In just 200 years the small island of Singapore, perched at the very end of the Malaysian peninsula, has turned into a high-tech city country with a multitude of humongous high-rises housing 5 million people. Singapore is going to be celebrating their 200th year anniversary, from 1819 to 2019, in two years.
The country of Singapore is 269 square miles. Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US, is 4 times larger with just a fifth of the population. The people in Singapore are a mix of 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian, and the rest are foreigners. They speak many languages Malay, Mandarin Chinese, English, and Tamil but they often speak ‘Singlish,’ a combination of Malay, Chinese, and English. Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819 when it was just a fishing village and turned it into what it is today. The favored Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, served from 1960 to 1990 after Singapore declared independence in 1963. Religions are freely practiced in Singapore and Mahayana Buddhism is the most practiced, but they also practice Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. During my stay in Singapore my favorite spots were the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the adjacent Gardens By the Bay. We also visited Little India and looked in a lot of shopping malls.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel is impossible to miss. It has three 55-story hotel towers, and all three are connected by a roof terrace that looks like an enormous surfboard. The hotel has 2,561 rooms. Just across the street the Marina Bay Sands Mall has two movie theaters, an ice skating rink, and two crystal Pavilions. At the very top of the hotel they have an awesome infinity pool, one of the nicest swimming pools I’ve ever seen and certainly the highest.
We ate ‘linner’ (late lunch/early dinner) on top of the surfboard at the ‘Skypark’ restaurant, but only guests can swim in the pool. But the best part about going to the hotel is The Gardens by the Bay, a nature park, located just across the street.
The gardens are so big they’re divided into three sections: Bay South, Bay East, and Bay Central. It reminded me of Disneyland. The gardens were planted with over 250,000 rare plants, and of course the 16-story, man-made ‘supertrees’ that collect rainwater and solar power especially built for observation are impressive. Bryce and I walked on the skywalk, which is suspended between two ‘supertrees’ and has a great view of the garden and the hotel. At night they say they have a great light show.
Singapore has tons of high fashion specialty malls. Orchard Road is a great shopping center like Rodeo Drive in LA or Union Square in SF. We only had a little time in Orchard Road, so we visited the ION Mall. The ION Mall had the most expensive things I’ve ever seen. My favorite things in the mall were the Golden Phantom speakers, best speakers in the world. It’s too bad we couldn’t see all the malls but we had a great time visiting the best ones.
At the entrance to Little India are two specially made great elephants decorated with colorful plastic flowers like a Rose Parade float. Little India is a great place to find cheap food and cheap clothing. I bought my favorite shirt here. They have many Hindu Temples in Little India. ‘Sri Veeramakliamman’ is the most colorful that we saw and well crafted in Little India. We spent a lot of time in Little India. We happened to be there during Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights celebrating good over evil. The streets and stores were festively decorated with hundreds of worshipers milling around in traditional Indian dress making their way to the temples to worship.
I had the best time in Singapore: hotel room, Wi-Fi, and hot showers are all things you forget are really cool until you have them again. It’s really interesting how often electric scooters are used in Singapore and they even have scooter tours which I would have loved to try.
So, over all, with so many cool places to see and things to do, I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back to Singapore in the future. Thirty-six hours just wasn’t enough time to spend in this interesting and complex city.
Before you leave Rigneyskandu.com, take a look at our new Singapore photo gallery located under ‘Recent Photos’ on the main page headers!
It took us 24 days to get to Darwin, Australia. It would have taken 20 days, but we were getting so beat-up by the waves along the way, that we stopped and anchored at Coconut Island in the middle of the Torres Strait. After 13 days at sea, Bryce couldn’t stand staying on the boat, so he swam to the island not knowing that he was breaking the law. When he got to land, everybody said that he was really lucky that he survived because there are a lot of sharks and huge crocodiles swimming around there.I finished reading “The Golden Compass” series by Philip Pullman. I loved the books – They are now my second favorite series after the “I Am Number Four” series by Pittacus Lore.
When we finally got to the Cullen Bay pontoon at Darwin on Friday morning, July 21st, I really wanted to go to land, but I had to wait for quarantine and that took an hour or so. Once cleared by biohazard, customs, immigration and two sniffing dogs, we went looking for lunch. We found a great burger place called Lola’s.
