Saturday, September 8, 2007

A month in Penrhyn -first part

We were blasting along through French Polynesia, along with most of the other cruisers, having only a 90 day visa to see the 118 islands making up the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Gambiers and Society Islands. Just a day or two at each anchorage and not seeing many of the sights. Feeling that we were going too fast to really get a feel for the places we stayed when we overheard another cruiser say they were planning to winter in Hawaii and do French Polynesia again. We had planned to take 3 to 5 years to
cross the South Pacific and at the rate we were going, we'd be done way too soon. That sounded interesting, so we talked to them som more. It looked like a route from Bora Bora in August to Penrhyn, Christmas, Fanning then reaching Hawaii in November. 4 months in Hawaii, then back to the Tuamotus in April would give us another shot at the atolls we missed.

Shortly after arriving in Penrhyn, the local health inspector, OJ, invited us to cross from the western village of Omoka to Te Tautua on the eastern side with him as a guide through the coral heads. They were widely spaced and brightly colored, Most have white poles with a triangular flag on top making them resemble the greens of a golf course spread across the 8 miles to Te Tautua. So the guidance was not that necessary, however the visit along the way was worth it. He was planning a trip to Rarotonga
and wanted to gather some clams to take to his family there. We got invited to go along on the clamming excursion.

The next morning OJ gathered some nephews in a small aluminum skiff and had us get our snorkeling gear and follow in our dinghy. About 5 miles south in the lagoon, we stopped at a coral head with less than 18 inches of water over the top, but 30 to 40 feet deep around the edges. Large clams with very pronounced scalloped shells and bright colored lips grow imbedded in the tops and sides of the coral heads. You pry them out with a large screw driver. We gathered clams for an hour or two, just piling
them on top of the coral head. When we had plenty, they all swam up on top and sat up on the coral head and started cleaning the clams. Almost all of the clam turns out to be eatable, it is mostly muscle. I noticed OJ taking a bite now and then, so he first offered me a choice morsel. You just reach out beside you and rinse the clam meat in the fresh sea water and pop it in your mouth. It adds a little salt and its better than chicken! Then he offered another piece he says tastes like it has cream
on it. Before we were done, I had sampled the entire clam. Trinda was a little reluctant to sample clams that fresh, "But they're raw!" We gathered more at a place or two on the way back to the anchorage without cleaning them so we accompanied OJ and family to the shore and helped shuck the rest. It was well after lunch, so OJ took off on a scooter and as we finish shucking the clams he returned with lunch. Two cans corned beef, a can of mackerel and a pot of hot rice. We teased about 5 gallons of
fresh clams and all the reef fish we watched while clamming and to eat canned mackerel! Rice is the current standard fare here. The average family buys a 35 kilo bag every 3 months or so.

Trinda has decided that in lew of letters of introduction she should make a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies and walk through the village to get acquainted. We dinghyed ashore near the middle of the village and stopped each time we saw someone and offered a cookie. Saitu and Rariki, the eldest deacon of the church, insisted we have a cool drink. He opened the fridge on the porch and pulled out several husked, green coconuts, chops off the top and we have ice cold coconut juice. Very refreshing.

We wandered on through the village of 50 people, including children, passing out cookies. We meet Taina and Ben who calls himself Bana after his grand father. They are the keepers of the "Yatchie Guest Book" and insisted we take it back to the boat and write a page. It was started in 1987 with John Niel and Bana's grand father and had entries from several boats we that we had met during our 2 years in Mexico. We were the eighth to sign in 2007, but the harbor master said we were the 35th boat to
check in this year. I guess many of them were on the fast track and didn't make it to the quiet anchorage of Te Tautua.

The next day, since the cookies were such a hit and they all responded with refreshments for us, Trinda made one of her famous chocolate cakes with the thick fudge for icing. It was shared around widely! and more local refreshments returned. Later we were told about a birthday celebration coming up, a 21st birthday. It is a celebration of the young man entering adult hood and given a symbolic "key to leave" his parents control. The catch was that the special birthday cake for the event was to be
shipped up from Rarotonga by plane and it didn't arrive! They asked if Trinda could make another cake for the party and invited us to join in.

The whole village participated in the preparations. There were excursions to collect more clams, fish, coconut crab, crayfish (spiny lobster like in Mexico), chicken and a hunt for a wild pig. Then all the coconut for the various treats made from them.

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