Indonesia, the planet’s biggest island country lying between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, consists of more than 17,500 islands packed into 735,000 square miles, an area one-thirteenth the size of America. Two hundred sixty-one million inhabitants make Indonesia the world’s fourth populace country, with more than half of the population living on the island of Java. Nearly 90% Islamic, Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Considering the many immigrated cultures, religions, and 700+ diverse languages Indonesia harbors, it’s really a mystery how this archipelago ever came to be a single nation.
Centered in the middle of Arabian, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese trade routes, Indonesia was surrounded by great commerce and power. Indonesia’s wealth began around the 7th century when Asia first discovered and settled along the islands of Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan. To Asia’s surprise, valuable spices and pottery material were aplenty. In return, they bore gifts of forged metal, a new way of life, and new religions: first Hinduism and Buddhism, followed by Islam.
Christianity’s popularity grew later. For eight centuries the Asian powers controlled and held firmly their hand over Indonesian trade, until the 16th century. Hypnotized by the valuable spices and rare resources, Europeans such as the Portuguese, sailed across oceans, around continents, and unknown waters for the riches of the “Spice Islands,” taking over small ports along the way, eventually conquering Melacca in 1511. This was done in vain for once the powerful trade ports were conquered, nobody wanted to trade with them switching up trade routes. Eventually, after two years of spending money and losing lives, the Portuguese were squeezed out by the Dutch who gradually built-up trade with the locals and throughout the Indonesian archipelago and surrounding regions.
In 1595, the Dutch set-up the United East India Company (VOC) and eventually ended up running what is now considered Indonesia. Grasping tightly onto their specialty of spices, the Dutch and Indonesians produced many crops. Indonesia’s early wealth revolved around their most profitable export crops, nicknamed “black gold:” nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper, sought after spices in Europe, more valuable than gold.
As the years passed, the Dutch became more and more entrenched, but despite imposed death penalties, spice plants were stolen and planted elsewhere in the world. Bit by bit the Dutch controlled Indonesia spice monopoly began to crumble in the early 1800’s. Housing a large population and a declining economy, the future seemed bleak. The Dutch crown had to take over the VOC and then lost it to France and then to Britain during Napoleon’s wars. Control to the Dutch was restored in 1816.
The Dutch then shifted their export production efforts to feed the growing demand for rubber, developing enormous rubber plantation, “white gold.” Tea, medicinal plants, cacao, tobacco, sugar, indigo and coffee exports were also developed. Due to their complete involvement in the various Indonesian islands’ economy, the Dutch improved infrastructure adding railway lines, shipping services and roads even while violently subduing the working people.
World War II was the final straw for the Indonesian people. They were taken over by the brutal Japanese where neither the Dutch nor the English were able to help. When the war was over, the Indonesians declared their independence on August 17th, 1945 from Dutch colonization. After several years of war with the Dutch, they were awarded complete independence in 1949. Today, they celebrate Independence Day every year on August 17th. We were in Kalabachi, Alor during this year’s Independence Day and were amazed by their incredible ceremony reenacting the gaining of their independence and the following day’s regional parade.
In most recent decades, declining rubber exports have caused Indonesia to shift development toward petroleum products (gas (LPG), crude oil, coal briquettes), gold jewelry, wheat, and the most profitable of all—palm oil or “yellow gold.” In 2016 Indonesia sold $140 billion (USD) worth of exports, palm oil contributing a tenth of that sum. Indonesia is one of the few countries with a trade surplus, compared to the USA who harbors a debt of $783 billion (USD). Yet even with a positive income of $8 billion (USD) Indonesia lies in a pile of trash.
With a decreasing economy and low income, we found ourselves surrounded by piles and piles of trash. During my time spent along the coasts of Indonesia, I developed a sickness of heart as the result of the expanse of polluted beaches, oceans, rainforests, and streets. While crossing over bridges, I saw painful amounts of plastic trash discarded along the riverbanks waiting for the rain to flush it all out to sea. This floating trash makes it dangerous for boaters to motor in Indonesian waters for fear of catching a few plastic bags in the prop like our friends on s/v Ocelot.
In addition to polluted waters, hoards of fisherman struggle everyday, completely de-fishing their local oceans. Catching pre-mature fish, turtles, manta rays, crocodiles and sharks the size of your arm, these fishermen are relentless!
While passing nets 4 miles long and experiencing these haunting actions first hand, this traveling forces me to open my eyes to really see how humans affect their surroundings. Yet this traveling through Indonesia also brings me to appreciate the incredible beauty we have seen and been a part of.
But unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Like at home where precious resources have been squandered, Orangutans indigenous to Indonesia, are regularly killed and/or stolen for money. Palm oil implants destroy ecosystems full of endangered trees, monkeys, birds native to the islands along with the precious orangutans.
Yet in my three months of traveling in this region, the amount of “bad” in Indonesia doesn’t begin to measure against the overwhelmingly loving embrace the islands and the people give to total strangers like us. Exemplifying a generosity level of 100 percent, it’s hard to judge Indonesia just by their poor circumstances. Besides the trash and the loss of rainforests, it’s quite easy to love the culture and its people. With the hundreds of dinner invites and bonding photos with the local girls (etc.), I developed a great affection for the islands and their rich colors.
Due to the many quick visits during the rally, it was difficult to appreciate all of what the villages had to offer. There is so much more than we got a chance to see: Raja Ampat and Papua New Guinea for the diving, and the Mentawai Islands of Sumatra for the surfing.