It had a ton of cool vintage stuff and colorful hanging decorations almost like going to the fairgrounds or Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. After lunch, I wanted to stay on land, so Bryce and I walked to the city to find a city tourist map, a McDonald’s, a skate park and the movie theater to find out the movies playing and their times. It was an hour walk both ways. It felt good to walk, but it was hot.
Later that evening, it was decided that we’d all take a bus back into town even though dad hadn’t slept for 24 hours. Bryce and I wanted to watch Spiderman, but it was very expensive, so just Bryce and I stayed to watch it. Mom and dad left to explore the city without us because we had already done that. The movie was great. We all took a cab home.
The next morning, we motored over to Tipperary Marina Waters where we had a dock slip waiting for us. Before leaving, we filled up our diesel tanks with a hose. That was one of the easiest diesel refills ever…no jugs, no filters – diesel pumped straight into the tanks without worries of poor quality, dirt or water! It took us an hour to motor over to the marina, and since they have an 18-foot tide in Darwin, the marina had a lock. It was really cool entering into the lock, having the solid doors close behind us, and then rising up to the level of the marina water. We entered the lock at the closest time to slack tide to make the levels as equal as possible.
We washed down the outside of the boat and cockpit. Then, I took a long hot shower. It was very nice. A little later we got dressed-up and left for the ‘Sail Indonesia Rally’ Welcome BBQ held at the Darwin Sailing Yacht Club to meet all the other people sailing in the rally. The Bali dancers and the food were great, but the event got boring once we ate, so I played rugby with some little kids on the grass.
Uncle Curtis arrived the next day on Sunday, but before he arrived we had to do boat work like cleaning the back lazarette and anchor locker, dry the gennaker, new measurements for staysail halyard, washing and scrubbing the deck twice, fixing toilets, etc. Dad had a huge list that we worked on all week. Once Curtis arrived, we all ate together at the local Frying Nemo snack bar and then Bryce and I got to go with Uncle Curtis to sleep at his specially reserved hotel room. It was really nice with air-conditioning, a living room and separate bedroom, a small kitchen with fridge, stove, oven, sink, dishwasher, pots, dishes, a balcony, hyper fast wifi, a pool, a small washing machine for laundry, and most importantly, hot showers whenever we wanted with fancy towels!
Monday morning, we had an amazing tasting breakfast at the hotel buffet with Curtis before we had to return to the boat to get to work. Mom washed our massive 24-day collection of laundry at the marina coin operated laundromat, and we worked on cleaning the bottom of the boat. Dad had to replace the heat exchanger and repair the engine with a marine mechanic specialist. Curtis picked up some chicken for lunch, which was a tasty break. We worked a bit more on boat projects, then skateboarded to Curtis’ hotel for the night. Mom prepared dinner from the rest of the wahoo fish that Bryce had caught in the Torres Strait and we taught Curtis how to play Carcasson, our favorite board game that Curtis had actually given us before we left. We also enjoyed the speedy wifi!
The next day, Tuesday, mom and dad came to the hotel and ate breakfast with us because we said it was so good the day before. And it was great again! Bryce and I skateboarded back to the boat for more work projects. We finished at 2:00 pm. Without mom since she was working at the hotel on our website, the four of us drove to the mall. We ate at Pizza King and I had a double chocolate muffin. I also bought a really nice metallic figit that was Aus$30 and got a cool plastic one for free – or two for the price of one. Bryce bought a high quality JBL speaker that’s supposedly waterproof. When we got back to the hotel, Bryce and I worked out at the hotel gym and then went swimming in the modern looking pool.
The following day, Wednesday the 26th of August, Uncle Joel was coming, but we had to work some more at the boat after all of us enjoyed another great breakfast at the hotel. We met Uncle Joel at the airport with Uncle Curtis around 1:00 pm. He dropped his stuff off at the hotel, then the four of us went to the mall again. I got an Australian straw cowboy shaped hat and Bryce got new wheels for his penny skateboard. We ate at Subway. I LOVE Subway!
