Category Archives: Educational

Samoa Days by Trent Rigney

South Eastern Coastline of Upolu, Samoa

Samoa was a great place to visit. We visited Apia, capital city on the island of Upolu, the smaller of the two islands. The other island is called Savai’i, a bit like Hawai’i. Samoa used to be called Western Samoa to be different from ‘American Samoa.’ ‘American Samoa’ is an American overseas territory. The people of Samoa voted their country name to be simply ‘Samoa’ when it became it’s own country, independent, no longer a protectorate of New Zealand. In Apia, they have great restaurants and really nice people. The food in Samoa is much cheaper than in Tahiti and the people were always smiling. Not much Wi-Fi in Samoa but they have great surf and exciting new things to do.

There are all kinds of special natural wonders on Upolu all owned by different villages. In order to visit these sites, instead of paying a national park fee, you pay the family or village who owns and maintains the site. We got to visit the Papase’ea Sliding Rocks, the To Sua Ocean Trench, and the Piula Cave Pool.

The Papase’ea Sliding Rocks was mind blowing. We asked locals how to get down to the slides just to make sure we wouldn’t get hurt. There were over a hundred well-maintained stairs to walk down. It was a hot day, so there were already a lot of people visiting the falls and slides. Dad asked a local how to slide down the rock. He went first, then I went, Bryce and mom last. It took some time for her to gather her courage. After awhile having slid a lot, Bryce and I went over to the waterfall. I went under and it felt like I was getting a massage. It was the best natural rock slide I’ve ever slid on. We all had a lot of fun.

To Sua Ocean Trench, Upolu, Samoa

The To Sua Trench was nothing I’ve ever seen before. When I saw it, it looked like a big blue hole in the ground. The sides were covered in vines and plants. It was located next to the ocean with what looked like pretty good surf swell. To get down into the water hole, we walked down some stairs then climbed down a ladder made out of huge trees. You can jump off the ladder at whatever height you want (no rules) then swim into the connecting cave. It was lightly raining, not cold though. Bryce and I jumped and swam to our hearts content in the refreshing fresh water.

View from the cliffside next to To Sua Ocean Trench. Could have been good surf!

Another day we got to swim again in cold, fresh water at Piula Cave Pool located on the north side of the island, also right next to the ocean. When you go deep in the cave where it’s dark, your body turns blue. It might turn blue because the water was super clean, or because the rock ceiling dripped water minerals in the water. It sparkled in the sun. There were two caves and we heard they were connected by a small opening that you could swim through, but the passage was dark and under the water so you would’ve had to hold your breath all the way to the other side. We didn’t have a light and a mask, so we didn’t go.

Piula Cave Pools, Upolu, Samoa

We had a great day visiting ‘The Samoan Cultural Center’ to learn about different aspects of Samoan culture. First, a trio of men danced a Samoan paddle dance.

It was much tamer than Marquesian and Tahitian dancing. It wasn’t a war dance as the three men dancing were all smiling. A woman danced too, but all she seemed to move were her arms, hardly any hip and leg movement.

After the dance, the performers treated us to a kava ceremony and explained, back when they were cannibals, if they didn’t give you a kava ceremony they would eat you. Next up, we walked to see real tattooing in progress. Samoan artists like using their old wooden tools, but in an upgraded style. They used to attach shark teeth on a stick, but now they use stainless steel combs. We got to see them tattooing on two Samoan men. It looked very painful. Every Samoan guy has the same tattoo in the same spot. For Samoan men, it’s their dream to get this tattoo, but if you start and then stop because it’s too painful, you disgrace your family. The session goes for an hour a day for six days.

Lastly, we went to see how you could make clothing and artwork from bark. You cut off a branch from a specific tree, and carefully remove the bark. Then they separate the outside of the bark from the inside layer. After, you get two shells, one that is a little sharp and one that isn’t. After you’re done scrapping the bark, it’s six times the size. They stretch it out with rock as weights and let it dry. They dry it in shade letting the wind and air dry it because the sun dries it too fast.

Samoa has some great surf, but you have to pay to surf. Families own surf sites, which I don’t think is right. You can’t own a part of an ocean! Samoa is a Christian place so you can’t surf on Sundays. There are some surf resorts in Samoa and they pay to get permission from the families to go surfing, but they can only allow 12 people to surf at a time. We went to a resort and made an arrangement to surf on the following Monday morning. The spot was an hour and ½ away from our boat, and we wanted to catch the first boat out leaving early from shore at 6:30 am. So we woke up at 4:30 to drive over to the other side of the island and the surfer guide said we couldn’t go surfing with them. He said it in a really mean and aggressive way. We left and searched for another way to paddle out to the surf later that same day. When we arrived, that surf guide was frustrated we were there.

