance, large interior, two cliff openings: Das Ventanas Cave aka Two Windows Cave.

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The island is entirely made of volcanic rock caused by a hotspot beneath the Nazca tectonic plate that formed an enormous underwater mountain range,’’ -A Companion To Easter Island (Guide to Rapa Nui) by J. Grant-Peterkin.Rapa Nui Map

Easter Island is the highest point of this mostly underwater mountain range. There are no other islands surrounding it or near it, making it one of the world’s most remote locations. Easter Island was uninhabited for a long time. Prior to humans arriving around 800 CE, only birds and dragonflies occupied Rapa Nui. But don’t worry; there are still tons of dragonflies. We saw a huge swarm of them while eating ceviche at a seaside restaurant.

On horseback, Trent Rigney rode to the top of the highest volcano Maunga Terevaka Hill. The site was breathtaking.

On horseback, Trent Rigney rode to the top of the highest volcano Maunga Terevaka. The site was breathtaking and treeless.

There are 1,032 large stone carvings known as moai, the world-famous statues of Rapa Nui, including moai both repaired and damaged. The first settlers arrived at Anakena Beach. Hotu Matua, the first Rapa Nui king, and his 7 sons most likely came from the Marquesas Islands and populated the territory. Anakena is where a big collection of resurrected statues is located.

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Ahu Nau Nau located at Anakena Beach on the northern side of Rapa Nui Island.

The moai were stood up on platforms called ahu. Older moai were placed to the right, newer moai to the left. When older moai eroded, their pieces were used to rebuild new ahu. New moai were placed on top of it, adding one moai per newly dead chief, about one every 12 years. No other place in the world has statues like this.

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Eric Rigney at Rano Raraku quarry in awe of the 70 foot unfinished prostrate moai.

The sedimentary volcanic rock of Rano Raraku hillsides was perfect for carving statues. It was easy to draw on before you would carve. The moai carvers were master artisans. They even carved drawings on the back of some moai; now considered petroglyphs. Some actually started carving a moai 70 feet long, which is humungous knowing they still had to move it upwards of 14 miles. That moai pictured above and below obviously still lies in the quarry never finished, abandoned like so many others.

Unfinished 70 foot moai

Unfinished 70 foot moai up and to the left of Trent at Rano Raraku quarry.

It could take up to 70 men to move a moai statue using tree trunks to roll the statues over them. And that is thought to be part of the reason why there weren’t many trees on Rapa Nui when explorers arrived and nicknamed it, ‘‘the island without shade.’’ The people turned their trees into statues! It was believed that the statues housed their ancestors spirits, that’s why almost all of them face inland towards their village, to protect their people even after death. Unfinished moai that you see still carved in the stone or just showing their heads at Rano Raraku were either abandoned or waiting to be transported. The moai that you see with just their heads sticking out of the ground are full statues with bodies buried 20 to 40 feet underground.

Most famous Moai pose!

Most famous Moai heads found at Rano Raraku quarry on Rapa Nui Island.

All of the statues that made it to the various ahu platforms located all along the perimeter of Rapa Nui were knocked down during civil unrest probably starting after a Spanish fleet of ships visited in 1770. Today, only a fraction of the statues have been resurrected to standing at just 5 completely restored sites. It’s very expensive to renovate and maintain the archeological sites. Like the unrestored sites, even the restored sites continue to erode every year.

Ahu Tepeu archeological site located on the Western side of Rapa Nui.

Vaihu Hanga Te’e archeological site located on the South Eastern side of Rapa Nui.

Some of the most fascinating things at Easter Island’s Orongo Historical Village are the hundreds of carved birdmen petroglyphs and Makemake images. A new religion and political structure started just before 1800. The new leader of the birdmen people was the man who won the yearly birdman competition by running down the vertical slopes of a crater, swimming out to one of the two motus past sharks, and finally bringing back an unbroken egg strapped to his forehead.

Orange Historical site. Slate houses in the background with Leslie Rigney looking on.

Orongo Historical Village with slate rock houses in the background and Leslie Rigney looking on.

The competitors’ waiting houses in Orongo were made out of slate rock. Because they didn’t have many trees to build with, the inhabitants chipped rock until they had hundreds of pieces. From this, they made flat narrow houses with no windows. The houses didn’t have any modern type doors either. The people had to army crawl through a small tunnel opening to get inside. Surprisingly, one of these houses was big enough to hold a small moai inside.

Moai that resides in London with bird man petroglyphs carved on his back.

Rapa Nui Moai that resides in London with bird man petroglyphs carved on his back.