Thursday, we went to Crocasaurus, a saltwater crocodile marine aquarium where they breed crocs and feed huge ones in front of the visitors. While the trainers are in a croc’s habitat to feed the beasts, they never turn their back on the massive creatures and always carry a big stick. The zoo had viewing glass tanks where you could watch the crocs up close swimming in the water. They had an area with a hundred small juvenile crocs, which we could actually feed with a bated fishing line ourselves. It was kinda like a carnival game holding the bate out to tempt the juveniles.
Plus – we had a chance to hold a baby crocodile while getting our pictures taken. The babies are already quite heavy. The massive male adults can weigh over a ton. The Crocasaurus marine park takes care of the troublemaker crocs taken out of the wild…ones that have gotten too close to humans. They breed the crocs for their expensive leather hides and good quality meat. Burgerstyle, the meat has the texture of chicken and a light flavor of fish. I liked it, but they oversalted it.That evening, we ate at a really nice restaurant where the beef steaks are known for their high quality, but are very expensive. I ordered the meat lasagna, which was so big I couldn’t finish it. Bryce split a steak with mom. Joel ordered fish. Uncle Curtis and dad both ordered the huge fancy steaks. It was all delicious. Bryce and I even got FREE ice cream. Yum!
The next day, Friday, was our last full day in Darwin. We worked a lot that day on the boat with dad while mom, Curtis and Joel went shopping to bulk up on staple western type food provisions for the next few months while traveling in southeast asia. When we finished our work, Curtis drove Bryce to the fancy skateboarding park that we located the day before, and I stayed at the hotel to do internet because I wanted to research buying a new penny board on amazon. That night we all went to Mindil Beach where food trucks and local artisans set up shop. Tons of the local people were there swarming the food trucks and cool artisan stalls. It was really festive. The food choices were incredible: Greek, Indonesia, Malaysian, Indian, baked potatoes with chili and most importantly, Australian kangaroo, croc or water buffalo burgers served with huge french fries.
There were amazing street musicians playing didgeridoos where a group of local Aborigines were inspired to get up and dance – Wow! Dad bought two didgeridoo music albums, I bought myself a cool tiger eye crystal pendant for improved concentration, Bryce bought a crocodile spine wristband, mom got a couple Indonesian looking longer length dresses in preparation for Indonesia and Uncle Curtis and Joel bought two Aborigine paintings to add to their art collection.
On Saturday, having enjoyed our last night at the hotel, we woke up early because Kandu had an appointment to exit the Tipperary marina lock at 8:00 am. Uncle Curtis and Joel were at the lock waving goodbye. We made it to the starting line on time for the rally kick-off signal. While sailing past Uncle Curtis and Joel waving goodbye on the big rally coordination boat, we blasted our horn and I waved a bubble stick up in the air. Turns out the bubble stick presents that Joel gave were more fun than I expected.
Even with all the work and shortened time window, we had a great time in Darwin especially due to being able to spend so much quality time with Uncle Curtis and Uncle Joel. I liked the area so much, I hope to travel there again someday to visit the sites we missed: Kakado National Park and Aboriginal peoples, and the Litchfield Park termites.
Fortunately, we did get to see those scary crocs. The saltwater crocs live near rivers because they have to detox from the saltwater every so often. All river outlets in the Northern Territory are extremely dangerous. Did you know that Australia’s saltwater crocodiles were endangered and have now increased in numbers from 100,000 to 200,000 adults in the wild? The population of crocodiles in Darwin is as big as the population of humans. Those statistics are great for the crocs, but there is a price. People cannot swim in the local waters for fear of attack – no kayaking, long board paddling, nor surfing in the Northern territory. Instead, fishing excursions are very popular along with boat trips into the mangroves to watch wild crocodiles jump for fish on a stick!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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. There 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.
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.
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.You 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.
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.
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.
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.
Since I arrived in the Marquesas, I’ve seen a lot of tattoos. Almost everyone here has them, even kids my age. Marquesan tattooing is much more beautiful than US tattooing because the designs are not something aggressive like putting a dragon on yourself. They are beautiful, abstract or geometric designs that always look a little different in someone else’s eyes. I learned how to draw some of their popular designs in art class at school, like the tiki and the Marquesan southern cross.