Internet photo of Salani reef

It’s said that Samoa and Tonga are where all the Polynesians came from and that the islands form a triangle in the Pacific from New Zealand in the west, to Hawaii to the north and Easter Island at the eastern corner and all the French Polynesia islands are in the triangle. Rapa Nui is the island where the performers wear the least amount of clothing when they dance. Performers in French Polynesia and Hawaii wear similar clothing, using grass and leaves, coconut shells and pareos. In New Zealand, dancers wear warmer outfits sometimes with fake animals skins. It’s cold in New Zealand even in summer.I loved the rockslide and the trench. Bryce and I had a great day surfing the Salani reef. I loved how Samoa, being next to ‘America Samoa,’ had my favorite chips that we’ve not found anywhere else: Spicy Hot Cheetos. We were going to tour Savai’i but immigration would only let us check out from Apia and dad didn’t want to sail back against the wind. After just one week only, we left to Fiji.

Daily Log Notes: Suva, Fiji by Leslie

Suva Harbor, Fiji

6-3-2017 9:00 pm

We pulled-up anchor to depart Suva, the capital of Fiji, late this afternoon at sunset around 5:30 pm. Eric estimates our arrival at Musket Cove Marina (surf extraordinaire!) around 2:00 pm tomorrow. The sky was gently crying in anticipation of our departure. The guys did a bang-up job getting the topside ready in the wetness. There was much to do: rinse the small outboard with fresh water, hoist ‘Wee Kandu,’ our dinghy, up on deck, tie it down, move our larger 10 horse outboard engine to the aft stanchion fitting (it was straining the mast pulpit where it sat previously), set-up the lines to sail and prep the cockpit. Bryce and Trent’s hands and minds are remembering what to do without having to be directed. It’s terrific that I don’t have to prep both topside and down below too. Always when living aboard, things are pulled-out to use and then not put back in their designated places. The laundry hadn’t yet been stowed; groceries needed to be organized and dishes required washing and stowage. It’s quite the preparation. But if everyone does his or her part, it can be relatively quick.

Due to our latest experiences departing into rolling seas, we all swallowed anti-nausea, seasickness medicine earlier in the day around lunchtime. We are all benefiting immensely from having taken the precaution.

9:30 pm – Ohh – the rain and wind have picked-up. It’s a soggy night, but had we waited, the weather & conditions were only going to worsen. Happily, our hard dodger is providing more than sufficient shelter to hide behind out of the wind and most of the wetness. I’m not wearing a raincoat as it’s not cold, although my bottom is soaked through. On nights like this, along with our doubly equipped lifejacket/harness, we wear a tether line attached to a solidly anchored cockpit ring. After two and ½ years of use, our poor lifejackets have unfortunately developed spots of black mold. I cleaned them well before leaving Raiatea with soap, water, vinegar and anti-mold spray to no avail. Evidently, I wasn’t able to eliminate all the mold spores that insist on living. The jackets look quite nasty and smell worse. I’ll have to try and clean them again. Ugh! At US$250 a pop, they are worth not replacing. Plenty of other things to spend our money on.

Friendly supermarket employees.

With time to reflect, I think back on our recent experience. Suva is a small city bursting with energy. There are taxis galore with friendly drivers. All the people we met, Fijian and East Indian, were cordial and helpful. “Bula-bula.” I felt welcome. Eric had heard that the population was instructed to be friendly and helpful to tourists to encourage tourism. Well, their outward enthusiasm affected all of us positively. Someday, if the opportunity were to arise, I would love to visit again.

Bryce Rigney at the entrance of Village 6 Cinemas in Suva, Fiji.

The city of Suva is the most attractive city we’ve seen out of all the islands we’ve visited so far, perhaps because its movie theatre was modern and clean….lol. Like in Samoa, we were so starved for a modern film experience that we attended movies every evening since there was nothing else going on and the ticket price was a mere $4.00 USD per person. We enjoyed seeing great Bollywood films along with international box office hits: Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the very silly Bay Watch. Bollywood theatergoers seemed especially amused by our presence, almost giggling as our family entered the cinema chamber and found our seat assignments, as if they thought we were lost, surprised even more so that we returned after the obligatory Bollywood intermission. We thoroughly enjoyed Suva’s East Indian cultural influence in clothing, work ethic, and on the delicious food flavored with Indian spices, although it’s typically quite salty.