Europeans came in and destroyed that house taking that well preserved and specially carved moai to London where it presently lives. They also took some large rock slabs that had been painted on the underside in the interior of these rock houses. Years later, a couple of the slabs were returned to Rapa Nui and the destroyed houses have now been restored as you can see above.

Birdman slab painting taken then returned to the Rapa Nui Historical Museum.

Birdman slab returned and now housed at the Rapa Nui Historical Museum.

Visiting Rapa Nui was a great experience. There’s no other place like Rapa Nui. Riding horseback to the top of the tallest crater, I found the island dry but with more trees than I thought there would be. When I saw my first moai, it was impressive but not as amazing as I expected it would be. Orongo’s birdman houses were really well made. I don’t know if that’s how the original people made them or if the park people renovated them better. The view from the Orongo volcano crater was cool and amazing.

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Trent Rigney surfing Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui Feb 2017!

Our stay was terrific: the surfing, moai, traditional Rapa Nui dances, costumes and events during the annual Tapati festival/competition (my favorite was the Triathlon), horseback riding, and the petroglyphs.

CHECK OUT THE VIDEO: Banana running during the Triathlon Triathalon-Rapa

It could be a neat place to live, especially if you speak Spanish. Hasta la vista, baby!

Trent Rigney

Trent Rigney at Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui Island.

Trent Rigney at Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui Island.

 

Running in Papeete

Attn: Bryce Fan Club Membersb-runningTop cross-country (la crosse in French) runners representing islands among all of French Polynesia: Marquesas, Gambiers, Tuamotus, Australs, and Societies competed Thursday in Tahiti. So, yes, in fact, Bryce got the chance to meet up with some of his school friends from the Marquesas. They were happy to see each other and surprised at how much each had grown. Bryce says it was a very positive interaction.

Racing for his College/Lycee des Iles sous le vent d’Uturoa, Bryce’s age group was the most populated, boys born 1999, 2000, and 2001. We haven’t yet the official stats, but Bryce estimated about 125 runners in his category. He believes he was one of the youngest and smallest runners in the group. He placed 25th individually and his Uturoa boys team placed 3rd in its category. He was pleased with his personal result, hoping at the start that he wouldn’t place last. He says their coach set them up with a strategy that provided a successful result. Bryce overtook many of the school’s faster runners, even those who had beaten him in the Marquesas the year before.

His friend, Mihi took third individually in her category, and her team took 3rd as well.

Mihi Boosie winning the chance to go to Papeete where she won 3rd individually in her category.

Mihi Boosie winning the chance to go to Papeete.

Trent’s friend, Hauari’i Cacelin also took third individually in his category. Hauari’i’s grandfather moved here from Mexico City many years ago. A very nice hombre.

Bryce and Hauari'i at Raiatea Airport after returning back from the race the same day.

Bryce and Hauari’i departing from Raiatea Airport, in route to Papeete.

Overall, Bryce had a great day and a half in Papeete, Tahiti. The first stop for all the Lycee d’Uturoa students was….McDonald’s, or in Tahitian slang “Mac Do” (pronounced “mac-Doh”). Then that night, they went to a movie theater (Bryce’s first movie-going experience since March 2015 in Ensenada, Mexico) saw the recently released Disney animated feature set in Polynesia; it’s titled “Moana” in the states.

b-trophy

Bryce Rigney’s team trophy that each teen got to share for a night. A perfect photo op.

We’re very proud of Bryce for his accomplishment, representing again his school in a territorial wide sporting event, being flown and lodged in Tahiti, sponsored by his community and the French Polynesian Territory.

On a side note, while Bryce was in Tahiti, Leslie and I attended parent-teacher conferences for Bryce and Trent on Wednesday. Bryce’s principal teacher (his French teacher) stated that Bryce, based on his grades so far, could take and would likely pass his “brevet des colleges” exam if he were to take it in mid- June. It’s a scholastic certificate between a ‘middle school’ and ‘high school’ diploma (the French school system is a bit different than in the states). The ‘brevet’ is recognized throughout France as an academic achievement, prior to the “bac.” But, he’d have to stay until mid-June to take it. We’ll see, as we were thinking of continuing  our voyaging starting in May 2017.

Leaving this beautiful place of Raiatea will be difficult.

Leaving this beautiful place of Raiatea will be difficult.

 

French Polynesia’s Raiatea

Raiatea Motu. Taha'a in the background.

Raiatea Motu. Taha’a in the background.