I learned that tiki representations are used as protectors or defensive designs to guard or shield the wearer. According to renowned tattoo artist, Simeon Huuti, in the book, The Roots and Revival of Polynesian Tattoos, “In my tattoos, I always have a tiki image. The Tiki is like an emblem for the Marquesas and will always protect an aspect of our islands. Some believe they are evil…I believe that if we respect them, they will respect us.” The Marquesan symbol of the southern cross constellation is featured everywhere too. I have seen the Marquesan cross above the entrance of churches, in drawings, in stone and bone carvings, and as tattoos. When you draw several Marquesan crosses next to each other, you can often see a design of little Marquesan men arm-in-arm.
In 1819 the first Marquesan chief to embrace Catholicism forbid people to make and wear any more tattoos. It wasn’t until the 1980s that tattoos came back to French Polynesia. With the ancients, tattoos were a symbol of power. They were designed to show a person’s importance and to tell a person’s life story. Today, most Marquesan tattoos include symbols of who you are. And your tattoo is with you for the rest of your life.
One day I was playing basketball with Bryce and a person showed up and wanted to play with us. He had a very cool looking tattoo; it made me want to get the same tattoo, but I knew I wasn’t old enough to know what I would want when I’m older. I think I’m going to come back some day when I’m grown and get a tattoo just like the one that person had.
Often after school when I’m not tired and it’s not raining, I go to my dad’s friend Sebastien’s house to shoot arrows into a large/thick cardboard box with drawings of chickens on it. At his house it is really fun for a couple of reasons: I don’t have to pay any money to do archery now that I’ve bought my own bow and arrows, and I can shoot as many arrows as I want or as many as I have all at one time without waiting for clearance. When I’m done shooting, I can walk right away over to the target to retrieve my arrows without waiting for a bell to alert me that it’s “all clear,” or for someone to tell me it’s okay. There are also reasons why it’s not perfect. I don’t shoot into hay blocks to stop the arrows. Instead, I use cardboard, so sometimes the arrows go through all the way to the feathers and that damages them. That has happened to five of my arrows so far – but all I have to do is glue the feathers back and the arrows should be as good as new. Another bummer is that it rains a lot more here in the Marquesas than in Southern California, so I cannot go shooting as much as I’d like.
I got my bow and arrows when Uncle Nick came to visit us here in Nuku Hiva last August. I knew my bow and arrows were coming, so I was very excited. We opened all the goodies at Sebastien’s house. Bryce was expecting something special too – a special hunting knife. We were both quite impatient to open up Uncle Nick’s bags. Not only did Uncle Nick bring my bow, but also he brought 12 practice arrows with blunt tips. They work fine for practicing against cardboard. While Uncle Nick was visiting, I didn’t get a chance to practice my archery, but when he left it took about a week or so to find a thick cardboard box. Once I got set-up, I practiced archery often during the next month. However, I got a little discouraged because some of my practice arrows were getting damaged or ruined and I only had the 12 that Uncle Nick brought. My grandparents came and school other activities got busy, so I stopped for awhile until after friends visited us over Christmas and brought some real arrows. Plus my dad mentioned that it wouldn’t be easier to do archery anywhere else. I agreed with him and started back up practicing about an hour five days a week. I am now starting to get pretty good. I have hit the cardboard chicken ten arrows out of twelve times. I can even approach the target moving stealthily or running and hit the chicken drawing two out of five times. I still have lots of room for improvement, but I’m starting to think I might be able to target real chickens now. Chickens run wild all over the island and are considered pests. The fact that they’re edible is a bonus. I better tell my mom to learn how to cook “Coq au vin.” It’s the only way to eat this kind of chicken – the kind that actually forages for food and runs!
At Tahuata Island in Vaitahu Bay we used our boat swing. It was really fun, but it was difficult at first because Bryce, Mom and I had to set up the swing without Dad’s help. We first had to pull out the spinnaker pole that is attached to the mast, which is a bit challenging. Then we had to attach the thick swing rope to the end of it. Once that was secure, we had to raise the spinnaker pole as high as it could go and then tie it off. The last thing we had to do was set-up two “preventers” [guys] to make sure the pole would not sway from side to side. We needed the pole to stay in place hanging directly perpendicular to the boat, placing us, the swingers, out as far as possible from the boat.