In just three months of sailing around, we experienced orangutan feedings, river tours, incredible surf, jungle hikes, national holidays, local feasts, temple & mosque visits, drum troupes, traditional dances, elephant rides, deserted white sand beaches, and we made life long friendships. My time amongst the Indonesian peoples was truly a blessing in “5D.” From inexpensive delicacies and ethnic spices, to billions of treasured photos, there will always be a place in my heart for the beauty of Indonesia and its culture!
Variety is the one word that best describes Indonesia. From the clearest of waters to the darkest of forests, Indonesia exhibits diversity of all kinds, most noticeable in their many cultures made up of varied peoples. Through the eyes of a 16 year old who has now left Indonesia with a sad heart, my hope is that more travelers will see and experience the fullness Indonesia can offer.
Sources: Website – Wikipedia, Indonesia history; Book – Lonely Planet, Indonesia; Kandu – Traveling by sailboat through Indonesia Aug-Oct 2017.
On Sunday, June 18th, Father’s Day, after a late morning visit to the Port Resolution village on Tanna when we distributed small toys to children and Bryce and Trent played volleyball and Frisbee, we prepared Kandu for the 24-hour sail to Port Vila, Efate, weighing anchor at 2:30 p.m. The winds were strong most of the way, but shadowed by an intermediate island. We arrived, as predicted, Monday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Customs over VHF radio said we could finalize clearing-in the next day, Tuesday, but having cleared in at Port Resolution, they would allow us to go ashore tonight.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but the boys (I just go along with it) have a habit of hitting a town up for movie theaters and McDonald’s. In Vanuatu, only the former exists, and as we soon discovered, at a very cosmopolitan price. Fortunately, they had already seen all the movies showing at the 4-plex, having previously viewed them in Fiji and Samoa for a third the price, so we didn’t partake. Local food restaurants are a challenge to find in Port Vila. Chinese, Indian, Japanese, French, Australian, Vietnamese, Philipino, pizza, hamburgers, and fried chicken; no problem. Kava was the only native thing readily available. I really got a kick sucking down my tongue-numbing kava-colada smoothie at the Nambawan Café, Kandu anchored in front.
Vanuatu suffered much devastation following the aftermath of Hurricane Pam in 2015. Typically, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan come to the aid of Southwestern Pacific islanders. In the past, they have been quite generous, but in these trying economic times, there’s a void. Never fear, China to the rescue. We’re told China began by offering Vanuatu aid in the form of tinted-windowed Buick SUV’s for the leading politicians. Then, $4M USD to remodel the president’s residence and even more to build a very large convention center, too expensive for Vanuatu to support and maintain. With the political relationships firmly established, the aid stops and the loans begin. Want a new wharf? No problem, with unemployment at a high point, China ships over hundreds of Chinese workers to build it. And don’t worry if Vanuatu can’t generate enough revenue to pay back the loan, China will just take it over, making it their wharf, their business.
With tourism being the main source of revenue after aid money, local Vanuatu business owners demand that the government maintain its airports, repairing the runways so that airplanes from New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia can again land at Vanuatu islands other than the principle one, Efate. The new president promised that within two weeks of taking office, runway repair work would commence. Two years later—nada—and the president dies unexpectedly while we were there. During all this, China continues to enlarge another wharf to accept larger cruise ships, knowing the Vanuatu government hasn’t even enough funds to repair the roads leading to and from the port. Some Vanuatuans suspect China is in reality building a future Chinese naval base, the very location used by America during WWII in Luganville on Espiritu Santo, their second largest base after Hawaii. If Vanuatu, a sovereign state, elects to allow China to have such a base, no nation can stop them. It’s a compelling argument, albeit a bit scary in terms of how Vanuatu might ultimately be impacted: its resources, its people, its environment, etc. Anyway, it’s an interesting prospect to consider, and possibly (pardon the pun) a “red flag” for all Chinese aid-funding programs.
I had wondered why Dr. Alan hadn’t recommended anything to visit in Efate. It wasn’t difficult to understand why. The people were nice, but we found the town to have a weird vibe: for instance, lots of reconstruction along the waterfront, but very few tourists, even during this, the high season. And again, the prices were too high. Bryce, on the other hand, did some research and read that the best surfing in Vanuatu was a short drive south at Pongo Village, with three excellent breaks in proximity to each other. To learn more, he went first to the modern retail store advertising Billabong, an Australian brand of surf-wear. They suggested talking to a gal at the Paris Duty-Free store. She in turn gave Bryce the mobile number of a young man, John Stevens, as someone able to assist him in his quest. We called the number and John asked Bryce to meet him at a nearby café to discuss. He also wanted to quiz Bryce as to his surfing level. Bryce and Trent went together. Twenty minutes later they returned to our café table with John in tow carting his skateboard. John explained that he and a gang of young people skate around the town and surf the southern beaches. With tomorrow being a holiday (the newly elected president just died of a stroke after only 2 years in office and his casket procession would occur that day), lots of kids would want to use the occasion to surf.
John offered to include Bryce and Trent in the casual affair: skateboard in the morning, lunch (their own dime), then surf until dark. I had initially intended for Kandu and crew to leave for a neighboring island that day, but couldn’t say no to Bryce knowing his surf days would be extremely limited (perhaps nonexistent) between here and Bali. We would instead skip Epi Island, and go directly to Ambrym Island the following day. Bryce was ecstatic, and with his wingman, Trent by his side, we trusted they’d take care of each other. The day turned out well. The boys even witnessed the President’s funeral procession. Not returning until long past sundown, Leslie had become a bit worried. She was glad her two handsome boys came home, happy, exhausted, and unscathed, not kidnapped into pretty-boy slavery. It turns out, Bryce had met the husband of the Paris Store lady in Fiji, surfing Cloudbreak. He trains junior pro surfers. Small world the international surf scene is. And one of John’s tag-along kids, an excellent surfer, is the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Vanuatu family. Is surfing replacing golf and tennis clubs as the place to meet influentials?