Suva was also one of the most plentiful and resourceful of cities we’ve visited. Eric was even able to replace our shattered cockpit dodger window with Safety E glass, matching what was lost. Just as with the rest of Fiji, the glass cutting was immediate and inexpensive. One USD equals two Fijian.

Taro galore!

The outdoor vegetable market offered a large selection of beautiful and proudly displayed seasonal foods: pineapples and mandarin oranges were the most plentiful and succulent. Unfortunately, their grapefruits were dry and terrible: nothing like Polynesia’s succulent ‘pomplemouse.’ Lots of okra, huge yam roots, taro, cucumbers, papaya, eggs, cabbage, bok choi, green beans, carrots, celery, and delicious drinking coconuts were for sale. The fishermen offered a variety of small and large fish, green crabs of all sizes, sea grass, sea grapes, clams and lobsters. It was a cornucopia of plenty. With so many choices of fresh foods to eat, the population looked healthy and fit with bright, naturally straight teeth.

Salty sea grapes traditionally served with grated coconut.

Yesterday, on our last day, Bryce and I stocked up on the many fresh selections at the market plus stopped in a local store to pick-up bread and boxed milk. Thank goodness I had a helper to help carry the many shopping bags. Feeling it would not be convenient to walk our folding aluminum cart into the city center, we instead hired a taxi from and to the Royal Suva Yacht Club where our dinghy was docked. It was a five-minute dinghy ride to Kandu, anchored with other sailboats in the murky bay. Our 10hp outboard having developed a problem with its propeller the night before, we were relegated to use our slower and noisier 3hp. At least it was downwind.

Rigneyskandu posing outside the National Fijian Chief Hall where chieftains meet to discuss local policies.

And finally, Suva is where Eric, before leaving Raiatea, found that the US Embassy would be willing to allow a commercial courier to ship our boys’ renewed passports to his brother in Sydney. Samoa would not, and no other location would be as convenient as Fiji or Samoa. Suva’s newly constructed US Embassy was pristine and heavily guarded. The guards at the guard station joked with Trent that they’d play on his DS while he was inside. Leaving, Eric joked, “Even the fountain water tastes American!”

Daily Logs: Maupiha’a and Mr. Toad

Daily Log Notes & Observations by Leslie Rigney

Mipaha’a lagoon

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 – Back on the blue. We had an exceptional time in Maupiha’a (Mopelia). The dinner we shared with Norma and Harris was absolutely delicious. It started out with a home-brewed aperitif made from leavening, water and lychee fruit, aged over three months. Incredibly tasty! We should have gotten the recipe! We then enjoyed a coconut palm heart salad, seasoned rice with home grown green beans and as much lobster and coconut crab as we could eat, perfectly cooked and seasoned. The coconut crab was my favorite as I had never seen or experienced it before. Then dessert was a delicious fruit salad of papaya, banana, and coconut shavings served with chocolate cake that we brought.

Coconut crab served for dinner.

The boys opted out of the cake if you can believe it, because they had previously set-up their tent and bedding for a campout on coconut crab motu. With the setting sun, they needed to zoom away before they could no longer see the coral obstacles! We didn’t hear from them again until morning, but we worried terribly, as a nasty storm blew in just after Eric and I returned back to the boat after dinner, rocking the boat violently all night long.

Here is Bryce’s recount of that crazy night: “Trent and I set-up our tent and bedding while there was plenty of sun before dinner. We returned to the crab-inhabited motu after dinner at sundown with the dinghy. We made sure to tie securely the dinghy to a tree in order not to lose it or we would have in BIG trouble. From the beach, we walked back to the tent on our way collecting firewood as there were dead trees everywhere. I used the skills that I had learned while camping with friends in Raiatea: how to collect palm fronds and turn them into bundles of fire starting material. With dry leaves collected from under a big tree and piled over rocks made into a hill, unlike in survivor, I started the fire with a bic. Then we added sticks and palm fronds over that. Once ignited, it burned hot. I turned on my little boombox to calm our nerves about the possible invasion of crabs that we had been warned about during dinner…we were a tad bit nervous. We looked for more firewood to last the night and prayed that it wouldn’t rain. As Trent was collecting firewood, I heard, “Oh my God!” coming from Trent’s direction. “Bryce, Bryce, LOOK, there’s one of those crabs!” The body was the size of a man’s hand lengthwise. It was dark blue in color – they only turn red when they’re cooked. The legs made it look enormous. So I grabbed my machete and forcibly pushed it away as a warning so it wouldn’t come nearer to our camp. The crab was not aggressive, just curious. He quickly scuttled away. We saw three of them in total, but after we scared the first one away, the others didn’t approach. I think we were camped close to the first crab’s nest. It became very dark, so we scrambled inside the tent to play cribbage. We started to fall asleep, when we heard sprinkling rain. Trent said, “Gee, I hope our tent is waterproof!?!” Then it started to rain harder. We felt a couple drips, but thought, “Oh, we’ll be fine.” A little later, we spread out our feet and felt water. Water had started to pour into the side of our tent. Thank goodness Mom had the idea to bring mats to sleep on. As it was we were getting soaked. Then the wind picked up and it started to rain harder. The top of our tent, even covered with a fly, dripped constantly. At about 2 in the morning, we thought about going back since the rain had stopped, but then it started raining in force again. We slept poorly, wet and cold, huddled together soaked on our somewhat dry mats. Of course, our fire was drenched. Up at sunrise, we quickly packed-up and returned to Kandu. Mom and Dad were relieved to see us and the dinghy in tact! Evidently they had worried about us all night long.”