Once everything was ready we stepped up onto the kayak propped up on it’s side on the deck and jumped off. We got to swing as much as we wanted. Bryce and I first sat on the swing’s bottom knot. Then we stood on the knot and dove into the water jumping off the knot pushing off with our feet. That’s all I could do, but Bryce could also perform a back flip off the rope. The rope swing was set-up for three days. The day after the first day, I was terribly sore from swinging so much, but it didn’t matter. I was determined to swing as much as possible while the swing was set-up.
The last day, a Marquesan dad we’d never met before motored over to our boat on a small fishing boat with his son and daughter. He explained that his children wanted to play with us on the swing while he went to check his fishing stuff. My dad said it was okay and that we would bring the kids back to shore at noon, about an hour and a half, when we had to leave for shore. The kids were very nice. The little boy was 7 and the girl was 9. They were curious about the boat so we gave them a tour. I thought they were brave to hang out with us, having never met us before. We played together on the swing until it was time to leave back to shore. The dad gave us some grapefruit as a thank you.
by Trent Rigney
Editor’s Note: Vaitahu (translation “water fire-igniter”) is historically significant for the Marquesas. The first documented European to visit the Marquesas, a Spanish explorer, landed here in 1595, naming the archipelago after his benefactor’s wife. The second European to visit, British Capt. Cook, made landfall here in 1774. The French admiral, Dupetit-Thouars, in 1842, after fighting a successful battle for the chief of Vaitahu, signed a treaty with the chief annexing all of the Marquesas to France. Vaitahu, as I understand correctly, is reportedly the only Marquesan valley owned by France, such that the inhabitants lease the land upon which the build their homes. In the other valleys, private parties own the land.
Today we just got back to Taiohae, Nuku Hiva from our big adventure to the island, Eiao (pronounced Ay-EE-OW-oh). We were all very tired after unloading so we stayed on the boat for a bit to rest. Bryce and I watched the movie Footloose on our small portable BluRay player powered by a 12-volt car charger; the player can also take 110/220VAC. After awhile we got bored, since we had seen the movie before, so Bryce and I decided to take the dinghy to shore, to the petit quai (means “little wharf” in French). Mom came with us to drive the dingy back, but she was a very bad helmsman. When she left the wharf, after dropping us off, she bumped into another boat, tied to the wharf, two times before getting the hang of it. There was a bunch of Marquesan people watching. It was embarrassing.
Bryce and I decided to walk to our friend’s house, Raymonde and Sebastien’s, because we were going to eat dinner there later. While walking, Bryce found a coconut tree that was small enough to climb to get a coconut. When he was climbing he pushed down a small branch that was full of dirt, and because I was looking up at him, the dirt fell into my eye. I rubbed my eye to get the dirt out, but instead I scratched my eye. It really hurt, so I was very mad at Bryce.
The walk to Raymonde and Sebastien’s house is about a mile and ½, so we were fortunate when other Marquesan friends drove by and gave us a ride in the back of their truck to the house. When we arrived, my eye was still bothering me a lot. Raymonde is a nurse. She rinsed my eye with a bunch of sterile water to try to clear the dirt, but my left eye still hurt a lot. Whenever I closed my sore eye, it felt a little better.
My parents thought that we might have to go to the emergency, but I really didn’t want to because that evening after dinner, the family planned to go see some Marquesan dancing and I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to go. But after taking a nap, my eye was miraculously healed! We were able to go to watch the dance after all.
The Galapagos Islands and National Park are located on the equator at 0° latitude and approximately 90° longitude. It’s located in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles west of Ecuador. There are 19 islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. Fray Tomas discovered the islands in March 1535 accidentally because he was headed to Peru but at a certain point, there was no wind, and the ship drifted off course to the archipelago. There were no native people when the islands were first discovered. In the early 1800’s through the early 1900’s, different colonies were established but failed. It wasn’t until the Second World War when the American Air Force built an airport to defend the Panama Canal that more people began to live in the Galapagos. In 1994 it is estimated that 20,000 people populated four of the primary islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. The islands of the Galapagos are special because of the animals. Charles Darwin made the islands famous because he wrote a book called “The Origin of the Species” published in 1859 based on his travels to the Galapagos in 1835. His famous book was a study of evolution or natural selection based mostly on what he learned studying the finches. The tame animals that make the Galapagos interesting to visit today include: turtles, tortoises, boobies, marine and land iguanas, penguins, flamingos, cormorants, sea lions, and sea horses. I am most interested in the Black Marine Turtles and the Galapagos Penguins.