On our 4th day hanging in Port Vila, having gotten all the laundry done and gathered a few fresh fruits and vegetables, we left in the afternoon so we could arrive in Ranon cove on NW Ambrym just after daybreak on Friday, June 23rd. A relatively easy overnight sail and we were setting our anchor in black sand beneath the clearest water I’ve seen.
The anchor and chain were clearly visible as if in three feet of water. We quickly dropped the dinghy with the smaller outboard and drop-down inflatable wheels. Leslie and I hastened our way the short distance to shore, rolled Wee Kandu up the beach just past the high-tide mark near some local boats, and tied its painter to a tree. As usual several older men sat along the shoreline. I asked them if they knew of a William “Willie” Adel, the contact Dr. Alan had given as the excursion point person. They indicated down the road, saying, at the end. A hundred yards later down the wheel-lined road, I asked someone working in his garden. He pointed us further down, watching as we walked, waving us across when we’d reached our destination. William greeted us from behind the simple wooden fence demarking his quaint bed and breakfast, sporting the smile and warmth of a long-time friend. So charming was he, and when I mentioned Dr. Alan and Debora, his face lit up even greater. His simple pension establishment, Ranon Bungalows (Facebook, TripAdvisor), is a set of six simple thatched-roof rooms, overlooking the beach, all traditional and made of local materials.
After getting to know one another a bit better, he asked if, for $60 each, we’d be interested in joining a group to watch the village of Fanla dance their traditional Rom Dance and sand painting tomorrow afternoon. This day was Friday, and tomorrow we learned was the last day the land divers would jump on neighboring Pentecost Island at Wali Bay. I regretfully declined. He picked up his mobile phone and made some calls. Ten minutes later, he had arranged a private Fanla village tour, dance, and sand painting demonstration for that afternoon at 2:30, . . . no car, we’d walk. No problem, we needed the exercise. He then went about arranging our Pentecost land-diving tour for the next day, setting us up with the village chief over there. If anyone wishes to experience Ambrym and beyond, a call to William is a must (mobile +678 59 33106). Ambrym is also home of the other two active Vanuatan volcanoes.
Vanuatu is technologically simple and mostly subsistence living. Leaving the beach, villagers kindly ask us for favors. Leslie felt for one man who pointed to our dinghy rope, asking for something like that. He didn’t like the one she initially offered him, so she gave him a 60’ length of 1” braided nylon rope instead, for which he offered a volcanic stone-carved head figure for good luck.
The 40-minute walk to Fanla was not difficult but you had to be on your toes to not slip on the terrain. With each step away from the beach, the humidity level increased accordingly. Arriving at the modest village, William introduced us to Freddie, the chief and our village guide. He showed us around his village, the size of a city block, patiently answering any questions.
He explained that they farm kava and yams on the higher hillsides during the day, housekeep in the evening, with communal kava for the men around 4 or 5pm. The village was clean and simple. The community still practices traditional ways, including the role of a chief and the rule of tabu.
When the signal was given, we were brought to the ceremonial dance grounds, the dancers, only men, were arrayed in traditional garb. One set of dancers wore nothing but a broad black waistband holding the neck of a gourd, which covered the shaft of their penises, testicles fully visible. The other set were ornately masked in bearded wooden geometric masks, resembling the open jaws of a crocodile with rooster feathers on top; these dancers’ bodies were cloaked head to toe in hundreds of long thin dried leaves, perhaps pandanus. In their hands they held finely carved narrow war-like clubs that tapered open to shield over the hands and forearms.
With but a few basic percussive instruments to keep time, the men performed an ancient traditional dance and chant that took me back to some past life (or TV show?). I was transported. The smile on my face could not be removed. I felt honored and grateful to have been treated so generously to this intimate cultural experience. It’s a large part of what drives me to travel in the manner that we do.
After a brief photo op, posing in front of the dancers, the sand painting began. Once three initial 18” parallel lines are drawn, the artist’s finger doesn’t lift from the ground. Upon completion, we were asked to guess what was depicted. They were proud to offer the meaning behind each drawing.
Two drawings later, we were shown to their handicrafts of wood, bamboo, and stone. The artists stood close behind to see what we would select. The pieces were well done and appealing. We picked out three items, a wooden mask statuette and two carved bamboo chin flutes (No, I didn’t buy a penis guard. They didn’t have my size!). We were so very appreciative of the entire experience: the hospitality, generous smiles, and learning. On a side note, we learned that cannibalism is still occasionally practiced, usually as a form of punishment, not necessarily the chief’s wish, but the village as a whole may demand it being the highest insult to punish an offending family.
As with all our departures, it’s the people that make it most memorable. Although we’d only met Willie that morning, it felt like we’d known him much longer. Leaving him was bittersweet, but leave we must if we were to see the next morning’s land diving.
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.
6-4-2017, Tuesday 23h15 – About Musket Cove and the surf.