The next morning, due to not getting quality sleep, the boys slept on the boat while Norma and Harris took Eric and me on a ride in their four wheeler to the other end of the atoll. The men rode in the front cab while Norma and I enjoyed a pleasant outdoor air ride in the back lounging on a wooden loveseat. At the end of the driveable atoll, we met a couple that hailed from a family that had lived on the atoll the longest. Along with harvesting copra, they raised pigs. Their living quarters were simple, yet tidy. The 4 pigs were all females and babies; the males had already been harvested. Fresh off the tree drinking coconuts were offered all around…what incredible hospitality.

Norma, Harris and their lovely friends.

Making our back to chez Norma and Harris, Harris stopped off to determine a good small palm tree to harvest for eating. It was amazing how he chopped down and then stripped the outer bark to expose the soft inner whites of the interior…palm heart. The palm heart Harris offered us was enormous, the size of a T-Rex bone. It tasted sweet with a delicate flavor of coconut, bien sur!

 

5/10/2017 10 pm

Leaving Maupiha’a lagoon in the late morning, we were on our way to Apia, Samoa. It’s a solid portside broad reach – our main sail, fluorescent orange staysail, and genoa are flying. The two larger sails, main and genoa, are reefed to maximize power but minimize heeling over, thus increasing our balance. Due to the large swell, it’s a ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.’ Trent was nervous to perform the first watch, but armed with his new book, he faired well. No rain, but nevertheless wet due to ocean spray into the windward side cockpit. All hatches and port-lights are locked down tight. The swell is large and pushes us over regularly. Everything is rattling.

5/11/2017 6:00 am. Exhausted, Bryce woke me early. Rough night. Eric was up a several times. The wind got stronger during the night. They had to furl in the genoa.

5/11/2017 11:30 pm. Not much has changed. Still wild though I dared to make pancakes this morning and pasta spaghetti for dinner….no easy feat when the pots want to come tumbling off the already gimbling stove. Had a few spills making the sauce. Bryce made Capuccino this morning and spilled the entire quantity. In reaction, he threw a spoon. When I spill something due to an aggressive wave, the expletives are many!

Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink!

Tupa Mascot of Raiatea

Skateboard park mural art in downtown Uturoa, Raiatea honoring the Tupa crab.

In Raiatea, the tupa (land crab) is the island mascot. Its image is featured on all the local island and city insignia. Whenever you walk along the waterfront road, these little crabs scramble for cover, hoping to avoid being someone’s dinner. In fact, the edible tupa are revered for their prolific nature, quick to reproduce and prepare for dinner. During years of island famine, tupa provided necessary sustenance for its otherwise starving people.

2017 mural painted on a city hall wall during the graffiti Intl art festival, Uturoa.
Located at a turnaround in the middle of the town Uturoa welcoming drivers to town.
City and island map in downtown Uturoa, Raiatea. Note the crab insignia in the upper left corner.

VIDEO: Tupa crab on the move!

We were invited to a fundraising event on the southwest side of Raiatea. Among the typical Polynesian fare of roasted breadfruit, pulled pork, coconut milk taro and banana poi, they offered the below delicacy. The inside was like a cream soup a la tuna flavor. It really was quite delicious.

Tupa crab bodies cooked and served at a huge fundraising event. Delicious!

These little crabs are harmless and sorta charming. After being in Raiatea for some time, they grow on you. Thus inspired, I drew my own reminder of these silly land crawlers that show enormous bravery under stress when caught outside their dugout holes.

Zentangle drawing 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

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.

Trent Rigney and Australian Rainbow Lorikeets

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

DSC03216
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.)

DSC03202
Bryce Rigney surfing Piha just west of Auckland.
DSC03137
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.