There are eight species of marine turtles in the world but only four species have been seen in the Galapagos .The most common turtle is the Black Marine Turtle. The turtles came from Baja California. Only four other turtles have been seen in the Galapagos: the Leatherback, the Olive Ridley, the Hawksbill, and the Green Turtle. I got to see these black turtles and green turtles up close while snorkeling. They swam slowly and gracefully feeding on marine algae. The turtles were much larger than me. I also got to see really cool huge tortoises at the Tortoise Breading Center of Villamil. I learned that when tortoises lay eggs in the wild only 5 to7 live but in the breading center, almost all of the 120 laid eggs survive. The tortoise populations are now replenishing after their numbers were destroyed by pirates and whalers.
The black turtle feeds on ulva. Ulva is a sort of algae that comes from the leaves of a red mangrove. Male turtles happen to be smaller than the female black turtles and male turtles also have claws to attach themselves to the female to procreate. Males and females can begin to procreate around the ages of 20 to 25 years of age. The mating season starts when the turtles feel that it is hot outside. The turtles lay eggs in January threw June. The adult’s shell is 84 centimeters long.
The females usually lay eggs during the night. She digs a hole for a while till it’s deep enough. She lays about 80 to 120 eggs close to the size of ping-pong balls at the very bottom of the nest, and then she buries them with sand. It takes about 55 days for them to hatch. The babies are soft and about 4 centimeters long. If the temperature is 30°C when the eggs are in their nest, every single egg will be female. But if the temperature is less than 30°C, they will be male. The black turtles’ worst predators are sharks and orcas in the water. Crabs, and the beetle Trox Suberosis prey on the eggs. If the eggs hatch in the day, the baby turtles can’t see and they can’t find the water because the sun is too strong. The adult female turtles tend to lay their eggs at night so that the babies hatch at night.
The Galapagos penguin is related to the Magellan Penguin. The Magellan Penguin comes from Southern Chile. It’s also related to the Penguin of the Falkland Islands near Antarctica. The penguins came to the Galapagos Islands by the Humboldt Current. On the islands there were 13,000 penguins measured in 1982-1983. The penguins swim with their front fins and steer with their back fins. Penguins swim really fast underwater and jump out of the water when they are happy. When they travel on land over rocks, they jump from rock to rock. Before jumping it stretches its neck forward as if studying the terrain.
During the mating season, the Galapagos penguins preen each other’s heads and also slap themselves gently with the front flippers. They nest in cavities where eggs will be laid three to four days apart. On Fernandina Island, egg laying occurs in September. Incubation lasts for 38 to 40 days. Penguins are very shy animals so they nest in groups. They sleep on land and look for food during the day and return to shore in the late afternoon. In the early morning you can see them between 5 and 7 am. Penguins form a wake behind them just like ducks. In 1982 to 1983 the Galapagos lost 77% of the population, but since 1985 their number has slowly been returning to about 2 to 3000 penguins. Their predators are Red Crabs, Rice Rats, Galapagos Snakes, Short-Eared Owls, and Galapagos Hawks. I got to see many penguins from a distance in my kayak and when I was snorkeling in Los Tuneles, I got a chance to swim up close to 7 penguins, which were sunning themselves on the rocks.
The island we visited was Isabela, the largest in the archipelago. It has five volcanoes and the most northern volcano, Volcan Wolf, erupted while we were visiting on the island. We didn’t feel it or hear it because the lava flow and ashes flew northeast. Puerto Villamil where we were anchored is located on the southeastern corner of the island in Turtle Bay. We got to visit Volcan Sierra Negra. It was incredible to see because it’s the 2nd largest active crater in the world after the crater in Yellowstone Park. The last time Sierra Negra erupted was in 2005.
I thought our stay on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos was super amazing because of all the animals, the great food and the interesting culture: everyone riding bikes, sandy roads, open shops, and friendly people. But I really wish I could have been able to visit a different island too.