Now on watch, I have a bit of time to recount some of our adventures in Musket Cove. From Suva, the most southeastern city of the island Viti Levu, we wanted to head west to the Western Mamanuca Islands and the renowned Musket Cove Marina and Yacht Club. With an obligatory $5 processing fee, we each became lifetime members. The Mamanuca Islands of Fiji are central to some of the best surfing in the world, boasting the legendary Cloudbreak, rated one of the top 10 waves in the world. Incidentally, the International Volcom Fiji Pro Surf Competition happened to be in full swing. As we were sailing up to Cloudbreak, we could see the hubbub and gathered boats, onlookers and surfers so we anchored the boat and hurriedly rigged up the dinghy for the boys to get close and check out the quality surf and male competitors. Bryce and Trent were ordered to be back by 15h00. Sure enough, they returned on time bubbling over with excitement, ready to haul-up anchor in order to make Musket Cove and its protection from the open ocean swell before sunset. We had a small glitch raising the anchor. The anchor, 50+ feet below, with a strong current was likely stuck on corral. Bryce quickly donned his mask and fins and dove overboard. With one hand on the chain and the other to clear his ears, he free dived as close as he could get. On his first attempt, he couldn’t get close enough to see the problem. Eric told him he didn’t have to get to the anchor, just see what it was doing. The second time, after relaxing and getting a solid breath, he plunged down the anchor chain again, determined to succeed. Once down, he realized exactly how the tip of the anchor was stuck. Under his directions, we motored forward over the corral head and with a strong tug, the anchor came free. Whew! Bryce saved the day!
Easily anchored in popular Musket Cove, we stayed put for a quiet dinner on board. Bryce was the only one who ventured out to the marina resort with the dinghy that night to try and learn how to taxi over to the various surf spots: Swimming Pools, Tavarua Rights, Second Reef, Wilkes, Restaurants and Cloudbreak. The next day, we organized a boat and I went with the boys that first afternoon. That day, our goal was Cloudbreak, but the weather was so rough and windy that we decided to stop at a closer spot called Wilkes.
The next couple times, Eric went with them to videotape. Each time it was our own private taxi boat, a little costly, but worth it, in case one spot was blown out, they could then go over to another. In all, the boys got to surf Wilkes again, Second Reef and Cloudbreak. Normally during the competition, the Cloudbreak wave would have been off limits to non-competitors, but when the competition was paused four days to wait for bigger waves, it presented perfect conditions for Bryce and Trent, so they headed over. While surfing, Bryce recognized his favorite pro surfer, Gabriel Martinez. Bryce paddled over and shook his hand. Cool beans! Eric was there video taping. Hopefully they got some good shots. Haven’t yet looked at all the media. After Fiji, the boys won’t be getting much opportunity to surf, so we really supported them to get out to the reefs everyday. Trent too had great success surfing. Bryce constantly encouraged him, which made for a happy Trent. The boys got in 4 days of great surfing.
We forgot to collect sand, darnit. I’ll have to contact Kurt Roll, a surfer/sailor/drone flier ex-patriot who lives on a modern south pacific style studio hut-boat in the Musket cove Marina. He took the boys surfing one afternoon. Maybe he’ll collect some sand for us and mail it back to Ventura for our growing collection. Every place the boys surf, we commemorate it with a vial of sand.
We also met some Danish sailors, a couple and family of 4 with 2 sons of similar age. I approached them for a game of beach volleyball. We played together a couple times and enjoyed a couple BBQ dinners and happy hours together. The father was a minister. We had much to talk about and share. Eric had recognized their sailboat from the Papeete Marina the summer before. It was lovely to meet such culturally interesting people.
The Musket Cove Resort was gorgeous and high class. We felt so spoiled being able to enjoy it without having to pay the high daily resort fees. We even got a chance to walk to the adjacent island during low tide to visit a nearby local Solevu village and school. The central village buildings were solidly constructed in cement blocks. The outlying thatch homes and structures were similar to the Polynesian style – open without glass windows. The villagers were friendly and the children at play were full of smiles and polite ‘hellos.’ Bryce had a great time amusing two little boys giving them piggy-back rides and playing ‘Catch me if you can.’ The walk back across the pass was a bit more challenging. Up to my thighs in water, I sloshed back as quickly as possible conscious of the ever rising tide and wanting to keep my clothes away from the salty water….laundry is always a consideration, of course!
6-4-2017 To Lautoka, Viti Levu from Musket Cove.
Departed Musket Cove and headed back to the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu to anchor outside the east coast city, Lautoka, to provision and check-out of Fijian customs and immigration. Lautoka is a sugar-cane oceanside town, less important than Suva. It is quite modern with a brand new shopping mall sporting many fancy shops, a restaurant court and a fancy movie theater. The downtown was large with a McDonald’s, several gas stations and well-paved streets. Apparently a Hawaiian owns all the McDonald’s in Fiji. After provisioning one afternoon, the boys and I hired a taxi to carry our many bags of groceries back to the boat and asked the taxi driver to give us a quick city tour. He brought us to a couple colorful Indian temples, drove us through nice residential areas and passed by the very large sugar cane plant. There were lines of trucks loaded with long poles of sugar cane waiting to enter. The air smelled sweet surrounding the factory. Kandu was anchored just opposite that factory and the exterior of our boat became immediately dusted from the filthy black soot blowing across the water from its hot fires.