Raglan Beach

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.

IMG_2236

Living Maori Village VIDEO: Living-Maori-Village

IMG_2214

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

DSC04363
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.

IMG_5115
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.

DSC04341 (1)
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.

IMG_4823
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.

DSC04844
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.

 

Fakarava, Tuamotus by Trent

Just north of the South Pass of Fakarava on a calm morning.
Just north of the South Pass of Fakarava on a calm morning.

My family and I stayed inside the lagoon of Fakarava for two weeks this past June on our way to Tahiti. There was much to see and experience while we visited the atoll. It was an awesome place to discover. One of 76 atolls in the Tua Motus of French Polynesia, Fakarava is located in the Southern Pacific Ocean southwest of the Marquesas Islands and northeast of Tahiti. Like all atolls, it is hard to see sailing toward it as it is a low lying coral reef surrounding a lagoon that at one time was an island having sunk millions of years ago. Its reef crown is an unusual rectangular shape; most atolls are round shaped. Considered the second largest atoll of the Tua Motus after Rangiroa, it is 60km (32 miles) long and 25km (15 miles) wide. You cannot see to the other side of the atoll it’s that large.

Fakarava as seen from satellite.
Fakarava as seen from satellite.

Fakarava has two main villages, Rotoava in the north side where they is an airport, two roads, a couple food stores, a café or two, a hotel, a couple pensions, a pearl store, a small elementary school, and 4 dive shops. It is where the large ships dock and where most of the people live. Tetamanu village in the south can only be reached by boat, has zero cars, and one family run dive center and pension. It is where the first church was built in all of the atolls in 1874. The church is special because it was constructed entirely out of coral blocks made by heating coral into ash and once cooled, shaping the ash into blocks with water mixed in. The mortar and stucco are all made out of coral ash and water. Once dried, the blocks and mortar are as solid and heavy as cement. Amazing!

Fakarava has a couple black pearl farms and is the only atoll that has a pink sand beach, which we purposely visited while in the south to bring back home a vial of the unusual sand for our sand collection.

Fakarava Pink sand beach.
Fakarava Pink sand beach.

But most importantly of all, the atoll is known for it’s incredible diving sights and crystal clear waters. The atoll draws most of its income from pearl farming and tourism. It is known for its marine bio-diversity and as such is a UNESCO protected reserve. The UNESCO acronym stands for: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

There are two passes of entrance into Fakarava lagoon. Garuae in the north is the biggest pass in all of the Tua Motus, and Tamakohua in the south. Or you can just fly into the northern airport, which is what most people do. When we went through the northern pass, it was late in the day, raining and windy plus the tide was exiting. Kandu can motor 6 knots, but the current and wind were so strong that we pushed through the water at only 2 knots over ground. It was stressful. To look for coral heads, Bryce was ordered to climb the mast in the rain.

Trent very happy to be anchored in North Fakarava after 5 days at sea!
Trent very happy to be anchored in North Fakarava after 5 days at sea!

Fakarava is the only atoll we visited out of all the 76 atolls. Most atolls have really good diving, but especially Fakarava because it has two passes and several dive shops to rent equipment. I got certificated in diving there as well as my brother. It was amazing to dive. We got to see so many different interesting plants and animals under the water. The coral gardens were very beautiful in Fakarava because the lagoon’s water circulates vigorously in and out two times per day due to the fluctuating tides. The water is not at all polluted as there aren’t any mountains for water to run-off and hardly any people live there to dirty the water. The people grow coconut trees to harvest copra, but because the coral is nutrient starved, people have to import dirt if they want to grow other trees in their back yard. There are not many of the typical tropical fruit trees there, which was why we brought large bags of Marquesan limes, oranges and grapefruit with us to consume and to share with the locals.

When we first got to Fakarava, it was rainy and cloudy for three days. It was not very hospitable, but in those three days Bryce and I became certified scuba divers in private lessons (we were the only ones there) and learned how to dive down to 80 feet which was amazing. Bryce and I already had a little experience breathing pressurized air underwater using our hookah while cleaning the underside of Kandu, but being free to swim long distances underwater was marvelous. The first reef dive I did was the most memorable because it was extraordinarily beautiful. My parents, Bryce and I dove together over a colorful reef that had hundreds or maybe thousands of fish so close I could practically touch them. I also saw many sharks swimming around. The next day we dove again in the north passage to try to see three hundred sharks but when I got in the water and swam down I noticed that there weren’t three hundred, instead maybe one hundred which was still quite special. The current was strong that dive, so our instructor suggested we carefully hold on to some coral while looking around in one spot in order not to breath all our air. At one point the current was so strong I felt like I was super man. My brother took a GoPro picture upside down.