Raiatea, the present settlement of Kandu’s crew, is a lagoon-enclosed island satiated with adventures. It is my home for the current school year 2016-2017 and I’m especially excited about the surfing. Raiatea is an island among 118 different atolls and islands in French Polynesia. Tahiti, the biggest island, and Raiatea the third largest are both part of an island archipelago called the Society Islands. It is one archipelago among five others in Polynesia: the Marquesas, Austral, Gambier, and Tuamotu Archipelagos. Easter Island or Rapa Nui is considered Polynesian, but it is not part of French Polynesia. They are linked to Chile and the spoken language is Spanish.

From my experiences traveling three of the five archipelagoes, I found each island/atoll chain is different: different attitudes, personalities, but mainly the different habits displayed by the people. Similarly the geography is different. The Society Islands are surrounded by a giant mass of coral. An atoll is a giant coral reef surrounding an island consisting of numerous layers of coral. As the island in the center shrinks the coral reef grows, growing on top of the layers of dead coral. The space between an atoll and an island is a lagoon like body of water between the island and the reef. The bonus of having a reef around an island is that whenever the wind or waves are robust the island is protected. Every ten years an island is estimated to shrink or sink a single millimeter while the atolls size grows.

Raiatea has a surface area of 238 square miles. It’s located at 16.8°S/Latitude, 151.4°W/Longitude. Raiatea has a buddy island, Taha’a. Most islands don’t have an outer layer of protection (an atoll), so to have two islands inside of one atoll is double rare. Which is the case for Raiatea and Taha’a, they both share an atoll. Together they reach a population of 18,000 people, Raiatea making up 13,000. Compared to Los Angeles of 6 million the island and its population are very small. Yet it beats the population for most of the other islands in French Polynesia, having the second largest city, after Tahiti. Uturoa is the city where Trent and I attend school. We are docked in Marina Uturoa within a 10 minute walk to our school Lycee des Iles-sous-le-vent d’Uturoa.

Marina Uturoa

Marina d’Uturoa and downtown.

Raiatea’s national language is French but most of the locals continue to learn and speak Tahitian. The most commonly practiced religion is Protestant. However 1000 or so years ago it was different, Raiatea was considered the center of Tahitian religion and culture. People would bring gifts to the gods or kill others for sacrifices. Mostly, people visit this island for her beauty and peacefulness. Still today Raiatea is considered the most sacred holy place throughout the South Pacific. Additionally on the islands’ two mountains: Mount Temehani at 650 meters high and Mount Toomaru at 1017 meters high, grows the Tiare Apetahi flower that pops open for sunrise and holds five pedals on one side; it looks somewhat like a human hand. This flower grows nowhere else in the world except for on Raiatea’s two tall mountains.atm60_destination_06
Sacrifices and gifts were given at places known as Marae’s. There are hundreds of them spotted about Polynesia. “French Polynesia’s Taputapuatea marae, is a center for Polynesian seafarers from where they explored Hawaii and New Zealand, now is up for world-wide recognition. France has officially lodged a bid with UNESCO to recognize the Taputapuatea marae on Raiatea Island as a World Heritage site .The culture minister says if approved, it will be the first time a site has been acknowledged in the Pacific for its cultural significance.”

Marae’s today are used for show and tell or exchanging cultural dances. In the Marquesas during big festivals I watched the numerous performances held on Marae’s done by brothering islands giving thanks through their dances and carvings. It was fearsome and overwhelming to see their presentations of costumes!

Snorkeling and exploring of the various sea life is fun for my parents. We hope to partake in some of the known diving possibilities while we’re here. There are many sorts of desirable diving activities. The island contains some of the most spectacular diving on earth; it’s a divers dream! In each pass there exists a drift dive revealing a wide selection of colorful coral, coral canyons and caves. Raiatea also bears a rare wreck dive of a ship with three masts called the Nordby that sunk in 1900. All who know want to go!

On Raiatea my brother and I have been doing a fair amount of surfing, given that there are eight passes to choose from! All you have to do is look up on line for the swell and wind direction, and choose your desired reef pass, but we’ve found that the surfspot Miri Miri is by far the best and most consistent, plus it is relatively close to where we live.

Surfing Raiatea Miri Miri.

Bryce Rigney surfing at Raiatea’s Miri Miri. COOL VIDEO: raiatea-bryce-surf-gopro

I’m enjoying very much our time in Raiatea between the great school experience and the many local sport activities available aside from surfing, like outrigger paddling and running. Turns out Trent and I have been able to participate in outrigger competitions and running competitions. b_friends_pirogueI placed well running and the school just sent me to Papeete to run against 300 of the best runners in the Polynesia Islands. I was the youngest and smallest runner in my category yet I placed 25th out of about 125 boy teens, the largest category ages between 15-17.  It was a GREAT experience and I’m lovin’ life!