“Yo, Bryce, wanna come? We’re spending a night on the motu,” says my best friend in Raiatea, Nari. Motu is the Tahitian word for islet inside or along the reef. Nari is a young man, three years older than me, who extended his friendship at a time when I had felt abandoned by my previous group of wave-faring comrades. Together with Nari and a couple of other surfers, we would take a boat to surf along the reef’s passes. My immediate response was “Yes!” hoping there wouldn’t be the rain and 25-knot winds like our last campout attempt. After school, I ran back to tell my parents the plan and to start packing for the next two days. First, I packed a hammock to sleep-in and a rain jacket, just in case this experience played out similar to the last. I also packed two extra pair of underwear, one pair of board shorts, one extra shirt, and a thin sheet in the form of a sleeping bag that would keep off the hundreds of mosquitos that would most certainly try to make a buffet out of me. Completing my packing was my surfboard, of course, my machete & sheath, and a 1.5-liter bottle of water. Nari had asked if I could bake a cake like I had before, to serve as breakfast before the morning surf. Hurriedly, my mother and I baked a 5 x 8-inch chocolate cake.
Around 17h30 (5:30pm) Nari showed up in his boat, the one we would use to go surfing as you can only reach the passes by boat. As I loaded my things into his boat, I handed Nari a thousand Polynesian francs or US$10 to help pay for gas. Filling up the tank at the gas station, we came across a few of the other kids who would be camping with us that night. They also needed to purchase gas before heading out. Our outboard full of gas, we headed south from Uturoa to the motu and our hope for surfing adventure.
At the start of our voyage, Nari steered the boat outside the reef to engage in a little bit of fishing along the way. I was handed the fishing pole so that he could steer the boat as close to the breaking waves as possible. After ten minutes, I yelled, “I caught something, I caught something!” As I reeled in the line, I sensed a bit of pride knowing I hadn’t let down Nari, an expert fisherman. Nari steered the boat away from the reef as I brought the jackfish, the size of my forearm, inside. “Hey, Bryce, do you think you could steer the boat so that this time I could cast the line?” asked Nari. With that I took the tiller and copied him as best I could, staying close to the waves like he had. Twenty minutes passed with no success (I had been reluctant to direct the boat as close to the reef as Nari had). As we approached the entrance to our destination, Nari reeled in his empty hook and I caught sight of our fellow campers out in the water already surfing. Once ready, Nari said, “Throw the anchor!” When the hook grabbed, we threw off our shirts, snatched up our boards and paddled out towards our friends. While greeting all the local surfers, I watched for the sweet spot, where I would set myself up.
That afternoon, we stayed out until we could no longer see. One by one, trickling away, the various boats hoisted their anchors and headed back home, or in our case right next door to our motu campsite. From the surf, we saw hoards of boats gathered along the white sand beach of the motu. Finding our group, we stationed the boat and tied the painter around a tree. Afterwards, I unpacked my things from the boat and searched for a spot to set-up camp for the next two days. Because of all the pretty distractions that had just finished their evening swims, it took me a while to find a spot. I settled in the middle of two trees behind the fireplace, attaching my hammock to a coconut-less coconut tree and a chestnut tree (didn’t need the possible headache). That night all the kids circled around the fire to talk, listen to music, drink, smoke, and to barbecue whatever food it was they had brought to share for the night. Nari was the main chef that night, cooking breadfruit, sausage, rice, and potato gratin. It was practically an all-you-could-eat buffet surrounded by friends!
The best surfer in our group, Heremanu, who I looked up to, was the only one besides me not to drink or smoke. I was glad that it was with someone like him that I could relate, and appreciated him more for it. As the moon rose higher in the sky, our fires burned lower. Nari knowing that I was the earliest bird in the group whispered, “Hey, Bryce, I know that you’re going to be the first to wake up. Can you wake me up early in the morning so we can be the first to go surf…. and gorge on your cake? Don’t tell anyone else about the cake. All right?”
My normal routine was to go to bed early and wake up early, so I hit the sack at 21h00 (9:00pm) for a good night’s sleep. As instructed by my dad, I positioned myself at a 20-degree angle in the hammock. I slept well through the night, and with the luck of no rain or falling coconuts, I arose with the early morning light. As I walked around, I heard the wrestling of giant ground crabs, tupas, running back to holes they had dug for themselves for shelter. That morning, despite the fact that they had gone to bed at 3:00 am, Nari and Heremanu woke up on their own. A few of the other kids had also woken up eager to go surfing as well. Being that my friends were all Polynesian, the three of us were obliged to share the cake and to bring them along surfing.
Before leaving, we all headed to the beach to examine the morning’s surf conditions.
At the last minute, Vaimiti, the fourth musketeer in our group, awoke to join the surf excursion. With surfboards, wax, and friends all loaded inside Nari’s boat, we took off. Heading to the pass we saw another boat arriving at the same time as us. Vaimiti anchored the boat in a stable position. Given the okay to go, I hopped in the water and paddled out looking for the day’s sweet spot. There was only enough light out in the sky to see my own hand, yet the others as well started to paddle out. As the first set started to roll in, I placed myself in the right spot to catch the wave. Once the wave started to lift and carry my board, I stopped paddling and popped up to my feet, surfing the dark, glassy figure of the wave. For two hours, we were a group of seven, surfing a 40-second left, reef-barreling wave in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Towards the end of our morning session, a group of 14 body-boarders showed up to crowd the occasional seven-wave sets. After three hours of great surfing, we returned back to the motu for some much needed lunch. This way, we could eat, regain energy, and wait out the crowded surf spot.
All the girlfriends clad in bikinis had come out to play volleyball and petanque (like bocce ball) on the white sand beach of the motu. I unfortunately was one of the few fellows left to keep his hands in his pants. For lunch, Nari and I reignited the fire to boil rice and to heat up a few cans of corned beef. While waiting for the food to cook, we joined in on the beach activities. After a few games of bocce ball, the scent of food led all the famished clan into a huddle. The music and the plates came out as we dug into the huge portion of mixed rice and corned beef hash. Not a grain was left in the bowl.