Scuba diving in Fakarava.
Scuba diving in Fakarava.

Fakarava boasts three main kinds of sharks: black tip, white tip, and grey fin, along with the occasional hammerhead and tiger sharks. Once a year during the full moon in June the sharks assemble to mate and to feast on the groupers that congregate there also to mate. We were very fortunate to be in Fakarava during the month of June to witness this special gathering of marine life. fakarava-sharksThere was a 2016 Fifo documentary called “Le Mystere Merou” that filmed all about the gathering sharks and groupers. While we were moored in the south, four film crews, one from Japan, Australia, Britain and the same French documentary crew arrived to film what we got to see in person.

While in the north, along with diving, we enjoyed an incredible guided night walk along the coral reef of the outside atoll rim. Our guide showed us how to catch fish without a hook and line, but by using a club to stun them; he chased and caught three medium sized reef fish in the dark! He also taught us how to grab crabs from behind; none of us dared try! He discouraged us from collecting live shells from the coral reef, yet along the dry beach during our walk back, we amassed quite a few beautiful specimens empty of critters. During our return to the car, it started to blow and pour down rain. Luckily it wasn’t particularly cold as we all got soaked.

Up-down video
Up-down video at Snack Plage. Take a look at our Silly Video: up-down

We stayed in North Fakarava for a week to obtain our diving certificate. While there we enjoyed fun times at Snack Plage of the nearby Pearl Havaiki Pension and tied into the web at a local cafe: La Paillote.

Enjoying snacks and wifi at La Paillote, Fakarava.
Enjoying snacks and wifi at La Paillote, Fakarava.

Then the wind changed coming from the south which generated a large uncomfortable fetch, so we decided to sail down to the south pass, which was not nearly as fun as the northern pass because the diving lessons were over. After three hours of motoring against the wind, we tied up to a brand new, free mooring buoy provided by UNESCO to protect the coral; that made things easy and very secure against the powerful wind. All we needed to do was attach two strong lines around the mooring loop, and then we dropped the dinghy in the water and motored to Tetamanu village to look around.img_0386You can surf at the south passage but it is dangerous because the coral reef is covered by only three feet of water. If you fall you’re likely to get hurt on the reef. Despite knowing the conditions, Bryce and I went to observe the surf spot anyway, while mom and dad went to deliver a large sack of grapefruit to the owner of the dive and pension center. When Bryce and I went off exploring, we found the coral block church; it was still there with a new coat of paint (on a side note – Mom sang there during their evening Saturday service). It looked bright and cheerful.

South Fakarava Catholic church newly renovated.
South Fakarava Catholic church newly renovated.

Back to our exploring, Bryce and I walked along the coral-lined pass and finally arrived at the intimidating surf spot. True to its reputation, we noticed that the waves crashed over a very shallow reef. We studied the daunting spot for a bit. The waves were perfect but the reef was not good. As we were walking back my parents also wanted to see the surf spot, so we returned together and watched the waves again. Since my brother really likes surfing and insisted on going, my dad figured out a way to get close to the surf by dinghy instead of trying to walk over the prickly coral reef.

Prickly coral path on the way to study South Fakarava Pass surfing waves.
Prickly coral path on the way to study South Fakarava Pass surfing waves.

A couple mornings later we got ready to go surfing. When we all arrived in the dinghy at the spot, Bryce and I were really excited and scared of the reef, but we headed out ignoring our fear. My mom and dad were watching from a little distance attached to a mooring while the two of us paddled together to the surf. The surf was so crazy that Bryce and I only caught one or two waves during that hour, but we felt it was a good start.

Finally the weather and water cleared to allow us to dive the southern pass. We all woke up early, ate breakfast quickly, and then prepared our equipment to dive. Before heading out from the dive center, the dive instructor gave us instructions on what we were going to do; we then loaded into the dive boat, motored to the middle of the south pass and fell backwards into the water. That dive wasn’t super exciting because there were several other people along with us. Yet we did see many groupers stealthily posing among the coral heads eyeing us as we floated by, plus we got to touch a couple large and colorful sea slugs.

Looking up at a shark.
Looking up at a shark.

We dove the south pass again the next day just the four of us and while we didn’t see nearly as many groupers, we witnessed four hundred sharks swimming nonchalantly nearby and a really big spotted bat ray; that second dive was so much better. Later that night we motored our dinghy over to a pizza restaurant built on a motu to meet up with three other boats. That’s where Bryce and I first met Emily and Isabelle from the sailboat ‘Blue Raven.’ It had been so long since we ate pizza that we ate so much it hurt; it was delicious! The next day we arranged a movie swap with the girls. Hurray, we got new movies! And just two days later after lots of snorkeling and our last surf session when Bryce left behind a couple chunks of skin from his foot, we departed Fakarava to sail to Tahiti. The weather indicated it was time to go.