Leeward Island Competition at Lycee d'Uturoa where I placed 8th in my category...sufficiently high to compete in Papeete.

Leeward Island Competition at Lycee d’Uturoa where I placed 8th in my category…sufficiently high to compete in Papeete.

Life is short

Trent, Eric & Leslie...Selfie onboard Kandu

RigneysKandu crew minus one…Messing around onboard Kandu

Life is short. How short? If you started it off like it was a race and packed in as much as you could in the early years, how short was it? The year of a child is experienced slowly – so much is new: a three month summer vacation seems endless, Christmas is so far away, turning 16 takes forever, and until then it’s important to account for the months or half years. But to older people starting say in their late 40’s or middle age, time starts to fly. The Christmas decorations were just put away in the attic when it’s time to pull them out again. “Didn’t we just celebrate New Year’s?” The concept of time in a person changes over time. The more time spent on this earthly linear timeline, the more one appreciates time passing. Perhaps a person’s capacity to recall a life is finite, and the events of a lifetime are contained within that common container. For example, if we were to take a football field as a measure of the totality of one’s learning and recollection, and to assign years as fence posts aligned along that 100-yard measure, a person of eight would have to walk a bit between posts. A person of 50 would nearly touch consecutively placed posts, thus the feeling of “Didn’t I just do that?” I know this idea has already been written or recorded by someone. It’s not a new idea. Nothing is new, right? However, I haven’t read it written, it’s simply been mulling around in my head and been part of my conversations for some time.

On a related subject, Eric watched a TV program about the brain and sleep. Each day most people’s brains start afresh like RAM in a computer, empty and ready to load the day’s programs and write the files of our experiences, each and every minute event is recorded to our RAM like a sample plot of audio sound, the soundtrack of our day. The background “noise” of everyday existence . . . driving down a street, listening to the radio, opening a door, putting your keys down, etc., creates an average informational recording level, with the more important experiences peaking above the din as louder “samples.” By 3 p.m., our RAM is nearly full, straining our capacity to “record” more…why it’s good to nap and why it’s harder to learn new things in the evening hours. When we sleep, the brain dials down the “sample plot,” in effect muting the noise level to an inaudible flat line, while leaving compressed peaks of the more substantive memories—the taller the peak, the longer lasting the memory. Especially if reinforced by further study or experience, the peaks get “recorded” to our brain’s “hard drive” as information that is accessible to us always (unless the hard drive starts to fail), not flushed away when we awake with our recently emptied RAM memory, which is again ready to record the new day, starting with “Where did I leave my keys?”

Life is physical. We live on this earth in physical form to help us remember what we’ve learned. It is supposed to be physical, sensory…to feel pain, to feel the body and brain work and to be reminded via headaches, aches or bruises the next day, to feel sexual pleasure, the animal . . . in my case, to learn to sing, to feel the sensation of singing, singing onstage, singing and at once hearing around me Verdi’s Requiem sung by true opera singers; to “smell the roses,” savor chocolate, wine, coffee, madeleines, to play instruments in an orchestra, to learn languages, to communicate avidly and widely; to see sunsets from many angles and latitudes, to fly, to sail, to travel around the world—physically. What is the old adage?: “no teacher like experience, “no learning like doing,” or “learning the hard way.”

Leslie Dennis dancing in Le Nozze di Figaro, Dorothy Chandler, Los Angeles Opera.

Leslie Dennis dancing in Le Nozze di Figaro, Dorothy Chandler, Los Angeles Opera.

This trip of ours is sometimes more uncomfortable than I would have imagined during the years leading up to our departure. But Eric and I are of like mind when it comes to the value of experience. Hardship elevates experience into the “louder” realms of our soundtrack. Comfort and habit often compress to silence such that those ‘calm’ times become arduous to recall where the memories and learning blend together. Instead of specific days or weeks remembered, it’s the year or perhaps the decade in general that marks the time. We hope through this experience, through our daily challenges dealing with electricity, water, communications, provisions, boat maintenance and repairs, small living and storage spaces, foreign cultures, languages, exchanges of money, etc., to create a mountain range of memories for our family, creating bonds to last well into our sons’ elderly years, beyond the time of their parents. I hope to remember this period in our lives not as if it were a dream, but an easily recallable memory…always close, present and influential in my future decision making.

Kandu and a Huahine Sunset

Kandu and a Huahine Sunset