Our group of four musketeers, anxious to head back to surf, walked over to the beach to scout out the new afternoon conditions. Seeing as the waves had grown in height, the four of us headed to the boat with haste for another session. Approaching the pass, we watched six foot linear barrels being surfed. We quickly anchored the boat amongst five other boats and flew into the water. It was the best day of surfing I have ever had. The waves were perfect. In a single wave, one could maneuver three carves and shoot out of a hollow tube big enough to stand in. I had only ever dreamed of waves like these. It was truly a gift to be surfing these perfect waves with my awesome friends!
Conversely, wiping out on one of these perfect waves would land you cuts from the sharp coral reef just below the surf. Respectfully, GoPro photography was forbidden. The locals do not want their home waves to be overtaken by professional surfers from around the globe.
With the swell picking up, two of our party too frightened to continue, caught a boat ride back to the motu. That left 8 of us who continued to surf the waves of our lives, including the ‘early bird’ guy from the boat that had arrived before us that morning. I watched my friends as they surfed, shooting out from being fully covered in clear blue tubes and carving up and down those perfect lines with grace.
It was the happiest day of my life that I could remember. To be experiencing my Polynesian dream amongst good people was truly awesome. We continued to surf until rashes, jellyfish stings, sunburns, burning muscles, and reef cuts covered our whole bodies. After four hours of doing what we eat, sleep, talk and dream about, we returned back to the motu to find some more food . . . Hungry!
With all our energy left in the pass, making our way to the motu’s luxurious fresh water spigot came with great difficulty. We rinsed our things and ourselves then brought the boat back to the campsite to tie it off. De-energized, dehydrated, reef cut, and starved, we looked like a bunch of bedraggled kids who had just returned from being exiled in the desert. Immediately upon arriving back in camp, we scavenged potable water to drink and snacks to satisfy our needs. With our stomachs satiated, we hit the sack to nap and ready ourselves for the day’s evening surf; yes, morning, noon, AND night! After an hours worth of rest, us four musketeers were ready to go back to the pass, cut, burnt, and all. At around 16h (4:00pm) the boat departed full of newly waxed surfboards and brow beaten Tahitians. The local crowd, including our loyal ‘early bird’ friend, was still there. They were shredding what was now a 4-foot barreling line. Though the afternoon swell had died down, so had the wind. We caught wave after wave, landing ourselves more reef cuts, stings, and rashes. Nothing stopped us from our love for surfing. As the light dimmed so did the band of surfers who needed to get across the lagoon to their main island homes before dark. The few to prevail included us and the ‘early bird,’ who seemed to know everything about his home pass. We couldn’t get enough, the swell and conditions were too great to pass up. Though as the time passed, the sun and the light descended to hide behind the mountain. Too dark to read the waves any longer, we left the pass and headed back to camp, having added two more great hours of surf that day. Being as the conditions were too good to pass up, a few of us decided to stay for an extra night on the motu. Our only problem was the food rations.
The remaining group of ten walked over to the showers to rinse our salty dry skin.
Dinner was breadfruit and rice mixed with the fish I had caught with Nari on the way over. Again, the alcohol and weed came out for the ones who wanted it. With my good friend Heremanu being one of the kids to have taken off, I was the only ‘good’ boy left. Towards 20h00 (8:00pm), dinner was ready. Being hungry surfers, we ate like champions, going back for seconds and thirds. I kept to my same schedule, going to bed right after dinner. Even after the nine hours of surf, the others stayed up late till one in the morning, talking and being teenagers.
That morning, lucky to have slept well through a second clear, starry night without rain and deadly coconut droppings, I was awoken by Vaimiti. He had the bright idea to wake everybody up an hour early for no apparent reason. So being awake, we pre-packed our things into the boat, ate breakfast, and waited for the sun to come up. We couldn’t help but walk over to the lookout spot a few times, anxious to see what the day’s conditions might be. After thirty minutes of waiting, a speck of light glimmered over the horizon, giving us a peek at what our waves were going to be. Our guesstimate was 4-foot. And with that, we motored off.
Again the six of us guided the boat through the exit of the motu coral reef and out to the breakwater. Ten minutes later we dropped anchor and jumped into the rolling waves. I was the first to start out and swam away from the boat to relieve myself of a full two days holding tank. Swimming as fast as I could away from my fish food, I saw two more boats arriving to profit from the perfect waves. In one boat was a group of three older guys who could hold their own, and in the other, our good friend ‘early bird’ who came with nothing but his surfboard, machete, and spear gun.
With the tardiness of the others, I had gone ahead and caught the first wave of the day. As the surfers came together, we exchanged friendly greetings, bantering about our hopes for the day’s conditions. Later in the morning, more and more people appeared including a group of ten to sum up 20 and counting. I had never seen so many people in a given Raiatea surf spot. It was as if all the known island surfers had gotten wind of the day before, and all decided to come to the pass.