Our stay in Fakarava was one of the best so far. My favorite part was learning how to dive. What an incredible pleasure to dive in warm and exceptionally clear water. I can’t wait to dive some more at other places in the world.

Our iconic image of Fakarava.
Our iconic image of Fakarava. It really looked like that!

My Va’a Experience, Marquesas, Part I

Bryce Rigney carrying a borrowed V-1 after racing well.
Bryce Rigney carrying a borrowed V-1 after racing well against his college teammates.

The most respected sport in all of French Polynesia . . . ? The answer is va’a, Tahitian for outrigger canoeing. This is a sport for real athletes. Va’a involves endurance, strength, killer technique, innate talent, and most importantly, teamwork. It is also one of the few ways to earn Marquesan respect. Other ways include becoming a prolific fisherman, enrolling in their local school, or having your body tattooed from head to toe. My name is BRYCE RIGNEY and I can check two of these off my list. I have been attending a public Marquesan secondary school and I’m a part of the school’s paddling team, seated as my team’s faharo. In two months Marquesas will send 14 of their best college (secondary school) students to represent them in Moorea in the prestigious Eimeo Race where we’ll battle it out against 42 other French Polynesian schools and one team from Hawaii.

Images of what's to come!
Images of what’s to come!

In the beginning . . .

It all started in mid-October 2015 with the beginning of the school’s new paddling program for kids 14 and older. The first after-school paddling sessions were difficult and crazy. Forty kids showed up on the first day, each wanting to learn how to paddle. But there were only 15 paddles. Fortunately, the instructors brought their own paddles to share. For boats, we paddled double-hulled outrigger canoes, one V-12 and a V-6. The word “V-12” is short for “va’a 12,” which is a pirogue (French for outrigger canoe) built for 12 paddlers. FYI – A mix of French, Tahitian, and Marquesan are spoken in the Marquesas. Anyway, so instead of one long canoe for 12 people, with two long wooden arms called aito, they attach two V-6’s together to make one double-hulled canoe. A double-hulled canoe is much more stable than a single-hulled canoe with a small outrigger, an important feature when just starting to learn how to paddle an outrigger canoe. So, a V-3 holds three people, and a V-1 is for a single paddler. To create a double-hulled V6, they tied two V-3’s together. Together, the two double-hulled canoes carried 18 students at a time. It was obvious to the instructors that none of us were in shape for paddling and that va’a was a new sport for all of us. Being it was the first time for most, including me; we tired easily those first weeks.

Bryce Rigney paddling with his college piers as Fahoro in a V-6 pirogue.

After 3 weeks, the number of kids showing up for practice dwindled to 20.  That’s when the real training began. We started with 3km tours without rest, which progressed to 4km tours, then doubled to two 4km tours with a stop between tours, and then a 6km tour without a break. After two months of paddling, 18 kids remained. That’s when the college sports instructor, Cathy, informed all paddlers that there would be a 42km, 9-stage race around the island of Moorea, to be held in two months, and that from the 18 remaining kids, only 14 would be chosen to represent the entire Marquesas archipelago. All the kids were shocked when she told us. Training stepped up yet again. No longer just Mondays and Wednesdays, we were told to come on Tuesdays and Saturdays as well. At that time, I started to doubt whether I liked the sport enough to endure the training. Each day was 4km tour day (YAY!! . . . NOT!!) with a 1km “cherry” sprint on top. At the end of each practice we were exhausted, having worked practically every muscle in our bodies. Another month passed and the 4km tours were getting easier. That was when coach Cathy and the trainers said that in a week they would decide who would represent the Marquesas in this year’s Eimeo race.

Being that we were getting close to the day of the race, I decided to buy myself a custom wooden outrigger canoe paddle, made by hand by of one of the other paddler’s dad. There were many reasons why I wanted my own paddle. Everyday at paddle practice, we would get whatever paddle the trainers handed us. I had to get acquainted with each paddle, adapting to a different weight, texture, and length. Second, when my mom wasn’t using her custom paddle, I’d try to borrow it. But sometimes she’d be paddling at the same time, so I couldn’t use it. I no longer wanted the stress of wondering if I could or couldn’t use her paddle. I just wanted my own. Thirdly I thought it would be a great souvenir to take with me from our around the world sailing trip. For just $80 US, I could have my own handmade paddle. After just one week of waiting, the masterpiece was in my hands. I was excited to test it out and show it off. Being a non-practice day, the day I took possession of it, I took out a friend’s V-1 and tested the new instrument. It was incredibly light and the length was perfect. At the end of the 4km paddle test-drive, I was satisfied with my investment: those 80 dollars were definitely worth it. To really make it mine, I decided to add a little something special to set it apart from other paddles; I carefully placed a Hinanao vahine beer sticker on the blade. The first time my teammates saw my new paddle, they admired it.bryce-w-paddleTeam selection . . .

