Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tearavero Settlement, Kauehi Atoll (Tuamotu Archipeligo)

49.560 S
145 07.152 W

One afternoon, as I sat cross-legged on the end of a runway, I had a nagging feeling in my brain. There was a thought in there that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I knew that it was an obvious one and fancied it profound in its simplicity. Then something else hit me.....

This place is _not_ like other places that I have been to.

Kauehi is an atoll. What is an atoll you might ask? Well, I asked the same question. I knew that it was a type of island, some sort of spit of land in the pacific and that the Americans and the French like to blow them up.

To The Planet:

"Strung like Jewels across the Pacific, the Tuamotus (too-ah-moh-toos) are a world apart. These rings of coral were witnesses to what was once, according to Darwin's theory of atoll formation, an archipelago of high islands as mountainous and grand as perhaps the Marquesas or Society islands are today. The 77 atolls, scattered like confetti on an ocean of ink, stretch 1500km northwest to southeast and 500km east to west. The closest islands are about 300km to Tahiti. The atolls, coral crowns not reaching more than a few metres above the water, surround a central lagoon. Pearls, sand, diving blah blah blah"

Basically, picture a volcano in the ocean. A coral reef grows up around the ringed base of the mountain and then the volcano sinks over a million years or two. The reef that used to ring it is left, paying homage to the big ass mountain that once was. The mountain in the middle of Bora Bora is sinking at 1 cm per century or some such thing. I've only ever heard it referred to as Darwin's "theory" but I haven't heard any other ideas, although there may be some.

The anchorage is idyllic and a few hundred yards off the town with only one other boat, French, that has the look of one who has been here a while. The lagoon is a 1000 shades of blue and the atoll itself is approximately oval and approximately 9 by 12 miles in size. It looks like there are about 30 families living what appears to be mostly a subsistence life, although there is at least one pearl farm (currently closed). I've been pretty bad at guesstimating population on this trip so it may be more or less. There is nowhere to stay, no restaurants, a church, cemetery, some crushed coral paths / roads and a small store. There seems to be one busted down car on blocks for each person in the town (but there isn't really anywhere to drive to even if they worked), dogs seem to outnumber people by a factor of two and these huge and unbelievably creepy coconut crabs outnumber the muts by several orders of magnitude. One report that Chris read claimed that only 10 sail boats a year make the trip, but I am skeptical around this for some reason.

Its kind of like a lake in the middle of the ocean and I have been enjoying it (not that it makes up for me missing the cottage on May 24th weekend - Boo). The lagoon is a water sports paradise. You could happily spend an entire season Windsurfing, dingy sailing etc. (and this is only a medium sized atoll).

I took the dingy out for a run with my beer can hat firmly in place. I had this vision of a narrow piece of sand, with the Pacific on one side and the lagoon on the other. I am sure that it exists here, but in retrospect the distances are too vast for the 3.5 horse motor to get to without knowing for certain that you were actually going to get there if you take my meaning (spending 4 hours in the blinding heat and sun to get to a piece of land in the distance that is just like the piece of land that you left would be disappointing). Also, because of the size of the lagoon, it can actually get pretty rough if the wind blows in certain directions which I didn't really want to be stuck in. As it was, I headed for what I thought was a beach about 5 miles in the distance which actually turned out to be an airport of sorts. Its a strange feeling to spend some time on a runway with _nobody_ around. I kept feeling like I was going to be arrested by some French flavoured homeland security patrol. Interesting coral on both sides and a weird tidal pool in the middle (off the runway of course). It is the only piece of pavement on the entire atoll that I can see and it appears to be recently done and in good shape. That being said, it would be quite an adventure to land a plane on it me thinks.

Another highlight was when Walter and I took a walk to the end of a path and were inexplicably invited to sit with an old woman on her back veranda overlooking a house on stilts. Limited conversation to be had, but with our French knowledge she seemed to be emphatically complaining that all her sons were on other islands. All told though, she liked to laugh. Thats good.

More forced nothingness. Its getting easier but I am starting to crave a bit of nightlife. Should be 3 weeks or so until Tahiti, at which point I will shortly wish that I was in the middle of nowhere again I am sure.

Right now though, I'm happy to be at anchor. That was a tough bit of sailing.

Distanced Sailed: 548 nm
Time Taken: 5 days, 6 hours
Avg Speed: 4.3
Best Daily Run: 110
Worst Daily run: 94
Avg Daily Run: 104

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