Becoming more and more crowded, it felt as if the sets were an eternity away; more and more people started to snake one another. Eventually, I made my way to the top of the line where the three older dudes tended to remain stationed. I watched as one of the three started to loose his energy, no longer able to easily catch the waves he paddled for. A set of waves rolled in and being first in line, I began to paddle for the first wave of the set, thinking normally people like to wait for the bigger waves behind. While paddling for the wave, I saw the fatigued older man cutting to the inside to try and catch the same wave. I continued paddling thinking that the man would be overtaken by the wave, like all the other times, but this time he seemed exceptionally ferocious and determined to catch it. Paddling head to head, I felt the wave lift me up and I popped up on my board. I saw the man giving all his might to catch the wave. He stood to his feet finding balance and pointed the nose of his board to the left down the line. But I had already caught it! I looked back at him with an expression like “What are you doing…I was on it first!” but he kept going. With the wave starting to close, I left the line disappointed, while the water pushed the man further down the reef. As he left the wave, he looked enraged by the fact that I had not relinquished the wave to him. On top of it, because that wave had been the first of the set, he had to deal with the next few crashing waves. I paddled back out with all eyes on me as I heard the enraged Tahitian spitting insults as loud as he could.
I didn’t know what I had done wrong. Normally, in California, that should have been my wave. I had started paddling for the wave before him, and I had caught the wave before him. Yet I could still hear him bellowing things like “bastard…stupid kid…idiot, etc.” The other older men, with whom I had previously surfed, turned their backs on me with a sense of contempt. Others started to say, “Kid, you need to get out of here. That guy’s gonna come over and start wailing on you…you really need to leave!” A few others came over offering me support and comfort saying, “Don’t worry, you did nothing wrong. Just wait a few and then go apologize.” So I did. After a few minutes, I started my approach, cautiously paddling closer to him, knowing any second he could just start raging on me. My friends; including, Nari, Vaimiti, Antoine, and a friend’s dad, John, came along to cover my back should things go sour. As I got closer to the guy, adrenaline surged over me. Within six feet, I stopped to sit up on my board and began apologizing.
He turned around and started with, “I know who you are, Bryce. My friends told me about you. They told me you were a disrespectful American who snaked and cut in line whenever you were surfing.” Then he cussed some more before continuing. “Bryce, you need to start being more respectful with us elders.” A bit more cussing, he approached until he was approximately a foot away then said: “But it’s not just you, it’s all of you arrogant little boys who don’t give a rats ass about how you surf and disrespect those of us who are older.” Then he started to say crazy things like how he and his people had formed the passes and how the elders should have priority out in the water. He continued to go on for a while about respect and how things needed to change. Since half of what he was saying was in Tahitian and the other half in French, I was having a hard time understanding. But after about ten minutes of him lecturing and humiliating me for what I didn’t realize was a disrespectful action, he calmed down. I repeated that I was sorry once more and that was the end of that.
I thanked my friends for having my back, then paddled back into the sweet spot with the other 20 surfers who had been gossiping about what had passed. An hour later, we caught our last waves for the morning before pulling anchor. Cautiously guiding the boat through the motu coral heads, we made our way back to the fresh water spigot to rinse. Following our now familiar routine of tying up the boat, we rummaged to find whatever food was left over to eat for lunch.
Now we were only three, as the other two surfers with us were picked up to return home. Since breadfruit takes a while to cook, we stoked up the fire, setting a timer for an hour nap. Awoken just in time to pull out the cooked breadfruit, we heated the beans on the dying fire while the charred breadfruit cooled enough to remove the skin. The other surfers left behind three baguettes. Once Nari and Vaimiti had skinned the warm breadfruit, we jumbled the baked beans and breadfruit together into the bread to make a breadfruit/bean sandwich of sorts…a tasty and filling last meal on the motu.
Since the music had gone home with the others, we chatted about how incredible our last couple of days had been, and how we were going to miss each other when I left on Kandu to continue my family’s world voyage.
Enjoying our last bites, we prepared our departure from the motu. Once I was done stuffing away my single person hammock and personal junk, I offered to help Nari and Vaimiti put away the 14-person tent. Together with a bit of punching, kicking and shoving, we got the tent into its small bag, the size of a small car wheel. We then tossed our things into the boat praying they would stay dry, grabbed the remaining trash bags, and pushed off the motu for the last time. Knowing it was going to be the last time I would experience anything like this again soon, I felt a sadness pass over me as I said goodbye to the motu. Yet our day wasn’t over as we still had one last afternoon surf session to relish. Hastily anchoring the boat next to Heremanu’s family boat, in my excitement, I jumped out first to greet Heremanu and his dad, who is the best surfer I’ve ever had the pleasure to surf with.
That afternoon’s current was entering the pass, pushing us away from the line-up and making it hard to paddle out. I examined the waves finding that they were 7-foot tall and made a little messy by the 10 knots of on-shore wind. The nine surfers caught huge outsides and enjoyed being out in the water, laughing with and at each other – sharing only smiles. After an hour, Vaimiti broke his board, so he and I paddled to the boat to catch a break. We grabbed some fins and snorkels to head back out to watch the action under water. Vaimiti and I pretended to spear huge parrotfish that were gorging on the sharp coral reef. When we reached the sweet spot, we watched through the clear water the surfers catch drop-in barrels and carve up the waves above. The sight under water was as mesmerizing as it was on top of the wave.
We swam around the surf point for half an hour before getting bored and returning to the boat. I pulled my board back out. As I paddled over, Nari shouted, “Just a few more minutes!” I decided to make the best of it – to catch the biggest outside in the set. I positioned myself alongside Heremanu’s dad and watched as the other surfers caught the smaller waves. Then, the time for waiting was over as a big set rolled in. Though the first few waves in the set were good size, we continued to stall on the outside in hopes of a bigger wave.