Monday, three weeks before the Eimeo Race, training was intense. There were three teams. I was part of team 1 and sat in the first seat (Fahoro). Seated behind me were the two best girl paddlers. In seat four was the paddle shaper’s son, Jordi. Then sat the biggest paddler in our paddle group, Keoni, followed by the school’s best helmsman, Raphael, a French kid. Our pirogue was to verse two other canoes in a 4km practice race around Taiohae Bay. One of the opposing canoes consisted of four of the counselors and two strong teen boys. They would be our greatest threat. Frankly the third boat isn’t worth mentioning. Vanena hoe!!! And with that Tahitian shout, the teams were off and paddling. Each member of the three pirogues were paddling at once, trying with each stroke of their paddles to lift their pirogues out of the water, working ferociously to get their boat to plane or glide in order to take the lead. The counselors’ boat quickly took the lead with us right behind. One and half kilometers into the race, little had changed. When the counselors’ pirogue made the first turn around the anchored sailboats and toward the big wharf/fuel dock, our boat gunned it: everyone pushing, rowing, and breathing in perfect unison. Soon we were side by side, us versus them. After five minutes of intense paddling our pirogue took the lead. Once we were one V6 length ahead, I slowed the pace down, maintaining our glide without tiring us out before the finish line. Over the next 2 km, we maintained our boat-length lead. With only a half kilometer to go, our pirogue decided to step it up and finish hard. The captain ordered a three “hip” tempo. By the end of the 4km race, our boat finished first with the distance of two V6’s between us. I don’t even remember what happened to the third boat.

My team's V-6 is in front!
My team’s V-6 is in front during a sprint!

That finish signaled the end of that day’s practice too. After carrying the pirogues out of the surf and onto the turf for overnight storage, the professor called everyone over. She announced, “These are the students who will race in Moorea. Pirogue team set A – Bryce, Keoni (the girl), Jordi, Keoni (the guy), Esperance, and Raphael.” I was super excited. We would remain the same group as we had just raced. She then announced the members for Pirogue team set B. She explained that these were the two teams that would switch off paddling the one canoe around Moorea over the 9 stages. The only bad thing was that with only three weeks left before the big race, rowing practice would only get harder, and it did.

bryce-and-teamThe next week, practice started as normal, with two 4 km tour, but with an added capsize drill at the end of the second tour. The following week, training ramped up more. It transformed into a single 8 km non-stop tour. At the end of training, we were all beat. I questioned whether I would have the stamina for the Moorea race. On the final week before we were to be air-bound, Cathy told us that in addition to racing around Moorea, the guys had to practice the traditional Marquesan warrior dance called haka putu, to be performed in front of all the other Eimeo racers. The other guys and I took each opportunity that week to practice our dance: before paddling, after paddling, and in-between lunches at school. For all the other male teammates, it was easy to dance and chant since they grew up with the dance and spoke Marquesian. But for me, it was a challenge. Memorizing the chant was the hardest, but I knew I could do it. On Wednesday, Cathy huddled all the kids over to remind us of what to bring for the trip: limited to two bags, lots of protein bars for the intervals between stages when we’d be on the team’s support motorboat, and money for the things we would surely want to buy in Tahiti. Everyone prepared for Tuesday’s departure, the start of our small adventure to Tahiti and Moorea.

For Monday’s practice, the day before we were to fly out, only a handful of the kids came to paddle. The two V6 pirogues were required to paddle 8 km. The first half we paddled at a moderate pace; the second, at a faster pace. Even though it was 8km our teams were ready for more, well worked but not exhausted.

That night I packed six t-shirts, six shorts, seven pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, sandals, pillow, blanket, rain jacket, sun glasses, hat, iPod (for music), and toiletries. I was so excited to travel by airplane and to explore a completely different island from the one I was use to. In the morning I packed a few more things for the race: my life jacket and my good-luck paddle.

All that rowing
Benefits of all that rowing!!
Bryce's V-1 outrigger drawing
Bryce’s V-1 outrigger drawing