The moment came when the momma wave peaked. Both of us started to paddle. I looked at the surfing legend before me, (Heremanu’s dad) and asked permission to take his rightful wave. He looked over and responded, “Yeah, it’s yours.” With that I was off, digging deep with each stroke to catch the sizeable six-foot wave rising behind me. “Go, go, go, go, go, Bryce. It’s all yours!” yelled Nari, Vaimiti, and Heremanu. Once I felt the lift, I popped to me feet and readied myself for a tuck n’ barrel. As the lip of the wave fell over me, baby blue water and a slim hole at the end was all I saw as I rode Fa’aroa’s glassy tube. I rode inside for a magical three slow seconds before I shot out of the tube and paddled back to the boat. My friends caught their last waves and also paddled back to brag about each other’s waves. Before picking up anchor, we quietly sat and watched the beautiful curling waves for a good ten minutes, then the three of us motored back to our homes to recount our weekend’s stories. I hope never to forget those three days spent camping in French Polynesia, off the island of Raiatea, on the motu with all my Polynesian friends! Bryce Rigney
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
– 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.
mysteriousplaces.com Explore Sacred Sites & Ancient Civilizations Explore Easter Island September, 14 2016, By: Jan
We left New Zealand January 2nd, and due to the international date line’s location, arrived five and half hours later in Tahiti on January 1st, allowing us a chance to celebrate New Year’s Day a second time.
Returning to Tahiti was bittersweet after all that travel away from the boat. Tahiti is such a beautiful place, how could we possibly be upset? Plus we had 10 more days of fun before heading back to Raiatea! We were generously hosted at Corinne Mc Kittrick and Michel Bonnard’s home in Puunauia up on the hill in the Lotus district. Spoiled rotten with their incredible view of Moorea, we shared several meals with them discussing Tahiti’s past, present, and future.
Corinne Mc Kittrick, the best tour guide on Tahiti island, gave us and friends Chuck and Linda from s/v Jacaranda an incredible tour around the island. One of my favorite stops was at the Botanical Spring Garden: Jardins d’eau of Vaipahi. The five of us were awed by the tropical beauty of the indigenous and imported flora that exhibited boundless colors and designs. We also enjoyed touring Marae Arahurahu. Having been there once before, Eric and I wanted to get up close and personal to the famous Austral Island duplicate male and female tiki statues. The originals, still housed in the now closed Gauguin Museum, have a mysterious curse such that anyone who attempts to move them, shortly thereafter dies tragically. The Austral Islands would like to have them back, but no one deign touch them, let alone, transport them! That same night, Corinne returned home, but Linda, Chuck, Eric and I headed out for a grand sunset and starlit dinner up the local mountain to O-Belvedere restaurant. The ambiance was beautiful offering great views of Papeete below and Moorea across the ocean. We ordered cheese fondue all around – très Français!
During our 10 Tahiti days, the boys had a fabulous time surfing with good friend Daniel Teipoarii – surf maniac, and we all got the chance to spend several occasions hanging out with his wife Laure and two sons of the same age.
Eric and I completed a bit of shopping for boat essentials and impossible to find groceries, before teaming up again with Linda Edeiken (a cultural connoisseur) to visit the Norman Hall Museum, the author of Mutiny on the Bounty. From within his former home, converted into a museum and maintained by his family, we learned a lot about his remarkable life and WWII heroism.
On our return to Raiatea, we had one more adventure. Instead of flying, we boarded the Hawaiki Nui cargo ship for an overnight ride. It was a good thing we had arranged to travel by boat since we brought home an enormous amount of baggage: new surfboard for Bryce plus Trent’s, a new used kite and kite board, a boogie board, a new room fan for Kandu, large tub of laundry detergent, a heavy box of groceries purchased in Papeete of items unavailable in Raiatea, and of course, our 5 weeks worth of baggage and touristic souvenirs. We lucked out installing ourselves in a comfortable spot on top of the ship under an awning.
With excellent warm breezy weather and a gentle swell, we made our way comfortably back home to Kandu…which incidentally stunk and required 10 loads of laundry to get rid of the mildew odor …ugh, vacation over!
And only ten days later, we flew back to Tahiti to start our two-week Easter Island adventure . . . more to come.
January 1st, 2017 letter con’t: We found Sydney as equally modern and beautiful as Auckland. There didn’t seem to be grime anywhere. The underground mass-transit trains appeared new. The roads were perfectly paved. Much pride of ownership was displayed in well-maintained homes and buildings. The public parks were very organized with clean toilets!! Eric’s brother, Curtis and his partner, Joel were the most incredible hosts, taking their work vacation days to spend 2 weeks with hanging out with us. We couldn’t have experienced a more incredible time with them and their personal backyard aviary.
Passing quality time with Curtis and Joel was a priority while we worked in some of the iconic must-visit sites during our two weeks in New South Wales like touring Macquairie University to see where Curtis has been teaching Chiropractics all these years.
Hiking the Sydney Bridge to see a 360 degree view of the entire Sydney Harbor was a definite highlight of our Australian experience.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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! “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.
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.
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. 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.
The 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 VIDEO: Maori-hakaDue 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.)
Braving the cold water temperatures much like Southern California, Bryce and Trent also got a chance to surf at Raglan (the most famous NZ surf site) also on the West Coast. Unfortunately, every time they surfed the weather and swells just weren’t quite right so the boys didn’t experience the legendary waves of which the regulars boast.
Driving south toward the middle of the North Island, we toured Rangiroa where we visited the steaming sulfur Maori Whakarewarewa thermal grounds (free facials for all!) and village. The local Moaris put on another fabulous show.
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.With 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 VIDEO: HobbitonTo 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 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.